Jeff Fultz, two-time NASCAR...
Jeff Fultz, two-time NASCAR touring series championship driver, probably understands the value of his input to the team more than many others.
In real estate, it's all about location. In racing, it's all about communication. Probably the key ingredient in building a winning team is to have quality communication, and the flow of information between driver and crew is where it all begins.
Nearly every race car must be tweaked, no matter how good the setup appears. If the car is terrible, the level of intensity for communication goes up several notches. The driver is the single individual that must take the setup he is provided and do the best job he is capable of doing, and with that, be able to tell the crew exactly what the car is doing, right or wrong.
To be truly successful, the driver must have a hand in the process and decisions that will ultimately determine the way the car is set up. There are certain rules and procedures for proper and efficient communication between the driver and the crew. Here are a few ideas that might help your team's flow of information.
Harley Boeve (left, in the...
Harley Boeve (left, in the red jacket) of Port City Racing stops in at a USAR Hooters Pro Cup race.
Preparation and Team Goals A team that communicates well is usually more organized, better prepared, and more efficient than its competitors. There are many varied areas in the whole racing operation where improved communication will benefit the team and enhance the chances for success. Driver communication is at the top of that list.
The driver has a responsibility to communicate effectively with the crew. The process starts with constructing the car for individual driver preferences on issues such as pedal placement, steering wheel position, seat angle and position, seatbelt adjustment, gauge placement, the extent and quality of safety equipment used, and any other matter that concerns the driver's comfort.
Successful crewchief/owners, such as Jon Craig, the middle "C" in JCR3 Racing, develop team communication to a science.
A set of goals and expectations must be established before the car ever hits the track. The driver and crew should anticipate the track conditions and set up the car accordingly. For dirt teams, this means knowing how the track crew prepares the surface at this particular track, how much grip it may have initially, and how the grip will change over the course of the event.
It is always a plus for the driver to communicate with other drivers about track conditions or problems with certain parts of the track. They should ask questions such as, "My car is always loose off Turn 4, has that happened to you?" Or they should make an introductory statement such as, "I was following you through 4 and noticed that you looked loose off. My car was doing the same thing. It must be the track because I'm OK in Turn 2."
Once practice comes around, the driver needs to fully understand how the car is set up and have a good idea of how it should feel. The practice session is intended to be an opportunity for him to compare how it does feel to how he anticipated it to feel.
Problems in Testing/Practice Brake bias, steering ratios, and basic handling problems can all be addressed when the driver knows how to communicate accurately and honestly about how the car behaves during practice. The driver/spotter communication back to the crewchief is critical during these practice sessions.
Talking to another driver...
Talking to another driver is an excellent way to work out handling problems that relate to track conditions.
A team needs to find a spotter who is experienced and is acceptable to the driver. Usually this is a close friend, family member, or someone trusted by the driver to help provide quick and accurate information about the car that the driver might not be able to see or be otherwise aware of. Tire smoke, oil or debris on the track, or a slow car ahead are typical bits of information that a spotter can provide to help the driver.
Along with those environmental issues, the spotter also needs to be aware of basic handling issues associated with how the car looks on the racetrack and how the driver needs to drive the car.
Examples:1. The driver is making a diamond turn in the middle, showing that the car might be tight.
2. The front wheels are turned excessively, which means that the car is tight.
Scott Hantz starts the practice...
Scott Hantz starts the practice session off a little on the tight side of handling balance at a Rockford (IL) race.
3. The car snaps loose just after the front wheels have been turned too much, indicating a tight/loose condition.
4. Mid-turn segment times are slow, indicating a handling problem (assuming that someone is timing segments).
5. The car is not entering the turns as deep as the competition, meaning entry handling might be suspect.
6. Other cars pull away down the straightaway, which tells us that the engine performance might be off (so we can look beyond the setup to find the three tenths we are slower).
The quicker we can identify potential problems, the sooner we can fix them and fine-tune the setup.
This spotter records lap and...
This spotter records lap and segment times of the team's car as well as the competition.
This type of information is shared with the driver. Together, they can sort out what the problems might be and come to an agreement as to a solution. Here is a list of potential problems.
BrakesThe bias might be off, causing a loose or tight condition on entry to the corner. Solve entry problems first. The determinant is the handling. Compare floating the car in using little braking to doing an entry using much more braking to see if there is a difference in handling. If there is no difference, then the problem is probably rear steer or shock related.
ShocksIncorrect shock rates can cause entry and exit problems. The use of shocks to tune the handling is of no use if the basic mid-turn handling has not been sorted out and refined. The driver must be aware of how the car is diving and rolling under normal conditions and then be able to report when this changes, due to a possible broken shock.
I have seen cases where a driver could not tell when a right front shock had locked up and would not move. That is the most basic form of feel and feedback that is required of a driver. If you don't know when a corner of the car has quit moving, it is time for sensitivity training.
Turn spotters can sometimes...
Turn spotters can sometimes see handling problems better than a spotter up on the trailer.
SteeringThe driver has the steering wheel in hand for the entire practice session and should be memorizing what he has to do with that wheel throughout the lap. If, while running at speed, he needs to do something far different than when warming up the rearend grease at slow speed, that is a clue that something is wrong.
We can tell a lot about the setup just by looking at the driver's hand position related to how much he turns the wheel. A Sprint Car driver that had to turn the wheel right to go straight (when the car was going straight ahead) could tell they had an extremely bad roll steer problem.
PowerIf we are three tenths off in lap times but right with the fastest cars in turn segment times, then we need to look to the engine for the problem, not setup. The spotter can get segment times easily. Turn segments are easier.
You only need the turn times. Compare them with other fast cars to know whether you have a setup problem or a motor problem. I've been two tenths faster per turn but three tenths slow on total lap times. Our 9:1 engine was being starved for fuel. Once we fed it more fuel, it came alive. Without knowing where the problem lay, we would have probably chased the setup, ruining the good setup we already had.
The driver must communicate...
The driver must communicate how the car feels and make suggestions for improvement.
TiresIf your car is on a rail with no problems with balance and it is fast, and then the setup suddenly goes away after you have changed tires, don't blame the setup. When the handling goes away, make sure that it isn't because of a hard tire or a mismatched set. Always suspect the tires and try another set right away without changing any setup parameters.
I have experienced many cases where a bad set of tires completely changed the setup balance for the worse. I have recently communicated with racers who experienced the same thing, even with new tires. Try to pick your tires with matching batch numbers. Take a durometer gauge with you when choosing tires. A hard tire will show up on the meter.
Basic SetupBe immediately aware of basic handling problems once you get the car up to speed. Don't make 10 laps or more with a car that is way out of whack. All you will do is overheat a tire and cause more problems with excess tire heat and wear.
Experienced drivers make great...
Experienced drivers make great crewchiefs. Jimmy Spencer is a good example of this.
Come in and discuss the problem, come to a solution, make an adjustment, and then return to the track to evaluate the change. Do all of this quickly until the car is close. Then, and only then, make 10 lap runs to decide on fine-tuning steps.
Race FeedbackFrom the moment the green flag drops, the driver should be aware of the balance of the car at all critical points on the track. As the race progresses, there may be an opportunity to come in and make a change without losing a lap. If it is late in a long race, there may be fewer cars on the lead lap, allowing for a better chance to make it back to the front.
If no changes are possible, at the very least the crew can confer after the race is over on possible solutions to the handling problems. Here is where precise and complete disclosure of information is badly needed. Sometimes there might be a difference between the used practice tires and new ones that is consistent and can be anticipated in advance.
It may be that the track conditions have changed and affected the setup. Again, a solution can be found for future races. In that event, the race was a refined practice session that can have positive results as long as information was derived from it.
Hooters driver Jay Fogleman...
Hooters driver Jay Fogleman and car builder Jay Hedgecock talk about basic handling issues.
Sometimes it all comes down to the fact that the driver did not run as hard in practice as in the race. Handling is g-force sensitive. If the car is run harder in one session than the other, there may be a difference in balance between the two. Great drivers run practice just like the race-as hard as possible. They are then able to trust the feel of the car related to how it will feel under race conditions.
Experience And ChemistryThe art of communication is developed over time. The more experience a team has and the more time they spend together, the better their communication skills should be. If the communication is getting worse, then adjustments must be made in either the process or the personnel.
Chemistry is often the key ingredient. Personalities must be taken into consideration. Some folks just get along and think alike, and some don't. That is just human nature. The sooner a team owner figures out that his team has good communication skills or not, the better he can determine the chances of success for that team.
It helps to know the car inside...
It helps to know the car inside and out. Bobby Gill works on his own car and knows everything about it.
Young drivers and old crewchiefs may be a problem because of the generation gap. That is not necessarily true in all cases, but it can be a factor. The legendary Dick Anderson has teamed up with Jason Boyd, a young and rising talent, to a degree of success. They get along and respect each other, and that works.
Remember that the most successful drivers, especially those who have risen to the top in the Nextel Cup series, all have one thing in common that helped propel them through the years, and that is a refined sense of feel for the car and the ability to communicate that back to the team. If your driver insists on you figuring out the problem with little or useless feedback from him, then it is time to speak up and make him understand the damage he does.
Remind your driver that we can all see the Nextel Cup drivers on TV talking with the crewchief and constantly communicating how the car feels and what the driver thinks should be done. Have you ever wondered why some drivers make it and some don't? The answer is communication-plain and simple.