Monday, March 03, 2008


Let’s talk about comfort for a minute. This is important. There are several kinds, but lets only worry about two.

One is passenger car comfort.

Nowadays, if you listen to manufacturers, comfort seems to be defined by the number of cup holders, flat screen DVD players and the type of stereo and navigation system your car has. To this you add seats, covered with exotic leathers, with seat warmers and which can slide forward or back or change the tilt to suit the driver. Some even recline to aide in your napping. (I’m surprised they don’t have inflatable pillows and those little blankets and slippers they give you on long range airline flights) Then there are adjustable steering wheels and thermostatically adjustable air conditioning and heaters. We won’t even discuss electrically operated windows, door locks and side mirrors.

And then there is race car comfort. This is sterner stuff.

The steering wheel may be removable to allow you to get into and out of the car, but there are no adjustments which can be made from the cockpit. That must be done before you get to the track. The side mirrors are adjusted, once, before you start a race. No A/C, but you get at pretty good breeze in an open cockpit at a hundred miles an hour.

You don’t just get into a race car, you put it on.

The drivers seat is fixed and non flexible. It may be padded but it should not move. The driver is strapped into the seat by a five belt safety harness that is cinched down so tightly that it prohibits any movement at all. The driver’s trunk, from shoulders to hips, should be solidly anchored to the car. His arms and legs must be free to move; to work the steering wheel, shift lever, accelerator, and brake and clutch pedals. Other than those, no movements are possible or desirable.

The cockpit should mold closely around the driver to aide in keeping him snugly in place. There should be adequate space for him to reach the instruments he must deal with (steering wheel, shift lever and peddles) but not an inch more. There should be no braces that constrict or impair the required movements. Where a brace is close (these generally occur at the shoulders, elbows or knees) it should be padded to keep from bruising the driver during hard cornering or heavy bumps.

There should be a rest for your left foot. Your right foot will be planted firmly on the accelerator. Nothing is worse than trying to get through a tight corner with your left leg flopping around. If it is braced against something it makes it easier to feather the throttle with your right foot.
It is minimal. It is what is required and nothing more……………or less.

That is race car comfort.

Then the driver can concentrate on what he is there to do. Drive the car. As fast as he can.

Since you are firmly anchored to the machine you have an amazing feel for what the car is doing. It’s not just the seat of you pants. It also your hips, back, neck, head, shoulders, arms, elbows, knees and feet. You feel everything. Centrifugal forces act on everything that is not tied down and you are very much aware of it. You feel acceleration in your back and neck just as you feel deceleration in the straps that keep you in the seat. You feel lateral movement when your shoulders press against the side panels of the cockpit and you knees get pushed sideways into a brace.

If, however, you can not achieve these minimal comforts; if you have difficulty moving enough to do your task, there is no joy in Mudville. In a way it’s like wearing a pair of shoes that don’t quite fit. It can be done, but it is not going to be fun and you’re going to pay for it later.

Trying to drive a car at high speeds when your knees are being brutalized by a steel bar or you can barely reach a shift lever, not only takes the pleasure out of it, it is dangerous. If you have to think ahead and make minor body shifts to accomplish a task, then what happens when a surprise occurs and you don’t have time to plan your next move?

There is a very thin line between “race car comfort” and disturbing distraction.

I was having to study that line very carefully. I had a lot riding on it.


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