So, you’re wondering what club racing is really like? It’s hard to fully explain the feeling that you get from racing. Basically, it is like a portal into another world. No, not exactly like in a science fiction movie, but it does bring you to a place far away from the typical daily stresses you face. When at the track, you won’t be thinking about work or things that need to get done at home. Don’t get me wrong, racing does create a new set of stresses, but somehow race-related stress feels very different. Before I had ever participated in an event, I had envisioned what a race weekend would be like. I will admit it turned out to be different than what I had originally pictured, but for the better. People often ask, “How fast do you go when racing?” or “What are your ¼ mile times in that car?” Errr, about 110 mph and really, really slow. In all seriousness, it does not matter very much whether you drive 110 mph or 160 mph on a straightaway. The rush comes when you’re pushing the car to its limit around a corner at 80 mph with another car mere inches from your driver’s side door. It comes when you’re going down the straight with another car right on your side and trying to out brake them going into a turn, wondering who will give in first. Who would ever guess how big of a thrill braking to the car’s limit could be? Sounds a little strange, but it’s true. A good analogy is when you drive down a highway at 70 mph; in itself it is pretty boring. Now imagine going 70 mph around some very twisty roads. Even at the same speed, it is a bit different isn’t it? The same thing happens when driving on a track. The straights are typically a place where you can regain your composure and take a deep breath before you get to the twisty stuff again, even if you are going 160 mph.
Your Race Day Begins the Night Before
The night before the race, you decide to go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep, primarily because you need to get up very early in the morning. You can’t help but wonder if you forgot something and how things will go tomorrow in the race. All right, stop thinking about it! You have gone through the car and made sure everything is in working order. You even used a checklist to ensure that everything is packed. There can’t be anything that you missed. Or is there? Did you pack the car’s logbook? Hmm. Yeah, it is in the bag with the driver’s suit. Do you have your novice permit? You tell yourself to stop worrying and begin to fall asleep but during the night you anxiously wake up. You begin to wonder what would happen if the alarm does not go off? Funny how on workdays that isn’t a big concern. Finally, you are awoken by what is normally a horrible beeping sound, but not today! Today it is a beautiful, almost musical, monotonous, beeping. As you begin to get ready for the day you start feeling more anxious. As you drive toward the track the pit in your stomach begins to grow the closer you get. There it is, the entrance to the track. You hear the sounds of race engines and your heart begins to beat even faster. As you drive into the track’s entrance you see some very impressive rigs and racecars. Now your mind begins to wonder if you are really ready. This is it.
When you arrive at the track, the first step is for you and your “crew” to go to registration. You walk up to registration prepared with a check (if you did not already prepay) and your racing license (or novice permit and logbook). Your crew members are here with you, so they also register. The registration area is typically open for only a few hours in the morning – at least today you don’t have to worry about making sure your crew gets there on time to sign-in. Now it’s time to go down to the paddock and find a spot for your racecar and gear. When driving around, you are blown away by all of the expensive cars and equipment some people have! It is hard not to wonder how you will be able to compete against them.
After unpacking your car, it is time to go get your gear teched. At this point your racecar has already gone through the annual tech inspection. You get to the tech “shed” with your helmet, the racecar’s logbook, pen and a smile. The tech scrutinizers verify that you have an up-to-date logbook and that there are no outstanding issues with your racecar noted in the book. They also verify that your helmet meets the club’s requirements. Not that you mind standing in line while you have a million other things to do, but you make a mental note to delegate this task to one of your “crew” next time. After the scrutinizer signs off on your log book for the event, you then put the sticker he gave you on the car to show you passed the tech inspection. This is nothing compared to the much more intensive annual tech inspection, but you know it is your responsibility to ensure that the car is in good working order.
Now you go through your car one more time and check the tire pressures, clean the windshield, re-torque the wheel lug nuts and check the engine oil level. “Where’s my crew?” you exclaim. Oh, there they are having coffee, eating breakfast, and enjoying themselves while you prepare the car! Anyway, now you are ready to go. Today you are in race group six, so you will have some time before your qualifying session. You take a few moments to relax, but before you know it, it is time to go to the false grid. After several minutes of waiting on the grid it is your group’s turn to go out on the track. You take a few more deep breaths just to help calm the nerves. Time to begin!
You have completed the qualifying session and obtained the results. Not bad at all. You qualified 12th out of 20 cars. Now for one of your favorite parts of the race day – taking some time to walk around, talk to fellow drivers and watch some of the other races. Before you even realize it, group five is starting to go out on the track. Ut-oh, you better get going! You say goodbye to everyone, and as you begin to walk to your car to change into your driver’s suit, your nerves start up again. You drive over to the false grid and take your position. You look at the other cars on grid and begin your strategy for the start. Then you think, “Strategy? Shouldn’t I have one?” At this point in your racing career there really is not much of a strategy other than remembering that you can’t win a race on the first lap, but you can lose it. People have different approaches on how to handle the down time while on the false grid. Do you want to stay in the car and concentrate or do you want to get out of the car and talk to other drivers in your group? Shriek! Shriek!
“Five minutes! Five minutes!” the grid worker shouts. You get back into the car, put the window net up and tighten your belts. You close your eyes and visualize yourself driving a perfect lap around the track. “One minute! One minute!” the grid worker now shouts. At this point you can almost hear your heart beat. You raise your fist out the window indicating to the workers that your car is now running and ready to go. The grid worker points to the car that qualified on pole motioning for them to begin moving and the line begins to make its way out onto the track. Once you are in the proper grid position and have passed all of the workers that are out on the track itself, you start to warm-up the tires and brakes. You’re careful not to get overzealous, as all too many people spin on the warm-up lap. How embarrassing! The field now begins to approach the starting line, and you can see the starter stare the field down. “Not yet, not yet,” you think to yourself. It seems like this is taking forever! The field gets closer and closer. There it is, the green flag – go, go, go!
All of the emotions and activities during the day combined are what make club racing so much fun. There is much more to a racing event than just driving fast around a track that a prospective driver could easily overlook. Take a close look around the next time you attend a club racing event. You will see people helping their fellow competitors, laughing and, in general, having a great time. I always thought it was strange to see people assisting another competitor fix or prepare their racecar, but it happens all the time. The thing that really surprised me is that people who help you the most are often your fiercest competitors. I guess the easiest way to picture what it is like is to imagine a fraternity. And no, you won’t be forced into running laps around the track in your underwear as an initiation, although that would be pretty funny! In racing, there will be times that on the spot car repairs will be necessary. It is just a fact when racing. When something does happen, you might be surprised at the amount of help you receive. At times it can even be a bit overwhelming, especially when you consider that the people helping may not even know you. To get a full appreciation you just have to experience it for yourself.