This week, I discovered that everything I thought I knew about life, the universe, and high-performance driving might well be backwards.
The process of heel-toeing is a fantastic skill to have as a car enthusiast. It’s only something you need to know if you’re driving a three-pedal manual, and it’s something you only use in very vigorous driving, so it remains in a sort of dark art section of car knowledge, known mostly by extreme automotive obsessives.
Heel-and-toeing is a way to match revs as you’re simultaneously braking and downshifting for a corner. As you press on the brake, you also stab the throttle so the engine’s revs match with the lower gear. Fifth gear—brrrrm—Fourth gear—brrrrm—Third gear—brrrrm—and you’re into the turn at the right speed with the engine in its sweet spot. It’s about smoothness. It’s about speed.
If you hadn’t heel-and-toe’d there, the engine would spike in revs as you let out the clutch on each shift, sending a shock of engine-braking power to the back wheels.
That’s exactly what kicked me sideways in a new Mustang hauling down from triple digits on the pit straight at Lime Rock coming into Big Bend.
In any case, the way to do it is while you’re in the midst of braking, you keep your toes pushing on the brake pedal, and you slide your heel over to blip the gas pedal. Heel and toe. Makes sense, right?
OR AT LEAST SO I THOUGHT.
The other day I was on the Lemons Racer Lounge, the 24 Hours of LeMons drivers’ Facebook page/chat room/BS zone and someone posted a picture of a classic heel and toe diagram that had the original caption “Like and share if you know what this is.....most won’t get it...” Remember what I said about heel and toe being kind of niche? Yeah.
But the dude who posted it in the Lemons Racer Lounge captioned the photo with the question, “Is this the way y’all do it? My foot doesn’t bend that way, and toe on the brake gives you no fine motor control over the throttle.”
And it turns out that tons of people toe-and-heel instead of heel-and-toe! I had no idea!
“I heel the brake and toe the gas.... My feet are pretty small so almost no pedals are close enough for me to keep my foot straight. This also allows me to heal toe the dually,” wrote one person.
“My feet are too big and my right ankle doesn’t have enough mobility to do it that way. I go big toe ball of foot on the brake and then blip the throttle with the other side of my foot. Maybe 1/4-1/2 the angle shown,” wrote another.
“Glad I’m not the only weirdo. I tried for years to do it the “right” way,” a presumably quite relieved forum member wrote.
“Depends how far apart the pedals are,” was another common refrain, one that was typically answered by people telling others to modify the pedals themselves. “If you feet don’t let you do this, time to modify your pedals. Add a extended plate to the gas, or just bend em,” wrote one team member, echoed by many others. “On our old Ford Escort, one of the occasional team members grabbed the gas pedal with his hands and bent it about a 3/4" to the left. It generally made this much easier, though I still suck(ed) at it.”
I don’t know if I can say one way is more correct than the other. Certainly modifying the pedals to make traditional heel-toeing work is a solution, but if re-orienting your feet to fit with your existing set up works, far be it from me to tell you otherwise.
The fun part about all of this is that it’s a window into the dark and somewhat mysterious side of car control techniques. They’re not anything you’re taught in driver’s ed. They’re difficult to explain in words or pictures. They’re reserved for only the most extreme drivers, and they carry that air of prestige and mystery.
My whole world is upside down right now. What if other driving techniques out there have more variation than I ever imagined? What if nothing I know is real?