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by Richard Welty

Reviewed in this issue

Driving in Competition


In this issue we continue our survey of some of the older books on driving that are still in print. Many such books have been written since the late 1950's, often written by current or former race drivers. These books often suffer from the flaw of talking more about the driver's brilliant career and accomplishments, while skimping on the actual driving instruction (while looking at some review candidates, I encountered one where about 20 pages of a 100+ page book actually talked about driving). I'd planned to review two books this time out, but I have learned that a new edition of Bob Bondurant's book is due shortly (it'll be the 4th edition), so that review will be defered until a later date. The book that is reviewed this month is Alan Johnson's Driving in Competition, a little gem which introduced some important concepts. This book has stood up extremely well in the 30+ years since it first appeared. If you can't find Johnson's book anywhere else, you can get it from Classic Motorbooks.

Driving in Competition

by Alan Johnson

Third Edition, 1976 (first edition 1971, second edition 1973)
W. W. Norton and Company, New York, NY
ISBN 0-393-60011-4

Driving in Competition would a very important book if it only accomplished one thing, which it did: it introduced the teaching concept of Type 1, 2, and 3 turns. In fact, the book is still available and still remarkably relevant. Although Johnson's racing career didn't go as far as, for example, Bob Bondurant's, it was still a good one, as Johnson won more than a few SCCA National Championships in Production. In fact, the book is probably the better for it, as Johnson does a first class job on talking to the potential Club Racer, instead of talking to the fan who fantasizes about being the next Ayrton Senna.

Published back in the 1970's, some parts are dated now. In combination with Taruffi, you can develop a picture of the evolution of safety equipment and attitudes; by the time Johnson wrote, Bell had introduced the revolutionary Race Star helmet and driving suits had become pretty good. SCCA race cars still largely had roll bars instead of full cages, but this state would last for some time to come. Tech inspectors were largely the "enemy" of the Driver (but wait, many drivers still feel that way today.) Licensing requirements then were very similar to licensing requirements today. Other procedures and SCCA Car classifications have evolved enough that the book could do with a light rewrite to correct for things that have changed over the past 20 years (but it only needs a little work to remove the signs of age.)

The major contribution of this book is that it presents a coherent, sensible approach to analyzing a race track in order to begin the process of finding a fast line. It does this by dividing the corners on a track into three types: Type 1 corners are corners that feed into straights; Type 2 corners are corners that end straights; and Type 3 corners are compromise corners that feed other corners. Working with examples from Road Atlanta and the defunct Ontario Motor Speedway road course, Johnson shows us how to look at a track map and start to understand why the good drivers are driving on specific lines.

The weak point in Johnson's presentation is his lack of attention to the matter of weight transfer; this is an area where Bondurant does a good job. However, Johnson's strengths outweigh the weaknesses; he talks as one Club Racer to another, about the business of Club Racing on no budget, and the truth is that for those of us who race, Johnson's world is a bit closer to the one we race in.

As a result, I can't tell you that there's only one book to go out and buy; you need Johnson for all the things that he does a great job at, and Bondurant to get the discussions of weight transfer, contact patch, etc., that he does a good job with.

Next time, I'll look at another late 50s book which, along with Taruffi, Johnson pays homage to, The Racing Driver, by Denis Jenkinson. I'm also working on getting a review copy of Carroll Smith's latest, Drive to Win.

North American Motorsports Pages / Krusty Motorsports /