The events that can require...
The events that can require you to reclip your race car aren't always this severe, but you get the picture. Thankfully, the driver walked away from this wreck.
Don't worry, it happens to everybody. Bumps and scrapes, that type of thing. We're not talking about your ill-advised attempt to ride your son's skateboard; we're talking about your race car. If you think you can go racing without ever banging a fender or two, you probably need to trade in your stock car for slot cars. Bent metal happens, it's not the end of the world.
But that means occasionally your car is probably going to have to go under the knife. That's obvious in the opening photo-happily, the driver walked away-but there are other occasions when the handling just isn't quite right and the only solution is to replace the front clip. To see how it's done we visited Gene Leicht of Leicht Race Cars in Arden, N.C. Leicht and his crew were at work on a car that is a much more common example than the "big wreck." This Late Model had, at some point during the season, been punched in the tire. After that, no matter what adjustments the team made, the driver felt it was never quite right. So, as soon as the season was over the car was sent in for a real fix: a new front end.
Leicht Race Cars is a no-frills chassis shop. It specializes in Late Model chassis, and although Leicht's shop is by no means a large-production operation, his strong, lightweight chassis have won races all over the Southeast. Although there may be minor differences in operation, the process for replacing a front clip on a tubular chassis is nearly identical in every race shop across the country. The key is the precision the shop is capable of and how much pride your chassis builder takes in his repair work.
All chassis repair work is done on one of Leicht's two surface plates. This one is a single plate of steel six feet wide by sixteen feet long and five-eighths of an inch thick. It rests on two giant I beams secured to the floor. To ensure that it stays perfectly level Leicht regularly shoots it with a surveyor's transit. It may seem like a waste of time, but Leicht says things move, the floor of the shop settles or the surface plate simply gets knocked around moving wrecked cars on and off it.
This car came into Leicht...
This car came into Leicht Race Cars for a new front clip. The damage doesn't look severe, but a punch to one of the front wheels knocked the brackets out of alignment. The team shortened the time the car spent in the shop (and their bill) by removing everything from the front end and allowing Leicht and his crew to get right down to work.
For every car Leicht repairs, four new four-inch blocks are cut to set the chassis on. A scribed grid on the surface plate helps center the car on the plate, and once everything is centered and confirmed as level, the car is welded to the blocks and the blocks, in turn, are welded to the surface plate to make sure nothing can accidentally get bumped out of position.
If it hasn't already been done, everything unnecessary is stripped from the front end of the car and the cutting begins. Leicht uses a cutting torch, saying it's quicker than a saw and easier to use on difficult angles than a plasma cutter. Two passes are made with the cutting torch: The first to do the big work and separate the clip from the framerails and the upper engine cage tubing, and the second to do the detail work and clean up the tubing to be rewelded. Everything is then ground smooth.
Most chassis builders pre-fabricate a clip for their own cars and can have it ready before your car arrives at the shop. Since the car we are working on is one Leicht had built, he had a clip ready to go as soon as the old one was cut off. Leicht's clips rest on a notch against a crossmember underneath the firewall. A measured block holds the front of the clip at the correct height. Before the first arc is struck with the welder, Leicht spends a significant amount of time making sure everything is straight. It does no good to have a new front clip if it isn't aligned with the car, so knowing everything is situated perfectly is critical. Leicht has specific points on his chassis he measures to make sure he's getting what he wants. The car is already centered on the surface plate, so the clip needs only to be centered on the centered line scribed into the plate. It's located forward and back by measuring from between the central crossmember in the car to the engine-mount crossmember on the clip. Height from the surface plate is also checked all the way around.
Leicht uses a cutting torch...
Leicht uses a cutting torch to cut the old clip free from its many attachment points to the car.
After chucking the old clip...
After chucking the old clip into the scrap-metal heap, Dean Smith gets to work with a grinder, removing all the old weld.
With the new clip in place,...
With the new clip in place, Lee Malone takes several measurements to locate the new piece exactly where it belongs. Because Malone knows the car's framerails are exactly four inches off the surface plate, he can measure the clip's height along the surface plate to verify vertical alignment.