Braking a race car is more than just jumping on and off the pedal; it takes finesse, precision, and intelligent decision making. Top drivers develop these skills on the track through years of practice and competition-but you don't want to wait that long. You want to know the best tips on braking from today's best drivers. You got it.
Dale McDowell, '99 Hav-A-Tampa champion, knows what it takes to win, and we wanted to tap into that knowledge. We asked him to tell us his best tips on braking technique and setup so we could pass his years of valuable insights onto you. So here you go-or should we say-slow.
A General Braking AxiomBraking is one of the most important ingredients in a car. During a race, as the track changes, your setup is going to stay the same, so different braking procedures are how you can make your car adapt to all the different track conditions. Therefore, utilizing a variety of on-track braking techniques can keep you running fast despite changing conditions.
Allow For Enough Brake-Bias Rod ClearanceIt is very important that the brake-bias rod on your brake pedal has plenty of side-to-side clearance.
If it does not have enough clearance, it will not let your front-to-rear brake percentage properly operate when pressure is applied to the pedal. You should have at least 16 to 18 turns, lock to lock, on the brake adjuster.
Too tight? Try smaller calipers or master cylindersIf your car is too tight on the entrance of the corner, and the brakes are adjusted all the way to the rear, then try smaller calipers on the front and larger on the rear. Another thing to try is using, for example, a 71/48-inch master cylinder for the rear brakes and a 1-inch for the front. The smaller master cylinder bore increases fluid pressure to the rear thereby improving rear brake power.
Passing On Tacky TracksIf you are trying to pass on a heavy track, use the brake to pivot the car in the center of the corner more than the car you are chasing in order to exit the corner in a lower groove. On heavy or tacky tracks, it is common to have to use a lot of brake to properly set your car for corner entrance and possibly even use only three-wheel brakes, which is known as right-front shutoff.
Braking Around A Slick TrackIt is very important, when running on an extremely slick track, that you don't have to use a lot of brake to set your car for proper corner entrance. Unlike on a heavy track, if you break traction entering a slick corner, it is hard to regain that traction. Obviously, you are going to use some braking to set up the car, turn it, and slow it down, but if you use too much brake and turn your car sideways, it is very difficult to find the traction you need to regain that forward bite. Getting this right takes feel and practice.
Passing On Slick TracksWhen trying to make a pass on a slippery track, try to use less brake than the car in front of you to keep or maintain more momentum. Momentum in the center of corners equals an increase of exit speed. Most of your passing is down through the center and off the corner, so if you can use less brake than the guy in front of you, but still get your car to rotate, you can roll across the center of the corner faster and thus exit quicker.
Don't Use The Brakes As The Only SolutionAs tracks become slicker, brakes become more important. You can make your car do many different things by applying more or less braking, but sometimes, it is used as a crutch, and that fact really seems to show up more on the very slick tracks. If the car is not handling well on a slick track, and you are fixing its handling with the brakes, then sometimes, you need to go back and work on your chassis.
Adjust For ConditionsOn Slick Tracks, It Is Common To not use as much rear brake as on wet tacky tracks. For example, if you are having to use a lot of rear brake to set the car on a tacky track, then, obviously, when the track gets more slippery, you can start adjusting back to the front brakes.
Loose On EntryIf your car is loose on corner entry, you can tighten it up by applying brake pressure gradually as you roll out of the throttle on the entrance through the apex. This helps because once the track becomes more slippery and your car is really loose coming into the corner, you can actually tighten up the race car. Many smooth drivers are excellent at adapting from a wet track to a slick one, by knowing what to do with the brakes and throttle control.
Keeping The Reins On WheelspinYou can sometimes control wheelspin exiting the corners on the slick tracks by lightly dragging or applying a small amount of brake pressure as you exit the corner during a smooth throttle application. These two processes occur simultaneously. Sometimes, if the track gets very slick after you have made your entrance and come across the center and you start applying throttle, if you get wheelspin, you may be able to drag the brake just a little bit and "get that corner loaded up." It also is useful in helping to prevent a spin if the tires break loose of their traction.
To Turn Early, Brake When StraightSometimes it helps on slick tracks to use the brakes while the car is as straight as possible, then make an early pivot, cutting across the center of the corner to the bottom groove on the exit. This can help increase exit speed. On a slick racetrack, if you are following someone, sometimes you can use more brake to slow the car down while it is going straight, because once you start making your arc to the center apex and use the brakes, it will loosen your car. Be careful not to use too much brakes to pivot the car too early on the corner entrance, or it may cause a push across the center or on the exit.
Don't SkateIf too much brake is applied while the car is making its pivot, four-wheel drift or "skate" will result. On a slick track, if you are turning down toward the bottom, or you're out on the straightaway on a track with a long entrance and use a lot of brakes to get your car in the turn, you are going to scoot out of one or two grooves-or worse. Watch out for this.