Unlocking The Secrets of Eldora: Part Two Tony Stewart Racing's McMahan Offer Insight to Taming the Legendary High-Banks of Eldora Speedway INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 20, 2007) -- In the second part of this special release from Tony Stewart...
Unlocking The Secrets of Eldora: Part Two
Tony Stewart Racing's McMahan Offer Insight to Taming the Legendary High-Banks of Eldora Speedway
INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 20, 2007) -- In the second part of this special release from Tony Stewart Racing, World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Series driver Paul McMahan offers another view of what it takes to tame the high-banks of Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. McMahan, who pilots the No. 20 TSR/Bass Pro Shops/Eagle entry, talks about what a driver endures physically and mentally while in the seat. He also speaks about what it's like to ride the high side at the legendary half-mile.
Quotes from Paul McMahan, driver of the No. 20 TSR/Bass Pro Shops/Eagle -- World of Outlaws Sprint Series
As a driver preparing to push off for qualifying at Eldora Speedway, how do you mentally ready yourself for two very intense laps around such a demanding racetrack?
"As you're sitting in the car in the push-off chute, you're usually trying to watch the guys who are running the heat races or qualifying. You're watching to see where they're running. But as you sit there and look out, you see a wall of dirt. That's really all you see. Eldora is solid banking. You're trying to see where everyone else is running and you've got the wall there that you're running about 140 mph straight into. You try not to turn the wheel, you want to keep the car as straight as you can so when you get to the corner the air will push the wing down and turn the car. But you've got to keep it as straight as possible and drive it as hard as you can straight at the fence. That's a little unnerving to do the first few times you run at Eldora.
"You try to keep in mind that you need to have a good, set speed so you don't have a lot of tire chatter. You don't want a lot of tire chatter when you're being push started because it can chatter the motor so bad that it will actually break the pin in the magneto and that can do a lot of damage. Ideally, you want to get up to 15-20 mph, which is a good, steady speed to start. Some of the trucks get going way too fast when they push you. They think you need to be going 60 mph when that's not the case. In fact, 15-20 mph is the best way to get started.
"As soon as you get on the race track, you want to get up to speed as soon as you can. Eldora is a place where you don't want to scrub off any speed. You're trying to roll through the center of the corner as fast as you can. You're usually up on the banking to keep your speed up and keep the car underneath you. Basically, you're holding your breath. Eldora can get really slick when it's right up against the fence where there's no grip and you have to have your car right. It's pretty nervy because it's just a wide-open place. You can't lift. You do, but in order to be fast you have to be able to roll around there with as much throttle as possible. When its slick, sometimes you're running three or four inches off the fence and if you make one slight little error you can get in the fence in a hurry."
As soon as the car begins to come up to speed, what do you experience physically as a driver?
"The things you feel when you get up to speed around Eldora are very unusual. It feels like (the track) is trying to throw you out of the car. You're physically trying to hold yourself upright and it feels like it's trying to throw you out of the right side. The G-force wants to push your body over to the right and you're trying to hold it up so you can turn left. You're fighting your body weight and the force of your body wanting to go right as you're trying to turn left. You've also got a seven pound bowling ball on top of your neck with your helmet, so you're trying to hold your head up and steer all at the same time.
"With the winged car, you can feel the wing push everything down. It really pushes you into the seat. At the same time, the speed also wants to suck your helmet off of your head. With the air that's coming through, if you don't have the right deflectors, it will try to suck the helmet up and off of your head. You also have the sensation of the car sucking you back in the seat. You're completely locked down."
You've described some of the physical sensations you experience while racing at Eldora. With the punishment that a driver's body takes during a race, which muscle groups get the most work?
"The way the seats are built now, it's not nearly as bad as it used to be, especially with the (Butlerbuilt) seat that I run. Your shoulders and forearms probably get the most work. You're gripping the wheel pretty hard. Your forearms, shoulders and neck work pretty hard, and you do use your stomach muscles a lot. You wouldn't think that when you're driving a race car that your stomach muscles would be doing a whole lot but your core muscles are what's working to hold you up. You're really using the core muscle group to keep your body as straight as possible in the car."
The majority of World of Outlaws Sprint Series races consists of 30-laps. Factoring in the physical strain that a driver goes through during an event, how much harder is it to run a longer race?
"An extra 10 laps is 10 more laps on your body. It's more time of being focused in on what you have to do the whole time. It's mentally and physically draining. In a 30 lap race when your car is nice, 30 or 40 laps is no big deal. But if it's rough and sticky or if your car isn't that good and you're trying to make it do things it doesn't want to do it can be pretty tiring."
Do you remember what you were thinking the first time you sat on pit road at Eldora Speedway strapped into an 850+ horsepower winged sprint car?
"I was scared to death. The first time I went out to qualify, we qualified sixth for an All-Star Series race. Until you get used to the track, taking a lap by yourself isn't that bad because there's no one else on the track. It's intimidating but it's not that bad because you're by yourself. But when you put other cars out there, it's a little different. I remember going out for my first heat race, the guys were saying you have to be on the fence. They kept telling me that at Eldora you have to run on the fence. So, I ran the fence, but it was the one around on the infield wall. I remember telling myself with each passing lap that the next lap would be the one I'd to the top on."
Part of Eldora's lure for both race fans and drivers is the steep banking that the track is revered for. As a driver, how do you get comfortable in running the high side there?
"Eventually, you just have to do it (run against the top fence.) You just have to get up there and do it. I was unfortunate in that the first time I ran at Eldora to be in the first heat race. I didn't get to watch other races before I went out so I wasn't comfortable running on the fence the first time out. I didn't make it out of the heat race and ended up having to run in the B-main that night. I followed Dean Jacobs in the B-main and paid attention to what he was doing. I started to get my rhythm down and was able to drive around him to win the B-main. It was kind of cool to make the A-main in my first time out at Eldora. It's got a rough learning curve."
Sprint car racing is unique in many ways, including the running of "hot laps" that serve as a team's only practice period for an event. With such little time to evaluate the car and the track, how does a driver determine the fastest way around the track?
"You get an idea of where the race track is by looking at it. You can see where it's black and where the color changes. But, everyone's a little different and everyone's car drives a little differently. Some guys might be fast around the top and some are fast around the bottom. It just depends on how your car is set-up.
"Hot laps are our only practice time. We get four or five laps of practice to figure out our race car for qualifying. You're just looking to make sure the gears are right and that you have the right stagger. You also want to check the tire wear, because whichever tire we qualify with is the one we have to race with as well. You have to make sure you've got the right compound on to run a heat race and a dash with. In hot laps, you really want to get the balance of the race car right."
Is it possible to see particular people or parts of the grandstands while you're at full speed?
"You can pick things out at speed, but you have to find them under caution when you're going pretty slowly. You have to find them going slow first so you kind of know what they're wearing or where they're standing. But you go by them so fast at speed that you can't just glance out of the corner of your eye and see them. You have to physically turn your head and look to see if they're trying to give you signals."
How hard is it to see while competing at Eldora Speedway under the lights? Is it difficult to race at night?
"Running under the lights at Eldora is actually better than driving in a passenger car at night. It's got a Musco Lighting system and it's one of the most well-lit facilities that we go to. The hardest thing is dealing with the sun in the daytime. I run a dark shield but sometimes when you're looking directly into the sun with sunglasses it doesn't help much. It may take the glare off a little bit but it's a lot easier to race at night."
How fast can a race go from a normal, smooth-sailing event to a race track littered with damaged cars?
"Things can happen at Eldora in the blink of an eye. Stuff happens so fast at any race track for that matter. But Eldora is probably the place where things happen the fastest because of the speed that we carry around the place. In the car, you're looking ahead and you try to watch for things that could possibly happen. You always want to be aware of what and who's around you but sometimes stuff happens. You just try to watch as far ahead as possible so you can anticipate the unexpected."
Having made a career of racing winged sprint cars, have you learned to cope with the various aspects and discomforts that come with competing on dirt tracks?
"You get used to it. I get a lot of dirt in my eyes. It doesn't bother you when you're out on the race track. It's when you're done racing and you start thinking about what's going on. You ask yourself, 'Why does my eye hurt so much?' and you notice other little things when you're out of the car. When you're in the car, you're so focused on doing your job that other things don't really matter. I've raced with a broken tailbone, bruised and broken bones, but when you strap in and that car lights up you there isn't any pain. There's no fear of anything."
* * *
Part one of TSR's insights on tackling the high-banks of Eldora Speedway ran on Wed., Sept. 19. TSR's Levi Jones offered race fans another look at running the high-side in a USAC National Sprint Series machine. Both parts of the "Unlocking The Secrets of Eldora" series can be found at www.tonystewartracing.com.
The two-day American Revolution Weekend presented by Chevrolet will kick off on Friday, with gates opening at 3 p.m. EDT. Practice for the WoO Sprint Series and United Midwest Promoters UMP Modifieds begins at 6 p.m. with racing scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
For Saturday's American Revolution Weekend/USAC 4-Crown finale, gates will open at 11 a.m. Practice and qualifying for the USAC Silver Crown, Sprint and Midget divisions will take place between 3-6 p.m. An autograph session featuring the stars of USAC is scheduled for 6:15-7 p.m. The event is open to the public and will be conducted in the multi-purpose building outside turns three and four on the Eldora Speedway property. Racing for all three USAC divisions will begin Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.
Reserved seating for both nights of the American Revolution Weekend at Eldora Speedway can be purchased by calling 937-338-3815. Race fans can also purchase tickets at the gate each day.
For more information regarding Eldora Speedway or the American Revolution Weekend presented by Chevrolet, please visit www.eldoraspeedway.com.
For complete results from this weekend's American Revolution Weekend/USAC 4-Crown Nationals, log on to www.usacracing.com. For information regarding TSR or Chevrolet, log on to www.tonystewartracing.com or www.chevrolet.com.