Welcome to the winter season, known by racers as the off-season. Unless your hobby is ice racing, chances are your favorite sanctioning body doesn’t have any events on the calendar for January. Some tracks are covered in snow while many racecars are sitting stored in trailers stuck in a snow bank. It’s okay. There are still plenty of things to do in regards to racing. It is the off-season, but a true racer is never really “off.” It’s time to get to work.
1. Make Certain You Read All The New Rules for the Coming Season
It is crucial to be familiar with every line of the rule book that defines your specific class. This applies to autocross, road racing, and even lawn mower racing. During the off-season it is a good time to get acquainted with the rules again. Not just your class rules but also the General Competition Rules (GCR). Everything is digital now. Pay particular attention to those rules which have been changed since the previous season. There may be rules that have been changed that make your car more competitive in your class, and the last place you want to find out about the change is at your first race.
Generally rules are updated annually and it is your responsibility to be familiar with them it. It is also very advantageous to be familiar with the rules as often times a rule update can improve performance. For example, for the 2019 season, NASA added rule 7.1.12 to the Honda Challenge rules which allows for block guards. This is good news because block guards assist in keeping head gaskets on Honda engines. Anyone who has raced Hondas can tell you they pop head gaskets as easy as popping the top off a can of Coors Light. This new rule will result is fewer blown engines.
2. Get Your Gear Together and Inspect Closely
The off-season is a great time to go through your safety gear. First inspect all gear for signs of wear and tear. While those may be your lucky Nomex socks, if there’s a hole in them it’s time to replace. Check your visors to see if they need replacement.
The other side of the coin is that you safety gear is eligible for the upcoming season of racing. Utilizing the current rule sets with different certifications assigned to different pieces of equipment will help you determine if you need to update your safety gear. Racing helmets are certified by Snell ratings which you can read about in great detail here. Other pieces of equipment, like HANS devices, window nets, and racing belts, are certified by SFI or FIA standards.
NASA Club Competition Rule 29.1.1 details how head and neck devices are certified. “The SFI Foundation keeps a list of 38.1 approved devices on their website. If the device is not on this list it will not fulfill the use mandate. As of April 1, 2012, all devices that have an SFI certification and are more than five (5) years old should be sent back to the manufacturer for recertification per SFI 38.1 specifications.” The process for recertification isn’t complicated, simply mail in your HANS device and pay a $25.00 inspection fee. They will determine if any components need to be replaced, take care of the recertification decal and ship back to you. You can have your HANS device re-certified through any of these official service locations.
3. Take Good Care of Your Sponsors
If you are lucky enough to have sponsors or other industry partners who help you with your expensive racing hobby, the off-season is a great time to remind them why they should continue to work with you. During the off-season, I take the time each year to send a care package to all of my sponsors. The package usually has event coverage and feature stories that came out during the previous season which mentions the sponsor’s name, a team t-shirt with the sponsor’s logo, some autograph cards, stickers, photos of the car with their logo on it, etc. I take the time to write a professional business letter thanking them for their partnership and talk about the team’s plans for the next season. I have found that this follow-up at the end of each season is the actual thing that helps keep sponsors supporting our team year after year.
4. Inspection of Your Infrastructure
Racing seasons can get absolutely out of control. Cars get bent, motors explode, and all attention is focused on getting the car back on the track so you can win the next race and earn crucial championship points. What that means is that infrastructure items, like trailers, motorhomes, radios, cameras, all get ignored for an entire year. The off-season is the time to pay close attention to those crucial infrastructure items that need some love.
Time is certainly the biggest enemy of any racer. There is generally never enough time to do everything that needs to be done before an event. Take advantage of the bad weather during the off-season. Spend some of this downtime looking at rules, ensuring your gear is up to speed, remind your sponsors why you are awesome, and take care of infrastructure items that take care of you all season long. Once all of these off-season items are handled, then when the sun peeks out from the clouds you will know you are ready to go fast and win more races!
5. Take Care of Yourself
It’s easy to let your fitness slide over the Holidays, so make certain you’re in fighting shape before the first race of the season. And just as important, make sure you still fit in your driving suit! That’s not something you want to discover when suiting up for the first race.