Fitness Focus—Nobody Likes a Pain in the Neck!

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      Are race car drivers athletes? You bet! Anyone who’s spent some time behind the wheel on the racetrack can certainly tell you that you’ll be worn out at the end of a long day. Elevated heart rate, sweat rate, arm pump and more all contribute to fatigue. In this installment, we’ll focus on the neck muscles and the beating they take on the race track.

    In physical terms, the average head and helmet weigh about 15 pounds. If your car can generate 1 G of cornering force that means that you’re experiencing that same amount of weight pushing on the side of your head. There are plenty of street cars sold today that can generate that kind of force. As you move into race cars with racing-slick tires, cornering forces shoot up. Add wing and downforce and now the forces jump even higher. But wait there’s more. Add in some banking to those corners and you have an incredible strain that no driver can withstand over a long time. To make it more challenging, when you do have a car with significant downforce, those cars are also very stiffly sprung. Driving over bumps in the middle of corners jolt the neck and generate peak loads of neck strain. Current Indy cars can exceed 5 Gs sustained at oval tracks. That’s the equivalent of laying on your side and having a 75 pound person standing on your head!

     How do the drivers train for this? Fortunately there are machines in the gym to do this. Forward and backward movements prepare the neck for braking and acceleration forces while side-to-sid training is for the turns. Some machines use weighted plates while others use a shock absorber set up. Additionally, a personal trainer can hold one end of a neck harness and pull in different directions while the driver is working to withstand those forces. Furthermore, the trainer can add in vibrational shock to simulate the bumps in the corners. There are also secondary surroundig muscles that come into play however a well-planned workout routine will address those to help the driver withstand the abuse.

     There’s no substitute for actually driving, however that would cost thousands of dollars per day. Some drivers own go-karts and can pound laps all day for a much lower cost and that can certainly help. If you’re planning on taking up racing, prepare a bit first with some isometric exercises at home.

     After all, nobody likes a pain in the neck!

 

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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Back To School Track Day @ Big Willow

Photo by Larry Mason

     It was a great day on Saturday, September 4, 2021 when Fast Lane Racing School hosted a track day for former students, friends and family. Also included were racers from the Sports Car Club of America’s Cal Club region and from the Vintage Auto Racing Association. All those present got together to spend time pounding laps around the “Fastest Road in the West” – Willow Springs International Raceway. There were three run groups that comprised beginner/intermediate, advanced and an open wheel group that rotated every 20 minutes for their on-track sessions during the day. In between sessions, Fast Lane instructors were there to coach and encourage the participants in their quest for speed around the track. 

93Lola WIRPhoto by Larry Mason

      It certainly wasn’t your typical track day as the variety of cars was extensive combining high performance vehicles and open-wheel formula cars and open cockpit sports racing machines. Additionally, it also marked the debut of the Fast Lane Racing School Indy Lights race car on track. The Buick-powered 93 Lola chassis weighs about 1400 pounds and puts out approximately 425 HP! The straightaways get real short with a car like this! Just think, you could be driving this fantastic race car at a future Fast Lane school! 

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     The FSE LA group came out with their beautifully presented Formula 4 race cars and spent the day exciting the onlookers with such cool and fast race cars. There were numerous high performance and exotic cars on track including Ferrari, McLaren, BMW, Porsche and Lamborghini along with American muscle cars like Mustang, Corvette and even a Cobra Daytona coupe. Along with a couple of Fast Lane Pace Cars and Scion FRS Pro/Celebrity cars from the Grand Prix of Long Beach, everyone was able to get behind the wheel even if you didn’t drive a stick shift.

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     The morning started off with registration where everyone was treated to a free T-shirt commemorating the day, a lunch ticket, wristband and sticker denoting the run group. A driver’s meeting in front of the cafeteria followed going over procedures, flags and safety information. A free lunch was included in the price of admission and featured track day favorites like hot dogs and hamburgers, along with a trio of salads – potato, regular and fruit. Apple and peach cobbler for dessert made for some full bellies. A cooler filled with water and soft drinks helped wash everything down.

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       The next Fast Lane Track Day is scheduled for October 31st on the “Streets of Willow” track just behind the big track. If it’s anything like the first one, this will definitely be a treat and not a trick. We look forward to seeing you there! For more information contact Fast Lane today!

 

By Larry Mason

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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What's My Line, Part II

What's My Line, Part II

     In part one; we looked at the “racing line” in the textbook design of a long straight followed by a 90 degree corner followed by another long straight. We looked at how the theoretical and geometric “lines” are similar. In part two, we’ll get into corner combinations and more.
     “Don’t use the brakes, they only slow you down!” While that statement is true, on a closed road course or on the street, it’s not realistic. The first phase of a corner is the actual braking zone. For beginners in road racing, new students are often encouraged to get all of their braking done in a straight line so that they can focus on the turn-in, apex and track-out points in a smooth and controlled manner. However, when you advance your driving technique, trail braking (or staying on the brakes as you turn in) gives the front end tires more “bite” or grip leading to better initial handling into the turn. Simultaneously, this forward weight transfer helps to lighten the rear of the car which then helps “rotate” the car into the corner thereby lessening steering input. So far so good. The balance of releasing the brake, coasting and re-applying the throttle while the wheels are still turned is all about good hand/eye coordination as well as the seat-of-the-pants feel.
     The theory of getting on the gas as soon as possible and going to full throttle as soon as possible is the same in any corner that leads onto a long straight. What you don’t want to do is get on the gas and then have to lift off and then re-apply. The time and momentum lost during that dance will be more than if you had just waited a bit longer to go full throttle or perhaps squeezed on the gas pedal a bit more smoothly (not an on/off switch) to sustain that acceleration.
     As we combine this with corner combinations, we need to look at which corners to “give up” in order to gain the maximum amount of speed for the rest of the lap. For example, if you have two 90 degree corners in succession (e.g. left then right) and the second corner is followed by a long straight, you’ll want to apex the first corner very late in order to take a better line through the second and be able to come off of that corner with maximum acceleration as soon as possible. The amount of time lost by not taking the textbook line through the first corner will be more than made up by the extra speed you’ll gain by coming off of the second corner better.
     How do you know which corners to prioritize for the best line? Start with the ones that lead onto the longest straights. Also, look at the highest speed corners as a tenth of a second gained at high speed is much more distance traveled than a tenth of a second at low speed.
In part three, we’ll look at more corner types and how rain affects the line.

 

By Larry Mason

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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What's My Line?

Whats My Line

   One of the most fundamental aspects of safe and fast driving is making sure that you’re driving on the “proper line.” There are theoretical and geometrical lines to take through corners on the road and turns on the race track. Which is the best one for you? If you have two identical radius 90 degree corners, is the line the same through each one? Not necessarily. This is where the theory gets complicated just as quick as the geometry.

  The “line” is made up of a curve that includes multiple points of reference. In fact, before you even start turning in, there’s usually a braking point and zone before you get to the “turn in” point. After the turn in point you get to the apex, and from there you exit at the “track out” point. By connecting the dots in a smooth and wide radius, this allows the driver to lessen the steering input. This allows for more mid-corner speed which ultimately leads to a lower lap time.

  If you have an X long straightaway followed by another X long straightaway, with a 90 degree corner in the middle, the geometrical apex of the corner and the largest radius might be very close to the theoretical best line through the corner. However, it also depends upon what kind of car you’re driving and where you’re driving it. If it’s a high-horsepower car, you might want to move that apex point further away (later in the corner) from the geometric point.

  What are the results of hitting your apex early or late? If the corner is increasing radius, an early apex is okay. If it’s a “textbook” 90 degree or a decreasing radius corner, the results of an early apex can be severe. Once you’ve turned into an apex at speed, there’s very little correction that can be made if you’re not hitting it within a few inches. If you apex early, you will run out of room, or roadway position, at the exit. This typically brings up two responses – the first being that you lift off of the throttle because you’re carrying too much speed. The second being that you turn the steering wheel more to avoid driving off the outside edge of the road. Both of those actions combined can create a TTO, or Trailing Throttle Oversteer. The result is that at this point you can fly off the road surface backwards, or if you’re racing on a grand prix street course, you can hit the concrete barrier.

  If in contrast you apex late, you will leave excessive room on the roadway position at the track out point. It’s safer, and also slower. It’s also a great way to start to learn a track or an unfamiliar mountain road.

  In Part II, we’ll take a look at turn combinations and other aspects of driving the line.

By Larry Mason

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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Real Estate Disputes in Racing

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     It goes without saying that racers are a competitive bunch. There can be some great camaraderie and rivalries on and off the track. The nice thing about racing is that it’s not subjective in the fact that the driver that crosses the finish line first is the winner. There is a sage old saying in this sport, “To finish first, you must first finish.” Sometimes that doesn’t happen because of “real estate” disputes. In other words, two (or more) drivers are going for the same piece of real estate (usually the corners) at the same time. Whose corner is it? How far alongside do you need to be to claim it? What sacrifices in racing line whether blocking (defensive line) or squeezing (forcing the other car into an unfavorable place make the difference into who demands that the corner is theirs?

     Hey, if it was all cut and dry there would be no controversy, hard feelings or polar opposite differences of opinion. In most racing organizations it is up to the overtaking driver to make a safe pass. However, that doesn’t take responsibility away from the driver (getting passed) to make sure he or she gives the other driver racing room. This is where it gets complicated. Technically one could give another driver enough room (barely and totally off the racing line) but that typically doesn’t lead to pleasant outcomes. As long as two cars/drivers are charging into the same corner at the same time, chances are only one of them is going to come out the better of it. For a perfect example of this, just do a video search for the “Hamilton Verstappen Crash.” At the time of this writing there were more than 3 million views of this Formula One video.

     If you’re on the receiving end of that, you and your team will not be happy. If you’re on the “giving” end of that, you won’t find anything wrong with what you did. This is the typical scenario.

     The SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) GCR (general competition rules), has been recently updated to include Appendix P which is six pages strictly focused on passing. It clearly states and shows with drawings how to stay out of trouble, how to figure out who is to blame for contact and how likely a certain move will lead to success or failure. On paper, that’s all good, but when the action is taking place at high speed with only milliseconds to make decisions, real estate disputes are going to happen. So in the case of Hamilton vs. Verstappen, whose fault was it? Sometimes it can be both. What do you think in this case? 

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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Heart Rate Training for Motorsports Part II

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In the last blog, we discussed the basics of how the monitors work and how you can use them in your race car to track where your heart rate goes during a race. Today, we’ll take a closer look at training zones and actual heart rate data.

Once you’ve found your maximum heart rate, you can then start looking at training zones with zone 1 being the easiest and zone 5 the hardest. The chart below shows the different zones graphically as a percentage of your maximum heart rate.

fullsizeoutput 7                    Heart rate training zones courtesy of Polar

 

Taking a look at my HR data from a previous race (below), you can see that the heart rate spikes and falls with different points in time. From sitting on the grid, it’s relatively calm, but then jumps up for the warm-up laps. When the green flag drops, the HR spikes up again and stays elevated until a full course caution comes out where it drops again. At the re-start, my HR jumps up again and averages about 150 bpm during the green flag laps. Right before the checkered flag my HR peaks at 168 bpm where I’m battling for a podium position. After the checkered flag you can see the HR plummet as the race is over.

 

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  For the majority of the time, I’m racing in the “Hard” zone or zone 4. This means that my cardiovascular exercise routine outside the car should also be focused at this intensity. There is a popular type of training these days known as HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training. This is where you train in zone 5 and then drop down to zones 1 or 2 to recover and keep repeating for the duration of your workout. Keep in mind that this type of training isn’t for everyone, but in some cases this could be a valuable way to simulate the spikes of green flag versus caution flag racing and conditions your body to be able to accept the higher heart rates without too much fatigue.

  The bottom line of measuring and training with heart rate is to have the physical stamina to withstand the rigors of racing. This way your brain is still focused on racing and not on how tired and out of breath you are!

 

Note: Before beginning any fitness program, obtain your medical doctor’s clearance.

Larry Mason is an ACE-certified personal trainer and a brand ambassador for Polar. He has been training and racing with Polar heart rate monitors since 1994. He’s won multiple auto racing championships in many different classes of competition. He competes in sprint triathlons to stay in shape for auto racing. He can be found teaching multiple programs at Fast Lane Racing School.

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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History of VARA

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  Vintage Auto Racing Association (VARA) is a long-established organization devoted to racing vintage cars. The rules generally require that the cars racing with VARA be more than 20 years old. In theory, a 2001 car could now be considered vintage. However, most of the cars VARA members race are from th heyday of road racing in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. More modern cars can be seen in the sports racing and formula categories.

  Rules for participation in some race designations require the cars be built, rebuilt, or restored to the specifications that existed at the time the car was raced. Upgrades to engines, brakes, and other for modifications can be made, changing the car’s class designation. Based upon personal experience and looking at the smiling faces at the end of races, upgrades can enhance the “fun” factor, even if it is not truly authentic. For example, an Austin Healy Sprite (the Bug Eye or Frog Eye), came with a 998 cc engine. A Sprite with a 998 cc engine would race in the H Production (HP) class. If you upgraded the engine to a 1275 cc it would be raced in the E Production (EP) class.
  In VARA, there is a place for each and every vintage car. We see everything from an old Sprite, to a classic Fiat Arbath, a Jensen Healy, or even Rusty Wallace’s old #2 car from NASCAR. VARA has a place for each and the driver who wants to enjoy their vintage race car. Often you can see a car and driver with a vintage race car in a VARA event, and then the next weekend, the same driver participates in an SCCA event, if the car meets the rules for both organizations and classes. Driver safety in both VARA and SCCA are a top priority.
  VARA is unique in that it’s a true membership club, electing its own leaders and board of directors. VARA’s main focus is on providing friendly competition and a fun racing experience for its members and its guests.
  VARA races usually draw more than 100 entries. It is a joy to see truly significant and special vintage race cars being used as they were designed. Many run groups are populated with several classes, and in other groups, they are single class groups, such as Formula Ford, and B Sedan, sometimes referred to as the “Killer Bs.” Due to the high value of the cars, contact between racers is not allowed. Drivers etiquette includes giving other drivers a “VARA bubble,” with plenty of racing room. While not purely demonstration driving, VARA racing is done carefully with respect for cars and drivers.
VARA has three general paths to competition. One is obtaining a competition racing license, through their 3/6/9 ladder system (details can be found at VARAracing.com). A key part of obtaining a license is attending the VARA University. VARA University is a multi-function two-day track experience designed for all interested in racing vintage cars, including fledgling drivers, street driving enthusiasts, as well as current wheel-to-wheel competition drivers and their race cars. Taught by well-respected VARA instructors, this outstanding program and weekend will be held in July this year, due to COVID (normally it is held each February).
  Fast Lane instructors support the training, and Fast Lane rents cars for those who need but don’t have a race car. The second path to racing in a VARA event standing reciprocity for holders of a full competition license from SCCA, NASA, and many other organizations. That reciprocity requires attending a “ground school” the night before the event, to insure the VARA rules are fully transmitted, differences from other venues explained, and an evaluation of experience by the Chief Driving Instructor. The third path is to attend the Fast Lane Racing License program, pass and advance immediately to the eighth step of the VARA 3/6/9 program, and obtain your full competition license in a weekend of racing and four days of training. Vintage racing is fun, satisfying and connects the past to the present.

VARAracing.com

Steve Staveley, Chief Steward VARA Rod Susman, Chief Driving Instructor VARA
Fast Lane Lead Instructor.

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Vision Up!

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      Vision up. Eyes up. High horizon. These are words you’ll typically hear your instructor say to you from the beginning ‘till the end of your time at Fast Lane Racing School. The reason being is that by looking far ahead, you can buy yourself something priceless – time! Whether you’re enrolled in the Defensive Driving Academy, High Performance or SCCA, Executive Protection or EVOC law enforcement class, the “vision up” mantra applies.

     As a wise old sage once said, “human beings are designed to see things from the top down, not from the bottom up.” With that in mind, by looking way ahead, you’re buying yourself time for what’s coming up next. For example, most drivers on the street fall into the bad habit of driving off of the rear bumper of the car in front of them instead of looking many vehicles ahead. When it comes to accordion-like slowing and stopping, if that driver isn’t looking far enough ahead, that will inevitably lead to a rear end collision. I’ve seen “accidents” (which should correctly be called crashes) like this many times. The reason it’s a crash, is that this incident was avoidable if only the person would’ve been looking far ahead and anticipated what was developing.

     This brings us to another point. You should always be aware of your surroundings. Check your mirrors at least every 8-10 seconds so that you give yourself an “out” just in case something suddenly comes up. By anticipating what could go wrong and having plans in place to react and avoid these incidents, you’re proactively being a defensive driver. This also works on the race track. If the driver in front of you is consistently early apexing and running out of room on the exit, sooner or later they’re likely to spin in front of you. Where are you going to place your car to get out of that situation?

     Speaking of the track, the good habit of having your vision up will lead to a lot less drama when trying to get up to speed. The further you look ahead, the less likely the corner is going to catch you in the wrong position on track. Speaking of position, let’s take a look at where your eyes should be focused. When approaching a corner, you’ll first want to look for your braking point. From there a re-focus to turn-in point, next the apex, and finally the track out point. Of course you’ll also want to look through the entire corner to know what’s coming up next. Warm-up and cool down laps are also critical to gather extra visual information such as where all the corner worker stations are, safe places to pull over in case of a mechanical situation, and also what are the hazards of dropping a wheel off. If you’re racing on a street course, there is no dropping of wheels, only tearing them off against a concrete barrier.

     Some corners are blind and/or cresting over a hill. Take your time the first few times through and you’ll develop a feel for where you need to place your car for success. Knowing where to place the car with the proper angle of attack will have you gaining time on less experienced drivers. Finally, coach yourself to constantly keep your vision up. You’ll find that it’s much easier to get into a rhythm on the track and it will also help keep you relaxed behind the wheel.

   Vision up!

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

 

 

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ABS – Always Be Steering!

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  Why use the brakes? They only slow you down! Of course I’m kidding when I say that. Using the brakes is an everyday occurrence whether you’re driving on the race track, the street, or even on your bicycle. Even though we know that pressing the brake pedal slows you down, there are nuances to be learned and understood in order to become a better driver.

Today we’ll look at how drivers can be safer, whether the cars have ABS or not. Technically speaking, ABS stands for Anti-lock Braking System. Here at Fast Lane we also like to say that it means Always Be Steering. You could also think about it as the Ability to Brake and Steer. That’s critical knowledge for driving everyday on the freeway or any other roads. ABS is a great technology that is designed to keep the front and rear wheels from “locking up” under heavy, quick or unloaded braking maneuvers. If you were to slam on the brakes, chances are that your brakes would lock up, meaning that your tires are no longer rotating; instead they are skidding on the road. Once your tire starts skidding, steering control is gone. It doesn’t matter which way you turn the steering wheel, the car will continue skidding in the same direction that it was going. Tires need to rotate to make the car change direction and that’s where ABS comes in. Keep in mind that ABS may not necessarily stop the car in a shorter distance (more on that next time); however, it gives you the ability to brake and steer. Here’s how: The vehicle has wheel speed sensors. Under heavy braking in a lock-up situation, the computer gets a signal telling it that the brakes are locked. At that point, the computer system automatically reduces brake pressure to allow that wheel to rotate. The computer also knows that you’re still mashing the brake pedal so it re-applies brake pressure. Typically at this point the lock-up returns. As soon as the system recognizes that the wheels aren’t turning, it reduces brake pressure again. This action can typically take place more than 20 times per second! That’s faster than a professional race car driver can do it. Furthermore, the system has the ability to modulate brake pressure with one wheel at a time - something that a professional driver could never do. Since 2008 all cars sold in America have been equipped with ABS. The systems have also become much more effective and have reduced the amount of noise and pedal push back (vibration) of earlier systems.

The beauty of ABS is that on slippery or uneven road conditions it can help the driver avoid danger. However the laws of physics still apply. Also, keep in mind that since the system is locking/un-locking, the time that it’s locked, you’re still sliding forward. On a dry high-grip surface this “sideways stair step” is minimized. Think lock – go straight, un-lock – turn. If you’re driving on wet or sandy roads, this sideways stair step turning pattern is amplified – meaning that when you turn the wheel under an ABS condition, the car will not go where it normally would in a dry non-ABS situation. You’ll have to turn the steering wheel more to help it trace the arc of turning you’d like. Always keep in mind what your car is capable of doing in varying road conditions. By the way, if your vehicle isn’t equipped with ABS, you’ll have to manually pump the brakes if they lock-up. It’s definitely a skill worth acquiring as otherwise you may find yourself on the wrong end of a crash. Bottom line is that when you come to Fast Lane Racing School, you’ll learn your car’s ABS limits in a safe and effective setting.

 

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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Taking Your Braking to the Next Level

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  In the last blog post we focused on ABS. Today we’ll look at non-ABS brakes for track use. Techniques for braking on the track vary greatly depending upon the kind of race car you’re driving. Even though we’ve used the brakes all our lives, braking technique is critical for not only making passes in competition, but also lowering lap times and influencing how the car handles.

First, let’s look at brake pedal application. For cars with downforce (wings, diffusers, etc.) it’s critical to take advantage of all the extra grip high speeds provides. That means when it’s time to step on the brake pedal, don’t! Hammer that brake pedal like you want to destroy it! You can generate tremendous stopping power when you’re at high speed. However, as the speed rapidly bleeds off, you must also bleed off your brake pressure since you’re losing that downforce grip at slower speeds. Quick tip – Sledgehammer On, ease Off.

For cars without downforce, the technique is the opposite. You don’t want to dynamite the brakes as they will tend to lock-up. This is more of a squeeze the pedal on and rapidly ramp up the pressure until threshold braking is achieved. What’s threshold? The maximum braking force you can generate right before the moment of lock-up.

If you were to look at a graph of these two techniques, the former would show almost a digital zero-to-one on the upside and then ramping down from there. For the latter, it would be more like a parabolic curve ramping up.

Keep in mind that both of these techniques are for straight-line braking. Trail braking can still be used but you cannot apply maximum brake force. The laws of physics and vehicle dynamics still apply. The benefit of trail braking is that when you transfer weight forward, the reduced grip on the rear tires will help your car rotate into the corner.

One thing that you’ll do the same with both kinds of cars is to be mindful of “jumping off” the brakes. Work on the smoothness and timing of getting off the brakes so that you’re not inducing large amounts of understeer mid-corner. This, combined with a trail brake in and jump-off mid, can lead to the driver complaining about “it’s loose on corner entry and I have a big push coming off the corner.”

Lastly, use test days and practice sessions to push the limits not only on the racing line but off the line too so that you’re better prepared for potential passing spots during the race. Good luck and take your braking to the next level!

 

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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