Story by Tim Sharp, photos by Gordon Jolley
A great race driver adjusts to the unique
variations in each race. He is both an
offensive and defensive player simultaneously. He is both hunter and prey. He must
know when to follow and when to attack. He
must assess the strengths and weaknesses of
each competitor. He must be an expert at psychological warfare.
Proficiency in passing is a skill that reveals a driver’s true greatness. Given a clear track and enough time in a quality race car, almost
any solid driver can turn in a quick qualifying lap. The far more difficult task is to maintain momentum in traffic.
The Straightaway Pass
The most simple pass, by far, is the “draft and pass” on a straight. If
you are fortunate enough to have superior power, this pass is easy:
You simply come off the corner cleanly, push hard on the right pedal,
draft for a few seconds and then cruise on by.
If you have a more evenly matched race car, this pass is a bit tougher.
First, you need to lay back slightly as you enter the corner, then accelerate and run up on the car in front as you exit the turn. Next, you must
draft a little longer on the straight, then pull out and pass when you
have enough momentum to get by cleanly.
Here is an important footnote: If you have someone pursuing from
behind as you are attempting to set up this pass, it complicates matters. On most tracks, you can take a defensive line as you enter the
corner just before the straight (or two corners prior
in the case of a series of “S” turns). Brake a tad
early and close the door cleanly on the car behind
you, then accelerate off the corner to achieve more
exit speed than the car in front as you exit the corner going onto the straight.
A rookie mistake is to run up prematurely on
the slower car in front before the exit of the corner. If you are being pursued by a smart driver,
he will gladly let you kill your momentum and
box yourself in. He will then take the lay-off space
you gave him and use it for superior exit speed.
Zip—he is gone!
While you may be able to draft and pass slightly
slower cars on the straightaway with relative ease,
again, things become more complicated when you are
running against an evenly-matched race car. Sometimes
you just cannot draft and pass completely on the
straightaway. There are times when only a late-brake .
pass will do.
Before attempting a late-brake pass, there are several
things you should consider. First, in practice you should
have already set your front-to-rear brake bias to be able
to execute a late-brake pass. Be sure the rear brakes will
not lock up and spin you. Also, pick late-brake reference
points as well as normal brake points in practice.
Second, you should have already tried a couple of off-line and inside-late-brake passes in practice (preferably
on drivers whom you knew would give way in this situation). Unless track conditions have deteriorated substantially, you should be able to pull off a similar late-brake
pass during the race.
Next, you should know the braking capabilities of both
your car and the car you are about to pass. For example, if
you are running in the latter stages of a street stock endurance race in a Chevy Camaro and are attempting a late-brake
pass on a lighter BMW, you may have a problem. The lighter
Bimmer may have more brakes left.
The ideal solution to the above problem is to take the Camaro into the corner as deeply as you practically can while
watching the BMW with your peripheral Vision. (You are simultaneously watching the apex of the corner with your primary vision.) The key is to adjust to the BMW’s reaction to your pass attempt with your braking.
Do not let the BMW take you into the corner any deeper than you can handle. In addition, try to keep your nose clearly alongside
the BMW. The driver of a lightweight BMW
will think twice about slamming the door on
a huge Camaro. Your ace in the hole here is
that the BMW driver probably knows the laws
of physics as well as you do. If he is smart, he
will know that you have the upper hand
Passing in the Rain
If you practiced in the dry and you are now
racing in the rain, all bets are off. As you know,
rain lines are different from dry lines. The classic line will probably be too greasy and too
tight in the rain. Your best bet is to brake
smoother and take a gentle, sweeping radius
through the corners. Also, break off your draft
earlier when passing and be sure you are
clearly inside of the car you are overtaking.
Close drafting is dangerous on a wet track.
If the driver in front brakes early, you may hit
his rear end. It is better to be inside of an early
braker as you enter a comer in the race. Also,
only a fool would challenge you from the outside of a comer in the rain.
Passing Setup Techniques
As many different road racing rulebooks
state, the responsibility for a safe pass rests
with the overtaking driver. Thus, a world-class
mirror driver can make life difﬁcult for you.
As you attempt to dive under him for a late—
brake pass, he seemingly anticipates the pass
and takes a very defensive line to block. While
overt blocking is illegal in road racing, it is
hard to recognize from the sidelines; thus
blocking rules are rarely enforced.
One of the most frustrating experiences in
racing is having to follow a mirror driver for
ﬁve laps before he finally makes a mistake
and you can get by. Fortunately, over the years,
I have found a few techniques that will help
you in this situation.
At the first indication that the driver in front of you is overtly blocking, shake your fist visibly in the air, then point at the offending car as
you stare at the flagmen in the very next comer. It this does not produce a blue and yellow
passing flag really soon, it is time to move on to Step B.
Step B is to pressure the blocking driver into late-braking situations at every possible chance—especially in tight corners. Let him think you will attempt a late-brake pass at any moment.
Make him early apex every corner to protect his line. When he is convinced that this is your
plan, set him up for a corner leading onto a long straight.
Just before this corner, use a “head and hand fake” to the inside, forcing the blocking driver
to move to protect his line and apex early. If you are entering a right turn, hold the steering
wheel by its left spoke with your left hand, making sure the car stays on a straight braking
path. Quickly tilt your head to the right and slide your right hand over the wheel to the right.
Of course, your right hand is really not turning the car to the right, but any self-respecting
mirror driver will move his car to thwart your late-brake pass. (Note: This technique works
better on closed—wheel cars than formula cars. Formula car drivers are not likely to fall for this
ploy as they key off the directional change of the front wheels—not hand or head movement).
Next, move slightly to the outside and take the blocker deep under braking into the corner.
If he bites, which he probably will, he will glide across your bow and you can pass behind him
as he tries to save his car from leaving the track. If he checks up, realizing that he has been had,
he has in essence relinquished the fast line to you. You are obliged to take it immediately. You
cannot hesitate, or someone is going to get hurt. Final note: As with all passing situations, this
one is not 100-percent foolproof. Before trying it, you must know the radius of the corner, the
track surface, the track exit width and your own ability to react.
Brake and Park Pass
Step C is the what I would call the “brake and park pass.” You have played by the rules;
however, let’s assume you have given the comer workers an opportunity to give the blocker a
passing ﬂag and that you have already used various psychological techniques to get by the
blocking driver, with no results. Time to move on the blocker.
Blockers are snivelers. After the race, they will say that they changed their line to an early apex (ie: blocking line) because “my car got loose” or “I just made a
few driver errors.” Well, if they can make a mistake, so can you. The
“brake and park pass” is just one of those unfortunate late-braking
mistakes you, too, might have to make.
Even the best mirror driver cannot convince race officials that he needs
all of the track, all of the time. Moreover, he has to leave some space on
the inside, or you will go around him on the outside. Sometimes you have
to take that meager piece of asphalt inside and use it. Even if the line looks
horrible, it will look better as you get closer to the comer apex-especially if you miss your brake point and go in too deep. (Oops!)
The “brake and park pass” requires good car control skills, since the
back end of the car will probably step out (oversteer) on you as you enter
the comer under extreme late braking. If you do not have these skills, do
not attempt this pass.
Incidentally, I am making a
strong distinction between “slamming” and “parking” here. Park-
ing usually means you simply
made an aggressive late-brake
pass, taking the best line and much
of the corner exit away from the
blocker. Slamming means you laid
so much metal on him that you
launched him into an Armco barrier. The purpose of the “brake and
park” is to pass and move on, not
to destroy a competitor’s race car.
Defensive Driving Techniques
It may seem incongruous that I
am discussing defensive driving
techniques just after I assailed
drivers who drive with their mirrors. While the difference between
a blocking driver and a defensive
driver may seem imperceptible, I
assure you there is a substantial
difference between the two types
of drivers. Moreover, defensive
driving is as important a part of
racing as passing. It is the other
side of the same coin.
Here is how I make the distinction between “blockers” and “defensive drivers:”
• A blocker is generally inconsistent, slow through the corners,
has weak technique and hurts your
lap times substantially when you
encounter him. You know that
once you get by him, you will
leave him in the dust. He deserves
• A defensive driver has excellent skills. He is consistent and
quick through the corners. He does
little, if anything, to hurt your lap
times. You may even wonder
whether, if you do get by him, you
will be able to pull away. He is a
driver you can respect.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
Skilled defensive drivers use a fast, consistent line and do not use
their mirrors to excess. They are confident that they can get around
the track as fast as anyone and they do not need to resort to blocking
to keep a competitor behind them.
Good defensive drivers are also proficient passers. They can pass
almost anywhere when their car is well set up and running right. They
think ahead, planning their next pass just after they have completed
their previous one. Thus, on defense, they can predict where and when
the driver behind them is most likely to pass them.
Discretion is also part of being a good defensive driver. It makes
little sense to slam the door on a car that’s coming up fast and is about to lap you. Moreover, it rarely makes sense to keep a car
behind you that is much faster on the straight. If anything, use that
car as a drafting tool. Let it help you work through traffic. Then,
repass it in the closing stages of the race. Drive defensively only
when it counts for position.
Defensive Driving in Close Contests
There are situations in which you and the car behind you are locked
in serious combat. Your cars and your driving skills are so closely
matched that you know you cannot let the other driver pass. This is a
classic offensive/defensive driving battle.
First, remember that you are in front and you have the better track
position. Next, do not obsess over the driver behind you. Yes, you can
use a slightly earlier brake point
or take a slightly earlier apex on
occasion to disrupt the rhythm of
the driver behind you. However,
do not lose sight of the fact that
it was fast, consistent laps that
put you ahead of your nemesis
in the first place.
Next, try subtle tactics to determine your rival’s talent and
experience (unless you already
know he has no weaknesses—
then just drive fast and smooth).
In a car with brake lights, you
can use left-foot braking to determine whether your challenger
is driving his own line or keying
off yours. By using left-foot
braking and a slight brake check
in the brake zone before the corner (just enough pressure to trig—
ger the brake lights), you can find
out if the driver behind you is a
hawk or a vulture.
Left-foot brake lightly and
early as you continue to accelerate with your right foot as you
move toward the corner. If the
driver behind you brakes heavily
and keys off your brake lights,
he will drop back way before the
corner. He has shown himself to
be a vulture. He is scavenging off
your line and brake points. This
guy can be had.
If, on the other hand, the driver
behind you closes up on your rear
bumper, then you are dealing with
a hawk. He is a conﬁdent racer who
knows the right line and brake
points. He was waiting for you to
make a mistake. Hold him off going into the comer and do not brake
check him again. You have a battle
on your hands.
The only tactic that I have eve
found to work consistently on a
hawk is to take him out as fast as
you can and challenge his ego.
If you are confident that you can drive on overheated tires better than
he can, push the envelope. It is a calculated risk, but he may bite. If
you find him laying back, even just a little, give up the ploy. He is
waiting for you to cook your tires and then he will make his move.
This guy is smart.
Sometimes you get a gut feeling that a hawk is waiting for the last
one or two laps to make his move. Usually your gut feeling is right.
He will make his move late.
No strategy works all of the time. However, on the second-to-last lap, you may want to take away your pursuer’s first option by
slamming the door hard on him if he tries a late-brake pass to the
inside, for example. This limits the hawk’s option to a one-shot,
last—lap pass in a corner that is probably his second choice. Suck it up and drive as fast as you can for the last lap. Chances are, your
pursuer will not be as confident he was on the prior lap. Of course,
I have been wrong before.
One final defensive driving technique is what I call the “late-brake
booty shake.” I saw it a number of times before I trained myself to
recognize it and to react appropriately to it. I have even seen the “booty
shake” work in both CART and F1.
The “booty shake” is best used entering a series of tight turns where
overtaking is difficult. It relies on surprise and the quick, instinctive
reactions of a good race driver who is in hot pursuit. Its execution
goes something like this:
1: As the race is winding down, the driver in front appears to be
driving into corners a little bit deeper in order to hold off the guy
2: Seeing that the driver in front is pushing the envelope a bit
too hard, the driver in pursuit moves in closer to take advantage of
any mistake which will allow him to pass. The driver in pursuit
may be convinced that it is his driving talent that is causing the leader’s minor miscues. The lead
driver is counting on this.
3: Entering the braking zone before
the “S” turns, the leading driver appears to take a moderately defensive
line and proceeds to execute a relatively late brake.
4: The rear tires of the first car lock
up slightly. This leading formula car
starts the “booty shake” from left to
right, taking up the whole track as the
it approaches the “S” turns.
5: Reacting to avoid a crash into the
rear of the car in front, the second
driver Climbs on his brakes, locking
up his fronts, which forces him into a
6: Miraculously, the driver in front
has recovered and is hard on the gas
through the “S” turns and off like a
rabbit! The panic stop and momentary
hesitation by the pursuing car has left
too large a gap for him to close in the
remaining few laps.
Was the “booty shake” a driving error or a planned strategy? You make
The Art of Passing
A professional race driver who
says he does not have a mental book
on passing or defensive driving
techniques is stroking you. Some
drivers are great at blocking. Others are good at Sucking unsuspecting rookies too deep into a corner
and showing them the gravel pit.
Some are experts at running a competitor out of tires before they pick
him off. A few use their late-braking talent and reputation as a wild
man to intimidate other drivers off
When it comes to passing strategies, there are an infinite number of
combinations and permutations. No
single driver can know them all. What
makes the art of passing so intriguing
is that certain techniques only work
on certain drivers. You need to know
the personalities of the drivers you
race with just as well as you know
The above driving techniques have
been found to be successful for the author in many but not all situations. They presume the knowledge of proper
advanced race driving techniques and an advanced race experience level.
They may or may not be successful for a driver depending upon his or her
training, experience, car control ability, mental state, physical condition
and response time. Moreover, the effectiveness of the techniques discussed
are further limited by the preparation and fitness of one’s individual race
car and those of one’s competitors, as well as track design, track conditions, sanctioning body rules and reactions by another competitor.
Hence, GRM and the author disclaim liability for any or all
damages, injuries or other consequences arising from the use
of any and all techniques discussed herein. In other words, if
you choose to use these techniques, you do so at your own risk
and assume all liabilities for yourself, others and any and all
consequences in doing so. Under no circumstances are these
techniques to be employed on the street or in any non-race sanctioned event where full racing safety harness, Snell-approved
racing helmets, fireproof apparel, roll bars, and
all other proper safety equipment are not required.
This article is from an old issue of Grassroots Motorsports. Get all the latest how-tos and stories for just $20 a year. Subscribe now.
View comments on the GRM forums
If your class has brake lights, you need two pushbutton switches - one that turns the brake lights on without pushing the pedal, one that causes the lights not to come on when you do brake.
It should go without saying that you need to do an OEM-quality wiring job on those switches so they don't malfunction and cause an accident. They should also be different shapes/locations so they can't be confused.
12/15/16 3:07 p.m.
Speaking as someone who informally struggles to keep my OCD in check, can you pretty please change the author of this thread to "The staff of Motorsport Marketing"?
That has quietly bugged me for a long time.
Changed it to read more like a name. Sorry for any mental turmoil we may have caused.
I try to do so quietly and covertly and will blame it on the dog if need be
I usually try to keep passing in a time frame; how many laps have I been Following them and how many laps are Left. If I am in 2nd I can Wait some If not It's time to go.
Being in a low powered vehicle my whole life I've found it useful to keep a good amount of distance between me and the target car, then, before the solid yellow line goes away, I floor it! Usually build up enough speed to pass that old geezer in the Buick. But it takes anticipation kids! .....hey.... wait a minute! You guys were talking about racing!
In reply to Trackmouse: I drive a BUICK,and may resemble that remark.!
The car in the picture on the left has to be Randy Pobst.
The car in the picture on the left has to be Randy Pobst.
The yellow VW? That's actually Chris Albin. He's still racing with the SCCA, while his daughter, Andie, works for the club.
2/1/17 11:12 a.m.
I used to pass a lot of faster cars under braking as my 4 wheel discs never faded, but there are other ways.
Back when we still did standing starts, the flag would drop and everyone would dutifully line up for the first corner on the driver school taught and approved line. I seemed to be the only one that realized that because you were entering the corner 20 mph slower than you would be on the next lap, you could take a totally different line and drive right by the dutiful horse. Used to regularly pass 2 or 3 cars every start.
The other one that sometimes raised the ire of my fellow competitors was done on an old WW2 air base track. You could tell where the track path went by the area where the weeds had been worn off, but otherwise there were no boundary lines. Everyone took a wide arcing path so as to enter the sweeping turns at the right angle....except me, who often too a much tighter, straighter path that covered less distance. Result? When the guys that took the 'correct' line arrived at the apex, I was there first, albeit going more slowly, and they had to slow down as they couldn't pass me. A couple had a talk with the organizers who had a chat with me, but I just said that until they demarcated a boundary line, they couldn't possibly write a rule banning any particular path. They didn't like it, but finally agreed.
In reply to
David S. Wallens I use to autocross with Randy way back when. He had a girlfriend who had a rabbit that he would drive and he was always on two wheels
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