Per Schroeder
Per Schroeder SuperDork
4/13/09 8:19 a.m.

“School House Rock” might have had the cool name, but “Sesame Street” really rocked our worlds when we were youngsters. Jim Henson’s puppets combined with entertaining lessons to shape our early lives. Not only did “Sesame Street” make us laugh, but it probably helped us more than our early formal schooling. We’re even pretty sure that Bert and Ernie’s domestic arrangement didn’t turn us into creative-subversive types. (That was probably Mom’s John Denver tapes.)

We especially liked the character Count von Count.

The Count liked to count things, and he did it obsessively. He counted bats, fruit, fruit bats, whatever. He taught us tykes about numbers through practical application and use. It was easy as one, two, three; three! Ah ha ha ha ha!

Now that we’re all grown up, it’s easy to forget just how effective those simple lessons were. No matter what the field, sophisticates throw around uppity jargon like monkeys flinging poo at tourists. Even we are guilty of this sin: When we’re bench racing, we drop words like “camber” and “pyrometer” like they’re common terms that don’t need an explanation. While these truly are easy concepts to understand, it’s not often that you see the practical application of their use laid bare.

And that’s where this story comes in. It’s time to back up a bit and revisit some of the basics of vehicle setup. Let’s start with camber and its effect on performance.

The word camber simply refers to angles and curvatures, and can mean anything from the slope of a roadway to the curvature of an airfoil. In automotive terms, camber is often used to describe the lean or tilt of a car’s wheels. When viewed from the front or rear of the vehicle, the top of a wheel with negative camber leans in toward the center of the car. A wheel with positive camber leans away from the center of the car.

The camber angles of a car’s suspension are important because they determine certain handling characteristics. Performance-oriented machines will have more negative camber than pedestrian street cars in order to counteract the natural lean of the chassis that occurs during high-g cornering. How much negative camber a car needs is an often-debated subject at tracks around the country.

Now let’s look at a tool that’s important when discussing camber. Meet the pyrometer. A pyrometer is simply a thermometer that is designed to measure high temperatures, such as those in a furnace. Pyrometers can also be used to measure the temperature across a tire’s tread; hotter temperatures would indicate which portions of the tire are working harder.

While we can make educated guesses as to how much negative camber a car needs, the only way to really nail down the alignment is to do some hardcore testing with a stopwatch, a race track and a pyrometer. The actual process isn’t that hard, so let’s get started.

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