Valuable Lessons
FinishLine Racing School

By Greg MacPherson

By the time most people have reached their 20s, theyíve had enough of school. Theyíve lost their patience for sitting and listening. In short, whether or not itís the actually the case, most of us think we know it all.

But one indication of a personís intelligence is their willingness to learn. For several years, a flock of smart Canadians have ventured south to attend the Finish Line Racing School.

With courses throughout the southeast, the school offers lessons to drivers to improve their driving skills and chassis lessons for their teams. One trip to any of the Finish Line locations is usually enough for the students to wish they were going back to school for good.

And the results are evident. During the recent CASCAR Castrol Super Series season, the drivers who attended the school did remarkably well. And all were glowing in their praise for Finish Line and its driving force, Mike Loescher.

In terms of victories, FinishLine Racing School grads took a total of seven checkered flags this season in CASCAR features. Kevin Dowler and Ron Beauchamp Jr. each took a pair, while Dan Shirtliff, Carl Harr and John Gaunt all won single mains. Additionally, Beauchamp also won the Super Series East title.

In all, Finish Line racing school students made it onto the podium a total of 18 times in í98 (nine in the East, six in the West and three times in National events).

"I went the winter before last. Iíve got nothing but good things to say about the race school," said Ron Beauchamp. "Theyíre great people."

Beauchamp credits Loescher and the FinishLine Racing School for improving his technique. "He [Loescher] taught me a lot about entering and exiting the corners. I used to bring the car in a lot harder. Mike showed me where to put the car into the corner and how to bring it in a little softer. That allows you to get on the gas sooner. He just taught me a whole different driving style. I really started using what he told me and itís made a big difference."

According to Beauchamp, Loescher also stressed the need to protect the car.

"You spend like 10 hours in the shop just doing the setup and alignment and then, if you go out and rub wheels just once, you can knock the whole thing out of whack in one lap. I learned to back out of a close situation just for that reason."

Pete Vanderwyst went to the Finish Line Racing School last year for driving tips. His crew also attended. Ever since, the St. Thomas racer has stayed in constant touch with Loescher.

"I do stuff with them every year. Theyíre great people to deal with. I wanted to go down again this year Ė if I could, with time, Iíd probably go every year. Last year, Mike Loescher came up and worked with the whole team. On the driving side, he worked with me a lot on being smoother. Heís a smart dude. I think he made me smoother and my team thinks he did, too. He also knows a lot about chassis work and combinations."

Edmontonís Kevin Dowler brought his crew to New Smyrna to attend the Finish Line school, this past February. The former road racer felt the difference almost immediately and credits the school for his improved fortunes.

Thanks for consistency

"Thanks to Finish Line racing school for our consistency this year. It was more than just me. It was the crew, too, because they took the chassis school. We just picked up the details and they make all the difference. You gotta slow down to go fast."

Former National and Eastern champion Dan Shirtliff attended the race school at Martinsville Speedway and learned some new things about different cars and the track itself.

"I got a few things from that race school. The biggest thing I got out of it was comparing different kinds of cars. One was a stock-clip car Ė very similar to a CASCAR. The other a coil-over, All-Pro car and I just couldnít believe the difference in how the two of them drove. That was the biggest surprise to me.

"I also got some good tips from Mike on how to drive a high-horsepower car, because itís been a long time since Iíve been in a car like that. CASCARís been stepping up their power, but not like that.

"And the Martinsville Speedway is a tricky place. I never knew it from watching on TV that itís got a couple grooves. If you mess up there, youíll be going half a second slower and you wonít hardly know what you did. Itís that tricky. And if you watch Winston Cup qualifying from there Ė and I did quite closely Ė it helps you to relate with what youíre watching."

To say that Shirtliff was impressed is an understatement.

"When I got home, I told both my sons [Kyle and Corey] when they get their diplomas, Iím going to take them to the school, together. I was really impressed with the way they ran the school. Theyíre highly organized and very concerned about safety. The young kids there really do need to learn that, rather then get into something and then learn."

Some of the most interesting testimonials for Finish Line racing school come from a father and son pair from Alberta. Edmontonians Carl and Daryl Harr both took the race school, at St. Augustine Speedway, in February. Carl, the CASCAR veteran, perceived an improvement in his own style. But more importantly, the elder Harr thought the school offered an incredible opportunity for his 16 year-old son, Daryl, to prepare for his rookie season on the CASCAR Super Series.

"I know Mike Loescher and Daryl have exchanged communication and e-mail throughout the year. I saw one note from Daryl, to Mike that kind of sums it all up.

"In the last race, in Calgary (Sept. 12), when Daryl was sitting in third place and had Don Sales coming up on his rear end, Daryl said he just sat back and pretended Mike [Loescher] was in the helmet with him. When youíre at the school, Mike talks to you on the radio every lap. Daryl was saying that all that was going through his head for the last 25 laps was, "lift, set, squeeze, smooth." I know Daryl thinks the guy is God."

Daryl confirms his fatherís assertions. "Mike did an awesome job with me. I made the same mistake in Calgary that I made at St. Augustine in February. I wrecked one of the race school cars, too. But as the season went on, I remembered all the things that Mike told me. Iíd relax and remember what he told me and Iíd start to turn perfect laps."

Incidentally, Harr won both the National and Eastern Rookie of the Year honors this past season and concluded the campaign with a podium showing on Race Cityís (Calgary) half-mile oval.

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