When NASCAR drivers take part in an event, they realize tenths of a second will serve as the difference between a win or a narrow second-place finish. So, being able to control the car with precision using both feet is key for NASCAR drivers.
NASCAR drivers may use both feet if they believe left foot braking gives them an advantage during a race. However, most will use whichever braking technique feels more natural to them. Sometimes, it’s left foot braking, but there are no guarantees it will give them an edge.
Left foot braking may give some drivers advantages, but it is also a tough technique to master. Below, we will discover why many NASCAR drivers brake with their left foot. We will also explore whether other braking techniques are equally as effective.
Left foot braking occurs when a driver brakes with their left foot instead of their right. However, they continue to use their right foot to push the throttle. Outside of the NASCAR circuit, drivers engage in left foot braking because it either feels natural, or because an ailment prohibits them from using traditional right foot braking.
This practice isn’t normally used in cars with a manual transmission since those vehicles require a clutch that the left foot operates, and the clutch requires more force than the brake pedal, so an accidental bit of left foot braking can stop the car much faster than you might expect! However, left-foot braking is not discouraged for drivers operating vehicles with an automatic transmission.
Some experts encourage drivers who operate automatic vehicles to practice left foot braking. At low speeds, such as when in a traffic jam, the technique has been shown to be smoother than right foot braking.
Despite experts only recommending left foot braking at low speeds, you will see more than just NASCAR drivers using the technique, since right foot braking may cause a vehicle to lose too much speed around turns, as they need to take their right foot off the throttle to brake. Alternatively, they may use their right foot for both pedals at the same time, which is known as heel toe braking.
To minimize the speed lost, drivers must ease up the throttle with their right foot while simultaneously applying pressure to the brake with their left as they approach a turn. Once they clear the turn, the driver eases their foot off the brake and presses the throttle.
You mainly see left foot braking in racing series where cars have built-in automatic and semi-automatic transmissions, if the latter have paddle shifters. You can also see it if the cars are manual, but do not require the clutch to shift the gear.
Formula 1 is a good example of a racing series that uses paddle shifters, which lets their drivers use left foot braking. Despite having a manual transmission, NASCARs also don’t require drivers to use the clutch if they master a certain technique that we will cover in the next section.
While left foot braking is difficult to master, whether you’re cruising around town or racing on a track, applying the technique properly can shave tenths of seconds off of a racing lap. And knocking off those tenths of seconds become crucial as races near their conclusion.
Some NASCAR drivers do brake with their left foot, but not all of them do. Whether or not a NASCAR driver brakes with their left foot is largely down to personal preference, and whether it is the braking method they know they can use to lap as fast as possible.
While you will find a clutch pedal on their cars, drivers do not need to engage the pedal when they change gears. Instead, they practice a technique called rev matching, requiring them to match their engine’s revolutions per minute (RPM) to their speed.
Rev matching is not easy to master since NASCARs do not have RPM gauges. Instead, drivers need to correctly time their speed to the gear they are shifting into. If a driver mistimes this, and if they do so too often, they will damage their transmission and find themselves in the garage.
If NASCAR drivers master rev matching, they can use both feet to save time when they reach a corner or a straightaway. However, the practice also depends on driver preferences. Some drivers, even if they master rev matching, may feel more comfortable using right foot braking.
Drivers who grew up and worked their way through NASCAR-sanctioned series often continue using the breaking technique they are comfortable with, including right foot braking.
Despite left foot braking being a personal choice for many NASCAR drivers, it may hold an advantage during restrictor plate races. Restrictor plates reduce the power and therefore speeds of the cars.
Easing the right foot off the throttle at these races will cause their car to lose a larger proportion of its power than at a non-restrictor plate event. Therefore, in the heavy traffic situations that restrictor plate races are notorious for bringing, drivers use the left foot braking technique to minimize losing track position and making contact with other cars, by keeping on the throttle.
Since some drivers in NASCAR and many drivers in Formula 1 use the left foot braking technique, you may think it wins out over right foot braking. However, this isn’t set in stone.
Most drivers who master left foot braking will recommend the technique and further claim it is faster. Other drivers find it more fitting to stick with traditional right foot braking, and mastering it on the racetrack may allow them to operate their cars faster than their left-footed counterparts.
One racer who does not believe left foot braking is any better is Tudor United SportsCar Championship GTD Class driver Dion von Moltke. He points to Spencer Pumpelly, a right foot braker. Pumpelly has recorded some of the fastest one-lap times throughout his driving career, showing that right foot braking, when done properly, can be extremely effective.
Many drivers who started their racing careers in go karts naturally brake with their left foot because most go karts leave drivers with no choice but to use the technique. These drivers will struggle if they try to use right foot braking because they need to master a technique called heel-to-toe shifting if they wish to emulate the speed left foot braking provided them.
For drivers who naturally gravitate toward left foot braking or drivers who engaged in it for years, mastering heel and toe often requires too long of a learning curve.
Drivers who practice right foot braking usually learn heel and toe shifting, allowing them to keep up with their left foot braking competition while simultaneously leaving their left foot free to handle the clutch in manual transmission cars.
Right-footed NASCAR drivers use heel-to-toe shifting when they practice rev matching as they approach a turn while simultaneously braking and downshifting. Once they reach their ideal rpm while approaching a straightaway, they push the throttle and shift gears, allowing for maximum acceleration.
NASCAR drivers do normally use both feet, employing what is known as left foot braking. However, since heel-toe shifting can be just as effective as left foot braking when performed correctly, some right-footed drivers may instead try to master that technique.