PHOTO: Bill Duprey’s car wasn’t loose during practice at Devil’s Bowl, he was just driving into the corner a bit — okay, a lot — too hard. T.J. Ingerson’s tips can help you become smarter behind the wheel and under the chassis. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)
-by T.J. Ingerson
The month of May is one of my favorite months for racing, as many local tracks and series begin their racing seasons. Memorial Day weekend is going to be a great racing holiday with high-prestige races on an international, national, and local stage.
The Monaco Grand Prix, featuring multimillion dollar race cars buzzing through the streets of one of the richest principalities in the world, in which the best drivers in the world battle for victory in one of the most prestigious races in the world. The Indianapolis 500, in its centennial anniversary, is always a great show and will be a great event if Bump Day was any indication of how it might play out. And finally, there’s the Memorial Day Classic at Thunder Road, one that has a different flair this year with the Tigers stepping up and taking center stage.
Let me say this: If I had a Tiger Sportsman car and could fit into my driving suit, I’d be there. It may be the second-tier division, but I would want to call myself a Memorial Day Classic champion.
I think we have all heard what dirt loyalists have said about the changes at Devil’s Bowl Speedway, Albany-Saratoga Speedway, and within the CVRA. Whatever your opinion is, you can’t deny this: The new Devil’s Bowl Speedway is one of the raciest tracks in New England.
The Spring Green 111 may have been a rough race with 14 cautions (and seeping water may be to blame for some of the incidents), but the quality of racing was top notch. There were continuous battles for the lead, drivers using multiple grooves to work their way from deep starting positions, and some surprise runs by a few drivers.
I hope people look past the cautions and see how great the racing really was, and that they don’t wish the Spring Green to go elsewhere. Talking to some of people who are more venerated than I am, they were happy to have the Spring Green return to Vermont and have it return to its traditional lap count.
One of the many surprises coming out of the Spring Green 111 at Devil’s Bowl Speedway was third place finisher Todd Davis. Twin State Speedway regular Davis, of Claremont, N.H., started ninth, dropped back as the green flag flew and rode in the top 15 through the halfway point.
Davis quietly worked his way into the top 10 after a lap-83 incident that involved Jean-Paul Cyr, Brent Dragon, and Ricky Rolfe.
“I was quite content actually halfway through just being in the top 15,” Davis said. “Obviously, most of it was survival of the fittest. We started coming on a little bit more and more as the race went, the car kept getting better and better. I was mostly riding, just trying to avoid stuff, waiting for opportunities to open and good spots to ride.”
Davis capitalized on his early patience and tire preservation over the final 30 laps, working his way into the top five before the final restart on lap 94. Davis was then locked in a multi-lap battle with Brad Babb, and both drivers took advantage of a fading Craig Bushey. Davis finally cleared Babb and secured a third-place finish in his second career American-Canadian Tour start.
“I couldn’t ask for a better finish,” said Davis. “I’m just happy to make the race. We haven’t been in any ACT stuff yet [outside Twin State]. I’m just excited.”
I practically grew up at Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, Vt., and I have never seen the amount of cars or a buzz greater than what Bear Ridge has produced this year. It was a great show last Saturday night, with great racing across all the divisions. I plan on going back to Bear Ridge when I can, and I believe casual race fans should take in a show, you won’t be disappointed.
Oh, and the food is pretty good too.
(Editor’s note: T.J.’s right about the food.)
I would like to thank the people who have commented to me about my column. Questions are always welcome, from drivers looking for setup advice and how to fix the handling of their race car, to fans who want a better understanding of the race car and how something works, to anyone in between. You can email me at .
Barry emailed me a question this week, asking:
“I have a car that gets loose in the center of the corner. Is that throttle response or can I fix that with sway bar?”
The question I’d ask would be, is the looseness from the center of the corner off? If the car is getting loose in the center and staying loose, I would look more toward what the car is doing on the entry of the corner. You’re probably dealing with a tight race car on entry, where you are trying to turn the steering wheel too much and not slowing down enough. When you do slow down enough to turn, your steering wheel is cranked left and the car will snap loose.
I would try backing up your corner and slowing down more first, and see if this solves the problem. If it does, but you’re off the pace, start loosening up the car on entry. Possibly a stiffer left-front spring to help loosen it up on entry, allowing you to drive it in a bit deeper and allowing the car to start turning on its own.
There are many options to getting the car looser on entry, and you may have to find what feels best for you. However, if you feel that your loose condition is caused on its own and is not a reaction to corner entry, a bigger sway bar will make the car tighter, but I would look elsewhere for an adjustment first. More cross-weight (wedge) certainly comes to mind as one of the first adjustments, and that will give you better drive off the corner.
After my last column, your car is ready for practice and assured nothing will fall off, but what is the best course for practice? Usually, once I got up to speed, I found a top-running, veteran driver and followed him. Judge yourself and your ability by watching him. If you’re catching him at the entrance of the turn, you’re probably driving in too hard. You can learn a lot by following a veteran.
It makes no sense to run around guys who just aren’t good. I always used to try my hardest to get by myself for my first laps of practice for every race, made sure my car was decent enough, then found a pack of good top guys and gauged myself off of them. Even if it’s just one top guy, you will learn more about your car by gauging yourself off of them. If you see yourself catching a slower car, back off and gap yourself. You will gain nothing, waste tires, and risk wrecking your race car.
Crew chiefs also play a huge role in practice. As a crew chief, you should put yourself in a location where you can see your driver. DO NOT WATCH THE CAR. Rather, watch the front tires and see what they are doing as the car enters the corner. You also need to watch the driver’s hands in relation to the tires. If you have to, put a piece of tape on the steering wheel or have the driver wear white gloves. Our eyes are our best tool in every walk of life, why stop using them as a crew chief?
Keep a notebook of practice and even during the racing action. Note the date, time, weather, and number of laps run every time the car goes onto the track, as well as record the starting tire pressures. When the car comes off the track after a practice or a race, record the tire temperatures (using a pyrometer — $108.95 from Longacre Racing Products), tire pressures, and suspension travel. The driver and crew chief should discuss what the car was doing and look over the data, then decide on what, if any, adjustments need to be made. Make notes about the feeling of the car and any adjustments you make. Keeping a good notebook will help you decide what works and what doesn’t, especially when you move later into the season.
Before the car leaves the garage and comes to the track, the setup should be written down in the same notebook. This will give you a baseline to return to if something happens and you get out of whack. Record spring rates, shocks, toe, corner weights, ride heights, upper A-frame lengths (if your rules allow you to adjust or change them), caster, and camber. Make note of the overall weight, left side percentage, cross-weight percentage (left-rear corner plus right-front corner, divided by overall weight), and rear percentage.
Keeping good notes puts you a step ahead of the people who don’t, and that will show up on the race track.