by Erik Dolson
It’s odd to me that after one and one third minutes of racing against cars pounding down a straight at 160 mph to a sharp right-then-left-then-right set of turns, followed by nine more corners over two miles of track, the difference in lap times between drivers can be measured in hundredths of a second.
But in racing, little things add up. Advantages compound, mistakes multiply. A long time ago I learned something can be necessary but not sufficient for an outcome. In racing, skill is essential but rarely enough.
Things barely measurable can make all the difference. How much does the air weigh that takes a tire from 20 to 25 pounds pressure?
I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that over-inflated tires feel greasy when heat from working against the surface of a hot track takes them to over 32 pounds of pressure instead of 29, causing a driver to lose confidence that the car will stick in a tight turn. It’s hard to drive to the edge without confidence, justified or not.
In a tank of oil 17 inches tall and nine inches in diameter, what is the oil level halfway through a 1.5 G right hand turn and how much oil accumulated in the valve cover on the left side of a V-8 block through that turn?
I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that when low oil pressure warnings flash for an engine that cost about a third of your disposable income for a year, they are not ignored.
How much water does it take to stay hydrated when the air temp is 100 degrees, you wear a quilted suit for fire safety during a race and when someone takes the temperature of the asphalt, it reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit?
I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that when the waitress at the Mexican restaurant offers you a refill on a very tall glass of iced tea, you say yes without even thinking that the second glass means you will be awake until 3 a.m. and return to the track the next day bleary from getting only three hours of sleep.
While tossing and turning for those sleepless hours, you wonder how long it takes to shake the rust accumulated from driving in only one race in the last two years.
I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that three races and two track days are not enough to find the groove. Or maybe admit that there comes a time when no number of races, or hours on a race track, can restore the edge needed to carve a couple of seconds, even a couple of tenths, off a steadily increasing lap time on a very familiar track.
When does one know the right answer to a perennial question is “enough is enough,” instead of “it’s never enough?”
I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you the question is no longer philosophical.