Year in and year out, racers take to the track for the first time to see if they can fulfill their need for speed and to chase the dream of standing in the winner's circle. For competitors who have already progressed beyond their rookie status, racing becomes an effort to improve from race to race and season to season, with the objective of being the best.
Achievement in racing is no accident (no pun intended), but rather is the systematic pursuit of a well-designed plan for success. This kind of thinking is at the heart of meeting and exceeding a racer's expectations or goals.
As a racer or soon-to-be racer, you may well ask, if I don't know what to plan for, how do I make a plan? It's a good question, and one that many competitors have struggled with since their beginnings.
In an effort to help shortcut a trial-and-error method of planning, Circle Track turned to one of dirt racing's hottest stars, Dale McDowell, to get an idea of how and what to plan for. McDowell shared his thoughts with us on how to achieve success.
Most of what McDowell told us has its roots in his personal trek toward becoming a champion. And while many of the points are angled toward the beginner, other tips are useful for racers that are in somewhat of a continuing-education process of advancing their race efforts.
In either case, McDowell's plan is sound and has elements that will benefit racers at virtually any level. Interwoven is the underlying theme of patience and dedication, both of which are the glue that holds the blueprint together.
This strategy is presented as an outline of 10 points-a fundamental road map that provides a solid foundation for success.
So read on, and learn what a champion has to say on how to become a champion.
Roll Up Your SleevesIf you are not into racing but are considering it, get involved with a good team as a helper. Learn what it takes to race on the local level by becoming a volunteer for a team. From an educational standpoint, there is no better way to gain the fundamentals in racing. Don't limit yourself to learning from one team; as you meet others in racing, ask questions to determine what works for the successful competitors. Copying success is never a bad thing.
Don't Race With JunkIt's true that racing can be expensive, and it's important to be on the lookout for ways to get the most for your money. However, it is just as crucial that you choose good equipment. You can learn what is good from your competitors and other experts in the race car field. Having good equipment may cost a bit more on the front end, but it's a critical investment for those who intend to really be competitive.
Go To SchoolEnrolling in a driving school is another excellent, fundamental building block. Learning in a school environment provides firsthand experience in driving basics from professional racers. Most of the schools provide a course that includes a ride and drive phase. The ride part gives students the feel of the car on a track, and the drive part provides firsthand experience under the wheel. It's also smart to involve key crewmembers in this schooling. This would contribute to their understanding of a driver's needs and will make for a more solid team.
Start At The BottomIf you are a beginner, start in a lower division. Depending on the track you race, there are usually classes, like four-cylinder ones, that are perfect for getting your feet wet and learning. Trying to jump into racing by starting in an upper level division will not serve you well, because you will likely be overwhelmed driving against others of much higher experience. Beginning a race career at lower levels affords the opportunity of competing among others that are likely to be more at your level; it will also provide a better opportunity for learning without the frustrations that may come from mixing it up with much more advanced racers.
Limit YourselfOnce you have decided on what division to race, do it on a limited track basis. Pick one or two tracks to begin your racing career; don't just load up and go to any track you can find. Do your racing internship in a way that allows you to become familiar with a track (or two). This will allow you to begin to understand your driving skills and improve them. If you randomly go to tracks, your skills will not develop as rapidly or consistently because you will spend too much time learning new tracks instead of advancing your basic racing skills.
Find The BestSurround yourself with the best talent you can find. Having dedicated and passionate crewmembers around you goes a long way in the quest for improvement. If you have the right people with the right attitude as your team members, the quality of work and enthusiasm for the sport will be infectious.
Expand Your HorizonsAs you achieve some measure of success and confidence at one or two local tracks, spread your wings a little. Becoming the best you can be at your beginning tracks is good, but you must then add to your race environments by competing at new tracks.
As you begin your expansion, be careful not to overdo it-stay within your region, don't spend a lot of your time traveling, and take one step at time. Experience a new track, and become competent before you go to yet another. The point of the expansion is to test and grow your driving skills.
Get ComfortableDriving in a regular series is the next step in helping to mold you, and will provide you with an idea of what it takes to move up the ladder, because you will now be competing against others who share the goal of moving up. This step will take you on the continuing path of skill development, helping you further hone your natural abilities while improving skills that do not come quite as naturally.
Raise The BarAs you venture out, it's easy to become frustrated, and you may experience less than desired results in your race performance. So, it's important to set many achievable goals while always setting the bar higher each time you go out. For example, at a new track, your goal should be to make the race, then the next time, set a finishing goal of something like the top 10. With each successive race, continue to raise the bar.
In raising the bar, it's also vital that you race against the best. Find out who is the best in each series, and set your sights to learn from that competitor and, when possible, race against them. This can be one of the most effective learning methods you can incorporate into your race effort.
Market YourselfAs you rise in racing, market yourself. This is one of the most overlooked parts of a successful racing program. You do not have to be a PR specialist to do this, but it wouldn't hurt to consult one and learn the basics.
Self-marketing can be the difference between a good race program or a great one. With the infusion of sponsorship capital or products, your program can achieve its best potential.
Note that not everyone has the goal of rising to national status. Being the best on a local or regional level is definitely a great goal; however, in either situation, marketing yourself can help you achieve your objectives and aid you in landing a sponsor or product support from manufacturers. If your aim is to improve, do not skip this essential element.
Dale McDowell'99 Hav-A-Tampa Series ChampionHometown: Rossville, GACar #17Sponsored by Glen's Auto Parts, ockwood, TNDover Cylinder Heads, Chattanooga, TN