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UNDER THE HOOD: Trying Out The Dirt

Posted By Justin St. Louis On June 10, 2011

Categories: Under The Hood

Donnie Lashua had a strong run at Canaan against some big names. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)PHOTO: Donnie Lashua had a strong run at Canaan against some big names. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)

--by T.J. Ingerson
VMM Correspondent


I was able to catch up with White Mountain Motorsports Park regular Travis Fadden at Canaan Fair Speedway on Sunday, and if anyone has any doubt that safety equipment works, you should go talk to him.

Fadden, of North Haverhill, N.H., was involved in an opening day crash at White Mountain which saw him get turned head-on into the wall out of turn four. Fadden told me the details of the damage, including ripping the left front suspension clean off the race car, bending a trailing arm, and snapping all the rear end mounts, basically rendering the car a total loss. Fadden also told me that people reported to him the wreck was so violent (and possibly one of the hardest in the history of White Mountain), fans in the stands reported the stands shook and even felt the vibration in the concession stand.

But Fadden was unharmed in the wreck, and he believes he owes it to his safety equipment.

Fadden wears the HANS (Head And Neck Support) device and uses a Randy LaJoie-built aluminum full-containment seat by Joie of Seating. He told me he now “swears by it” and firmly believes it’s the reason he was uninjured in the accident.

Fadden was able to return to White Mountain the following week, on June 4, driving his cousin Mike Olsen’s Late Model and finished seventh. He hopes to return to the seat of his car soon.

And he will be able to, thanks to his safety equipment.

***

One of the most impressive runs in the Subway Fresh Fit 150 at Canaan was by Donnie Lashua.

Lashua, of Canaan, N.H., started in the 12th position and patiently worked to the front, crossing the finish line in third, right on the bumper of Brian Hoar.

“It was hard,” said Lashua about his run. “It worked out, we ended up getting up there, got a few breaks under cautions. Right at the end, I had to race hard to get by Quinny Welch and [Wayne] Helliwell. They’re both great competitors.”

Lashua was thoroughly happy with his third-place effort.

“It honestly feels like a win,” said Lashua. “It’s great. When we started out, I was afraid with these guys here: Hoar, Leighton, Polewarczyk here. Even Helliwell, he’s been great here the last few times. I didn’t think we’d have anything for them guys. But we did.”


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One of my favorite events on an international stage is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Seeing multimillion dollar race cars race across the French countryside is an awesome sight, but having the top two teams, Audi and Peugeot, finishing within minutes of each other after 24 hours is amazing.

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What a weekend Wayne Helliwell, Jr., had this past weekend. Helliwell, of Dover, N.H., raced in the second race of the “Pro Stock Six Pack Series” with his ACT Late Model, a series featuring Pro Stocks/Super Late Models for three events each at the Canaan Fair Speedway and the Lee USA Wayne Helliwell, Jr., and his Bruce Bernhardt team racked up some miles -- and some great finishes -- last weekend. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)Speedway. Helliwell ended up winning the event, starting off the weekend for the Bruce Bernhardt owned team.

On Saturday, Helliwell and team traveled with the American-Canadian Tour to the Oxford Plains Speedway for the Big Jab 150. Trying out a new car, Helliwell struggled early on, making the Big Jab 150 on an ACT provisional after finishing tenth in the B-Feature, which saw eight cars qualify.

“We made a bunch of adjustments before the 150,” said Helliwell. “I told the team not to worry about going to the infield to pit because we would probably be junk after 20 laps. We pitted under the first caution and ACT was threatening to disqualify us for not pitting in the infield, so we found someone to help us out. We made another adjustment and the car came alive.”

At lap 100, Helliwell was listed in the 15th position and rallied to finish seventh when the checkered flag flew.

“It was great to make something out of nothing.”

Finally, on Sunday, the team was at Canaan Fair Speedway for the completion of the Subway Fresh Fit 150. Helliwell ran up front all race long until a lap 124 restart, which saw him get stuck on the outside and faded to finish a respectable eight place.

Three races, three top ten finishes, and a championship effort for a championship race team.

***

“Let’s go dirt track racin’,” says the asphalt Tiger Sportsman/Super Street car owner. “But how much do we have to change?”

Surprisingly, for a metric chassis-style car, not much, setup wise. Even with a dirt Modified, not much has to be changed. You’re not going to go out and set the world on fire and be the best dirt track racer ever, but you won’t embarrass yourself once you get the hang of dirt track racing, either.

One of the major differences between dirt and asphalt is well, duh, the surface! Show up at an asphalt track on a Saturday night and it usually stays relatively consistent, with only slight minor changes need to be made if your car is good.

On a dirt track, you can see a track change, drastically, perhaps two to three times a night. The track can go from wet to tacky to dry and slick. It leaves racers chasing the unknown most nights, but race promoters and track crews try their best to keep it consistent.

A dry dirt track will have to be driven very much like an asphalt track, as you lose all rear grip and forward bite, causing the driver to not want to “kick” the rear end of the car out.

Looking at the chassis, the theories are the same for dirt and asphalt. Drivers and crew chiefs try to get the car to turn the corner quicker than anyone else without losing much forward momentum to get off the corner and down the straightaway quicker.

A quick change of not allowing the swaybar to limit the “roll” will help an asphalt car on dirt. It allows more weight to be transferred in the corner, allowing the car to turn quicker. It’s the same theory as on an asphalt track if the crew chief would disconnect the swaybar.

One of the main differences is air pressure. Air pressure plays a critical role. Many asphalt cars have higher right-side pressures than left-side pressures. While it isn’t opposite for a dirt track, you run a much lower right-front tire pressure than on an oval car. This allows the car to roll over onto the right-front suspension and tire.

As the car rolls over onto the right-front tire, it transfers weight to that corner and allows that tire to dig in. The car will become “loose”, and the rear end will kick out. On a tacky track, when the rear end kicks out, the tires get great side and forward bite. But, just like asphalt racing, you need the right amount. Too much and you spin out. Too little and you don’t get enough forward bite. But, the driver can control a lot of this as well.

Although the differences between a dirt car and an asphalt car aren’t as huge as some people may believe, there are still advantages to having a dirt specific and asphalt specific car. Rear weight in a dirt car is like left side weight in an asphalt car. That is a benefit that is hard to change switching from dirt to asphalt.

In future editions of this column, I hope to build on not only the differences between dirt and asphalt, but what makes a dirt car “go” and some setup suggestions and changes, especially as the track changes throughout the night.

If you have questions, comments, or a topic you would like to see within this column, email me at .

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PHOTOS:
1. Donnie Lashua had a strong run at Canaan against some big names. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)
2. Wayne Helliwell, Jr., and his Bruce Bernhardt team racked up some miles -- and some great finishes -- last weekend. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)