7 Greatest Sins Committed By Street Stock Drivers
I started racing way before the turn of the century, when I saw a broken down street stock on a converted boat trailer for sale at Ventura Raceway. I had never raced before, in fact I hadn’t even really worked on cars that much and didn’t have many tools. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to race.
I had fantasies of jumping in the car, gettin’ out on the track, and kickin’ some ass. However, as might be expected, the first race was a disaster. The engine smoked a ton, there was no power steering and the rear end was just about to fall out of the car. Somehow, I managed to finish the race (two laps down). There were a lot of mistakes those first few years and some hard lessons learned. But the important thing is to remember we all make mistakes, and try our best to learn from them.
#1 – Spending Money Unwisely
One of the biggest mistakes I think I have made over the years is not spending my money/budget wisely. I have never been one to spend a lot of money on a cool paint job, lettering and shiny parts. However, I see cars in all classes of racing with expensive parts, all shiny and polished, that still seem to compile an impressive stack of DNFs. There could be a number of reasons for this but it sure seems that the shiny paint, bitchin’ graphics and expensive parts aren’t helping. My problem has historically been just the converse. It took me several years to realize that some times saving money on a part ends up costing me money in the long run.
That first car and trailer I mentioned earlier is a prime example – I bought them for a little over $1000. Seems pretty cheap, right? The trailer was down right dangerous, eventually I traded it (along with some money) for another trailer not long after, because of how dangerous it was.
The car quickly received the moniker “The Turd” because a friend said that fixing it was like ‘polishing a turd’. There was almost nothing that didn’t have to repaired or replaced: a punctured oil pan, broken engine mounts, broken points distributor, thin-wall-tube lowering blocks, manual steering box, plugged trans cooler… the list could go on and on.
Even after the car was in marginally good condition, it still had to be set up. I spent most of the first season finding and replacing broken or worn parts. I would have been better off spending more money up front and getting a car that was actually drivable. I am not suggesting that buying the most expensive car would have been a good idea but buying the cheapest car I could find was not spending my money wisely.
It took me a while to realize that protecting myself with quality safety equipment was money well spent. My first suit was a cheap, one layer racing suit. It would have protected me in a fire for mere seconds, which wouldn’t have been nearly enough time to release the belts and pull down the window net so I could get out. After seeing a few cockpit fires first hand I decided that spending the money to get a multi-layer suit and/or flame retardant underwear was an inexpensive insurance policy.
Another example was my resistance to buy racing wheels. I spent my first several years buying the cheap, white “wagon wheel” style wheels. They were almost half the price of the racing wheels. Great savings, right? Unfortunately, they were really heavy and it wasn’t uncommon for me to pop the bead or lose the stem from contact with another car or a flying dirt clod.
When I built a new car I decided to use racing wheels. Not only did I no longer have to drill out the bolt pattern to fit the bigger studs, the “tuff bead” on these wheels was much harder to pop. I found the valve stem was on the inner side of the center web and was protected from those nosy bumpers and dirt clods. These wheels have also allowed me to reduce the air pressures at all four corners of the car. If I would of invested very early in a quality set of wheels, it would of saved me money in the long run.
The Turd came with an old 10 bolt Chevy rear end with welded spider gears. I broke an axle at least once every year I raced that car. I was lucky to have never flipped the car when it happened. When I decided to build a new car for the 2005 season the donor car had the same 10 bolt rear end. I ultimately decided to step up to a Ford 9” rear end after several fellow racers suggested it was a necessity. It has been money well spent. I have broken one axle in 7 year (and that was from a direct hit to the wheel). It also made changing gears as snap.
#2 – That Shock Is New… It’s Fine
Another one of my many rookie sins was ignoring my shocks. I used to have a habit of installing some $12 parts-store shock (or better yet, a junk yard shock) and just forgetting about it. It was new (at least to me). Why would it fail? Looking back I can only assume I thought a shock wouldn’t fail unless it was hit hard by something, besides the shocks on my street car never failed. In spite of what I thought, I was going through shocks on a regular basis and I was finding them while I was at the track, typically during a race. It took several seasons for me to realize two simple things when it comes to shocks.
The first thing was quite obvious, dirt track racing is tough on shocks, and stock replacement shocks just don’t cut it. I initially upgraded to premium street shocks but they were failing nearly as often as the “cheapos”. I finally bit the bullet and bought entry level racing shocks. My problems all but disappeared. Shocks were still damaged periodically, but they didn’t regularly fail on their own like the store brands did.
The second thing I learned was, discovering I had a bad shock at home was a lot better than finding out while I was on the track. I started to make sure that I inspected the shocks between every race. At the beginning, I used to take the shocks off the car between every race. I inspected them for damage: dented tubes, bent rods, cracked ends, or leaks. Then, I would put one end of the shock on the ground and compress the shock to full compression. Followed by pulling on it to full extension. If I felt any sticky or dead spots I knew it was time to replace the shock.
After a while I realized that performing the “push-pull” test between each race wasn’t necessary. I still do it, just not as often. The visual inspection for damage and leaks is still done every race. In addition to that, now I jump on the rear and front bumpers to run the suspension through its travel. If anything looks suspicious (binding) I pull the shocks and check them out.
Of all the racing sins teams commit, failing to do proper maintenance on the car between races has to be the most egregious. When I first started racing I had no maintenance program. In between races I would attempt to repair the things that broke during the last race. Like a lot of teams, if it didn’t actually break, it didn’t get looked at…until it broke.
After the first season I finally inspected the car. I found countless problems and attempted to fix as many as I could. Unfortunately, my maintenance habits didn’t change. It didn’t get looked at unless it broke. More than one night was ended simply because a fastener had wiggled loose and didn’t hold something in place, like a shock, an engine mount, the rear end, a wheel, valve cover or a u-joint.
I finally realized that I could save myself a lot of headaches if I just made sure everything was right before I went to the track. The procedure has been tweaked through the years but it is still relatively simple. If everything checks out ‘ok’ I can be done with the inspection in less than two hours. When I find something, and I often do, it means I can fix it right, without rushing. It also means I don’t have to worry about it breaking during the next race.
I am convinced that this program has saved me money, allowed me to have more fun and be more competitive at the track.
#4 – I’ll Look At The Gauges After The Race
Saying, “pay attention to your gauges,” seems pretty simple and self explanatory. However, this is one sin I have committed habitually since I started racing. I have blown up more than one engine because I was not paying attention to my gauges. One engine even started to give out during a yellow flag (I had knocked the oil filter off somehow). A quick glance at the gauges would have revealed ZERO oil pressure. Unfortunately, I didn’t take that quick look, so the engine let me know there was no oil pressure when we took the green and it grenaded.
I now try to take a quick glance at the gauges every time I go down the back-stretch, and make certain I look under yellows.
#5 – Tire Abuse
Most street stock classes require DOT approved highway legal tires. These tires don’t offer much grip when compared to their race specific counterparts but they do offer quite a bit of durability. That is, if they are stored properly.
On the other hand, tires stored in the direct sun light and exposed to heat are destined to have a much shorter life span. Light and heat are two of a tire’s worst enemies (a sharp piece of metal through the side wall is another). They cause the tire to dry out and crack prematurely. As the tires age, they get noticeably harder. If I see one of my competitors with old, cracked tires I know I have an advantage right from the beginning. Some have said ‘an old tire can mask handling problems’. In my experience, these old, cracked tires are the handling problem.
#6 – Cam: Bigger Is Not Always Better
Using a cam that is too big for its intended use can make a car down right frustrating to drive. It makes the car sluggish in the corners and lazy coming off. Then, after everyone has passed you coming out of corner the engine starts to wake up near the flag stand, just in time to get off the gas and get ready for the next set of corners. The cam must be sized to fit the rest of the engine components, track and car.
I found this out first hand during my sophomore season. I had built a new engine (my first) with the help of one of my sponsors for the upcoming season. The engine felt pretty peppy during the first race. Unfortunately, I tried to save some money by buying a cheap cam and two lobes were flat by the end of the night (more money spent unwisely). I allowed another of my sponsors, whom I considered an expert, to select and purchase my new cam and lifters. It wasn’t until after the cam was installed that I discovered it was illegal. It was much bigger than our rules allowed and was a solid lifter cam (also illegal for my class). There wasn’t enough time to get another cam so I decided to run it. The lopey idle sounded great but when I finally got on the track it was pathetic. The car felt faster the previous race when I was on seven cylinders. It was then I decided to learn a little bit about cams. I am not an expert, by any means, but here are a few basic things I’ve learned:
- I have used cheaper “house” cams twice. I wiped lobes on both of them. I have never had a name brand cam go flat. In my experience, name brand cams and lifters are worth the extra money.
- Based on the flow numbers I have seen on the internet, stock production heads (even Vortec’s) don’t really continue to flow more as the valve lifts above .500”. In my opinion, there is no need to open the valve more than that on a Street Stock engine with low compression and “no touch” production heads.
- If I can’t decide between two cams, I pick the smaller of the two because it will almost always be better coming off the corner. I would much rather come off the corner strong and sacrifice some speed near the end of the straight than have it sluggish off the corner and feel it come alive right before I have to let off to enter the next corner. I have made this mistake both ways. In my experience, too small is better than too big.
- For years, the engine rules at Perris Auto Speedway included a “pumping compression” specification. It took a little trial and error to conclude that retarding the cam lowered the pumping compression. The only cam event that affects pumping compression is the closing of the intake valve. The valve stays open past bottom dead center of the intake stroke and closes during the compression stroke. The later the valve closes, the less time (degrees of crank rotation) the cylinder has to develop pressure and therefore, it results in lower pumping compression.
#7 – Failing To Follow The Track
When I started racing, I didn’t realize that the track would change over the course of the evening. Once I did (which didn’t take long) I didn’t really understand my options. As I got more races under my belt I started to realize there were a number of adjustments that could be made while at the track: tire pressures, stagger, sway bar, wheel offset, lowering blocks, etc…
I have tried changing lowering blocks a few times at the track and although it was an effective way to tune the handling of the car it always seem to be a pain in my ass. The alignment holes never seemed to line up when I was rushing and the muddy U-bolts had a tendency to strip. For me it was more trouble than it is worth.
The most common adjustment I make is changing stagger in the front of the car. I use reverse stagger (smaller tire on the outside) for tacky tracks. This reduces the cross weight and helps my car turn a little better. I use positive stagger (larger tire on the outside) for a dry slick track. The increased cross weight puts more load on the RF & LR tire and tightens the car through the corners. The same cross weight changes can be done with air pressures adjustments. Increasing the pressure in the LF will reduce the cross weight.
I know of one very successful team that makes track adjustments solely by adding spacers and changing wheel offsets at the rear of car. Moving the rear wheels to the right loosens up the car in the corners. Moving them to the left has the opposite affect. It didn’t work very well for me when I tried it but the technique has netted them multiple wins and championships.
Regardless of the change I decide on, I make sure that I document it along with the track conditions. That way six months down the road I can look back and see what I did in a certain situation and see how the change worked.
What It All Boils Down To
As I ran through my list of sins I started to realize just how many mistakes I have made while racing. There is another even longer list that could be compiled of all the mistakes I have made on the track, while driving. It amazes me sometimes that I have actually won a race. Then I thought… it’s not necessarily about all the mistakes I’ve made, but rather what I’ve done after I made them.
Did I change my behavior or did I continue to make the same mistake over and over, hoping for a different result. I have done my best to eliminate my mistakes from the past. I have tried to continually improve every aspect of my simple racing operation, from how I prepare the car, the equipment and parts I use, to how I drive the car. Unfortunately, confessing my sins won’t prevent me committing more. But hopefully, my confession will help you avoid some of the mistakes I have already made.