August 10, 2012
Ron Fellows lends experience to Danica Patrick
By DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - The class is in session and the professor is at the chalk board at Watkins Glen International.
The class consists of NASCAR Nationwide rookies Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt and the professor is Ron Fellows.
Both Patrick and Whitt are teammates with Fellows at the New York track for Saturday’s ZIPPO 250 and next week at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in the NAPA 200 driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his JR Motorsports team.
So Fellows — a six-time winner on road courses in the Nationwide and Camping World truck series — barely had time to park his motorhome at the 4.06-km facility when his newbie teammates started asking him for advice on how to manhandle the big, heavy stock cars around a race track designed for sports cars and the more nimble open-wheel IndyCars.
While Patrick is something of a veteran at the Glen with six races under her belt from her days in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Whitt is an absolute virgin when it comes to turning right and left here.
So Fellows has his work cut out for him.
“Cole has never been at the Glen in any kind of race car,” he said of his session with the 21-year-old native of Alpine, Calif. “We looked at some tapes of races here and talked for about half an hour going over the track.”
With the 30-year-old Patrick it was more about Fellows just reminding her of the characteristics of the track that she will face in the race.
“She knows her way around a road course,” Fellows said. “She was doing a great job at Road America (in June). I don’t think she is going to have any issues here.”
He said that his most important lesson for both young drivers was that the Glen is a track that allows drivers to hit high speeds in the corners, something that most road courses do not allow.
“Some of the fastest corners on any road course in North America are right here,” Fellows said.
He said that a mistake many drivers make is thinking they have to slow right down in the corners.
“The corners at the Glen are fast and it is easy to over slow,” Fellows said. “It is a momentum track. There are a couple of places you have to focus in terms of the chassis and just working on trying — not necessarily brake late but to brake less — so you can carry momentum.
“In NASCAR with the cars being very, very powerful, but not having a lot of downforce compared to a more sophisticated road race specific car, they’re heavy and the approach speeds are high.”
Fellows said he tells his students that it is critical to focus on footwork — working the brake and clutch — and maintaining focus.
“The area that I focus on the most is corner approach and the footwork, braking and downshifting,” he said. “It’s so, so critical.”
Fellows said that most of the crashes he has seen on road courses in NASCAR has been the result of errors drivers make while down shifting in the corners.
“The cars are also very sensitive to the input when you’re down shifting,” he said. “You see cars entering corners, and suddenly you can see a the car start to get a little sideways. That’s usually error in downshifting.”
It will be in Saturday’s race where we will see if his lessons took.
In shortened practice session Friday — a wet track and a blown engine by Kyle Busch cut practice nearly in half — Fellows was seventh fastest in the No. 5 JRM Chevrolet with a lap of 116.747 m.p.h. compared to the 118.250 m.p.h. recorded by Brad Keselowski in the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge.
Whitt, meanwhile was ninth fastest at 116.399 m.p.h. in the No. 88 Chevrolet and Patrick 19th in the No. 7 Chevrolet at 113.334 m.p.h.
In an unusual twist Friday, NASCAR confiscated the driver’s gloves that Fellows usually wears after finding they had outside seams and were not on a list of approved gloves.
He had to buy a new pair.