Vision Up!



      Vision up. Eyes up. High horizon. These are words you’ll typically hear your instructor say to you from the beginning ‘till the end of your time at Fast Lane Racing School. The reason being is that by looking far ahead, you can buy yourself something priceless – time! Whether you’re enrolled in the Defensive Driving Academy, High Performance or SCCA, Executive Protection or EVOC law enforcement class, the “vision up” mantra applies.

     As a wise old sage once said, “human beings are designed to see things from the top down, not from the bottom up.” With that in mind, by looking way ahead, you’re buying yourself time for what’s coming up next. For example, most drivers on the street fall into the bad habit of driving off of the rear bumper of the car in front of them instead of looking many vehicles ahead. When it comes to accordion-like slowing and stopping, if that driver isn’t looking far enough ahead, that will inevitably lead to a rear end collision. I’ve seen “accidents” (which should correctly be called crashes) like this many times. The reason it’s a crash, is that this incident was avoidable if only the person would’ve been looking far ahead and anticipated what was developing.

     This brings us to another point. You should always be aware of your surroundings. Check your mirrors at least every 8-10 seconds so that you give yourself an “out” just in case something suddenly comes up. By anticipating what could go wrong and having plans in place to react and avoid these incidents, you’re proactively being a defensive driver. This also works on the race track. If the driver in front of you is consistently early apexing and running out of room on the exit, sooner or later they’re likely to spin in front of you. Where are you going to place your car to get out of that situation?

     Speaking of the track, the good habit of having your vision up will lead to a lot less drama when trying to get up to speed. The further you look ahead, the less likely the corner is going to catch you in the wrong position on track. Speaking of position, let’s take a look at where your eyes should be focused. When approaching a corner, you’ll first want to look for your braking point. From there a re-focus to turn-in point, next the apex, and finally the track out point. Of course you’ll also want to look through the entire corner to know what’s coming up next. Warm-up and cool down laps are also critical to gather extra visual information such as where all the corner worker stations are, safe places to pull over in case of a mechanical situation, and also what are the hazards of dropping a wheel off. If you’re racing on a street course, there is no dropping of wheels, only tearing them off against a concrete barrier.

     Some corners are blind and/or cresting over a hill. Take your time the first few times through and you’ll develop a feel for where you need to place your car for success. Knowing where to place the car with the proper angle of attack will have you gaining time on less experienced drivers. Finally, coach yourself to constantly keep your vision up. You’ll find that it’s much easier to get into a rhythm on the track and it will also help keep you relaxed behind the wheel.

   Vision up!

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason



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ABS – Always Be Steering!



  Why use the brakes? They only slow you down! Of course I’m kidding when I say that. Using the brakes is an everyday occurrence whether you’re driving on the race track, the street, or even on your bicycle. Even though we know that pressing the brake pedal slows you down, there are nuances to be learned and understood in order to become a better driver.

Today we’ll look at how drivers can be safer, whether the cars have ABS or not. Technically speaking, ABS stands for Anti-lock Braking System. Here at Fast Lane we also like to say that it means Always Be Steering. You could also think about it as the Ability to Brake and Steer. That’s critical knowledge for driving everyday on the freeway or any other roads. ABS is a great technology that is designed to keep the front and rear wheels from “locking up” under heavy, quick or unloaded braking maneuvers. If you were to slam on the brakes, chances are that your brakes would lock up, meaning that your tires are no longer rotating; instead they are skidding on the road. Once your tire starts skidding, steering control is gone. It doesn’t matter which way you turn the steering wheel, the car will continue skidding in the same direction that it was going. Tires need to rotate to make the car change direction and that’s where ABS comes in. Keep in mind that ABS may not necessarily stop the car in a shorter distance (more on that next time); however, it gives you the ability to brake and steer. Here’s how: The vehicle has wheel speed sensors. Under heavy braking in a lock-up situation, the computer gets a signal telling it that the brakes are locked. At that point, the computer system automatically reduces brake pressure to allow that wheel to rotate. The computer also knows that you’re still mashing the brake pedal so it re-applies brake pressure. Typically at this point the lock-up returns. As soon as the system recognizes that the wheels aren’t turning, it reduces brake pressure again. This action can typically take place more than 20 times per second! That’s faster than a professional race car driver can do it. Furthermore, the system has the ability to modulate brake pressure with one wheel at a time - something that a professional driver could never do. Since 2008 all cars sold in America have been equipped with ABS. The systems have also become much more effective and have reduced the amount of noise and pedal push back (vibration) of earlier systems.

The beauty of ABS is that on slippery or uneven road conditions it can help the driver avoid danger. However the laws of physics still apply. Also, keep in mind that since the system is locking/un-locking, the time that it’s locked, you’re still sliding forward. On a dry high-grip surface this “sideways stair step” is minimized. Think lock – go straight, un-lock – turn. If you’re driving on wet or sandy roads, this sideways stair step turning pattern is amplified – meaning that when you turn the wheel under an ABS condition, the car will not go where it normally would in a dry non-ABS situation. You’ll have to turn the steering wheel more to help it trace the arc of turning you’d like. Always keep in mind what your car is capable of doing in varying road conditions. By the way, if your vehicle isn’t equipped with ABS, you’ll have to manually pump the brakes if they lock-up. It’s definitely a skill worth acquiring as otherwise you may find yourself on the wrong end of a crash. Bottom line is that when you come to Fast Lane Racing School, you’ll learn your car’s ABS limits in a safe and effective setting.


Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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Taking Your Braking to the Next Level



  In the last blog post we focused on ABS. Today we’ll look at non-ABS brakes for track use. Techniques for braking on the track vary greatly depending upon the kind of race car you’re driving. Even though we’ve used the brakes all our lives, braking technique is critical for not only making passes in competition, but also lowering lap times and influencing how the car handles.

First, let’s look at brake pedal application. For cars with downforce (wings, diffusers, etc.) it’s critical to take advantage of all the extra grip high speeds provides. That means when it’s time to step on the brake pedal, don’t! Hammer that brake pedal like you want to destroy it! You can generate tremendous stopping power when you’re at high speed. However, as the speed rapidly bleeds off, you must also bleed off your brake pressure since you’re losing that downforce grip at slower speeds. Quick tip – Sledgehammer On, ease Off.

For cars without downforce, the technique is the opposite. You don’t want to dynamite the brakes as they will tend to lock-up. This is more of a squeeze the pedal on and rapidly ramp up the pressure until threshold braking is achieved. What’s threshold? The maximum braking force you can generate right before the moment of lock-up.

If you were to look at a graph of these two techniques, the former would show almost a digital zero-to-one on the upside and then ramping down from there. For the latter, it would be more like a parabolic curve ramping up.

Keep in mind that both of these techniques are for straight-line braking. Trail braking can still be used but you cannot apply maximum brake force. The laws of physics and vehicle dynamics still apply. The benefit of trail braking is that when you transfer weight forward, the reduced grip on the rear tires will help your car rotate into the corner.

One thing that you’ll do the same with both kinds of cars is to be mindful of “jumping off” the brakes. Work on the smoothness and timing of getting off the brakes so that you’re not inducing large amounts of understeer mid-corner. This, combined with a trail brake in and jump-off mid, can lead to the driver complaining about “it’s loose on corner entry and I have a big push coming off the corner.”

Lastly, use test days and practice sessions to push the limits not only on the racing line but off the line too so that you’re better prepared for potential passing spots during the race. Good luck and take your braking to the next level!


Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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Heart Rate Training for Motorsports


  Auto racing has always been a sport known for pushing the limits to the extreme to gain a winning advantage. In today’s arena, it’s all about data. Engineers track vehicle speed, rpm, g-force and a multitude of other data to help improve the set-up of the car to ultimately lead the driver to a quicker lap time. But what about the driver? For less than you might think we can track the driver’s heart rate during competition. The goal is to help the driver physically train at the proper intensity outside the car to prepare for greater success on the track. In Dr. Harlen Hunter’s book Motorsports Medicine, he asks the questions, “Ever notice that the last set of tires put on a race car during a long race tends to be the worst set of the day? Ever wonder how many of the disappointing finishes blamed on used-up tires really result from used-up drivers?” Sometimes we get so caught up on the race car prep side of things that we forget about “tuning up” the driver.

    Numerous studies have proven that race car drivers are athletes based on heart rate, g-force, heat and other factors encountered inside the car. Not only are the consequences severe if the driver makes a mistake, but the associated costs are as well. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at how and why we should get data and what to do with it once we have it.

  There are numerous heart rate monitors available in the marketplace. Polar has led the way in technological innovations and heart rate monitors since 1977. The traditional monitor itself is comprised of a chest strap transmitter and wristwatch receiver/monitor. The chest strap transmits ECG accurate data to the receiver whereby it can be displayed as heart rate in beats per minute (bpm), percentage of maximum heart rate, or specific training zone. Today’s monitors are optically activated either on the watch itself or via an arm strap. 

  The old standby rule of thumb to calculate max heart rate is 220 minus your age for males and 226 minus your age for females. However this number can vary widely based on a number of individual factors including current state of fitness, prescription drugs being taken, etc. The best (and safest) way
to find your maximum heart rate is to have a VO2 Max test done at a facility with advanced cardiac life support personnel and equipment on hand.

  To measure your heart rate while racing, simply record your session on your monitor and look at/download the data after the race. As cool and calm as you think you might be behind the wheel, you may find that your heart rate is much higher than you ever would have thought. Once you’ve seen the
results, then this gives you a starting point to develop a training plan away from the race track to be better prepared for your next event.

  In the next installment, we’ll take a look at some actual in-car heart rate data and see how that varies
during a race.


 Larry Mason is an ACE-certified personal trainer and a brand ambassador for Polar. He has been training and racing with Polar heart rate monitors since 1994. He’s won multiple auto racing championships in many different classes of competition. He competes in sprint triathlons to stay in shape for auto racing. He can be found teaching multiple programs at Fast Lane Racing School.

Copyright © 2021 By Larry Mason - Instuctor, FastLane Racing School

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2021 Indianapolis 500 Recap, How the Race was Won


If you were fortunate enough to watch the Indy 500, you witnessed one of the best races ever. Every “500” has 33 unique stories but only one winner – and in this case it turned out to be a (now) four-time winner in Helio Castroneves.

Are you interested in driving an Indy car? Take a look at our race car rental program - we have Indy lights cars that you can rent and drive! - Editor

Kicked to the curb after more than 20 years at Team Penske with 50 poles and 30 wins on his Indy car resumé, Helio was adamant that his driving days in the open wheelers were not over. After winning his first professional racing championship last year for Team Penske in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, he found a new home for a partial season of six races in the NTT IndyCar Series with Meyer Shank Racing for 2021 starting with The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Team owners Mike Shank and his wife Mary Beth came from humble beginnings to reach the pinnacle of all Victory Lanes in the world and celebrate their first-ever NTT IndyCar Series victory with co-owner Jim Meyer (former CEO of SiriusXM).

With that expansion this year to include a second car at select races, the hunt for a driver was on. Do you go with youth and exuberance or with a veteran and the experience that they bring? After watching the consummate professionalism of the way Castroneves sized up his competition and earned his victory, that decision proved they made the right choice. Castroneves poked and prodded for different ways to pass or even pull ahead just a wee bit at the yard of bricks and it was obvious that he had a clear cut method to extract all the information he needed to make his move at the right time and in the right place. He credited his years of experience with having finished second as not only motivation, but also because he learned what he needed to do to win. His outside pass on lap 198 into Turn 1 over Alex Palou proved to be the key move. Experience, race craft, and understanding how to use the tools in the car to make it better all played a part in his victory. The other part had to do with his MSR crew giving him a good car to begin with and executing their plan throughout the race to save fuel, get track position and have fabulous pit stops.

It’s true that luck also plays a part in that the caution flag didn’t come out when Castroneves was running second with just three laps to go. Typically, there’s a caution with just 10 laps to go at Indy. The race this year was uncommonly clean with only Graham Rahal’s tire leaving his car exiting the pits and putting him into the SAFER Barrier and numerous spins on pit road as multiple drivers locked their brakes entering pit lane. That all added up to a speed record for the 500 in excess of 190 mph average.

Of course at the end of it, ‘Spiderman’ parked his car on the main straight, jumped out and climbed the fence and was joined by his jubilant crew. The largest sporting event crowd since the pandemic started last March of 135,000 strong started chanting, “El ee Oh, El ee Oh” which reduced him to tears of joy with the realization of him becoming only the fourth driver ever to win four times. Even Mario Andretti kissed Helio on top of his head in a congratulatory way. Credit goes to NBC for not breaking to commercials and showing the sheer joy and raw emotion that filled the screen as he soaked in the adoration of the crowd and from fellow drivers and team members. One of the best races ever? You bet. The best post-race celebration? Without question.

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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The Armchair Racer’s Guide to the Indianapolis 500


Are you interested in driving an Indy car? Take a look at our race car rental program - we have Indy lights cars that you can rent and drive! - Editor

With the fastest field of drivers in the 2021 Indianapolis 500 ever, and the third-closest spread of speeds of all time, how do you know who’s the driver most likely to move forward in the field and who will be fading fast? Fortunately, for the more-than-casual fan, we have access to the NTT IndyCar Series App which provides the end user with valuable data on how to predict who got their setup right and who got it wrong.

The app provides live streaming telemetry with data such as speed, gear position, throttle position, brake pressure and perhaps one of the most telling pieces of data – steering wheel angle.

If you watched qualifying, you’ll know that every single driver was “flat out” for the entire four laps. That means that their foot was buried on the floor with the throttle pedal never lifting off even while hurtling into those 90 degree corners in excess of 230mph! If you watched the speeds heading into and out of the corners there was about a 10 mph difference between entering and exiting. The best way to go fast is to keep the steering wheel pointed straight. However, this of course would be the wrong thing to do at Indy. Since you have to turn the wheel to navigate the course, you want to turn as little as possible to avoid “scrubbing” off speed. Yet, you don’t want the car to be so loose (oversteer) that it’s too hard to control for 500 miles.

Most teams will set the cars up with just a bit of understeer to make it more predictable for navigating through traffic during the race. Keep in mind that when the drivers are in heavy traffic and close to the rear wing of the car in front of them, the aerodynamic pressure is reduced on the front wings causing an “aero wash” or lack of front grip. This is the aerodynamic equivalent to hydroplaning on wet roads. The problem is that if you pack up to close to the car in front you’ll lose grip which then puts you onto the dirty part of the track (the marbles) which is then like driving on ice. In most occasions you’ll soon be having an intimate visit with the SAFER Barrier and a trip to the infield medical center – not to mention tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars of crash damage.

So, while you’re watching the 500, open up the app and look at the steering angle of your favorite driver. Also, look for a driver in the lead and back in the pack. If you see their steering angle over 20 degrees, you’ll know that the car has too much understeer. If it’s less than 10 degrees, they’re likely battling a loose car. The drivers that consistently have less steering angle than most are typically the ones up front or making their way there. Watch to see how much and for how long they’re lifting off the throttle in the corners as another indicator of handling. When it comes to the last ten laps, you’ll be seeing drivers battling for the win going flat out in their quest to drink the best milk they’ve ever had in their life. Come to think of it, I think I’ll raise a glass in their honor, although I’ll have some cookies with it on the side!

Copyright © 2021 By Larry Mason - Instuctor, FastLane Racing School

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