Race car maintenance you can’t live without
I thought I would take a couple minutes and talk about my top ten list of the most important and most overlooked maintenance items to get done before you go to the track. These are not in any particular order, but all need to be taken care of if not weekly every second week.
Cleaning your car
The first thing should be a good cleaning of the car; first thing before anything else gets done. If you race on dirt, it will get everywhere. Many people like using a pressure washer, but I’m not the biggest fan of them. These things are not boats! There are too many places on a race car that does not like water. High pressure water can squirt past seals in brake calipers, rear ends, transmissions, even engines. Electrical systems and ignition definitely are not friendly toward water. A garden hose with a bucket of soap and water, although more work, should be sufficient to get everything clean. Race car maintenance begins with a clean car.
Dirt racing shock absorbers
Number two is shock absorbers. I believe each week they should be removed from the car and cleaned and inspected thoroughly. Inspect the body and shaft for dents, dings, or bends. Always visually inspect the shaft for bends. I have seen shafts that have been slightly bent, but it won’t stick in the rod guide because the end seal is too worn out; that is another potential problem that should be addressed. Sloppy rod guides will allow the piston to run out of alignment and wear out the shock body prematurely. Also, don’t use brake clean or any spray cleaners that can damage the rubber seals or Teflon inserts in many quality rod ends. Look for a good electrical cleaner that will not harm plastic or rubber is a good cleaning alternative.
The third thing I concentrate on is suspension linkages. Spindles should be checked for straightness and cracks. If you don’t own a spindle checker it is definitely a good investment; they really aren’t that expensive. Spindle eyes should line up through the center of the tapers. The problem is that most some production car OEM spindles that I have checked will not line up. I don’t know if it is a problem right from the manufacturer or if the ones I checked all got bent by bouncing down the roads of America. Check ball joints for straightness. This can be done by taking out the spring and shock and steering the car left and right. If the spindle moves up and down or has some other erratic path, the ball joint most commonly bent or at least needs further investigation. Ball joints then need to be greased, and rod ends need to be checked for excessive slop then lubricated. Also check upper control arm mounts for bends. The slightest bend in the upper control arm mounts can often times lead to a major bind in the control arm.
Cleaning the radiator
Fourth I believe should be checking and cleaning the radiator. A leaking or plugged radiator that won’t cool can quickly turn that expensive race engine into a boat anchor. If you race on dirt, a though flushing of the fins need to be done every week. A low pressure water hose will usually do the trick. Flush from back to front to push the dirt back out the way it came in. Inspect radiator hose clamps and hoses themselves for damage or small leaks caused by abrasion.
Bolt run your car
The fifth thing I believe is actually the most important. It’s what I and my friends call a bolt run. It is as it sounds; grab a bunch of wrenches and start checking tightness on bolts. As you go along you will probably notice certain bolts that will come loose every week, and some that you will never have to check. A another added bonus to a good bolt run is that it gets you looking at the race car very intently and you might notice other problems that might otherwise not get noticed.
Proper brake bleeding
Number six is bleeding brakes. If you do end up pressure washing the car bleeding the brakes will get rid of moisture trapped in the system from washing. Also, as brakes get hot the brake fluid will start to break down. Bleeding regularly will keep fresh fluid in the system. Another side note to this is that brake caliper piston seals will degrade and probably need replacing at least once a year on a dirt car and more often on a pavement car where brake temperatures can be much higher.
Wheels and Tires
Well we’re up to number seven; Wheels and tires. Wheels should be inspected frequently for cracks or bends. I’ve seen many wheels fail over the years and none of the consequences are good. Wheel failures can hurt drivers and tear up equipment; if a wheel is at all questionable don’t run it. Tires should be kept clean and out of direct sunlight. Tire rubber will slowly degrade and harden up as it sits in open air; and sunlight speeds up this process. Tires are the only link between the car and the road. This step is extremely important for good repeatable performance.
Number eight is engine maintenance. Regular oil changes with quality oil are cheap insurance to keep it running well. Setting valve lash, checking timing, carburetor cleaning and lubrication, cleaning air filters or installing new ones, and keeping an eye on belts are all things that should be checked on a regular basis. This is especially true in beginner classes where seat time is so important. If a blown motor causes someone to sit out two weeks, that is two weeks that they will be behind. There might be other areas your motor builder would like to see checked, but these are the things I keep an eye on most often.
Body and aerodynamic maintenance
Number nine, I believe, should be body maintenance. Many racers overlook the importance of aerodynamics even on short tracks. Air is a huge factor. As it was explained to me recently, as speed increases down force caused by air can increase exponentially. Down force doesn’t linearly increase with speed. Also strong body bracing that doesn’t allow the body to move around in the air is also very important. Don’t just let that crash damage go, it’s probably slowing you down.
Maintain the driver
Number ten is probably the most important, but it’s only connected to the car during the race. It’s the driver. Injured or unhealthy drivers are not going to perform well. A healthy driver with a good clear and focused mind is probably the greatest asset a team can have. A driver needs to physically and mentally prepare to do nothing but win when they climb in that car. There is no substitute.
Well that’s my top ten list. I make no guarantees it will take you to the winners circle, but I believe it to be an essential part of winning. Winning is fickle. I don’t think there is a definite blue print to getting there, but good maintenance will put you on the path.
Well, til next time, be fast.