Rob explains the art of night racing.
By Rob “Right Foot” Krider
Door-to-door road racing is intense. You are pushing yourself and your car to the absolute limits. You are on the edge of the adhesion of the tires, you are scaring yourself to death in every corner, and you are doing all this with three other maniacs doing the exact same thing just two inches off of your rear bumper. They all want you to make a mistake. They want you out of the way. They want to win the race too. As insane as all of that is, trying doing it in the dark.
Endurance racers know all about night racing. Any team who runs a 24 hour race has to survive a segment of darkness. For teams to be successful they need good lights, a solid crew who is willing to stay up late, and at least one driver who is sick in the head and very fast at night.
When the sun sets it is time to fill the tank, put on some fresh tires, and throw a driver in the seat who is willing to race like a banshee into the pitch black. In long endurance races, usually the large gaps between the competition are created in the middle of the night. When nobody is paying attention, heavy battles are fought on track in the darkness. Most races are won during these battles.
Some tracks don’t have overhead lights, which means all you have to see at one hundred and twenty miles an hour, are the lights on the front of the car. It is very tough to see corner apexes or to know where your braking marks are. If you miss your marks then you simply fly off of the track. To be a fast driver you need to have really good night vision and be just crazy enough to trust what you can’t actually see.
Then it is time to do battle. You have to survive the darkness, make fast laps, and still fight for position and try to move up. At night all sorts of crazy things happen. Cars come into the pits with lots of new damage. Vehicles drive off the track, cars bump each other, wheels fall off, anything and everything materializes at night. The driver rarely will even radio in to the crew that something happened, because something happens nearly every lap. The only time you will hear the driver admit something “not good” may have occurred is when the car needs to be repaired.
When the car comes in and it’s missing the front bumper, you know some sort of shenanigans went down out on the track. But if the damn thing is still running then you just top off the gas tank and send it back out to keep making laps. Nobody is winning races sitting in the pits complaining about the missing bumper. “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
I have had the insane honor of completing something called a triple stint at night. A driver “stint” is their shift out on the track. Usually a stint is a tank of gas, around an hour to an hour and a half, which is plenty of time behind the wheel of a racecar. In daylight some teams may double stint a driver to save on driver swaps which take time in the pits. My team ran me through three tanks of gas in a row (three stints) at night, resulting in a four and a half hour straight session of adrenaline filled night racing lunacy. At the end of it, I had never been so tired in my life. Racing from midnight to four-thirty in the morning I started seeing stuff out on the track that didn’t exist due to sleep deprivation. During one pit stop, I took a quick power nap, just to get through the final stint. Where do you go to the bathroom during a stint that long? Right in your suit, just like an astronaut. It’s not that big of a deal, unless you are the next driver in the lineup, of course.
No matter how tired you are, or how much pee you are sitting in, your job is to go out and run really hard and move up the standings. That is your job. You are on the night shift. You need to ensure to keep the team in the lead and also keep the wheels on the car so you can hand it off to the next driver to sit in the squishy seat and get the car to the finish line after 24 long hours. Or, in the case of the National Auto Sport Association who runs the “25 Hours of Thunderhill” you need the car to survive 25 hours, one more hour than the French’s infamous 24 hours of Le Mans.
The art of racing at night takes huge guts, a “never quit” attitude, and some adult diapers. If you can beat the darkness and your own demons, all night long, then you might earn the right to have one of these cool clocks in your trophy case.
This is what the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) hands out to the podium finishing drivers at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, one of the most grueling races on the planet. If you are curious what it is like at night during one of these races, watch the video clip below to see some in-car action.
It is hard to explain to someone exactly what racing at night is really like. I’m at a loss to provide words to grasp the emotion of being out on the track at speed in the dark. Sort of like big wave surfers explaining what it is like to be inside a tube of a huge wave, essentially it would take two full novels to detail the experience. So, I will leave you with this, “The night shift, it’s totally gnarly, dude.”