Once the teams understood the methodology for making the suspension system designs better,
Top asphalt teams in the Midwest ran softer right rear springs at all of the tracks, even very high banked ones where it was ridiculous to do so. But everyone did it, so no one was aware that there could be a different way.
Dirt Late Model teams ran not only softer right rear springs, but very stiff front springs to boot. Yes, they needed good bite off the corners on dry slick, but having to park the car in the middle because it wouldn't turn the corner made that necessary.
And the most significant trend that permeated the industry was the pursuit of the fastest lap time. Almost to a team, 100 percent, every driver would go out in short runs and experiment with different spring combinations trying to lay down that fast lap.
In the shorter races, this could be successful, but for longer events, it was a disaster. What was needed was a better understanding of the dynamics and physics of our race cars. And things were soon to change for the better.
The Dirt Late Model, as are many classes of dirt cars, is a complicated design with a mult
Late '90s To Early '00S
In the late '90s, a select few teams started experimenting with what we have called creating a balanced setup. Balance is not only having a neutral handling car, but a system of spring rates and moment (roll) centers whereby the front and rear suspension systems are working in unison, not against each other.
What we saw with these teams was an immediate improvement in driveability, prolonged speed (i.e. the lap times did not fall of as much), better tire wear, and cars that were more capable of winning a race.
This happened across the board with Cup teams and short track asphalt teams in the Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, and West Coast. How do I know that? Because I was in communication with teams that had transitioned into that path and it was paying off big time.
In Dirt Late Model, a few teams experimented with running even springs across the rear and lowering the front spring rates, against the advice of the car builders, some of whom were understandably irate. Then, during Speedweeks, sometime around 2002, Don O'Neal ran a stiffer right rear spring at East Bay's Winternationals and then again at Volusia and won consistently.
Through the '90s, setups evolved to where the teams ran softer front springs combined with
In conjunction with the transition in spring rates, teams were fooling around with their front geometries and finding that locating the moment center in a certain area helped the front to gain grip and to help turn the car. Now we were getting somewhere.
Asphalt teams were doing much the same thing and in the Midwest, the team of Brian Hoppe completely bucked the system with its setups in 1998 and finally won the Re/Max Challenge Series, after finishing Second twice, in a classic battle with Steve Carlson.
In the Southeast, the father and sons team of Jim, Jon, and Jeff Craig made changes that balanced their Goody's Dash car and won four races in a row going on to win not only the championship in that former division of NASCAR, but the Late Model touring division numerous times later on.
Out west, Craig Raudman, founder of Victory Circle race cars, won the NASCAR touring division there with this new concept. And I began writing for CT in 1998 with much the same message for the readership. I saw car builders who were curious as to why certain teams running their cars were winning on a consistent basis.
The design of both asphalt and dirt cars was influenced by what the racers were doing outside the manufacturers "playbook." It pissed off some of the car builders and woke up some others. The smart ones realized that if a new technology could help their cars win, sales would increase, it had always worked that way. And they did.
Things were looking good for common sense setups where the car was happy; the tires were happy; and the driver, team, and car owners were happy. But just like America today, a good thing can be corrupted and soon "evil forces" began to manipulate the way teams setup their cars.