Everything we do in life would be easier if we understood how it works. If you start a new career, you go through some type of training. If you buy your kid a new toy, it (the toy, not the kid) will have an instruction manual. So why would you race without either one of these?

I, like a lot of you, didn't know where to find this information or training, so I went to other drivers and crews for information. Some of the information helped and some didn't, but every time I asked a question and received an answer, my next question was always "why." Rarely did I ever get the answer to that "why" part of the question. No one could tell me why because all of the answers I was getting were actually "track science."

Track science is defined as a set of commonly held beliefs generated from a group of racers talking about something, be it shock selection, porting heads, or any other number of topics. Through those conversations, the majority come to an agreement, and that agreement turns into fact. Over time, those facts are passed around from driver to driver, class to class, and eventually, generation to generation. This is a primary reason we see racers, both drivers and crews who have made it to the very pinnacle of racing, struggle when they switch teams or go to a new track. Somewhere along the line they were exposed to "track science."

So what can you do?

For starters, you can subscribe to this magazine. Read it cover to cover each month and then save every issue for reference. Now that the shameless self-promotion is out of the way, there is another way.

I had been eyeing the RaceWise Dirt Track Chassis School for some time, but like many racers, I had procrastinated signing up for it. Each year was a different excuse: The dates conflicted with my schedule, I didn't have the money to hop on a plane, and so on. But this year was different. With my calendar clear, I signed up and made my reservations to go to Batesville, Arkansas.

The RaceWise Dirt Track Chassis School is owned and operated by Mark Bush, cofounder of AFCO Racing Products. With over thirty years of designing, building, testing and developing racecar suspensions and components, Bush has a world of experience to draw upon. He started doing classes in 1984, and over the years the classes became more and more popular. In 2002, Bush officially named his three day seminar "RaceWise." The school has helped thousands of racers, from hobbyists to World 100 winners, improve their racing knowledge and skills. Students from almost every state, as well as Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, have benefited from the three-day school.

Bush conducts four sessions each year. They are held in different regions of the country to accommodate racers from all over the nation.Our class took place at Larry Shaw Race Cars in Batesville, Arkansas.

Larry Shaw and his company do not need an introduction. In 2007 alone, Shaw-built cars notched over 800 Feature Wins with 221 different drivers, plus 40 championships in 19 different states. Larry's shop is state of the art and provides the perfect backdrop for the RaceWise School. They're great people, too.

After the first day of class, I knew the title for this article. I thought I had learned a lot about late-model racing over the years, but I had realized how much I didn't know.

The first day of class, Mark Bush asked a question that I will ask you. If you had to have heart surgery, would you go to a surgeon that has no schooling or training, although his buddy two doors down told him the best way to do it? Of course you wouldn't. So why then would you ask your buddy two pit stalls down how to set up your racecar?Makes you think, doesn't it? I'd be willing to bet that 90 percent of the people reading this article have done just that. Heck, I have.

Once Bush sets the tone with that question, he jumps right into a textbook that is almost 2 inches thick, and it's all about chassis setup. Bush admits that the RaceWise School is a "cram course." You get thrown so much information so fast that your head will be spinning by the time the class is over. However, the textbook is set up like a reference manual so you can refer back to it over and over again.

I found that the best technique is to listen closely and follow along, all the while taking notes; then go back each evening and review the day's lessons in the book. This is especially helpful since each section of the class builds upon the previous one.

Bush is fond of asking questions, and he nailed all of us in the class with this one: "What turns the car?" Everyone, and I mean everyone, in the class got it wrong. Most of us said the obvious (the steering wheel) but the answer Bush was looking for was tires.

That leads us to the topic for the first day of class...tires. That's right, nothing but tires. The instructors even took an old tire and cut it in half to look at the construction. Bush argues-and rightly so-that you should know your tires and their construction inside and out. Everything that happens in a racecar throughout practice, qualifying, and the race itself can be traced back to the tires: turning, braking, acceleration, everything. Your success is a direct result of what happens at the tires.

"Do you have a pyrometer?" Bush asked. "If not, you need to go out and buy one. It's an invaluable tool in assessing what your tires are doing."

Once you have a firm understanding of the importance of the tires, next on the agenda is learning accurate handling analysis techniques. Bush boils it down to the three W's-what, where, and when.

What is the chassis doing?
Where on the racetrack is it doing it?
When does the problem occur?

Static chassis conditions and measurements are understood by most dirt-car crews, but the understanding of how dynamic forces change the handling is a completely different matter. In order to achieve that understanding, you must be able to answer those three questions. If you can answer them accurately you have the foundation to begin to solve your problem.

As the school progresses through each day, the subject matter gets more complex, covering just about everything you can think of, including chassis-hike adjustments; axle- mounted versus birdcage-mounted calipers; swing-arm versus four-link analysis, and much, much more.

Now this being my first trip to RaceWise, I was curious to see what type of students were in the class. RaceWise focuses on dirt chassis setups, specifically late-model and modifieds, but also some street stock topics-and that's who made up our class. We had racers in the class representing all three of those divisions, and they all agreed that attending the RaceWise school was money well-spent.

Jason Trevathan, a late-model driver from Texas, said, "I learned a lot about the physics of handling, but even more important, I learned how to solve specific handling problems. I run a four-bar car at Devil's Bowl, the tackiest clay track in the world, so that's real important."

Jason was a first timer at RaceWise but his father and car owner, Steve, was not. "I've been (to RaceWise) multiple times. There is always valuable suspension design and tuning information for all types of dirt cars with every conceivable suspension device."

The reason behind going to the school more than once lies within Bush's philosophy of staying ahead of the curve. He is constantly adding information to his textbook. As manufacturers introduce new components and as new techniques for maximizing setups are developed, Bush analyzes their usefulness and then adds them to the course.

We had young racers, seasoned veterans, and even a college professor in the class. With such a wide range of experience, you'd think it would be difficult for Bush to cater to everyone, but he has a way of explaining chassis physics so that both the novice and experienced tuner feels as if the course was designed for them.

I thought back to two years ago when I was bad fast in the B-Main. I spanked the entire field, won the B, and then finished Second in the feature. I had no idea why I was so fast that night. I had accidentally hit on the setup and won the race by accident. Of course, I didn't tell anybody that back then. After attending RaceWise and reading through the textbook multiple times, the light bulb began to shine on the reasons why I was so fast that night.

To say that I gained a lot out of the school would be an understatement. But while I know that I have personally made huge strides in a better understanding of dirt-track chassis setup, I also realized that there is a whole lot more to learn. In order to start reaping the rewards of a school like RaceWise, you have to take the information from the school and relate it back to what you've already done at the track (right and wrong), even down to some of the simplest operations, such as scaling the car. Combining the lessons from the past with the teachings of the school and applying that to your future racing activities should yield the results every one of us is looking for-Victory Lane. With the season just a few weeks away, I can't wait to put my education to the test.

SOURCE
Larry Shaw Race Cars RaceWise Dirt Track Chassis School
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