You can learn to race, from start to 'Finish(Line)'
September 26, 2008
By Michelle Ferrier

The short description is a finishing school for drivers. No not just cars, but race car drivers.

For 20 years, Finish Line Racing School in Edgewater has offered driver development courses for local, national and international clients. In one of their several offerings, a three-day intensive course, students prep for the next step in their racing careers.

Krystal and Michael Loescher run the facility where safety is number one. Both Krystal and Mike have a long history in racing – Mike as a former NASCAR modified driver and Krystal as the first female driver on Team Valvoline and Finish Line racing school’s first student. Together, they bring a wealth of knowledge about cars, tracks and driving that has built their school’s reputation worldwide as the training ground for up-and-coming talent.

Oval Is The Sum Of Its Parts

Mike explains that in the straight line-curve-straight line-curve world of ovals, that there is only one right way to drive.

"You can't drive a straight line, break the car and then turn. That's wrong. You have to go down in the corner. When you're not in break or throttle, you can turn. As a driver, you have to perfect the curve by breaking into the turn... the steady break sets the car down on all fours on the entry point and that arc will make you faster and give you control."

Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yep, got that. Mike calls it “Learning the Line.” It’s all Greek to me. But to his students, it’s what they’ve come to learn.

Mike emphasizes this main point as he sits down with one class this spring comprised of two young racers - Gaby de la Merced and Dakoda Armstrong. While Dakota has raced in the U.S. as the youngest USAC champion at age 13, Gabi is from the Phillippines, where road racing is king and she is a rising queen as a Formula 3 driver. She's here in the states for a few days to master the ovals she wants to rule someday.

"It's a whole different style of racing. I do road races and this is the first time I'm doing ovals," Gaby said.

What the school teaches makes sense. If you "pinch" the corner, you'll be doing wheel correction, fight the car and wear yourself out.

The students are nodding their heads. The instruction is easy enough to hear, but challenging to put into practice. After classroom instruction at its Edgewater facility comes lap after lap of practice at New Smyrna Speedway, where students put their lessons to the test.

Style, In A Word: 'Smooth'

What Krystal, Mike and the team teaches is a style of driving where drivers learn the line, gaining control on the entry point into a curve, where the driver can accelerate because he or she is not fighting the car.

"No matter how you attack a corner," Mike explains, "the laws of physics apply... no matter where you are. Everything you do is going to be smooth, smooth, smooth."

Smooth is Mike's favorite word. Finding and getting the tires to set into a perfect arc -- smooth. Braking -- smooth. Acceleration -- smooth. As he and Krystal stand on the hauler, she times the drivers and he talks to them via headset through finding the line. Smooth.

Krystal emphasizes tire management. “The one who manages the tires better will win the race,” she said. B.J. McLeod, another instructor at the school, agrees.

“The car only touches the asphalt in four places, regardless of all the other components,” he said. The track condition, the chassis, the setup, the tire pressure all affect the tires.”

From Laps To Learning

After each set of laps, the driver and the coaches all huddle to discuss tactics and details for the next set of laps. The team at FinishLine can tell if a driver is off the mark by a couple of inches.

Dakoda says it's sinking in. He’s unlearning some habits.

“Most important is being consistent and running the same line each lap. This is my second time here... I came back to get used to a big car again after racing midgets.”

Gaby says she's getting the lesson.

“For a spectator, if you don’t know the technicalities of driving, it just looks like we’re going around in circles. But it’s down to every inch, you have to look at every detail,” she said.

"Finding that perfect arc... it's the sweet spot of the track. If you find it, there's less force on the car, less steering. It makes life easier in the car, much easier. It's like learning to dance with the car."
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