Here at Circle Track we're always looking for new parts, ideas, techniques, and really anything that makes you faster and helps you win. Recently, we found a couple of things that we think will help, and are often over looked or taken for granted. How many times have you been at the track and have seen a front-running car have a problem and wreck for seemingly no reason? Later, after the race, walking through the pits you learn he broke a ball joint and that ultimately caused the wreck. I've heard of this happening numerous times and actually witnessed it twice this year by two different front-running cars. After talking to the teams, I learned they both had one thing in common, they never checked their ball joints.
Beyond ball joints, another thing that I've noticed on several different cars I've worked on are upper A-frames issues. These issues range from binding to having a lot of play in the bushings. Both of these can cause serious problems.
With A-frames and ball joints in the back of our minds this year, during our midseason break we did our normal maintenance on our Dirt Late Model. After checking the ball joints, we noticed one was possibly bad, or going bad. Because there is a lot of stress on all the suspension components, especially the ball joints, coupled with the problems we have seen, we decided to go ahead and change all of them. Now, like a lot of you, I knew I wanted low friction, but wasn't sure about taper dimensions, length, and so on. Also, I wanted to know how much difference there really was between manufacturers. After all, you can go from the very cheap auto parts store stuff to the very exotic (aka expensive) Formula 1/ NASCAR stuff. So, we put a call into the guys at Howe Racing Enterprises and asked all the questions. I was very surprised at how much difference there really is. The staff at Howe Racing was so knowledgeable and helpful; it made getting the parts we needed quick and easy. While we started the conversation about ball joints we also covered some task-specific tools and the new upper A-frames the company now offers. After talking with Howe I knew I had to have them.
Howe ball joints offer very low resistance while still fully capturing the ball to maintain alignment. The alloy steel ball studs are process-coated for low friction and long wear, while the rugged steel housings will withstand impacts that would destroy lesser ball joints. We all have seen and heard of low-friction ball joints; but when I received these, I was surprised at how low the resistance really is.
Choosing the right ball joint for your application is extremely easy with the tech support at Howe. It offers several different options from screw-in uppers and lowers, to bolt-in uppers and press-in lowers covering a range of applications from GM to Mopar. They are also NASCAR-approved and IMCA-legal. A really nice feature to also consider is that all Howe ball joints are user rebuildable. This is important for teams, like us, who don't have an unlimited budget like the guys in NASCAR. Not only are Howe's ball joints user rebuildable, but they offer an exceptionally large selection of interchangeable studs and housings.
Howe also offers the option to build your own combination. To do this you use Howe's "Fit" code to identify the studs that will fit your spindle. It also ensures the ball size matches your housing size. To explain what the Fit code is, Howe offers a code based on some simple measurements. Tapers are listed by the number of inches per foot, but when ordering you also need to know the base diameter, the length of the taper, and the threads. To combine all of these dimensions Howe created a "Fit" code. This code lets you cross reference with other Howe ball joints and studs. Any ball joint with a matching Fit code will fit the same spindle. Howe also offers other options like XD housings. These housings boast an end-of-travel load testing that is 300 percent stronger and small ball studs that fit smaller housings for added rotor clearance. One last feature that we love is, unlike cheap copies, all Howe ball joints are made and assembled in the USA.
For our application on good ol' Project DLM, we're using a screw-in upper and lower. Installation is simple because all assembled ball joints are shipped from Howe Racing internally lubricated, adjusted, and ready to install.
Let's get started. First, we will apply antiseize to the threads of the housing. Then we screw it in to the control arm clockwise torqueing it to 100 ft-lb. One thing to pay close attention to is to make sure that the stud is in contact with the spindle from top to bottom. If the taper is larger than the stud it will appear to be tight but will have a gap at the large end and will eventually break.
Here are a few tips that we learned along the way to help with your install:
1. Most dirt racers don't run the rubber boots on their ball joints as they trap dirt during racing and hold water from the cleaning each week. We take the air hose and blow as much of the water away after we wash the car and grease the ball joints immediately
2. Use castle nuts and cotter pins on all your ball joints. These parts are provided for a reason. We have seen plenty of nuts come off ball joints, and when this happens it never ends well.
3. When you first insert the ball joint into the spindle, make sure to pay close attention to the position of the hole for the cotter pin. You want the stud of the ball joint turned so you can insert the cotter pin.
1 Howe Racing Enterprises...
1 Howe Racing Enterprises manufacture some of nicest chassis components available today. Here are its new Precision Max A-Frame and low-friction ball joints awaiting installation into Project DLM.
2 Our original A-frames were...
2 Our original A-frames were off-the-shelf components that served us well for several years but now it was time for an upgrade.
3 Here’s the old-school way...
3 Here’s the old-school way that many of us (me included) were taught how to remove a ball joint. A hammer and one good whack…
4 Of course, Howe makes task-specific...
4 Of course, Howe makes task-specific tools, such as the Ball Joint spreader that allows you to leave the hammer in the toolbox. To the right of the separator tool is the spacer kit, which includes spacers for different length spindles. It’s sold separately.
5 Since our spindles are...
5 Since our spindles are black, we mocked up this old red one to make it easier to see the ball joint separator in action. If you race a car where you have to do any work on your ball joints, you owe it to yourself to have this tool.
6 With the old ball joints...
6 With the old ball joints out, we thought we’d do this little demonstration of just how great these Howe A-Frames are. Here you can see the old A-frame holding up three 16-ounce bottles of radiator cooler. Even under that weight, it doesn’t budge.
Howe recommends that you grease your ball joints every 300 to 400 laps with low-friction grease such as Citgo MP Lithoplex 3 or Red Line CV2. Because of the dirt buildup and need to wash the car after every race, I grease my ball joints after every race with AMSOIL Series 2000 Synthetic Racing Grease. This high-quality lube will push any dirt from racing, or water from washing, out. Unlike conventional ball joints, a Howe ball joint will only accept grease until it's full (typically, one pump or less is required). Once the grease passages are full they will not vent, the pressure from the grease gun can make it difficult to remove the gun from the zerk. To relieve the pressure, work the ball stud around to vent grease onto the ball. If the ball joint is on the car, bounce the suspension for the same result. Finally, disassemble annually or every 2,000 laps to adjust the lash.
Disassembly, assembly, and setting the lash are very simple if you follow these few steps:
Use a 3/32-inch Allen wrench to remove the setscrews from the housing.
2. With a 1/2-inch drive ratchet turn adjuster cap counterclockwise to remove.
3. Clean moving parts to inspect for excessive wear. Replace any parts that are worn or damaged. The ball stud is concentric and should be checked for straightness. To check this, install the ball stud upside down in the housing and spin the stud against the side of the housing with your fingers. If the ball stud is bent, you will see it wobble.
Install the housing into the A-frame or gently clamp the housing by the flats into a vise.
2. Install the ball stud into the housing without grease
3. Apply a small amount of light lubricant to the threads of the cap, install and tighten until it contacts the top of the ball.
4. Set the lash on the ball by loosening the cap 1/8-turn.
5. Install the setscrews into the housing tightening them evenly. If you have a steel adjuster cap, apply blue Loctite to setscrews before installing.
6. Using a grease gun. Grease and rotate the ball stud by hand until the grease is visible on the bottom of the ball.
Earlier I mentioned the subject of task-specific tools came up during my conversation with Howe. It offers two tools to help change your ball joints--a ball joint spreader and the sockets to fit the screw-in upper and lower ball joints. Now, like a lot of you, I have a method passed down from generation to generation of taking a hammer and something softer than steel and smacking the you know what out of the ball joint to get it out. I'm happy to report that there is a lot better, safer, and smarter way of doing this. Howe's Ball Joint Spreader is so fast and easy that I feel like an idiot for not getting one sooner. You simply place it between the studs or on the stud and against the spindle and turn a 9/16 nut and it simply pushes the stud free. It's that easy and quick.
The other tools we talked about were the sockets for the screw-in upper and lower ball joints. Because of the large size, most of us don't have wrenches to fit these just lying around, so we use pipe wrenches. The problem with pipe wrenches is they slip and if nothing else, they mar the shoulders of the nut and make them rough and sharp.
Now I'm not sure how many of you have gone to your local tool dealer and priced wrenches big enough to fit these ball joints, but I have and can tell you that, if you can find them, you have to mortgage your house to afford one. OK, maybe they're not that bad but they are costly. However, you can buy a set of sockets in the correct sizes for the ball joints from Howe for what one wrench will cost and you'll still have money left over.
With our ball joints and required tools ready to go, there was one other item from Howe that I knew we had to have on Project DLM by the time the new racing season started, the Precision Max A-Frames. These A-frames offer the same low drag and low friction as other Howe products including a sealed dual-row ball bearing design that allows bind free movement under severe braking conditions even if the A-frame becomes damaged.
They also come with easily removable cross-shafts for use with tower mounts. The cross-shafts are replaceable and available in three different styles--aluminum shaft with holes, steel shaft with holes, or steel shaft with slot and key. You can also get any of the A-frames from 7 to 11.75 inches and 0-degree, 7-degree, or 15-degree. The ball joint mounting ring is also reinforced to prevent flex and distortion of the housing.
Like the ball joints you just read about, these upper A-frames are also user rebuildable. If you're involved in an accident or feel any kind of bind, you can replace individual parts saving you a couple of bucks.
Once we received our new upper A-frames, right out of the box we were amazed at how smooth the cross-shaft moved and when Howe says low-drag and low-friction, it means it.
The other thing we noticed was when installing the ball joint was there was no bind at all. The ball joint screwed in very smooth, unlike other upper A-frames we have used in the past that you needed to put a wrench to force the first thread in. And if you're wondering if these A-frames are as good as I say they are, keep in mind Howe builds A-frames exclusively for some of the top chassis builders, such as Rocket, Bloomquist, Swartz, and Pierce.
7 Here’s the Howe Precision...
7 Here’s the Howe Precision Max A-Frame installed on the car. Check it out, I have to hold it up in order to keep it from falling. Talk about low friction!
8 Howe also makes correct...
8 Howe also makes correct size sockets for the ball joints, which you can see here already attached to my ratchet.
9 Prior to installing the...
9 Prior to installing the ball joint in the A-frame, antisieze is applied to the threads.
10 Be sure to coat all threads...
10 Be sure to coat all threads evenly.
11 Then screw the ball joint...
11 Then screw the ball joint in by hand.
12 Torque the ball joint...
12 Torque the ball joint in to 110 pounds.
13 Be careful at this point....
13 Be careful at this point. As you can see, the hole for the cotter pin on the ball joint shaft is facing directly toward the spindle. In this position you have no way to reach behind to bend the pin once it’s installed.
14 What I do is use a small...
14 What I do is use a small screwdriver to spin the ball joint shaft around so that I can easily slide the cotter pin through.
15 See how easy it goes ...
15 See how easy it goes in?
16 A pair of needle-nosed...
16 A pair of needle-nosed pliers help bend the pins arms back.
17 The finished bend on the...
17 The finished bend on the pin. This whole process will be duplicated for the ball joint on the bottom.
18 But before the lower ball...
18 But before the lower ball joint is tightened up, we used this nifty trick from Bob Bolles to set our ride. It’s imperative to do this because our Integra shocks are not in the car. You’ll also note that the A-frame’s cross-shaft in the above picture is a different color from the one on the next page. That is because the left side A-frame (above) has an aluminum cross-shaft while the right side has a steel one. This setup is favored by many racers because there is a small strength advantage to running the steel one on the right side.
19 The lower ball joint is...
19 The lower ball joint is torqued to the same 110 pounds as the upper.
20 With the shocks and springs...
20 With the shocks and springs in place, the finished product is ready to race.