(Words and Photos by Rodney Prouty) When I’m talking to people at races and shows, they often lament that their car(s) would be faster if they only had the money to make it happen. Well, firstly if you’ve ever read anything I’ve written before you’ll know that my first response to a statement like this is “a car is only as fast as its driver”. But there are definitely things you can do to improve the performance of your car (and its driver) and they don’t all cost so much that you can’t pay for them by recycling the beer cans from your Super Bowl party. Here are my suggestions in no particular order:
There are several companies offering performance brake pads. Buy some. A fast car is only fun when you can make it stop going fast when needed. A street pad is designed to bring the car’s speed down slowly whereas a high performance pad will enable more aggressive stopping and a faster ‘grab’. Additionally, performance pads accommodate high heat cycles with less warping and fading. You’ll find that replacing a high performance brake pad is required far less often than a standard cheapo pad because it’s designed for the wear and tear of racing which makes the initial cost a no-brainer. I have been using Raybestos Ceramics for a year or so and have been very happy. I know that other racers have good luck with Hawk and EBC, both brands I have used in the past and was preferential to EBC. I have run high-end brake kits and stock and have had mixed feelings on both including unhappiness with the pads that one high-end company recommended exclusively – go with what works for you.
Proper Sized Steering Wheel
One of the first things a helpful fellow racer told me when giving me advice was “change your steering wheel”. I liked my steering wheel, I was doubtful that a one inch change in size was going to make a difference in my ability to drive faster. Well, as it goes with most advice, I put it on the back burner. Eventually, I bought another wheel but still didn’t put it on the car for at least nine months. When I finally relented and increased my wheel diameter by one inch, I won a GoodGuys championship. Now, I think it’s a stretch to say that the wheel was the winner but I’m just sayin’.
Do not underestimate how much energy it takes to try and drive a race course AND hold yourself in the seat around corners. Another lesson I learned early-on when I tried autocrossing in seats that looked good in the car but were not doing anything to hold me in in the driver’s position. I realized (once it was pointed out to me by yet another racing friend giving advice) that I was literally holding on to the steering wheel in an effort to keep upright while also attempting to navigate the cones. Don’t be dismayed by what you see on the high dollar builds, Kirky, Corbeau and ProCar have lower cost options. Even Jeg’s, Summit and Speedway have house brands that are reasonable options. Ask around at events and most drivers will let you sit in their seat. Sitting in the chair will help you determine what is a good fit for your size and style of driving. Remember, you only have to replace the driver’s seat at first.
An auxiliary cooler for your power steering is key for any type of racing but most certainly for aggressive autocross tracks. Newer hot rods run an integrated cooler which is effective but can still benefit from an auxiliary cooler and for $40 and a couple of hours of labor you’ll save yourself a whole lot of pain at the track. Once fluid has spewed all over your engine compartment, you’ll learn that power steering fluid is a bitch to clean up and course managers don’t like it on the track either.
For those of us who run older cars, the frame connects to the body with a ‘donut’ bushing. You want a solid connection between the frame and the body to limit flex and allow the suspension to do its job. While this isn’t an easy swap per se’ it’s well worth the investment in time and will enable your suspension (high performance or otherwise) to do what it’s supposed to do best.
Not all cars need them (Chevelles for instance don’t) but if you don’t have a solid (or unibody) frame (like a Nova, Camaro or Mustang) you need to connect your front and rear frames to increase stiffness, reduce flex and give your car more stability in the turns. Sub frame connectors are basically a bolt on solution (maybe some minor welding, depending on which brand you choose) that can be accomplished on a Saturday afternoon in the off-season. Sub frame connectors are my first go-to when it comes to suspension mods, no car should be without them.
Battery Relocation Kit
Racing has always been about weight and weight distribution. Let’s face it, cars have always been about weight and weight distribution; ads for current grocery getters are even bragging about weight balance. Did you realize that your battery weighs about 50 pounds? Move that pig to the trunk, opposing the driver and you’re that much closer to more even weight balance. Kits to move your battery can be purchased from just about any catalog, have extensive instructions and hardly ever curl your hair if you’re paying attention. Not only do you free up front end weight, you also free up space for that power steering cooler we talked about earlier.
While the fan may not improve your time around the track, it will definitely improve the performance of your engine by releasing a few horses for better use. A mechanical fan robs between 3 and 5 horsepower to operate. As I’m sure you’re aware, racers run hot. A side effect of the transition from mechanical to electric is an increase in the life of your water pump because it doesn’t have to support the weight of the mechanical fan and thereby taking on less stress while cooling.
Obviously I’m not suggesting that you can go out and get a roll bar and five point harness set-up for two hundred bucks. What I am saying is don’t rely upon your stock lap belts or, more importantly, think that the tech guy at the track is going to let you on with no belts whatsoever. I ran with simple lap belts for the first couple of seasons with limited success. Going back to the reasons for a racing seat, will clearly point to why you need more than a three inch twill band holding your waist to the seat of your car that is likely hitting g-forces akin to a roller coaster. At the very least, purchase a good set of three point harness belts from Morris Classics – they have a rapid locking response and are my preferred brand. I run three point belts now primarily because I haven’t taken the leap to a roll bar; I’m allowed on big and small tracks and frankly, feel a lot better driving on the street with today’s unwitting, cell-phone-addicted drivers.
This may or may not apply to all of you since I have not looked into big track driving instruction but my guess is you can find a racer in need of a few bucks to give you instruction, just about anywhere. I personally took the Evolution Driving School for autocross and was extremely impressed with how much I learned and how many bad habits I broke. Driving school improved the performance of my car ten-fold.
Now, as you’ve read, I’ve gotten a lot of this information by way of good old-fashioned advice or opinion and you know the analogy about opinions and assholes so I’ll just throw this out there:
-Consider what the winners do (even if it’s not the exact brand)
-Good things come in small packages
-Avoid ‘made in Asia’ (if only for safety reasons)
-When in doubt improve the nut behind the wheel