It is a cold December, the NASA Championships are completed and the checkered flag at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill has flown. That means it is officially the off-season for NASA racing. However, that doesn’t mean you should be sitting on your couch stuffing breakfast burritos in your mouth while binging “Drive To Survive” on Netflix for the third time. If you want to win in 2024, you need to be working on improving yourself, improving your car and improving your team for the upcoming season. Winning doesn’t wait for anyone, and I’m a firm believer that solid preparation before an event gives you the best shot at success when the green flag drops. What you need to be working on is what I call your Motorsports Triangle.
I had the honor of being a guest on the Speed Secrets Podcast Episode 155 hosted by retired IndyCar racer and famed driver coach Ross Bentley. There are plenty of NASA racers who have read the numerous outstanding books written by Ross Bentley on being a better racecar driver — if you haven’t, I highly recommend checking them out. Ross and I raced alongside each other during One Lap of America which is a cross-country time trial event sanctioned by NASA. What Ross and I discussed on his podcast, and what can be concentrated on by any racer and team during the off-season, is the concept of the Motorsports Triangle.
The Motorsports Triangle is a concept I developed for helping my team understand the different components of a racing organization and how those components work together synergistically to give the driver everything he or she needs. By concentrating specifically on the car, the infrastructure and the strategy can provide a solid foundation for everything a driver will need when the green flag drops. A triangle is a very strong geometric shape. If you are an architecture nerd, you will understand what I am talking about. You have three points of this triangle.
At the top is the car. You need a good car. You can’t win a Spec Miata race if you are down 20 horsepower. At the base of the triangle are two things: infrastructure – a good team holding you up, and strategy – a good plan to execute. Now these three parts of the triangle, the car, the infrastructure and the strategy they are all surrounding a circle in the middle of the triangle. And inside that circle is you, the oftentimes overly confident driver.
The driver will not be successful if he or she is driving a poor car, has no support system (infrastructure) and if he doesn’t have a good plan (strategy). As we say on our race team, Double Nickel Nine Motorsports, “There’s no plan, like no plan.” On our team, we have recognized that to overcome a lack of Formula 1-level driving talent, we need to ensure everything around the driver is perfect. This concept isn’t just for endurance racing teams with lots of crew members. A racing organization can be a massive team like Red Bull F1 or a one-man show, which it often is for amateur racers.
The Motorsports Triangle comes down to one word: confidence. Confidence can get you far in life. In racing, confidence is something a driver absolutely must have. But, confidence doesn’t guarantee you will win races. If you are in a 16th-place car, and you are confident that you will earn pole position, reality is about to smack you in the face like the wall at Indy. It ain’t gonna happen. Confidence is good, but it cannot defy the laws of physics. In racing, we use a lot of physics to win.
Like most racecar drivers, admittedly, I am a confident guy, but I recognize I’m not Max Verstappen. Even though I do not possess Max’s talent, I have still won multiple road racing national championships. I won those championships by shoring up the other things that can make a driver a winner. Things like a well-prepared car, solid race strategy and a deep infrastructure of support. To win races, I didn’t rely solely on aggressive driving, last-minute insane passes in the rain, or a head filled with red mist. Instead, I used a good car, strategy and infrastructure to make up for my lack of talent in the driver seat.
I’ve won races in good cars and I’ve won races in bad cars. I risked my life a lot less winning races in good cars. While in bad cars, I found myself putting the car into unsavory situations to block other drivers, or I found myself running the car at the absolute ragged edge just to keep the car out front. That hardcore edge has resulted in car fires, blown engines, and cars being upside down. Let me be clear here, when you are upside down, you won’t be winning the race. Trust me. My team has tried it and was extremely unsuccessful.
Having a well prepared car, maximized for the rules, triple-checked, tested, and ready when it comes off the trailer, will allow you to run up front. We discussed this concept specifically in a previous Toolshed Engineer “How To Find Your Next Racecar Without Compromises.” Obviously, in racing the car is a huge component, and that is why it is at the top of the Motorsports Triangle. However, the car is just the tip of the spear. The other points of the triangle, the base — the infrastructure and strategy — is what will allow that car to be a winner.
When I say the word infrastructure, I’m talking about all of the systems of the team, even the team itself, that keep the car on track and help it finish races. You cannot win races if you don’t finish races. Infrastructure is: volunteer crew members, motorhomes, trailers, radios, tools, organized spare parts, backup cars, checklists, even hot dogs and hamburgers for the team. All of those things help a team to solve problems during a long race weekend.
Trust me on this, if you are at the track, regardless if it is a road race, Time Trial or an HPDE event, problems are heading your way. It is your infrastructure that will help you mitigate those problems so you can succeed on track. For example, if you race a Honda product and you don’t have a spare distributor in your race trailer, then you are going to have a short race weekend. If you do have a brand new, ready to install, with all the tools ready to quickly make the swap, distributor ready to go, well, then you might find yourself at the top of the podium on Sunday spraying champagne.
Strategy is simply having a plan. Specifically, a plan for things like race starts, season-long championship points, understanding the rules, being ready for a protest, race craft, pit stops during endurance races, driver lineup, managing tires, and organizing renewable resources. These are all part of strategy. Everything in racing is based on a set of rules and regulations. Think of racing as a board game, and you have to move throughout the game board based on the rules of the game. The person who knows those rules the best, has the chance to roll the dice a second time, move their game piece forward and improve their odds of winning. Knowledge is power. So, for a racing team, you want to be the most educated when it comes to the rules of engagement. Short answer: have a good plan. Be smart. Read the rules. And then implement your plan.
This incredibly strong triangle of the car, infrastructure and strategy, is all surrounding the driver. This Motorsports Triangle allows the driver to have a chance be successful, now it is up to the driver to make it happen. Now that driver can use all of the Speed Secrets he has picked up over the years from Ross Bentley and put those driving skills to work. He or she doesn’t have to think about the car, the spotter’s radio battery dying or if someone on the crew got their pit pass, the Motorsports Triangle took care of those details already. The driver just has to drive. This is a good thing because a confident driver in a well prepared car, with lots of support around him and a good race strategy will be up front when the green flag drops. A solid Motorsports Triangle will offer a driver even more confidence — real confidence — because they know they are surrounded by all the things they need to be successful on track. All that is left to do is go fast.
So, that is the Motorsports Triangle concept, Car at the top, Infrastructure and Strategy at the bottom, all of this surrounding the driver. Preparation is the key. If you organize and facilitate those three systems prior to going to the racetrack, you have inevitably built a successful racing team.
Professional teams use the Motorsports Triangle every day, but an amateur driver can employ this same concept to improve his or her racing effort to mimic what the pros are doing. So, build your own triangle, set yourself up for success and then drive hard and find yourself first at the checkered flag.
Rob Krider is a four-time NASA Honda Challenge 4 National Champion and the author of the novel, “Cadet Blues.”