How to Effectively Analyze a Crash on the Track
Replay the video so you don’t repeat it, knucklehead.
Aftermath of the Aftermath
No one likes to crash, but if there’s one thing you need to know about motor racing, is that [email protected]#$ happens. From the unexpected to the downright rude, there’s a lot of ways to bin a race car. Almost everyone has done it, so ignoring the fact isn’t going to help much. Hopefully, you had some onboard video and now you’re sitting in front of your computer wondering how to keep a wreck from occurring. Here’s what to pay attention to when you analyze a crash video.
PRO TIP: Onboard video is very important both inside and outside of your car. The right setup can take a lot of guesswork out of what went wrong while providing valuable insight into how the car reacted to whatever caused your problem. Get some video equipment to maximize your results.
Recognize the Root
Over one million different excuses exist in the racing driver’s handbook to explain a crash. Each of the excuses is completely unique from each other. Whether the tires were too hot or too cold, there are a host of things we can tell ourselves that are simply ways to console our egos as opposed to facing the facts. Driver error alone accounts for a majority of crashes. Sure, the tires might have been going off after 45 minutes, but there are 1,000 other professional drivers who could have saved it. Conversely, just because someone is professional it doesn’t mean they are immune to simple mistakes. Being honest about what caused the problem starts with being honest about your inputs into the steering wheel, brake pedal, gas pedal and management of the vehicle’s weight transfer.
PRO TIP: Acknowledging driver error is part of the learning process. While it is ok to be upset after you stuff your pride and joy, it is not ok to be dishonest. If you truly want to learn and improve, don't pass the buck. If you are driving for a team this is the fastest way to lose your seat—data doesn’t lie.
Image courtesy of Engineering Explained
Know the Most Common Error
Before we get into mechanical failure or other people punting you off the course, it’s important to understand the most common error that causes a crash: improper weight transfer. A great example of this is to imagine a 90-degree corner that leads into a hairpin going the opposite direction. Taking the first corner too quickly can cause the back end to swing out, and if the weight isn’t managed properly the result is a guaranteed spin. Sudden lifts that transfer weight to the nose of the car will also mimic this effect which catches many inexperienced drivers off guard. To throw another scenario into the mix, hitting a rut in the road or taking the wrong line at the race track can cause a car to veer unexpectedly which may cause your steering work to go out of sync. All of these things deal with the weight of your car doing something you don’t expect or want it to do.
PRO TIP: Knowing how to drift is a great way to manage weight transfer. While it might seem counter-intuitive to a road racer, it’s all about what you do once the car has stepped over the limit which is exactly how you prevent a crash. I am currently working as a drifting coach in Southern California and have seen this benefit racing drivers of all disciplines.
Good quality audio and a great memory are two key ingredients for analyzing mechanical failure. With thousands of parts that make up a car, it can be difficult to get to the bottom of exactly what caused your problem, but these ingredients can help to remind you what a failure sounds like before it happens. In my entire life, I have never experienced driveshaft problems until racing at Circuit of the Americas in 2017. Onboard video shows me slowing down when I felt something strange in the car which turned out to be that exact part. Keeping this footage can allow you to learn what that particular sound is so you avoid problems the next time you go out.
PRO TIP: Every video is useful when it comes to learning and growing as a driver. Becoming an expert takes time so replay and study your videos as often as possible. Crashes aren’t fun, but you can learn a lot and become better from them. Pay equal attention to the audio and visual.
Dive Bomber Strikes Back
Lurking around every corner at the race track is the notorious dive bomber. He can’t get around you honestly, so he resorts to dirty tactics and ultimately chucks his car into turn 2 with such ferocity he smashes into you in a fit of tire smoke and twisted metal. Now, your race is over and you’re shaking your head while using colorful language. Video can be used to protest this sort of thing which helps avoid hearsay. I’ve seen this many times at the track so having a rearward facing camera is just as important as a forward facing one. Those concerned with the aerodynamic properties of a blocky square camera can look into companies like Chase Cam that provide streamlined solutions that open-wheel racers have been using for years. Crash analysis is about more than just your driving sometimes—it’s about letting race officials properly mediate an incident.
PRO TIP: Use two cameras at all times on a track car. By using the two in conjunction with each other you can often get down to the bottom of a multi-car pile up. Film is a vital tool you can use for cheap on the track.
Remember—You’re a Computer.
Your brain stores and processes information in a similar way to a computer, however, things go all kinds of sideways in a crash. Due to the heightened state of adrenaline, people tend to forget exactly what happened. So, the first step of any crash analysis is to watch the crash occur in full. As you watch, you'll want to visualize what was happening from your perspective so you can match the two up and jog your memory. Once you’re operating with a full perspective you can start to see exactly where you went wrong or how things led up to someone hitting you. Account for all the variables and you’re on your way to preventing any future incidents that were in your control.
PRO TIP: Give yourself time after a crash to settle down and let the adrenaline buzz wear off. Being calm will help you recall crucial information that might be the key to realizing the error of your ways. Wrecking a car sucks, but with these tips, it will suck a little bit less. Enjoy the track, be smart and drive safe.