I am interested in many forms of auto racing including Dirt Late Models and Modifieds, Sprint Cars, asphalt anything-including Cup sometimes-road racing, and yes, Formula 1. It was with great interest that I watched Ferrari driver Felipe Massa get hit in the head by a spring that fell out of a competitor's car during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix. He was traveling at 150-plus mph and the spring smacked him in the left temple area with the helmet taking the blunt force of the impact.
For the more curious of you that might ask, "How in the heck could a spring fall out of the car?" here are the details. Some F1 cars use a fifth spring, yeah like a Dirt Late Model, but different. It's located between the rockers in the rear to support the car at high speeds where the aero downforce is great and the normal suspension springs are too soft to hold the car up off the track. When the car slows for the turns, the fifth spring is released and loose, letting the normal suspension springs do their job. The mounts broke allowing the spring to come loose and ultimately fall out onto the track. Hindsight dictates that this extra spring should have been tethered, and most assuredly is now.
I often speak about spending the money that it takes to be as safe as possible and I get letters telling me that in the lower forms of circle track racing that is not practical. I say it's not an intelligent choice to race without proper safety equipment. Hey, it's your head and body. Who am I to tell you what to do? I can only suggest. People are told not to drink and drive, drive motorcycles without a helmet, cross the desert, or whatever and people still do those things and they sometimes end up dead.
In Massa's case, we see where the photos show his helmet is one of the expensive carbon-fiber types of the highest quality, not a big surprise for an F1 driver. But we do know that the material is much stronger than say fiberglass, which most helmet shells are made of. If he had been wearing a fiberglass helmet, we could conclude that there might be one less F1 driver around. The spring would have most likely taken the left side of his head off. But the helmet did its job, deflected the spring and he was left with skull fractures, a concussion, and is, for the most part, OK.
When you're deciding whether to buy a firesuit or helmet or whatever, get the one with the highest rating that makes sense for your type of racing. You'll probably never need it, granted. But if you do, that extra money will become insignificant to you. Your life insurance company will be very happy too.
These things come along all too suddenly and without warning. Crashes happen and freak occurrences, well, occur. If you would have asked Massa what the chances were to be hit in the head by a flying spring were in the days prior to the event, you know he would say, one in a million. Well, he "won" the bad luck lottery that day and the high price of the carbon-fiber helmet was a small price to pay.
The one thing I ask is this. I understand if you are a risk taker, it's your life. But don't write to me and tell me you had to stop racing because you blew your engine and the money you could have used to replace it went to buying quality safety gear. Yes, I got a letter like that recently, I don't make this stuff up. Racing is like everything else in life, if you can't afford it, do something else. I think sky diving is much less expensive and you won't catch on fire or get hit in the head by a flying spring, I hope.
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.
Here It Is
I just recently received my Oct. '09 issue and was reading the Track Tech Q&A titled Overpriced Safety Gear? I strongly disagree with Mr. Bolles saying that we as racers are willing to pay insane amounts of money to make our cars faster and just need to get over the $1,300 for a H&N restraint. I'm here to say that I might have about $5,000 invested in my Pure Stock and I do everything my budget will allow to make my car safe.
I constantly look over my suit, helmet, seat, belts, and 'cage to make sure everything is good and safe. I took a big part of my race budget over the off season to buy a new fire-suit because I knew that mine was expired and needed to be replaced. This is money that was supposed to be used to rebuild a new larger motor for my car for this season. I was more concerned about being safe than going faster.
I go to college out of my pocket as well as having a car payment and a credit card to pay off, so I have a very small budget for racing but I still maintain it to safety. Due to us not going through my motor because of no money, it threw a rod and caught on fire.
I borrowed money from my brother and girlfriend to build a new motor to get back out. That motor cost us around $800 to $900 and it wound up letting go two races later. I'm still paying off my debts from building that one so there was nothing left in the budget. We had to pull the engine out of my parent's truck and just go take it easy the rest of the year. If I would have poured all of my money into my engine as Mr. Bolles says racers do then I would not be in this situation. His examples are flawed because he doesn't consider the true weekend warrior like myself and the racers in our level. I would love to purchase a H&N for myself to be safer, but the fact of the matter is I can't afford it. I do everything in my budget to stay safe. We don't go as fast as the big guys do but we still need to be safe as well with our big, heavy cars.
I think you answered your own question. You used your budget money to buy a new firesuit because ". . . mine was expired and needed to be replaced." That was a smart move. Your priorities were in the right place. The root of the problem is not the cost of anything, it's the lack of funds you have and the inability to acknowledge that you are too poor to race. You borrow money, take the engine out of your parent's truck, and are paying for school along with other payments. Hey, stop racing until you can afford it, period. Sounds like more of an addiction to me.
Basic Setup Information
Hello, I reside in New Liskeard, Ontario, Canada, and currently race NASCAR Late Models at two different tracks as well as some NASCAR Canadian Tire Series events. I'm emailing just to further enhance my racing knowledge.
I race for McColl racing and my crew chief is a huge believer in your work and I also read everything. I'm in my sophmore Stock Car year, previously running go-karts and USAC Midgets. I give good feedback on how the car is handling, and have been fortunate enough to have good mechanics and communication with them that they can adjust the car accordingly.
But as usual, I'm wanting to learn more and tweak my brain. I was wondering if you had an article that breaks down what certain adjustments do, and where they help? I know some and have learned a lot, but the more the merrier. I had the chance to drive for Howie Lettow and learned a lot there as well.
I guess I don't have a basic question, just any setup help you can throw my way. I'm not looking for specific setups or roll centers or styles, just what adjustment usually does what (how to get more grip from the center off, loosen car in center, and so on).
Thanks, and appreciate your work,
I'm really glad you wrote. I get involved with specific setup parameters and have forgotten to present the basics that are needed by a team to fine tune its chassis. I will schedule an article in the next issue that only deals with suspension changes, what they do and how much influence they have and in what areas. There is a ton of similar information out there and every car builder usually has a setup sheet that tells how to correct "loose off" or many other conditions.
What I can do is not only tell what to do in a specific order of magnitude and logic, but tell the effects each change has on other factors. We preach developing a dynamic balance to the setups and not just a handling balance that makes the car neutral. I always say, I can make a VW neutral, but I want to make my race car balanced.
Metric Mod Racer
My father and I have been avid readers of Circle Track for the last 15-20 years. I enjoy the many articles and they have helped with my racing over the years. I run a Limited Modified or IMCA Sport Mod as they are called up north. We utilize the metric chassis and all of the stock suspension points.
I'm still lacking some forward bite and would like to utilize the free calculator for locating the height of the four-link roll center. We have come a long ways with the metric chassis finding speed and something new to help the car to pivot or roll the center of the corners better each week would help.
I appreciate your articles and hope Circle Track will continue to provide us weekend warriors more valuable information. I'll never make it to NASCAR or have engineers fine tuning my car each week, but the satisfaction I find trying to outsmart my competition has added a new twist to racing. Racing has become very technical and Circle Track continues to lead the way providing cutting edge technology. Thanks for all you guys do!
Limited Modified 9K
I wrote a while back that we racers are, in reality, scientists and design engineers. We fit the descriptions to a "T" and we don't necessarily need degrees to prove that. Many successful professionals in all walks of life can become very well educated outside of the education system. I'm not necessarily against formal education, I just realize that, and am example of, someone who can achieve a high level of knowledge about a particular subject on his own. Smokey Yunick was, in fact, a self-taught thermodymamics expert as well as a mechanical engineer and proceeded to educate many degreed members of the racing community.
Because we as racers enjoy this sport so much, we have a high capacity for learning. Anytime you are interested in a subject, learning comes easy. In school I was always good at the subjects I liked and did poorly in the ones I didn't. We are all like that. So, learn all you can and be aware, you and I will never know it all.
Stock Class Handling
I just read your article in this month's Circle Track about stock metric chassis setup and I think it will be a huge help. I'm 28 years old and have been a BMW master tech since I was 20. I raced karts as a kid and when I moved back to Wisconsin I quickly got back into it. I built a 125cc shifter kart and raced at the track I grew up at, Badger Kart Club in Dousman, WI, and got the 125cc championship 2008.
My dad, who is 71 now, raced stock cars before I ever raced karts and I've always wanted to try it. So, I sold my kart a week after the last race and bought a beat up Metric car to build in October and I'm still working on it. I have probably about $7,000 into my car and some of my competition have spent that much on their motors.
In area Sportsman, we are allowed to make all the modifications mentioned in "Stock Class Handling Tips," but I really don't know what to use as a starting point. For example, we can fabricate front upper mounts and use aftermarket upper arms and can lengthen the right lower arm by an inch. I used the stock mounts with a 7.5-inch right upper and 8.5-inch left upper arm. Because I didn't know where to initially set front camber and caster, I didn't make my own mounts.
Madison is a high bank 1/2-mile asphalt oval. To make a long story short, if there are any other articles or if you have any specific setup advice, I would highly appreciate it (especially stuff I can change for cheap or free). Thanks for the great magazine and for any help you can offer.
Great, a sensible set of Stocker rules. First off, if you can change the upper mounts, install plates and make them parallel to the centerline of the chassis. This makes setting up the frontend for geometry and antidive much easier. I once heard that the only reason the factory put the upper control arm shafts at a top view angle was to clear the cast headers in the performance cars. They couldn't have two designs, so that dictated the frontend design of every car, high-performance or not.
Talk to some local teams running in your class and ask about their cambers. The caster for that car should be set with a split of around 2-3 degrees with power steering, or 4-5 degrees without PS with the left side less than the right side. Try to work on your moment center location. That sounds complicated for you stock guys, but it is THE most important thing you can do.
Read our setup articles. The information you will find there for finding the dynamic balanced setup applies to your car too. You will know when you have a balance when the tires are the same temperature on each side front to rear. The articles tell you how to make changes to accomplish that goal.