Instructor BJ McLeod explains the school methods that he himself employs in his own racing
Qualifying up front is very important for several reasons. The foremost is to avoid early trouble as the cars farther back make their moves to the front. Overaggressive driving is usually observed very early in the race, and you don't want to be in the middle of, or behind, that process.
Too many drivers, who are otherwise successful, are terrible qualifiers. Why, when in practice and in the race they can run comparatively fast laps, do they fall down when it counts the most? We have not only discovered the correct method for qualifying, we have also discovered and will explain to you why it works.
We decided to conduct a test session and somewhat of a school and asked our friends, Mike and Kristal Loescher, to instruct a team whose qualifying often leaves something on the table. Marty Zehr, whose son, Dalton, will drive our NASCAR Late Model stock car this year, admitted that they could use some help when approached to participate in this test.
Mike explains to Dalton the error of his ways after a simulated qualifying run. The proble
An experienced instructor at the FinishLine School is BJ McLeod, a Florida Super Late Model champion who spent time with Dalton for this test. BJ has a lot of wins to his credit, and more importantly for this effort, a lot of fast times in qualifying. He teaches the driving method developed by Mike and Kristal, which we reported on in the CT article "Head of the Class" (July '04, pg. 81). This is where I took the three-day driving course and where we explained the correct method for driving a stock car. Much of what follows will sound familiar to those who read that article.
Dalton has raced very well in the past and ended up Second in points in the ASA Late Model South series this past year, his rookie year. That is a very good finish, but it could have been better had he qualified better during the season. In a race where he had the quickest and most consistent car in the field based on practice laps, he qualified a disappointing 16th and ended up getting caught up in a first-lap jam up where he got hit from the rear, ending the night for that car.
Had he qualified in the Top 5, he would not have gotten in trouble in that incident. This scenario is typical of many racers, and with a little help and explanation, we think we can help. All you have to do is follow along with this process and try to understand how gains are made and time is lost by your qualifying process, be it right or wrong.
For the regular driving school, Mike paints dots on the track surface to mark where the st
What Defines a Fast Lap?
This question sounds like a no-brainer, but we first need to understand what exactly makes for a fast lap. Of course, it is the recording of the least time possible from starting line to starting line, but there are several factors that play into creating the fast lap.
First, there is turn speed. If you can get through the turns at 68 mph during practice, then that speed should increase by about 2 or more mph on fresh qualifying tires. In a previous article, we found that 1 mph on a half-mile track was good for about 0.2 second, so we should pick up around 0.4 second per lap on fresh tires.
There is also the factor of more aggressive acceleration. That again plays into the fresh tires being able to grip and hold better when asked to accelerate the car earlier than it did on used tires. If we can begin accelerating sooner, then we should gain more speed over the length of the acceleration zone for maybe another 0.1-second gain per straightaway.
With new rubber on the car, we have theoretically gained 0.6 second over our practice times. A good qualifier can do this on a consistent basis, or even better. How do they do that? Let's break this fast lap down and see why it is faster.
CorrectTurn Entry Procedure
The turn entry must be perfect in order for the rest of the lap to be good. Here is where it all starts. If you, the driver, have found the point in practice where you absolutely cannot go in any deeper and still whoa the car down to make the turn, you need to back up the point where you get off the gas at least three to five car lengths.
Lifting at the right points seems early and slow, but it helps produce a faster average sp
In our test, BJ drove Dalton around the track and instructed him on where to lift, how to brake, where to get off the brakes, and when to begin to accelerate. The best entry is when the lift point is seemingly premature, and the worst entry is when the entry is delayed.
Most drivers will tell you that it feels fast to overdrive the entry. This is because it takes a lot of effort to drive the car. It is a bit exciting and dangerous, for sure, but it is not fast. Early lifting will help stabilize the car and cause it to settle sooner. Once the car is settled, it will be ready to accelerate sooner. Accelerating sooner means that our acceleration zone has lengthened. If we accelerate longer, the car will attain a higher average speed, and that is where the extra 0.1 second per straight comes from.
Backing off earlier allows us to use much less brake, and therefore, we will be faster through the normal "braking" zone. That is the area between the lifting point and the point where the car settles into its turn attitude. A lot of time can be left "on the table" in this portion of the turn.
With the entry correct and the braking phase faster, the acceleration can begin sooner and the middle phase will be faster. All three of these phases will be faster, as will the entire lap.
Over-running the mark by as little as a car length can cause a slowdown of a couple of ten
Incorrect Turn Entry
The absolute wrong way to enter the turn is to drive in very deep, hammer the brakes, and then try to gather up the car in order to begin to accelerate off the turn. The deep entry does several bad things.
First, we have to slow the car down to the allowable midturn speed in a much shorter length of time. We can only do this by applying a lot of brake. We slow the car down quickly and probably end up slower than we could have negotiated the middle due to lack of feel as excess load is transferred to the front tires.
The "table" portion we talked about is now slower than we could have driven it, the middle is slower, and the acceleration point is pushed farther around the turn as we wait for the car to settle down. We have gained a slight amount of speed in the first phase, lost some speed in the second phase, lost speed in the middle phase, and ended up accelerating late and at a lower speed. All of this adds up to a net loss of several mph and three to five tenths per turn.
This breakdown of the turn segment shows the three phases we are concerned about. The corr
What Drivers Do
Driving the car deep into the turns is uncomfortable because of the work it takes to overcome that mess, so skilled drivers will naturally back off earlier in practice so that in running 10- or 20-lap segments, they won't have to work so hard. The early entry allows earlier acceleration, and the lap times are decent.
During the year, our driver might have run in the 16.30's in practice and expected to turn 16.00's in qualifying. It would not be unreasonable on new tires to gain 0.3 second or more, but two things happened. The car was slower in the first qualifying lap and even slower in the second lap.
The first lap was driven hard to heat up the tires, and the second lap was a banzai lap intended to produce a fast time. It was executed by driving in way too deep, using lots of brake, and then, after a prolonged period of trying to get it settled down, accelerating late at a lower speed. He did all of the wrong things and it showed in the times.
At one race, I observed another driver's qualifying lap and would have sworn that it was very slow. It turned out to be the fastest time of the day. It looked uneventful, and that is exactly what it should have looked like. He backed off early and smoothly, rolled into the turns with little braking effort, squeezed the throttle early, and rolled off the turn without one wiggle or twitch. And it was fast.
The entry dot for lifting going into Turn 3 at New Smyrna Speedway is far from the deepest
An Explanation of the Process
BJ McLeod has a lot of poles to his credit in and around Florida. There are a lot of good drivers who can also put down a decent couple of laps, and he manages to best them on a regular basis. Here is how he explained his process: "I run my qualifying laps many times over in my head before I even get into the car. I know when I am going to lift and when I am going to begin to accelerate. When I leave pit road, the thought process is all over-I know exactly what I am going to do and I do it."
He doesn't let emotion or the heat of the moment drive his car. He does exactly what should be done by lifting at the correct point, letting the car roll into the turn and settle down, and then beginning to accelerate as soon as the car is ready, which is earlier than most. The lap times tell the story, and it works.
Lifting early feels like it will be slow. It takes a lot of discipline to work against the tendency to over-run the entry. Doing what works out right on the stopwatch and against what feels right is a process that has to be learned and memorized. It has to become second nature. Once you see the results, you will know what has to be done.
Mike goes over the theory and how it works in the different phases. The students can get a
The Results When we arrived, we shook down the test car, which was Dalton's regular series race car, by turning a few laps. Then, BJ took Dalton for a ride in the school's two-seater car to show him the various points on the track and how to drive the perfect qualifying lap.
Next, we ran two-lap qualifying runs in Dalton's car on cold tires. We used the same used tires as before, but waited a sufficient amount of time between runs in order to cool the tires. Remember that this was in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. There was no rubber on the track, and it was hot and greasy. The track remained consistent during the entire test.
The first run was done just the way he had always qualified and was a 19.8. On the next run, again on the same but cooled tires, and with a little instruction from Mike and BJ, the time fell to 19.50. We waited some more for the tires to cool, and then, with a few more corrections, the time dropped again to 19.30. By further fine-tuning the process, we were seeing 19.0's.
When the entry is executed correctly, the car stays on the bottom, is under control at all
After the school was over and everyone had left, Dalton practiced some more (with the same tires and setup) and got the times down into the 18.80's. The first runs from 19.8 to 19.5 could have just been getting the tires scuffed and the track blown off, but the real gain was around 0.7 second. At the races, when Dalton should have been three to four tenths quicker on new tires in qualifying, he was sometimes that much slower. With the method taught by Mike and BJ, he might now be able to start up front or even get a pole or two this season.
Mike often refers to the process as "slowing down to go fast" because that is what it feels like to a new student. The reality of the process is that you allow the car to maintain a higher speed instead of slowing it down, and the entry is then faster, the middle is faster, and the acceleration zone is longer. All of this adds up to a gain of 3-4 mph per lap (average), or six to eight tenths of a second. That will put you very near the front every time.