Western Blip 2

Tuesday, December 06, 2005 Western Blip 2

One down, five to go. And a great one it was. Forty drivers descended on Laguna Seca for the opening event of the Western Regional Championship. They were met by great weather and a newly remodeled track.

First the track. Those who have run at Laguna Seca learn to love it despite a few idiosyncrasies. These might include apex curbing that would rattle your fillings loose (always good for my business) or little surprises like sandbags in runoff areas, which make a simple off track excursion a trip to the bank to pay for the crash damage. But that’s all old news thanks to a major overhaul designed to save the knees of the Moto-GP guys. The track hasn’t changed but it soon became clear that you could climb all over the curbing. And the sandbags are gone (okay there were a few at the apex of 9 which got a bit interesting) from the runoff areas. The results, faster laps times, but even better, for those of us that found ourselves cross-countryin’, all you got was dirty. There were dramatically fewer damaged cars so there were plenty to go around at the end of the weekend. So the track is much nicer to run on. Of course for every silver lining there is a cloud. Some found the curbs so user friendly that they ran inside of them spewing gravel all over the track (not that I would ever do that………too much). So each lap could be different depending on the gravel density. Added a bit of excitement. If you haven’t been to Laguna Seca since July, join us, you are in for a pleasant surprise.


For those of us who ran the series last year it is not a secret that the Skip Barber Co. had a few issues during the Western Series. From defective tie rod ends, to a changing schedule, to insufficient numbers of cars, many of us began to feel the series wasn’t taken very seriously. I am sure that wasn’t true but it really felt that way. After October’s race I am happy to say that is changing dramatically. Cars were well prepped and there were plenty of them. Races went off like clockwork save for the delays provided by Mother Nature (what’s a little fog). As one of the biggest bitchers last year I think it is only fair that when some serious effort has been made to improve things that it be acknowledged. So to all of the staff of the Skippy program, good job and thanks for the improvements. We look forward to a new standard of racing in the West.


The usual cast of characters were back with Randy Buck at the helm leading a troop of the best instructors in the known universe. I am always amazed at how these guys can continue to give the same feedback for the tenth time and make it positive and helpful. I’ve taken other courses like this from other companies and it isn’t always presented this way. We are very lucky to have them. But a few of us noticed that someone was missing. Where the heck is Germone? For those who have worked with Brian Germone or better, have ridden with him (ya find religion), they have come to appreciate his skill (I never knew you could take the Corkscrew sideways) and more. There is something intangible that Brian brings to a race weekend. But alas, Brian also has a tendency to connect the innocent Neons with immovable objects, understandably forcing The Powers That Be to place him in an extended time out. What to do, what to do? If you miss Brian Germone like I do, suggest to Todd Snyder (nicely, they’re just doing their job) that you would love to see him back. Fit him with a shock collar, put him in charge of the hospitality tent, but if it is possible, bring him back. Hopefully Brian has seen the light and will behave (he should be reading this). He is good for the series (well except for the cars) in some weird way and we hope to see him soon.


Saturday night of the race weekend saw the beginning of what may become a new tradition. Fifty people (finally) showed up at Tutto Mondos, a great Italian place in Carmel. Thanks to some really bad directions by yours truly and a total lack of street lights, the evening started off slow but we eventually owned the place. The general opinion seemed to be that we should do this every race weekend so our next dinner is scheduled for 7:30 FRIDAY (I couldn’t get Sat) at Baja Cantina in the Carmel Valley. This place has great food and is full of car stuff. The owner, Patrick Phinney, is a Skippy Racer as is his son Ryan (the kid that beat the crap out of all of us last year). We have a whole area reserved for us so be prepared Friday morning to give me a head count if you are going to join us. It should be easier to find this time.


Okay, I’ve been blathering on too long. I’ve ask the instructors to do a bit of writing to let us get to know them and pick their brains a bit on how to drive these beasts just a bit faster. They have been asked to give a quick bio. and then fill us with wisdom. First up is:


Born: Los Gatos, CA May 14, 1973

I got into racing late. I was around 22 years old and working construction in Phoenix when I finally realized that I could fulfill my dream at Skip Barber Racing School. Basically, I quit my job, attended my three day and went on to race the Western Race series. Two seasons, several wins, 5 million laps, a couple of big ones and a 80 shifter go-kart later, I moved up to the Star Mazda series with support from my family, family friends and some help from the race team.

I spent another two seasons in Mazda and in the second year just missed the championship after winning the most races. In 1999 I was one of ten drivers invited to test for the then recently formed “Kart to Cart” scholarship program in the Toyota Atlantic series. I was selected to drive and contested the championship in 2000 and again 2001 with Lynx racing. I was fortunate to sit on pole, set a track record and reached the podium a few times however the racing gods kept me from a race win in Atlantic.

During my career I’ve driven and raced Sports cars, Prototypes and formula cars of all shapes and sizes with my personal favorite being a Porsche 962 I was lucky enough to race at Daytona. I’m still actively involved in racing and last year reunited with my old buddies in the Toyota Atlantic series for a single race at the San Jose Grand Prix.

The Dynamic Brake Release

For those of you who work with me on a regular basis, you know that I am a stickler for a smooth brake release, and smoothness in general. In this article, I will talk about brake release and in the next, if invited back, I’ll talk about combining this with the general smoothness principle.

Some mistake being smooth with being slow. This is not the case at all. Being smooth means using specific techniques to keep your car balanced at all times. Think of the tight- rope walker. His actions are not fast, but completely deliberate. If any of his motions are hurried, he will loose his balance. The same applies with your racecar. To go fast, you must keep your racecar on the tight rope. One hasty or reactionary move will cause the car to loose its balance.

99% of the time when a novice driver spins his car it has nothing to do with his “speed.” It has everything to do with his speed relative to his footwork and by “footwork” I mean brake release. The first thing that happens when a driver goes, at what he/she perceives as, “fast” is the inputs in the car happen “fast.” The driver becomes reactionary and relies on his reflexes and car control to keep the car on the track. The driver has become a passenger.

In reality, the opposite needs to occur. The faster you go, the slower and thus more deliberate you need to be with your inputs.

So what does all this mean? Brake release is dynamic! If driving at Laguna Seca, your brake release is and should be different for turn 2 than it is for turn 3. Different again for turn 5 than turn 6. And still different if your passing going into turn 2 verses having broke too early. Why? Because the rate at which you release the brake pedal will have a direct effect on what the car does as you turn in and, in trail braking corners, what the car does mid corner.

To take this one step further. What makes a great driver consistent is not necessarily their brake points, line, down shifts, etc. Those are there in place very early on. Consistency comes from the ability to sense speed in the brake zone and adjust the brake release accordingly so as to arrive at the turn in point with the same speed every lap.

So lets take a step back for a moment and assume that most of you reading this have not reached your full “potential.” You have yet to fully develop those crucial speed sensing skills and are frustrated and become even more frustrated when you come in from a session only to have an instructor tell you, “your over-slowing turn 5.” How does dynamic brake release apply to you? I’ll tell you.

Close your eyes and visualize your average approach to turn 5. Where do you brake? Where do you down shift? Where do you turn in? Got it? Ok. Take it a layer deeper. After you do your down shift, what does that right foot do? Does it stay there on that 10 pedal until you’ve reached your corner entry speed then bleed off at or just before the turn in? Yes? Read on and take it a layer deeper.

At the precise moment when you are happy with your entry speed and the foot begins to come off the brake pedal what happens? Well, if you simply “side step” or “snap” off the brake pedal the car will slide at turn in, rite? So instead you concentrate on the smooth brake release, turn in, go to power and exit only to find out later you are still over-slowing.

Take it one more layer deeper. During the time it takes for you to “bleed” or smoothly release the pedal the car is still slowing. The root of the problem is you haven’t started your brake release soon enough. If you wait to start the release until you are comfortable with your speed, you’ve over-slowed. You need to begin releasing the pedal sooner and that generally means releasing slower. The trick is to isolate that microsecond when you are comfortable with your entry speed and begin releasing the pedal a heartbeat before that. Even though the foot will naturally come off slower your entry speed will be higher and your racecar will be happier as you turn in.

To put this visually, here are two examples with the numbers representing brake pressure.

The over-slow style: 10-10-10-downshift-10-10-10-10-7-5-3-1-0 (fairly smooth but too much 10)

The entry speed style: 10-10-10-downshift-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0 (smoother release/more entry speed)

Looking at these examples you might say, “why not just brake later?” The answer is two fold. One, there is a point of diminishing returns with your brake point. The later you go, the less time you have to get everything done which equals a choppy release. And two, when learning this technique, the later you go, the less time you have to get everything done, which equals fear, panic and yes, choppy release possibly resulting in a spin and the self belief that you can go no faster. You do however; have to pick a brake point that is late. Just not Juan Pablo Montoya late…

As stated before, I will get more into the smoothness principle and dynamic brake release later. For now, here is a drill to practice smooth brake release and speed sensing on the street. This drill comes with the caveat of “don’t be a jerk”. Do this drill at no more than the posted speed limit and without traffic hazards nearby.

Find a stop sign or two on your everyday commute. Your everyday driving has you coasting up to the stop sign where you gradually apply brake pressure. First of all eliminate the coasting and continue at the posted speed limit. Find your brake point and brake initially at the hardest pressure you will achieve. (On the street this may only be a 4 pedal) Once you get to your max pressure, try to sense your slowing so as you can smoothly release pressure all the way until you come to a complete stop. If you have to add brake pressure in the brake zone, you’ve released too fast. If done correctly, you may have to look out the window to see if the car is still moving when you get to the limit line.

The visual representation goes like this.

4 – 4 – 3.5 – 3 – 2.5 – 2 – 1.5 – 1 – .9 – .8 – .7 – .6 – .5 – .4 – .3 – .2 – .1 – 0

This is the same technique that you employ when trying to get more entry speed in 5 or trail braking into 2 (at a much higher speed and pressure, of course). It is also similar to the chauffer stop that many of you do every day with the family in the car although it differs in a couple of ways. You are eliminating the coasting and your initial brake pressure is the hardest you will ever achieve in that brake zone. Again, don’t be a jerk and don’t do this with traffic behind you, as “old low eyes” won’t see it coming.

In the practice what you preach file. I started this technique when I was transitioning from right to left foot braking. And is a technique I still do today when I am preparing to drive a race car or just want to shake off the cobwebs. It will train the small muscles in your foot and ankle how to release the pedal properly and you may find that just by changing where you place your heel on the floorboard it may make a world of difference to your smoothness. All in all, good things.

Good Luck and see you at the track!

Grant Ryley


Talk about a thankless job, the mechanics that keep us on the track and safe deserve some serious respect (ie money). To that end Jeff Kaiser has done a great job to get the ball rolling for the mechanic’s fund. He also has some new help in the form of one Allen Dellattre, henceforth known as Big Al. Having learned well from the Guido School of Extortion, Al assures me that if you don’t contribute your fair share to the fund he will sit on you. Not a pretty image so I suggest you bring a bit of extra cash and make these well deserving guys and girls happy. I would also like to take a moment to nominate Al for the Most Stylish Move of the Month Award. Not only can this man shoehorn himself into a Skippy car, drive one handed, but to top it all off he can wave to the crowd while hitting the apex (well, close anyway) of turn 11. Now that is class. Please feel free to contribute your favorite move in the next newsletter.


Now for my first big scoop. But before you read this you have to promise not to let anybody working for Skippy know you know. Act surprised when they announce it. Don’t want to steal their thunder. I have it from a reliable (mostly) source outside of Skip Barber that next years opening race will be at Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City. There are four configurations to this track, the longest being 4.5 miles, 24 turns, with some exceptionally long straights. Rumor has it it is very fast and very safe, designed for the likes of the American Le Mans Series. Here’s the link: Some are saying this will be the best track in North America. There is also a possibility of some type of Skippy lapping session the early part of the summer and the track also has lapping sessions for drivers with their own cars. Could make for an interesting summer outing. Pretty exciting stuff. Also nice to see new tracks open up in the West to diversify the Series. One of the great differences and benefits with driving with Skip Barber over other companies is their ability to travel to the best tracks in the U.S. This has become a bit of a problem in the West. Laguna has been the biggest, and in some ways the only, draw in the west for obvious reasons. I love Laguna but it will be great to try new tracks. And then, perhaps, we can really have a Western Series and avoid trips across the U.S. to Sebring, which is a great track but a long ways away. Last year very few Westies showed up at Sebring and we were mixed up with all of the other guys, which does weird things to the point standings. The distance requires extra days off work for travel which adds to the expense. I hope I’m right about this visit to Utah. It will add a lot to the series. And remember, this is between you and me.


A week from tonight I’m hoping we have a big group of drivers, friends and Skippy staff show up at the Baja Cantina for some good times. Last I checked we have over fifty drivers signed up for this race weekend and twenty have committed to January. Things are looking just fine for the Western Series. Let’s keep the momentum going. See you at the track. TR

P.S. I would love some others to contribute to this newsletter. Obviously you don’t have to be a great writer. Send in your observations on things going well, things needing improvement, what it’s like to be a female driver around all of the raging testosterone (Sarena, Sarah?), Style Nominations. Your input would be great.

Tom Roberts

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