PHOTO: The NEMA Midgets were a refreshing addition to Thunder Road’s program last Sunday. (Leif Tillotson photo)
–by T.J. Ingerson
There are many hometown fans that think differently, but I love when a touring series comes to a race track. It gives the local fans a chance to watch something unique, something different. But not only that, it brings more fans into the track, and if the weekly show is good those fans will be back and will tell people how good it was.
The NEMA Midgets were just that at Thunder Road last Sunday, something unique and something different. The car counts NEMA brought to Thunder Road were great, and you probably wouldn’t want many more than that anyways on the tight quarter-mile. The pass Russ Stoehr made for the lead, passing both the first- and second-place cars on the entrance of turn three, was gutsy, but fantastic.
I hope Thunder Road fans remember the NEMA Midgets for the speed the cars carry in the corners, the sound that the engines make, the smell of methanol, and the lightning quick times they produced. I hope they remember Russ Stoehr’s new track record of 11.34 seconds. I hope they don’t just remember the wrecks, first involving Paul Bigelow, Joey Mucciacciaro, Lanson Fornoro, and Bethany Stoehr in the NEMA Lites, then involving Paul Scally and Jim Miller in the full sized NEMA Midgets. Though both wrecks were big and spectacular, the event the NEMA organization was a good one.
And one that I hope will return to Thunder Road.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Red Bull is pulling out of NASCAR. Their management decisions have been questionable at best: First, letting AJ Allmendinger go just as he was coming into his own, and then doing the same with Scott Speed.
I wouldn’t be surprised, with Jay Frye involved, if Mark Martin somehow ends up with a partnership of the team formally known as Red Bull, driving with Hendrick Motorsports equipment.
The White Mountain 150 was a darn good race. If you didn’t like that as a race fan, I’m not sure there is much in regional touring racing you will like. It had battles for the lead, great drives from deep in the field by a handful of drivers, and the top two drivers on the tour going head-to-head for the win.
In my opinion, you can’t ask for much more than that.
Even though it can be time consuming, anytime a track gets kids involved in the festivities is only a positive.
I remember being a young kid on the night of race car rides and having the thrill of riding around the race track with my favorite driver. That same thrill still lives on today in many other kids. Autograph nights are a huge hit for kids as well. Many kids (and some adults) absolutely cherish that autograph they get.
It’s an absolute thrill for kids when there are bike races around the track and their favorite driver is the one cheering them on. I believe the home-run derby at Thunder Road on Sunday was an absolute success. It’s about getting kids wanting to be at the track. For them to be able to team up with their favorite drivers is, again, a thrill.
It’s all part of helping a kid to love racing. They are the future of motorsports, and any way to get them connected to racing and bug their parents to go to more races is great in my book. There should be more stuff included for kids at race tracks.
One of the hottest topics regarding race cars is shock absorbers, yet they are rarely understood. With all the talk that shocks produce, one would think that putting on four great shocks will take you from a zero and make you a hero. Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth.
One of the basic, most important principles of chassis setup is supporting the weight loads at the corner and adjusting those weight loads. Shocks, though, have no control over static weight loads, and do not support the weight loads of the car.
Now that you probably think shocks are useless, the truth is they’re not. They are actually a very good tuning tool that drivers and crew chiefs can use. But to understand racing shocks, you must realize they are used primarily for the same application that they’re used for on your street car: To control the movement of the springs.
If you push down on the front of a car that has no shocks (also known as dampers) connected, the front suspension of that car will continue to compress and decompress (also known as rebounding), each oscillation becoming smaller over a period of time. This is known to be a major disadvantage, and thus is controlled by a shock absorber.
Racers figured out that if you can control the movement of the spring by using a shock, you could control the speed at which the shock works, thus affecting the handling of the car. Basically, a shock absorber resists motion by using a piston that must pass through a fluid, oil, or gas. There are “stacks” that have various size holes and slots that the oil must pass through. The more holes (or larger size holes), the less resistance there is.
If you can control the rate at which the shock compresses and decompresses, you can control the way that corner of the race car functions. On an asphalt track, it could be a huge advantage if you can make the left-front corner of the car compress rather quickly, but make it very slow for that corner to rebound. On a dirt track, it may be an advantage for a race team to make the right-front corner of the car compress quickly, and make it more difficult for that corner to rebound.
Shocks are hugely dependent on the other components of the race car. For example, if you have a soft spring in the left front corner of an asphalt car, you don’t need that corner to compress as quickly as you would if you had a stiffer spring there.
Now, if you can design a shock to do exactly what you want at the specific rate you want, it becomes a huge advantage, but that huge advantage comes at a huge price. While the initial investment of the shocks isn’t huge ($100 to $150 each), the cost comes in to the tool the racers may feel they need: A shock dynamometer. Many shock dyno’s cost in the $5,000 range, if not more.
Many teams will adjust the stacks in the shock, then put the shock on the dyno. The dyno tests how much force it takes to move the shaft a given distance and can tell teams the specific compression and rebound rates of the shock. Teams will also adjust the stacks to see how that adjustment changed the rate of the shock, helping them know what that adjustment will do if they should need it at the track.
Many tracks or series that allow an open shock rule have a dollar amount rule, based on the manufacturer’s retail price. Others have a claim rule, stating that any shocks can be purchased for a specific dollar amount. Some series, like the American-Canadian Tour Late Models, specify the type of shock that can be run.
I believe the ACT shock rule is a good rule, and does exactly what ACT president Tom Curley wants it to: Control cost by allowing a small-budget team to compete with the same equipment as a large team, which is the whole idea behind the ACT Late Model.
Contrary to what people might say, the Koni 30-series type of shock absorber the American-Canadian Tour utilizes doesn’t limit teams as drastically as some people say. There are still some adjustments that can be made with the shocks, and any adjustment is better than no adjustment.
Other series have different ideas and different shock rules. The shock rule depends on the theory behind the series or division. While many people like the cost-controlled ACT Late Model series, many people also like the high-dollar openness of a Super Late Model. It’s all based on preference.
But no matter what racing series or division you watch, shocks will always play a huge role. In future editions of Under The Hood, I hope to introduce which specific adjustments can be made to help tune a race car to perform better, both on asphalt and on dirt. As always, if you have any questions or would like to see a topic discussed, email me at .