Bracket Racing 101: Just The Basics
(Article begins on the Bracket Racing 101 page HERE)

Being that I’ve always been a racer on a budget, I’ve always been keen on staying on top of maintenance in the present in order to avoid expensive and catastrophic failures in the future. However, I know many racers who put their cars away during the off-season and never go through them when they have the chance; instead they just bring them back out in the spring and keep racing them. I can’t race like this: I’d hate to start a new season with any question marks around my equipment. Case in point: a few years ago in the off-season I was vacillating between leaving the motor in and pulling it to have everything checked. My budget was tight and I was sure everything was fine and would just be spending money that I could have applied toward the coming season, but something told me to spend the money and pull it anyway. Lucky thing, because we found a crack in the crank which surely would have failed early in the season, and probably would have taken the block, rods, etc. with it.

Short of pulling your motor, here are some basic checks that you can do for very little money in the down time between seasons. Shedding light on potential problems when you have the time to fix them is much easier than trying to deal with them while in the midst of a points chase at your track.

ENGINE: using a dial-indicator, check the thrust of the crank (ideally, this would have been initially checked when the engine was new so as to have a reference point). Using an oil filter cutter, remove and cut open the filter and check for particles. Using an on-engine valvespring pressure tester, test your spring pressure for uniformity. Also check valve lash for uniformity. If all the adjustors are tight yet you have a valve that’s way out for no apparent reason, you might have an issue that could lead to an early-season failure, like perhaps a cam lobe that’s going away. Other basic checks include a compression check, a leak-down test, and a coolant pressure test, which can uncover a crack or a bad head gasket. After you’ve checked everything and it’s time to park the car for a few months, it’s not a bad idea to close all the valves by backing off the adjustors. This can prolong valvespring life, and it also seals off the cylinders to help keep moisture out.

TRANSMISSION AND REAR-END: dump the trans fluid and pull the pan. As the fluid is draining, get some on your fingers and smell it to see if it’s burnt. Check the pan for excessive material. Some clutch material is probably not a big deal, but lots of particles and speckles might be. Dump the rear gear oil and pull the cover to check for odd wear patterns on the teeth.

BRAKES, STEERING AND SUSPENSION: Just as important as checking the drive train for potential failures is keeping on top of the condition of the brakes, steering and suspension. Every winter you should inspect your race car’s wheel bearings, brake pads / shoes, brake lines, steering components, ball joints, and rear suspension components to make sure nothing has worked itself loose. Check the bolts for the shocks, ladder bars or four-link, control arms. Check all the bushings, and inspect any welds to the chassis. By the way, bolts and bushings that are loose or worn aren’t just a safety issue; they’ll rob your vehicle of reaction time, too.

I understand this is Maintenance 101, but I’ve heard many racers say that they put their cars away at the end of one season and don’t even look at them until opening day of the next season. Why leave your season to chance like that? Don’t let an otherwise successful season be derailed due to a failure that could have been caught and corrected. Winning races is hard but is made easier when your equipment is in top working condition.

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