Lessons Learned: Pro Driver Randy Pobst's 8 Speed Secrets


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Story By Randy Pobst • Photos By photosbyjuha.com

ran my first autocross in 1977. Back then, a 10-second zero-to-60 run was pretty quick. Disco was so cool. There was no AIDS pandemic. No cell phones. No personal computers. Health insurance was 50 bucks a month. You could still buy an “old” VW Beetle new. My first road race was in 1985. I have run well over 500 races, many 24 hours long, and I’m gaining on 100 pro wins.

My point to this egotism? I’m a lousy instructor.

I can’t remember what it was like when I knew everything—meaning back when I was learning how to race a car. That was so long ago that now I take most of my driving knowledge and race-day routine for granted. I don’t really think about the steps involved, they just happen.

That is, until I ride with someone else. I’m a lousy passenger, too. Each variation from my norm instantly pegs my internal scream meter. “Arrrgh, how could you do that?! Geez! It is so obvious!”

As a gentleman, I keep these thoughts inside—about half the time—but I’ll share some of them with you. Here are eight strategies I now take for granted.

8: DRINK UP

I start drinking the night before a race and stop an hour before the green flag. And I drink water only. No caffeine, no sugar.

Caffeine is a diuretic: It drains fluids from the system. Coffee and Coke are dehydrators. Oh, and refined sugar quickly delivers energy—too quickly, though, as it’s followed by a blast from our body’s insulin pumps. The result: a low-blood-sugar sleepyhead just as the pace lap rolls out.

Also, use the restroom before strapping in. In World Challenge, over an hour separates the march to the grid from the standing start. Last-minute swilling will make you need to pee like a draft horse 5 minutes after buckling up—mighty unpleasant, and if there’s a crash a burst bladder is a toxic and real concern.

7: STRAP IN

Every time I’m ready to take a car on track, I strap myself down as well as my equipment can manage: tight belts, good seat, sturdy dead pedal. Early on, I didn’t realize the importance of this one in terms of control, and perhaps even more in terms of safety.

Allowing race seats in Showroom Stock was a great move, and it’s also a good idea for your track car. To feel what the car is doing, you must be firmly strapped to it. You can’t just hold onto the steering wheel for dear life.

If the seat and belts are squishy and vague, I put some weight on the dead pedal and press my knees into the door panel and center console. Once I’m tied to the car, I can drive with just a light touch on the wheel.

6: EASY BACK ON

If I drop a wheel off course, I take my time and ease it back onto the pavement. If you’re not careful, the edge of the track will grab the tire and try to spin you to the inside. This is a very common street crash, too, and another reason to run your teen through a real driving course like the B.R.A.K.E.S. program (putonthebrakes.com).

I had a firsthand experience with this phenomenon back in 1985 during a VW Cup race at Lime Rock. I came whistling out of the Downhill, and the left-rear tire fell off the pavement. I knew I was close to the edge, and I was fighting her a bit trying to stay on.

Quick as a wink, the car snapped sideways. I shot into that wide, grassy area, disappearing from the sight of my stalwart crew guy waiting on pit lane. All that runoff room gave me the chance to save it and return into his view. I was down a couple of positions but still in the game.

That area is now the pre-grid, and the wall is much closer to the track. I shudder to think what would happen if I tried that maneuver today. It would’ve been the end of my VW Golf as well as my racing career.

Life is a game of inches and circumstance. These days, I give it up sooner if I know I’m close. Ease it off the road, ease it back on.

Here’s another important lesson: When in doubt, both feet out. Thank you, Skip Barber, for teaching me that one.

When I’m in trouble and sliding too much—fast hands working to save a potential spin—I stay away from acceleration. I go even-steven on everything involving the feet. Power only makes you crash faster.

You claim that you power out of trouble all the time? Well, guess what: You haven’t been in that much trouble, and you probably saved yourself with your hands. Or maybe the racing gods reached in and saved you, and you are just taking the credit. They will get you for that disrespect. Don’t ask me how I know.

By the way, this technique does not always apply to front-drivers. Power can and will save you there, but you’ve still got to get your hands right—or you’ll power into that wall even harder, just like the guy in a rear-driver. Four-wheel-drivers can go either way.

There’s a corollary to this one: If I spin, both feet in. Brake and clutch, automatically.

5: SLOW HANDS

Always use slow hands on the wheel. Unless the car pushes like a mother, I don’t throw it around. I make-ah love to de cahrrr. Slow hands for speed, fast hands only for catching slides. Slow hands when all’s well, fast hands when I’m in trouble.

Once in a while, however, my slow hands get me in trouble. This happened at Long Beach this year: I never dreamed that my four-wheel-drive K-Pax Volvo would snap loose under power—even in a first-gear hairpin. By the time I felt it happening, it was too late for those smooth inputs. Hello, wall. Goodbye, qualifying.

4: BRAKE HARD

Get on the brakes hard. I move from full acceleration to full braking as quickly as possible, especially in a car with some aero.

The faster you’re going, the harder and faster that initial squeeze of the pedal should be. I picked this up in autocross, too, back in the dark ages. There’s no time for pussyfooting around on a 40-second run—or on any fast lap, in fact.

Release the brakes slowly. I definitely do not think consciously about this anymore, but man, is it important. I see this as a very common issue holding back mid-level drivers.

Keeping your foot on the brakes keeps it off the gas, which is usually a good thing early in a corner—you’ll find out why in Tip 1. The tighter the turn, the more important this is. Main reason? Weight management. Braking transfers weight forward—onto the wheels that are directing you into that corner. Hard on the brakes, easy off.

3: EASE THE THROTTLE

Squeeze the gas oh so gently. Invisibly. After taking forever to release the brakes, move lightly to the gas—like a butterfly landing on a leaf—and slowly roll it on.

Why? Because I know my tires can’t put a lot of effort into two things at once, and any time I’m coming off the brakes and going to gas, I’m right at the cornering limit.

Can you see how Tips 4 and 3 go together? That’s finesse: slowly off the brake and lightly on the gas. I aim to make that move undetectable. The tire must not feel the transition. Smoooooth.

That means easing into the power as I ease out of the steering. Slow hands, slow feet, assuming my car is handling correctly.

Poor-handling cars must be chased—wrestled, even. They need fast hands and big, quick inputs, which means driving like a bull-ridin’ rodeo cowboy. Some of you guys drive like that all the time. I’ve seen you. Entertaining to watch, good TV material, but easy to beat and not the best long-term plan.

2: PROPER CORNERING SPEED

The more powerful a car is, the slower it must be in the corner. This is why your Miata is still so much fun, even though it needs the entire straight at Road Atlanta to achieve a mere 110 mph.

For comparison, my 500-plus-horsepower K-Pax Volvo gets there by the time it reaches the peak of that little hill on the same straight. But, I must flat stop for the corners. I don’t think about it, I just park it.

It feels slow, but it lowers the lap times. It’s way easier than the Miata, and there’s lower risk—no hairball drifts skimming the curbs.

Have you noticed how the Miata seems so much more desperate than your M3? That’s because max apex speed is the Miata’s utter lifeblood. It lives or dies on that ragged-edge apex.

A World Challenge GT car is much calmer in the turn. No, really. All that acceleration demands a straighter exit. When we pour all that torque to the tires, the corner ends. Power straightens the line and that’s it. God made it that way.

The flip side is that the fastest turns become straights in a Miata. At Road Atlanta, my home track, that’s the Esses and Turn 12, and I do miss that. Drop into those Esses after a short shift to fifth in your M3, and you’ll find a ragged-edge drift not unlike the Miata low in third through Turn 7.

Powerful cars in fast corners are driven just like low-output cars in slow corners. This is why autocross is so valid as a learning tool. It teaches patience on the throttle.

1: PATIENCE, PATIENCE

So, what’s the number-one driving habit that I take for granted? Patience on the throttle.

Yep, waiting. Just sittin’ there letting the car get turned. The slower the corner, the longer I wait. So simple, yet so hard to do.

As driving guru Terry Earwood says, “If the car’s not going where you want, why would you want to go there faster?” This is also my number-one speed secret, by the way.

Your car is like a gun, and the throttle is the trigger. Pull the trigger only when you know you are pointed at the target. Use the horsepower for leaving the corner, not entering it. If the car is nervous when you turn in—a little tail-happy—then, okay, use some early power to stabilize it, but save acceleration for the apex. Then pit and adjust the car if it’s too loose on entry.


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Comments
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te72
te72 Reader
6/19/18 12:34 a.m.

Always good to read articles by Pobst. Explains a lot about how my Supra handles. Low torque off boost, wide, sticky tires all around, all conspires to make for an interesting car to drive. Have to try to enter a corner with a healthy amount of trail braking to get the rear to rotate in, once you're near the apex, floor it.

 

Takes a bit for the turbo to spool, and by the nose is pointed where you need it, and boost is coming on hard. Makes for a good time, but I would love to see someone with more experience teach me a thing or ten on how to extract more speed from it.

NOHOME
NOHOME UltimaDork
6/19/18 6:18 a.m.

That was a good read.

accordionfolder
accordionfolder Dork
6/19/18 6:39 a.m.

Funny, had professional coaching at my last track day and it sounded just like this article. He really pushed me to slow down, patience, patience, patience. Full brake pressure on threshold braking zones -  I was, as Randy so eloquently put, Bob Costasfooting around.  I always thought I was trail braking, but needed (and still need) more subtlety in my release of brake pressure and more patience getting on throttle. 

The most Interesting thing for me was the notes on the difference between momentum and power cars. 

te72
te72 Reader
6/19/18 9:35 p.m.
accordionfolder said:

The most Interesting thing for me was the notes on the difference between momentum and power cars. 

What did you take from that? I was rather tired when I read it last night, so I'm probably missing something. I gathered, take it a bit easier on power cars because you don't HAVE to carry every last bit of speed through the corner, and will go faster if you're a bit conservative. Would love to hear your interpretation.

 

My confusion might also source from having one of each. Miata, obvious momentum car, and Supra, power car. Where the line blurs a bit is that I did a lot in order to make the Supra drive more like the Miata...

accordionfolder
accordionfolder Dork
6/20/18 6:44 a.m.

In reply to te72 :

Take a look at these videos:

Viper 
https://youtu.be/_EDVNTcKRPs?t=1m14s

Miata
https://youtu.be/8TEHde-xkbk?t=1m30s

Same corner, check out the relative corner entry speeds of both (and how hard the miata is hitting it). Low speed corner you're having to wring a momentum car for all it's worth, in the power car you have to be patient and straighten out the corner as much as possible before giving it the beans.


Viper
https://youtu.be/_EDVNTcKRPs?t=32s

Miata
https://youtu.be/8TEHde-xkbk?t=25s

The Miata here is WOT up the hill, the Viper is tip-towing it up the hill compared to that.  "Powerful cars in fast corners are driven just like low-output cars in slow corners." Not the best direct comparison, down force car on street tires, and a spec miata on slicks - best I could find easily.

I don't think that point was super clear in the article. Of course, this is just how I'm reading it/understand it, take it with a grain of salt.

 

Armitage
Armitage HalfDork
6/20/18 8:47 a.m.

Good stuff. My car only has a 6 speed, so I'm not sure I can use all 8 secrets though.

accordionfolder
accordionfolder Dork
6/20/18 10:33 a.m.
Armitage said:

Good stuff. My car only has a 6 speed, so I'm not sure I can use all 8 secrets though.

I only have 5!? 

te72
te72 Reader
6/21/18 2:00 a.m.

In reply to accordionfolder :

So, takeaway for me sounds like, wait until it's pointed straight before flooring it in a powerful car. Makes sense, if you have great throttle response and a lot of torque all over the place. My car is a bit different though, it's pretty gutless off boost. Ever seen 80's F1? They had to get on the throttle SUPER early and time things just right or they either spun or lost time.

 

I think the part that's confusing me is the "low output cars in slow corners" idea. I'll freely admit I have minimal track time under my belt, and it's all been autocross or digital for me. In my Miata experience though, you can floor those things everywhere if they're stock. Almost have to... so to suggest that you keep the throttle pinned in a high output car in a fast corner seems a bit odd to me. Might just be how it's worded though, Randy's writing has gotten better over the years.

accordionfolder
accordionfolder Dork
6/21/18 10:11 a.m.

In reply to te72 :

I think you misunderstood what my interpretation was - that first set of videos is a lower speed corner (Road Atlanta 10a/b). The miata, to eek out a good lap time has to be right on the edge of the traction circle - i.e. Keeping it's momentum as high as possible. The Viper goes from 150+ -> 55mph for that turn (as Randy puts it's: "flat stop" for that corner) - for the Viper he's barely moving compared to the rest of the lap and relative speed - the Miata is flying around that corner compared to it's relative speed around track. 

The second set of videos is the esses at Road Atlanta, a higher speed corner (downhill initially, pretty fast - videos don't illustrate it super well). The Miata (a momentum car) is flat out until braking for 5 because of lack of push. If you tried to be flat out without throttle control heading into the esses in the downhill section in a high power car, it'd get ugly. I.e. it's a bit scarier here in the power car, while the momentum car is just flat out.

That is:
A high speed corner in a momentum car is relatively calm - a high speed corner in a power car is a bit hairy
A low speed corner in a momentum car is NOT calm, you have to keep the momentum up - in a power car is (generally) super calm, you can't open up the taps until you've straightened out anyways.

Or that's what I took from the article. Those videos aren't perfect examples btw. 

te72
te72 Reader
6/21/18 10:50 p.m.

In reply to accordionfolder :

Ok, ok, that makes a lot more sense than before. I appreciate you clarifying. I tend to learn better by experiencing, than reading, always have.

 

I think that's what makes a momentum car fun though, even if you aren't ACTUALLY going very fast, you definitely feel like it because you have to wring the little thing out for all it's worth. Also your "That is: " explanation perfectly exemplifies why my Miata fees much faster at slower speeds than the Supra. It probably isn't, it's just that the Supra feels like you're putting around at anything less than 70mph.

 

Again, thanks for clarifying! =)

accordionfolder
accordionfolder Dork
6/21/18 11:14 p.m.

In reply to te72 :

Agree on both fronts, I learn best trying and making a mess of it!

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