PHOTO: Aerodynamics plays a big role in ACT Late Model racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Alan Ward photo)
— by T.J. Ingerson
A few weeks ago, I talked about how the most important aspect of racing is staying safe. And that fact was put into stone, in my opinion, at Riverside Speedway on Saturday afternoon.
Young Late Model competitors Cody Hodge and Jesse Switser were involved in a viscous crash in the heat race, which saw Hodge’s car climb the wall and make contact with the catch fence, flipping over and coming to rest on its roof at the bottom of turn one.
Both drivers walked away unharmed, thanks to their safety equipment. Both Hodge and Switser wore a head and neck restraint device, as mandated by Riverside. Hodge climbed out with a racing specific helmet as well.
It does make a difference.
A question this week come from Melissa, who writes that after attending Airborne Speedway this past weekend, they are looking to switch to Asphalt racing after racing on the dirt at Devils Bowl Speedway for years. They raced in the Duke Stock and Limited Sportsman Classes at Devils Bowl, and are looking to race in the Renegade division. Melissa asked what a good baseline setup for asphalt racing would be and what are the major differences in the setups?
To start, for a Renegade/Strictly Stock type car, there aren’t many major differences. You will probably want to run 800-900lb springs in the front end, and attach the left side of the swaybar (most teams on dirt don’t run a swaybar). Air pressures are the other major difference, as you will want to run higher right sides on asphalt to help the car turn left. Then, most of the front end suspension rules apply for Renegade type car as a Sportsman type car. 2 to 2.5 degree caster split (if possible), and I would start with around 4.5 to 5 degrees of camber, as well as 1/8th of an inch toe out.
Go out, learn, and have fun. If you follow everything I have explained thus far regarding, including practicing and note books, you should have a successful first year.
If you’re an avid viewer of NASCAR racing on television, you probably hear the announcers talk about aerodynamics and downforce numerous times. The unfortunate fact is, those cars depend on downforce. It’s built into the setups they run. But, what about cars that race on local short tracks?
The reality is, they also have aerodynamics that helps them, although not to the same extent as NASCAR Sprint Cup teams do. And, when the American Canadian Tour Late Models roll into New Hampshire Motor Speedway, they will see the biggest aerodynamic effect that they see all season.
ACT drivers comment on how much they can feel the draft at New Hampshire and how it helps them. In a straight line, the quicker two cars can go if they are tail-to-nose with each other. It’s a factor of the engine package that those cars have. The ratio is nearly the same of horsepower-to-track size as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Cars have at Daytona Int’l Speedway (almost 350 hp per mile). Now do you understand why drafting is so important?
ACT President Tom Curley stated in his pit meeting at the ACT All Star Showdown in August that what makes the ACT package exciting at New Hampshire is the corners. And downforce is what helps the drivers go through the corners. Downforce helps keep the car planted into the ground, allowing them to go through the corners quicker. Because of downforce, drivers are able to drive into the corners extremely deep. If you have an opportunity, listen to where the Sprint Cup guys are lifting and where the ACT drivers are lifting on corner entry. Granted ACT cars are going about 25mph slower at the end of the straightaway, but that downforce allows them to practically go the same speed in the middle of the corners as the Sprint Cup cars.
But what about racing at Thunder Road, Airborne, or Devils Bowl? What about racing on the dirt tracks? How does downforce help these drivers. Well, the effect of downforce is a fraction of what drivers feel at New Hampshire. But it does still help.
The DIRT Modifieds at Airborne probably see the greatest effect of downforce for a local weekly racing division. On topless night, the cars handle differently. The Sprint Cars of New England (SCoNE) go faster than any other division at Bear Ridge. Why? Downforce plays a big role in it with those big wings, and it’s the same with the ISMA Super Modifieds, as well as the Small Block Super Modifieds at Lee USA Speedway.
But what about the tiny bullring of Thunder Road? How does downforce affect the cars there? If you have ever watched a car that rips the spoiler off, the car’s handling changes. If they lose the entire nose of the race car, the handling changes as well. The effect of downforce at Thunder Road is probably the least of any race track that the ACT Late Model attend, but it does have an effect.
It’s why Fivestar Racecar Bodies and Aluminum Racing Products offer supports and braces to “maximize aerodynamic efficiency. It’s why those same companies also offer downforce type bodies, that maximizes the ability for that body to get the most downforce. If your race team can conquer downforce and aerodynamic quicker than another team, then you have an advantage over that team.
But let’s be realistic. The aerodynamic gain on a four cylinder car is practically zero. And probably the same with a Strictly Stock/Renegade type car. Where you will start seeing the benefits is in cars that have aftermarket bodies, that are sleek designed in nature, and series that run on bigger tracks. Those three rules fit all for the ACT Late Models at New Hampshire, and it’s why New Hampshire is the biggest aerodynamic track for them.