Are You Adjusting Properly???
Drag racing is a numbers game. ET, MPH, and sixty-foot times measure our progress. If we pass these tests, we are likely to collect the wins needed to get into the money rounds and enjoy a successful weekend. For those without a plan, the ET slip can become a frustrating maze of inconsistent increments as the right tune up changes and shifts before their eyes.
Many racers establish a comfort level with their new car and rarely wander from that tune-up. Tracks come and go, weather conditions change, but the car stays the same. As the track heats up, or a new venue presents a different surface, frustration mounts as losses begin to accumulate. Flexibility is the key- a good car can begin to lose rounds if subtle changes in track conditions aren't heeded and adjustments made to compensate.
Our ProCar Top Street Corvette was stymied by these variables at the NSCA's stop in Salem, Ohio. While the starting line was excellent, repeated grinding left the concrete's aggregate layer exposed between 250 and 400 feet. Bumps from the eighth on made peak performance nearly impossible, and our driver had to abort one qualifying run as the car drifted too close to the center line. As the third and final session rolled around, we knew our relatively weak qualifying number was in peril as hitters Kenny Farrell and Dale Pittman laid in wait, to put us on the wrong side of the ladder. What to do? Back it down, soften it up, and get it down the 1320.
Camp Stanley kidded that it was time to take the little pulley off the top of his car and put it on the bottom. How prophetic that bit of humor was; and boy did we listen. The ProCar team decided it was in our best interest to raise the wing as high as it would go, pull power out of the motor, and keep the shocks as soft as tire shake would allow. An imperfect pass that assured we would remain qualified number one without coming even close to the cars potential was the goal. This was not the time for setting records, reading the track and the dealing with the situation at hand was paramount. Getting macho could wait for another day; this was about accruing points and staying on the ‘right' side of the ladder.
What exactly did we do to stay qualified number one and ensure a bye run into the semis? To be crass, we put our ego behind our fly and simply raced the surface. Setting a car up to run its best ET on a perfect surface is relatively easy, but setting it up to get down a tough surface takes restraint. First, we pulled back the motor. Most teams have a digital ignition. (If you don't, and race nitrous, buy one.) Using it, we softened the power output of the engine where the track presented the most trouble. (Interpreting the time to distance data from our two-channel tach, we were able to tell what RPM the motor was at on the loosest part of the track.) We didn't need to set a record; we simply needed to get to the finish line quicker than anyone else on that surface on that day. Our wing was riding low as we tried to set a MPH record the race prior, but here we needed maximum down force to get over the bumps. Raising it wouldn't hurt ET much, but it helped our driver (Randy Jewell) get to the other end safely. While softer shock settings don't produce great sixty-foot times, they do help our driver stay straight over the bumps. I must admit Marc Dantoni assisted us with the proper choices there. Finally, Randy trusted the car to find the center of the racetrack as it wandered about. The guy has chops, and I credit him with resisting the urge to crank the wheel over each bump.
Does this mean the
ProCar team made the dead-on call? Hell no. We've still got a lot to learn;
perhaps luck played a role. I only use our experiences to illustrate basic
concepts- concepts that can be used for drivers that race the OSCA (who uses
the same facility each race) or the NSCA (who travels over hell's half acre.)
Cayuga (OSCA) can change as temperature and seasons vary and Columbus sure as
heck won't present the same challenges in October as Cecil does in June to the
NSCA racer. Walk the track whenever possible during the quiet mornings before
qualifying and eliminations. Learn where shift points happen, distance wise.
Look at that portion of the track and adjust them to happen sooner or later if
need be. Work with your shocks to learn how stiff or loose the car will
tolerate and make decisions based on how ‘tight' the starting line and
transitions points are. Finally, test, test and test some more. Become familiar
with what inputs to the car will result in the output you seek. Champion's
change with the challenges, first round ducks don't. Which will you be?