by George Brower
Every driver must be able to align, steer and stop his racer. lie acquires these skills through education. lie is taught. The quality of the drivers education often decides the top nine finishers and even the championship. This article will show you how important the first of these race day skills are and how to acquire them. The same basic learning principles apply to all three.
The aligning skills are best learned when the driver has 1) . been told what is to be done and shown how to do it 2) practiced and 3) reviewed the results. As easy as these sound, most drivers receive little instruction or barely enough to get by. Why is this? The answer is that adults do not realize the importance of the drivers race day skills. if they did they would spend more time on them.
What's so important about aligning a racer on a ramp? A quick start. Generally, the faster you take advantage of the hill's slope without turning your steering wheel the faster you get to the finish line. The percentage of resistance that a racer faces is much greater at slow speeds than at fast speeds. This is why a steering correction at the start hurts significantly more than at the finish. By the same token, any advantage taken at the start is magnified at the finish. For example, if Racer "A" goes off of a 10" high ramp (Figure 1) , and his opponent, Racer "B" goes from a 14" ramp (Figure 2) and everything else being equal, Racer "B" with the additional four inches of vertical drop will win and win by plenty.
This vertical drop factor, although on a smaller scale, is the key reason why racers are angled on the ramp. Figure 3 shows that after-20 yards the racer aligned to the downhill slope has had four more inches of vertical drop) than being straight and eight inches 'more than angled uphill. It has dropped faster than the others and is estimated to be 12" faster than straight, and 30" faster than uphill. The actual differences will vary from track to track.
The steering should be perfectly straight. Straight enough to take you 20 yards without making any corrections, even if your car body is angled to one side. Once again, the reason is that the percentage of turning resistance is much higher at slow speeds than faster speeds (see Derby Tech, May, June and August 1984 issues). Therefore, corrections at the top are to be particularly avoided. If a driver could be taught to overcome the natural tendency to turn the steering wheel during the first 20 yards, he would be about 1 1/2 feet faster. of course, if it is necessary to avoid an accident a steering correction is required.
Explain to the driver that alignment consists mainly of having the steering straight and possibly the racer angled. Tell him how a quick start is the goal of both and why. After your explanation, show him what you mean, have him practice and then review his progress.
Show the driver how to make sure that the steering is straight. Eliminate the guesswork. It does not matter what method he uses as long as it's quick and accurate. Many people use a marking on the steering cable that matches up with a marking on the racer body when the steering is straight (Figure 4). These marks work fine, but a pin through the steering shaft (Figure 5) , does the job without relying on someone other than the driver.
The driver should practice getting the steering straight and keeping the steering wheel straight for at least the first twenty yards. These are the easiest of the race day skills to learn, and they often pay the biggest dividends. Practicing at home and at the race track may not make you perfect but it will make you faster.
The review part of the educational process is essential. This is where the driver learns how well he has done, and what areas need more practice. Tell the driver of his correct actions as well as any that were incorrect. If they were wrong explain why, how to correct, and have him try again.
Checking the steering for straightness is easy to review. You can simply measure. But measuring how well the driver keeps the steering wheel straight for twenty yards is difficult. The reviewer does not know when there were small turns, but the driver does. A good way to determine if these small turns are being made is to mount a camera on the car aimed at the steering cable, which has been marked every 1/4", where it enters the car. Once the driver becomes aware of these turns, he can start to practice to eliminate them. Alignment review is so basic that it's often overlooked. So often, that close to 20% of the cars are misalign on the ramp. I've seen top nine racers come off the ramp and immediately go out of their lane, strike the wall, hit another racer, or sharply turn the steering wheel just to stay in the lane. They lose badly. These are symptoms of ill alignment, not steering problems.
Show the driver how and when to angle the racer. If the track has a crown or a constant side slope, the racer should be angled to the low side of the lane. In effect, the nose is pointed to the lane's low side when there is an advantage to be gained from a vertical drop differential, and pointed straight when there is not. Figure 6 demonstrates these principles. When the driver reaches 25 yards from the starting ramp he should be headed in a straight course to the finish line. His gradual steering correction should be made in the 20 to 25 yard area.
The driver should practice setting the racer on the ramp with the proper angle both at home and on tracks. If the driver is not physically able to move the racer on the ramp, he should practice telling an adult how and where to re-align the racer.
The review, or feedback process, will reinforce the driver's correct actions and highlight the areas that require more practice. Some drivers learn, just as other human beings, faster than others. The review process should be geared for the individual.
The reviewer can check the racer alignment by eye or rule. He can stand behind the racer and sight the direction the car will go, or he can measure how close the driver came to the spot twenty yards down the hill that the proper alignment would be.
III. OTHER FACTORS
Aligning a racer has many factors that involve both advantages and disadvantages. It is up to you to weigh the factors and decide which is the most beneficial overall. This decision can, and often does change as often as the weather. I'm going to list some reasons for angling the racer not previously mentioned in this article as well as some disadvantages.
1) There may be a track impediment you want to miss. This may be a manhole cover, a rough surface or even a patch of soft tar in front of the ramp. 2) There may be strong cross Winds that can be partially abated by going next to the wall. 3) There may be a dry or unshaded side of the lane that you want to drive on.
1) Your racer must travel a few inches farther to reach the finish line than driving straight. 2) You're on the ramp a fraction of an inch more than your opponents. 3) If the transition from the ramp to the track surface is abrupt, uneven pressure on the wheels may cause the front axle to turn, making a steering correction necessary. 4) It's easier to go out of your lane and make other steering mistakes when not driving down a center line.
Why is all this alignment responsibility being placed on the driver? Because, you the adult, may have to miss the race or may not be allowed topside. For example, the All-American provides the handlers that set the racer on the ramp and will only adjust the alignment if told to by the driver. The driver can easily make sure the steering is straight and he is the only one who can keep the wheel straight the first twenty yards. These are his responsibilities and they are part of racing.
The adults responsibility is to educate the driver as well as he can. The driver needs to learn that he can gain 2 1/2 feet by proper alignment; 1 foot for aligning the racer on the ramp, and 1 1/2 feet by having the steering wheel straight on the ramp and, if safety permits, for the first 20 yards. The better the drivers education, the better the results.
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