01/25/2011: Racing or College???

Category: Racing Books
Posted by: Mike
I recently finished reading Derek Daly's book Race To Win which is overall an interesting read with some insightful perspectives on what it takes to be a champion driver. One interesting and probably controversial statement Daly makes is about forgoing a college education for racing. Daly seems to imply that doing so is a sign of commitment from a young driver and/or their family. He says trying to attend college and pursue racing at the same time may lead to “divided priorities.”

For the most part I agree with Daly on the second point. If one has a serious opportunity in racing, and college will interfere with that opportunity, by all means, put college on hold. I certainly would. College can wait, that opportunity in racing will probably never come again.

While Daly does address assessing talent level to determine if it is appropriate to put college on hold, he does not really mention opportunity. If you have a fully funded development contract or something along those lines, the decision is simple. If you have a serious shot at one, it might be worth it to focus all your time and energy on getting that ride. But we are talking about a few dozen, or maybe a few hundred drivers that have this opportunity.

What about for us normal people? Chances are, college should be a serious consideration. At 18 years old, I had never even stepped foot on a racetrack. I had a street car that was barely running half the time. It occurred to me that I could build my street car up into a mini stock car or SCCA ITB racecar! Racing was my dream so whats stopping me right?? It didn't take me long to realize I didn't have the money, knowledge or resources to go racing. Forgoing a great opportunity to further my education would have been, frankly, pretty stupid.

It's a lot easier to get someone (like the government or a university) to pay for or loan you the money for a college education then for racing. After graduating statistics say you can get a significantly higher paying job then non college graduates, and that extra money could allow you to pursue racing.

Contrary to a “lack of commitment” or “failure to sacrifice,” attending college maybe actually show the opposite. Working hard to earn a degree may show commitment, particularly if you study a field which will help you in racing. While I hardly think this of all or even most non college graduates, forgoing college for unrealistic shots at “racing” may infact be a sign of... laziness???

Yes, you will be an old hack by the time you graduate from college and won't have much time to pursue a real career as a race car driver, but reality is your chances may well be worse if you didn't attend college and spent those years struggling to get into racing with little or no money. While I never went down that path, I'm guessing I might still be struggling to make ends meet had I not attended college. It seems safe to assume that most of what I've accomplished in racing and life in general is due in part to my decision to attend college.

Everyone's situation is different so it would be unfair to judge anyone's college vs. racing decision without knowing the full story. I don't know the intent of Daly's words (I may be interpreting them incorrectly), but don't be misguided by them!

02/06/2010: Physics of Racing

Category: Racing Books
Posted by: Mike
I stumbled upon an interesting series of articles a while ago, called The Physics of Racing by physicist and amateur racer/autocrosser, Brian Beckman. The whole series of articles, written over a 10 plus year span starting in 1991, is available online here.

As the title states, the articles address... the physics of racing. While a book like Going Faster addresses topics like the fastest line through a corner, braking force and tire slip angles with mainly qualitative explanations and diagrams, The Physics of Racing series attempts to explain with equations and numbers.

I'm not sure if understanding the physics behind racing at the level presented in the articles is required to be a good, or even top professional racer. And although I've only read about a forth of the articles, they certainly aren't as comprehensive as a book like Going Faster!. However, you can still certainly pick up a few things from it, and you might even find some of it interesting!
Category: Racing Books
Posted by: Mike
Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving by Carl Lopez was the first book on race driving I read. I read it before attending the Skip Barber and Bertil Roos schools.

If you only read one book on road racing, you can't go wrong with this one. The book is very comprehensive, covering all aspects of racing in moderate detail. A large chunk of the book breaks down how to drive the car, from the racing line, to changes in surface grip, to road camber and elevation changes, to threshold braking and trail braking, etc. The book explains the theory from an analytical standpoint and uses data graphs and diagrams to help. It is easy to understand and easy to read.

The rest of the book covers pretty much everything you need to know to become a good racecar driver. An important section of the book focuses on how to "learn" a track, use reference points, build up to speed, and figure out where you are loosing time. Another section focuses on racecraft - how to pass cars, starts, etc. There's also chapters on mental preparation, rain driving, and a few other topics.

The book uses the Skip Barber Formula 2000 car in all the examples, but all of the info can be transferred to most other cars. There is one chapter that describes the differences between common classes of road racing cars.

There is one chapter on setting up the car, which covers all the main aspects, but doesn't go into deep detail, as that's not the focus of the book.

Going Faster is written in such a way that even if you don't know anything about racing, you won't be overwhelmed. When I read the book, I found that I already understood a lot of the material, but there were still some more advanced ideas I hadn't even thought about. It is concise and informative, but not necessarily exciting.

I've also been reading Drive To Win by Carrol Smith. That book is similar, but not as comprehensive, a little more detailed a little more technical on some topics, a little more opinionated and perhaps a little more interesting to read. I'll follow up with a full review of that book sometime.