BY: ISAAC DEHAAN
Safety, it’s a word that all racers know. It commands attention and concentration at its very announcement. Safety is something not taken lightly, no matter what form of racing it is referring to…or is it???
I have done some “Tech” work in the past with sand drags, on asphalt, and with roundy-round cars. It continues to amaze me how some things that seem so basic to most people can seem so complex and unnecessary to others.
Here are some examples I have seen: (Note: these are all true, no names to protect the guilty.)
- What is wrong with attaching my five-point harness with Grade 5, 5/16 diameter bolts and nuts? (No nylocks or lock washers in this case either)
- Why can’t I wear my tennis shoes and short-sleeve shirt on my ATV as it’s only time trials? We all know nothing bad happens at Friday night test & tune.
- I know the latch on my five-point won’t stay latched, that’s why I put a zip tie on it! Get a new one?? I spent all my $$ on this blower motor for my rail.
- Why can’t I wear shorts in my race car? It’s hot out and I run a “door” car, I will be fine. Besides, no “door” car has ever had a wiring fire or anything.
- I know it says no hydraulic throttles in the rule book, but let him run tonight and if he comes back he’ll need to change it. This last one is straight from a former track official… the car was a blown, injected buggy that was at the track for the first time ever!!
I know that some of this stuff is almost laughable, but trust me it all happened. My wife once asked my why I had a $400 Simpson helmet after she had seen some at Wal-Mart for $75 that looked nice. I told her I figured my squash was worth at least $400, but if it was only worth $75 to her then I would get one of those instead. Point here is not that my wife is dumb or anything, (actually she works in heath care and is sharp as a tack) but she doesn’t know that much about racing safety. Now she is much more knowledgeable about safety in racing. She has even asked me about considering a head and neck device, which something I had never even gave a thought too. Why have I never given it a thought? I have never been in a wreck and never really considered my self in danger. However, the truth is that even in the lower sportsman classes or at a Test and Tune, people can get hurt and hurt badly.
The bigger picture looks like this, in the absence of a national sanctioning body at this point in time, safety (drivers, crew, families) is something for which the burden of rests squarely on our shoulders as car owners/drivers. This month I will tackle safety from a car standpoint, while next month we’ll look at participant’s physical safety.
We will start with non-suspended or hard tail race cars. Basically, I’m talking about race cars that lack suspension with the ability to travel and absorb bumps, etc. Mostly these cars are dragsters and altereds. Since these cars don’t have a suspension to absorb bumps and such, the frame and driveline are subjected to more abuse. During the off season, particular care should be given to a visual inspection of the chassis, especially from the driver’s compartment rearward and forward. With a hard tail race car, each end of the chassis is going to take a lot of abuse as the tires will only absorb so much. The rest of the shock is then transferred to the main chassis tubing. Welds even absorb this energy, so it is best to look them over carefully also. Things to look for include cracks in welds and fatigue in tubing. If your chassis is painted, look for stress marks in the paint. A problem could be hiding underneath that, which if not fixed could cause a failure of the tubing and a wreck. More things to look over include motor plates, motor mounts, anywhere something is bolted to something else, and where two pieces of tubing are welded to each other.
Now, we’ll take a look at suspended vehicles. Most race cars with suspension are “door” cars, or race cars with a body; more so than a dragster or altered. Here the focus is not so much on the chassis as it is on the suspension itself. Be sure to look over all four-link or ladder bars. Look for possible bends or rod end problems. Check the shock travel, if you are bottoming out the shocks and not the bump stops on every pass you might want to change something. Visually check shocks for fluid leakage and bends also. If you notice your ride height is not what is used to be, maybe its time to change your coil springs. Like any springs that get loaded and unloaded again and again, coil springs will wear out. Also, make sure you carefully check all points where the suspension mounts to the frame. These points are subjected to a lot of abuse, absorbing not only bumps around the pits and stuff, but the shock of trans brake launches or dumping the clutch at high RPM’s.
With all race cars, it is always a good idea to check five-point harness fastening points, lug nuts, steering linkage, and stuff like that a couple times a season. I remember seeing the late George Young shear the studs on both rear tires while dumping the clutch right on the starting line and being told later somehow they were improperly torqued for the aluminum rims he had. A little over sight caused a huge problem. Luckily no one was injured, except maybe George’s pride a little bit. The point is that you can never be too careful, but you can be practical with your safety. Next month I will get into personal safety, along with who is looking out for you when you are on the race track. Until then, that’s my view, from the staging lanes.