Part of being a racecar driver is learning new racetracks. There is always time to be gained through track familiarization. In recent decades, technology has certainly assisted drivers in this process with things like driving simulation games, YouTube videos of in-car footage, and satellite imagery. In 2019, NASA scheduled its National Championships at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. As a team from California, we had never had the opportunity to run the track, which was a disadvantage for us.
I flew to Ohio to attend the School at Mid-Ohio before the race to learn the track. It was an awesome experience, and I gained a ton from it. During the school, they used a white board with an outline of the Mid-Ohio track on it to teach us the line around the road course. I thought that was a great tool and wanted one, but knew the school would frown upon me stealing its stuff.
I decided my team needed our own white board track map of Mid-Ohio. So, to assist the rest of my team in understanding the intricacies of the road course in Ohio, I decided to create our own track map and place it on our own white board so we could make notes on the board and then erase them when we came up with a better braking point or apex line. Time to get to work.
Instead of trusting track maps of Mid-Ohio found online, I decided I wanted to trace the track myself from satellite images. I used Google Maps and started screen-capturing portions of the road course after zooming in as close as I could for clarity. Using about six separate images, I began to piece the track together into one image I could use to trace the track. Just the process of tracing the track in Google helped me familiarize myself with the shape of the road course.
Using Adobe Photoshop, I traced the inner and outer edge of the road course. I included landmarks like the pit road and bridges around the race track. To ensure the entire team — drivers, spotters, engineers and pit crew — would be using the same geographical references to the track, I labeled portions of the course so we would all be using the same nomenclature. I used the corner names like Keyhole, Madness and Thunder Valley to represent different portions of the track.
Our team has our own vinyl cutter for making graphics for our cars, something that has saved our team thousands of dollars over the years. We used the vinyl cutter to slice out the shape of the race track in black vinyl so we could add it to a white board. We use Vinyl Master Pro cutting software on a U.S. Cutter machine.
Once the vinyl cutter was done cutting the image into the vinyl, we had to pull away the vinyl we didn’t want and left behind the vinyl we wanted to keep — like the outline of the racetrack. This process is helpful with some tweezers. Once we had the image we wanted to keep we used transfer tape to get the sticker ready to place onto a white board.
I purchased a white board from Walmart for $20 — I found it in the back-to-school section — and used the white board’s dimensions to help design the track map sticker. The board had metal inside it so magnetic white board pens would stick to it. Vinyl material is inexpensive and after buying some multi-colored fine point white board pens the whole project only set me back about $30.
The final version of the white board track map came out just as I hoped it would. It provided a reusable surface for the team to discuss braking points, corner entry, apex locations, passing zones and spotter locations. We made hundreds of notes on it and then cleaned those notes away with an erasure and started over. It was an incredibly effective tool for our team, especially at a track we were originally unfamiliar with.
At the 2019 NASA National Championships presented by Toyo Tires at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in September, we were parked in Garage 4 and had our white board track map up on the wall. This became the focal point during the entire weekend and we had many discussions, and scribbled lots of notes on the board. Specifically, we continually made notes on braking zones into Keyhole and China Beach/Madness “Go deeper!” Other teams clued in on our little track map and made their way into the garage to use the map themselves. Did the white board track map help? Our team had never been to Mid-Ohio before and we finished first and second in Honda Challenge 4 during the Championships. I would say it helped immensely.
Rob Krider is a NASA Honda Challenge 4 National Champion and the author of the novel, “Cadet Blues.”
Some corners on a new track may be similar to a corner of a track you’re familiar with. For example, T5a at Indy is similar to T2 at Laguna Seca, so the technique used at LS would apply to Indy. Reduces experimenting if you already have a baseline from a track you’ve driven.
Why not just simply project the track image to the white board and trace the outline of the track with grease pens? Projectors are cheap.