NASCAR drivers have a lot to think about while racing. When you watch a race that lasts 300 to 500 miles, you will notice drivers must constantly change their strategy based on how the race flows. You may wonder if NASCAR drivers memorize tracks before racing, or if they just act on instinct.
NASCAR drivers memorize the track days before they climb into the car on race day. While they must adjust to how a race plays out, memorizing the track’s layout lets drivers know the right time to ease on the throttle as they speed into the turn and when to engage on a straightaway.
You may relate to how drivers have to memorize every last banking and turning degree on every track they race on. It is really no different than memorizing job responsibilities. Below, we will discuss the step-by-step method on how NASCAR drivers memorize each track.
NASCAR drivers memorize tracks as they understand they are more than ovals that require left turns for 300 to 500 miles. The turning degrees and banking are different at each track. They have different surfaces, and they even differ in width. Memorizing these details is essential for success.
While they are both superspeedways, Daytona and Talladega hold staunch differences in their turns alone. Daytona’s turns retain the same banking while Talladega’s do not. Daytona’s banking in the straightaway is two while Talladega’s is three.
The same thing goes for identical tracks like Texas, Atlanta, and Charlotte. They are all speedways, but none have the same banking. Of the three, Texas features different banking in their turns. If drivers and their teams believed identical tracks were exactly alike, they made a huge mistake.
Given the vast differences each track offers, it is safe to say NASCAR drivers memorize every single track on the circuit. It takes intensive study and application to memorize each, and it goes far beyond driving a few practice laps in the days leading up to the event. While we discussed how even similar tracks hold major differences, the type of track for the next race can vary even more.
Sometimes, they are traditional ovals. Other times, tracks are tri-oval superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega. Other tracks on the NASCAR circuit, like Darlington, have drastically different turning degrees featuring a wide turn at one end and a narrow turn at the other.
After they spend hours memorizing track features like straightaway length and banking, drivers will have memorized every inch of the track come race day, just as an NFL quarterback memorizes an opposing defense’s tendencies in every single game situation.
NASCAR drivers memorize different tracks by studying the basic layouts, watching film of previous races and by driving practice laps, both in a simulator and at the track itself. This combination of classroom study and practical application allows them to fully memorize each track.
Before a driver takes to the track for the first time, it is common for them to gain insight on the basic layout of the track on which they are racing. If it is a track they have never been to, drivers will seek information on the banking, surface, conditions, and varying turning degrees.
Watching film from past races helps drivers familiarize themselves with the track and to develop an initial strategy. That strategy is subject to change depending on what kind of surprises the race brings.
Once drivers watch ample film, they can figure out issues like throttle and braking points, when to push and draft, and where on-track incidents are likely to occur. This gives them a solid idea on what to expect before they climb into their car for a few practice runs.
Think of a NASCAR practice as the practical application of learning something new or maintaining credentials for a job. If you are being paid to operate a crane, you sit in the classroom first, then operate it once you learn the ins and outs. The same concept applies for NASCAR drivers. Following film sessions and collaboration with their team, they will go out and drive their car on the track.
A NASCAR driver’s initial practice is the application part. However, even experienced drivers must practice and memorize the layout of a track they’ve raced at many times in the past. Track conditions, even familiar ones like Daytona, will change on a yearly basis.Experienced drivers know this, which is why you see them out there practicing for as long as their less-experienced peers.
NASCAR drivers spend the entire week watching past races, learning what worked and what didn’t at a particular track. Then, they hop into their car to apply what they learned on the track. By race day, a driver will know the entire track layout. They know the banking, the turning degrees, and how their car responds at each turn. They also know where on the track their car runs the fastest.
With so many tracks on the NASCAR circuit, just think about how easy it is for a NASCAR driver to momentarily forget which track they were at.Especially when fatigue sets in, which can cloud mental clarity.
It takes one small lapse in concentration to dive into the turns and strategize as though they were at Darlington instead of Atlanta. Drivers are professionals, but they are also human, and therefore, prone to making mistakes.
Whether it is NASCAR or another professional sporting event, you can probably recall a time where an athlete made a simple mental error, such as running the wrong route during an NFL game or turning left instead of right after they ran through to first base during an MLB game. These simple errors can lead to disaster in all sports.
NASCAR drivers practice by taking both mental and physical reps of driving the car. From studying each track’s basics, to film study to driving on the track itself. Practicing racing a NASCAR car is a full body task that starts weeks before the race and involves everything from nutrition to driving.
You may have played a sport or an instrument or taken part in a play. You might even drive go-karts, midgets, or even stock cars. Regardless of your endeavor, you know how much practicing goes into it.
For NASCAR drivers, practice involves more than just getting a feel for and memorizing a track. While this is important, so drivers know how to handle specific portions of the track on race day, a NASCAR driver’s practice for the next race really begins the minute they return to team headquarters.
On the plane home, drivers give feedback to their team on how the car ran and they collaborate for the next race. They relay as much information as they can so the team can tweak the car and haul the improved ride to the next venue. Once drivers fill their teams in on what worked and what didn’t for their car, their preparation for the following race may begin as early as the following morning.
In the 21st century, physical and mental health have become paramount across the sports landscape, and NASCAR is no exception. Theirdrivers adopt exercise and nutritional programs, and they even engage in mental health exercises like meditation. This is done for several reasons. It’s mainly because mental exercises help give drivers clarity and focus,allowing them to perform better.
Drivers need to remain light, as even their bodyweight can influence their car’s performance. NASCAR drivers must keep a nutritional program to both keep in shape and to stay hydrated. The latter is especially important since they will be practicing in a hot car at least twice during the week. A fitness program is crucial for them to reach peak performance for practicing or racing.
Drivers run practice laps, but if you watch a NASCAR practice, you may realize they are not racing one another. They may pull side by side and engage in drafting at times. But they are really gaining a feel for the track and how the car runs in the turns and on the straightaway.
While their initial feedback with the team occurs on the plane ride home, drivers run practice laps to give further feedback. They also protect their car during practice from both damage and excessive wear, since they only want to be on the track long enough to ensure their feedback is accurate.
Drivers will experiment riding high, low, or in the middle of the track, taking mental notes on how their car reacts.If you watch a NASCAR practice, you will see even the most experienced drivers trying something new, testing their car’s reaction.
They answer the tough questions, such as how well their car breaks out of a turn, how fast it accelerates on the straightaway, and how it responds to a draft. The more information they can unlock about the car after their team makes necessary adjustments, the better their racing strategy can be.
While NASCAR drivers memorize each track to gain a feel for the surface and learn the banking, they also practice throughout the week to experiment with how their car responds the best at a respective venue. A driver’s track memory lets them, and their cars, operate at peak performance on race day.
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