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“the low riding man in black”

 photo by Bob Fairman

January 7, 2008

When Drivers Can't See

Remember when the COT cars went to Talladega last fall? There was a good deal of worry prior to the race, because in testing some of the drivers complained about problems seeing over the spoilers of the cars in front of them. On Dave Despain’s Inside NEXTEL Cup the topic came up, and Brian Vickers mentioned his concern. Michael Waltrip seemed to take objection to the thought. He snapped back, "If you can’t see through that wing, put your damn booster seat in."

No question that Waltrip was just a little sarcastic and dismissive about what is a real issue for the average guy. Michael himself might not be affected, because, after all, he is about seven feet tall.

I first became aware of the whole vision thing in racing one Sunday night in 1970. They were having one of those fabulous 100-lap open competition modified races on the half mile dirt at Lebanon Valley (NY) Speedway. The great warrior out of Tampa, Florida, "Wily Will" Cagle showed up in a big old sedan with a beefy big block. The car had center seating, and Will had installed a huge internal wing that went from the bottom of the front firewall right up to the underside of the rear roof. Everyone took notice.

I had a real good look at it, because in the feature I started right behind Will. It was scary. Looking ahead in a race car, you need to be able to see right through the rows of cars in front of you in order to avoid wrecks. Cagle’s wing was so high that all I could see was the back of his car. It was the equivalent of following the back bumper of a trailer truck in a Honda at 100 mph – in rush hour traffic. And, as I recall, Will got wrecked that night. From behind, though I am pleased to say not by me.

The whole visibility issue became more and more serious over the years. Full-bodied asphalt cars got lower and lower to the ground, as compared to the normally more upright dirt cars. To make vision even more challenging, of course, the late model type cars have much longer hoods than a dirt car.

But what really brought things to a head was when clever racers began to realize the positive handling impact of lowering the driver himself way down in the car. A lot of folks first noticed this trend with Dale Earnhardt Sr. Sometimes in those black Goodwrench cars it seemed that all you could see was the top of the Intimidator’s helmet.

Earnhardt really was an extraordinary chauffeur. Everyone talks about how he was so good at the draft that he could "see air." But, given where he sat in those long wheelbase cars, he had to also have just amazing spatial orientation as well. Imagine how difficult it must have been for him to be able to know exactly where his front end actually was relative to the cars in front of him – or the wall.

Over the years, other NASCAR competitors have had to learn this special skill. All of them were helped big time by better spotters and radios. Yet, it is a major consideration of which few fans are even aware. Just think how difficult it would be to adjust to this kind of environment after coming out of an open wheel modified, a sprinter, or a formula one/Champ Car configuration.

Just put in a booster seat? Get real, Mikey.

© 2008 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

.: Previous Tearoffs :.

12/21/07 - When Starters Couldn't See

12/1/07 - Ride Along with Erica

11/15/07 - Hangin' Tough

11/1/07 - Tightly In or Easily Out?

10/15/07 - That First Race

10/1/07 - What's in a Name?

9/15/07 - Official Overpopulation

9/1/07 - The Look of a Driver

8/15/07 - Being Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer


























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