It's easy to forget the basic reasons why we race when we are thrashing like stuck pigs in the heat of competition. After long hours in the shop getting your car ready and driving endless miles to get to an event, the stress level can reach critical levels, especially if you are fighting problems with the car.
Sometimes you have to step back and remind yourself why you are investing so much time, money and effort in the endeavor.
The bottom line is you want to have fun. Some of us get our jollies by kicking butt at every opportunity; winning is everything. Others just enjoy competing regardless of the results.
I am a typical racer in that I get as hyped as anyone but I constantly remind myself that after 40-some years of messing with fast cars the main reason I put myself through the grinder is to have a good time on race day.
A few simple preventive measures can help your day at the races be a lot less stressful. First is organization. Take the time to get your trailer organized. You'll need to be able to lay your hands on any spares or tools without getting panicked or elevating your blood pressure.
I like to have all of my tools laid out on a tool caddy. Figure out what size wrenches and sockets you need most often and lay your caddy out so they fall easily to hand, and if any decide to disappear during the race-day frenzy you will know straight away. Nothing is more frustrating than needing a particular tool, like a 17mm extra-deep socket-right now-and learning it's been borrowed by a fellow racer and not returned or simply misplaced in all the between-rounds confusion.
Make sure your pit crew is careful about putting tools back where they belong after every use. In the (infrequent) quiet times on race day, spend the time cleaning and organizing before for the next spurt of action.
The same rules apply to your stock of spares, no matter how small your inventory. Label your parts or drawers they are stored in and make sure you know exactly where they are stashed. Make sure spare parts are clean and ready to be installed if they are needed. You ain't gonna have time to clean the gasket surfaces of that used spare differential on race day. A few minutes saved here and there can make the difference between making the next round and loading the car up for a miserable drive home.
A well organized pit area and crew says a lot about a team's level of professionalism. Walk the pits at any race and you will see pit areas that are clean and well laid out. These are generally the winning teams (and normally the ones that get the sponsors.) On the other hand you will see pit areas that look as if a train wreck just happened. Tools all over the floor, puddles of oil and cast-off parts scattered everywhere. You can be sure these guys are the "also-rans."
One of the teams that I have been working with this year is T&T Motorsports from Dallas. The team runs a bad-ass supercharged Mustang (yes, the same one that ate my fingers!) in the NMRA series. The owners, Steve and Dennis Topletz, are old pros in the racing game. When we go to the races we generally have a great time because everyone on the team knows exactly what they have to do at all times.
It is one crew member's responsibility to load the trailer and ensure that everything we are likely to need is on-board. Another crew member is responsible for the chassis tuning and I normally take care of the engine tuning aspects. The end result of dividing the responsibilities between the crew is a completely stress-free environment, even in the heat of battle. When three guys are fighting over the same job you just end up with a disorganized mess, frayed tempers and invariably a half-ass result.
We are currently in the final stages of constructing a new Toyota Celica that the Topletz brothers will campaign in the modified class in '05 under the NORAD banner. The car was designed to be as fuss-free as possible to race and maintain. The car is equipped with an identical Toyota 3RZ engine as Chris Rado's Pro FWD Celica, and we are using a Bruno/Lenco automatic transmission. The idea is to share as many components as possible with Rado's car so we can minimize the learning curve and investment in spare engines, etc. The end result should be a team that is as much fun to compete with as the existing Mustang team.
Spending a little extra time getting organized is a worthwhile investment for any racer/team at any level of competition. It works especially well for the hands-on enthusiast who pulls double-duty on race weekend as driver and mechanic. We all want to have a great time when we go racing. Do yourself a favor and check out the better organized pro teams in the pits (I suggest Ara Arslanian's Bullish racing team, Jim Epler's Saturn Motorsports and the Efantis family's Lucas Oil teams as good places to start.)
In the meantime, keep smiling and enjoy your racing!