5 Tips for Race Maintenance
They say races are won in the shop. While there’s a variety of factors that go into being successful on the track, having a strong weekly maintenance program can provide great value to your performance. Maintenance differs between vehicle types, yet there are some tips that are applicable no matter what you’re racing. Here I’ve compiled 5 tips for someone starting out that I’ve learned through maintenance experience on outlaw karts, micro sprints, midgets, sprint cars, and asphalt late models.
I would highly recommend not waiting until the day of the race, or even at the track for that matter, to start your weekly maintenance. Begin weekly maintenance as soon as possible after you race, even if it means when you get home at the wee hours of morning. Occasionally even when it’s late after a race, I find myself with a leftover adrenaline rush that motivates me to tear the car apart and start cleaning. Plus the thought of a shower and bed is an added motivational bonus to move a little faster. However, whether it’s the night after or the day after, starting early prevents stress later in the week.
One of the greatest benefits of jumping on weekly maintenance early is that you can discover problems that might exist and be proactive in solving them. If you come across a broken or bent part during maintenance, you’ll want to be able to order it early so it has plenty of time to ship and be replaced on the car. If you wait until the last minute, the part you need might not be readily available, and you’ll be scrambling to get to the track on time (yes, I’ve had a little too much experience with this one). Therefore, don’t procrastinate and be proactive when it comes to maintenance.
I like to think of my car as a human. We as humans don’t like to go and get all dirty and sweaty and then sit around in it all week. Hence, the creation of personal hygiene. I like to believe our cars are the same way. While part of this stems from starting weekly maintenance early, this tip dives deeper into just changing oil the morning after the race. We invest a lot of money into our racecars and equipment, and it’s our responsibility to care for them as best we can. Don’t let all that dirt and grease sit and mold itself to the car all week. Taking care of your equipment not only helps with longevity, but it also keeps your equipment running at optimum levels of performance.
More often than not, the cars in victory lane at the end of the night don’t show up looking rough at the beginning of the night. I often see teams struggling with performance and blaming other factors, yet their car is not well maintained, and bearings, spark plugs, fuel lines, etc. haven’t been changed for quite some time. A clean car is not only a fast car, but it’s also a safe car. Making sure your parts are clean and in good working condition prevents parts from breaking and causing a wreck. On a lesser scale, break downs on the track take away points, money, trophies, and valuable seat time. You can’t learn from sitting in the infield. Lastly, a clean car might not matter to some in the present, but when it comes to resale, it will likely matter to the buyer. Therefore, build a good reputation in the business side of the industry by selling cars that are clean and quality that others are happy and confident to purchase.
I mentioned the benefits that having a clean car has on performance. Yet, keep in mind that if you have a team around you, whether it’s family, friends, or a hired crew, make sure everyone is on the same page. I’ve always been told that you can judge the quality of the car by the quality of the workspace. Therefore, try to keep your tools and workspace organized. If it’s not, it’s easy to lose track of things, and little expenses such as buying a new 7/16th wrench every other week add up. Make sure you’re working with people that also care for your equipment and that you can trust. The build of a car and its setup can be just as large of a speed factor as anything, so it’s important to have a group of people all working towards the same goals.
There is indeed a financial element to a lot of the tips mentioned above when it comes to maintenance. After all, what if you can’t afford to replace certain components? Or find the help you desire? If this is the case, start back at tips #1 and #2. Do what you can with what you have, and whatever that is, take care of it early and keep it clean. Don’t spend money on anything you might not need or use, and if at all possible, spend a little extra in areas that might save you in the long run.
My crew has often talked me into purchasing many “insurance” parts. While I’m particular about not spending more than I need to, I’ve seen the benefits of spending a little extra on something that will last longer or not lead to any other issues. Examples of this might include replacing valve springs or other engine components sooner rather than later to help prevent the risk of a cheaper part breaking and leading to much more expensive engine problems. Going off of this, be careful when purchasing used equipment. While it might be cheaper in the short run, make sure you know why someone is selling something. Again, saving a dime on someone else’s junk could hurt you in the long run. Therefore, try and delegate which parts you can cut corners on and which you can’t.
I don’t come from a racing family, and my dad and I knew absolutely nothing about racecars getting into it. Even though the drivers get a lot of credit for the victories, I wouldn’t be where I am today without a whole host of people that gave us tips, taught us, or were part of my crew. The first four year of my career (outlaw karts and micro sprints) my dad and I were the only ones that worked on my car and learned a lot from generous people that were willing to take the time to teach us.
Sprint cars required a bit more help, so when I moved up to sprint cars we had people join our team both in the shop and at the track. I used to spend a lot of time going over to Bob Trostle’s shop (legendary sprint car mechanic/builder) to learn from him or ask questions, and I also learned a lot from all of the crew guys that have worked on my cars over the years. Even before I raced sprint cars, I was often in the pits scraping mud and jumping in on different crews whenever they’d let me so I could learn more about the cars. Therefore, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask questions and learn. It’s the only way you’re going to get better.