It's nice winning that first...
It's nice winning that first race or championship, but whether you have or have not, you still need to maintain that racecar during the off-season.
At this time of the year, most racing series have wrapped up their seasons and Thanksgiving has come and gone. Throughout the winter months we take some time off to prepare for Christmas and spend some quality time with our families. Nonetheless, we will always have the race team in the back of our minds.
To help you plan out your off-season activities related to the preparation for the 2008 season, we have put together the ten top areas for maintenance. We not only include the car, but around the shop as well. Tag along and develop the right mindset for making the new season even better than the last.
The following are intended to instill the idea that no mechanical device can go indefinitely without proper maintenance and/or replacement. Our racecars go through extreme conditions and all of the moving parts will eventually wear out or fail if we do not make frequent checks and repair or replace parts. We should have been doing this all along throughout the season, but now is a very good time to catch up and make things right if we have fallen behind in our duties.
Remove and inspect the seat...
Remove and inspect the seat and seatbelts, especially the portions where they enter the seat openings. Check the date on the belts too. Most tracks and sanctioning bodies have rules governing how old your belts can be. If your seat is out of date, buy a newer one with better supports.
1. Safety Items - We normally put this section toward the back of articles like this. Because it is so important, we have decided this is where we should start our inspection and maintenance. Safety should be priority number one in any racing endeavor.
For safety purposes, we need to look over the seatbelts and seats. Stress from hard racing might have done damage to your seatbelt system. Completely remove all belts, the seat, the window net and all rollbar padding. Install new padding later.
There should be no fraying or tears to the material. The mounts must be stress-free and not bent from the original location. The seat should be crack-free and if not, sent back to the manufacturer to be repaired or replaced. Check the dates on the belts to be sure they have not expired. Each track and/or sanctioning body has rules governing how dated your belts can be.
Remove the fuel cell and inspect...
Remove the fuel cell and inspect the metal container for rust and/or damage. A cracked seam or broken side can allow fuel to spill if the cell is damaged. Inspect the cell and the foam insert. Note the date on the cell and replace if out of compliance with the rules.
Inspect your head and neck restraint system (you are using a HNR system aren't you?) and your helmet. We know of one case where a hard hit damaged a helmet at the front, from the head moving forward, so hard that it dented and cracked the material inside the helmet. Luckily, the HANS device the driver was wearing stopped his head from moving forward to prevent any serious injury, but the helmet was junk afterwards.
Fuel cells are a safety item. At least once a year, remove the fuel cell and inspect the container for rust or damage that might compromise the cell itself. The fill-tube assembly should be removed from the cell as well as the foam. Clean the inside of the cell and get all of the dirt or other foreign material out.
The foam should be replaced. The fuel pickup should be inspected and cleaned. If you have a fuel pump that pushed fuel to the engine, as some cars do, inspect the wiring and general condition of the pump.
Check all of the steering...
Check all of the steering components for wear and tightness. Tie rod ends and drag links can become loose from wear. Check the end-play by turning your steering wheel and observe the tie rod movement. Most steering boxes and racks have adjustments to tighten the system.
Fuel cells have a certain life span. Some newer fuels have been known to eat away at the seams under certain conditions. Inspect your cell to make sure this is not a problem.
Don't forget to recheck that fire suppression system to see that it is fully charged and will work properly when needed. The fire bottle is rarely needed, but when it is, things can get real urgent in a hurry.
2. Suspension and Steering - We need to remove all of the control arms, steering assembly, spindles, etc., if we haven't done that before the cleaning. Lay the parts out on the garage floor and carefully inspect each one for any signs of cracking, bending or breaks at the welded seams.
Remove all of the heim joints, ball joints, idler arm assemblies (on a drag link system), and test for excess looseness and wear. Replace all of the joints that are worn. Check the steering box or rack for excess play and worn seals. It might be a good time to overhaul the steering rack or box, or send it back to the manufacturer for a rebuild.
The driveline must be removed...
The driveline must be removed and inspected at the year's end. The U-joints will need to be replaced. Make sure the driveshaft is not bent or dented. Look to see if any balancing weights have fallen off. If so, have the shaft rebalanced.
Install heavy-duty U-joints...
Install heavy-duty U-joints if you haven't already. These units take lots of abuse and will hold up where "stock" ones will not. See the difference in construction between the "stock" unit and the heavy-duty ones on the left. The driveshaft and pinion yoke will need to be replaced also when opting for the larger U-joint.
The rear suspension must be...
The rear suspension must be disassembled and gone through just like the front. Check the panhard bar heim joints, adjusters, trailing arm pivots, pull bars, lift arms and any other system in the rear. Never use aluminum heim joints in any of the high-stress areas.
The brake system needs to...
The brake system needs to be inspected and rebuilt in its entirety. That means all seals, pads, flexible lines, fluid, damaged steel lines, etc., will need to be fixed or replaced. If your rotors are excessively cracked or worn too thin, inquire as to the latest technology for these items from your brake manufacturer. Rotor failure is always serious.
Inspect the engine mounts, front hoop tubing, upper control arm mounts, and any areas where fatigue might have caused cracking or breaking of the metal. Once all of the inspections have been done and all repairs have been made, it might be a good idea to paint the front clip. If you plan on doing a complete repaint of the car's frame, do the rest of the inspection first.
Make sure you inspect the components for the rear suspension too. The heim joints, shock brackets, pull bars, lift arms, and other devices need to be checked out, cleaned and serviced.
3. Driveline Assembly - Inspect the entire driveline. If the driveshaft is not damaged, then just remove and replace the U-joints. This should be done at least once a season. These parts are subject to high stress and are too cheap to take a chance on failure.
Inspect the yokes and transmission tailshaft to make sure everything is all right. Now, there are high performance shafts and yokes available that weren't a few years ago. If you are looking for a little more performance and reliability, check out some of the new stuff.
Go through your cooling system...
Go through your cooling system and check for corrosion, cracks in the radiator, old hoses, worn belts and leaking water pumps. If your belts and hoses have not been replaced lately, do it now. A failure later on will most likely cost much more.
The rearend should be removed, and all mounts cleaned and inspected. Replace all grease seals, axle bearings, and pinion bearings where necessary. Check the axle tubes for damage and to see if they are straight. Shock brackets and trailing arm brackets need to be inspected for damage or wear. All heim joints should be looked at and replaced if worn excessively.
Look over the panhard bar mounting brackets to see if they are bent or cracked. These mounts take a beating, especially when small hits are experienced during a race. Not much attention is paid after the race, but we can all remember incidental contact that was made that might have caused some damage.
4. The Brake and Clutch Hydraulic Systems - The brake system should be completely gone through at the end of the season. Remove the brake and clutch master cylinders, inspect and flush the lines and do a rebuild of the cylinders. The last thing you need is brake failure, or clutch failure for that matter.
Check to make sure your alternator...
Check to make sure your alternator is charging correctly and that the bushings are not worn. Now is a good time to check the belts for proper alignment with all of the pulleys.
If your brake lines have been banged up or otherwise damaged, you might consider a replacement while the car is apart. At least replace the flex lines which may contain degradable synthetic hose inside the woven stainless steel.
Look over the clutch and brake pedal bushings and replace if worn where there is excess play. Look over the brake adjuster and clean and lubricate the cable.
If you don't think your brake bias was totally correct during the past season, now is a good time to rethink the master cylinder and caliper sizes. Adjusting these components can bring your brake bias into a more balanced state. Your brake adjuster is only intended to be used for fine tuning the bias.
Check all of your wiring to...
Check all of your wiring to detect worn or frayed wires. Where the wires pass through the firewall or other partitions are areas of concern. Replace the rubber grommets and wiring if necessary. You want to feel comfortably sure that a short will not ruin a good night of racing.
5. Cooling System - During the past season, the radiator may have suffered collisions, beating and banging or just nicks and scrapes from working on the car. It needs to be pressure tested and inspected thoroughly to make sure it will perform for another year.
Replace hoses, belts, pressure caps and anything else that might give you problems at the worst time, like when leading a race. Nothing is more frustrating than those little annoyances such as a water leak or a thrown water pump belt.
6. Wiring and Switches - To ensure your car doesn't stop running at the wrong moment, all wiring and switches must be fresh and free of corrosion. The vibrations that go on during a race can cause the wire connections to break or come loose. Wiring is fairly simple stuff and it would make good sense to have someone rewire the entire car during the off season.
Recheck the grommets where the wires pass through the firewall or other panels. Cycle the switches and notice if they feel tight or corroded. Replace the ones that are suspect. Many races have been lost due to a cheap switch or connector.
Maintaining the carburetor...
Maintaining the carburetor involves all of the internal components as well as the linkage and return springs. Check for smooth operation of the throttle linkage and make sure there is sufficient clearance between the throttle arm and the air cleaner (no throttle sticking here).
7. Carburetor Maintenance - Remove your carburetor and disassemble it. Do a thorough cleaning at the very least. Inspect all of the moving parts. Order a new gasket kit and consider replacement of all of the parts that can and do go wrong at some point in time. These include the power valves, the accelerator pump, seals, etc.
Look outside the carb and inspect the linkage from the gas pedal to the carb. Replace the return springs no matter what they look like and also the ball sockets if they appear to be worn. Now might be a good time to send it off to an expert to "tune" it for more performance.
8. Rearend Maintenance - When disassembling your rearend, make sure you note the condition of all of the parts. When first draining the rear-end grease, run it through a filter to see if there are any tell-tale metal bits or pieces that may indicate a part failure.
Look over the gear wear pattern as well as the bearing play and any obvious cracks in the housing that may only be seen from the inside. Now is the time to decide whether to replace the center section, a right- or left-bell side or one of the axle tubes.
If you are running a Detroit Locker-type of rear differential, note the age of the springs. These must be replaced periodically. Ask your manufacturer how long you could expect yours to last under your racing conditions.
If you have the tools, tear...
If you have the tools, tear down your rearend and do a full maintenance routine in the off-season. The differentials need to be inspected by the manufacturer and repaired if necessary. I have seen a lot of problems traced back to the diff. lately.
Other aftermarket differentials designed for traction enhancement should be looked over closely. There are lots of moving parts, some of them built out of aluminum that need close inspection. It would be a good idea, since you now have the time, to send these types of units back to the manufacturer for rebuilding and/or repair.
The same goes for the transmission. The bushings and bearings in the tranny will wear out. Don't expect a transmission to last a life time. Be sure to match that tailshaft bearing to the proper yoke. Roller bearings require a special hardened slip yoke.
9. Shocks - Shocks are one of those items that can make your setup ideal or when they fail, ruin an otherwise great package. You must check every shock you use on a regular basis to make sure it is not leaking and that the internal parts are functioning properly.
At the end of the season, either return them to a repair facility or rebuild them yourself. The oil will need to be changed and the seals will need to be replaced. These parts are not intended to last for very long. The heat and force the shock is subjected to is extreme.
Once the shocks have been rebuilt, make sure they are run on a shock dyno and keep a record of the rates. You will be referring to these many times in the future when you are deciding which shock should go on which corner of the car.
Many manufacturers offer a...
Many manufacturers offer a rebuild tool kit for sale such as this one from Tiger Rear Ends. If you have the proper tools to disassemble and reassemble the rearend, you can achieve results as good as the maker.
10. Shop Layout and Requirements - One of the ingredients for a successful racing operation is the space in which you will work on your car. The tools and layout of this area will contribute to how efficiently you setup and maintain your racecar all year long.
Every shop should have enough space available for all of the functions needed throughout the season. A surface plate or an area level enough for setups is a must. All of the tools as well as a pneumatic source and electrical source should be within easy reach.
You might consider setting up a separate engine room if you build your own motors. This clean room could serve as your shock dyno and computer room too. Here, you can clean carburetors, rebuild shocks, store sensitive electronic equipment and keep notes stored away for future use.
The key point to remember is that we need to find any structural or mechanical problems with the chassis or other components that are bolted onto the chassis. We need to correct any driver safety related problems that involve wear or age of the seatbelts, restraints, fire suppression system, helmet or seat. And we need to consult the manufacturer partners we have established so they can help us keep everything up and running.
At the end of each season, we need to thoroughly go over our racecar during the winter months so that when we hit the track again in the spring, it will be just like a new car. That way, you can avoid failures that could prevent you from having the success you desire. And I know most teams really enjoy the working on the car part of racing. It's what being a gearhead/racer is all about.