The most important component in the race car is the driver. The person behind the wheel must make the best use of all the hard work that has been done to develop a good, fast setup. All of the crewmembers contribute to the success of the team, but the driver is the one who must ultimately get the job done. Just like setups, there are fast driving styles and slower ones. We want our driver to be fast, consistent, and able to race against other skilled drivers in order to win. Sending the driver to a top driving school is a good way to improve the chances of success.

In order to get some tips on circle track driving, as well as experience the feel of the car as it reacts to turn entry, through the middle, and on exit on a half-mile asphalt racetrack, we went to the place where hundreds of winning drivers have gone before us. To get that firsthand knowledge, Mike Loescher of FinishLine Racing School was kind enough (or brave enough, as the case may be) to let me climb into his school car at one of his advanced driving school sessions and turn competitive laps.

The car I drove was a new, all-fabricated chassis Late Model with a true race engine of some 500-plus horsepower. Any team would be proud to own and race this car. For the classes, Mike purposely mounts harder compound Hoosier tires so the students can feel every mistake. "Soft tires," says Professor Mike, "mask all of your mistakes where using the harder compound allows us to feel the car better at top speed." The one deviation from a normal Saturday night race car is the installation of another seat on the passenger side. More on that later. Other than that, the car is race-ready.

To begin the three-day school, Mike addressed the students in a classroom to go over the process. He carefully explained how he intends to transform them into better race car drivers. Each one then introduced himself, told a little about his experience, and explained what he wanted out of the class. Guess what was foremost on everyone's mind? You've got it-they all wanted to be winners.

At the end of the hour-long talk, Mike's wife, Kristal, an accomplished and successful race car driver in her own right, went over important safety information to instill a sense of importance related to the equipment the drivers should be wearing when they race. The point was driven home through the use of videos produced by the makers of fire-resistant suits and other videos showing real situations in which drivers were injured by using unsafe equipment.

Once we left the classroom, it was off to the racetrack. The FinishLine Racing School is near New Smyrna Speedway, a half-mile, medium-banked track that hosts a nine-night show during Speedweeks each year and a weekly racing season that stretches from March through November. Most asphalt racers have heard of this track, and many come down each winter to test themselves against the best in the business.

We begin each day by walking the entire length of the track. Mike shows exactly how to find the right line, a process that can be used on any racetrack. He paints white dots at key points around the track that are visible in the driver's peripheral vision. In this way, the drivers know exactly when to lift and brake, when to get off the brakes, and when to begin accelerating off the corners.