When drivers and teams change...
When drivers and teams change from racing on asphalt to dirt, the entire approach to driving and setup needs to be re-evaluated. Above is our very own Circle Track Modified being driven for the first time by Dalton Zehr, a regular competitor on the ASA Late Model Asphalt Series (South division) tour.
Drivers and teams sometimes find themselves wanting to change venues and switch from their current form of racing to another. The most common change is from asphalt to dirt. Let's take a look at some of the differences and challenges we may face when switching.
We have spoken to a few drivers who have made the switch, and we got their perspectives on the subject. First, we spoke with an old friend, Red Farmer, who at the ripe old age of he-won't-tell-ya, races on a regular basis at the Talladega dirt short track. If you remember, Red was part of the Alabama Gang, which dominated the NASCAR tracks years ago. He now gets his kicks racing his Rayburn and GRT Dirt Late Models at places such as Eldora or the Talladega Short Track.
Red was very vocal about the difficulties a driver encounters when switching from asphalt to dirt. "An asphalt driver is in for a world of hurt if he has no experience on dirt," he said. He thinks it may take a year or two to fully learn how to drive on dirt. "Drivers such as NASCAR's Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards are much better asphalt drivers because of their early dirt experience. I've seen them do things and recover from situations where strictly asphalt drivers lock up the brakes and spin out." he added.
As for the setup end of things, Red said he has personally worked with all of the complexities of the dirt cars over the years with much success, considering his senior status: "At the dirt tracks, we go through four different transitions throughout a day of racing. I am constantly making changes to the car to react to the conditions at any given moment."
Chris Douglas prepares to...
Chris Douglas prepares to race his dirt Modified car after running strictly on asphalt for over six years. The transition has been a smooth one; he is up to speed and running in the Top 5 after only 12 races.
Chris Douglas is another asphalt racer who has discovered the attraction and thrill of dirt racing. Chris works for Comp Cams' marketing division and has raced on asphalt for over six years. He switched to dirt racing this year and drives a dirt Modified car now. He is making good progress with the transition.
"My biggest problem starting out was getting confident with the car going into the corners," he said. "On asphalt, we always know the grip level, and it is consistent. On dirt, the only way to know for sure is to go beyond the limit and adjust." Then he added something that only true dirt racers know: "You can crutch an ill-handling dirt car much more so than an asphalt car. With asphalt, what you have is all you'll get. On dirt we are constantly trying different entries, different lines to find the quickest lap."
Chris is doing well after only 12 races, and is running in the Top 5 each week. He's doing a little traveling, too, and ran in the Modified division at Batesville, Arkansas, this year during the Topless 100 weekend.
We will also take a look at the construction of the cars as well as the setup quirks of each and how we must change the way we approach chassis setup for the two types of racing.
Track preparation is always...
Track preparation is always important to creating a consistent track surface on dirt. The track workers tear up the surface, water it, and then roll it back down with a grader to pack the clay. Many tracks have the lower classes go out first to pack the track. It can get messy in a hurry.
The most obvious change is the track's surface. Asphalt is hard, fairly smooth in most cases, and stays consistent in the amount of grip it gives. Dirt, on the other hand, can be in any condition under the sun depending on the material used for the surface, the grading, the moisture content, and whether or not ruts and holes have developed over the course of an event.
So we can safely say that dirt is much harder to plan for because of its ever-changing characteristics. Most dirt tracks start out fairly tight with lots of grip due to the track crew watering it during the afternoon before the first practice. Then, as the event proceeds, the surface material becomes drier and more compact and may either go to a black-slick condition or become very dry-slick with loose material covering the surface.
A team must constantly evaluate the changing grip characteristics and be ready to make adjustments in order to be successful on a dirt track. A team that shows up with one setup and one design of tire will usually be good for just one segment of the event. If the car is set up for higher g-forces, then it will be good in practice and maybe qualifying.
As more laps are run through the heat races, the track becomes more slick and the g-forces go down. The setup that was good at a higher level of g-force is considered loose. If the team does not make appropriate changes, then the car will not be able to get off the corners well and will finish in the back of the pack.
Not only must the team be willing to make setup changes, it also has to know exactly what changes to make and how far to go with those changes. Here are a few general tips on making setup changes from tight to loose conditions.