Testing costs money, often...
Testing costs money, often requires you to take time off work, and is practically useless unless you've put in the same amount of preparation (or more) than you would for a real race. So you might as well get the most out of it.
One of the big difficulties with racing out of your own pocket is that life gets in the way. That's not a bad thing, but it is reality. Sometimes new parts have to be delayed until after the house payment is made. And sometimes the car may not be as clean-or as completely prepped-as you might like because a member of your volunteer crew went on vacation, or had a kid get sick, and you simply didn't have enough hands on deck to get everything done.
This is especially true when it comes to testing. If you race the same equipment at the same track week after week, that's one thing, but if you are going to a new track or have changed virtually anything on your car it's practically impossible to be perfect right off the truck. Most tracks offer practice time the day a race is scheduled, but there are often times when an hour or two of track time just isn't enough and a full-blown test is called for. But tests are difficult because it costs money to rent the track, you and your crew probably will have to take vacation time from work, and getting the most from a test requires all the prep (and often more) involved with getting the race car ready for an actual race.
Good communication is vital....
Good communication is vital. Here, crew chief Mike Sibley is not only talking with driver Tommy Cloce about what the car it doing, he's also making sure he understands exactly how loose the car is when Cloce says it's "loose on exit."
That's why it is so important, if you are going to make the investment of time, money, and effort to go testing, to get everything you can out of it. With that in mind, we tagged along as Joe Gibbs Racing took driver Tommy Cloce on a test. Cloce is the 2009 Joe Gibbs Driven Racing Oil ASA Member Track National champion, and one of the perks of winning the championship is the opportunity to test with the Gibbs race team.
The team Cloce is testing with is the outfit that normally races in the NASCAR Camping World East series. However, the track for the test is Dillon (SC) Motor Speedway, an ASA Member track that was purchased and rennovated by former truck series racer Ron Barfield a few years ago. And while the purpose of the session is to test Cloce's abilities behind the wheel, crew chief Mike Sibley's intention is to treat the session as much like a real test as possible to see just what Cloce is made of. This allows us to see how a professional operation like JGR handles a test day at the track.
Just like the old adage that the three most important things in real estate are "location, location, location," the very same can be said about track testing and preparation. Sibley says that in order to test properly, your race car should be prepared to the very same level that it will be on race day. Make sure any work that needs to be done on the car is completed ahead of time so that you can spend the most time possible with your car on the race track. Also, in order for the test to be valid, you want everything possible to be identical to the way it will be during a race.
You may not have a setup as...
You may not have a setup as nice as this Joe Gibbs Racing operation, but with good planning you can be prepared with everything you want to test without having to drag your entire shop to the racetrack with you.
Obviously, once you hit the track you don't want to start making chassis changes without a plan. And planning must also begin well before you hit the track. Start with the setup you will put under the car to begin the test.
If you are testing at your home track, then you can begin with your race setup and adjust from there. But if you are going to a track you've never tested at before, you have a couple of options. First, you can call around to other drivers or even your chassis builder to see if anyone has any experience with the track and can offer you some advice on what setups seem to work best there. If you don't know anyone and have to go in "blind," your best bet is to start with something basic your driver is familiar with. Don't guess and go in with some wild setup you aren't used to because you won't already have an idea how the car should behave, and it will be more difficult to determine what changes need to be made.
If you plan to test regularly,...
If you plan to test regularly, a set of leveling scale pads like these are a good investment. They allow you to create four level areas at the track for all making all setup changes on the car. Then you can roll the car forward onto the scales if you want to scale the car.
Next, you need to determine exactly what you are trying to accomplish. For example, you may be trying to test some new components to see how they make your car react. In this instance, you aren't as concerned with determining the absolutely best setup as you are with gathering information that can be used later. You may be testing a new brand of shocks and need to learn how different settings affect the handling. And then how do the different shock settings react to different spring packages? This type of test is more about gathering information that should help you make adjustments on the fly during your next race.
The other type of test is all about determining the best setup package for a given track (and hopefully, under the same conditions you will be racing under). Work as if you are actually racing and try to find that right combination that will produce the fastest lap times while also keeping the car comfortable enough to drive that you-or your driver-can successfully negotiate traffic and pass when necessary.
At the Track
This is a boring photo, but...
This is a boring photo, but it illustrates a good point. When using leveling pads it is critical that after making sure everything is level, they be in the same place every time. The JGR team assures this by marking the pavement where the feet on the pads must go.
Remember, the entire purpose of going to test is to gather all the information you can. You won't learn nearly as much during the time spent wrenching on the car, so try to minimize that as much as possible. Sibley says you can make your test run much more efficiently if you prepare your packages ahead of time, including scaling the car. If you know what shock and spring setups you will be running, go ahead and set them up at the shop beforehand. Also, for example, if you plan to try a softer left rear spring, go ahead and install that spring on the car and measure how many rounds you will have to put back into the rear to get the ride height back to where it was before. Now when someone installs that shock and spring package, your crew can just count the rounds on the jack bolts and know everything is right.
And then there will be times during a test that you may want to make a chassis adjustment you hadn't originally planned on. Now you will likely need to recheck frame heights to make sure you aren't getting off track on your overall setup. An easy way to do that is to put a piece of tape on all four fenders and, while you are still at the shop on a level surface, mark a line on the tape at a consistent height on all four corners. Next, find the most level spot you can at the racetrack and use that as your pit area. Measure those four marks again and log the heights. The height may change versus what you measured at the shop if you aren't on level ground, but now you know your frame heights and can tell if they change. Now every time you make a change to the chassis you can easily refer back to those points to see if the frame heights have moved.
Once everything is level,...
Once everything is level, use the end of a carpenter's square or a straight edge to mark a consistent height on a piece of tape at all four fenders. Now you can easily check whether a chassis adjustment has changed the frame height.
Whether you are simulating long green flag runs or shorter sprints, there are some things you or your crew should check every time the car comes in. This includes tire pressures, recording how much the pressure has changed since the car left the pits, and shock travels. You have to be careful with shock travels, however, if you are using rubber grommets on the shock shafts. That will only tell you max shock travel, which can sometimes be thrown off if you hit a bump or a hole in the track. A hard transition from the track to pit road can also max out your shock travel. Still, travel indicators are a good way to see if any change you made to the chassis is affecting shock travel.
Another often overlooked area is communication between the driver and crew. If you have a long working relationship with your driver or crew chief, you have probably already worked through this, but for new drivers or crew chiefs it is important to talk beforehand about exactly what you mean when you describe something about how the car is handling. On the surface this may not seem like a big deal as long as you both speak English (or at least the same language). But we're talking about degrees of difference here. Most racers and crew chiefs settle on a scale to describe just how loose or tight the race car may be. Sibley says whether you use a scale that's 1-10, A-Z, or whatever; you need to make sure you mean the same thing when the driver says the car is a "seven loose." Otherwise the crew chief may over- or under-compensate on his chassis changes and it will take longer than necessary to dial in the chassis.
If you use dedicated setup...
If you use dedicated setup tires in the shop (and you should), take them to the track test with you. You don't have to put them on every time you make a chassis adjustment, but they are nice to have around if you want to bolt them back on after several changes to make sure you haven't gotten away from your base settings.
After all that, we will finally get to making changes. There's no way to cover it all in terms of what change affects the car in what manner, so we won't even try. For that, you can read Bob Bolles' excellent chassis and setup articles elsewhere in this magazine every month. But we will offer this one excellent piece of advice Sibley passed along.
When making changes to the car, always start with the handling problems that show up earliest in the turn. For example, if the race car is tight in and then bad loose coming out of the corner, resist the urge to fight the biggest problem first which is the car's looseness on turn exit.
The reason for this is simple; the problems you are experiencing with the car earlier in the turn often affect how the car handles later. In this example, the car is tight on turn entry. So you have to wait until the car slows enough before it will begin to turn. But because it is tight, many drivers overcompensate with the steering wheel and have the tires turned too far. Once the car slows enough that the front tires can get some grip, they are turned too far and the car goes from tight to loose. Fixing the tight condition on turn entry will change the way to drive into the turn and the loose condition on turn exit likely will fix itself.
Sibley strongly recommends...
Sibley strongly recommends taking notes of practically everything that happens during a test. Even if it seems unimportant at the time, there is no telling what information you will need later when you try to recreate that perfectly handling car you had at the end of a long day of testing.
Overall, both Sibley and Cloce said the test went well. "It's really good for me to see how these guys work," Cloce says. "They don't waste any time, and every time I gave feedback on how the car behaved they knew exactly what needed to be done. When we started the car was set up specifically for me or for this track, but because they already knew what changes worked with this chassis, they were able to get it to suit my needs as a driver very quickly."
The whole session was valuable for both Tommy and the JGR team. The ASA has again given a local short track racer the chance of a lifetime with another successful test with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Could you be in that seat next year? Of course you could, but first you have to be an ASA member racing at an ASA Member Track. Get those two things out of the way and all you have to do is race your hardest. This ASA Championship uses a weighted points system that allows competitors from different tracks across the country to compete against one another. You gain points by not only winning heats and features but also by passing cars on the track. While the formula to calculate all that may be complex, the goal is fairly simply: Accumulate the most points by the end of the season and you are crowned the champion.