Randy's Writing


photo gallery

coaching & appearances

race results

race schedule




Pobst Position: On Being a Good Crasher…”
Page: 1 Links
Crashes suck, excuse my French. Don't ask me how I know. But they are an inevitable part of this mad rushing sport we love so much. Every so often things both within and beyond our control are gonna add up to that crunch. It is not if, it is when. Crashing is a very emotional time. Fear, anger, depression, anxiety; on and on. Let's take this peaceful moment to think about how to minimize the damage at these critical times. Here are some ideas on being a better crasher, interspersed with a few ego-busting stories of my own. But remember, often our most painful lessons are our best lessons. Learn from my pain, lessen your own, that is my gift to you, fellow SCCA'ers.

There is a long, oozing moment between the time that you know you've crashed but you haven't yet hit. Here's what you should do in that time.

"If you spin, both feet in," thank you Skip Barber. If you get too sideways to save it, jam the brakes and clutch. I know many of you have been exposed to this concept, but pay attention. Those who need it the most have never heard that it is sometimes good to lock the brakes, and the rest of us must have this idea deep into our subconscious minds. Drivers must react without thinking in this very high-stress situation.

In 1989, I was in a good-handling Firebird with no motor (i.e. dead stock). It was a street-circuit endurance race. Late in the race, running fourth, I caught and passed a pro guy with a big team who was two laps down. The car I was driving was painted like a clown car. Get the picture? He just had to get back by, dive-bombing me two corners later and forcing me out onto the copious marbles.

Running out of steering correction, I slid sideways around the walled, blind corner. I did not get on the brakes yet. Maybe I was hoping to roll out of the way. It all happens quickly. No time to think (see above). Here comes the pack, choosing both sides, but I roll back a bit, pinching Andy Pilgrim against the outside wall as he squeezes through. Three cars later a dork in a Mustang centerpunches me. Game over.

Lesson? Both feet in. Lock the brakes (ABS? It is still way better than nothing; jam 'em). First, it stops the car as quickly as possible so you do not hit as hard. Very importantly, it also makes you predictable. The next guy through has a much better chance of missing you. The value of this cannot be overstated. Another benefit is that it keeps that heavy right foot away from the accelerator, which will only make you crash at a higher rate of speed.

Wait! Don't we see those NASCAR guys gas it to spin the car with wheelspin, on purpose? If you have seven hundred rear-drive horsepower on little eight-inch slicks and banked turns, go right ahead. Even then, you still have to get on the brakes once you go around. Try this in your Spec Miata, Spec Racer, VW Golf IT car, #1 Audi Certified Champion Racing RS6 quattro ---{note to Ed.: Richard, Audi does not capitalize quattro}---and many others and you will only increase your trouble.

When is getting on the gas a useful control feature? Front drives. Because the power is going to the front wheels, it can help straighten the car. Warning, if you do not get it right, you'll just crash faster. No guarantees. Every spin is different.

1987, Road America, rainy endurance race, Carousel. 1996, Lime Rock Touring Car, West Bend. In both of these instances, I was nearly backward, with full steering correction, sliding in generally the correct direction of the track, and consciously chose to floor the gas and spin the front tires, instantly straightening the car. You're on your own. My advice? If you spin, both feet in. Get it deep inside that thick skull.

Why bother with the clutch? Well, once you stop, if it is still running, you can get the heck out of there before the thundering herd tramples you. Sequential shift guys should be clicking down while spinning, because those trannys don't like shifting while sitting still (1997 Laguna Seca Touring Car, turn two, I killed it).

Keep your thumbs out of the wheel. If you hit something, steering kickback can really hurt.

Going backwards? Put your head back against the headrest, it will lessen the impact. And for all impacts, wear a HANS device, the seat belt for your head. You will soon forget it is there.

If you spin and you are leaving the pavement, turn the wheels all the way. If you were trying to correct properly, they should already be there. Turned wheels are much less likely to dig in and cause a roll (1992, a friend's Triumph TR6, informal track day, Roebling Road, he's on board, no rollbar, we did not go over). Rolling over turns a minor off into major damage.

Crashes usually feel worse than they are. Especially if you hit a tire wall, you may well be able to continue (1989, rainy Mid-Ohio endurance race, won it). After impact, run this mental checklist. Can I run a mental checklist? Good, you're probably not too shaken up.

Fire? Get out. Your natural instincts will handle this one just fine. Hit the big red button for the extinguisher or grab the hand-held, if you can, to help minimize damage. Turn off the master kill switch. Locate your stalwart SCCA race workers.

Does anything hurt? Have you been upside down? You're done, get out, but first be sure no one else is going to plow into you. Belted into the car is the safest place to be until things settle down. Kill the master switch. If you are upside down, brace yourself before you undo those belts, or you'll add another crash-landing right on your head (haven't tried that one yet). Maybe wait for your Guardian Angel workers.

Is it still running? Good, you remembered to get the clutch in. No? Will it start? Carbureted cars often flood in spins, flooring it might help. Look, listen and smell. Is there steam? Tire walls often trap lots of water, and everything is hot. Does it smell like coolant? Oil smoke? Check your gauges carefully, constantly; especially oil pressure. You may have damaged a line or cooler, and when the oil pumps out, you'll very suddenly lose pressure. Let's preserve the engine, an expensive piece that is probably still okay (2004, Daytona Rennsport II, sudden unexplained loss of traction, then smoke, check gauge, low pressure, shut off engine, coast off line, behind wall at turn three, wait for tow to paddock, save twin-turbo engine, simple broken oil line, earn undying love of car owner).

Does it move? Good. Look for the corner station, they will help guide you. They have a much better view of your car. They will be signaling stop if it looks dangerous. Move the car to a safe place, where someone doing the same thing you just did will not hit it. This will also be a great relief to the Chief Steward and the rest of the racers. No emergency vehicles on track, no more yellow flags ruining the races, no race workers in harm's way.

So far, so good? Gently test the steering and brakes. This also shakes off some gravel if needed. Head gingerly back to the track with the flagger's signal. You may not survive the second crash you may have if you enter abruptly into traffic! We're in damage control here, stay cool. Keep checking those gauges and smells. Stay off line at first, you may be littering the track with gravel, mud or fluids, and race traffic is at speed. Watch your mirrors as you do. Remember the tires are covered with dirt (2004, Sebring World Challenge GT, turn four). Be extra careful as you ease your way back up to speed.

If you are able to continue, consider the whole car to be on probation. You are a test pilot. Failures of all kinds are more likely after an off. But, sometimes they handle even better! (1985, Watkins Glen 24 Hour; 2003, Road Atlanta, Petit Lemans, both co-driver issues).

Being a better crasher will improve your safety and improve the racing for everyone else. Give it some thought before you really need it.

news Randy's Writings biography photo gallery coaching & appearances race results race schedule guestbook links contact