Thoughts from the Seat of the Driver and the Race Director

This will be listed on the News or blog page. Not sure I know how to blog. Not sure I can even communicate in a fashion that anybody will understand. But there are a few thoughts that I must take a stab at.

I for the most part have handed my Race Director duties off to our friend Brian Meinders.  I think I was in the Race Director’s chair twice last season and maybe the same amount in 2015. Before that I spent much more time in the tower officiating races. Before we twisted Brian’s arm to take over the job it was mine exclusively. So the inverse of Race Director is Racer in my world. I’ve been behind the wheel most Sundays the last two seasons. Having been in both positions gives one a perspective that not all understand or appreciate.

You hear the sermon every week in the driver’s meeting about driving fair and sportsmanlike or you’ll run afoul of the black flag. Our track crew believes those words and tries to perform to that standard. There are several dynamics to this game that make the track crew’s job a tough one. What dynamics?

  • We run a sealed engine program that puts everyone’s horse power in a very similar range
  • We are a beginner’s program with skill levels all over the map
  • We invert the second heat starting grid
  • We equip the karts with big sturdy bodywork
  • We are Americans who all want to win
  • The crew chief, Dad, thinks he knows all that goes on on track, but if he doesn’t race, or hasn’t had seat time in another form of racing, he doesn’t really know
  • When another team steps on your toes on track, it is easier to give some of that back than discuss racing ethics in the pit
  • Wanting to be an American Winner, we often times coach our beginning drivers with a view to the win only, not on how to make life long friends at the track
  • Some of our racers spend the winter racing indoors or on off Sundays on little oval tracks
    • 10 karts on a 1/10th mile, or smaller, oval makes for the ‘Law of the Jungle’ racing
    • These practices find their way back to Brodhead
  • When the ‘Law of the Jungle’ becomes the rule, the track crew is taken out of the game
    • you can’t officiate 20 episodes of side to side contact every lap

So these dynamics drive what happens on the track, how the crew engages, and whether your new hobby is fun or frustrating.

I come from go-karting as far back as 1965. In the olden days there were no bumpers on the go-kart. Literally your feet were sticking out in front of the front axle. Nerf bars didn’t exist on go-karts and the rear tires were a much bigger target than the 12″ wide rear bumper was. So when you ran into the guy you were racing against you could guarantee it was an accident. And if all survived that accident we’d apologize in the pit and plan to run the next race because you certainly didn’t finish that one! I’m not suggesting we go back to the far less safe old days. By contrast, in a modern go-kart you can hit someone unbelievably hard and likely only goof up the toe in.

We also didn’t have sealed engines. Everyone had an engine builder who was working at making more power so most passes were made on the straight-a-way. We used to invert both the 2nd and 3rd heat, but didn’t get the first lap rush to unwind the invert like we do today.

Call me old fashioned, but I can never remember my dad coaching me to get even on track after having been wronged. It was all about the fun and sportsmanship.  It was about learning your craft, both mechanically and behind the wheel.

So where am I going with this? My observation is that we’ve built a racing program that keeps cost and complexity down and horse power levels very even. Those pros also drive some cons. My observations from the seat are this; as drivers have graduated to Super Stock from the Box Stock classes I find that their on track ethics are very different from what I expected. What drives this? Evidently this behavior is developed in the Box Stock classes where they all learned to race. So unbeknownst to track crew, crew chief, and all watching, the racing has become a pushing and shoving match. There is a bit of nose to tail pushing, mostly on the starts, as the fast kids try to dispatch the beginners on the first lap. Beginners are hard to pass one on one and our equal power doesn’t guarantee a pass on the long straight, so patience is non-existent. There is a lot going on at the start and the track crew, being human, only catches the over the top, rough stuff. And drivers are smart. They know pushing on another driver will get them singled out in a hurry. So the pushing and shoving match becomes one of side to side. Someone has a run on you due to a better exit on the previous corner you feed them a curb. The run is too big to use the curb as a pick? The next move is to engage the overtaking racer side to side to slow them down so you can slam the door on them at the next corner. On the other side the driver with the run knows they are going to get a curb or nerf bar fed to them, so they drive it inside with gusto and bounce the door slammer out of the way. All of this is not the way to race, and all of this becomes almost impossible for the track crew to officiate. In most cases the track crew doesn’t even know the battle is going on unless someone’s offense or defense cause a spin. The track crew is then left feeling the need to make a judgement on who was responsible, when in actuality both drivers offended. This is the ‘Law of the Jungle’ thought process. This doesn’t leave either team involved happy. Words in the pit aren’t fun, but this drives those confrontations. And when satisfaction isn’t available from the conversation or through help from the track crew making a call, the crew chief starts coaching our young drivers on how the next battle ought to be fought. We’ve just escalated the war. Going to war on your day off isn’t fun. Pretty soon teams quit turning out and our ranks shrink.

I’m not writing to affix blame. The system we’ve built could be blamed. The racers who participate in the shoving match could be blamed. The track crew that hasn’t taken the situation in hand could be blamed. The crew chief that coaches winning at all cost, hit them harder than they hit you, and let the on track situation drive your racing ethics, could be blamed. These are all parts of the dynamic that have driven what we have. I’m writing to see if there isn’t a willingness or desire to do this differently. We will need racers and crew working together to create the type of racing environment we want.

If any of my thoughts sound like they are aimed at you the reader, please don’t take it that way. I’m making generalizations trying to drive at this subject. Not every lap goes according to this descriptive and not all drivers behave this way. And drivers coming out of Box Stock aren’t the only ones who have adapted some of these behaviors. I see the same stuff in the Masters class from the fence, proving that an adult who ought to know better adapts to the ‘Law of the Jungle’ pretty quickly when is seems that is our way of operation.

I hope you get a chance to view this before our first race day on April 23rd. We always have intentions of setting up our race day and season with a talk like this in driver’s meeting #1. We usually have to skip it due to first day confusion or threatening weather. We would like to hear your thoughts.

Good Luck in 2017!

 

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