Smokey says get in good physical shape, so ditch the burgers. Photo by Kevin Thorne
The fuel-delivery system, cooling system, ignition system, induction system, exhaust system-they all have to work correctly for the duration of the race, and they all need to complement the total package and application. Again, there are tricks to keeping it all together, tricks the old-timers have learned the hard way.
I know it sounds like I'm wandering all over the place. However, I'd like to see what you could do sitting next to the most beautiful middle-aged woman (24) you ever saw. Then she finds out you're a racer and she just loves racing. She got her final divorce papers a week ago and is going to Daytona Beach to live. What's more, she hopes she can find someone to help her get acquainted with the town. Oh God!
Where was I? Okay, by now you should realize that getting started in racing confronts everybody with a lot of tough problems. The best advice I can give is to stay conservative. After all, you might luck into First by having a car that people can run in Third or Fourth place, but you'll never win if you blow 30 laps from the finish.
In tuning for power or handling, only make one change at a time to prevent getting lost. Keep a record of all changes and setup combinations. Then, if you do get lost, you can always go back to the last combination that worked.
Ask questions, but be careful who you ask. Free advice from other racers is usually worth what you pay for it. Manufacturers will give you good advice because they want you to achieve success with their products.
I know I've rambled around a lot, and I've probably missed a few important areas, especially with the distraction I've been working with on this flight. So let me try to sum it up for you with a simple plan.
1. Work up a realistic budget. Figure chassis and engine expenses, travel, fuel, tires, and time. Get to the track on time. Don't waste time and money on cosmetics. Do the engine and chassis first. Take the car in primer if you have to, but don't short safety, handling, or engine.
2. Establish priorities. Go for a finish first, and speed second.
For all his accomplishments, Richard Petty has made his share of mistakes. Courtesy of NAS
3. Don't overbook yourself or the car, and don't stay in a class you can already handle. Work up; that's the best way to learn. Of course, if you're a local yokel, don't try to take on the New York Yankees, either. Although the ladies won't like this, I have to tell you that my observations have been that a family just makes it harder. You might as well sell your bed too, because you won't have time to use it. Most good racers wind up being married to racing and not much else. Get yourself in good physical and mental condition. The hot dogs always seem to be like spring steel.
4. Keep your mouth shut and listen. The only time you should talk is to ask questions or for advice. Loud-mouth braggers and bellyachers do it the hard way.
Here is a partial list of people I've seen get in trouble not doing some, or all of the things I've just mentioned: Johnny Rutherford, A.J. Foyt, Fireball Roberts, Bobby Unser, Curtis Turner, Danny Ongais, Bobby Allison, Paul Goldsmith, Mickey Thompson, Junior Johnson, Bruce McLaren, Gordon Johncock, Cale Yarborough, Lloyd Ruby, Joe Leonard, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Richard Petty, and Smokey Yunick, in spades!
Those who are still alive are good enough men that if you have the courage to ask them, they will answer your questions. They know what it's like to start out. So, if you're having troubles, all of the above could make your problems seem like nothing if you knew theirs. Believe me, there is no easy way. Everyone listed above did it the hard way.
And remember, like it or not, racing is no longer a sport. It's a business. Plan well. We have no union or retirement fund, and there sure as hell is no salary. It's the only business I know where we pay for the right to work free.