Dirt Track Swing Arm Suspension Basics

The dirt track swing arm suspension, is it dead?

I received an email several weeks ago from a faithful reader regarding what some of the basic principles around a dirt track swing arm suspension. The most general rule of thumb is that they are a very forgiving type of suspension. The rear springs are mounted on the lower trailing arms, which create a motion ratio for the rear springs separate from the motion ratio associated laterally when figuring wheel rate.

Motion ratio

The nice thing about this motion ratio on the left side is that when the car rolls over on to the right side springs, the left rear spring does not unload as fast or as much as the axle is dropping. It will essentially hold a little more wedge than if it were mounted on the birdcage. The bad thing about the springs being mounted on the arms is on the right side. As the car rolls on to the right rear, the swing arm pivot is lowering at the same time the shock mount is lowering. There is less spring support in body roll because both points are moving. Because of the motion ratio on the arm the spring is compressing a little, but the actual rate the axle feels is a fair amount softer than the actual spring rate.

There are some questions about bar angle on swing arm suspensions and it seems with the testing we have done there is a tradeoff between the bar angles in the back and the angle of the pull bar, if your car is running one. The more pull bar angle there is the less effective the rear trailing arm angles are. While we are on the topic of pull bar angle, 18 to 20 degrees is pretty standard, but it is dependent on several different factors. My rule of thumb is that if you step on the gas and the rear end jacks up and pulls off of the springs, there is too much pull bar angle in it. Ideally you want anti-squat in your car, a slow progression would be about the best.

Bar angles

The trailing arm angles and lengths really depend how instant and how much anti-squat you want to run in your car. If you are someone who likes a large amount of instant traction and a large amount of anti-squat then shorter rear trailing arms and more angle will help you achieve that. I personally believe that too much anti-squat with a swing arm car won’t keep the car running on the springs and lap times will suffer in the slick. Longer rear trailing arms will also be very forgiving in the rough muddy conditions. There is no perfect solution for the length of the rear trailing arms it’s really about driver feel.

There are exceptions to every rule and every general theory. On cars that have to run on a tire rule, it seems, a little shorter bar or a little more angle help the weight ‘hit’ the tire faster and aid in generating¬† heat into the tire a little quicker. Be cautioned though, the traction can run out on the straight too quickly if this is taken to an extreme. The best rule in racing is not if one is good two is better. Two¬†could just make it easier to find your way to the back instead of going forward.

Pull bars

A little needs to be said about pull bars as well, since it seems that is the most common torque reaction devise in the swing arm style car. The longer the bar, the longer it pulls down the straight. The shorter the bar, the more instant traction, but the sooner it will run out on the straight. The biggest problem with pull bar length and angle is the clearance you have to mount it in the car. As you put more angle in it, the closer it gets to the drive shaft and the bottom of the frame. It is all a compromise. If you want to run a very long pull bar and want to run a lot of angle in it, you will probably have to offset it on one or the other side of the drive shaft.

Creating a new suspension or tuning the one you have often requires a lot of tradeoffs, so I would recommend designing a lot of adjust ability into the car of don’t be afraid of wrecking the paint when you have to cut and redesign it in the middle of the year.

Til next time,

Kevin

Comments

  1. matt bales says

    im glad to hear that swing arm cars can work but mine dose not it inters good but pushes like a dump truck as soon as you put ur foot back on the gas please help me understand my car a little better i dont want you to tell me hoiw to fix it i would like you to teach me how it works so i can

    • Kevin says

      Hi Matt,
      The Problem with many swing arm cars that there is a tendency to run very high amounts of wedge. The best swing arm cars I’ve encountered are around the 190# range. It really needs to be a balance between the rear tires to get the most traction and still be able to drive it smooth and consistently. If your car is too tight on entry, I would start with freeing the car up. Sometimes the car may seem to enter fine, but is actually too tight because you are picking up the gas too early, before the car has not turned the apex enough.
      Because of the lack of extreme roll steer, like 4 links, you really need to watch how early you pick up the throttle. Car dynamics all work the same at the core whether it is a swing arm or four link. Keep digging on learning about the core concepts of traction and car balance and you will understand how to fix any type of car.
      I would try these things to cure your problem.
      1. Take some wedge out of the LR; this will help balance the balance the traction if your LR is too dominate.
      2. Make sure your car turns enough before you get on the gas; many cars I watch that complain of a tight through the center problem just don’t allow their cars to turn enough before getting on the gas. They run their cars too straight.
      3. Soften the RF spring a little; This will take wedge out dynamically and help the car turn the entire radius.

      Thanks for stopping by,
      Kevin

  2. Richie Sutherland says

    i have a 4 bar on right swing arm on left i love the amount of bite it produces but if the track gets rough it is undrivable it will bounce all 4 tires iff the ground is there any way to stop this.

    Thank you

    • Kevin says

      Less bar angle and different shock package can usually cure this, but there are many thing that could need to be changed. Less J-bar angle can also help calm this down, but remember there is always a trade off to everything that is going on. By making changes for the rough could mean taking traction out when the track gets dry. The good thing is that usually when the track is rough, there is plenty of traction to be had in the track.

      Good Luck,
      Kevin

  3. bryan hernandez says

    changing my car to swing arms. what spring rates do u start out with,what type of shock package.

    thank u bryan

    • Kevin says

      It really depends on the type of car you are running and the motion ratios of the swing arms. Most swing arms run at about a thirty percent motion ratio. The swing arm late models that I am familiar with would run as low as 350’s with a 50 percent motion ratio to as high as 600’s with a 50 percent motion ratio. There are quite a bit of adjustments you can make to a swing arm car if you really stop and think about it. You can change motion ratios from side to side to effect the amount and the speed of the springs loading and unloading. It can be very similar to how you can adjust a four link car to hold or drop wedge as the car rolls over.

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Kevin

  4. racerj5 says

    I’m looking to buy a Late Model and torn between swingarm and 4 bar. The guys who are fast in limited are both in Rayburns on swingarm, but I’ll be running crate. I don’t know what to buy. Track is extremely fast high banked, high bite track…..Tazewell Speedway.

    Also, I assume wedge=cross? I ran karts for 30 years and wedge was a term we never heard. In a kart, if it was pushing or tight, we would raise the RF or drop the LR, taking out cross and making the RF heavier, and adding bite to that wheel. Will taking out wedge or running a softer RF spring give the same effect, which freed the kart up? I know there are ton MORE adjustments on a car, but I’m just wondering if the basic chassis dynamics were the same. Thanks!!

    • Kevin says

      All chassis dynamics should respond similarly … the real difference is that one is sprung and the other is not. Swing arms are simple … easier to get used to and don’t require as much adjustment as the track changes. Swing arm cars typically have a larger sweet spot than 4-link cars so you can be off a little bit and still be pretty fast.

      Good Luck.

      Kevin

      • ryan says

        OK I have 400s across the rear 550 ref 500lf car handles like a dream til u hit a rough track then u can’t drive it for it whelie ing I have the 2 inch spring in pull bar its a 2010 rayburn chassis how do u stop the wheelie without losing forward bit?

  5. Hilton says

    Hi Kevin.
    i would like to know why some racers have their right side trailing arm much longer than the left side (some right side trailing arms allmost mounts at the cross bar at the engine fire wall) on a 3link suspension?
    regards
    Hilton

    • Kevin says

      This is really big on asphalt. I’ve seen some dirt cars do this too and I think the reason is to keep the right rear very consistent in the car. My thought process has always been to keep the right rear consistent and do any indexing or wheelbase change with the left rear. Now, on a three link you can take indexing out of the equation, but you still have wheelbase change and wheel alignment to consider.

      Thanks,
      Kevin

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