I can't tell you how many times I have tried to sort out a problem with a race car, had the driver or crew chief insist this or that was as it should be, and then find out much later on that it wasn't. Examples: rear alignment, front or rear toe, Ackermann, shocks functioning properly, steering rack gone bad (the car won't turn!), weight distribution, and so on. I have come to believe that I can't ever believe anyone about anything related to a race car's preparation.
I take on an attitude that I don't care what you say about the condition of your race car, I will assume everything is wrong until I see that it is not. That way, nothing sneaks by me. A lot of teams get irritated with me for that attitude, but that is the way it should be, not only with the way I do things, but also in the way you do it. Never assume anything.
Whatever the car is doing badly has to be a result of something wrong. The simple explanation is that the setup is wrong. We all (anyone who has spent a couple of seasons around a race crew) know how to fix tight and loose, but it's not always a setup problem. It's too often a mechanical problem. These include parts that are bent or broken, shocks that aren't functioning properly or are way out of range for your intended use, misalignment, and poor geometry including, but not limited to, Moment Center design and Ackermann. If simple setup changes don't make an immediate difference, begin looking for a problem.
I've seen teams who swore the rearend alignment had been checked, but found the right rear wheel back 3/4 inch from where it should have been.
I developed a "should have been a" winning setup a few years ago that finished second in a regional touring race only to find out the team had introduced a lot of Ackermann since we last spoke and didn't tell me. I thought the car was pushing by the amount of steering the left front wheel (the one I could observe from the pits) was doing and the squeal of the front tires.
Then there was the Grand Am DP car that was over-steering (loose) only in the lefthand turns. The rear tires were supposed to be toed in 0.035 inch on each side, but the right side was toed backwards by mistake and was toed out 0.035 inch making the rear tires point to the right. Or the team in California I spent four days trying to sort out a severe tight off problem and was told the rearend was freshly rebuilt by the 30-year veteran racer, grandfather of the driver, only to find later on that it was built incorrectly. I can go on and on, but you get the point.
It's experiences like these that teach us, or should, that we can never count anything out. What seems so simple can be the source of the problem and the more we ignore the "givens," the longer we go without good performance. New spark plugs can be bad, new alternators can be bad, new rearend locker springs can be bad, and crashes can bend the most improbable things on the car.
When you have a problem you can't find easily, go through a checklist that starts with the most likely source of whatever problem it is. Do not discount anything just because (fill in the blank). Check everything and don't cave in to any crewmember who insists whatever it is, is right. You'll get to the real source of your problems much faster if you follow that rule.
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.