Friday, April 14, 2006


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.


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