Beyond The Redline: How To Get Champagne On Your Driver’s Suit

We have all seen it on television. The driver gets out of their race car with a huge smile on his or her face. The driver goes up to the podium covered in sweat, is handed a magnum of champagne, he or she shakes the bottle, and douses their competitors and the crowd in bubbly. It is a tradition that began with Dan Gurney after he won the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. The champagne spray is a symbol of victory, overcoming adversity, beating the odds, and being the best at that moment.

It is an enormous honor. Every race car driver wants to have that moment. I’ve been lucky enough to experience that moment of joy and eye-stinging champagne three different times now. I’ll tell you how to get there yourself, but I’ll warn you, it begins with two words losers don’t comprehend: hard work.

GO FOR THE TOP

If you want to find champagne on the podium you have to shoot for the highest echelon of each sanctioning body. This photo is taken exiting Turn 1 at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) during the 2018 National Auto Sport Association (NASA) National Championships where the best road racers in the country battled it out to see who was the best.

I love autocrossing and did it for a lot of years. I will argue with anyone that outstanding driver skills are honed in autocross. However, you won’t find a podium or champagne spraying while driving around in a parking lot dodging cones for the best time. It just isn’t there. If you are chasing the champagne, you will have to move up to road racing and go to the biggest races in the country. Those big races may not be held anywhere near where you live, which means you will need to travel. This is part of the sacrifice. Are you willing to drive for three days to compete against a total stranger?

Long road trips are part of chasing the champagne. For the 2018 National Championships, we towed from California to Texas and brought an entire extra car, just in case something bad happened during the qualifying races. We weren’t taking any chances.

PREPARATION IS EVERYTHING

In order to be the best, you have to be better than everyone around you. It may sound like an obvious statement, but if you want the champagne, you have to be willing to go the extra mile. This means late nights at the shop, hustling for sponsorship, sacrificing other things in your life (your real job, time with your family) in order to make sure when you show up at the track, you and your car are ready to perform at peak levels.

I had this sign made for our shop to remind myself and the crew why we’re in there with bleeding knuckles at three o’clock in the morning. There is probably no truer statement in racing. Races are won back at the shop. It may appear like races are won with a last-second pass on the last lap. They are not. That pass wouldn’t be possible without the preparation weeks before in the shop.

Preparation means more than just checking the torque specification on your suspension bolts before you put the car on the trailer. It means thinking outside the box. It means reading the rule book carefully like a defense attorney reads the law. Where are there opportunities to improve your position? What can you do that your competitors forgot to do? Where is the “unfair” advantage?

In the Honda Challenge rules, it says any fasteners may be used as long as their basic function is unchanged. So, we started replacing our fasteners with titanium pieces from Speed Factory Racing. It may sound like a small thing (nearly half a pound off the nose of the car), but each small thing we do eventually adds up to a big thing, and that big thing pushes us ahead on the track.

TEAMWORK

Motorsports is a team sport. You might be up on the podium by yourself spraying that champagne, but you certainly didn’t get there on your own. It was the hard work and sacrifice of a lot of people. The key is surrounding yourself with people who share the same passion for motorsports that you do. It is your job as the driver to inspire them, develop them, and listen to them. It doesn’t do any good to have a lot of smart people around you and then ignore them when they tell you something important. Ensure you give the people on your team the ability and capacity to improve the team.

I always come to races with a deep bench. Everyone on my team has an important job. Not every job is glamorous (like cleaning wheels), but every job is important. Some people are just in charge of keeping ice on-hand for cool suits and Tactical Ops beer. Other people’s job is to run to a local auto parts store or wrecking yard for a specific part. My crew chief’s job is to ensure the car is ready. My spotter’s job is to keep me out of trouble on the track. My job is to keep these people happy and around. I’m nowhere without them.

The crew is the most important part of any team. Your staff is your biggest asset. Trust me, your biggest asset is not an engine with five more horsepower than everybody else on the track. It doesn’t do you any good to have that horsepower if your car runs out of gasoline. The crew puts in the gasoline. Take care of your team, because they are the ones who take care of you.

A win for you is a win for the entire team. Enjoy that moment because, in racing, you will spend a lot more time underneath a car getting stuff in your eye than you will be surrounded by friends enjoying a hard-earned victory.

ORGANIZATION

To taste the champagne you have to be at your best. You can’t be at your best if your life, your shop, or your toolbox is a complete mess. You need to get organized. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. In order for your friends to help you at the track, they can’t spend 15 minutes looking for a 10mm end wrench. Make it easy and comfortable for everyone by organizing your tools, spare parts, and resources so they can be put into play quickly and used to your advantage.

The Double Nickel Nine Motorsports garage at the Circuit of the Americas was spotless at all times. The cars were clean, the floor was clean, the tools were put away, the team was organized. Result: a one-two finish for the team at the biggest race of the year.

One of the things I do at races is grab a spray bottle with a 30/70 mix of Simple Green and water and a rag. I lie underneath my car and clean every inch of the undercarriage between sessions. It is like my own personal meditation. I get to look at every inch of the car, the brake lines, the tires, the half shafts, and check for any leaks. It gives me confidence that the car is ready. It also shows the team that I’m not above cleaning the wheels myself.

You can see my trusty bottle of Simple Green by the left rear tire of the 38 car in Garage 18 at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Keep your car clean and it will help you see little issues (leaks, loose bolts, etc.) before they become big issues. This car is exceptionally clean and had just set the pole during a qualifying session in the rain that day at COTA.

Part of being organized is knowing where you are going. Are you ready for the track? Have you been there before? Have you played racing simulators? Watched YouTube videos? Gone to a racing school at that particular track to learn from the pros? There is so much time to be found at every track by familiarity.

It is crucial that if you are running the biggest race of your life that you are comfortable with that location. Otherwise, the local boys will run all over you, because they aren’t chasing the track or the setup. They have their act together, because of home-field advantage. Get that advantage too.

I attended the Audi Driving Experience at the Circuit of the Americas to learn the track from the pros. I attribute my success at that track from their advice. The elevation changes at COTA were a huge part of the trickiness of the course. I printed a large track map for the garage and included an elevation map to help remind myself all weekend where not to make a mistake (hint: while going uphill).

DRIVE FOR IT

Once all the pieces of the puzzle are in place — setting your goal, preparation, teamwork, and organization — it is time to drive the car like a complete madman. When the races are big, it is time to go big. You can’t stand at the top of the podium and spray champagne if you don’t “send it.”

Make sure you are mentally prepared for the type of aggression and the 10/10ths driving it takes to win a National Championship. Everyone on the grid next to you wants the championship as bad as you do. Now it is time to go out and prove to the world you want it just a little bit more than the next guy. Are you willing to risk it all?

After all the hard work, preparation, and teamwork, it is time to “send it.” Rally the troops, remind everyone what is on the line, and then jump in the car and drive the wheels off of it. You can’t be a champion without taking some risks. Go big or go home.

If you have done the homework right, you can concentrate on what you need to think about in the car: the start, braking zones, shift points, apex points, spots to pass, places to block, managing tires, race length, and running consistent and mistake-free for the entire race. Bring it all together and show the world you are the best driver there is.

Go hard behind the wheel. You worked hard to get to this point. Don’t leave anything on the track. Run the car fast and aggressive. Remember what Ricky Bobby said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Once your helmet goes on, you have to stop thinking about anything else in your life, other than what the car wants. Give the car what it wants and then drive that thing into the ground. If the race is 45 minutes, drive the car as if the car will die during minute 46. That is how you win car races. Don’t save anything. You have the entire off-season to fix the car. But the championship race is upon you. Make it count.

During the 2018 NASA National Championships at the Circuit of the Americas all of the pieces fell into place, allowing me the opportunity to drive this Acura Integra at its maximum potential for every minute of the final championship race on Sunday. In racing, luck plays a big part in things, but you have to make your own luck.

CHAMPAGNE

For all of the hard work, DNN Motorsports was awarded a one-two finish at the Circuit of the Americas. Big checks were handed out, championship cowboy hats were distributed, and most importantly — what we all worked so hard for — it was time to spray champagne!

Champagne time! My partner at DNN Motorsports, Keith Kramer, earned a Second place and a track record at the Circuit of the Americas, while I was able to take the National Championship win in Honda Challenge 4. Time to get wet!

The podium moment is awesome. But it takes an awesome amount of effort to get there. I want to thank the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) for giving its members the opportunity to shine at a fantastic track like the Circuit of the Americas. It was a kickass experience I will never forget. Great work NASA!

After the podium event, Keith and I changed out of our champagne drenched driver’s suits. As soon as we were in dry clothes and walked out of the garage, the crew drenched us one more time in champagne. It was a cool moment. They had worked hard and wanted to spray champagne too. Who could blame them? We all worked hard.

Advice like this may seem like obvious stuff from an established professional racing team with unlimited resources. Ideas like “bring a spare car” may sound a bit ridiculous to many racers with limited resources. The reason I put this column together is because it is coming from a racing team with very limited resources. DNN Motorsports is just a bunch of autocrossers who went to the 24 Hours of LeMons, ChumpCar, and Lucky Dog racing series in a 1991 Acura Integra, ten years ago.

Believe it or not, the engine block in this clapped-out LeMons car is the exact same block that powered the DNN Motorsports No. 38 Integra to the National Championship win.

Nobody on this team is paid. We all have real jobs. We just wanted it badly and moved up to the Honda Challenge series with NASA because we wanted to compete at the highest level we could. The advice in this column are the steps we used to try to make ourselves appear like a professional racing team when in reality we are nothing of the sort. Fake it until you make it. It worked for us! It can work for you too if you are ready for those two important words: hard work.

The cowboy hat (similar to the one given to Lewis Hamilton after he won the US Formula One race at COTA) and the National Championship checkered flag are some of my favorite trophies I’ve ever earned.

 

Rob dedicates his National Championship win to his childhood hero, the one and only Bandit, Burt Reynolds.

Photos by Herb Lopez, Debbie Krider, Stephen Young, and Marty Krider.

Ed note: We here at TURNology would like to congratulate Rob and his Double Nickel Nine team on their big win at COTA during the NASA National Championships. Rob has become a valuable member of the TURNology family since coming onboard with us in 2018. I asked him to start this column a few months ago to provide some of his insight on what it takes to be a dedicated grassroots racer. To see this team put together a win, after the adversity they went through with a car fire just a month or two ago, shows just how well they work toward a common goal. It is no small feat to win a NASA race, let alone a championship three years in a row! We tip our hat (even though it’s not a cowboy hat) to the DNN Motorsports team! —Shawn

About the author

Rob Krider

Rob Krider’s mantra is “Race Anything, Win Everything” and is a multi-champion driver who currently competes in the NASA Honda Challenge series.
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