The Bookworm Critique

by Carroll Smith; Published by Carroll Smith Consulting, Inc
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this book Books that address the art of driving a racing car are nothing new. These kinds of publications are probably unique amongst the various genres of motorsport writing in that it is difficult to write a really good manual on racing unless you are in a position of some authority on the subject. Amongst those that have produced such works in the past are Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Emerson Fittipaldi, Niki Lauda, and Denis Jenkinson. Guys that know what they're talking about, in other words.

What sets this offering by Carroll Smith apart from the others is the basic approach. Traditionally, racing manuals have been written from the driver's point of view. 'Drive to Win', though, looks at the role and requirements of the driver from a variety of perspectives, particularly those of the race engineer and team manager. For sure, concepts such as racing lines are dealt with to some extent, but for the most part they are not examined in any great depth. As Smith himself indicates, this particular territory has already been very thoroughly covered in the past. Actually, the author goes one step further than merely pointing out that a great deal of literature already exists on that aspect of racing, and provides the reader with a list of what he considers to be the best works on the subject (along with a recommendation that these books be read before embarking upon 'Drive to Win').

The sheer volume of information crammed into this book makes it an immensely difficult book to read cover-to-cover. This isn't meant as a criticism - I doubt very strongly that Smith had bedtime reading in mind when he wrote it. Even more impressive is the vast spectrum of racing drivers that the author is addressing. It doesn't matter whether you're involved in a local weekend karting competition, or racing in F3000. I hate to use such a timeworn cliché, but this book really has an extraordinary amount to offer virtually any racer.

'Drive to Win' is divided into seven sections. The first examines the drivers themselves - what makes them tick, why people race, and what sets the champions apart from the also-rans. The author also offers assistance for some of the major 'life decisions' that have to be made early in the careers of Formula One aspirants, such as how to select the right kind of formulae to participate in while rising through the ranks, and how to chase sponsorship effectively. If somebody were to perform a study aimed at determining the point at which most unsuccessful racers had messed up, I'd bet that the results would overwhelmingly show that the majority fall at the first hurdle. 'Drive to Win' obviously carries no guarantees, but it can certainly do an individual's chances of taking their racing beyond karting no harm.

As well as introducing the reader to the book, this first section also exposes you to Smith's deliciously blunt and to-the-point writing style. He remarks in the conclusion that he never attended Writing 101, and in my opinion the book is all the better for it. The author wastes no time in de-romanticising the act of driving a race car, and is equally quick to suggest that his readers go off and find another way to spend their time if they don't have what it takes to make a living as a racer.

From here, Smith moves on to the second section: Vehicle Dynamics. This covers everything from braking (including left foot braking and how to optimise brake systems), cornering techniques, tyres, and gear shifting. Meanwhile, the third section, Learn To Win, is an overview of training aids. While this section is typical of the whole book in that it is stuffed with an almost mind-numbing amount of information, one part that really stood out for me was the author's views on the value of regular racing books. Not racing manuals, but more general material, such as well-written driver biographies.

Smith states that an awful lot can be learnt about determination and discipline from these types of publications - both in what the driver states explicitly, and by reading between the lines. Furthermore, such works are often littered with little tidbits of information or throwaway lines, which, if the reader is paying attention, can sometimes prove invaluable.

It is probably necessary at this point to reiterate just how much information is jammed into this book. Every sentence will teach you something, and nothing is included without a reason. The only reason I mention this again is that I'm finding it impossible to describe the contents of the book without glossing over large chunks of what is actually contained between the covers.

The fourth section deals with the various environments that a driver might encounter at some point. This includes the different types of circuits (ovals, permanent, and street), as well as various weather conditions. Section five, meanwhile, concerns itself with what to do once you get yourself into the car and are preparing to head out for a test, practice session, qualifying run, or race. The next part of the book is devoted to the cockpit and includes everything from seat fitting to cheating. Also discussed here is driver conduct, whether it be directed toward the team, the team manager, the engineer, or the sponsors.

The final section of the book, 'Advanced Drive to Win', is intended mainly for those who are starting to make some headway with their racing career, and concerns itself with more specialised mechanical information, with particular reference to shock absorbers and differentials. Also included here is a fantastic trouble-shooting guide to improving a racing car's handling. Having problems with corner-entry understeer, perhaps, or maybe straight-line instability? Look no further.

Negative points? Well... there are seriously not all that many. Probably the only thing that lets 'Drive to Win' down is the indexing. Or, to be more specific, the lack of it. This would be a problem with almost any book, but one that contains such an enormous amount of information really shouldn't force the reader to flick frantically through the pages trying to find the section on how to overtake under braking. A fairly basic content page worsens the situation. The sections are listed, and the titles of the chapters that comprise each section, but that's it. Each chapter, however, contains lots and lots of little paragraphs and boxes and subsections, each with their own subheadings. It would have been a huge help if these had been catalogued somehow. Similarly, it would not have been a bad idea to have placed certain parts of the book which some readers may wish to access frequently, such as the trouble-shooting guide, into an Appendix.

A moderate degree of user-unfriendliness, though, is a small price to pay when measured against the wealth of information that this book contains. Whether you need help understanding the friction circle, or dealing with fan worship (a daily problem for the writers of Atlas F1), you can be sure of finding it here. Speaking as someone whose racing career never progressed beyond getting beaten by my younger brother in a kart, I found this to be an immensely enjoyable book that enhanced my understanding of racing and racing drivers beyond measure.

If you do race regularly, then I fail to see how you cannot benefit hugely from 'Drive to Win', provided that you actually make the effort to apply Smith's ideas to your driving. If nothing else, it will almost certainly be the cheapest couple of tenths per lap that you'll ever pick up.

Mark Glendenning© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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