The Art of Road Racing
winning insights for club racers

The dive bomb

The dive bomb is a dangerously optimistic pass attempt that often leads to bent metal and sharp words. Why does it happen? How can you avoid being that guy? How should you defend against it? That’s the topic here. Consider the following example from the SCCA licensing school involving novice racers.


Fortunately this one did not end in tears thanks to the victim’s heads up driving.

The anatomy of a dive bomb

A dive bomb is the result of optimism, often from an inexperienced driver. This is the usual sequence of events:

  • The bomber sets up on the inside passing line, but too far back for a successful pass. The victim brakes on his mark to make the corner.

  • The bomber stays on the throttle instead of braking on his mark in an optimistic attempt to catch up.

  • If the drivers are unlucky, the bomber makes contact as the victim turns-in, and there is bent metal to discuss in impound.

  • In the luckier case, the bomber avoids contact. But since he’s going too fast, he overshoots the turn-in, often with tires screeching and smoking under lock up. Sometimes he winds up in the runoff as in the video above. Sometimes he makes contact with a tire wall, or collects another racer as in the second example later in this article.

  • Alerted by the commotion, the victim turns safely after the bomber flies by and the pass fails.

The physics of the dive bomb

The main principal here is that equal cars and drivers threshold braking require the same time and distance to slow for a turn. This is a fact of physics.

Let’s study a hypothetical dive bomb in a turn that requires 1.0 seconds of braking. Assume the bomber is trailing by .1 seconds. Here’s how the timing works:

  • Time zero: the victim begins braking for the turn.

  • Time 0.1: the bomber now arrives at the braking point (remember he was .1 seconds behind) but he does not brake yet because he wants to catch up.

  • Time 0.3: the bomber has a nose at the victim’s door, and so he starts braking. He is cheering his great skill to have caught up under braking.

  • Time 1.0: the victim is done braking and can turn in any time. The bomber is alongside and has been braking for .7 seconds. Unfortunately for him, he still needs another .3 seconds of braking to slow sufficiently. So he goes flying past his intended victim, often with tires locked up in a futile attempt to defy the laws of physics. The victim waits until he’s clear, then turns to get away on the fast line.

  • Time 1.3: if the bomber is wise, he stays on the brakes and suffers overshooting the turn. His reward is being able to gather it up and continue, although at a disadvantage, having lost a full second to the mistake.

    If the bomber is unwise, he optimistically turns the wheel while carrying too much speed, and becomes an uncontrolled missile.

Advice to the bomber

A few suggestions to help avoiding becoming that guy:

  • Before committing to a pass, make sure you are within striking range. A rule of thumb is that you need some overlap with the victim upon braking.

  • Make sure the victim sees you by getting up to his door before turn-in. If your nose is only at the his bumper at his turn-in, then you will make contact, spin him around, and likely pay a visit to the stewards.

  • Understand that you are on the inside passing line, which has a tighter radius. So you will need to slow even more than usual to make the turn.

  • Watch your marks and be aware of your own braking point. If you are past it, you will overshoot the turn-in.

  • Watch your speed differential vs your victim. If you are going much faster under braking, there is trouble ahead.

  • If you find yourself having done the bomb, make sure to stay on the brakes and slow sufficiently to make the turn. Otherwise your uncontrolled path will be a hazard to yourself and other drivers.

  • Racing is stressful and physically hard, but we still need to make good decisions under these conditions. Seat time is necessary to develop your cool.

Defending against the bomb

  • The observant racer will size up the other racers and understand which ones exhibit inexperience or risky behavior. Saying hello in the paddock is helpful here as well.

  • If the trailing car is on the passing line, but not within striking range, beware. The bomber is signaling his intention to carry through with the bomb. Or he might be a wily experienced racer trying to psych you out. Make sure you know which is which.

  • You can try to discourage the bomber by taking a protecting line. If the bomber stays in the passing lane, double beware. The disadvantage here is that protecting is slower, so it will help the bomber catch up, and possibly egg him on.

  • If the bomber is faster than you, maybe better to let him by easily so he will bomb your competition ahead. Two problems solved at once.

  • Generally the best approach with a threatening bomber is to brake at your normal marker. This gives you the ability to turn under the bomber when he overshoots. Or to give him room if he gets a nose under your bumper.

  • Check your mirrors before turning to know if the bomb is on. Consider giving the bomber enough room to avoid contact if there is any overlap. Being in the right will be little consolation once you get turned around and lose your position.

Despite our best efforts, sometimes you get collected:


Watch the rear view mirror for the bomber and note his speed differential vs his victims. As you see, there was a big melee in which many cars checked up, so probably the bomber became excited because he found himself coming through traffic with a big speed advantage and so lost his reference for turn.

In racing you sometimes get collected. Make sure to calmly talk through what happened with the other driver. Watch the videos. If you are the bomber, better to listen and take responsibility for your contribution, and learn from the bomb so it doesn’t happen again. Both parties: do not be shy about taking it to the stewards if you can’t come to agreement about responsibility.

Caveat

The advice offered here is for the amateur club racer. We pay our own way, so we err on the side of minimizing damage and expenses. Understand that in racing one size does not fit all. Different racing series and communities have different standards. Do not use NASCAR or F1 as your standard for acceptable behavior in club racing. At the end of the day, we want to share a good natured laugh and a beer with our competitors, and we want to drive our car on the trailer with wheels pointing the same direction.