Speed Secrets: BOO!

Features, Racing I By Ross Bentley I November 01, 2016

Okay, that was last night, but there are a few leftovers from Halloween. Beware… Scary Stories from the Right Seat, ahead!  It’s okay, just enjoy our special Halloween issue… and don’t be afraid. – Ross

I was riding shotgun with an experienced racing buddy at Buttonwillow; we were approaching the final corner onto the front straight. My friend turned in just a hair early. I raised an eyebrow. He continued with aggressive throttle. I gripped the seat. I expected we would drop a wheel, but wasn’t worried due to the driver’s experience. Sure enough, we apexed a few feet early and went two-off. Just ahead, blocking a connector road, was one small orange cone. My friend turned the wheel a tiny fraction to avoid clobbering that cone and, with two wheels in the dirt, the car snapped sending us across the track into the pit wall at 55 MPH. Both in full gear with HANS devices, we exited the vehicle unharmed. The car was totaled.
I learned three lessons: first, as motorcyclists say, ATGATT = All The Gear All The Time. Despite running a casual private track day, we had gloves on, visors down, and HANS devices on, which are designed precisely for this kind of head-on incident with 6-point harnesses. Second, don’t assume the driver – even if more experienced than you – sees everything you see. A simple "Early!" may have resulted in a different outcome. Third, well-built racecars are incredibly safe. Pay close attention to who sells and installs your safety equipment.   – Brian Ghidinelli
Twitter: @ghidinelli
Revisiting 1953
I was at Thunderhill a couple of years ago, and the B Group (intermediate level) was gridding up. Gordon, the B Group leader says, "Hey Dev, can you coach that car over there?" I say "Sure," but since he is just pointing vaguely at the grid I ask, "Which car on grid do you mean?" Gordon says, "No, not on the grid, but behind the grid, under the canopy."
My eyes follow where he is pointing, and there, under the canopy, is a 1953 race car. It’s a "Special," a bit like an Allard. Meaning big V-8 (in this case, a flathead Ford), lightweight, super skinny tires, and about three stories tall. It’s a beautiful car.
Chatterbox in hand, I head over while thinking, "I owe Gordon one, this time!" As I climb up into the car, I notice it does have a rollbar and, best of all, all the most current 1953 safety gear, including a lap belt. Feeling much more confident, I pass the driver his Chatterbox headset. I check out the driver more closely and realize that he may be the original driver of the car.
The flathead roars to life, the whole thing starts shaking, and I begin to think, "Wow! This car sounds powerful!" And it is! I quickly discover this danged old thing is very fast! The downside is that the current driver may have watched this car race in its heyday, but he was not the driver! I begin shouting out some coaching stuff that consisted mostly of "Brake! Brake! Brake!" with no response whatsoever. I realize, Chatterbox or not, he cannot hear a word I am saying. So I’m not a coach, I’m just ballast.
Each lap, as we crest T9 at Thunderhill (a blind ess turn over the top of a hill) the driver, unfamiliar with the track, is "hunting" for the pavement. Meaning right at the top as the car is lightest, he is juggling the wheel left and right since he is unsure where the pavement is. Terrifying to say the least!
Okay, I survive. Checkered comes out and we roll in off the track. Was this funny and scary? You bet! (I am sure Gordon is still laughing). But there is a lesson here, as well. Should I have ever gotten into that car? Hell, no! Should I have brought us in after the first lap, since I could not be heard? Hell yes! Why did I stick it out for the entire session? That’s a great question, and I do not have a good answer, except to blame bad judgment. And here’s the thing: as a coach I have a responsibility not only to myself and my family to avoid this level of risk, but also to Hooked On Driving and everyone else who loves doing what we do. It’s not fair to anyone to expose myself to such risk.  – Dev Clough
Operations Manager – Hooked On Driving
Web: www.hookedondriving.comiting 1953

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