OnRacing

Posted on January 12, 2013

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About Oakman OnRacing

By: Rob Oakman

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Honda Sr Prefinal. Turn 1. Canadian Nationals 2006. I’m 3rd back on the outside in blue. Courtesy ekartingnews.ca

So you want to go racing. Dream of being the next Senna,  Earnhardt, Raikkonen, or Petty? You go out and buy a chassis, slap an engine on it, slip gently between the seat and steering wheel, put the pedal down and are wholly shocked when you lose…a lot. I have something to tell you. The simple fact is the vast…Vast…majority of drivers will never…ever…win.
You may be asking yourself “why is that? Do the winners have better equipment? Do they have more talent than the rest of us? Do they just have more money? Or is it something else?”
You might think equipment, talent, and money are the difference, but realistically the equipment across a field isn’t always that different. The idea of “talent” being an actual thing is debatable since driving is a skill that most people can learn. Money of course is a contentious issue but just because you can spend a lot doesn’t guarantee wins.
So what is it? What stops people from winning? What allows other to win?

The point of this series of articles is to find out – sort of a treatise on racing if you like – to help you become one of the few that see the finish line first. After all, what we really want to know is can we ever win? I think you can.

But before we get to far ahead, I should tell you a little about me.

I am from Kart Racing. That’s me in the picture up there, outside on the left, third in line in blue. I have been involved since 1992. I turned Club wins into Club Championships into Ontario, National, and Canadian Championships (The picture above is from that race weekend). Full disclosure, I ran the number 3 whenever I could so you know who I looked up to. More recently I’ve worked as starter for a club called TRAK (Toronto Racing Association of Karters) out of Goodwood Kartways and as the ASN Official starter for the ECKC (Eastern Canadian Karting Championship). I know. I know. Officials are the devil, which is probably why I get in trouble with the higher ups a lot. I still talk like a driver. I’ve tested and run several different racecars on several different tracks but never had the funds to put a season together in the bigger toys. I am semiretired though, like all racers, the disease has infected me to the bone and I plan on getting back behind the wheel again.

My Championship winning Gold Sl 30/30 World Formula form the SFRKC

My Championship winning Gold Sl 30/30 World Formula form the SFRKC

When I say I won a lot I’m not boasting about having some natural super skills. I admit it is possible that I’m not the best driver to ever sit behind the wheel, or even the best driver in most of the races I won, but what I did do better than most was make racing simple. I had to. Drivers aren’t known for their brains and I’m probably on the low end of the scale. But I did drive smart. Forget about showing off for a crowd, getting revenge for a bump in a corner, or pushing for the fastest lap. The only thing I worried about was getting the best finish I could with what I had. In a word I was, and still am, a “Racer” and not just a “Driver”. But you may have another, more pressing question right now.
For what reason would I listen to a Kart racer? I’ll give you three.
1: Near every modern professional racer from open wheel, stock cars, to sports cars learned the skills of driving, passing, setup, and maintenance in Kart racing. Many of them still race Karts. The skills you learn in Karting apply directly to any form of racing. I have even used some of the techniques to pass much more fit and experienced friends on bicycles in friendly competitions we started on the street or on trails as youths. You can imagine a physically fitter friend’s face when you pull off a perfect cross-over pass in a corner when they thought your skill set was just hovering above the necessity for training wheels.

2: The information I give here will be applicable to most any form of racing because the inescapable fact is that physics cares not what is moving, only that something is relative to something else, and what things are interacting with each other. We are dealing with objects in motion and the forces that act upon them. What that means is that trying to get an F1 car through a corner is the same as trying to get a Kart through, or, point of fact, bicycles, horses, and most anything else – right down to aerodynamic effects. The differences are how these forces interact with, are applied, harnessed, and overcome, if at all, as well as their magnitude. The basic way you drive a racing line, how slowing and accelerating shift the center of gravity, how friction must overcome momentum to change direction or accelerate or decelerate, aerodynamic drag, these things remain constant.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t differences between machines and how you drive them. An F1 car is far more reliant on aerodynamics and high braking forces than a GT car, so a driver has to approach them differently in a corner, but the changes in technique are a matter of detail. Learning how to save your brakes in NASCAR versus learning how to heat them up in a Prototype are details – vital details, but still details specific to that machine. A horse on mud must overcome its forward momentum to get around the bend, so does a rally car on tarmac. A bicycle rider must lower his center of gravity to increase the speed in which they can change direction without tipping over, so must a Kart. A bobsledder’s shoes must have enough traction at the start to accelerate the bobsled effectively before the down hill run, so do the tires of a drag car in a quarter mile run, and on and on and on.
These constants affect different machines and animals equally. Racing lines, using momentum to your advantage, the need to maintain momentum when overcoming its effects when required are universal. So are more subjective things like psychology: psyching out opponents for instance all work in racing of any type which brings us to the next part.

Does a Racer have anything in there?

Does a Racer have anything in there?

3: Psychology.
All competitors have a brain which means they think – though some do better than others. This means psychology matters.
Racing is a rather unique sport in that you are often forced to work with your direct competition in order to attain any measure of success. Sometimes you have to cooperate with people you don’t like because doing so may be the difference between a chance at a win or a participation ribbon. Because of this it is very important how your competition thinks about you and how you think about your competition. The way you view another competitor determines how you deal with them in actual competition. Think of it. If your competition believes you are slow, it doesn’t matter if you’re not, they will just pass you by as soon as they can. They won’t work with you. And you do the same to other drivers. You know you do. But if they believe you are fast, you can be off pace and they will follow you like a line of zombies hungry for the gooie innards of your helmeted melon. This is how I won the Canadian Nationals.

Being able to read the decision making of your opponents is also vital. Even better is if you can learn to influence it. The only way I know how to do this is through experience. You need to watch you competitors on and off track. You need to hear them talk. Listen to their boasts (All racers boast which means a few of them aren’t just talking Bullshit, though most are). They way to weed out the important information is to have seen the pass they were talking about, or what ever it was, or to hear it described by someone you trust. If the boaster’s story doesn’t hold up to what really happened, you have a better idea of who that person is, and, what they are likely to do in similar situations. Now, if you catch them in a similar situation, you know what you can or cannot get away with. You also know that if you can make them think they are in that situation, you know how they will react and you can plan what to do based on that.

I will get into all this stuff with much more detail in the future. And though these articles will be in the frame of auto-racing, no matter what, or who you race, you will be able to take something away from this series. If you don’t race at all I want you to at least have a better understanding of what racing is. I want to give the competitors focus, and to introduce new insights as you travel into and through the world. I will offer tips, techniques, strategies, and knowledge gained from many successful years, some mine, and some from others. I’m even going to breakdown the basics of driving on straightaways, turn-in and out, where to look, what to look for, etc… You know; the kind of stuff you would normally have to figure out on your own or pay a butt-load of cash to a coach or school to learn, but here in print for free. Not a bad deal eh!

“So what do you have to offer next” you ask. You will have to read on next week and I’ll tell you.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to send them along below and follow OakmanOnRacing.

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Posted in: Editorial