Coming into this project, the crew of Project Mudslinger had a few expectations: We expected to have some fun; we expected to learn some things along the way; and, most of all, we expected to get this car running before we all died of old age. That's certainly not too much to expect. What we didn't plan on was learning something about ourselves. That self-realization stuff is for somebody else to watch on Oprah. Frankly, we prefer a simpler environment where we can get dirty working on the car, tell jokes and burp if the spirit leads without having to say excuse me. I know what you're thinking: What the heck are you talking about? Read on, you'll see. I just wanted to get that off my chest before we started.

Progress, finally, is beginning to be made at a steady pace, but it's now the dead of winter and we're feeling the crunch of needing to complete the car before the season starts. In the last installment of Project Mudslinger we completed the seat installation and brake lines, and now it's time to get to work on the steering system. Many teams at the Pony Stock level keep the original steering system that came with the car. That's fine. Simply plug the holes for the power-steering lines in the rack, replace the steering wheel with a removable unit and off you go. But we wanted to show you there is a better way, and it's not too expensive.

Woodward Precision Power Steering makes an excellent collapsible steering shaft, and we knew from the beginning we wanted to incorporate one in our steering system. Unlike the steering column in a modern passenger car, a collapsible steering shaft for racing isn't designed to give way if the driver makes hard contact with the steering wheel--a good five-point safety harness should ensure that's never a problem. Instead, the shaft is made to collapse in the opposite direction, to keep the steering shaft from impaling the driver if a collision pushes in the front end of the car. This type of shaft is popular in Late Model racing but has yet to catch on in racing's lower levels, which is sad. Team Mudslinger intends to have as much fun as possible with this project, and we intend to take every precaution to make sure the fun isn't cut short by injury. We hope you will do the same with your race project.

On the other end we installed a replacement steering rack from Flaming River. This rack is a perfect fit and converts from power steering to manual. It's difficult these days to find a Mustang without power steering, which makes the rack bulkier than necessary, even after discarding the power-steering pump. The Flaming River unit is mostly used by drag racers and street rod builders, so our use of the piece is a bit of an experiment. It looks very well made, and even though it's four pounds lighter than the stock unit we pulled off the car, all of the critical parts are just as beefy as the original. We'll let you know how it holds up under dirt racing stresses.

The hardware on either end is the easy part; it's connecting the two that's difficult. After removing all the unnecessary parts, the firewall had more holes than a pair of old socks, and the location where we wanted to place the firewall bearing to support the steering shaft was right on the edge of one. Instead of putting in a bunch of little patches, we cut out the entire area and riveted up one clean sheet of 18-gauge steel. It's heavy but it also gives rigidity for the firewall bearing to eliminate slop in the shaft as the steering wheel is turned.

AFCO produces a number of ways to effectively mount the steering shaft to a race car, but we didn't have any lying around the shop so we fabricated our own. Using our tubing bender from Low Buck Tools, we bent a section of tubing into a shallow arc, notched it and welded it to the cross-tube on the rollcage. To this we welded a piece of plate steel with a slot cut in the middle. The Woodward collapsible shaft bolts to this, and the slot provides us a measure of adjustability. As a rule of thumb, when mounting your steering wheel, you want the shaft pointing straight at the center of the driver's chest. To the shaft we bolted up a 15-inch aluminum steering wheel from QuickCar Racing Products.

From there we connected the dots with three-quarter-inch tubing and universal joints. We finished the project in one marathon (for us) six-hour session that wrapped up just after midnight one cold Saturday evening. It was the first time in a long time we had been able to finish a project without the fits and starts that have plagued us because of poor preparation or lacking all the necessary parts. We nearly broke our arms patting ourselves on the back--that is until Scott turned the steering wheel and found a kink we couldn't eliminate. We had an angle that was too sharp for the universal joint to handle, and no amount of adjusting would get rid of it.

Here's the problem. The kink isn't really all that bad. More annoying than anything, really. But at this point there's no dirt gunking up the works, the engine isn't in place weighing down the front end, and turning the steering wheel at the race shop is a world apart from cranking the car around a real racetrack. Even though the start of the season is bearing down on us like a used car salesman at the end of a slow month, the answer was painfully obvious: Take it apart and start over. The old saying that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing right may be true, but it's a lot easier to throw around when you are telling somebody else to get their act together. It will come as a big shock to our wives when they read this and learn we aren't perfect like we've been telling them all this time.

Coleman Racing Products
N1597 U.S. 41
MI  49858
44 Pearl Pentecost Rd.
GA  30680
Flaming River
800 Poertner Dr.
OH  44017
Sears Craftsman
JR Motorsports
801 SW Ordanance Rd.
IA  50021
Stock Car Steel
8080 Performance Rd.
NC  28115
Low Buck Tools
CA  92860
Woodward Precision Power Steering
WY  82604
P&J Products
MI  48009