Drivers let in on secrets at FinishLine Racing

By MATT KANE (Correspondent)
Daytona News Journal
Last update: July 02, 2005


SAMSULA -- Drive the car hard and make it turn.

That's the motto Mike Ledbetter, Mark C. Lowrey and Michael Annett had been driving by in their pursuit of success in the racing world.

That is until Tuesday when, while attending the first of two days at Mike Loescher's FinishLine Racing School at New Smyrna Speedway, they learned the secret to shaving seconds off lap times is not to push the car harder but, instead, to ease up.

"(Most people) think drive it hard and get it to turn but that just wears out the tires and the (human) body," said Annett, a 19-year-old driver from Des Moines, Iowa. "You try to tell people something and they don't believe it until they see the lap times."

The three drivers took turns behind the wheel of the FinishLine Super Late Model -- the school has 14 different styles of racecar -- turning 150 laps each morning, while receiving constant instruction by Loescher over the radio.

Every time a driver parked on pit road after a run, Loescher would explain the tactics and prove that they worked with a chart showing the shrinking numbers of each lap time.

"I can make a car work and I can tell if it's the car or the driver that has a problem," said Loescher, a 45-year veteran in the sport.

With wife, Kristal, by his side, this is his 20th year of teaching at FinishLine.

Loescher said when it's the driver who has the problem, it usually is due to bad habits picked up earlier in his career.

"When they first get in a car, they get into a habit of driving and what happens is, it may not be perfect," he said. "We analyze what they are doing wrong and we change their habits."

Ledbetter, 34, and Lowrey, 24, have had four and three years, respectively, to develop those bad habits but, for Annett, Tuesday's session around the 1/2-mile oval of NSS was just his second time behind the wheel of a race car.

"It's an amazing difference from when I first did testing," Annett said after his final run.

The former junior hockey player tested a Silver Crown car back home in June and decided to seek Loescher's instruction on a friend's recommendation.

Those recommendations bring students from all over the country and the world. .

Ledbetter, with his dad and car owner, Bill Ledbetter, flew in from California to find out how to turn around a disappointing season on the Southwest Tour.

"They sent me down here to have a session and to tune me up. We've been struggling this year and that's why I'm here," Ledbetter said. "I'm looking for some help. I will take this home, execute it and hopefully, we will do a little better."

While Ledbetter is just trying to improve in the minor leagues, Lowrey, who runs trucks in New England and is an instructor at the Buck Baker Racing School, came from Charlotte, N.C., with his eyes focused on the top.

"We're going to be doing some testing with a Busch team but, before I test, I need to learn how to drive," said Lowrey, the 2003 All Star Racetrucks (Pro Trucks) Rookie of the Year. "(Loescher) has shown his philosophy works."

Lowrey and Annett's dreams of driving in the top leagues is not asking too much of Loescher.

He has pupils competing in Nextel Cup, Craftsman Truck, Busch, ARCA, INDY, World of Outlaws, Mid American Sprint Series, USAC Midgets, Silver Crown and Hooters Pro Cup, to name a few series.

Combined, his former students average 350 wins each year, according to Loescher. The most notable drivers to go through FinishLine are Jamie McMurray and four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

The teacher said both were model students.

"He was easy to work with," Loescher said of a 14-year-old Gordon. "He's a natural driver and he feels the car."

Loescher commends McMurray for his rise to the big leagues.

"He was a real good kid. He didn't have a famous last name and he and his dad worked their butts off," he said of McMurray, who drove a Super Late Model at FinishLine. "Real smooth. He's one of the guys who takes care of equipment and gets the best out of it."

The success of his students speaks volumes for Loescher but it's his style that impressed his most recent class.

"I can never learn enough," Lowrey said. "He makes you feel comfortable driving as opposed to showing people what he can do."

Loescher and his wife rarely get a day off. When they are not running FinishLine at NSS, they often are on the road for private lessons or answering questions for major race teams such as Hendrick, Roush, Ganassi, Gibbs, Penske and Evernham.



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