Beating a dead horse

At the last Lucky Dog race at Thunderhill, the following incident was caught on video. This turned into a big debate on the Facebook page Lucky Dog Racers with armchair analysts laying fault to one, the other, or both sides.

YSAR Official

I thought I would give the official YSAR opinion of the incident. By official, I mean armchair-official.

  1. Turn 10. At the start of the clip, you can see that the POV Miata is cornering faster than the BMW ahead. It’s clear from the driving of the BMW in T10, that the BMW driver is not an advanced driver. That’s okay! This is Lucky Dog Racing League, and all levels are welcome. So how do I know he’s not an advanced driver?
    • At the entrance to turn 10, the driver has left a half car width on the right. There’s no reason not to take a larger radius. Even if you were sandbagging so as not to pass the Super Dog time, you would still take the largest radius to save on consumables.
    • The driver chose a late apex line, but given how short the following straight is, there is no reason for this. Experienced drivers at Thunderhill know that T10 is an early apex corner.
    • The driver tracks out to the middle of the track and then steers out to the exit. That’s a low-intermediate level interpretation of the racing line.
  2. Turn 11. The car is way over-slowed at the entry of turn 11. You can see this by how much the Miata catches up in the braking zone. At this point, the Miata driver has some idea about the driver ahead and should be thinking “welcome to LDRL racing, let me give you some room so you can have great race”.
  3. Back straight. The race down the back straight shows that the Miata isn’t only faster in the corners, but also down the straights. It’s a faster car with a faster driver. By the time they enter the braking zone, the Miata has overtaken the BMW and is probably 1 car length ahead. The pass is now complete. At this point, the race for this corner is over. It’s time for both drivers to get through the final pair of corners together as fast as they can, to the benefit of everyone. By everyone I mean the drivers, their teammates waiting for their turn to drive, the car owners who don’t want to repair perfectly good race cars, the drivers’ loved ones who want them to return uninjured, every other team on track who doesn’t want the race shut down for a yellow flag, the organizers who want to deliver a fun yet safe event, the people at Walmart who don’t want to deal with angry customers, etc.
  4. Turn 14. The BMW driver re-passes the Miata in the braking zone. At this point, the BMW becomes the car attempting to make a pass. It is now the responsibility of the BMW to make a safe pass.
    • The Miata driver already knew the BMW driver was inferior and now had knowledge the he is also aggressive and dangerous. It’s time to give that car a lot of room and avoid it as much as possible. I have no idea why the Miata driver continued to race for this corner. He endangered the success of the team by endangering the car. This is the first stint of a 14-ish hour endurance race. What the hell are you thinking?
    • The minor contact between the cars is silly and both drivers are at fault for driving so close to each other.
    • The BMW has entered the corner way too fast. There is no way for the driver to navigate this corner without either braking or going off track. Dive bombing followed by braking mid-corner is no way to make a safe pass. It’s reckless and irresponsible.

Some of the discussion on FB turned to “why didn’t anyone ask if the drivers were okay?” I have to admit that I didn’t. I’m ashamed of that. I should have thought of the drivers first. From the POV of the Miata, it didn’t look like the BMW got hit particularly hard, but apparently the car ended up on its side and the driver was shaken up. After watching the video again, I could see how the BMW might end up in the K-wall at 60 mph. That would suck. So yes, if you’re the BMW driver, you have every reason to ask “how come you weren’t concerned with my well being?” I hope you also understand that by fighting for a corner you had already lost, you endangered yourself, another car, and reduced the race time for every other team on track. We have a right to ask “what the hell were you thinking driving like that?” Where is your apology for driving like a jackass? We all need to own our faults. I’m sorry I didn’t think of your well being. Now it’s your turn to apologize.

I saw a couple comments that said “why wasn’t the Miata farther out on the left?” I’ll tell you why. Setting up on the typical school line in a race with people of suspect skill and intentions is a great way to get punted. Want someone to hit you in the rear tire and break your suspension? Set up on the outside and cross the whole track to the apex. Rather than positioning farther to the left, I would have made the pass and positioned myself in front of the BMW. That would close down the inside line and make the cars go through the corner in a line rather than side-by-side. Yes, that would have ruined the speed through the next corner, but since the Miata was faster, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Criminal injustice

Video #1

When you’re on a race track, you don’t always know who else is sharing the space. They might be total ass-idiots. In this first clip, our POV driver isn’t doing anything wrong. He’s just driving the typical racing line, when out of nowhere, wham.

This driver was able to keep moving, but a hit like that could require a tow and lengthy repairs. Let’s be clear, the POV driver isn’t at fault. The other driver was a total fucktard. But when sharing space with fucktards, you have to take some precautions. That starts with NOT DRIVING THE RACING LINE when there are fucktards behind you. When the POV driver set up on the outside right of the track, he allowed the fucktard to think “I can make a pass on the inside”. The way to stay safe is to communicate to the fucktards that they can’t have the inside line. How? By driving on the inside line.

Video #2

Different drivers, different track, same fucking story.

Video #3

In this video, there’s a nice rear view inlay. You can see a faster car approaching from the rear. The POV driver sets up on the outside and takes the typical racing line. Can you guess what happens next?

From a rules perspective, the POV driver is ahead when he turns in. So he gets to choose the racing line. I think most people would say the fault lies with the rear car because he punts the POV car. However, the POV car also has some responsibility to give racing room to other drivers. When he turned in hard, was he not aware of the other car? That would certainly put some fault with him. Alternatively, he may have been sending a message to the other driver that he has right of way, and you had better back off. That’s being aggressive not unaware. Which is worse? I’m not sure. Can you tell an aggressive driver to back off? Can you tell an unaware driver to pay more attention? In both cases, the drivers are so focused on what they’re doing inside the car that they aren’t imagining what other drivers might do. Neither “I didn’t see” nor “I didn’t expect” are acceptable on the race track. To keep yourself safe, you have to dial it back a little so you can spare some attention for the ass-idiots around you.

Video #4

Different idiots, different venue, same goddam story. Watch the wing mirror on the right.


It’s really not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about which cars are lapping and which ones are in the pits. In every case here, the POV driver could have done something to prevent the accident. Yes, they were victims of ass-idiot fucktards who violated the rules. Criminals exist. Don’t let yourself become a victim.

The 10 cent diamond

Overtaking another car is a great feeling. Passing 5 cars in one lap makes you feel like a driving ace. Passing 5 in one corner is a sign that something is out of the ordinary. Is there a yellow flag you haven’t seen? Is there something dangerous afoot? Is your car/driving just that much better than everyone else? If someone sells you a diamond for 10 cents, it’s probably not worth a dime. And if you just passed 5 cars, it’s might not be on your merits.

Watch below as the unfortunate driver learns a hard lesson about stomping on the throttle on a cold, damp track. Around here, we call such power-oversteer crashes Karma Supra. Video #2 is the rear view.

This YouTuber’s channel features some more entertaining moments (below). From watching their normal race videos, the team appears to have decent drivers and a well-sorted car (which sounds amazing). Sadly, shit happens all the time. Well, if it looks like shit and smells like shit, really, you don’t have to taste it before deciding whether or not to step in it. So be on the lookout for 10 cent diamonds and dog shit. They’re everywhere.

Bad driving tip #3: don’t check your mirrors

When two cars make contact, one of the drivers usually ends up saying “I had the line”. Well yes, there are rules that give one car priority over the other. As a very general rule, the first car that turns into the corner has right of way. Does that mean they can chop down on the trailing car? Yes and no. Yes, if you want to assert yourself as an aggressive driver, shutting the door on a competitor can be a smart move. The ensuing contact may be ruled in your favor, and that driver will probably avoid going door-to-door with you again. You win. However, there is an overarching rule that all cars deserve racing room, and if the officials say that you impinged too much on their space, the ruling may go against you. You lose. If you’re into amateur endurance racing, which is really the focus of this blog, then you lose even if you win because the other teams that didn’t get into these shenanigans all benefit whenever you pick up penalties.

One of the charms of amateur racing is the wide range of driver abilities. What looks like a driver aggressively shutting the door on another is often just lack of awareness. They had no idea the other car was there. The situation goes hand-in-hand with the bad driving tip #5, “always driving the school line”. Rank amateurs may believe that they are supposed to drive the line and let others work around them. But you can’t go outside-inside-outside if there’s a car on your door. You have to give the other drivers their racing room. Just like on the street, you have to check your mirrors before changing lanes.

In the first video below, a faster car blows by a slower car on the straight. They think they are in the clear, but they park it in the braking zone and then proceed to hit the slower car on the way to the apex.

In this next video, the slower lead car crosses the track in HPDE style and squishes the faster trailing car into a concrete barrier.

Here’s one more.

In just about every incident, there’s enough blame to be shared. In all three videos the car in front could easily have avoided the incident by checking their mirrors. The trailing drivers were the victims here, but had they realized how unaware the other drivers were, maybe they would have driven differently.

Bad driving tip #4: drive (too) nice

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The road to repair bills also. Your #1 job as a racecar driver is driving. While it’s a nice courtesy to signal other drivers that there is a danger ahead, such behavior requires you to remove one hand from the steering wheel and divert your attention from driving to signaling. In that moment your concentration shifts, bad stuff could happen.

In this first video, the driver sees the yellow flag and attempts to control the situation by alerting the drivers behind him. A fine gesture, and to be applauded. Unfortunately, he mishandles the steering wheel, which causes the car to drift to the left. The Volvo on his right gets spooked by other traffic (I think) and turns into him and what little space there was is now used up. This results in a multi-car crash. Alerting other drivers to the yellow flag ahead was a great idea, especially as the upcoming corner is blind and the flag station is hard to see. But keeping control of your own vehicle is job #1.

In this second video, the driver once again attempts to alert the cars around him of the upcoming yellow flag. But he’s so focused on waving that he runs into a stack of cars.

In this third video, the HPDE driver in the blue Z takes a very wide line while pointing-by 2 cars to the inside. Unfortunately, the driver is so focused on others that he doesn’t keep his car on track. The panic that ensues collects an innocent bystander.

In all 3 videos, the drivers are exhibiting a rare and treasured personality trait: kindness. But driving racecars on track is stupidly dangerous and requires a lot of attention. If you’re an expert, you can probably spare to split your attention between driving and other tasks. But if you’re not, focus on the driving as the #1 priority.


Bad driving tip #7: drive (too) fast

Sports cars these days have ludicrous amounts of power. For example, a 2017 M3 has 425 HP. Modern sports cars tame that power with stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes. You can generally turn off some of these nannies, but even if you don’t, you’re driving an amazing machine that can exceed 100 mph very quickly. At that speed, you can get badly injured. Crash tests are performed at 35mph, not 100. Yeah, your car isn’t designed to protect you at track speed. At 100 mph, you’re experiencing over 8 times the kinetic energy compared to 35 mph.

Race cars tend not to have any nannies or airbags. This makes them more dangerous to drive. Even with full cages and safety equipment, you wouldn’t want to crash at 100 mph. In the video below, the driver is in a race-prepped Porsche 911 (996) at Willow Springs. He runs off track in T2 at about 85-90 mph. When he hits the dirt wall, he’s probably going 75-80. The crash breaks 4 vertebrae. That looks like it really hurt.

911s are notoriously difficult to drive and Willow Springs is a particularly dangerous track when you leave the asphalt. Driving it hard enough for it to oversteer in the middle of the corner is what you’re supposed to do if you’re an A-level driver (see the Skill page linked above). But if you’re a B or C driver, going this fast could get you in a lot of trouble. Once the car begins to oversteer, the driver’s reactions are slow, uncoordinated, and panicked. He loses control of the steering wheel and becomes a silent witness to his own crash. Oversteer recovery should be engrained in muscle memory, capable of retrieval without thought. Heres’ an important tip: learn to drive a sliding car at lower speeds and in safer environments. Get a first-generation Miata and drive it on all-season tires. Stay away from high speeds and sticky rubber until you’ve learned how to slide a car from entry to exit.

Bad driving tip #8: downshitting

Downshifting is the process of selecting a lower gear, generally on the approach to a corner. Downshitting is spinning a RWD car while shifting because the rear wheels locked up. There can be multiple sources of downshitting. The simplest is to miss a gear change and put the car into 1st instead of 3rd.

More commonly downshitting is caused by people who habitually engine-brake (i.e. use the friction of the engine to slow the car down). In racing, this is wrongity-wrongity-wrong. Your brake balance should be set up with pad compounds and prop valves to provide the ideal braking balance WITHOUT the engine. As soon as you put the engine into the equation, you are changing brake balance. In a FWD car it’s not a big deal. It just puts more braking power on the front of the car, which paradoxically increases your stopping distance because your rears are doing less work. But in a RWD car it is a big deal because once your rear brakes overpower your front brakes, you will spin, even going in a straight line. Do that in a corner, and you’ll snap around so fast you’ll think you were hit.

Intentional or not, the source of downshitting is releasing the clutch pedal when the vehicle is going one speed and the driveline is going another. The driver below gets his foot caught under the throttle and can’t get the revs to match. I’ll bet if he had a do-over, he would have kept the clutch in and coasted around the corner.


Giving thanks

As this is Thanksgiving weekend, I thought I would give thanks for a few things in the racing world.

  • I am thankful that I have been in car races on world famous tracks like Laguna Seca, Sonoma, Thunderhill, Willow Springs, etc. What percentage of the world population gets to do this? I don’t normally think of myself as part of the dreaded 1% (because I’m not in a financial sense), but in terms of car racing, I’m pretty sure I am.
  • I am thankful that I haven’t been in any crashes. I admit that a good part of that is dumb luck. I’m gaining skill in recognizing when bad stuff happens, but even very skilled drivers get wrecked by things beyond their control.
  • I am thankful to the racing organizations that make this hobby possible, especially those aimed at the budget racer (24 Hours of LeMons, Lucky Dog Racing League, World Racing League, ChumpCar, etc.).
  • I am thankful for all the people I call teammates. Thanks for joining me or letting me join you in this crazy pastime. I’ll remember these days always.
  • I am thankful for all the people I’ve raced against. Sharing the track with you has been an honor and a privilege.
  • I am thankful that I haven’t raced next to this guy…


Assume the position

I’ve spent more money on safety equipment than performance modifications for my car. I find it a little odd that my largest costs are for things I hope I never need. But those are the rules of the game. Safety first. I like to be prepared in all things. But am I physically and mentally prepared for a crash? How does one train themselves for a freak accident?

Dude, maybe slow down when you go off track?

Look at the steering wheel after the crash. My wrists hurt just looking at that. Back when I did a lot of skateboarding, we used to train ourselves to fall. We could bail out from way above a halfpipe and not get injured. The key piece of safety equipment was knee pads. The technique was to tuck your knees beneath you, lean back, and slide down the ramp. You could always tell the halfpipe riders in those days because the tops of our shoes were shredded from all the knee slides.

What’s the correct technique to minimizing damage in a car crash? Unconscious people survive car crashes better, so apparently it helps to be relaxed. You also don’t want your extremities getting banged about, so bringing your arms in is probably a good idea. I like how the driver in the video below has the presence of mind to grab his head to protect his neck (the video was previously featured on YSAR). If you’re not in a halo seat, that might be a good idea.

Teams often practice escape drills to get out of the car. I think I’ll add crash to my safety drill. It will go something like this.

  1. Start in the car buckled in with race gear on
  2. A team mate shouts crash
  3. Bring arms to chest, relax body
  4. Team mate shouts fire
  5. Turn off kill switch and (mock) activate fire system
  6. Unbuckle harness and get out