Getting To The FinishLine
by David Miller
As Featured in Circle Track Magazine
S0 YOU'RE GONNA' GO RACING. MAYBE you're a beginner
- maybe not. Maybe you're an aspiring king of racing - maybe not. No matter what
path of racing you want to take, a lot of things have to be solidly in place for
any racer to be Successful. If you eliminate all the things that are needed
regarding great chassis, engines, crew help, and the like, what's left is the
information a driver, new or experienced, has in his head.
New racers will have a range of feelings from apprehension to ambition, but of
course racing experience is lacking. Experienced racers will have the same
emotions plus track-time experience. In either case, much of the success of
driving a race car comes from knowledge accumulated from actually being behind
Race-car driving comes naturally to some, but to others it takes a lot of seat
time to get proficient. A lot of what racers learn about driving comes from
talking among themselves then sifting through it all and determining what works
and what doesn't. Of course, this is a time-tested way to learn how to drive a
race car. The problem is that a racer can learn the wrong things, and it can
take a lot of time and a lot of torn up equipment to unlearn bad habits or
So what is the answer to this dilemma? Well, there are several possible
solutions. One is to not race. OK, so that's not a real option. What about
personal lessons from King Richard, Dale Earnhardt, or Jeff Gordon? I don't
think so! How about this one-go to school.
You've probably seen the ads for many of these driving schools, and they appear
to be in all areas of the country. Most schools seem to offer a variety of
programs tailored to different experience levels and budget constraints (see our
listing of some of the many schools available). One such
place is FinishLine Racing School based out of Edgewater, Florida, just south of
Daytona. Mike and Kristal Loescher are the owners and operators of the school,
which specializes in training drivers in short-track environments at four
different speedways. The Loescher's have been instructing for 10 years and the
courses are based on their 30 years of championship racing.
CIRCLE TRACK joined a class so we could experience
firsthand the kind of race driving education that is available. For three
days, we were permitted to be a part of a class that had participants ranging in
experience from beginner to pro. Each class member came to the school with the
specific goal to learn basic skills or improve on existing skills and, of
course, to have fun.
Let's begin with a quick look at the company's facility. The home base is a
complete racing operation that houses the variety of race cars available from
FinishLine. The race vehicles range from NASCAR Late Model Stock to Craftsman
Trucks. Supported by an in-house staff, all of the race cars are built and
meticulously maintained within the confines of the FinishLine compound. Besides
the driving programs, the organization also offers a mechanics and chassis
seminar. The school has seen students such as Adam Petty, Ricky Hendrick, and JD
and Coy Gibbs. Even Bob Bondurant has been through this school.
The driving classes offered by FinishLine have several variations. The courses
range from a one- to three-day version of training. The different lessons are
designed to meet a broad range of driving learning experiences. Our
participation was in the premier three-day version, which begins in the
classroom for orientation and safety instruction. Next, the course moves to the
track, where a complete track walk-around occurs. This is followed by a drive
around the track in passenger cars.
Next comes a check of all the racing apparel for safety standards. Students may
bring their personal equipment, and those without equipment are provided with
race wear. In either case, FinishLine is serious about safety, and any equipment
not meeting strict safety standards is not permitted.
Then comes the real feel of the track with a five-lap ride around the track with
Mike at the wheel. This is the first opportunity for students to feel the
racetrack in realistic racing conditions. Once this phase is complete, it's time
for each pupil to get behind the wheel of the car.
Behind the Wheel
Over the three-day course, each driver receives instruction during 11 rotations
of actual driving time. The first rotation consists of eight laps, and each
subsequent rotation is 13 laps. This means each student receives 138 total laps
of seat time over the three-day period.
The driving experience is very thorough, and each day is filled with first rate
seat time and quality instruction. As each driver prepares to get in the car,
there is a final safety check to make sure the helmet, gloves, shoes, ear piece,
and driving suit are all in order.
Next, it's time to buckle up and thoroughly check radios and other systems for
proper operation. With all systems ready, it's time to fire up and go out on the
track. While on the track, each driver is in constant radio communication with
Mike Loescher. It's a one way communication that effectively coaches drivers
through the 1/2-mile course.
At the end of each rotation, Mike debriefs; drivers on their performance. Each
student receives time sheets that provide lap and corner times. Armed with this
data, each pupil is able to compete with his or her own time to improve from one
rotation to the next.
Between driving cycles, all the participants are encouraged to talk among
themselves to compare notes on personal performances. These informal periods
tend to yield some excellent interaction between students on driving concerns.
It also provides a time for building a class team spirit and individual
As the course moves into its final day, each driver has received a substantial
amount of direct coaching and is now prepared to make the best of it. By the
time the final rotation arrives (all too soon), the participants take their last
laps with less and less voice communication from Mike. In other words, the birds
are kicked out of the nest and allowed to take an on-their-own approach to the
At the end of it all, everyone is given a sheepskin symbolic of their graduation
from the FinishLine Racing School. The certificate is nice but can't do real
justice to the excellent education provided to the class members.
The FinishLine Racing School is serious about safety concerns, and among the
many high-quality safety parts used in its cars are Borgeson collapsible
steering shafts and U-joints.
The collapsible shafts were chosen for the extra safety they offer a race
driver. The Borgeson 24-inch shaft is designed to collapse 6 1/2 inches in the
event of an impact. To accommodate other steering configurations, it's possible
for the shaft to be shortened by 4 inches and still maintain the safety
The U-joints lend extra driver safety and comfort, because they are designed to
eliminate backlash or radial play with no maintenance required. The joints are
made from high-grade chrome-moly steel.
Borgeson offers other safety oriented products such as vibration reducers,
telescoping, and much more.
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