Revisited: … divided we fall

I love quotes. They free you from original thinking. They also make whatever you say seem more important. That’s paraphrasing a couple famous quotes. The following post is one of my all time favorites. Not just because it starts and ends with two great quotes and but also because it crystalizes my philosophy of endurance racing: race with others, not against them.

Heraclitus: “Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”

I think you could make the same observation about a typical amateur race. Some of the cars on track shouldn’t even be there. Most of the cars are just getting in and out of each others way. A precious few cars are actually racing. Like a battle, racing is dangerous and people/cars could get hurt or even killed. The difference, and it’s a huge difference, is that everyone in the race paid money to have fun.

In the aftermath of the accident above, you will find many opinions. Some would say that the Spitfire that got rammed had no business being on track. Some would say the fault lies with the faster car because they can choose to pass elsewhere. Some just shout “noobs check your mirrors” because they learned somewhere that rudeness is an effective form of teaching and communication (it isn’t). Some would blame the entire racing series that allows such a wide range of cars and drivers on track.

Instead of laying blame, let’s try to solve the problem proactively with the simple realization that we’re all in this together. Driving racecars is a privilege. It’s a wasteful and irresponsible activity that brings huge smiles to our faces when everything goes right. Next time you’re on track and you see something dangerous brewing (which happens every time cars are near each other), imagine the person in the other car is your spouse, child, relative, or friend. Would you pass them more safely? Would you allow them to pass you more safely? Would you make sure they are also having a good time?

There is no big prize waiting at the finish line. There is no contract with NASCAR or Formula 1 in your future. There is no point in driving angry. Instead, drive under the platinum rule. No, not the Golden Rule, for that rule is self-centered. “Do unto others as you would want done to you” assumes the other person has the same value system as you. They may have entered the race for completely different reasons than you. If they’re driving a non-competitive car, you can be sure that the reason wasn’t trying to win. The Platinum Rule is “do unto others as they would want have done to them”. This is difficult because it takes effort for you to imagine how they want to be treated. Instead of driving as if the other cars are opponents in battle, drive as if they are kin and you are training together.

In the words of Ian Maclaren (or maybe Plato): “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. And if you are one of Heraclitus’ warriors, thank you for bringing the others back.

Revisited: The four temperaments

Going back in time again to revisit some of my favorite posts. This one is near the top of the list. Why? Partly it’s because I love personality tests. I’ve got one in development especially designed for racers that I’ll drop here one day. And partly it’s the subject matter. Lots of drivers misunderstand the brake pedal. To me, it’s the most important part of the car. For such a simple device, there are a lot of subtleties in its application. But in the end there are really only two sides to braking: early and late. The same is true of leaving a sinking ship. You can leave too early or too late.

Most crashes in amateur racing are the result of late braking. If the car is going straight, it tends to plow into the vehicle ahead. If it’s in a turn, you get an oversteer spin that collects vehicles behind. The best way to avoid these situations is to brake earlier. Unfortunately, many drivers have the misconception that the easiest way to go faster is to brake later and harder. Late braking is actually the easiest way to get in an accident.

In my day job, I’m a professor, so one of the important parts of my job is teaching. Students have different ways of learning. Some are comfortable with abstractions while some aren’t even comfortable with the word abstractions. Some are auditory learners while others like to experience things through touch. The best teachers figure out what kind of student they have and instruct in the learning style of the student (this is made difficult in a lecture class of 180 students but that’s a topic for another day and another blog).

There are a variety of ways to describe personality types and learning styles. Two of the most popular are Meyers-Briggs and OCEAN (big 5). These are a bit too complicated to go into in a simple blog post, so I’m going to recommend the Temperament Sorter, which sorts people into only 4 categories: Guardian, Rational, Idealist, Artist: The category depends on 2 scales: concreteness vs. abstractness and utilitarian vs. cooperative.

Here’s a description of the 4 temperaments from the website.

  • As Concrete Cooperators, Guardians speak mostly of their duties and responsibilities, of what they can keep an eye on and take good care of, and they’re careful to obey the laws, follow the rules, and respect the rights of others.
  • As Abstract Cooperators, Idealists speak mostly of what they hope for and imagine might be possible for people, and they want to act in good conscience, always trying to reach their goals without compromising their personal code of ethics.
  • As Concrete Utilitarians, Artisans speak mostly about what they see right in front of them, about what they can get their hands on, and they will do whatever works, whatever gives them a quick, effective payoff, even if they have to bend the rules.
  • As Abstract Utilitarians, Rationals speak mostly of what new problems intrigue them and what new solutions they envision, and always pragmatic, they act as efficiently as possible to achieve their objectives, ignoring arbitrary rules and conventions if need be.

For Harry Potter fans, you might recognize these as Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Slytherin, and Ravenclaw. More classically, they are Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. Classifying people into one of four categories may bring peace of mind to some and horror to others. Regardless, everyone has each of these characteristics in them to varying degrees.

Back to the topic of late braking, here are four ways of saying “brake earlier”.

Guardian/Hufflepuff/Earth: Late braking is unsafe. Since every racing series has rules against unsafe driving, you are violating the rules by braking late. To prevent late braking, remember these two rules: (1) always brake 1 marker earlier than you think you need to (2) always leave at least 1 car of room in front of you. By following these two simple rules, you will make the track safer for yourself and everyone around you. Your safety record will be something you look back on with pride.

Idealist/Gryffindor/Fire: Racing is really dangerous. It’s our responsibility to make it safer, and to lead by example. Due to varying track conditions, car performance, and driver experience, it’s necessary to give everyone a little extra room for safety’s sake. While it may make your car slower than optimal, it’s a small price to pay for safety (not to mention sanity). Others may take advantage of the extra room you give them, but it will only hurt them in the long run.

Artisan/Slytherin/Water: A friend of mine lost traction because his brakes overheated and he T-boned another driver. Later, in the paddock, that driver tracked down my friend and threatened to beat him up or sue him if he didn’t pay for damages. I would have kicked that dude’s ass, but my friend became a chickenshit and stopped racing. I’m braking a little earlier these days because it’s helps me optimize my corner entry speed and actually go faster.

Rational/Ravenclaw/Air: Getting a black flag in an endurance race can easily cost you 3 laps as you sit in the penalty box. You can’t make up that loss by driving faster. Paradoxically, driving 0.5% off pace is faster on average because you minimize high risk driving. I can show you the calculations if you’re interested.

Revisited: Mirror mirror

When I first posted this, I focused blame on the POV driver who doesn’t know how to drive with 2 wheels in the dirt. Looking at this a couple years later, my thoughts are a little different. Most accidents are avoidable. Two forces generally oppose that:

  • I didn’t see…
  • I didn’t expect…

The real crimes here are (a) the slower driver didn’t see (b) the faster driver didn’t expect. The track is safer when drivers cooperate. It’s still a good idea to learn how to drive with a wheel or four in the dirt.

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fastest of them all?

Who is at fault for this horror show? At first glance, it looks like it was an asshat blocking move by the silver Fiero, but most of the fault lies with the BMW (car taking video).

The BMW was much faster than the Fiero and had the luxury of choosing where to pass. On the approach to T6 at RA the normal racing line is to drift out to the left. The slower car is supposed to stay on the racing line and the overtaking car is supposed to go off line. It doesn’t make sense for the BMW to pass on the left. That was error #1. The more critical error was turning the wheel sharply while off track. When going 2 or 4 wheels off, you’re supposed to ease the car back on track. If the steering angle is too steep, this is what you get. In effect, the BMW cut off the Fiero and slammed on the brakes. Done and done-er.

What did the Fiero do wrong? Take a look at the left side of the car. There’s no wing mirror. He had no idea the BMW was approaching on the left. With better situational awareness, the Fiero driver would have expected this pass even with just a rear view mirror. But the Fiero team handicapped their driver for unknown reasons (aerodynamics?), and the team paid the price for their oversight.

Safety first. Learn to drive with a wheel or four off. And keep the mirrors.

Revisited: Tossing the nannies

Today I was looking back at some old YSAR posts and thought it was time to revisit some of my favorite posts and add a little commentary. “Tossing the nannies” is one of my favorites because it’s about braking. Braking is an incredibly important skill. I’d say it’s the most critical skill there is in driving because the brakes are used for turning as well as scrubbing speed. Most cars come from the factory with safe brakes, but when racers start mucking about with pads, prop valves, and ABS-delete, things can go poorly.

Most cars have enough brake power to lock their wheels. So your stopping distance is generally a function of the tires and road surface, not the brake pads and rotors (but of course these matter because of heat and feel). One aspect of braking that is often overlooked is brake bias. When you step on the brake pedal, some of the brake pressure goes to the front, and some to the rear. But it’s not the same amount. As the car slows, weight transfers from the rear to the front. The front tires gain load and therefore gain grip. Not only does it make sense to bias the brake pressure towards the front to take advantage of the added friction up there, it’s also a lot safer. If the rear tires lock up first, it can lead to a spin. Like this.

Why did this car spin while decelerating in a straight line on a dry track? The short answer is that real racers toss the nannies. No self-respecting racecar driver chooses an automatic transmission. It’s a stick or stay home. Real racers do their own throttle blipping too. Traction control? And lose the ability to do burn-outs? Surely you jest. Power steering? For weaklings. Stability control? Might as well have gramps drive for you. Anti-lock brakes? Everyone knows that threshold braking requires the tires to slip and ABS doesn’t allow that. Real racers turn off or permanently delete the nannies.

This racing team acted on their correct understanding that on a wet track, the overall traction is lower, so the weight transfer from rear to front is less pronounced. You can stop in a shorter distance on a slick track with more rear brake. So they adjusted the bias towards the rear. Nothing wrong with that, it’s what the pros do. But then the track dried, they didn’t readjust the bias, the driver locked the brakes, and the car was wrecked (which is not what the pros do).

There are several ways to deal with this situation.

  1. Don’t mess with the brake bias. It comes from the factory with a lot of front bias. Brake a lot earlier on a wet track.
  2. Pit the car when the track conditions change and make the necessary adjustments.
  3. Make the brake bias adjustable from the cockpit (this assumes the driver knows when and how much to adjust).
  4. Keep the ABS nanny. What you lose in braking distance you make up for in safety.

Going from a wet track to a dry track isn’t the only time you may experience too much rear brake. Racing tires have more grip than street tires, so they transfer more load to the front. When you swap your street tires for R-comps, you probably want to reduce the braking in the rear. If you don’t have a prop valve, you can put a more aggressive brake pad on the front than the rear.