18 pros offer their speed secrets for success

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Feb 24, 2024 | tech, Shop Work, Speed Secrets, Go Faster | Posted in Shop Work , Features | From the Dec. 2010 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy Porsche

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?

It’s a saying we’ve all heard way too many times. What if we told you that sometimes speed can come for free?

Sure, there are tons of widgets and gadgets out there that will make your car faster and better, but sometimes just knowing the right information can knock a few tenths off your time, keep your car in the game, or salvage an almost certain tragedy.

How do you learn these speed secrets? Well, you can spend a lifetime traveling the world, polling the experts, and trying new combinations. 

Or you can come to us. We talked to some of our friends in the business—all from the top tiers in their fields—and the information we gathered could potentially change the course of a season, launch a winning program, or simply make a good thing a little better. As we learned during those breaks between Saturday morning cartoons, knowledge is power.

Andy Hollis: Have a plan and follow it

If autocross is a game of inches, then car prep follows a game of ounces. Andy Hollis is known for building cars that leave nothing on the table, and that dedication has been rewarded with eight national SCCA Solo titles to date.

Photography Credit: Per Schroeder

Followers Never Lead: If you just do whatever the fast guys do, you will always be one step behind. Do your own car setup development—within your means. Same goes for car selection. 

That said, there is certainly value in trying out some ideas you hear from other folks. But be a skeptic until the watch or the dyno verifies the concept.

Aim to Win: If your motorsports goal is to win (as opposed to just having fun participating), pick a class/category that you can dominate, given your financial situation. Sure, those flashy Corvettes, Ferraris and Porsches are fun to drive, but can you really afford to develop them to the 100-percent level? Do you have the resources to make mistakes with those cars? Can you keep fresh rubber on them at all times?  

Better to find a class and car where the parts are well within your budget and you can afford a total write-off. It also makes it easier to “spend your way out of a problem” should you have an unexpected issue or deadline. With a 100-percent car, you’ll have more resources left for testing and driver development, both of which are critical to a winning effort.

Be Relaxed: You drive your best when at peace with the world. Subconscious thoughts get in the way of the flow. Harried from an all-nighter rebuilding the car? Buzzed from a long drive to the event? Hungover from too much bench racing with your buds? Your brain needs complete focus to process all of the available information and make good micro-decisions while on the track. 

Get Good Seat Time: With seat time, quality is better than quantity. Some suggest that maximizing seat time is the best thing that novices can do to get better faster. Unfortunately, this only serves to ingrain whatever driving techniques are currently being employed. 

You may get better for a little while by simply being more aggressive. At the same time, however, any unchecked bad habits will become more like second nature and will be even harder to undo. 

Focus instead on “quality seat time”—that is, time spent in the driver’s seat with an instructor or a veteran co-driver. Get rides or a course/track walk with more experienced drivers. Use of data acquisition and video can also help the quality level, but only if you know what to look for in the data. Practice smarter, not just more.

Photography Credit: Ann Hollis

James Clay: Before moving up, do your homework

After fielding one of the dominant teams in SCCA Speed World Challenge, James Clay and his BimmerWorld Racing team moved to Grand-Am’s Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge for 2010. Their homework paid off: Driver Bill Heumann earned rookie of the year honors, and the team came oh-so-close to winning the series championship.

Photography Credit: Scott R. Lear

With any venture, the best thing you can do is a lot of research and homework. To prepare for our move to Grand-Am in 2010, we went to events as observers, read and reread the rule book, and asked a ton of questions of drivers, series staff, and other teams. Basically, we tried to immerse ourselves in the series without actually running a race, and that gets you maybe 70 percent of the way there.  

[Project BMW M3: How BimmerWorld Grew a BMW Passion Into a BMW Business]

For the rest, realize that you are on a very steep learning curve and be prepared to learn lessons from both your and others’ experiences. The more you can learn by having awareness of other teams and drivers, the less you have to wait to learn when something happens to you, which is critical to success.

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Peter Krause: make your track time count

If professional stick-and-ball athletes use coaches, why not race car drivers? That’s where experts like Peter Krause come in, offering one-on-one training, data analysis and computer simulation. Peter is chief instructor for the SVRA.

Photography Credit: Scott R. Lear

Do Your Homework Better Than the Others: This is the information age. Whether it’s a driver’s education event or the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, your chances for success, safety and fun increase if you first research the track, organization, food, accommodations and, yes, the closest auto parts store. Use YouTube, Google, various forums and iRacing driving simulations to learn details of the track. The better you know the race track, the less you have to think about driving it. You want to know the track layout well enough to drive it as if it’s second nature.

If You’re Going to Test, Actually Test: A lot of club, historic and even pro-am racers use testing as another excuse to get out and ride around. If you’re going to spend the time and money to test, make it count. Have an outline of changes—and not just little ones—you want to make to the car, and evaluate whether they help or not. 

Don’t try to do too much—just three big changes to find out what you and the car like. Monitor the data, do it all on the same day, and use new or nearly new tires. Make your track time count. Use testing to find a change that allows you to move forward a few grid spots or even get the checker first.

Don’t Be a Slave to Lap Times: Many drivers arrive at the track believing they have to hit a certain lap time or they’ll be consigned to the also-ran heap. By setting their expectations too high and worrying about an external factor they have no control over, they’re setting themselves up for a fall.

Relax and focus on extracting the best aspect of performance from the fundamental skills you practice every lap: full acceleration up to braking, maximal deceleration for the shortest period of time, getting the car turned, using the full width of the track. Only then will you have a snowball’s chance in the underworld of getting close or even eclipsing someone else’s benchmark.

Be a Slave to Technology: There’s a plethora of dynamometer testing, data and video acquisition technology out there, plus many reasonable ways to optimize both car and driver. It’s crazy not to leverage these advantages to benefit your performance. If you use data, use it all the time, every run. You never know when what my friend and colleague Bruce MacInnes calls “flowing brilliance” will strike. 

[How to demystify data acquisition]

Also, complete the mechanical preparation of your car in time to take it to the dyno before the next event. Along with serving as a shakedown, this will keep you from guessing about the car’s condition; you’ll know that everything is up to snuff. Keep notes and a notebook. Don’t guess.

Seth Thomas: A team must work as one

BimmerWorld Racing team member Seth Thomas isn’t about keeping his secrets to himself, as his crew has launched a coaching effort, Next Level Driving.

Photography Credit: Photosbyjuha.com

Every racing team faces adversity from time to time regardless of how good they are. Racing is about always giving it 100 percent no matter what happens to your team, the car, or calls the officials make. (For a good example of making a bad situation worse, check out the “I Was Seventh” video on YouTube.)

Thinking about the issues keeping you from performing at 100 percent will only bring the team down even more and result in negative outcomes. Keep the attitude positive and deal with what you have been dealt, realizing that the people supporting your driving effort put in a lot of work for their small share of the glory. 

Photography Credit: Photosbyjuha.com

Ed Senf: Build a system, build power

Ed Senf has been dyno tuning GRM project cars for many years. His other clients include top pro teams like Rum Bum Racing, BimmerWorld and Kinetic Motorsports.

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Being the “dyno guy,” I’m sure many readers will expect my tips to revolve around strapping a car to some rollers and spending anywhere from one to several hours tuning everything adjustable for maximum power output. 

[18 Dyno Time Tips That Make Each Dollar Count]

While this is a great idea if it’s what your vehicle needs most, your fast and furious project may have other areas that could use attention. Let’s first talk about the most important speed secret I’ve learned in my career: perspective. Look at your project or program and get an accurate idea of what is good, what is bad, and how the components (or people, in the context of a team) work together. 

While working for professional teams over the past several years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the ones running up front have individuals in charge that can clearly see the big picture. They can see both the forest and the trees. It’s easy to focus a great deal of attention on the engine because the engine’s role in making the car go fast is pretty obvious. However, if you gain 100 horsepower and the rest of the chassis was never set up right, the car may not be any faster around a race circuit. 

A great example came from a club race car that a customer brought to the dyno for some last-minute tuning while on the way to Road Atlanta. I took a close look at the car as it was being strapped to the dyno because I had never met the customer or seen the car. The build quality was suspicious. 

With slight concern for my own safety, I started going over my mental checklist: sealed fuel system (I hate fires on the dyno), loose engine parts (bits flying around the dyno room are a drag), and then tires. 

While I don’t remember the specific date code on the tires, I recall playing a mental game of “Where was I and what was I doing when these were made?” They were several years old and showed all the signs of aging.

I asked the owner if these were just the tires he used for loading and hauling the car. He looked puzzled and asked what I meant. “You don’t race on these, do you?” I asked.

Well, of course he did. At that point I realized that no matter how much power gain I was able to find, the car was very unlikely to become any faster around the track—and may not even be safe. The money spent on the dyno should have clearly been put toward a new set of tires in this example. 

So now that you’re standing back and looking at your project or program with a different viewpoint—or perspective—let’s think about what can be improved. I like to start with the low-hanging fruit. Look at all the little things that can add up to a faster and better vehicle for its intended purpose. Here are just a few that come to mind:

  • Are you performing regular maintenance? It still surprises me how many weekend racers miss this.
  • Do all the go-fast bits work? Do they work well together?
  • Are you (or the driver) comfortable in the car? Little annoyances will slow you down.
  • Does everyone on the team get along and work well together? Strife at the track is hard to overcome.
  • How are the tires? Are they as fresh as your budget allows? Are the pressures properly set? Everything pointed in the right direction?

Now back to the dyno chat I promised. The best dyno advice I can give is to be ready for the dyno when you arrive. Here’s another list to follow:

  • Ensure your vehicle is safe to run at full power/load for an extended period.
  • Bring all of the parts you want to test and make sure they’re ready to be easily installed. Don’t expect any dyno shop to provide tools for you. They may have tools available, but it’s far better to be prepared rather than disappointed.
  • Make sure your vehicle has enough fuel for all tuning and testing—especially if you use a specific fuel. I can’t begin to recall all the cars that have run out of fuel on my dyno. To clear up a somewhat common misconception, dyno shops are not gas stations. 
  • Have a set of reasonable goals for the dyno appointment and do some homework on how to achieve them. Unless you’ve picked an expert on your particular vehicle, don’t expect the shop to know every subtle detail surrounding your setup.

I know I didn’t reveal any super-top-secret speed tips here, but with any luck you can use my general advice to make your vehicle faster, safer and significantly more fun.

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Andrew Comrie-Picard: Be prepared, be very prepared

Performance rally is more like a battle than a race. Success requires a dedicated support staff along with unparalleled preparation. Andrew Comrie-Picard has tasted that success: He’s the 2009 North American Rally Cup champion and has competed in every X Games since rally was added to their schedule. He took X Games bronze in 2010.

Photography Credit: Al Merion Padron

Plan for Failures and Contingencies: In my years racing, here’s the main difference I’ve seen between amateurs and pros, and between unsuccessful and successful teams. The successful pros are one or more steps ahead of the current situation. They have analyzed the weak points of the car, the team and the setup. Rather than putting problems out of mind or avoiding them (the amateur mistake), they think about them and figure out how to address them. Good amateurs can do this and become pros.

Say your last-minute new wheel-and-tire combination requires spacers. First off, shouldn’t have been last-minute, right? But you flail and get the spacers. Oops, suddenly you only have four threads of the stud in the nut. May hold out, but not good, right? (Five is my thumbnail threshold for any thread interface.)

Most amateurs will run it and hope it holds out. It may, but if it doesn’t there will be damage, and you will fail. Doesn’t matter if it’s you and your buddies that are concerned with the result—“Hey, the studs failed, let’s have a beer”—but if you have sponsors who are concerned with the outcome, or if you’re hoping to build to the level where you can have sponsors, it suddenly matters, right?

Good amateurs—the ones that will someday be pros—get longer studs on order right away. Maybe they’ll even have them sent directly to the track or the hotel—and they’ll install them there. 

But anyone can stop at a parts store on the way to the track and buy a spare set of stock studs and nuts to use as backup until the ARPs arrive, or in case they don’t arrive at all. That’s thinking more about it. Always assess the weaknesses in your plan at the same time that you enjoy and rely on your strengths.

[Rally Racing Tips From Pro Driver Andrew Comrie-Picard]

Remember Sponsors: For all but a very few high-level sponsors, it’s more important that you be a good representative of their brand than actually win the race. And for all sponsors, the spokesmanship is essential.

Always, always, always keep in mind why your sponsors sponsor you. They want to create visibility and goodwill, and either sell products or services. Yes, being on the podium is the goal, and winning is better, but your job is to get their brand out there. 

Being on the podium is just one way to do that. Your press releases; your social media activation; your image to the public at the race, online, and on any broadcast; and your general comportment are all more important than where you finish.

It seems crazy, I know. We’re racers, right? We want to race and win. Sure, for a tire manufacturer or essential component manufacturer, the competitive result is part of their story—but it’s not everything. 

If you can be the guy who finishes 10th, but you put the backstory on your web page or Facebook page with some Flipcam videos that show you to be the authentic, real racing deal—the guy that all the target-market guys would like to be, with a real job but a real dream on the weekends—then you tell the story that the sponsor really wants because it legitimizes the product. 

You know, it’s not just that  they want to sell the product; it’s that they believe in it and want other people to believe in it, too.

Ultimately, your sponsors are just as irrational as you: They believe in you as much as you believe in yourself. And the beauty of racing is that this belief can actually make you a champion.

Photography Credit: Al Merion Padron

Rob May: Organization is key

Fall-Line Motorsports has become a dominant force in both amateur and professional road racing, and the work begins long before the trailer is loaded. Rob May is their team manager as well as a successful driver.

Photography Credit: Wes Duenkel

Organization: Organization sets the foundation to compete at a higher level. Have you ever gone to the track and encountered the competitor who borrows everything? Sure, we’ve all seen him. You don’t want to be that guy.

Checklists are important to ensure that even the little things get brought to the track. It can be as simple as creating a load list that is followed as things are put into the truck or trailer. You can add to it and even break it down to each container as you go. Keep the lists taped to the container lids so even your beer-drinking buddies can help as you thrash to get to the next race. 

Keeping a parts list—what you use at the track or in the garage while prepping the car—ensures that missing items will be replenished. If your buddy borrows that special bolt needed to secure the driveshaft, making a note will remind you to either purchase a new one or chase him down before your next outing. 

We send 18 cars to some events. Imagine the spare parts, let alone the rain tires, spare dry tires, etc., that need to make it there. Checklists and organization are your friends.

Cleanliness: When prepping a car, start with the basics. First, inspect the car for leaks and under-chassis damage. 

Now starts the fun part. Get a hose, some of your favorite degreaser, and a scrub brush. Jack up the car, put it on jack stands, and pull the wheels. Spray degreaser into the wheel wells, underneath the car, and under the hood. Let it sit, scrub it in, and hose off. If you have a pressure washer, even better. 

It’s much more enjoyable to work on a clean car. When it’s clean, it makes spotting leaks and other issues easier. 

Torque Specs: When prepping a car, make sure that every fastener is properly torqued. Sit down with the manual for your car and type up a list of all the major components’ torque specs. When you’re rolling around underneath the car, you can simply look at the list rather than flip through the manual to find all of the torque specs.

Photography Credit: Wes Duenkel

Bill Cardell: Arrive rested and tested

Like many of us, Flyin’ Miata founder Bill Cardell is addicted to speed—first with motorcycles and now with Miatas. 

Photography Credit: Courtesy Flyin' Miata

I would have to say that my advice for increased speed is based off another tip: Do what I say, not what I’ve often done in the past.

Don’t try new stuff or a new vendor’s work at a race. The temptation is always there to put on the latest, trickest stuff you can buy, but there are almost always teething problems—some minor, some nothing short of disastrous. Just two examples come from our TrackDog race car.

  • Mistake 1: We used a cylinder head that came all wrapped up and ready to bolt on from a new guy. Oops, he didn’t clean the aluminum oxide from the ports and it ate the engine within a day.
  • Mistake 2: We thought we should reinvent Miata spring rates (with help from suspension experts) because our car was so much faster than normal Miatas. Bzzzt, we created a drag race car. Problem? We were road racing.

Along a similar vein, have the car finished well ahead of time and test new stuff long before the race. Plus, if you aren’t working on the car in the trailer, you have a much better chance of being rested and doing a good job at the track—not to mention avoiding death on the trip.

Charles Espenlaub: Keep your mind and eyes open

Even though Charles Espenlaub just won the 2010 Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge title, he admits that it’s never too late to learn something new.

Photography Credit: Photosbyjuha.com

Don’t be the old dog: Never stop learning new tricks. I have learned a lot from my fellow competitors over the years, whether it was the old pro or the new puppy in the Spec Miata. Some of the best lessons I’ve learned have come from others’ mistakes. Those were cheap to learn—well, for me anyway. 

Listen and observe, then sort out what works for you and your style. And always remember to be fast and safe. 

Kas Kastner: Know exactly where you're gaining or losing time

Kas Kastner won his first SCCA national title back in 1959. Since then he founded Triumph’s factory competition department, offered some of the first aftermarket turbocharger kits, and ran Nissan’s motorsports program when they dominated IMSA GTP competition.

Photography Credit: Courtesy Kas Kastner

Got a wife, a girlfriend or a pal? Buy them a watch and have them time each lap for you. 

Once at the track, decide what your strategy will be for each lap—or decide while driving the laps. You don’t need to tell anyone. You will know, and that is what counts. 

Once you have the lap time for that particular lap, you will know how using a different gear or a different brake point makes the lap faster or slower. 

From here you can progress to splits, the timing between particular sections and spots on the course. Were you faster or slower than the other competitors through a certain section of the track? Once you know this, you are into the realm of a big power advantage.  

Why not do this? I never see anyone—not one person—taking lap times. Everyone is just waiting for the official sheet. Who cares? Find out what works and what doesn’t. Split times or even lap times will tell you so much more. For example, maybe taking Turn 6 in fourth gear instead of third was worth a half-second savings. Wow. Is that a speed secret? I guess it is. 

[Factory Fighters: Two Triumph GT6s That Went Head-to-Head in the 1970s]

Buy a stopwatch (or two) and learn how to take an accurate time: no arm movement, just press the button. You’ll learn a lot and you will be faster. Say, as long as we’re at it, how about a simple pit sign to tell the driver the lap time? Even if there’s no budget for a radio, do what has been the normal thing for years: Tell the driver how he’s doing. The watches will cost you less than a new camshaft that may not give you anything.

I did this even with the GTP Nissan which won everything for several years. I always knew how, when and why a faster lap was made. My drivers were always informed as to where they could be faster or why they were the fastest. This information beats an additional 10 percent in power any time. It works.

John Lindsey: Good events require good relationships

John Lindsey regularly gets to see both sides of the coin. He’s been racing for years, but he also serves as NASA’s chief divisional director.

Photography Credit: Scott R. Lear

For Drivers: Get to know the officials you work with and try your best to understand the challenges they’re up against in a weekend. A kind word or an offer to join you at the cookout for a cold drink after the checker flies really goes a long way to help them not feel like “the man.” It can also create a great lifelong friendship at the track. 

Also, don’t be afraid to volunteer to help out if your ride is out of commission or if you feel you need a break from being under the helmet. The perspective you gain can make an amazing difference in your decision making on track. In fact, it could be the difference between the podium and the penalty box.

For Organizers: Plan for the worst and have your toolbox and phone list ready to go. If it can happen, it will happen. For the safety of your participants, be ready to act in a decisive and thought-out manner. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t know an answer in a time of crisis, and always keep your drivers’ best interests in mind as you try to find your way through a tough situation.

Andy Lally: Communication is a two-way street

Sometimes nice guys do finish first. Andy Lally is a nice guy with a solid resumé. He has a pair of wins at Daytona and three Grand-Am titles under his belt.

Photography Credit: Photosbyjuha.com

To be honest, I was very reluctant to start using many of the social media outlets that are out there. I’ve embraced it now and, for better or worse, I have let thousands of people get more than just a glimpse into my personal life. 

I’m not sure it would work for everyone, but my personality may suit these mediums well. I’m goofy and opinionated, and I love to try and make myself and friends laugh all the time. I also tend to think a little outside the box on many issues. 

A lot of what people seem to enjoy is me acting like a big, dumb kid and doing some of the things they would like to be doing if they had the time. Once in a while I will refrain from talking about something out of respect for families that may be letting kids read what I write, but 98 percent of the time I am telling people exactly what I think—no holds barred and with very little concern about people leaning on me to be more politically correct. 

I’ve learned that being down to earth, honest and genuine has probably earned me more fans, respect and opportunities for jobs in the racing world. My Facebook page has the maximum number of friends allowed—5000—but you can follow me on my Andy Lally Fan Club fan page or, even better, on Twitter at @AndyLally.

Mike Skeen: Don't forget the people

Mike Skeen hasn’t been racing for decades, but he’s a quick learner. His first time in an SCCA World Challenge car, for example, he won the race and set a lap record. Oh, and he’s friendly, too.

Photography Credit: Tom Heath

It’s all about the people. Whether you’re in motorsports as an amateur or a professional, you will have more fun and success if you remember how to treat people—both on and off the track.

Craig Reynolds: When the cameras appear, be yourself

Following a professional career in BMX racing, Craig Reynolds has moved to TV hosting, talent placement, model photography and event emcee work.

Photography Credit: Courtesy Craig Reynolds

When the cameras arrive, the best advice I can possibly give is to be yourself. Too many times athletes—yes, drivers are athletes—climb out of the car and become media-trained quote machines. That is a surefire way to separate you from your fans. Stay true to who you are. Obviously thank your sponsors and your team and discuss what happened at the event, but do it in a conversational manner. It’s much better than sounding like a record. 

Charlie James: be safe

Safety gear is an important part of motorsports, and SafeRacer has become one of our scene’s biggest suppliers. As company president Charlie James explains, the trick is knowing when to retire existing gear.

Photography Credit: Per Schroeder

It’s complicated to give a hard, fast, one-size-fits-all rule on how long racing gear lasts. Depending on the amount of usage, exposure to the environment and automotive chemicals, plus the level of care and maintenance, most SFI suits and Snell helmets are going to be perfectly usable for three to five years. 

The majority of questionable decisions are made in the five-to-10-year range. Even when the sanctioning bodies allow older product usage, we as racers need to be honest with ourselves and perform regular, thorough inspections of our gear. 

Common sense is always the best advice. If your helmet has been involved in a big impact, replace it. If your suit is torn and tattered or has had gas, oil or parts-cleaning chemicals spilled on it, replace it. 

Sure, most days these items work fine, but they are our only insurance for the one time when we truly need to be protected.

Photography Credit: Pre Schroeder

Lee Grimes: Understand your suspension, understand your class

The Koni truck is a familiar site at so many events, from the Solo Nationals to Grand-Am pro races. Pop your head inside and you’ll probably see Lee Grimes, the company’s motorsports manager.

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Understand your suspension: Pick your spring rates based on your actual car usage, not just by the dampers that you have or want. Decide if your car will be a daily driver, a track toy, an autocrosser, a double-duty vehicle, etc., and then select a spring rate appropriate for that activity.

Although performance dampers can cost more than the springs, don’t select a spring rate that may be too high or too low for the activity if you don't have top-shelf dampers.

[Understanding Shock Absorbers, Dampers and Struts | Handling Basics]

All too often I hear, “What is the maximum spring rate for this damper?” To me, that suggests that someone is likely to put the cart before the horse. Think of the spring rate decision as upstream of the damper and based on factors like the activity and driver preferences. Don’t underspring the car for its intended use just because you don’t have the availability or budget for more aggressive dampers. Spring the car appropriately for the target activity; then use the best available dampers that you can get to meet your car and budget needs.

Picking a spring rate solely on damper valving is ignoring far too many important, big-picture variables like use, driver preferences, tires and other car mods.

Understand your class: research first, car second. Learn the classes and rules so that you can make good car choices. Don’t buy or build a car and then try to fit it into a restrictive class structure. You may find that your car is uncompetitive or not allowed to compete. 

This is such a common pitfall for street performance guys wanting to come into organized competition. Their engine-swapped Hondas or aftermarket turboed cars fit no class at all or are so badly overshadowed that they get smoked and won’t want to come back.

I know a guy who bought an old Formula 440 car because the deal was cheap and he wanted to go racing. However, he bought an uncompetitive pig for a class that he didn’t know anything about. He lost his shirt on the car.

He then bought an Improved Touring car and eventually settled on a Formula Vee. The F440 was a waste of time and money and was only a setback to real headway. 

The old adage of “the race car might be the cheapest part of getting into racing” can apply to people who burn up their budgets on the car and don’t consider the trailer, towing, consumables and other costs. They end up not being able to afford to use the car they bought.

John Rastetter: It's all about the tires

If there were such a thing as a Ph.D. in tires, John Rastetter would be the program dean. He’s been Tire Rack’s director of tire information services for 16 years and is no stranger to competition. He has made several appearances at the Tire Rack Solo Nationals and also used to drive for Team Highball in the IMSA RS series.

Photography Credit: Kelly Wiard/Tire Rack

Balance the Handling By Using a Tire Pyrometer: Buy a good pyrometer and learn how to use it. A pyrometer will confirm how much work the tires are doing. It will reveal which tire or tires—and which parts of those tires—are working the hardest. It will also uncover differences in tire temperatures that verify vehicle balance, allowing you to tune how the four tires share the work associated with going fast.

Increasing Grip Increases Loads: More tire grip will work the suspension and brakes harder. Expect more cornering lean and brake dive after making a tire upgrade that provides more traction. Few cars are designed with extreme performance summer or R-compound track tires in mind.

Work One End First: Optimize the end of the car that slides first, then move to the opposite end of the car. For example, if the car understeers when cornering, optimize the front suspension, alignment, wheel width, tire size and tire pressure. Then work your way to the rear of the car by increasing shock absorber damping, sway bar stiffness and spring rates (if the rules permit). Make one adjustment at a time, but make it a big enough change that you can recognize its influence.

Sandy Ganz: Less weight equals more speed

Why is Sandy Ganz, Adam Carolla’s CarCast co-host, known as the Professor? Probably because he’s really smart.

Photography Credit: Kelly Ganz

Plenty of track cars you see leave bits of weight and horsepower on the table—easy stuff, too. Survey your car and see what could be a candidate for removal or upgrading to new material. 

Also look at different styles of racing for tricks and products. Stock car, circle track, drag and other racing venues all have slick tricks that are applicable to our kinds of cars. Be open-minded and you will find gold.

  • Have power steering? Then ask if you really need it. Worried about the extra effort? Hit the gym! Power steering always equals more weight, less horsepower, and more mechanical complexity.   
  • When purchasing parts, see if they’re available in aluminum instead of steel. Fuel cells are a good example: For an additional charge, the housing can often be ordered in aluminum. It costs more, but it will save some weight.
  • Get the scraper out. Many cars are loaded with seam sealant, related insulation and crud that can amount to more then a few pounds. Add lightweight heat shield material where appropriate.
  • Poke your head under the dash and ask yourself a question: What is all this stuff doing under here? Remove anything not needed to go faster, including the a/c, heater cores, duct work, stereo amps and speakers. This is very satisfying work.
  • Simple is often better. When building and choosing parts, the simple solution will be the one that lasts longer and can also be easily replaced or repaired. This isn’t always the case, but if you try to stick with this principle it will save you from missing a race due to specialized parts being unavailable.
  • Have a V8? Toss those cast aluminum valve covers for some fabricated from sheet metal. The steel ones are much lighter.
  • Have a Holley four-barrel carb? Look at some of the newer racing units that are formed from billet aluminum. They’re lighter and often better. 
  • Get rid of glass. It’s heavy, and some classes only require a glass windshield. Use Plexi, Lexan or polycarbonate where appropriate.
  • When removing the door glass, don’t forget the winding mechanism along with any motors, speakers and insulation. Ditch the interior door panels and skin them with thin aluminum or leave open.
  • Are you required to have windshield wipers? No? Ditch them. The motor and mechanism are heavy. If they are required, keep just one or look for a small, aftermarket universal assembly; you may be able to save some weight here. 
  • Be suspicious of stock-sized engine pulleys, full-sized alternators, power steering pumps, etc. Underdrive pulleys can give back a few horsepower with little cost and will prolong accessory life at higher-than-stock engine speeds.
  • Look at your alternator size. Many street cars have high-capacity alternators in order to power all of the included accessories. For a track car, you want just enough to cover your total power draw and no more. Create a list of all equipment that must be on at the same time to determine the max power required. You can likely ignore intermittent draws, such as brake lights. A micro-sized alternator will remove weight and save some horsepower. 
  • If you’re running a conventional-sized lead acid or full-sized battery in your race car, dump it for a small absorbed glass mat battery. When running a tiny battery, also add an external battery connector. It will come in handy for changing or quick jumps after those “Oops, left the switch on” situations.
  • Save weight with an aluminum battery cable kit. They’re usually aimed at drag racers. 
  • If you have an older brass radiator, look for an aluminum upgrade. The weight savings may not be much, but the switch will often enhance cooling and reliability.
  • Cover your radiator and oil coolers with a stainless mesh to prevent rocks and other foreign objects from causing a DNF. Keeps fingers out, too.
  • Running a mechanical fan? If you’re racing, try to remove it. If you need to retain a fan, then try to replace it with a lightweight nylon model that’s just small enough to keep the car cool while waiting on the grid.
  • Don’t get the shaft. Look for an aluminum driveshaft for your car—carbon if you can afford it. It’s a twofer: lighter weight over steel plus faster acceleration due to less rotating mass. Cost? Not much more than steel. Plus, it’s generally a bolt-on move.
  • Find someone with the same car as you and befriend them to learn what they know. It’s one of the best ways to learn and build on a solid foundation. Most people will be glad to help. All you have to do is ask.
  • Use the Internet to find new information regarding any projects. For example, I have a Racemate water pump that is also an alternator. Where did I find out about it? Drag racing forums, not the expected road racing sites.
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pinchvalve (Forum Supporter)
pinchvalve (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
2/18/22 2:11 p.m.

OK, so no one reached out to me about contributing to this article? I mean, I took 3rd place in the sack race at the company picnic two years in a row. If that's not qualified, I don't know what is. 

thedoc GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
2/18/22 2:45 p.m.

In reply to pinchvalve (Forum Supporter) :

Dude!  I totally sent in a complaint as soon as I saw you were omitted from this article.  Your finish at the last sack race was EPIC.  If those other two SOB's hadn't cheated you would I have won.  Your dedication and determination came through.  I am still waiting for a response as to why you were not included.  Jealousy???  I'm starting to think that is the only reason.  And that is just sad.

OJR New Reader
8/28/23 3:43 p.m.


" This content is available for GRM+ members and Grassroots Motorsports magazine subscribers only.  "

I'm a subscriber and get the above quote instead of the article.





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