Third post to NASA Speed News; that rush of excitement!


Among the posts to this blog, Buckle-Up, from which I drew inspiration for the HPDE articles published in NASA Speed News was the post of April 21, 2010. It was titled, A father’s advice … where I noted how even as my father resided in Australia, we would always talk after a weekend at the track. This we had done since that first outing back in 2008.  

While there are many instances of father’s providing good advice to their offspring – Indy and F1 are liberally littered with second and even third generation racers – on the occasion of this post I referenced racer Sebastian Saavedra’s father who gave his son advice that resonates with me to this day.  \“Sebastian understands well what I always taught him; if you don’t have a first place car, don’t drive it like one! Drive the car you have, finish the race, and take the points!”

While these remarks were expressed when we watched a round of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) that was held in Long Beach, just down the road from the track that was the center of my post, it wasn’t so much a case of driving the car you had as it was listening to all the other “fathers” prepared to provide advice to rookies such as Margo and me. The key to passing on such wisdom were the information “downloads” and critiques that followed each session.

However, irrespective of the wisdom handed down there were simply those tracks that brought out more excitement in the participants than others and whenever it came time to drive “The Roval” at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, no additional incentives were needed. Simply driving into the hot pit and then to the staging area before rolling out through the pit lane and onto the track with grandstands everywhere you looked made all the time spent watching video worthwhile.

This was the fastest track on the NASA SoCal calendar and it included time on the high banking section of of the then-NASCAR circuit. We even had a chance to pass the Start / Finish line. What made this track layout so special was not how fast you could go, but rather, how you went about constructing a good lap – it was all in the turns made at exactly the right place.  

If you happened to have missed reading the post above, simply follow this link to

Continuing with the third installment as posted to NASA’s Speed News!

A Turn in the Right Place

There is a reason NASA makes sure HPDE drivers sit in classrooms for “downloads” after each outing on track. Yes, there is always that initial gathering of HPDE participants before the first session of the day, but the real substance of what it takes to become a better driver only develops as the day progresses. Oftentimes, there is a need to quiz a participant over actions taken on the track and, more often than not, being completely new to the sport, they have no real comprehension of why they dropped all four wheels in the dirt. Instructors, on the other hand, talk about how a particular agricultural excursion began a corner or two before the actual “off.”

HPDE drivers always approach the first morning outing with a degree of apprehension and that is to be expected. But classroom participation is all part of the process. To go fast down the straight, safely, you first must exit the preceding corner fast, which means, working backward from the exit, you need to gradually move your braking points farther down the track, adding just 2 or 3 mph to your entry speed, turning in with just a tad more speed, and exiting as you roll onto the gas a little harder. With each lap, those small adjustments begin to add up.

You will encounter corners where following tried-and-true approaches to turning through a corner is not the plan because it is not the apex of the turn you encounter that is important, but rather the turn that follows. I often hear them referred to as “throw-away turns.” Coming off the banking at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., to enter the roval’s road course forces you to ignore the first corner’s obvious apex and focus on the corner that follows. Ignore the sharp 90-degree left turn to set up for the just-as-sharp right turn that leads to a short straight. Just don’t ever get this exit off the oval wrong or you will be introduced to a nasty concrete barrier.

Every HPDE1 driver relishes the rush of excitement that follows a clean pass through any circuit’s esses. Laid out the way they are on circuits, they are essentially designed to lull drivers into a false sense of security – a sweep to the left and then a sweep to the right. Repeat! In much the same way we encounter throw-away turns, esses need to be looked at as a whole. Track designers want to unsettle you – figuratively and practically. Pinch the mini-carousel at the top of Sonoma’s drag strip and by the second turn in the esses you will rotate nicely into the concrete wall. I know because I did it once!

One of the reasons you should walk the track prior to any outing is to look at the shape of the esses and the condition of any rumble strips alongside them. Preparation for esses is important because the exit is usually much more important. It doesn’t matter a whole lot which direction you are circulating around Buttonwillow Raceway, the esses done wrong can set you up for another agricultural excursion!

The reason we all join NASA is that we understand it’s not about going in a straight line. The more experience you gain through the HPDE programs, the more you come to appreciate that corners are where it’s all going to happen, and if you really want to be consistent, turning in good times, you first must master turning your car!


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