By on June 14, 2010

OSB. “Other Sports Beckon”. It’s what Skip Barber instructors reportedly used to write on the report cards of utterly feckless driving students. While the phrase may be long gone, the attitude persists among the instructing community that some people just shouldn’t be in the car. I often hear instructors at various events talking about just how horrible/dangerous/contemptible their students are. That’s not right. We are supposed to be coaching the driver to his or her best possible performance, not humiliating them by listing their flaws.

With that said, some drivers present an active danger to themselves, and to their instructors, on the racetrack. I’ve come up with a few guidelines to keep you, the reader, from becoming one of those people, should you decide to give this open-track business a whirl.

Do some reading. Everyone — and I mean everyone — who wants to set foot on a race track should read Speed Secrets by Ross Bentley. It will cost you ten bucks and possibly save your life. Read it. There will be parts about which you do not care, like the sections on passing during a race and all the parts where Ross complains about his Champ Car being a piece of junk. That’s okay. Read the whole thing. You may not understand it all. In that case, find your instructor before your first track session and ask him. Or you can contact me, personally, using the contact form at TTAC.

Practice the three phases of a corner on the street. The three phases of a corner are: brake, turn, accelerate. We don’t mix them on the racetrack unless we are working to do something very specific with the car’s balance. Practice getting all of your braking done before you turn the wheel into a corner. Don’t accelerate until your steering wheel is straightening out. In the middle of the turn, hold the throttle steady. Do it until it’s a habit. Do you want to kill yourself on a racetrack? The easiest way to do it is to steer and brake at the same time.

Learn to heel and toe, or don’t. It’s okay if you cannot heel and toe. If you cannot, we will keep you in fourth gear for the whole track. Don’t laugh. I did five full trackdays in fourth gear only when I started out. If you complain that you want to shift to “go faster”, I will explain to you that, of the forty-five seconds separating you and me around a racetrack per lap, only two of them are due to gear selection.

This is a race you cannot win. Because it isn’t a race. It’s an open lapping day. I know you will forget this. I know you want to pass people. That’s fine. If you listen to me, you will at least pass the students who ignore their instructors. Then you’ll “win”. Kind of.

Leave your friends, your significant other, and your camera at home. You cannot impress them. All street cars look slow on a racetrack. And you might kill yourself in the attempt. They can come to your first race, and you can then drive into the sand trap on Lap One because you’re so nervous about your friends being at the track.

The above is what I would tell people if they asked me about being prepared for the racetrack. However, they never do. They ask me which car they should buy/borrow/rent and bring. It doesn’t really matter. You will be slow on your first weekend, no matter if you have a Citation or a Corvette ZR1. So don’t worry about it.

That hasn’t satisfied you. You want to know what you should bring. Okay. The most important thing to do is to bring a “stock” car. Slower is better. The guy who spends all day lapping in a rented Camry finishes the day as a better driver than the one who missed two sessions fixing boost issues with his AMS Mitsubishi Evolution 1000XXX. If I could issue a car to every new trackday driver, it would probably be a four-cylinder Accord. They rarely break and you can learn a lot from the feedback provided by the controls.

I’d like you to have ESP/PSM/DSC/whatever. Some people absolutely panic and do the wrong thing on a racetrack. Normally, it’s a bad combination of brake and steering, often in the middle of a turn. ESP can sort that out most of the time. A bad driver “drives on the system”, continually overcooking into turns and brake-steering his way out with all four calipers chattering overtime from the stability system. Don’t be that guy. Use ESP as a safety net, not a crutch. Your instructor will show you how.

Some cars are exceptionally tough to learn with. My student yesterday had a Challenger SRT-8. Big, fast, two-ton cars present a lot of problems for instructors. The brakes fade without warning. The available power upsets the car and engages ESP at the slightest throttle misstep. It’s far too easy to arrive at the next corner at a deadly speed, and the student doesn’t always understand why I feel he is entering the corner too quickly.

By the end of the day, Mr. Challenger was doing just fine, but we spent two of our available four sessions fixing problems mostly brought about by the availability of 425 horsepower in the middle of a slow corner. Had he brought a Chevrolet Cobalt LS, he’d have finished the day a better driver.

I finished my day by driving the five-hundred-something miles home, arriving at 3am. In a few days I’ll be driving at a Grand-Am test day. Driving against the guys you see on Speed TV can be a bit scary. One time last year, during a Koni race, I had a GS-class Porsche run me off the end of the Climbing Esses at VIR. It was somebody I’d cheered on while watching World Challenge races. To this day, although I know I was in the right in that situation, I feel bad about it.

I thought a lot about my test day on the drive home. Long trips alone will make you think. I’m not always sure where I’m going, or why. There’s one thing I do know. For me, this is the sport that beckons.

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33 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: OSB, ESP, SRT....”

  • avatar

    Nice read.

  • avatar

    I see NJMP Thunderbolt circuit.

  • avatar

    Well writ… I like that most of the advice you’ve given bears some resemblance to the advice one would give to a cyclist entering their first road race. Except bikes have no ESP as a crutch; racers rely on their wits, guts and a dose of common sense when required. Anyhow, after I’ve crippled myself, the first thing I’ll do is read Bentley, hire an instructor, and take my stock non-turbo Volvo to the track (read Jack’s previous Trackday article to make the connection).

    • 0 avatar

      Well,… I went the with racing stock cars in my youth,and now that I’m in late my 40’s,I’m road racing bicycles. The trouble is now I use more common sense than guts, and you can’t win that way. Going into a hard corner handlebar to handlebar at 35mph,with no protection other than a styrofoam helmet and lycra spandex takes the pucker factor off the charts. Funny though,I still have a 99′ Accord 4cyl.,stick,…..some things never change,… just never know.

  • avatar

    Heel-toe presents a bad problem for me: most cars are far too small. Maybe all, actually. To see why, set yourself for a heel-toe position like usual… now, bring your heel halfway to your butt, which is my driving position. I warn you, this is going to hurt. And it’s only worse when I have to slide deeper because of the helmet. So I always was clutch-riding. The only real solution is to use an automatic and just paddle it. Oh, well.

  • avatar

    Another great read Jack. You should post up where and when (track & organization) you are going to be instructing.

  • avatar

    I think I’ll stick to the local drag strip, salt flats, and video games.

  • avatar

    I was going to skip this article, but then I saw Jack wrote it. Nice read.

  • avatar

    Great read. I’m by no means a seasoned expert on track, but I’ve done my fair share of track days (typically a slower “A” group driver). Your comment about leaving the stability control on resonates with me. I’ve always used that method for track days (we’re not racing after all), trying to drive as fast and as smooth as I possibly can. If the traction control engaged, then I probably messed something up.

    I’ve actually had instructors call me a p*ssy for leaving it on. The most notable time was in my bone stock E46 M3 on a semi-damp track…needless to say, I pulled in and asked for a new instructor.

    • 0 avatar

      What?!?! If it wasn’t meant as a joking prod by a friend then you did the right thing. Any “instructor” suggesting that sort of thing to a beginner is out of his/her place working with beginners and possibly as an instructor. Good on you for not blindly following bad instruction.

  • avatar

    Nice read. You said “Practice getting all of your braking done before you turn the wheel into a corner”. When I attended Skip Barber at Mid Ohio in the early 80’s, we were taught trail braking into the corner, both in street cars and Formula Fords. Whats different now?

    • 0 avatar

      From Jacks article on street driving, part 1.

      “We’ll use a limited set of the race driver’s toolkit in our pursuit of maximum street speed. Trail-braking is out, deliberate contact is out, drafting is out. Instead, we follow the old Bondurant curriculum. All braking is done in a straight line, every time. If you have ABS, don’t be afraid to engage it. We never steer and brake simultaneously, particularly on the freeway. We don’t accelerate out of turns with the steering wheel “pinched” and we use formula-car hand positioning on the wheel. No shuffle-steer. Ever. This isn’t autocross. Get the wheel straight and put your right foot all the way down.”

      And from part 3

      “Since we are not on a racetrack, we don’t trail-brake, we don’t “adjust” the car in mid-corner with left-foot braking or throttle inputs, and we don’t even think about applying power until the car is pointed properly to the exit. Most importantly, we take the absolute latest apex, which is to say that we wait as long as possible to turn the car into the corner before turning sharply. This reduces mid-corner speed, but it also reduces inadvertent corner exits.”

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know what has changed, but I do know that at a Porsche Club of America DE, instructors will insist that (beginning) students brake in a straight line. As Baruth alludes, trail braking is best left to the advanced drivers.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    All of my track experience involves motorcycles, where there is no ABS or ESP or whatever to bail you out. Trail braking is common by experienced riders under racing situations, but it’s also a really good way to crash, particularly if the rider is the slightest bit ham-fisted, as newbies tend to be. A momentary front-wheel lockup or a momentary lift of the rear wheel off the ground while braking in a straight line is recoverable (most of the time) and the rider is not thinking about turning at the same time. Do that while cornering at the same time, and firstly it’s more difficult to recover, and secondly now the rider is thinking about both braking and cornering and has more on his mind.

    The correct course of action – both bike and car – to momentary loss of traction from the front end while trail braking is to ease up on the brake to hopefully let traction come back. The natural panic reaction of a good many drivers (and riders) who don’t have racetrack experience is to slam on the brakes regardless of what else is going on … which is precisely the wrong thing to do, and will guarantee a low-speed crash on a bike, or slide off the track front first with the wheels locked up in a car. It’s just a whole lot easier to tell people who are new at this, to not brake and steer at the same time. When they do this enough, so that the reaction to ease up on the brake when starting to turn in starts becoming automatic, only then should they think about trail braking.

    Sometimes you have to tell newbies things to keep them out of trouble, for long enough until they figure out what’s what, and can start using more advanced techniques.

    • 0 avatar

      Well said!!!

      My wife (bless her heart) doesn’t have a lot of driving experience in rain or snow. She’s only had her license about 5 years and until a year ago only drove about once per week.

      We were on a local road near our house (speed limit 45) in the right lane. We were planning to turn right about a half mile ahead and she had someone tailgating her. She tried to slow but the guy (in a large SUV) behind her got even closer so she took her foot off the brake.

      When she looked in front of her she realized we were about to miss our turn. She slammed the brakes. On wet pavement. Then turned the wheels to the right while the brakes were locked. Of course we continued to skid straight ahead (NO ABS, nothing fancy — base cheap year 2000 Plymouth Neon).

      As a front seat passenger, I grabbed the wheel with my left and and turn the wheels back straight JUST as she let go of the brakes & we continued going forward instead of T-boning the cars on the street to the right waiting to turn left.

      I’ve told my wife 1000x NOT to brake while turning and she can’t get it through her head. I don’t do this in my bike, I don’t do this in my sports car….IMHO it’s fairly intuitive and the only place I’ve ever read that was in my MSF course (nope, I don’t race motorcycles & do rear-brake turning).

  • avatar

    It’s hard to beat a Miata as a learning tool.


    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for understanding how the real world works.

      At the end of the day, a skilled driver in a f’n Saturn will turn in a better lap than a buffoon in a Viper GTS.

      So what?

      I’ve seen it a dozen times; and if you haven’t, you haven’t been to the track.

  • avatar

    Could you explain, why heel and toe is so important?
    I can see its neccessitiy in a open wheeler with an unsynced transmission but in a street car?

    • 0 avatar

      You don’t want a sudden jolt of engine braking to lock up the tires and/or upset the balance of the car when you’re driving near the limit. At high revs under hard braking immediately before corner entry, the shift needs to be smooth.

      It’s also hard on the drivetrain to not rev-match at high rpms. It’s quite a shock load, especially with grippier tires.

  • avatar

    About the reading part… I once found a very good site for it. But since at that time I didn’t bookmarked them, I lost it.

    Heel&Toe… can’t, only thing I’ve been able to do is to equalize revs while downshifting (rather slowing or accelerating the car). I’ve been able to downshift without removing the foot from the go pedal avoiding hitting the rev limiter. Achieved repetibility on that. Used mostly when accelerating. Very effective.

    No, I don’t race or drive “high performance” style. Sadly
    Nice tip on the contact.

    • 0 avatar

      Just takes a little more practice, I think. This is something you can generally practice safely on the street. I’m still working on my technique, as I don’t get the revs right every single time…

  • avatar

    @ Mid-Ohio is known for trail brake on all turns except T1(less than a hand full of track days should have plugged ears as mentioned earlier about 3 parts of a turn).

    Some unlearning of bad habits is a must especially when it comes to not having hand position at 10&2 or 9&3 and not clutching mid turn. I’l purposely keep my students at about 50% down the straights to let the thought process catch up for the next set of turns.

    Electronic nannies stay on until we’re engaging them very smoothly. Before the electronics get reduced or turned off hand position and counter steering knowledge is a must.

    Heel/toe higher displacement can be a receipe for disaster. Smaller displacement has less torque. This should not be practiced first on the track but at low speeds on familar roads like your neighborhood stop signs.

    The instructor ride along is important that students note smooth steering input along with smooth and what might seems slow shifting and clutching. Don’t forget to remember there are other things going on on the outside of your car, especially flaggers and other traffic including animals.

  • avatar

    I loved the point about driving a “stock” car for the first track day. In motorcycles, we have a say: “It’s better to go fast on a slow bike, than to go slow on a fast bike.” I never really understood the statement until I cafe racered a 1969 BSA A50R. a 500cc vertical twin with all of 26hp, and incredibly good handling. That bike taught me how to go through curves. And made me ready for the Triumph Bonneville cafe racer that followed. And the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R which I never really learned how to deal with 98hp.

  • avatar

    Thanks for another great read Jack.

  • avatar

    Great piece, Jack. As a veteran of numerous track days on both motorcycles and in cars (all stock), I find I have the most fun when I continually adjust my attitude to find just the right line through a turn. At 62, I’ve no worries about filling Lewis Hamilton’s seat at McLaren, but to take the time to enjoy myself makes for a great day. It’s also nice driving home with an intact vehicle…

  • avatar

    Great read Jack! Do you run with any other groups than TrackDaze? I’d love to come out to an event and request you as an instructor, but it looks like they are mainly VIR and Summit point which are a bit far from Boston. I thought you ran with a group that did the Glen and Monticello?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I am a NASA instructor for Great Lakes and Midwest. I’ve also worked with PCA and ACNA days. If you have an event you’re thinking about attending, let me know. If it’s some place I like, or some place I have not been, I will come out. I have yet to deal with a place that won’t let a vaguely experienced W2W racer instruct.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Kudos for improvements in both content and style from the “maximum street speed” pieces that “comedian” so conveniently linked to and which I was unaware of. The author of this and more recent pieces seems like a much more thoughtful guy than the author of those pieces from a year ago.

    Interestingly, one way to sum up what you’re saying — and the implicit lesson in all of the comments about the “maximum street speed” series is that the way to really have fun on public roads — without being an irresponsible jerk threatening the lives of all of the other users — is find and own a car that is “your obedient servant” rather than one that puts up the most impressive numbers in the fan mags’ road tests.

    Something like a Miata, perhaps.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The Maximum Street Speed series was written to provoke discussion on the topic and to provide some information to the people who want information on that kind of thing. :)

  • avatar

    Thank you for sharing this. I feel I would much rather become a better person and then driver, then get a faster car. The most fun I ever had was taking some turns at a park, without some patience, humility, fear, and enthusiasm I would not be able to have fun. Getting to have the fastest car and impressing others for validation means I’m not happy with myself. Life is not a test, contrary to Obama and most everyone else, its about enjoying the journey. I’m enjoying it much more now that I’m more understanding, aware, caring, and supportive of myself no matter what. Glad to see others can see through the BS also.

  • avatar

    My daily driver is a big front wheel drive car (1994 Citroen XM). There is a very tight right hand curve I take very day coming from work. Speed limit is 80kph, but most people take it way slower, is tight.

    I found that I can take much faster if I enter around 80kph and accelerate mid corner. Am I doing something really bad? Am I spoiled by Citroen’s Hydractive suspension?

    • 0 avatar

      The fastest way around a single corner wouldn’t necessarily lead to the fastest way around the entire track. For many turns, a “late apex” is desired, which means you might sacrifice some turn entry speed to gain a higher exit speed, setting you up for a higher speed on the next straight. But if you’re on the street and are not concerned about your exit speed, the fastest line through the turn itself is usually the widest arc that passes through the apex.

      If, when you “accelerate mid corner,” you are doing so after you reach the apex, then you’re doing it right.

  • avatar

    Nice piece, as always.

    RE: powerful cars: It’s something we’ve seen a lot of… the absolute newb who wants to start tracking with something like an STI or an EVO because they want something ‘fast’. (Besides, AWD always saves your bacon, right? right? Yeah, except when it doesn’t…)

    I wish I had more time to do that which I love, but life has a way of getting in the way of living it…

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