Maintaining the mechanical...
Maintaining the mechanical efficiency of your race car is a critical part of the winning process. Teams that consistently win have control over their maintenance issues. The first step in any maintenance program is a thorough cleaning and inspection of the car.
Winning races requires a variety of skills. While this may seem like an overly simplistic comment, it is nonetheless true. It is also fair to say that the driver is not the only member of the team who has to have a set of well-developed skills. The TV personalities and other pundits may romanticize the driver as being the key player, but he or she is not the only player. Developing a winning combination involves blending many different skill sets. Winning can be attributed to a combination of driver skill, the skill of the tuner, the engine builder, the chassis setup, and a well-executed maintenance program.
In the real world, a maintenance program is often loved even less than the proverbial red-haired stepchild. The fact of the matter is, your individual maintenance program is the foundation of a well-constructed overall racing program. Without a well-run, well-executed maintenance program, you may find yourself at the track working on the various subsystems of your race car, just trying to get the car to run, instead of tuning for speed.
This point often separates the top racers from participants and field fillers. If you place the best driver in the world in your car and it falls apart during the race, you cannot expect the win column in your stat chart to be very full.
Removing, cleaning, and inspecting...
Removing, cleaning, and inspecting the nozzles. Not every racer performs these tasks, but they are critical to keeping the engine performance at a high level. This is especially important on cars fueled by alcohol because alcohol is hygroscopic and causes corrosion.
Within the ranks of the weekly warriors racing around the country, one of the most highly strung cars you can race is a Sprint Car. These cars have a reputation of being the helicopters of the racing world, real hangar queens. There is a lot of garage time for the amount of time they actually run on the track. But this can be said of many other types of race cars, and the focus here is the process, not so much the type of car.
From a systemic perspective, the process is similar. Regardless of the type of race car, the act and process of pre-race maintenance is very much the same. It also doesn't matter if the car utilizes coil springs, torsion bars, or leaf springs, has disc or drum brakes, or if it uses a four-, six- or eight-cylinder engine. From a process and systemic perspective, we can all learn from a well-executed maintenance program.
At a truly professional level, it is more a part replacement process than it is a maintenance program. As a part becomes older, its chances of failing increase. If you are part of a traveling series and your livelihood depends on how well you finish, the chances of parts being replaced on a more frequent interval are greater.
This type of luxury may not be an option at the local or regional level. Since costs are high, you will have to develop an individualized process that fits your budget and level of racing. Fortunately, if we remove the part replacement interval, the overall process is not so different for a traveling series and the weekly local Saturday night racer.
A well-defined list and well-documented...
A well-defined list and well-documented processes make the job much easier and rewarding. Being able to check off each operation as you go down the list makes keeping track of what you have done much easier.
In order to make this story a bit more relevant to the reader and not just a collection of opinions and pet theories, we spent some time at the track and at the shop with a very successful Sprint Car racer and his team. Jeremy Sherman's team races in Arizona. We will outline the process utilized on a week-to-week basis to maintain and prepare Sherman's Sprint Car for the next race.
Sherman continues to have a great deal of success in the 360- and 410-powered cars. Currently, he is doing a good job of dominating the 360 Sprinters racing at Manzanita Speedway and Canyon Raceway in the Phoenix area. In fact, Sherman has been doing so well that at the last race at Manzanita, it was announced that a special prize would be offered if he could win from the back in the feature.
The special prize was a cash bonus over and above the regular prize money. At the time this story was being written, the prize totaled over $3,000 and was still growing. Apparently, people want to see Sherman charge through the field.
The car must be cleaned in preparation for the next race. While this may sound like a simple process, there are some precautions that need to be taken, such as keeping electronics dry and making every effort to close any path that may bring water to the engine. The same can be said for making sure vents to drivetrain components don't become water pathways. This is not a complex process, but it still takes some planning. Once you have the car clean, the real work starts.
Here, a crew member looks...
Here, a crew member looks through the nozzle tube to see if any sludge or other buildup or corrosion has taken place.
Always check the barrel valve...
Always check the barrel valve to make sure that the adjustment has not changed. This is another check that ensures continued high engine performance. The engine builder is not responsible for the things that you as the owner should be responsible for between races.
Adjusting the valves is an...
Adjusting the valves is an important task. Not only does this help maintain a higher level of performance, but it also provides an opportunity to look into the engine. If one valve is always requiring adjustment, then it is possible that a cam lobe is wearing or the rocker arm and adjusting nut are worn.
It is difficult to clean and...
It is difficult to clean and regrease the torque tube in tight quarters. There is not a large amount of room available for your hands, let alone tools, to get the job done. This is an area that many weekly racers do not work on every week. It is, however, a high-maintenance area that needs constant attention.
The maintenance process starts with a checklist of the tasks that are the most critical to making sure the car is ready to race in the next show. This ranges from making sure the engine is ready to making sure the brakes are in top condition. Each system of the car is examined, and the parts that support each specific system are examined, reviewed, and checked for integrity and the ability to perform in the next race.
Next to each specific task on the list, there is a line where the person who performs the task writes his or her initials. In addition to providing a way of knowing if the task has been completed, the initials link the responsibility for a specific task to a specific person. This isn't done to assign blame. Rather, it gives everybody a bit more ownership in the overall process.
The checklist goes beyond just areas of the car to be examined; it also covers the support equipment. Fuel cans are filled, the generator is maintained, the quad is serviced, tires are measured and marked, the trailer is cleaned, and the tools are inventoried. In short, every mechanical component is examined and readied for the next time at the track.
Once the torsion bars are...
Once the torsion bars are removed, they are inspected for any damage. If they are deemed serviceable, they are reinstalled after they have been greased. At this point, you may want to change to a different bar if you are going to a different track or your baseline settings require a different set of bars.
From an engine perspective, the oil is changed and the oil filter is replaced. The old oil filter is cut open and the filter element is visually inspected for any metal (which indicates a problem that needs to be rectified). The fuel system is serviced from the tank to the injectors. The nozzles are removed and cleaned. All of the fuel filters are cleaned or replaced.
Fuel lines are cleaned and inspected. The valves are adjusted and the engine is leaked down. All the spark plugs are inspected and a general check is performed to look for any leaky or damaged gaskets. While all this is being accomplished, a crew member is cleaning, washing, and re-oiling the air filter.
From a chassis perspective, all of the torsion bars are removed, cleaned, inspected, regreased, and reinstalled. The shocks are inspected for any damage or leaks, and the cables that allow the driver to adjust the shocks from the cockpit are cleaned and lubed as required. The torsion bar and the shock adjusters are returned to the baseline settings from the settings that were made on the last race day.
The frame is checked for any obvious damage from any past on-track altercations. This includes the consumable frame items, such as the nerf bars and bumpers, and this inspection continues through the entire maintenance process. We are always looking for cracks, broken tubes, or damaged welds when working on the car.
More cleaning and oiling....
More cleaning and oiling. This is part of the rod end checking process. Every rod end on the car is inspected, cleaned, and lubricated. Any rod ends that are suspect are replaced.
All suspension points are cleaned as required and relubricated. The birdcages are inspected, and the bearings are lubricated and adjusted as required. The quick-change gears in the rearend are removed and inspected along with the bearing races on the cover.
This check was added recently because the team discovered a bearing cage that was coming apart. Had they not caught this, the cage would have caused a bearing failure and the metal that would have been circulating through the rearend would have caused even more damage.
This is another classic example of a $12 part failing and causing thousands of dollars in unnecessary damage due to being overlooked during routine maintenance. This is now a standard part of Jeremy's routine inspection process. All fluid levels are replenished, too.
Every Heim joint on the car is cleaned and inspected. The bearings are inspected, and any sign of excessive looseness in the joint, either from the bearing or the threads, is cause for replacement. This is done on every joint on the car, from suspension to throttle linkages. The front wheel bearings are also inspected and repacked with grease.
Changing the rearend gears...
Changing the rearend gears is not a complex process. It allows you to see what is going on in the rearend.
The tires and wheels receive a good share of attention. First, all of the tires are inspected. Excessively worn or damaged tires are discarded. Some tires that may still be serviceable may be retained or sold. All tires and wheels are washed and cleaned to a like-new condition. This allows the tire guys to inspect the wheels and the hubs for any cracks or damaged areas.
The bead locks are checked for damaged bolts. On the wheels that will be getting new tires, the bead locks are thoroughly inspected when apart. The bolts are cleaned and inspected for obvious damage, and the threads in the wheel are cleaned and lubricated. Wheels that are damaged beyond economical repair are discarded.
New tires are mounted, inflated to race pressures, and measured. The measurements are recorded in the race log and on the wheel and tire. A Sharpie marker is used to write on a small section of colored duct tape, either on the inside of the wheel or the tread of the tire. Some tires are grooved, and then all of the tires are placed on the trailer with the exception of the four that will be mounted on the car.
With the cover removed from...
With the cover removed from the rearend, you should look for any damage to the bearings. Bearing race damage was found during an earlier teardown, and this prevented severe damage from occurring in race conditions.
The driver's compartment receives a good deal of attention. The seatbelts are inspected, and any sign of wear or damage merits replacement. The seat is examined and all of the hardware that secures the seat is checked for any looseness. All seat hardware is torqued to the correct specification for the retaining hardware. The floor pan is checked for any damage or cracks. The pedals and related hardware is examined. At this time, the torque tube is cleaned, regreased, and reassembled.
The Arizona Sprint Car Association requires a working radio for the drivers. This is a small MP3-sized receiver, and its battery is checked or replaced as a matter of course. Failure to use a working radio can result in loss of position or race disqualification, so making sure the radio works is important.
After all of this work is accomplished and the check sheet is signed off, the body panels are checked for any damage. All of the Dzus fasteners are cleaned and replaced as required. At this point, the remaining body panels are attached, the tires are mounted, and the car is almost ready to be rolled into the trailer. With the car maintenance completed, the other support functions need to be addressed. Crew uniforms need to be laundered. The batteries for the various power tools need to be charged. Tools and the toolbox need to be cleaned and loaded back into the trailer. Any consumable products need to be replenished and restocked to their locations in the trailer or toolbox/pit cart.
New tires are inflated to...
New tires are inflated to race pressures, and the diameter is checked after mounting. This information is entered into the race log.
While some other crew members are seeing to all of the other support needs, the car is given a final once-over to ensure that nothing was left undone. The car gets a final ride height check and visual once-over. Afterward, the car is deemed ready for another night at the track. It is then loaded into the trailer, and Jeremy and the team are ready to hit the track.
Every racer needs to learn from this process that it pays to be detail oriented. Jeremy and his crew almost completely tear the car down and reassemble it between races. The data shows that this process must be working for him. Jeremy has had almost no DNFs that were attributable to mechanical failures. Cleaning, disassembling, and reassembling the car will help you catch small issues with the car before they become bigger problems at the track.
If you spend time at the track fixing your brakes or working on the engine, it is very unlikely that you will find time to tune for speed. Time spent fixing water pumps and fuel injection problems is time that you cannot spend adjusting the car to go fast.
If you want to race at the front, having a plan is imperative. This plan should include a detailed and comprehensive maintenance program. Good maintenance costs far less than having to fix problems at the track. We will be watching as you climb your way to the top of the winner's podium.