20 JULY 2018 scca.com
I had never given it a thought, though
I did it ignorantly in a seat-of-the-pants
way. It’s what trail braking is about.
Easy home trail braking demo:
Take your fingers, right now, and
slide them lightly across the desk
or dash where you are sitting. Easy,
right? Now push down. Slide them
again. Not so easy, is it? That’s your
simple home demo of load as traction.
Trail braking transfers weight/load
to your front tires, and they stick
better, so they turn better, until – or
unless – you begin to lock them.
Then they are overloaded, sliding too
much, and they’ll go straight on. Ease
back on the brake, get them rolling
again, and they will turn once again.
It does not take much, typically.
Trail braking is not about slowing
down it’s about turning. It is very
light, just enough to light the brake
lights. Why? Because the tires are
cornering and cannot handle much
braking, but they do want a little
more load to maximize grip.
Approaching a corner, brake hard
and straight, as you turn the wheel,
lighten up on the brake pedal, but keep
braking very lightly. This will feel very
I learned in my roots days instructing
with the former-but-now-newly-reborn
Skip Barber Racing School, and
something I did in my nascent racing
pursuits in autocross without even
knowing it. It just felt like smoothness
back then, where I learned
smooth is fast.
It pleases me greatly to see
autocross finally achieving some of
the recognition it deserves as the
most pure and intense driving event
there is. It is low risk, high reward,
demanding of perfection. And,
because the corners run tighter, it’s
more demanding of trail braking.
Master instructor Terry Earwood
taught 30 years ago (and still does)
that your number one job as a driver
is weight management. When I arrived
on the Skip Barber scene in 1989,
2-TIME RUNOFFS NATIONAL CHAMPION
2-TIME SOLO NATIONAL CHAMPION
4-TIME PROSOLO CHAMPION
4-TIME WORLD CHALLENGE CHAMPION
2-TIME ROLEX 24 GT WINNER
strange the first few hundred times,
but will soon make you a star in Turn
5 at Watkins Glen, Turn 5 at Laguna
Seca, or the trail-brake corner of all
time, the Carousel at Mid-Ohio. Frankly,
it works in almost every bend on every
circuit. Turn in, release most of the
brake pressure but leave your foot
lightly on the brake, already looking
for your apex on the inside edge, and
leave your foot there until you know
you are going to clip that point, and
only then switch to the throttle and
begin to lightly roll it on. Smoooooooth.
(Bonus: you’ll crash less.)
The longer the turn, the later the
apex, the longer you trail brake. Makes
sense, yes? Loading the steering
wheels helps the car get turned and
pointed down the next straight, and
the more the direction change, the
longer you keep that light brake.
And trail braking keeps your foot off
the gas until the proper time – really
helpful and important. Done correctly,
in Daytona’s Turn 3 East Horseshoe
Hairpin, the brake lights will be
on to the halfway ‘round point.
Wait, so what about steering with
the throttle? Well, remember your
TRAIL BRAKING: WHAT IT IS, WHY
YOU NEED IT, AND WHY YOU’LL NEED TO
CHANGE YOUR CAR SETUP TO DO IT
“The longer the turn, the later the
apex, the longer you trail brake.
Makes sense, yes?”