It's interesting to look back over the years and note how the setups have changed for both dirt and asphalt racing. There's even a little bleed-over from one to the other, believe it or not. I've seen lots of change, some anticipated and some not, some that make perfect sense and some not so perfect.
I remember back in the early '90's, most circle track asphalt and dirt cars were set up way too stiff at the front and way too soft at the right rear. The goals that produced those setups were to find the fastest lap on the stopwatch and then race with that. These unbalanced setups fell off quickly in lap times, but then everyone fell off, so it didn't matter, nor did it become apparent that there was a problem.
Both types of circle track racing have evolved to where we had softer front springs and a stiffer right rear by the late '90's. And the cars got faster and more consistent. The race teams that were ahead of the curve won a lot of races and championships. Along with the changes in setups came a better understanding of the engineering that goes into a race car.
Both groups learned the value of the front "moment" center, a term I personally coined for what had previously been referred to as the roll center. The problem with "roll" is that it's almost never the point at which the chassis rolls around. That would be the kinetic roll center, a point that doesn't concern us in a dynamic sense. And with the new knowledge of the MC came better front end designs and cars that turned better.
Then we had a phenomenon come about in the early 2000's in asphalt racing that originated in the wacky world of Cup racing in and around Mooresville, NC. Those folks had come to believe we should run stupid soft springs in the front, a very stiff spring in the right rear and a sway bar so big you could support a Mack truck with it so that our front end lay on the coils or onto bump rubbers. This effectively turned a perfectly good race car into a Kart, not that there's anything wrong with Karts, if you don't think you need a suspension.
I believe that the reason this was pursued, just to be fair to those who espouse that trend, was to force the left front to work harder and to also lower the front of the car to provide a better aero package that would hopefully provide more downforce at the front and more grip all around. What has been lost is the balance we proved in the past to be the real factor in the long-term performance that wins races. Again it's back to the trend of working hard to find the fastest lap time and disregarding the long-term benefits of a more balanced package
Now I hear today of a certain famous Dirt Late Model driver/owner testing with a 450 pound spring in the RR of his car. Where will it all end? I can tell you that this trend is leading us nowhere. It's probably an improvement over the early '90's mentality, but nowhere near where we should be some 15 or more years later with all that we know, or should know.
Read this magazine and you'll find that we're proving, with our Late Model car at Madison last year and with John Gibson's USAR Pro Cup car this year, you don't have to trick up the car, just make it happy. And that's a good place to leave this discussion, on a happy note.
If you have comments or questions about this or anything racing related, send them to my email address: Bob.Bolles@sorc.com, or mail can be sent to Circle Track, Senior Tech Editor, 9036 Brittany Way, Tampa, FL 33619.