Monday, April 24, 2006


I had a post set to go all about the way certain cars tend to attract certain personality types, the same way certain pet breeds tend to attract certain folks. It was sliding too negative, so I deleted it in favor of this one.

The car you drive at the track is a reflection of your personality. I started thinking about this because of the dire importance of predictability in this sport.

When following another driver into a turn at high speed, you're very interested in what's going through that mind in the lead car, lest it be you. You can make certain predictions based on the car, but ultimately, you want to be inside their head enough to know when they will be braking or when they might spin. It's also true that the more you know about how someone thinks, the more you know about how to pass them in a race.

I began to observe the folks that I was around, and started to see patterns. Those roughly corresponded with vehicle types, kind of like owners kind of resemble their dogs.

To start off with, there is a LOT of ego on the track, especially in the more advanced run groups. At the very highest level (non-racing), it's not so bad, since those guys have been seeing the same faces for years, and they KNOW who is faster and who must give way.

A very good driver told me once "It's not about not having ego. Everyone here has a huge ego. It's about how you manage it". That management is reflected in the way the drivers drive, and thus makes them more predictable if you can find the patterns.

Here are a few personality types I've seen on the track (tongue firmly in cheek so as not to offend anyone).

The Giant Killer: Their car might not have alot of grunt, but their goal is to keep up with the big boys. Giant Killers often grow up into very very good drivers, because to run down a higher horsepower car is no mean feat. Typically found driving a Lotus Elise or Subaru STi or Mini-Cooper. If you are driving a high-horsepower car, don't be surprised if you find a Giant Killer lining up behind you in the grid, with a predatory smile. Giant Killers are predictable, momentum-centric drivers. They will hate to pull off line for passes, and may be reluctant to let higher horsepower cars pass them.

American Muscle: Most likely found driving a Corvette, Viper or Mustang. These folks have the horsepower to run away from anyone on the straights, and they know it. They will tend to close up on folks in the straights, and get caught in corners. Generally a little older than the Giant Killer, the Muscle guys are predictable straight liners. They can grow up into formidable drivers, if they can learn to use that power in the corners. More horsepower is actually equal to more options.

Rice, Rice Baby: There is a DVD in their Mitsubishi playing "The Fast and The Furious" while waiting in the grid. The car is running 20 pounds of boost, at 11 FAR. You can hear the blow off valve all the way across the track. The exhaust is a cavernous affair larger than a chinese apartment. Ricers are rare at track events. The courses are generally too long and their cars are tuned too hot. They are predictable in the sense that they are likely to spin if pushed. Lots of racing mentality in this culture, so lots of competitive spirit. They tend to be younger than the average HPDE driver, and thus might still consider themselves immortal. They will care a great deal about what's going on behind them, so be wary of the spin.

Money: The money guys are easy to spot: Look for the expensive trailer rig and the two cars (in case you just can't decide). Money guys are just like you and me, but with more cash on hand. Some of them tend to be extra-careful about their cars, and thus can be counted on to not take undue risks. Some (the ones that have BIG bucks) just don't care. They will sling a quarter million dollar Lambo into the weeds like it was a stolen Prelude. Talk to them, figure them out, becuase they often have cool stories! No way to know what they will think to do ontrack, save to observe.

Grrrrrrr!: Acronym for Grass Roots RRRRacing! Towed their '82 Spec Racer Rabbit to the track behind their bio-diesel truck. Ready to tell you how they spent $2.54 last year on tires. Racing on a budget is their game, the track time is their reward for playing it well. Preoccupied with prep and gear, they often turn slower times because they are not really optimizing for that. Talk to them to figure out how to make your pennies go further. Natural enemy of the Money racer above. Quite often found staring at the big trailer with the AC humming in the 108 degree paddock and grinding their teeth.

Mom and Pop: They drive in different groups, so they can use the same car. Sometimes one watches the kids while the other drives. Often, the car is a daily driver. Most likely will be conservative, though I know at least one pair that is very aggressive. Nice folk to talk to between run sessions, and most likely to have cookies in the pits. Never, ever underestimate the female half of this team.

Re-tired!: Two subtypes: Ex-racer and newbie. The ex-racer generally quit before you were writing cursive. Loads of info and things to learn, though may not be applicable to modern cars. Generally not too aggressive as they have nothing to prove to you. The newbie is retired and bought their dream car, then wanted to learn to drive it. Capable of doing any-damn-thing on the track, so watch from a discreet distance.

The Kid: Sent to the event by their parents, to make them better drivers. Often, the parents are along. If they are, The Kid will likely be subdued, even cautious. If not, or it's their second session, watch out. Overconfidence lasts until the first spin!

Transcendant: These folks are the pros. They've been sideways at 120, and nothing phases them. They can drive anything, well. They are calculating, analytical and very unforgiving of carelessness or sloppy driving because they understand that it's a danger to everyone. They will alter their line at will, and are making few (if any) mistakes. If you are lucky enough to be following one of these guys around, try to stick with them and learn. This is what we all strive to be.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Perception and Speed

Most of learning to drive fast is getting accustomed to speed. A typical street driver might see a top speed, when passing, of 80 MPH. That will be in a straight line, and for a very short time. Even "street racers", due to the ilegal nature of that activity never spend any time at speed. Road racing is entirely different.

On a typical 2-3 mile course, speeds reach over 100 MPH in at least two places. The track session lasts a half hour. It takes time to get used to that cadence, and time to build up to doing that many times per day, and yet more time to learn to race (which is harder).

The good news is that once you figure this out, driving on the street is effortless.

The weird news is that in order to wrap your brain around going that fast, your mind sometimes plays tricks on you.

When I'm going really fast, it feels like I'm falling. This happens especially when I'm following another car. There is no sensation of being on flat ground anymore. It's like being in a dive in an aircraft. Somehow it makes perfect sense.

Sometimes, one's mind orders things in slow motion, so one can see all of them at once. I've heard of this happening to folks in accidents, or times of high stress, but it also happens on the track.

It's also true that you don't care how fast you're going. In fact, one friend of mine who has a HUD in his car turns it off on the track. The only reason to know your speed is to check whether you're slower or faster in a given segment of the course this time around. In fact, when you're going the fastest, on the straights, is when you relax, check gauges, flex your hands and so on.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Blue Car

I am lucky enough to drive an Electron Blue 2002 Z06 Corvette. It's got just 50,000 miles on it. I put 16K of that on this past year and a half, as it's my daily driver. It's also the car I take to the track.

Doing double duty with the car is a challenge. I've decided to mod it for safety and reliability, rather than horsepower, because it's got enough of that right now, for my taste.

This is what I've done to the car so far:
Stainless steel brake lines (Goodridge)
Motul 600 brake fluid
Harness bar (not sure on maker; looks like a Sparco, an old one)
six-point harness for driver (folds up behind the seat when not in use)
Raybestos brake rotors (the $25 kind)
Carbotech Panther Plus brake pads (kind of noisy for the street, but I don't care)
Southern Car Parts partition and tray (these come out for the track)
Amsoil 0w30 oil
Amsoil Severe Gear differential fluid
Amsoil ATF
Hybrid alignment (something not too crazy to save the street tires)
2 x 17x9.5" GS wheels (front), 2 x 17x11" GS wheels (back) running 315/35r17 GY racing tires (I get these used for around $300 a set)
Stock wheels carry Nitto 555 front and rear (285 rear, 275 front)
Doug Rippie oil cooler

Planned mods:
passenger harness (taking pity on my riders)
stainless steel brake caliper pistons
Fire extinguisher
Headers (not sure which kind)
Intake (not sure which one)
Brake ducts
'04 Z06 shocks

And much, much more.
I forgot how much fun it is to tinker with cars, but it's coming back to me.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Texas Tracks

There are three main tracks that are willing to host High Performance Driving Events in Texas. They are Texas World Speedway, Motorsports Ranch Cresson and Motorsports Ranch Houston. All of them can be run in either direction, so it's like having six tracks available to us. Pretty cool.

Texas World Speedway
Location: College Station

This one is the daddy, as far as I'm concerned. This little track diagram does not do it justice. It's an old track, built in '68. The front straight is banked heavily. It's where I learned this stuff and I learn something new everytime I'm on it.

Motorsports Ranch, Cresson
Location: Cresson (15 minutes SW of Ft. Worth)

MSR just changed their track layout, and increased their surface from 1.7 miles to 3.1 miles. It went from a technical slower track to a technical MUCH higher speed track. It's also a blast to drive on, and the trackside facilities (shops, stores, and so on) are superb.

Motorsports Ranch, Houston
Location: Close to Angleton, south of Houston

I've only ever been to this one once, and it was too wet to really give it a good run. It's an interesting mix of the other two tracks. Long and reasonably fast at 2.4 miles it has some very technical parts to it. I'm going to enjoy learning this one.

Black Flags

Black Flags have a bad connotation in most situations, but in road racing, they can mean many things.

A black flag is shown to a specific driver by a track worker. Generally, the flag is waved as the driver approaches the flag station, and is then furled and pointed directly at the vehicle so there's no mistaking who it's for.

It's a bad feeling to get black flagged.

When you see that signal, you are supposed to head for the pits, because the grid marshal or their representative wants to talk to you. It could be anything. It could be that your car is leaking something that it should not be, and that flag just saved your engine. It could be that you're driving too close to the edge, or that you just spun the car and they need you to pull in to inspect it.

I managed to forget my instructor once. It was just before I was signed off solo and I was sitting in the starting grid, waiting to go out on track. When the grid marshal looked my way, I gave him the thumbs up, and he waved my on track, solo. I went around a couple times, and got black flagged. I pulled into the pits, and there stood my instructor and the grid marshal.

"Missing something?" says he.
"Yeah! The car is handling different, like it's a couple hundred lighter or something..." I say.
"Uh huh. Well, don't do that again." He's serious now.
"Go on back out".
My instructor gives me the eye as I shift.
"You think I weigh 200 pounds?" he says into the intercom. He's around 5'9" and nowhere near 200 pounds.
"Well, a svelte 200, maybe 190?" I'm accelerating out of the pits.
"Shit". he says.

Then again, you can get black flagged for hitting another car, driving too aggressively or simply being too sloppy. It's not generally a laughing matter, but I've never talked to anyone else that forgot their instructor.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Wings of a Dove

For my birthday, my wife bought me a trip to driving school. I had just got the latest incarnation of the blue car (a Z06 Corvette) and I was a little tentative with it. It was more than 100 hp more than my last blue car, and around 500 pounds lighter. In short, a handful. I was on the edge of getting in trouble again: Cops, tickets, etc.

The school is set up to do four track sessions for a given driver each day. Novices like me had an instructor in the car with them at all times, generally connected by a headset intercom so they could tell you how to drive the course.

After my first run, I was shaky but getting the hang of it. My instructor fed me a constant string of instructions, all in a very British accent. He was in his 60s:
"Easy on the brakes. off the brakes, turn in, now THROTTLE THROTTLE THROTTLE!"

He really liked saying THROTTLE!

I was sitting in the setup, letting the car cool off and drinking water, when he walked over, helmet in hand.

"So! How would you like to ride along in the next instructor session? I drive the same car as you, ya know, a Corvette. That way, you can see what it can really do." he said.


Presently, we're strapping into his car. It's a black 01 Z06. He's got a harness on his side of the car, but I've got stock belts. I move the seat up so I can brace with my legs better, but that's it. He gets in, buckles a six point harness on and tightens the H strap across his chest. Then he tightens everything again. Jesus. What are we getting into?

We roll to the grid. He is talking about how long he's been driving, and how he loves corvettes, and how he loves to play driving games. Video games. He's over 60, so that makes him a rare bird. He tightens his harness again.

We roll out onto the track and I ask what noise is coming from the tires?

"Oh, well, I have some race rubber on there. Should be good for another couple of sessions." He tightens that H strap again. Oh, boy.

At pit out, he nails it. I'm pinned back in the seat. We accelerate through the first turn, going like mad, and the car starts to step out. He corrects and we're back on line, headed for the next turn.

"Have to get some heat in the tires. Hang on now, this is how you should be braking..."

And he parks the car. At least that's what it feels like. I've never been in a non-crashing car that slowed down that fast. The ABS comes on. The car skitters from side to side. It's violent. Almost as soon as we brake, he's back on the THROTTLE THROTTLE THROTTLE!

He grunts as we come out of the turn.

"Roight! Now we can really go! Let me know if you need to stop for anything or if you feel sick."

Holeee crap.
Now, he's talking me through the track as we go around. I begin to understand that he's actually taking it easy, driving around 70 or 80% of what he can do. I'm soaking it all up, learning from this guy that's been around this track so many times.

I also understand the harness. In order to steer and use the pedels, you can't be bracing yourself with your arms or legs. The harness isn't so much about safety as it is about control of the car and avoiding driver fatigue. I resolve to get one, as soon as I can.

On the main straight, we come up behind a Porsche, as I recall. My instructor is frustrated.
"Now, when we get to the next stroight, he'll move over and let us by, because our line is better than his." He says.

But through the next straight and the next, the Porsche never gives us the point by. Our line is better, and we catch the Porsche every time in the corners. We're coming to the end of the back section, about to enter the chicane before the main front straight, and we've been on the bumper of the Porsche the whole lap. I hear growling in the headset.

"Dunno what he's thinking, but here's where we go around" He mutters. We accelerate, harder than before. Coming up to an awful sharp left, with a car in front of us.

The Porsche brakes. We don't. Oh, shit. Contact time. I brace. At last, a LONG half second later, we brake, inches from his back bumper. Hard left, and I realize the car is right on the edge of adhesion. This, I realize, is 10/10ths. 100%.

We enter the chicane, and it must look as if the Porsche is towing the black Z06. He snaps the car back right, and THROTTLE THROTTLE THROTTLE! Rather than turning very much at all, we blast through the chicane, tires up on the right curbing, then the left, and drifting out right up the banking of TWS. With the widening track, we are almost parallel with the Porsche now, and at last I see the driver put his hand out and over the roof, as we pass him. That makes it legal, so we don't get black flagged.

There is more growling in the headset, but it's muted by the engine noise as we are doing over 140 on the main straight now. Time to relax and tighten the harness again. I'm laughing as we head down the straight.

Peter Dove was my instructor's name that first session, and he taught me a great deal about being smooth and fast, and about being competitive on the track. I have not seen him since.

Friday, April 14, 2006

None Shall Pass

“You're looking good out there, Yak. If you want to go out solo next time, I think you're ready.” Said George, my instructor today.

“Ok, I can do that.” I say.

“In fact, if you'd like to go out in yellow group, just to see how it feels, that would work” says George

In my last two sessions in blue run group, I have not been passed by anyone. In fact, I lapped some folks. MSR Cresson is good to me today.

“Sure, that sounds good to me”. I say, hoping it really does. Yellow group is a whole 'nother game. The drivers are faster, everyone is solo, save the odd check ride. The cars are faster too. Gone are the daily drivers (the non-sports cars, anyway) and weird hobbyist cars. Yellow is the domain of the Italians and Germans and Loti. And now, one more Corvette. I’m smiling more now.

“Ok, I'll be here in the pits, with helmet, if you want to come in and pick me up. Have fun and be safe!” says George.

It's the end of the day, and I justify to myself that yellow will be better since my tire carrier friend (no way to carry four track wheels in a ‘Vette, so I have to depend on my friends) is running in yellow, and if I run there too, he doesn't have to wait until after blue to pack up and hit the road. There is the off chance that I'll meet up with him on track, which would be bad. One of us would have to give way, and the tale would follow both of us back to Austin.

An hour later, I'm lined up in the grid, blue sticker on my windshield, in yellow run group. There's nothing but racecars here, and everyone has a seat harness. Sticky tires. Turbochargers. Superchargers. Wings. Stickers. Flux Capacitors. My car is blue, I tell myself. Blue FTW! Faster. Intimidating. Oh, yes. With my head in the right place, I give the thumbs up to the grid marshal.

I head out onto the track, goosing and oversteering to heat the tires a bit and give the crowd a bit of a show. And it's fun. Last run of the day, the sun is setting and it's been a good weekend so far.

Warm up lap done, I head into the serpentine trailing a Minicooper S. I'm still on him at the end of it, so he obligingly pulls offline and gives me the fast line onto the main straight. He points, and I pass! Woot! Passing in yellow! I rock! How the hell did I do that? But it was a mini, half my horsepower. He was prolly conserving at the end of the day, like a sane person would. He'll catch me in the next sequence, I bet.

I'm actually going faster now than I have before, so I have to upshift and then back down to third for the first turn, a long sweeper right. I heel-toe down just so, and the car has narry a wobble going into full throttle as I hit the apex fashionably late and blast up the next straight, trailing a red RX8. Hell. He's very fast, I know. Never pass him. His license plate says ZM ZOOM, ferchrissakes. If it's written on a license plate, it must be true.

Yet as we enter the back sequence, I note that I'm carrying a good bit more speed into the turns then he is, and coming out of the boot hill turn, I'm filling up his mirrors. Next straight, he pulls off line and I take the pass. Holy crap! And what’s more I remain ahead of him as we make another lap. Doing good. I like this Yellow group so far!

Heading into Ricochet, I'm following a silver Porsche GT-3, and that is surely the end of passing. The porsche has my same power to weight, but is lighter. He'll dance through the serpentine, then kick in that terrible noisy Italian motor and be gone. Yet, as I set up for the Ricochet, I see him getting closer and closer. He hit the apex right, but wasn't on the power enough, or had not enough torque or my line was better. I catch him at wagon wheel and I see him tap his mirror. He knows I’m here, and will let me go by next straight. Excellent!

In the main straight, he's up for the drag race. Despite the point, I hear him punch it as I come out of the turn. The blue car roars in defiance and outrage. He gave the point, and now wants to race? He's on the outside, I'm a car width and a half inside as we have to set up for the first turn. Heel-toe downshift; if I miss this, he's gone, but I don't. We rocket towards the apex of the turn called “big bend” with the throttle on the floor. The GT-3 is fading back, back, not having the horsies to keep up. Now, I have to survive this turn...

I feel half my left tires off the edge of the asphalt at track out. Not off, not off... Flat out and on the straight, faster than I have ever been going on this section of track.

I know it now: I'm invincible today. None shall pass! I relax and smile, and turn the best times of the weekend, on the last session of the day.

I never saw my friend, at least not going anywhere. I passed his car sitting still in the middle of one of the straights. I missed seeing it, but he spun twice around and confused the computer something awful. Messages including (but not limited to) “Service Active Handling” and “Service Shock Absorbers” and “Check Engine”, “Clean out Driver's Shorts” were displayed on his dashboard information console.

I come back into the pits at the end of the session, to congratulations and surprise from my instructor. I tell him that if you drive with the good drivers, you get better, and he agrees. I can sign up for yellow at TWS in March, which will be a hoot. I can't wait.

Dead On

Short narration of a track session last year.
Thumbs up. The grid marshal signals me with orange-gloved hands to move onto the track, so the blue car and I clutch out and roll onto Texas World Speedway one more time.

Driving down pit row, I check gauges and pile on the power until the tires are about to break loose. No point in spinning them here; it's a little vulgar. I press and hold a button, and traction control goes into competition mode. I'm pleased I remember this, late in the day. I'm solo, having been signed off earlier. I'm pleased with that too.

The pit out worker has the GO sign up, so we continue to accelerate into turn 1. The sun is setting, and this will be the last run of the day. I feel it in my shoulders and neck, unused to the helmet, and in the car which is just a hair looser than it was this morning. Brakes a bit slower, heats up a bit faster. I resolve to take it easy, as I have to go back home and work is Monday and I have to have a car to drive then.

Still getting used to the tires. The slicks make my blue friend into a different car. It starts out greasy and gets stickier until it's glued to the track. I accelerate into turn 1 hard, testing the limit of the tires. I find the edge fast, and the car begins to oversteer right, so I back off a bit for the apex, let the traction control fiddle with the rear end until it’s stable, and hit it hard on the way out, heating up the tires as we drift to track out.

As we brake for turn 3, I relax into the harness and try to feel the brakes come loose at threshold. They do, midway through the braking cycle, and I back off a bit as we heel-toe down to third gear. I hit the turn just right though, because at the apex, the car takes off with delusions of F1. The slicks are starting to bite early, and track out here has a few inches more asphalt on the left, which I use. I remind us that we will take it easy this run, but the blue car has other ideas.

On the short straight, I check mirrors, corners. John and John's C5 'vert are right back there, and I know Steve told John how to pass me. Steve is my old instructor, and relentless. No flags at 4, so I set up for the turn. Another one nearly perfect. I braked a little early, but the tires are not quite there yet, and I've seen 4 eat folks that brake too late. There’s no one in front of me. No flags or warnings.

I roll into five and six like I learned, pushing hard and braking down to take the subtle left-left combination. There is a jolt, and a puff of white in my rear view at track out in six, as I drop a tire off into the dirt. For the last time, I think about backing off and driving like I need to go to work on Monday, but the blue car is roaring now, tires like superglue, and I nail the throttle all the way down and upshift to fourth at redline. In the straight, I open up distance on John and then I'm at seven.

Seven was my favorite turn early on, but it's a deceptive bitch now. A very good driver in a race spec car ran off there earlier today at around 115 mph. It's the second fastest turn on the course. As I enter the turn, I'm going 110, on my street suspension and used Victoracers.

I tap the brakes to set up and turn in, and time slows down to give me the best seat in the house. I can see everything: Setting sunlight on the leaves on the trees at the side of the track, John in my rear view, back a good way, the french-cut manicure job of the corner worker, her hand empty of flags for now, the HUD showing 105 MPH. I relax into the harness, as I'm committed. If I back off now, I'll spin and get a lot closer to the trees. Pointed at the apex, I roll into the throttle, to hold the blue car on the line, and it sticks! drifting, drifting, going to drop a wheel off, I can see, all in slow motion.

There's a small lurch when we hit track out, but the blue car and I are fast today, and we blast up the hill for eight leaving another puff of dust behind us. Backing off is forgotten, and we run hard for the braking zone in eight, because it's the weekend, and because this is what we were made for and it's going to be alright.

John didn't catch up. My front tires were down to the cords when I put into the pits and started to change the blue car back into a daily driver. I left a lot of rubber out on the track.

The best part about going back to the pits was knowing that we had been able to recognize the apex of the day and hit it dead on.


Learning the language of a new sport is always fun, and this one has quite a cant associated. Here are some of the more common terms you may see (in no particular order):

Wheel to wheel: Racing, as opposed to HPDE.

HPDE: High Performance Driver Education. Going fast, but without timers or free passing.

Autocross: Also called "Solo" or "Solo II". There are many rules for this, but basically, it's a time trial, generally held at speeds that can be accommodated in a parking lot (no more than 80 MPH) on a course no more than a mile in length. Any longer, and it's High Speed Auto Cross, and there are other rules. Characterized by driving around orange cones.

Time Trial: Trying for the best lap time on a track. One car runs at a time, so there's no distractions or passing. Like a qualifying lap.

Grid: Where cars set up to go out on track. In a race, where you are in the grid (how close to the front) is determined by how fast you qualify.

Grid Marshal: The person who signals cars out on track, tells the corner workers what to do and disciplines drivers.

Paddock: Garage/camp/setup area, where cars park between run sessions.

Pits: Adjacent to the paddock, they are the transition are between the paddock and the racetrack.

Hot pits: Place where a car can pull off the racing surface and stop, for any number of reasons.

Flags: Flags are shown at corner stations to communiacte with drivers. For example, a yellow flag waved by a corner worker tells the drivers to slow down, cease passing and watch for trouble on the track ahead. The commonly used flags (and their meanings are: Yellow (caution), Red (safe stop offline and wait for instructions from the nearest corner worker), black (pointed; means something is wrong and you will pit at your next opportunity), blue and yellow (pointed; means people are waiting to pass you and you should let them around), white (last lap), checkered (end of session, commence cooldown lap, pit at next opportunity. In a race, it indicates the winner).

Corner Workers: People stationed at various points around the track that wave flags for various reasons. They are the method of communication between the grid marshall and the drivers. Spotting all the corner workers and being able to tell what they are wearing and so forth is a good test of situational awareness.

Overcooked: Went into a turn too hot. Generally means an off-track excursion or could be locking up the brakes going into a turn.

Too hot: Too fast for the track at a given point.

Rolling Chicane: A slow driver

Point-by: A passing signal. In HPDEs, where passing is at the discretion of the front car, these are very important. It's given with your arm extended from the driver's window with the index finger pointed left of the car or over the roof to the right of the car, meaning "pass me on the left" or "pass me on the right". Even in racing, point bys are honored, though given mostly between cars from different divisions that are on the same track.

Loose condition: Rear of the car is going faster then the front, and may end up spinning the car.

Understeer: When you turn the wheel and the car "pushes" the front wheels in a straight line. Also called simply "pushing".

Oversteer: When the rear of the car tries to pass the front. Often done deliberately to swing the rear of the car into a better position for the next turn.

Lift: Lifting the right foot off the throttle.

Weight transfer: Using the brakes, acceleration and steering to shift the weight of the car side to side and front to back.

Mechanical: A mechanical failure.

Sweeper: A gentle sweeping turn.

Carousel: a 180 degree turn.

Hairpin: A sharp 180 degree turn

Trail Braking: Braking as the car begins to turn. Generally, cars are braked in as straight a line as possible, but sometimes it's necessary to "trail" the car into a turn because of the track geometry.

The Line: The best driving path through a course.

Braking zone: The point approaching a turn where you decelerate the car and change gears if necessary.

Turn-in: The point where you point the car towards the apex of a turn and cease braking.

Apex: The mid point of a turn.

Track-out: Where the car naturally flows as you leave the apex.

Late Apex: Displacing the apex of the turn downtrack.

Early Apex: Displacing the apex uptrack.

"Slow in, fast out": Racer talk that means exit speed on a corner is more important than entry speed. Sir Stirling Moss said "It's better to go in slow and come out fast then it is to go in fast and come out dead".

Heel and Toe: Using the brake and throttle at the same time, while shifting. It's used to match the speed of the engine to the wheels during downshifting so as to upset the car less. The name comes from using one's heel to blip the throttle while one's toes are on the brake.

Tapdancing: Swerving rapidly to avoid objects, generally debris, ontrack.

Offline: To drive off the fast line around the track. Often, a driver will go offline so that another faster one can pass, or if his car has broken.

Armco: Currugated steel crash barrier. You have probably seen it in the form of guardrails on the highway. Around racetracks, it's called Armco.

Hot Track/Cold Track: When the track is "hot", high speed traffic is on it. No one not participating in the event is allowed on the track while it's hot.

Pyrometer: A device for checking tire temperature to determine alignment, tire pressure changes and wear.

Intro to High Performance Driving

Every weekend, all across the country, there are thousands of folks who pack up and head for the racetrack. They are not going to watch, but rather to learn how to drive better. Here's a faq-like intro to this highly addicting sport:

Q: Is it dangerous?
A: I find driving to work in the morning more dangerous. Danger on a road is often directly proportional to how predictable the drivers around you are. On the track, I know where the cars in front of me are going to be, and the cars behind me know where I'll be too, so we're all pretty predictable. Predictable == safe. It's possible to be a danger to yourself, but that's true of any endeavor.

Q: Is it expensive to do?
A: In the beginning, no. Around $300 per weekend, plus the cost of a hotel room and food and fuel. I burn around 20 gallons of premium a day at the track, but when I started, it was more like 10. $500 or so is a pretty cheap weekend, as getaways go.

Q: Are you racing?
A: Nope. Racing means that there is a winner, and that passing on the track is unrestricted. It also generally means that the event is timed, and that normal car insurance will not cover you if you beef it. In the typical HPDE (High Performance Driving Event), passing is restricted to straightaways, and is always indicated by the car being passed. There are no timers, and no losers. Insurance generally covers the participants, though check your policy before you go.

Q: Can you pass other cars?
A: Yes. It works like this: If you are close behind another car, and clearly faster (it's obvious most of the time), the driver in front is supposed to stick their arm out the window and indicate (by pointing) which side they want you to pass on. When you see that sign (called a "point by"), and you are in a passing zone, you're clear to pass. The passee generally also lifts on the throttle, so the passing car has an easier time of it.

Q: If you're not racing, what's the point?
A: I think it's different for everyone, but here are some reasons I've heard:
"I bought a new car, and it scared me because it's faster than anything I've ever owned."
"I want to be more confident behind the wheel, after my wreck".
"I want my child to be as safe as possible on the road, and Driver's Education wasn't doing it".
"I want to learn if I can go fast, because I might want to race one day".
"I'm a paralyzed from the waist down, and this is a sport where that doesn't matter".
"It's fun!"
"This car deserves to be on the track!"

Q: How does going around in circles teach you to drive better?
A: Ah, we don't go in circles. Oval track driving is actually a good bit more dangerous than road course driving, because there is a wall on the outside if the track. The tracks we drive on are many turns, left and right, with elevation changes and so forth. Like a twisty country road, but paved. They are designed to be challenging to drive, and there is generally plenty of run-off space if you spin.

Q: How is this different from AutoCross?
A: Autocross (or "Solo" competition in SCCA) is a competition, basically a time trial where one car takes the track at a time, and speeds are relatively low. It's possible to do AutoCross in any large paved place, and cones mark the course. HPDEs are not timed, and there are many cars on the course at a time. Speeds at HPDEs are also higher; AutoCross should not go over 80 MPH and the courses are under one mile in length (for low speed).

Q: How fast have you gone?
A: I get that one alot. Honestly, it doesn't matter. I've never topped out the car, that's for sure. My car tops out at 173 MPH. Every track is different, and some are faster than others. Speeds over 100 MPH are common. I've gone as fast as I could and keep the car under control given the conditions on the track.

Q: Do you run in the rain?
A: Yep. Rain is an excellent teaching tool. After all, you drive to work in the rain, right? So, if you drive on the track in the rain, you will be forced to drive more smoothly, and react calmly to sudden events, which will make you a safer driver on the street in bad weather. Cars are more stable on wet pavement than people realize, but only if you drive smooth.

Q: How does the school work?
A: Lots of different schools out there, and lots of different ways to teach, but I can tell you how The Driver's Edge works. You drive your own car, so you can learn on a familiar platform. There are four "run sessions" per day, about 30 minutes each. You are grouped with drivers of similar skill in one of four "run groups". Green is novice, Blue is intermediate, Yellow is advanced and Red is Expert. There is a fifth group, made up of instructors. There are classroom "chalk talks" between each run session, to talk over technique. You have an instructor in the car with you, telling you how to get the most out of your car and the track. The instructors will gladly drive your car if you want to see an example of what it can really do, and most of them have race cars that you can ride in to see how one of those works. The instructors are paid in track time. They come instruct, and get to run four or so sessions on the track for free. It's a good deal if you have the level of skill needed to instruct.

Q: Do I need a modded car?
A: No. Most cars can move around a track MUCH faster than you'd think, and the physics of four wheels is the same, roughly, for all. You can run pump gas, as fuel at the track is notoriously expensive.

Q: What do I need to go do this?
A: The most important thing to bring is a good attitude. If you come ready to learn, you're on the right track. Second is a tech-checked car. Nothing is more frustrating than to get to the event and miss a run session because of a mechanical. Make sure the car includes a helmet, or rent one at the track. Lastly, bring water. Driving this way dehydrates you. A dehydrated driver is an unsafe driver, as your brain simply doesn't process as fast when it's parched.