3 Days at VIR-Part 2: Heel Toe (HT) for Real

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One of the (shamefully growing number of) dirty secrets I’ve held onto over the last 11 months is that….shhhhh………. oh I can’t believe I’m about to say this:

I didn’t think I could learn to DO Heel Toe gear shifting.

That I might have to drive forever without knowing how, and as such be considered a loser, or worse still: a poser.

Of you readers (all 2 ½ of you) some are thinking “This bites” and will move on to better reading material.  And who could blame you? Others might think “Does HT have anything to do with being from the Tar Heel state?”  or “Foot fungus? Not again!!” or… far more likely… out of the pure goodness of your heart, being a cherished friend who is simply just kind enough to continue reading. (Thank you.)

Please allow me to summarize the basic concept of HT shifting. Needless to say this is relevant only for a car that has THREE foot pedals: Gas Brake and Clutch. Those who know how to drive manual transmission on the street are taught to downshift as we go into the turn and keep the foot on the clutch to coast through the curve, and then accelerate as you exit the turn. But in performance driving, the point obviously being to go fast, using the road technique of “coasting” with the clutch down costs precious seconds. So, to reduce this lag time, it’s preferable to brake and downshift before starting the turn. Then, while turning, begin to gradually but forcefully accelerate out of the turn. The mantra: Slow in, Fast out.

Here is an educational street demo of what it looks like when done correctly. Of course it looks very different when done on track — Heel Toe demo begins at 2:02. (video credit to Garage Woolery Drivers Clinic):


The Heel Toe technique allows the driver to accelerate earlier in the turn, and thus harnessing the torque power of the engine more quickly by matching the speed of the gears with that of the engine RPMs, aka “rev-matching”. As seen in the video, the driver uses the upper part of the right foot to brake and and the heel (or side edge) of that same foot to blip the throttle, ergo: rev-match. (BTW this is a truly bare-bones caricature explanation, it’s just how I personally understand it. For more erudite versions I would refer you to the great world wide web.)

I’m sharing a series of diagrams found on a truly excellent website (turnfast.com) which I would recommend to anyone who is learning about high performance driving.  The curious third grader inside me studied them carefully and was working on applications over the last 6 months:

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All of this goes to say: for most of the month since I was promoted to Blue on September 22 (thank you 007, you are a track-god), my preparation for the Oct 31 event was geared toward being able to perform the heel toe techniques ON TRACK at speed.  Partly because I want to actually GO FASTER, partly because I read that you cannot be promoted to White run group without knowing HT,  but MOSTLY because…. because……Oh, gosh, how could I ever look myself in the eye and say “I’m a driver” if I can’t HT????   It is a matter of basic dignity and self-respect.

OK…now that you’re done laughing…let me just say this: If you’re a baker and you can’t knead dough how can you call yourself a baker? Or if you’re a surgeon who cannot suture tissue, how can you consider yourself a surgeon? Or if you’re a stripper but can’t…. anyway… you get the point.

And so I’m huffing and puffing and creeping along my frustrated path toward building HT to the point where I felt it was almost instinctively my default shifting method on the street. But then, I would slip up* again–left to suffer the bilious rise of self-loathing that accompanies the embarrassing stench of incompetence.

Enter a Divine Intervention.  Via my tech guru, Buddha. The text message I had been waiting for all my life.  I shed a tear of relief.  Ha ha… just kidding! (OK. Not really.)

unnamed “I have a heel and toe pedal for a 911”.

My poor little beleaguered right foot had finally found it’s Raison d’Etre, and consistency in HT was my hard-won prize!  With this solidly under my belt, I emailed a list of my goals to my instructor, Mr. Le Mans, that week. Included in those goals was my hope that I could try out my self-assessed competency with HT on track.  To his profound and eternal credit Mr. Le Mans did not request reassignment to a new student after receiving what now appears, retrospectively, to be a cloying, hideously  enthusiastic, eager-beaveresque email :


The 4 main important points on October 31 and Nov 1st were:

1. FastDriverMom is capable of track-driving in the rain. First time ever on a wet track. No wadding up the car. Indeed, two sessions with the courageous Mr. LeM riding right seat. Clarkson, Hammond et al need look no further for the next Stig.

2. Yoda is much much much taller than me, so much so that you would never guess that we are related. Sadly, got cut out of the photo.

photo 4-1          (photo credit RAM)

3. I was able to HT on my first day SO SMOOTHLY  that Mr. Le Mans NEVER EVEN NOTICED! Or at least I don’t think he noticed. Or, maybe he was trying to ignore it….But on Sunday, Yoda def noticed….I could hear him him giggling with glee as I HT-ed going into turn 1 and over-revved as I accelerated out……

BTW Mr. LeM has the hottest car ever. Just sayin’….           2014-04-19-1590   (photo credit Mr. Le Mans)

3. There were ACTUALLY faster cars on track that I, FastDriverMom, was able to pass…. No, don’t laugh…It’s true!! I was easily moving over 110 on the back straight, consistently able to handle over 100 on the front straight, and on the last day, coolly surprised myself by un-fussily climbing the upper Esses entering at 103-105 range.  Partly it was–ahem– because–ahem–I was running with the green-yellow group all weekend. Yes, I admit it… and I am too old and too practical to let pride get the better of me. Truthfully, when I started my first session in Blue run group I realized quickly that I was totally out-horsepowered and outclassed. Blue was running combined sessions with White every day, so there were far, far more experienced drivers and I really could not keep up … on the plus side, in the Green-Yellow group I was blasting past some of those Caymans which did allow me to gain a modicum of confidence.

4. It’s not a bad thing when Mom gets to feel like she is Hot Stuff, for a few seconds here and there!  With gratitude to Drawers, Mr. Le Mans, Yoda, 007 and OF COURSE to Budhha, WinterKnits, Kivinski and SweetTe who inspire me to crawl my way toward my badass core…I present this closing anthem. *Apologies for the unintended pun.

Stay tuned (or not) for  the dubiously titled Part 3 – Epiphany at Oak Tree and Lessons from the Right Seat

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