Our final race for Project Dirt Late Model and the United Dirt Late Model Challenge Series last season was at East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa, Florida. I've been around that track more times than I can remember in a number of different types of cars. So naturally, I felt good about our chances to produce that first win. Everything was clicking--the problem with the motor running hot had been solved with a new Edelbrock water pump, Bob Bolles' setup solved the persistent loose problem I had since I got the car, and we made it to the track with plenty of time to spare. It seemed like all the I's were dotted and the T's crossed.

Naturally, that wasn't going to last. I guess that Murphy must have been hiding in the back of the trailer or in the 'cage in the shop watching us. When I went out for hot laps, I headed down the backstretch and everything was good. But halfway through Turn 3, the steering got super stiff. Now anybody who has ever driven a Dirt Late Model knows that they don't turn real well without power steering. In fact, they really don't turn much at all.

Anyway, when I got back around to the pits we quickly found the problem. The bolt that attaches to the shaft that goes through the center of the rack broke. We tried to use an "easy-out" to pull out the broken bolt but it was seized up in there and wouldn't budge. So with time ticking rapidly away until qualifying, we took a stab at trying to backyard engineer a fix by welding another bolt to the slave cylinder shaft. We even put wet rags all around the rack to help keep it cool from the intense welding heat.

Our fix worked--for all of one lap. Here's a note for everybody out there, wet rags will not help protect anything from the heat of a welder. All of the seals around the slave cylinder melted and after that one lap. Power steering fluid was leaking out and showed no signs of stopping.

We still qualified for the race and finished Fourth in the B-Main, too bad only the top two transfer. Unfortunately, our '08 racing season ended with a mechanical failure.

Since there's no sense in crying over spilled power steering fluid, we put in a call to Fred Appleton at Appleton Power Rack & Pinion. We had heard that Appleton had a brand-new rack for Dirt Late Models and we wanted to see if we could get a first-hand look.

Nice Rack!
Appleton's new double-ended cylinder rack features a 1 inch piston diameter with a high-flow open-port servo valve and improved cylinder lugs with 3/8 inch mounting bolts. Available in a variety of ratios from 3.4 up to 4.4, it would fit our needs perfectly. In addition, its adjustable ends are inch smaller than the standard adjustable end and give more clearance. It has 1.3 inches of travel where the old style had 2 inches of travel. The cool thing is that these new adjustable ends mount the same way as the old ones, so there's no need to buy a new rack shaft or any other parts to convert.

So, with the rack we wanted identified, it was time get down to the numbers. In talking with Fred, we learned that the rack that had been in Project DLM was actually the wrong size for our chassis. We bought this car used 4 years ago and the busted rack is the one that came with it. The rack worked, so we never thought about replacing it. Sound familiar? We were convinced that we were not the first racer to make this mistake and Fred backed us up. "Not ordering the proper ratio or servo feel for the application is the most common mistake racers make when buying a new rack," he says.

Not surprisingly, ratio and servo feel are two of the Top 5 features a racer should consider when purchasing a rack-and-pinion. The others are whether you want manual or power steering, the type of rack housing, and the length of the rack shaft.

Choosing Wisely So how do you ensure that you get the right one? Chart A lays out Appleton's recommendations for those five most critical items when selecting a new rack.