Project Racer: Back to the Track with NASA, Part Two


annie sam project racer

To figure out what works best for your car, it is always safer to start conservatively. Who cares if you start off slow? It’s a better alternative to spinning out and potentially crashing. Here’s a walk through on how to get through turn one to find your braking zone:

Since it is turn one past the straightaway, your car should be at full throttle, pedal to the floor. Never should your car be coasting. You should either be on the throttle, or on the brake. You’re traveling at 125 mph, and the turn is coming up fast. You find what seems to be the best braking point and you let off the throttle, and step on the brake. At this point, you should find a landmark; a cone, a billboard, a fencepost you can reference to for the next time you come around that corner, something you can use to indicate where you should start braking. Note, you should be done braking, your car in gear, and your foot ready to punch the throttle before you even start turning in. A common error is to downshift or brake while in a turn. You should never be shifting while in a turn. When you dive in towards the apex, your foot should already be back on the throttle. When exiting turn one, evaluate whether or not you could have taken that turn faster or not. If you feel that you could have shortened your braking distance, find your reference point, and repeat the procedure, this time braking harder, with less distance.

willow springs turn one safe braking zone
Turn one's braking zone.  This is the trickiest one on the whole track because you are braking from the highest speed into a hard 90 degree left hander.

Now, most people seem to want to shorten their braking distance as they head towards the point where their car is on the verge of spinning out, or losing space to unwind the wheel. Dave Royce, a talented driver and the former R&D manager at Eibach showed me this (see diagram); instead of compromising your “safe” reference brake point (blue line) as you shorten your braking distance, try keeping that reference point as you brake harder, shortening your braking distance by moving the turn in point (red line) closer. This way, when you’ve discovered that you need more run off room, you’ll still have room to correct your error. Whereas, if you tried to shorten the braking distance by your reference point and discovered that you need more braking room, you’ll have none and end up spinning out – and spinning out in the dirt, chipping your paint, risking contact with another car, and  getting dirt all inside and all over your car, sucks.

willow springs turn one braking zone
The safe way of discovering how far you can move up your braking point is to brake harder early and see how much room you have left over, then move up your braking point.  Braking later as an experiment can get you in trouble!


Everyone has their own opinions of what is best for their cars, so keep in mind that the line varies between an NX2000, and a 240SX. But as a beginner, this is a good way to start. Always start conservatively; always evaluate your driving.

nasa racing

If you’ve noticed, I always reference people when I receive advice; a reminder that people at the track are usually very open to giving you tips on how to become faster – as long as you’re willing to learn. There is a plethora of information out there, from magazine articles to books on race craft, but some of the best resources are your fellow drivers at the track. So if you’re ever at the track in the future, make it a goal to ask another driver for their opinions and advice. You’ll always learn something new.

See you at the track!


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