The eternal question in club racing: What does it take to become a front-runner? People try to pinpoint the few qualities that it takes to run up front, but it really consists of a total package. Yup, you guessed it – you are the package’s core. Throughout this resource, I continuously stress how important it is to develop and refine your driving skills. There are multiple reasons for this philosophy. The first reason is because improving your racing skills does not have to be extremely expensive. The other reason is that once you have the necessary skills, you will find obtaining the car that enables you to reach this next level to be the easy part. By all means, when I say “the easy part,” it is not to say that coming up with the funding is simple. What it means is that people can’t buy their way into becoming a great driver; this takes more work than simply buying the right racecar.
Take some time and revisit your racing goals to determine if you are willing to put in the time, effort, and money to become a front-runner. While everyone wants to win races, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not being a front-runner. I look back at some of my previous races and just how much fun I had running mid-pack. I developed a pretty intense (yet fun) rivalry with a friend I met through racing. It was not uncommon for us to qualify within 0.05 of a second of each other and be less than three cars apart during the entire race. Jake Fisher, the other driver, often joked that he thought I would rather finish in 18th place and beat him than finish second and lose only to him. All right, so he might have been correct. I have also been fortunate enough to experience what it is like to be a front-runner. Am I necessarily having more fun? Honestly, I am not sure. My first race win was awesome! It is something that I will always remember and cherish. I remember finishing the race and thinking to myself “Did I really win this?” While driving up to the worker who carried out the checkered flag for the victory lap, I couldn’t help but think “How embarrassing will this be if I actually came in second place?” Of course I knew that I had won, but it just didn’t seem like reality. At the same time, racing has become much, much more expensive for me. Just ask my wife!
Before you can become a front-runner in a competitive class, you will need to ensure that both you and the car are ready for the challenge. Of course, I will start with what needs to be done to you, the driver, before talking about what needs to be done to the car. I hear many people consistently make excuses why they can’t win despite the fact that they have a well-developed car with the potential to run up-front. I will say that it certainly is much easier to blame the car than yourself. The reason they are not winning is often because they have not spent the necessary time and effort on developing themselves yet. Do you remember those books I previously recommended on driving techniques? Read them, then re-read them. Once you have done that, read them one more time. You may be surprised with what you pick up from the books as your perspective changes after gaining more experience. Depending on which books you bought, it may be worthwhile to see what other racing techniques and racecar tuning books are available.
Do you have the heart, will, and determination to win?
In 1974 Mark Donohue took a year off from driving at the height of his racing career and wrote a candid and revealing book about his journey through the world of auto racing – from amateur races in his own ’57 Corvette to winning the Indy 500 in Roger Penske’s McLaren M16. Now, 25 years after it’s original publication, The Donohue sons have re-released a new edition of The Unfair Advantage. The new edition contains all of the original text as well as photographs and separately appended material that fills out the Donohue story in words and pictures and provides historical context. This book captures a uniquely American blend of intellect and scrappiness. Donohue integrated creativity, openness to new ideas, humor, and his persistent will to win into every part of his approach to racing. When Donohue puts that formula into words in The Unfair Advantage the result is as much an attitude and perspective as anything else. As such, it has had wide reaching and particularly personal impact for almost 30 years in the world of motorsport participants and enthusiasts. This book provides a real insight to the trials and tribulations of racing and race car development. Donohue comes out as a very humble driver and he is not afraid to admit his mistakes and that of the team. Quite an interesting book on the sport of racing and what it takes to be successful.