As a huge advocate for driver safety, I look forward to highlighting some of the important topics facing drivers in the exciting world of drag racing. Yes, racing can be dangerous. What our focus should be on is that racing is about risk management and good competition in a controlled environment. We must navigate the racing world in the most intelligent and safest means possible and the key to that is educating ourselves. Here are five quick basics to start with in order to help you prepare for both learning and success in the driver’s seat.
1) Lose the need to impress others. This is the #1 piece of advice I give anyone who wants to race or who wants to step up into a faster class. I can’t stress this enough. Our job as drivers is to handle our race cars and the racing environment with the serious attention it requires. By keeping your head and your emotions intact, you can avoid a large percentage of bad situations behind the wheel of a race car. In other words, don’t play hero. Keep the ego in check and the body will stay safe.
2) You must adhere to all safety rules. You must be properly outfitted. This means you have the proper equipment starting with the basics of a good helmet, fire jacket and pants, HANS device, gloves and shoes. The faster you go the more safety equipment you will need. If you do not have the proper driving gear, you’re not ready to race. It’s as simple as that. Buy the best quality items you can and keep track of the SFI certification dates. You are your own best advocate for your safety. Familiarize yourself with the NHRA and IHRA rulebooks and keep up on all rule changes pertaining to your class. (I’ll talk about HANS devices and pour in seats in a later post.)
3) Start with a solid foundation. Learn the layout of any track you go to. This means the pit areas, which side the return road is on, what the shutdown area looks like and what safety services are present during any given race day. Understanding how the track is run and what classes will race there can also help you to know what to expect. It’s a good idea to spend some time as a spectator. This is especially important if you are attending an event at a facility that you’ve never been to before. All tracks have their differences and quirks. Understand the track surface and any possible “trouble” spots such as dips, bumps and how wide or narrow the groove is. Get to know the lay of the land before attempting any passes down the track.
4) Be mindful of others. When a racing incident occurs, it’s not just the driver who is at risk. Other competitors, safety crews, crew members and track personnel can also be put in harms way. We rely on each other to do our part to make every effort for safety in the racing environment which means paying attention in all ways to contribute to the atmosphere of safety at all times. It’s each racer’s job to make sure their vehicle will pass tech and adheres to all safety rules.
5) Be a driver who is always willing to learn. I believe what classifies a good driver is one who has good instincts and is willing to practice skill-building. While there are a few people born with some natural ability, the truth is that nature plays only a small part in what makes a skilled driver. Developing good habits in the driver’s seat are largely learned skills. There is no substitute for seat time and that is where you will gain your best experiences. Be willing to ask questions and listen. You don’t have to be mechanically inclined but having a good working knowledge of the basics of your engine and transmission can also help you. It takes courage to ask questions but the best thing about drag racing is the people and you will find many willing to help.
In the 30 years I’ve been involved in drag racing our sport has made many strides toward safety. This is the key to the longevity of our sport. Every step forward in speed requires continued and focused effort in safety. Good luck, be safe and have fun out there!
By Yvonne Lucas
Photos by: Paul Grant and Robert Fedyk