We had our first little taste of winter last week, with more possibly on the way this weekend. So, keeping in mind that very few of us have the car control ability of a Sebastian Vettel, Tony Stewart or Dario Franchitti, here are my annual winter driving tips.
First, a little basic physics. Say you're driving a 4,000 pound vehicle at 30 miles per hour -that's a serious amount of mass and inertia. This collection of steel, aluminum, glass, and plastic is tenuously connected to the road by four small tire contact patches, and any change in speed or direction must be transmitted through those patches. Anything that detracts from the tires' adhesion to the road (snow or ice for instance) tends to limit their response to your control inputs. Tires can transmit only three things from the vehicle to the road - acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction. There is a limit, determined by road surface, temperature, and other factors, of just how much of these inputs the tires can transmit before they lose grip. There is another factor, which is when the tire receives multiple inputs, such as braking and steering simultaneously. This creates a vector of the two forces, but reduces the absolute limit of either force.
OK, we'll let professor Einstein take a break now and put theory into practice. Say your vehicle can stop from 30 mph in 100 feet on dry asphalt pavement. On snow or ice, that distance is going to be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or may even approach infinity. Remember to slow down in slick conditions, and to increase your distance to the car in front of you. Otherwise, unintended Daytona style bump drafting may occur. Also remember the reference to vectors in our physics lesson. If you try to brake and turn at the same time on a slick surface, both your braking and turning performance will suffer. You will immediately experience what the race driver calls "push" and you will plow straight ahead with your wheels cranked to the right or left. Similarly, if you accelerate too hard while turning, you will be confronted with the condition racers call "loose". You will notice this when the rear of your car passes you.
The thing to remember is to use gentle inputs on all the controls. Brake early and progressively; turn slowly and smoothly, not jerking the steering wheel and accelerate smoothly, feathering the throttle. You also need to stay more alert in slick conditions. Get "up on the wheel" as Darrell Waltrip is fond of saying. Unfortunately, the level of concentration most people bring to their daily driving is just above comatose.
The technical and rule-making folks at NASCAR are busy poring over mountains of data collected at last week's Daytona testing. We may see some tweaks to one or more of the elements of the new Daytona package prior to the Shootout as a result.
Those elements consist of restrictor plate size, cooling system capacity, rear spoiler size, and mandatory spring rates. NASCAR is trying to break up the two-car tandem draft and get back to pack racing at the two restrictor-plate tracks, Daytona and Talladega. So we will probably see more of the old-style pack racing until the last 10 miles or so. Then I'm betting that no matter what NASCAR does, somebody will hook up in a bump draft to go to the front, hopefully taking the checkered flag before the pushing car's engine blows.
Friday night, NASCAR hosted the induction ceremony for the third class to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The better-known inductees this year are Darrell Waltrip (three Cup championships, 84 race wins), Cale Yarborough (three Cup Championships, 69 race victories), Dale Inman (Richard Petty's cousin and long-time crew chief), and Glenn Wood of the legendary Wood Brothers. Less well known is Richie Evans, who spent his career in NASCAR's Modified division. Evans won an estimated 475 races in approximately 1,300 starts, scoring nine championships before losing his life in a practice accident at Martinsville at age 44.