Project Racer – Part 4: Hotlapping For Beginners


 ”The Track is HOT!”

The official has blown the 1-minute whistle and finally, off you go! If you’ve studied the flags, and paid attention in the drivers meeting, you will know that the first lap is a warm up lap. There is no passing during the warm up lap. Here, you have a chance to warm up your brakes, your tires, your engine, and most importantly, your brain. You will also have the opportunity to locate and learn where all the corner workers are – an important requirement for your safety and the safety of others. Knowing where the corner workers are is essential to safety, since these will be your indicators of any danger or incidents that you need to be aware of on the track. Remember that your first run on the road course will give you information overload, so take this first session to adapt to the racetrack and absorb the information slowly.

 The hardest thing to remember when you are on the track is that you are not racing, even though you’re on a race track. People misuse the term “road racing” for what is really called a “hotlapping” activity. You’re not racing anyone. What your objective should be is learning how to drive. Know your limits and the limits of your car. A good gauge of whether or not you are driving within your limits or whether or not you should be making a certain maneuver is the pucker butt test. The pucker butt test works simply as such; if your butt starts to pucker when you’re making a move, then you shouldn’t be doing it! I made my mistake when I spun out on a turn from going into a turn too hot (fast). As a result, I crashed my daily driver and ended up purchasing a 1991 NX2000, which is now the NX2000 project racecar for “Project Racer”. My crash was a stupid mistake from misjudging the limits of my car; an expensive and unnecessary mistake that hopefully I’ll be able to prevent others from doing, another issue we will be discussing in my next article.

That’ll Buff Right Out

Which brings me to my next point – do not tailgate! Because someone was following too closely behind me, they were unable to avoid me when I spun out. Only in true racing situations should tailgating be done. Etiquette is that when someone is tailgating you for more than 2 turns, you should let them pass, regardless of how much more horsepower you have than them. Give them a signal called a “point by”, by sticking out your hand and, well, pointing them by. When pointing someone by, stay on line, and let the cars pass you off line. There is no need to use your brakes to let someone by. If some oblivious driver doesn’t know you’re trying to pass them, or if they’re rude and their ego is too big to allow them to be passed by a car with half the horsepower as them, don’t get pissed off and tailgate them for the entire session! If they spin out while you’re tailgating them, the results could be disastrous.

Anger – also known as the “red mist” causes you to drive erratically and dangerously. What you need to do when someone is driving too slowly, yet doesn’t let you pass – is just simply pull off into the hot pits and signal to the flag worker that you need more space. The official will be more than happy to find an open spot for you to re-enter the track with as much space as you need. On the other hand, if you are the slower driver with the higher horse powered vehicle, pay attention to your surroundings! You will probably barrel down the straight-aways at speeds that your fellow HPDE 1 can only imagine, but those same “slow” cars can be much faster than you in the turns. Though mashing on the throttle on the straight-aways may seem fun, you can really piss off a lot of drivers when you hold them up through the turns and you will definitely earn the reputation of being an oblivious, arrogant jack-ass. So put away your ego, and drive. Remember, horsepower isn’t everything.

Tribute to the Corner Worker

Speaking of paying attention to drivers who are trying to pass, remember to watch for all the corner workers! Corner workers will wave a blue flag with a yellow diagonal stripe at you to signal to you that people are trying to pass you. If you are fully engaged in your session, you should by now know where all the corner worker stations are. If you don’t see them, the workers will not only be annoyed  by the fact that you’re ignoring them, it could be dangerous if you don’t see a flag warning you of a car that may be spun out on a blind turn up ahead. After your run, the flag station will wave a checkered flag to signal your last lap – your cool down lap. DO NOT ignore this flag! Blowing by the checkered flag or not acknowledging it as your final lap will get you in big trouble. On this cool down lap, make it a point to wave to each flag station, not only to acknowledge their presence, but to give a gesture of thanks for being there on your session.


Corner Workers

Corner workers don’t get paid much or anything at all for sitting out all day in either sweltering heat or frigid cold, watching you have the time of your life on the track. If you get into a serious crash, they will be the first ones on the scene to try and save you, often at the risk of their own safety. Why they do it – no one really knows – though they seem to enjoy it, and we really appreciate them for it. The truth is road racing wouldn’t be able to happen without them. And to ignore them while they are doing their job on the track is a definite pet peeve, something that will also earn you scolding or track time cut short. Being a corner worker is not a fun job, and to have people ignore them while they’re doing their job would irritate anyone.

As mentioned in the previous article, working the course at an auto cross would definitely give you a greater appreciation for these corner workers. So, should you see a corner worker taking a break in the lunchroom, or anywhere on the track, give them a pat on the back and a thank you for what they do. They deserve it.

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