Bracket Racing 101 – - Just the Basics

March 28th, 2011

By Bob Beucler

As you’re reading this it’s the winter leading up to the 2011 season.  This is when basic maintenance pays big dividends to your bracket program.  In my last column, one of the main points discussed was the importance of consistency and parts longevity as being part of a successful bracket car. Consistency because it goes hand-in-hand with predictability, a primary factor in winning races, and longevity because broken race cars are not typically effective tools for going rounds.

I’ve always been a racer on a budget, so I’ve been keen on staying on top of maintenance in the present in order to avoid expensive and catastrophic failures in the future. However, I know many racers who put their cars away during the off-season, never going through them when they have the chance; instead they just bring them back out in the spring and keep racing.  I can’t race like this.  I’d hate to start a new season with any questions regarding my equipment. Case in point:  a few years ago in the off-season I was vacillating between leaving the motor in and pulling it to have everything checked. My budget was tight, and I was sure everything was fine and I would just be spending money that I could have applied toward the coming season. Something told me to spend the money and pull it anyway.  It was a lucky thing, because we found a crack in the crank which surely would have failed early in the season, and probably would have taken the block, rods, etc. with it.

Short of pulling your motor, here are some basic checks that you can do for very little money during this down time. Shedding light on potential problems when you have the time to fix them is much easier than trying to deal with them while in the midst of a points chase.

Engine: using a dial-indicator, check the thrust of the crank. (Ideally, this would have been initially checked when the engine was new so as to have a reference point) Using an oil filter cutter, remove and cut open the filter and check for particles.  Using an on-engine valve spring pressure tester, test your spring pressure for uniformity. Also check valve lash for uniformity.  If all the adjustors are tight, yet you have a valve that’s way out for no apparent reason, you might have an issue that could lead to an early-season failure, perhaps a cam lobe that’s going away. Other basic checks include a compression check, a leak-down test and a coolant pressure test, which can uncover a crack or a bad head gasket. After you’ve checked everything, it’s not a bad idea to close all of the valves by backing off the adjustors. This can prolong valve spring life, and it also seals off the cylinders to help keep moisture out.

Transmission and Rearend: Dump the trans fluid and pull the pan. Smell the fluid to determine if it’s burnt. Check the pan for excessive material. Some clutch material is probably not a big deal, but lots of particles and speckles might be. Dump the rear gear oil and pull the cover to check for odd wear patterns on the teeth.

Brakes, Steering and Suspension: Keeping on top of the brakes, steering and suspension is just as important as checking the drivetrain. Every winter you should inspect your race car’s wheel bearings, brake pads/shoes, brake lines, steering components, ball joints and rear suspension components to make sure nothing has worked itself loose. Check the bolts for the shocks, ladder bars or 4-link and control arms. Check all of the bushings, and inspect all welds to the chassis. Bolts and bushings that are loose or worn aren’t just a safety issue, they’ll rob your vehicle of reaction time, too.

I understand this is Maintenance 101, but why leave the new season to chance. Winning races is hard, but it’s made easier when your equipment is in top working condition.

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