Learning to Drive an 8.4 Second Dragster with Frank Hawley

Earlier this spring I was presented with an opportunity to attend the Super Comp class at the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School. And thanks to people like Tony Rowe, Paul Shields and Frank Hawley himself, I was able to attend the two-day course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Last year I had a chance to audit the lecture portion of the class and was extremely impressed. As a racer, the lessons that Frank teaches about driving, racing, and competition dramatically changed my attitude toward racing and actually, life in general. After attending the school, I applied the lessons that I had learned to my approach to driving in the last race of the Pacific Street Car Association season. I was able to recognize the things that were in my control, and focus directly on my duties as a driver both in and out of the car. Because I utilized Frank’s lessons, I was able to win 7 rounds of racing and make it to the final round in the Street Muscle class, which allowed me to finish in the runner up spot in the series championship in only my second year of racing.

This time, I was very curious and excited to experience the lecture in combination with the driving portion of the class to see how that changed my experience of the class as a whole. What would it be like attending the Frank Hawley School for the second time?

When signing up for a Frank Hawley course, it is strongly encouraged that you take advantage of the reading and learning material provided by the school. The course manual provides details about the cars, rules and regulations for the class, and most importantly, procedures for driving the cars. For the Super Comp and Super Gas courses, the manual has photo diagrams with labels for the buttons, throttle, levers and general cockpit controls for both types of cars. I strongly recommend committing these to memory. One technique I had learned the last time I attended the course was called ‘chair flying.’ Frank adapted this from a few pilot friends of his, and describes this technique as a way to program your brain to learn or improve upon a procedure without actually being in the physical environment. He says that your unconscious mind can learn just as well from imaginary practice as from the real thing. When you become skilled in this inner visualizing the brain does not know the difference between imagining that you are in the cockpit going through the procedures of driving the car, and actually doing them. So when I received the manual, I spent weeks studying it. And since I would be participating in the Super Comp class, I would sit in a chair, close my eyes and imagine things I would be seeing if I were sitting in the dragster. I learned where the transbrake button was, where the shifter knob would be, how to start the car and how to shift the gears. I also memorized the procedures for the entire run. It’s very important to know how to start the car, what gear to do the burn out in, the length of the burn out, the back up procedure, and the launch procedure before you even come close to sitting in the driver’s seat.

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