How an Oval Driver Prepares for a Road Course

Categories: Short Track Racing.
May 28, 2015
Here are five quick questions with Sopwith's Stephen Cox as he prepares for the World Racing League's “Last Checkered Flag” at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. A two-time sports car champion, Cox has spent most of the last three years on ovals and is now preparing for a return to road racing.
  1. What does a road course demand that's different from an oval?
    Ovals are about car set up. You want the car slightly loose and you drive it on the razor's edge every second. Road courses are about the driving line. You're always setting up two and three corners in advance.”

    “Watching video is helpful on an oval, but you can only learn so much without actually being on the track. With road courses, you can learn an unbelievable amount of information by watching someone else's on-board video. I've never been to Texas World Speedway, but I've watched probably two hundred laps on video over the past few weeks. You can study different driving lines, memorize the track, learn the pit entry and exit, and really do your homework. It makes more of a difference on a road course than an oval, by far.”

  2. What are some of the issues that you must prepare for that are unique to endurance racing?

    “Getting four or five drivers to fit into the same seat is always a challenge. You can bring your own seat insert, but you still have to deal with pedal distance, helmet height, seat rake and so forth. Endurance racing is all about comfort. If you're not comfortable in the car, you're not going to be fast.”

    “The first thing you have to do is make the car absolutely reliable. Secondly, you get every driver physically comfortable. Only then do you worry about going fast.”

    “We'll be doing two-hour stints at Texas, which means each driver will run about 180 miles on his shift. That's a lot of mileage to run at speed. So getting physically comfortable in the car is paramount.”

  3. How does your physical preparation change when switching from an oval to a road course?
    You have to train your neck and shoulders more for a road course. On ovals, I can usually find a way to brace myself and get into a physical rhythm with the car. And I train my forearms a lot. On road courses, you really have to have your neck and core well trained so you don't fall out of the seat.”

    “It's funny, I've been working in the gym pretty hard lately and I still notice how much stronger my neck is on the left side. When I'm doing weighted neck lifts in the gym, the right side of my neck tends to cramp up a little but I can fly through the left side exercises. That's what oval racing does to your body.”

  4. Do you lose your road racing touch after being on ovals for a long time?
    No, not at all. It's like riding a bike. Once you get the hang of road courses, you never forget it. Besides, I've had several road course events over the past couple of seasons. We've had one win, three podiums and set fast lap twice in our last five road races. So I'm not totally out of the loop.”
  5. So why don't you drive sports cars exclusively?
    First, because I grew up on ovals and still love them. I'm from Indianapolis so I can't help but love oval racing. Secondly, because nobody at the middle levels of road course racing will pay you to drive. It's a participant-based sport. Even at the highest levels, there's a lot of 'pay to play' driving. Very few guys draw a check. But oval racing is fan-based and that produces revenue. You can actually get paid to drive, even at the mid-range, semi-pro level.”
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