Racing crate engines on dirt...
Racing crate engines on dirt is a unique animal. Matt Long (No. 25) shares with us the secrets that helped him win eight races in 2010.
They look the same, they share the same chassis, the racing is just as exciting, and they even (sort of) sound the same. But there is a world of difference between Super Dirt Late Models and the Crate Late Model class.
Customarily powered by GM's 604 crate motor, the Crate Late Model class was originally designed as an entry-level racing class that would allow racers to use older chassis that had been cycled out by the Super Late Model racers. In many ways, the Crate Lates are still that, but the class has also grown into much more than that over the few years since its inception. Now there are touring series just for the class, and very accomplished racers that could have success in Super Late Models who choose to stay in the Crate class because they like the overall package. But racing a Crate Late Model isn't simply racing a Super Late Model that's a little bit slower.
The difference in power is significant, and that can affect the way the suspension must be set up for the best lap times. For example, Super Late Model drivers can use the throttle to get the car to rotate through the turns, but with 350 to 400 horsepower, Crate drivers simply don't have that luxury. On a half-mile dirt track, corner entry speeds can be 20 to 30 mph slower, so you really have to do more with the chassis to get the car to do the same thing.
Adjustable shocks can be a...
Adjustable shocks can be a godsend for small race teams. Instead of swapping out shocks, twisting the "clicker" can make very useful changes to the way the car handles. If the car is pushing, you can increase the rebound to help plant the frontend.
Another critical difference is in the Super Late Model class. The engines are more than strong enough to easily overpower the tires, so good throttle control is vitally important. In the Crate classes, not only are the engines not strong enough to overpower the tires, but every driver also has approximately the same amount of power. In an attempt to get an advantage, some teams will cheat up the motor-but you're on your own there. Teams that take a more sporting approach instead make the driveline as efficient as possible in order to get all the power available from the crankshaft to the rear wheels.
To get a better idea of what it takes to win in Crate Late Model dirt racing we checked in with racer Matt Long who races the FastTrack touring series and won eight times in 45 races last year. Long is a great example of the success of the Crate Late Model class. This is just his fifth year racing-all in the Crate class-and he has enjoyed success without a large budget or even a lot of volunteer help. Mostly, he says, his race team is a two-man operation, him and crew chief Jim Cook Jr., but they are still able to keep the car properly maintained and competitive.
"In this class," he says, "winning really is all about the chassis. It doesn't matter how good you are as a driver if you can't get the car set up right. Everybody has the same amount of power so you have to do something different to separate yourself from the pack."
One of the great things about dirt racing is that the track is always changing. Dirt track racers can never assume a setup that works well during the heats is going to be the best option when the feature starts. Normally, a dirt track will start out wet and tacky with lots of traction but dry off and get slicker as the night winds on and the laps on the track pile up. Because of that, Long says you should find a baseline setup that works for you in most situations, then tune for the specific conditions of the night you are racing while also keeping in mind a plan for how you will adjust the car as the night goes on.
Driver Matt Long measures...
Driver Matt Long measures the length of the rear suspension bars. By moving the right rear wheel forward or back relative to the left rear wheel, you can affect the rear alignment and that determines how quickly the rear end of the car wants to swing out in the turn.
"A Late Model chassis has a ton of adjustments you can use, but if you try to use all of them it's really easy to adjust yourself right out of the ballpark," Long says. "You have to find the adjustments that work best for you. The things that work best for us and we most often turn to are the shocks, the springs-particularly the right front-and the rear bars."
Using adjustable shocks makes tuning changes quick and easy. Long and Cook will normally go with an adjustment to the front shocks as the track changes throughout the night. As the track dries out and slicks up, adding a little rebound to the front shocks will help hold the front end down after Long uses the brakes before entering the turn. More rebound shifts the weight over the front wheels and helps the car turn until you get back on the gas.
You can also soften up the compression on the right rear shock as the track gets slick to help you get more traction as the car rolls over on the right side. Likewise, increasing the compression on the left rear at the same time will further help you stick the right rear just a bit more.