Last month we introduced you to Kyle Strickler, one of the few IMCA Dirt Modified racers successful enough to be able to race as a full-time professional. The last time we were at Strickler’s shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, we checked out his credentials and counted up 25 wins in 50 races so far this season (and since then he finished a very impressive Third in the IMCA Super Nationals).
We tell you that so we can also tell you this: Strickler is incredibly open about the secrets to his success. There is nothing on his car that is cheated up, custom, or even difficult to obtain. Obviously, Strickler is incredibly talented as a driver, but he’s also quite accomplished as a chassis specialist and car builder. Besides racing, he also earns the house payment consulting with other race teams to help improve their on-track performance.
Last month Strickler provided us with several tips he’s learned over years of racing (and wind tunnel testing) when it comes to aerodynamics. Besides his racing operation, Strickler owns High Side Bodies & Fabrication, hanging bodies and building cars for race teams. We were genuinely impressed with the quality of information he was willing to share, and when he invited us to come back “any time you like,” we decided to take him up on it.
Besides racing, he also earns the house payment consulting with other race teams to help improve their on-track performance
This time around we came back wanting to know more about his chassis. Setups may change from track to track, but there are several areas Strickler pays close attention to when it comes to his racing chassis that he says helps the car drive predictably and react well to shock and spring changes. Strickler drives a Harris Auto Racing house chassis, and while he races the frame practically the same way it left the Harris fab shop, there are several critical parts of the chassis prep that we did find interesting.
No matter your particular setup, these tips should be helpful to you whether you race a Modified or an Unlimited Late Model. There are even several that should work even with a super-restrictive Pure Street rulebook.
01. It’s no secret that racing is particularly hard on ball joints and wheel bearings. And ball joints that are bound up with grit or because of damage will keep your highly tuned suspension from working properly. Strickler prefers this rebuildable, low-friction ball joint from QA1 because it provides much smoother movement than a stock ball joint and—if it gets damaged—the pin can be removed and replaced instead of throwing out the entire ball joint.
02. Strickler prefers a design with a screw in sleeve. The sleeve is welded into the upper control arm (it’s been painted black) so the entire setup is stronger and lighter.
04. Don’t put blind faith in the belief that your suspension springs are always going to remain at the same rating as they arrived from the manufacturer. Many professional race teams keep a spring checker in their shop so that they can confirm their spring rates regularly. If you don’t have the capability of rating your own springs, use a spring manufacturer that can help you keep track. Strickler uses springs by BSB Manufacturing that actually have a serial number stamped on each. BSB records the actual (not advertised) spring rate for every spring and records it. If you are worried about any springs, you can have them checked against the original numbers.
05. Speaking of suspension springs, did you know that the effective spring rate can be changed by the angles of the spring cups? In plate races NASCAR mandates specific springs for its Cup teams, and the smart teams actually change the angles of the spring buckets to reduce the effective rate, which lowers the rear of the car to get the spoiler out of the air. Most dirt teams aren’t concerned with all of that, instead they just want consistency. To that end, Strickler prefers to use an upper spring cup that’s connected to the jack screw with a bearing swivel—it’s also from BSB. This helps eliminate binding and helps the spring remain consistent throughout its compression travel.
06. While we are at it, a little antiseize on the jack bolts helps keep the threads from galling so a quick wedge change at the track doesn’t turn into an exercise in frustration.
07. Most Dirt Modified racers have to run a stock-style GM front caliper. With this style caliper the single piston not only pushes the inner brake pad into the rotor, but it also moves the entire caliper body so that the outer pad is pulled in toward the rotor. To help make sure the caliper releases smoothly, polish the two long caliper mounting bolts and clean them after every race. If they get pitted or scarred up, spend a couple bucks to have them replaced. The stock caliper design also uses O-rings to cut down on noise and vibration. But they also keep the calipers from releasing smoothly. Racers aren’t concerned with brake noise, so the O-rings are the first to go.
08. Strickler also modifies the brake pads before they go inside the calipers. His crew uses a grinder to chamfer all the edges to keep one from catching and creating a brief spike in braking pressure. Water can sometimes also deteriorate the binding agent used in some brake pads, so Strickler always removes all the brake pads before cleaning his car.
09. Rules also normally require a stock style rotor, but that doesn’t mean you are stuck using OEM replacement parts when it comes to brakes. Tom Sandal of Carolina Racing Supply helped Strickler find these hybrid rotors from Afco. They are still legal but combine a strong Pinto-style spindle with a rotor that still fits the GM caliper. The result is a brake rotor that’s both lighter and stronger.
10. Here’s an interesting trick. All the Heim joints on the car are protected from dirt and grit by these Heim boots that are provided by Wolf-Pack Racing, a company Strickler works with consulting for Dirt Late Model race teams. By protecting the Heim joint from track grit, Strickler’s team normally goes eight races before having to disassemble and clean all the suspension pivot points. That’s time that can be spent on other areas of the car.
11. Before installing the Heim boots Strickler coats the Heims with a quality moly-based grease. This provides good lubrication for the eight weeks the Heims will go before seeing service again.
12. Carolina Racing Supply offers these brake lines that have a special coating over the usual steel braid. These have a fake carbon-fiber weave to them, but that’s just for looks. The real purpose is to provide a little extra abrasion resistance in a tough racing environment. The coating also creates a smoother exterior than the steel weave, so dirt and grease are easier to clean off.
13. Stock style rubber bushings create compliance in your suspension. When the race car is at speed on the track, the softer bushings will deform and change the wheel’s positions from what you worked so hard to precisely dial in at the shop. These lower control arm bushings from Afco use a harder nylon sleeve with a durable steel housing. They are also greasable. Besides lasting longer, the combination doesn’t deform under load and provides smoother suspension movement.
14. If you aren’t familiar with this setup trick, it may at first look like Strickler is running two upper bars to the birdcage on the rearend. But the bar in the foreground actually attaches to the brake floater. The idea is to keep the brake caliper at the ideal position relative to the rearend instead of rotating with it. When the brake caliper is at approximately the 4 o’clock position and the brakes are applied, the force attempts to pick up the left-rear corner of the car. This helps get the chassis in the proper attitude for turn entry.
15. With the engine out of the car it is easy to see how the steering shaft is routed. Strickler prefers not to run a steering quickener of any type. Instead, he runs a fast 6:1 steering box. He also keeps the shaft as straight as possible—as you can see here—to keep as much movement out of the universal joint as he can. He says this helps provide the driver with a better feel for what is going between the track and the front tires.