Every race car driver starts somewhere in their journey to become a proficient pilot, whether the choice of weapon is a weekend bracket machine or a no-expense-spared top-shelf Pro Mod. When it comes to new NMRA Factory Stock racer Tom Mueller, time spent learning alongside his crew chief — Brandon Alsept of BA Motorsports — is proving to be invaluable. Mueller is in the process of acclimating himself to the high-winding, high-flying antics of the new-to-him race car. Alsept previously piloted this very car in NMRA Coyote Stock for its original owner, Derek Kernodle.
Alsept includes many years of driving experience on his resume and counts multiple NMRA Pure Street championships and an NMCA Mean Street championship among his successes. As such, he is well-equipped to share the promises and pitfalls of successful racing endeavors with new drivers and has coached several clients to success. He’s also willing to share his guidance with us, both in this video and in a short interview we conducted with him after watching Mueller improve quickly during this recent test session of the Factory Stock ’96 Cobra.
He has three things that top his instruction list to any driver getting comfortable in a new car.
“First, I make sure they know where all the important stuff is inside the car as far as switches and buttons go, that they know what each does, and when to use it. Then I show them how to make sure they are comfortable in the car and have the full range of motion to their best ability, so they can reach the switches, shifter, and parachute lever if equipped. Then I tell them to have fun because if it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing,” he says.
Alsept’s belief remains that drag racing is won and lost in the mind dovetails with his experiences behind the wheel and as crew chief for his successful clients. If the racer can conquer the nerves and other distractions, they are far more likely to experience consistent performance.
“Drag racing is beyond a humbling sport. I really think it is a 95-percent mental game. There isn’t much that is physically demanding in a car, so I try to make them understand that they can get in their own head quickly, and it is tough to get out of your own mind once you’re in there. As hard as it is, you have to turn off your mind to an extent and just let stuff happen once you’re dialed in with your car. You overthink something like a shift or something, most likely you will ‘fubar’ it,” he explains.
Typically, he doesn’t unleash advice immediately; instead, he’ll observe the driver to see their tendencies, then make suggestions based on his interpretation of what he sees. One area that he finds invaluable to instruction is video footage because it doesn’t miss any details of what’s happening in the car and on the track.
“Video is so valuable it’s unreal. I wish I had this level of video back when I was driving more. The data logs and driver input are great, but to look at a couple of angles of 4K-level video and how the car and driver are reacting is huge to a program. We have caught things on video that have changed the path of a race weekend before,” Alsept says.
Ultimately, in a power-and-chassis-limited class such as NMRA Factory Stock, there are far more adjustments to be made than the typical viewer notices from the outside. He is always looking for ways to improve performance, and this season we’ll get to see how some of these ideas take hold with a brand-new driver.
Alsept sums up the experience of working with these types of programs as one that requires more effort and attention than one might think given the rules package.
“From the outside, Factory Stock looks like an economical way to get into heads-up drag racing. But when you’re looking at a fairly tight set of rules for a limited naturally aspirated class, you have to think about every aspect of the car to maximize every bit of power you have. We are looking at weights of driveline pieces, looking at different clutch setups, suspension setups, and more. There is always something to test if you have the time and money — I have a notebook full of ideas and setups I want to try,” he says.