Recently we were hard at work on Project DLM preparing for our next race at Ocala Speedway. I had this story idea in my mind for some time so I decided to pitch it to Editor Rob Fisher while he was working underneath the car at 3 a.m. I asked him, "How do you setup a driver?" I can't print his answer but when he figured out I was serious and actually had a story idea wrapped around the question, he seemed to wake up.
The answer to the question is actually pretty simple . . . setting up a driver has to do with the driver's state of mind. And the driver's state of mind or driver setup actually starts back at the shop during the week as you're working on the car making repairs, changing oil, or tweaking the chassis setup. Here's just one example. A few years ago I went to my local race shop to pick up a few things I needed.
Editor Rob Fisher, seen working...
Editor Rob Fisher, seen working (yeah, we're surprised too) under Project DLM, reacts to the idea for this story. He was overjoyed with the idea . . . or maybe it was because it was 3 a.m. Tanya Clark
At that time, the shop was owned by another racer who also happened to be our local track champion. I explained to him about a part on my car that I had noticed appeared to be worn. I asked if he thought I should worry about changing it. His answer was very quick and simply put, "If you question a part or have any doubt about anything on the car, replace it." He went on to explain, "when we are racing or on the track, we need to have a clear mind and total faith in our equipment. If in the back of your mind you are thinking about a part that you are worried will fail, you will try to compensate or won't drive as hard."
That piece of advice has helped me throughout my years of racing. Think about everything that is going through your mind when you are on the track. We have to think about track conditions, other drivers, maintaining the correct line, is the setup working, what do we have to do to make the setup work better, and so on. The last thing you need to worry about is your equipment on your race car. Before you ever arrive at the track you must have complete faith in your car and its ability to do what you want when you get on the track.
Don't Think About The Car
Proper driver setup can lead...
Proper driver setup can lead to a happy racer. Tanya Clark
Now, once we've worked to get the car absolutely right and we are on our way to the track, I try to get my mind completely off of the race car. I focus on other things or talk to my crew about anything but racing. We try to keep our trips to the track fun and laid back. I insist on this because over the years I have noticed that if I think about the car too much I will start to second guess myself. I'll do this even if I know everything checked out and is correct. Call it the natural tendency of a racer to try to change things for the better or whatever you want, but it is not a good feeling to make an hour-long ride to the track second guessing everything you've done over the previous week. With some mental discipline I have been able to leave the second guessing behind.
The bottom line is to arrive at the track with little to no pressure. The key to achieving that is to get the car perfect before you ever leave the shop. When you get to the track the only thing you should be doing is minor adjustments to the specific track conditions of that night.
Visualization Now you are at the track with your clear mind and are ready to race. At a dirt track you will see a lot of drivers walk to the edge of the track or the grandstands and look the track over for a good period of time. Most of the time, they are alone. Back when I started racing I asked some veteran drivers what they were looking for. I was told numerous times they do two things. First, and this would be the obvious one, they look at the track conditions. Based on the condition of the dirt on the track, they will try to determine tire selection, whether or not they need to groove or sipe their tires more and possibly any last minute changes to the chassis setup.
Openly discussing how the...
Openly discussing how the car performed between heats and features with your team is a key part of driver setup. Peter Epple
While that's a process many dirt racers go through on a weekly basis it was the second item that has kind of stuck with me. I was told by more than one veteran that they run the race in their heads, trying to imagine being in the car and racing. They look for the best place to enter the corner and the best place to exit. They try to imagine the line they want to run.
This visualization technique helps to increase both focus and preparation prior to the race. In fact, a major university completed a study proving that this technique is often employed by elite athletes in preparation for major events, and it works. Tiger Woods visualizes sinking the 40 foot Masters-winning putt, Lance Armstrong visualizes winning the Tour de France, and Serena Williams visualizes beating her rival to win Wimbledon. Visualization can work for short-track racers like us as well. So next time you head to the track, give it a try.
Break It Down You might think that once you are ready to race, have your line in mind, and are strapped into the car that driver setup is finished. You're wrong, it's just beginning. When I went to Mark Bush's Racewise Chassis Setup School (see Circle Track, July '08), one of the things we learned was to break down the entire night at the track. Here's basically how it was done. Keep in mind that I'm basing this on our typical Saturday night Dirt Late Model racing. Depending on what you run the night's events could be different, but you'll get the idea.
First Event (Typically): Hot Laps
A lot can go through your...
A lot can go through your mind when you are sitting in the car waiting to go out for qualifying. Try visualizing your perfect lap. Tanya Clark
You've looked the track over and run laps in your head. Now it's time to actually run the car and make sure your line works and the car is set up correctly. The most important part of hot laps is to find the fastest line around the track and the best setup for time trials/qualifying (or your next event). Bush says that many drivers will get out on the track for hot laps and start thinking about the feature or the last 10 laps of the feature and that will impair their judgment. When you run hot laps, only think about finding the fastest line and then adjusting for the next event.
Second Event: Time Trials/Qualifying Most of the time we only run two laps for time trials and we all know how important this event is. These need to be the two fastest laps you run all night, right? A lot of us think this way and that will actually hurt you. Avid readers of Circle Track will have read this before and Bush stresses that if you slow this event down, you will go faster. Now everyone knows you can't slow time, and if you don't roll on the track when you are being told to by the officials, you'll have problems. But that's not what we mean when we say slow down.
So what do we mean? Slow the event down in your mind. Many of us think we only have two laps to go as fast as possible to qualify up front. This way of thinking is overwhelming and makes it sound like such a short event. But it doesn't have to be.
Minor changes to the motor...
Minor changes to the motor or setup are the only things you should have to do once you get to the track. Major issues should be taken care of at the shop. Rob Fisher
The next time you run time trials look at it this way. You actually have eight turns, two straightaways, and four middle turns to negotiate. This way of thinking is a lot longer of an event than two laps, and isn't nearly as stressful. Once you take the track, run one step at a time. Concentrate on hitting your marks at each point of the track. The most important part of this event is to hit your marks and run a fast line. Only think about the next section of track you have to negotiate.
If you are coming to the corner, focus only on the entry ahead of you and then the fastest way through the middle and where you want to exit the corner. If you are thinking about how to exit Turn 4 and you're trying to enter Turn 1, chances are you'll miss your entry and that will hurt you and your entire lap time. It's more important to run the perfect line at 3/4 throttle than run Turn 1 wide open only to screw it up. Remember, if you miss your line or don't set fast time, you still have heat races and possibly B-mains or last chance races to make the feature or A-main.
Third Event: Heat Race This is the first event we run with other cars actually racing against each other. Most of the time a heat race is fairly short (10-12 laps) with only a few cars to transfer to the A-main. Try not to think about this. Once on the track only concentrate on the car in front of you and race one car at a time for position. Remember the fifth place car can't pass the leader. Now hopefully you have moved into a transfer spot and only have a few laps to go.
It's time to think about the next event. Years ago, my mentor, David Schmauss told me when I'm racing and there are only two or three laps to go think about what the car is doing on the track; or more specifically What, When and Where, a phrase I first heard at Racewise. What the car is doing, when the car is doing it, and where on the track it is it doing it. With this information you can return to your pits, consult your notes, talk to your crew and make the proper adjustments for the next event.
Fourth or Final Event: Feature/A-Main It's race time. The most important thing to remember is this is a longer event and patience is very important. You can't win the race on the second lap! Race one car at a time and concentrate on how the track groove changes. Find your groove, that is the spot where your car works the best. During most of our Dirt Late Model races, the track will change significantly from the first lap to the last. While this may be less true on asphalt, track changes over the course of a pavement race will also happen. Either way it gives you a lot to think about; racing other cars, racing the track, changing your line to maintain the fast laps, and more.
The checkered flag has waived and hopefully you have won. Just remember driver setup isn't over yet. It's now time to write notes on your setup sheets about the night (if you or your crew hasn't already done this). Some of the things that are important to note are track conditions, any changes you've made to the car, tire temps (asphalt), and the weather conditions. I know a lot of you are saying that this is chassis setup, not driver setup. Well, I don't agree.
These notes start the setup or state of mind of the driver for the next race. When you are at the shop and setting the car up for the next race you can refer back to your notes and remember something or verify what you are thinking. This will give you the confidence that you are making the right decision. Confidence is a very important part of the state of mind. Remember, knowledge is confidence, the more you know about something, the more confident you'll be.
David Schmauss (left) once...
David Schmauss (left) once said that when racing and there are only two or three laps to go think about what the car is doing on the track; and how to get the most out of it. Bobby Clark
Late nights like these can...
Late nights like these can interfere with good driver setup. Remember to get plenty of rest before race day. Jeff Huneycutt
Veteran Dirt Late Model ace...
Veteran Dirt Late Model ace Billy Moyer is the picture of a perfect driver setup. He didn't earn the nickname Mr. Smooth for nothing. Mike Horne