Getting To The FinishLine
by David Miller
As Featured in Circle Track Magazine


S0 YOU'RE GONNA' GO RACING. MAYBE you're a beginner - maybe not. Maybe you're an aspiring king of racing - maybe not. No matter what path of racing you want to take, a lot of things have to be solidly in place for any racer to be Successful. If you eliminate all the things that are needed regarding great chassis, engines, crew help, and the like, what's left is the information a driver, new or experienced, has in his head.

New racers will have a range of feelings from apprehension to ambition, but of course racing experience is lacking. Experienced racers will have the same emotions plus track-time experience. In either case, much of the success of driving a race car comes from knowledge accumulated from actually being behind the wheel.

Race-car driving comes naturally to some, but to others it takes a lot of seat time to get proficient. A lot of what racers learn about driving comes from talking among themselves then sifting through it all and determining what works and what doesn't. Of course, this is a time-tested way to learn how to drive a race car. The problem is that a racer can learn the wrong things, and it can take a lot of time and a lot of torn up equipment to unlearn bad habits or techniques.

So what is the answer to this dilemma? Well, there are several possible solutions. One is to not race. OK, so that's not a real option. What about personal lessons from King Richard, Dale Earnhardt, or Jeff Gordon? I don't think so! How about this one-go to school.

You've probably seen the ads for many of these driving schools, and they appear to be in all areas of the country. Most schools seem to offer a variety of programs tailored to different experience levels and budget constraints (see our listing of some of the many schools available). One such place is FinishLine Racing School based out of Edgewater, Florida, just south of Daytona. Mike and Kristal Loescher are the owners and operators of the school, which specializes in training drivers in short-track environments at four different speedways. The Loescher's have been instructing for 10 years and the courses are based on their 30 years of championship racing.

CIRCLE TRACK joined a class so we could experience firsthand the kind of race driving education that is available. For three days, we were permitted to be a part of a class that had participants ranging in experience from beginner to pro. Each class member came to the school with the specific goal to learn basic skills or improve on existing skills and, of course, to have fun.

Company Basics

Let's begin with a quick look at the company's facility. The home base is a complete racing operation that houses the variety of race cars available from FinishLine. The race vehicles range from NASCAR Late Model Stock to Craftsman Trucks. Supported by an in-house staff, all of the race cars are built and meticulously maintained within the confines of the FinishLine compound. Besides the driving programs, the organization also offers a mechanics and chassis seminar. The school has seen students such as Adam Petty, Ricky Hendrick, and JD and Coy Gibbs. Even Bob Bondurant has been through this school.

Class Basics

The driving classes offered by FinishLine have several variations. The courses range from a one- to three-day version of training. The different lessons are designed to meet a broad range of driving learning experiences. Our participation was in the premier three-day version, which begins in the classroom for orientation and safety instruction. Next, the course moves to the track, where a complete track walk-around occurs. This is followed by a drive around the track in passenger cars.

Next comes a check of all the racing apparel for safety standards. Students may bring their personal equipment, and those without equipment are provided with race wear. In either case, FinishLine is serious about safety, and any equipment not meeting strict safety standards is not permitted.

Then comes the real feel of the track with a five-lap ride around the track with Mike at the wheel. This is the first opportunity for students to feel the racetrack in realistic racing conditions. Once this phase is complete, it's time for each pupil to get behind the wheel of the car.

Behind the Wheel

Over the three-day course, each driver receives instruction during 11 rotations of actual driving time. The first rotation consists of eight laps, and each subsequent rotation is 13 laps. This means each student receives 138 total laps of seat time over the three-day period.

The driving experience is very thorough, and each day is filled with first rate seat time and quality instruction. As each driver prepares to get in the car, there is a final safety check to make sure the helmet, gloves, shoes, ear piece, and driving suit are all in order.

Next, it's time to buckle up and thoroughly check radios and other systems for proper operation. With all systems ready, it's time to fire up and go out on the track. While on the track, each driver is in constant radio communication with Mike Loescher. It's a one way communication that effectively coaches drivers through the 1/2-mile course.

At the end of each rotation, Mike debriefs; drivers on their performance. Each student receives time sheets that provide lap and corner times. Armed with this data, each pupil is able to compete with his or her own time to improve from one rotation to the next.

Between driving cycles, all the participants are encouraged to talk among themselves to compare notes on personal performances. These informal periods tend to yield some excellent interaction between students on driving concerns. It also provides a time for building a class team spirit and individual friendships.

As the course moves into its final day, each driver has received a substantial amount of direct coaching and is now prepared to make the best of it. By the time the final rotation arrives (all too soon), the participants take their last laps with less and less voice communication from Mike. In other words, the birds are kicked out of the nest and allowed to take an on-their-own approach to the final laps.

At the end of it all, everyone is given a sheepskin symbolic of their graduation from the FinishLine Racing School. The certificate is nice but can't do real justice to the excellent education provided to the class members.

SAFETY COUNTS

The FinishLine Racing School is serious about safety concerns, and among the many high-quality safety parts used in its cars are Borgeson collapsible steering shafts and U-joints.

The collapsible shafts were chosen for the extra safety they offer a race driver. The Borgeson 24-inch shaft is designed to collapse 6 1/2 inches in the event of an impact. To accommodate other steering configurations, it's possible for the shaft to be shortened by 4 inches and still maintain the safety features.

The U-joints lend extra driver safety and comfort, because they are designed to eliminate backlash or radial play with no maintenance required. The joints are made from high-grade chrome-moly steel.

Borgeson offers other safety oriented products such as vibration reducers, telescoping, and much more.



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