WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN
Chances are, if you go to any karting event, be it pavement or dirt, sprint or enduro, 2- cycle or 4-stroke, you’ll see the same drivers winning, week after week. And you’ll see others; drivers with seemingly all the best equipment, who never seem to find their way to the front. If you ask these karters why they can’t seem to get to the winner’s circle they’ll most likely tell you it’s because they don’t have the latest chassis, or the secret tire dope, or some other excuse. If you’re one of these drivers, well, just flip past the rest of this article. If you’ve got good equipment and can’t win because you don’t have the “secret stuff” that the winners run, I can’t help you here. But if you’re really committed to doing well at the racetrack, if you’re serious about moving out of the pack and to the front, and if you’ll willing to take a hard, dispassionate look at your karting effort to get there, read on.
To begin with, it’s critical to understand that winning is not an event. It’s a process. Being the first driver across the finish line comes as a result of several factors, some tangible, some not. Since non-winners are always quick to point at the equipment, let’s start there. While it’s important to have a good quality competitive chassis, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get to the top of the podium in last year’s model. Same goes for engines, tires, etc. Taking the time to understand how the chassis works best, learning how to tune the engine for best performance, and how to get the most out of the tires is the important first step. That means testing, and plenty of it. Do you think the top NASCAR or IRL teams just show up at the track on Friday and set up for Sunday’s race? Those teams use the days between Sunday afternoon and Friday maintaining and testing their cars. So should you.
Some karters show up at the track with their karts exactly like they were, sometimes with the same mud still on them, when they left the track the week before. Then they expect, by some miracle, the kart to be faster or more competitive than it was last week. Someone once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. Even if your schedule or the track’s availability means that you can’t do dedicated testing between races, you can still use that time to analyze what the kart was doing, what about that needed to be better, and how you might change it to get the desired improvement. Then, when you come to the track you can be prepared to test those changes to see if you figured right.
We’ll talk more about the testing stuff in a minute, but first I want to discuss the maintenance side of things. We’ve all heard the old saying “To finish first, you must first finish.” Add to that, “To win, you must have a kart capable of winning.” Racers who put the kart away after each race and don’t touch it again until they load up to go back to the track are programming their effort to fail. Race karts require meticulous, almost continuous maintenance. Bearings need to be inspected, clutches rebuilt, welds checked, and nuts and bolts examined and tightened. Almost everything on your kart wears, vibrates, or is stressed in some way. Taking the time to make sure that your machine is as good as it can be will go a long way toward getting you to the checkered flag. And an added bonus of this routine maintenance is that you will become more and more familiar with your kart and all its components. The more you understand how all of the pieces work to get you around the track, and how they wear and fail, the better you’ll be equipped to tune and adjust them for best performance. The best plan is to develop a detailed maintenance plan to be completed each week between races. Make a checklist and use it every time. Commit to spending at least one evening each week cleaning, checking, and adjusting every component. Start at the front of the kart and work back, checking things off the checklist as you go. You’ll be amazed at the number of problems you uncover using this approach, and even more amazed at how much better you’ll run next time you go racing.
Now back to testing. Whether you have the luxury of taking a day between races for dedicated testing, or you have to do your testing on raceday during practice sessions, you have to test if you want to improve. For successful, winning drivers, there is never enough time to test. There is always one more combination to try, one more adjustment to make. Dedicated, non-raceday testing obviously offers the advantage of more track time, but regardless, the first rule of successful testing is to have a testing plan. You need to show up with the kart ready to go and a predetermined series of things to test and evaluate. While time does not always permit, try to make as few changes between test runs as possible so you can keep track of what changes had what effect. And don’t run any more laps that you need to evaluate a particular testing change. There is no point in losing valuable testing time running lap after meaningless lap. Go out for just long enough to determine whether the change you are testing was better or worse. Then come in and move to the next item on the plan. Sound rigorous? You bet it is. But the guys winning races have been doing it all along and now they make it look easy. It’s not.
The final piece of the winning puzzle is the driver. Wishing you could win is not enough. Talent, though helpful, is not enough. You need to take an active role in your karting success. Honestly evaluate your level of effort and commitment. If you’re not working every week on your racing program, maintaining and improving your equipment, developing your tuning skills, and watching successful drivers to pick up driving tips, your effort is doomed to stay where it is. Right now, before the season is too far along, make a list of the things that broke, fell off, or didn’t work right during the past season.
Develop that list into a checklist to use every week between races. And make a mental list of what you could have done differently as a driver. Were you ready to go on the track as soon as you unloaded? You can bet the front runners were. Prepare your equipment to win. And even more so, prepare yourself to win.
The bottom line here is that winning is a SKILL; a series of learned behaviors that can be practiced and developed and honed. Non-winners become winners by learning to do the things that winners do. Winners make winning look easy because they’ve learned how to do it. AND, winning is a habit, like any other habit. Once you start winning, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to keep winning. Once you equipment is in winning shape, properly maintained and tuned, you can concentrate on driving to the front. Slower drivers will learn to expect to see you passing them and will let you by. Fancy paint jobs and 40-foot trailers don’t make winners out of losers. Perseverance, commitment, careful preparation and attention to detail, and a relentless drive to succeed do.
See you in the winner’s circle!
We now have instructional videos to share with you. Our goal at Fox Valley is always to help make your karting experience better. Click below to access our growing library of helpful videos to help you learn more and have more fun. Let us know how you like these and let us know if there are any topics that you’d like us to address in future videos.
2020 was, for the most part, a year to forget. But, as the pandemic subsides, we can all look forward to an exciting and active 2021 racing season. Everywhere you look, full race schedules are popping up for Sprint tracks, Dirt tracks, Road Racing, and Vintage Karting events.
Here at Fox Valley we are anxious to get back to the track, to renew old friendships, and to meet new karters. Last year's slowdown in karting activity has worked a real hardship on racers everywhere, but most especially on karting retailers across the country. Operating on slim margins, many put in countless hours for minimal return; not because they expect to reap huge profits, but because they love the sport and the people who are in it. We hope that, whereever your are, and whatever form of karting you participate in, you'll take a moment to thank the shop or engine builder you patronize. Without people who are willing ot make the investment, stock the parts, and provide the services we all need, karting can't exist. Karting can't exist without karters, and karters can't exist without suppliers to support them. Let them know how much you appreciate them. It matters.
Now let's get out to the track and have some fun!!
After months of delays and false starts, it looks like we can start heading back to the racetrack at last. Here in central Indiana both asphalt and dirt tracks are opening up for practice and races, but things are certainly different than they were before Covid-19: masks are a common sight, social distancing is an off-and-on thing, and we are all just feeling our way along. Regardless of how you feel about the pandemic, there is no denying that it has changed the landscape.
Karting is, after all, largely a social event. And while some of the organizers may be making efforts to keep karts socially distanced and masked, and taking our temperatures, we are social creatures. We want to visit with our karting friends, we want to hang out after the races and have a beer. This situation is tough. For those of you that are in the at-risk groups, or have a little cough, or just don’t feel quite well; do us all a favor and stay home. And if you aren’t comfortable getting back into a crowd yet, that’s ok. We’ll see you at the track again soon.
If you do decide to head to the kart track, please take this health crisis seriously.
Abide by the personal safety rules of the track, of the local and state officials, and of the CDC and other health experts. We’re all anxious to get back to “life as normal”, whatever that may be. We all do what we do because we love racing, we love the purity of karting, and we love the people who also love those things. Let’s get back to doing what we love. As long as we’re smart about it, we will have years of karting ahead of us. Be well and stay safe.
Well, it's pretty hard to put a positive spin on this one; it looks like much of the 2020 karting season may be in jeopardy. Regardless of how you feel about the reported threat of the Corona Virus, schools and universities, professional and amateur sports, and all sorts of other organizations are hitting the "pause" button.
At Fox Valley Kart we are particularly disappointed to see the cancellaiton of the 2020 Purdue Grand Prix race. We have made a decades-long commitment to the event and to all the participants. We will continue to support the Grand Prix Foundation and look forward to the running of the event in the spring of 2021.
We remain committed to supporting the Fall Grand Prix Series at Whiteland for Grand Prix teams to sharpen their skills and have some fun with their Grand Prix karts.
As for the rest of the 2020 racing season, we look forward to attending and supporting races, and racers, at Vintage Karting Associaiton events, and at Sprint, Road Racing, and Dirt events throughtout the Midwest. Each of us can look at the "hiatus" in the racing calendar however we choose; we at Fox Valley choose to look at it as an opportunity. More time to get those little projects done on the kart that might have been delayed; time to work on building a larger footprint with customers and potential customers; time to save up a little extra cash to hit more races once this is all over. And, of course, more opportunities to chat on the phone, or on the internet, or in person about karting and karting related topics with customers and friends. Remember, this sport is ultimately about people. When each of us finally sees that final checkered flag coming, it won't be the races we've won that we will rmeember; it will be the people we've met along the way.
Stay well, and keep in touch.