14 ways to go faster without spending a dime

Carl
By Carl Heideman
Jun 20, 2022 | Shop Work, Speed Secrets | Posted in Shop Work | From the Oct. 2010 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Making power isn’t about silver bullets—it’s about putting together a system that works efficiently. While trick parts and the right amount of money can really help build power, there are also free or nearly free ways to pick up power no matter what’s under the hood. 

These tips can help just about every kind of enthusiast. Do you compete under a strict set of rules? Prepare your car to the letter of the law to beat the competition. Are you operating on a shoestring budget? Use these tips to save some cash. Is your driving limited to the street? The same tips that improve horsepower can often squeeze more miles from each tank of gas.

We always suggest going through the cheap ways to make power before laying down any dough. Here are some of our favorite ways to get the most out of our machines. 

Torque the Head and Adjust the Valves

Photography Credit: Tim Suddard

Not only is it good preventative maintenance, but this step can often free up a little lost power. 

Retorquing the head—if applicable for your engine—is often a good idea, as it ensures even clamping force across the whole head. Periodically retorquing the head may even prevent a head gasket replacement down the road, keeping more money in your pocket and allowing the engine to operate at peak efficiency. 

Checking valve clearances isn’t sexy, but it can impact performance. Loose valve clearances mean lost lift, while tight clearances can affect compression. 

Cleanliness Counts, Especially With the Ignition

Photography Credit: Tim Suddard

Some things just work better when they’re clean, and that’s especially true for ignition components. Dirty or corroded ignition wires, caps, rotors, coils and other parts may let stray sparks fly—and every stray spark is a misfire that saps some power. This is a case where trick parts aren’t as important as clean parts.

Open the Throttle

Photography Credit: Zach Prescott

Yeah, we know that you’re pressing the gas pedal all the way to the floor, but are you opening the throttle completely? Is the floor mat or some carpeting getting in the way? Could there be a linkage problem or some other obstruction? You’d be amazed at all of the things that can prevent a throttle plate from opening fully, from wayward clamps to improperly installed aftermarket equipment. 

Get the Ignition Timing Right

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

A few degrees of ignition timing can make or lose several horsepower. Test and tune to find the right setting. 

A dyno is the easiest way to do this, but since we’re talking about free tips here you need to do it the low-buck way. Try some acceleration tests: In second or third gear, do a full-throttle pull from 3000 rpm to the redline. 

Slightly change your ignition timing between each test. The run with the shortest time will reveal your best setting.

Keep the Air Cool

Photography Credit: Anthony Neste

Cool air makes more power. Since this is about free horsepower, you can’t just cheat and buy a cold-air intake. 

You have to either make your own out of junk or modify the factory system. Here’s a hint: Sometimes a heat shield is easier to install and nearly as useful as a full cold-air system. When designing a solution, ask yourself the following question: How can I protect the intake tract and fuel lines from heat?

Keep the Oil Warm

Photography Credit: Zach Prescott

People always mix up this part. While cool intake air makes more power, engine oil can free up some ponies when it’s warm. We’ve found power gains—like 2 or 3 percent—just by keeping the oil 10 to 20 degrees warmer than most people consider normal. We’ll aim for 205 degrees instead of 190 degrees. 

How do we do that? One way is to run a hotter thermostat; another is to remove the oil cooler, adding lightness in the process. Sometimes it’s a matter of trying different oil viscosities. Each car seems to have its own trick.

Properly Set the Mixture

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

After setting the ideal ignition timing, hone in on the proper air/fuel mixture—most cars allow some kind of adjustment. 

If you have the luxury of tuning with a wideband air/fuel meter, most normally aspirated cars perform best at 12.5:1 to 13:1 at peak load. Forced induction cars often like to be a bit richer. If you don’t have a wideband meter, you can use acceleration runs as a low-buck dyno substitute. 

Finally, there’s the old-school method of reading the spark plugs. Make sure to shut down and coast (and not crash) immediately after each acceleration run. If you sit there and idle, you’ll only be reading your idle mixture. 

Dial In the Tires and Suspension

Photography Credit: Tom Heath

To stop any parasitic losses while simultaneously getting the best traction and handling out of your car, make sure your alignment, tire pressures and brakes are correctly adjusted. If your tires are slipping or something’s dragging, you’re not going to use all of your horsepower for speed. 

It sounds simple, but how many of us are checking our tire pressures on a regular basis? Those improperly inflated tires are wasting fuel and slowing us down.

Brake Late

Photography Credit: Chris Clark

Most cars decelerate faster than they accelerate. That means you should brake as late as possible if you’re seeking fast lap times and the most out of your car’s power.

Are you sure you’re waiting until the last possible moment to brake or breathe off the throttle? Some time with a data acquisition setup will yield concrete answers. Can’t afford that route? Have someone watch you the next time you’re on track or at an autocross.

Shift Right

Photography Credit: Courtesy Honda

Shifting at the right time won’t make you any power. However, it will ensure that you’re getting the most out of the power that you have, thus making your car faster. 

Use your stopwatch to figure out the best shift point for your car and your gear ratios. Remember, just shifting at the redline doesn’t always produce the fastest time. Once you’ve found your ideal shift points, use them whenever you drive—practice makes perfect.

Learn the Tweaks for Your Car

Photography Credit: Tom Heath

Common tweaks exist for the factory setup of almost every car. They’re often spread by clubs, the Internet, and magazines like GRM. Do your research and implement these tweaks. 

Keep in mind that there’s really no such thing as a free lunch. Many of these tweaks may come with a cost in drivability or longevity. After all, most factory engineers are pretty smart. Even so, sometimes you stumble across a little nugget of info that makes a difference.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Photography Credit: Photosbyjuha.com

Consistency counts in any motorsport, and the more you practice your craft, the more consistent you’ll be. Getting the most power out of your car means driving, shifting and braking methodically, so practice whenever you can.

Measure Twice, Learn Once

Photography Credit: Tim Suddard

Whether you’re using a dyno or a stopwatch, measure and record your results. A particular change may help one car while hurting another. Some tweaks work well together, but some don’t. For each of these tricks, find a safe way to measure the effects. Make the best of the ones that work for your car.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Shop Work and Speed Secrets articles.
Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
2/9/22 10:13 a.m.

In reply to Carl Heideman :

Remove weight. Spares tools, junk, dirt, including in the radiator fins and trash between A/C and radiator, under the body,  fender wells,  grease and dirt around the suspension. Between the body and frame.  

adam525i
adam525i GRM+ Memberand Dork
2/9/22 10:22 a.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

and around your waist!

parker
parker Reader
2/9/22 10:45 a.m.
adam525i said:

In reply to frenchyd :

and around your waist!

This.  People will obsess trying to remove weight from the car while the driver is carrying an extra 20, 50 or 100 pounds.

 

spedracer
spedracer New Reader
2/9/22 10:52 a.m.

Last time I was out at a track I frequent a few times a year, I played with shifting less. Mostly due to the shifts happening while there was some lateral load, which wasn't working well as I need new engine mounts. It sounded and felt much slower, but I gained a full second on a fairly solid and consistent time just by shifting less. Playing around with shifting less can lead to real gains, at least on a "normal" manual trans.

Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
2/9/22 11:53 a.m.
spedracer said:

Last time I was out at a track I frequent a few times a year, I played with shifting less. Mostly due to the shifts happening while there was some lateral load, which wasn't working well as I need new engine mounts. It sounded and felt much slower, but I gained a full second on a fairly solid and consistent time just by shifting less. Playing around with shifting less can lead to real gains, at least on a "normal" manual trans.

For 3-4 seasons I ran a close ratio gearbox in the Datsun but the only one available is fragile and I repeatedly had issues. 

A friend gave me a street gearbox the 2nd - 3rd shift see a 2850 RPM drop, so I started running only 3rd and 4th gear. 

Well I went 4 tenths faster than I ever had. It's a combination of 2 fewer upshifts per lap and rolling the hairpin turn.

Neil Redden
Neil Redden New Reader
2/9/22 1:27 p.m.
adam525i said:

In reply to frenchyd :

and around your waist!

Right On! I needed a new battery for the FR-S I track and figured I'd buy an Anti-Gravity battery. That is, until I found they cost a ton. I figured that I could lose some weight by eating less, come in at about the same overall car weight and save money.

Now, I'll have to look into the shifting less tactic. Not sure that works on an FR-S with no torque to help, but maybe? 

trigun7469
trigun7469 SuperDork
2/9/22 1:38 p.m.

In reply to parker :

Actually people need to add more weight to their cars and karts to accommodate for us fat people lolz. We live in America not Europe.

Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
2/9/22 2:55 p.m.
trigun7469 said:

In reply to parker :

Actually people need to add more weight to their cars and karts to accommodate for us fat people lolz. We live in America not Europe.

No...........those of us who are skinny got way to much crap about it as teenagers and are exacting our revenge via car racing.

frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
2/9/22 3:22 p.m.
adam525i said:

In reply to frenchyd :

and around your waist!

You are right,  I'm guilty as charged.   Yet I'll continue taking weight off the race car. 

frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
2/9/22 3:26 p.m.
Tom1200 said:
trigun7469 said:

In reply to parker :

Actually people need to add more weight to their cars and karts to accommodate for us fat people lolz. We live in America not Europe.

No...........those of us who are skinny got way to much crap about it as teenagers and are exacting our revenge via car racing.

Amen!   I was a skinny 5'8" kid playing football on the line.   Effective. But I took more crap because of my lack of weight. 
    Two tours in Vietnam and I didn't gain a pound.   
      In Vintage racing  they weigh the car with the driver. 

adam525i
adam525i GRM+ Memberand Dork
2/9/22 4:26 p.m.
frenchyd said:
adam525i said:

In reply to frenchyd :

and around your waist!

You are right,  I'm guilty as charged.   Yet I'll continue taking weight off the race car. 

I'm just as guilty, that wasn't pointed at you just in general smiley

frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
2/10/22 9:14 a.m.

In reply to adam525i :that's the nice thing about GRM   
     Very few mean spirited people here 

 

APEowner
APEowner GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
2/10/22 10:00 a.m.
frenchyd said:
Tom1200 said:
trigun7469 said:

In reply to parker :

Actually people need to add more weight to their cars and karts to accommodate for us fat people lolz. We live in America not Europe.

No...........those of us who are skinny got way to much crap about it as teenagers and are exacting our revenge via car racing.

Amen!   I was a skinny 5'8" kid playing football on the line.   Effective. But I took more crap because of my lack of weight. 
    Two tours in Vietnam and I didn't gain a pound.   
      In Vintage racing  they weigh the car with the driver. 

Yup.  However, I'd rather have the weight in the floor than up where the driver is.  I've also noticed that I can stay focused longer when I've been doing all the healthy things that my wife and my doctors tell me I should be doing.  Apparently feeling better and living longer isn't motivating for me but being faster in the race car is...

frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
2/10/22 3:53 p.m.

In reply to APEowner :

You are right,•••• grrrr!   But in my case my weight gain is concentrated around my waist line.    That's not far off the floor of the car.  Even my butt is modest. 
     I know the source of my weight gain.   It's from caffeine. But I hate  coffee. I've had maybe 2 cups in my life.   
Like most people I need caffeine to stimulate me into action.  So the replacement is caffeinated beverage.  Mountain Dew,  nope I won't drink diet because the first three letters of the word diet says it all.  So I drink the leaded stuff. 
   If I can eliminate the Dew I'd lose maybe 60-80 pounds.  In the mean time I'll be busy working on getting undercoating and excess metal off and out of the car.  
 
   

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
2/10/22 3:58 p.m.

I know that the driver weight loss thing was said partially in jest, but I really think physical conditioning is a huge speed tool and could have easily been included in the article in the OP.

Yes, the car/driver combo is lighter when the driver loses weight.  And yes, the weight is lost from higher in the car which has further benefits.  But we often overlook how physically demanding racing a car is, and how real the effects of physical conditioning are.  In the last year I've lost over 40 pounds but I also started running and working out more frequently.  Before I got into shape it was very hard to stay focused in the later laps of a race, especially on hot days.  Managing through that much discomfort was distracting.  In amateur racing a lot of passes are made simply because one driver made a mistake- especially in spec racing.  Now that I'm better conditioned I drive more consistently, make fewer mistakes, etc.  This year I've really adopted the mindset that auto racing is an athletic endeavor and if I want to be a competitive racer I need to condition myself like a competitive athlete.  Every rule has exceptions and there are plenty of guys in poor physical shape that are faster than me, but most of the guys you see on the podium at all levels of racing are in excellent physical shape.

As a related aside- last race weekend I did, my buddy forgot to take off his Apple Watch before the race.  That night we were looking at it, and his heart rate was 170-180bpm the entire race, every race.  I would have to run sustained 7 minute miles to keep my heart rate in that range.

frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
2/10/22 4:06 p.m.
Tom1200 said:
spedracer said:

Last time I was out at a track I frequent a few times a year, I played with shifting less. Mostly due to the shifts happening while there was some lateral load, which wasn't working well as I need new engine mounts. It sounded and felt much slower, but I gained a full second on a fairly solid and consistent time just by shifting less. Playing around with shifting less can lead to real gains, at least on a "normal" manual trans.

For 3-4 seasons I ran a close ratio gearbox in the Datsun but the only one available is fragile and I repeatedly had issues. 

A friend gave me a street gearbox the 2nd - 3rd shift see a 2850 RPM drop, so I started running only 3rd and 4th gear. 

Well I went 4 tenths faster than I ever had. It's a combination of 2 fewer upshifts per lap and rolling the hairpin turn.

 To properly use a close ratio gearbox you need an engine that is cammed to develop peak power in a tiny range.    IE higher lift, more duration.  Then you need a track that uses tight corners followed by long straights.  The transmission also has to not have syncro's so shifts don't require the seconds a clutch and syncro's require. 
      Further it helps if geography of the track is hilly.  That way some corners can require different gears. 
My Black Jack Special had a Seinz and a Halibrand which gave me hundreds of possibilities and took very little time to change. 
 It helped that I had an accurate barometer.  So as air density changed I knew how to adjust for that too.  Which sometimes required a whole different set of gears. 

frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
2/10/22 4:11 p.m.
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) said:

I know that the driver weight loss thing was said partially in jest, but I really think physical conditioning is a huge speed tool and could have easily been included in the article in the OP.

Yes, the car/driver combo is lighter when the driver loses weight.  And yes, the weight is lost from higher in the car which has further benefits.  But we often overlook how physically demanding racing a car is, and how real the effects of physical conditioning are.  In the last year I've lost over 40 pounds but I also started running and working out more frequently.  Before I got into shape it was very hard to stay focused in the later laps of a race, especially on hot days.  Managing through that much discomfort was distracting.  In amateur racing a lot of passes are made simply because one driver made a mistake- especially in spec racing.  Now that I'm better conditioned I drive more consistently, make fewer mistakes, etc.  This year I've really adopted the mindset that auto racing is an athletic endeavor and if I want to be a competitive racer I need to condition myself like a competitive athlete.  Every rule has exceptions and there are plenty of guys in poor physical shape that are faster than me, but most of the guys you see on the podium at all levels of racing are in excellent physical shape.

As a related aside- last race weekend I did, my buddy forgot to take off his Apple Watch before the race.  That night we were looking at it, and his heart rate was 170-180bpm the entire race, every race.  I would have to run sustained 7 minute miles to keep my heart rate in that range.

Interesting. Dale Earnhardt's heart rate was astonishingly slow  and low sitting on the pre grid waiting for the start engines call. 
      I never checked mine but it was common for me to fall asleep on the pre grid and be awaikin by engines firing.    

livinon2wheels
livinon2wheels GRM+ Memberand New Reader
6/19/22 1:46 p.m.

When I was a dedicated long distance runner, my resting heart rate in the mornings was 36. I had the capability of a peak heartrate in excess of 180. Even with that level of fitness, the challenge of North Carolina summer heat combined with drivers suit and nomex long johns made for a challenging environment. Today at the age of 70 with a much higher resting heart rate and a much lower heat tolerance, surviving a long stint in a drivers suit would be impossible without some serious weight loss. At that time when I was running, I was around 170 lbs give or take. Today I am a bit under 240 and the difference it makes is striking. Of course the age difference is a factor too, but its mostly weight and fitness. I couldn't drive an endurance race today if I wanted to, in my younger days I could have but there weren't the opportunities to do so then. Honestly, I don't know how people afford a full send racing effort today, I do well to get a track day or two a year.

Our Preferred Partners
ia1XVUpjbSrDKRreRDdOIZltL0hYq6vmnLuViXPQPaKlKwkfnxRdC6vFq1t96ahX