The Fast Line

Category: How Tos, Road Tests and Technicals
Published on Thursday, 03 April 2014 16:08
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by David Dooley

Editor's Comments: David wrote this column in monthly installments in 1967 when he was Oklahoma Region Competition Chairman. David's words of wisdom give insight  into the state of SCCA racing in 1967 plus excellent racing tips for today's competitors. All of David's columns are presented here. Headings and relevant photos from 1967 have been added for additional reader interest.

Getting Started

Steve asked for 300 words a month to: frazier

(1) “Keep interest of race people in Gazette” and (2) “Help along new race drivers.”

The Contest Committee receives many inquiries about regulations. The standard reply is “We’ll find out and let you know.” Last week Tommy Allen wondered why two-piece racing uniforms officially are frowned upon (though not yet formally outlawed) and also what latitude will be granted in fitting optional wheels on production cars in 1967. Official answers are back from James Patterson, Deputy Competition Director, SCCA, Inc. Westport, Conn, than which there are no officialer: “.....when you sit down in the damn things a portion of your back is often exposed. There have been a number of cases of drivers getting their sitters singed......”

“Last year’s wheel rule will remain in effect under the 1967 regulations.”

Here is more advance information about 1967 rules. Jerry Maxwell, who’sdooley doty preparing John McComb’s FIA Group 2 Touring Mustang for the new season’s Trans-American series which starts at Daytona this Friday (John has also entered the car in the 24-hour Continental February 4-5) reports he contacted Patterson by phone and confirmed all SCCA conventional race cars must have either steel scatter shields 360 degrees around their flywheel-clutch assemblies or scatter-proof bell housings, specifically manufactured as such and approved by NHRA. (NHRA? Well) Cars in which danger to driver does not exist, rear engine drive Minis, etc., may be exempt from this rule. Conceivably the spectators’ equal vulnerability to shrapnel will come to mind and no exemptions allowed.

Frequently we are asked to suggest books on the fundamentals of racing - primers, if you will. Always recommended are three $1.95 paper backs: Getting Ready to Race, Tricks of the Racing Trade, and Competition Driving Guide. (M.G.Mitten 1163 E.Green St., Pasadena, Calif. 91106, calls the three its “Competition Combo” and sells the Package at 15.50 - tell Marion I sent you.)
Every race driver, veteran as well as tyro, needs all three- if for no reason other than to loan to friends who ask what it’s all about then won’t listen to the 4-hour answer.....If you do intend to go racing — call David at CE 6-5351)

Learn To Be a Competent Race Driver

Anyone with all his faculties, normal reflexes, average control of his body and good self-discipline can learn to be a competent race driver.

No one drives his best automatically. Any race course should be divided deliberately into a ritualistic sequence of procedures that can be individually considered, practiced and improved. Accelerate, up-shift, accelerate, brake, downshift, corner, etc.

Determine the best gear and highest RPM at which each turn can be smoothly negotiated from entrance through exit. Concentrate and memorize these driving procedures for each “corner”. Then connect the “corners” with the accelerate, brake, downshift sequence.

All drivers occasionally get off stride. Most have schemes to restore coordination. When you lose the rhythm try repeating this phrase as the terms become applicable: “Brake, downshift, position, turn, accelerate”. Each of these terms has specific meaning and focusing attention on them individually will get you back on the line.

Everyone has off days when nothing feels right. At these uncomfortable times, also, concentration on a smooth sequence of familiar procedures will produce good lap times, though the drive will not be as much fun as on the days when you feel like Fangio.

 Develop the Essential Crew

At the races a driver is to drive and that’s enough. He will learn tracks faster and do his best sooner when not distracted by car cares and pit procedure.

crewEarly designation of authority will pay dividends. Not only the driver gains-- the ones who go along to do the work then sweat out the uncertain moments of actual track time will feel a real sense of participation from having responsibility for a part of the performance.

The learning race driver has made much progress when his team has developed with its natural leader accepted as chief. any problems of logistics will evaporate - the chief will know what is needed at the race and will have it there. Preparation of the car will be complete before leaving home. There will be no unsettling turn-downs at tech.

Crew chief importance is almost equal to that of the driver. His control of car care and pit procedure makes order and efficiency out of a confusing and frustrating experience. In the pit his unquestioned authority over every detail is accepted by each from driver to Bikini- clad fan. He will delegate specific duties to others- timing, scoring, signaling, meeting tne incoming driver with a damp cloth and glass of water, washing the windscreen, checking the tires, wheels, radiator, oil sump, gas tank, policing the area etc-but the responsibility is his.

The driver, while not on the course, will be free to observe other racers in the most difficult corners then compare his techniques with theirs. He will be free to ponder, to relax, to attend to his personal comfort and need; free to prepare to go out again and go faster.

Crew is important to car and driver indeed, but even more consider the effect on the driver of the dedicated support from behind the pit wall. Consider Tommy Allen and Mercedes. Tommy cannot ever be alone on the track, not with Mercedes’ faith in his pit. Tommy cannot lose at racing regardless of the sequence of the cars across the finish line.

Racing Is Fun

In February we determined you have normal reflexes and effective self-discipline so we knew you could learn to be a competent race driver. In March we evaluated your executive ability, assayed your friends and concluded you could develop the essential crew. Now, before we get to the selection of race car, which will depend largely on budget, let’s consider just what you may logically expect to get out of racing so you’ll know where to set the budget.

Racing is fun. SCCA racing is an amateur sport of gentlemen. It is not cutthroatfun competition, but it is very serious. Racing is a gratifying opportunity to place yourself totally in competition with your peers and let the World know the outcome. Racing is the exciting opportunity to place yourself in control of a high performance automobile that will respond to your bidding without reservation but in so doing will just as unreservedly destroy itself or you or both, unless your control is effective. Racing is the moment of truth, at the start and over and over again at every turn. Racing is quick decisions and, later on, almost reflexive reactions. Racing is something new under the sun, there is nothing like it and no other experience can prepare the race driver for the challenges and satisfactions of competently driving a well- prepared race car. Racing is worth whatever it costs, up to just over the reasonable limit for personal satisfaction.

Now for the budget. Do not start at more than you can afford to lose. Later you probably will conclude you can afford more, but at first do not saddle yourself with worries you can avoid.

Get a car you like. Make it into the best race car you can and keep it such. This must be a proud hallmark of a proud team.

Be serious about each phase of your part in the sport. Be humble in the knowledge it will take years to be a. Fangio, even if you do have all the qualities. Be generous in your evaluation of others and be most restrained in your comments about or to others.

You area race driver. To me you are the salt of the Earth.

The Flat Out Sweeper

One reader noticed the absence of the “Fast Line” last month - John McComb, who kindly remembered that instead of preparing the column for the Gazette deadline I was off in Mt. Tremblant, Quebec preparing to co-drive his Mustang with him in Les Quatre Heures Du Circuit.

It’s tough not to have been missed more generally-maybe there have been too many sermons. How about some tips on easy ways to do some of the things that look so tough to the spectators?

THE FLAT-OUT SWEEPER

Consider a sweeping bend that is just too sharp to be negotiated “flat out” in early practice - say the curve down the hill in the back stretch at Lake Ponca (#5). Or if you don’t have any trouble with that part of the course, the tighter Turn #1. The usual sequence is to go deep, deep, deep, into the approach, lift the throttle foot and maybe even brake slightly, enter the turn coasting or with only very slight engine power to keep the car’s stability in hand, and concentrate on accelerating-out-of-the-turn at the earliest possible moment. Fine!

sweeper

Some of the more courageous will keep moving the point of acceleration back, back, back until, behold! they never lift - they’re going through “flat out.”

Try this procedure. Well ahead of the curve reduce your speed to something you can handle nicely through the curve with the engine pulling strongly. Say, lift your foot off the throttle from marker 5 to half way between markers 3 and 2. Reapply the power smoothly and fully and drive right on through and out of the curve with the throttle on the floor. Great! Now all you have to do is shorten the time you have your foot off the throttle as you approach the curve. Try stepping back on at marker 3. Fine! Next time from marker 5 count “one, two” before you lift.

Adjustments in timing always seem easier to me than controlling changing handling. In this case the tough part of the procedure, the actual cornering, is simplified by eliminating the handling changes that result from going from over-run to acceleration.

 Keep The Throttle On The Floor

A racing car engine delivers maximum power when at optimum RPM with throttle wide open. With feathered throttle, power output is less than with full throttle. At RPM substantially below or above optimum, power output is less than at optimum RPM.

These statements are so elemental they seem almost childish. Yet there isn’t a race driver who doesn’t occasionally find himself motoring out of a sweeper at part throttle when if he’d just do it he could put the pedal on the floor.

Many of us will lag a little getting foot from throttle to brake when we could have stayed under full power a fraction of a second longer by being willing to go to the brakes more quickly and braking more crisply and carefully. Sometimes we stay in a gear too long to save an extra shift; more often we let the engine lug a little.

Sometimes we get careless, or overenthusiastic, and go into a corner too deep, get all out of shape working the car around and it is an eternity before we can get the power back on. If by shutting down a little sooner you can reapply full power a lot sooner you have a net gain, though maybe not as spectacular and exciting a ride.

Just remember, a racing car is only a machine and it has to respond. Keep the throttle on the floor as much of the total lap time as possible, RPM as near optimum as possible, and that total lap time will be as low as possible.

Don't Torture Your Machine

Remember, maximum throttle at optimum RPM gives maximum power. If you are satisfied with less you are wasting the time and money you put into making your engine as strong as possible.

Don’t torture your machine. A race car has its limitations, just as the driver. Know the limits of your car’s ability to perform reliably, then stay within those limits.

Most of us have driving ability far less precise and consistent than our car’s. When we try to compensate for our driving inadequacies by extracting a little more performance from the machine we are not only courting disaster, we are not even being honest.

This does not mean you must coddle your car. Of course run at full throttle, shift at the red lines brake to the limit of tire adhesion and corner the same. Your car is a race car, a thoroughbred intended to perform at its maximum efficiency. This it will do; it cannot reliably do more.

When you need that extra second a lap, sharpen your technique; don’t torture your machine.

Make Fast Starts

start

Several items on your race car are designed expendable. Brakes must wear if they serve their purpose. Clutch discs must slip a little with each shift and during starts must endure terrific abuse. Wear in tolerable amounts is what makes the clutch serve its purpose.

Realizing the clutch will take substantial wear and being willing to accept limited clutch disc life is what makes it possible to make fast starts. With relatively low powered cars - those unable to spin their wheels freely in first gear - know the RPM at which your car delivers maximum power (generally in the 5500 to 6000 range) and when the starter raises his flag, bring engine to this RPM. When the flag falls put the accelerator on the floor keeping the engine stalled back to the desired RPM by slipping the clutch. Thus engine output is at all times in maximum from the moment the flag falls. All of the horsepower goes to the rear wheels with the clutch used as a variable speed torque convertor.

High powered cars - those able to spin rear wheels easily in first gear-cannot be started with full engine power, the limitation on accelerating the car being tire adhesion rather than engine power. Accordingly, some engine power output less than maximum, learned by experience to be just about all that can be put through the rear wheels without excessive wheel spin, is established when the starter raises his flag. Engine power output is maintained by carefully applying fuel while the clutch is engaged as quickly as possible. Thereafter additional power is fed to the rear wheels by increasing throttle opening at rate to maintain rear wheels just at the point of slipping.

Of the two, the low-powered car is the more difficult to put into motion. Remember maximum throttle opening at optimum RPM causes your engine to put out maximum power. Use this combination.

No Relaxation In Championship Racing

Concentrate, don’t let down, don’t give up, don’t panic. Simple admonitions, but profound. How many times have I fallen behind and felt I was an “also-ran” only to find that the “leader” had overreached himself, overstressed his machine, and when he fell victim to his own over enthusiasm, I was back in the race, or would have been if I had held my pace. The race is not always to the swiftest - it is always to the one who can get to the finish in the shortest time. Keep going at your best reliable rate and you’ll win lots of races.

“Reliable’ - to us who try hard but can’t call up a change of mount when we crash our first in practice and our second fails in qualifying - means a driver- car combination that will do its best for one entire race program, ending with a checquered flag. We don’t expect to coddle our cars but we won’t demand forgiveness of our errors, catch-up after our let-downs, or endurance of our over stressing, whether due to desperation, petulance or panic.

Self-discipline extends to the times you are in the lead and victory seems merely a matter of keeping on to the end. Most of all this is a time for keeping up your driving rhythm. When your pit signals “E-Z” you’d better go just a little harder. To ease off is to relax and there is no relaxation in championship racing.

afton crashAt Stuttgart once, years ago, I had a race fairly won 10 laps from the end. I cruised down the back straight, relaxed, waving to the spectators like Elvis Presley (I must have been going 110 mph where. flat-out effort would have accomplished maybe 120) and nearly piled up the whole rig at the double ninety to the right. A true race driver has no experience at relaxed driving on the track and it is not a technique to learn.

When the race is called, decide you will concentrate for the- duration -concentrate on your car, your driving, finishing - then drive all-out to, but not beyond, your car’s and your own limits, and you will be headed for a win.

If there is one good piece of advice on which to emphasize, it is that of cultivating a habit of carefully observing and analyzing the driving techniques of others. There are as many ways to execute the various racing maneuvers at any given circuit as there are cars and drivers. Yet there is always something to be gained by watching the other fellow’s technique.

You probably won’t want to try to imitate, but with your understanding of the problems the other driver is solving you will vicariously drive his car while observing with an objectivity impossible to focus on your own performance.

Whether you are following at speed or watching from some vantage point at the side, as the other driver avoids a bump, clips a verge, brakes early to take a line that permits a novel exit, or just remembers to use all the road, or in the many cases where he follows procedures you know are not the fastest, you will relate to your own driving and profit.

How Very Little I Know

Here endeth the monthly 300-word summary of all the do’s and don’ts of skillful and successful race car driving. The most informed by the series has been I - how very little I know. And even more revealing, how very clumsy I am when I go to the course and try to put my own good advice into actual practice. Many of the greatest drivers are avid race fans and observers. Fangio watched every driver be could, good or bad, and stated he always learned.

Enough said!

So long. I only wish I were able to take all of my own good advice.

David Dooley