The LOOSE NUT behind the WHEEL... by: Dr. Clunky
Saturday, 19 May 2001 08:00

The LOOSE NUT behind the WHEEL...
by: Dr. Clunky

When asked the question, "What can I do to make my car run quicker?", most people will answer "bolt-on's!". Of course the cheapest parts you can purchase are usually of the bolt-on variety. Then, as few people will answer, get head work done or have the whole assembly balanced and blueprinted. Surely, this is a great way to get maximum HP and reliability from any engine. A few, like me, will always recommend nitrous, by default (its still the easiest way to knock off up to 2 seconds in your ET!).

As you can see, the focus of MOST people is on the engine. "What about the suspension?", some of you are asking. Well, on an "old school ride", traction bars are almost mandatory at the very least. Then, there's a four link or ladder bar suspension for the rear. Can't forget the mushy front springs along with the 90/10 shocks for great weight transfer! Gears are another go fast goodie that drag racers often swap. Numerically higher ratios are very sought after parts for any drag car.

loose_04.jpg (10359 bytes)

Well, in all the banter and chats regarding how to make a car go quicker, what's often overlooked is the MOST IMPORTANT part of all... THE LOOSE NUT BEHIND THE WHEEL! That's right, YOU! The CHEAPEST and most easily modified (in most cases) part is the DRIVER. That's right folks, its not that groovy purple bottled nitrous system or that shiny set of adjustable cam gears.

Drag racing looks really simple from the spectators point of view. Two cars and drivers race down a straight 1/4 mile stretch of road. How hard can that be? Let's break it down.

loose_03.jpg (8521 bytes)

Did you know that when staging a car at the line, 1 inch can make as much as .05 of a second difference in reaction time and up to .15 of a second in ET?! That's right. That measly inch that most racers take for granted not only affects RT but ultimately, your ET. Shallow staging (where you are at the leading edge of the staging beam), gives you about 12 inches of a head start. This simply means that your car can roll 12 inches BEFORE the timer actually starts. On a 13 second run, that can add up to 2 mph and a .025 reduction in ET! For those looking to make their best timed runs, shallow staging really helps.

The next challenge is the 60 foot mark. This is the area that the amount of traction (or lack of) is measured. A 2.00 second 60 foot time is good for a mildly setup car on street tires. Any higher than this indicates too much wheel spin. Simple, right? Well, maybe not. Here's why. Sometimes, wheelspin isn't all bad. If a car were not to spin its tires at all, its possible to get an even higher 60 foot time. It really depends on the tire, car and driver.

loose_01.jpg (21694 bytes)

Most of the time, spinning a street tire is necessary to keep the revs up and have the engine operate at its maximum torque. This allows the car to move forward. As long as the car is accelerating forward, the spinning tires are ok. BUT, it is a very thin line between spinning and moving forward and spinning and standing still! It's all up to the driver to "feel" what the car is doing and reacting with his or her right foot. Done correctly, this can add up to a .25 of a second improvement! And that's an improvement that you can take all the way to the finish line!

loose_02.jpg (4609 bytes)

Now, here's where things get interesting. Shifting. Its an art that few can do correctly and even fewer that can do it quickly. This is where the MOST time is lost during a run! Many people don't take me seriously when I say that having an automatic is an ADVANTAGE in drag racing. Well, it is! NO ONE can shift as quickly and as consistently as an automatic. NO ONE. Here's a fact that I know newbie drag racers don't know. Most professional bracket racers use and automatic transmission! Sure, they have manual valve bodies that necessitate shifting manually, but how hard is it pushing or pulling a shift lever? Chances for a missed shift are VERY minimal and shifts are accomplished VERY quickly.

Here's another fact that most new racers haven't thought about. The LEAST amount of time that you can lose when you miss a shift... and I mean the LEAST, is .500 of a second! Usually MORE time is lost. Making up that time is just about impossible during the course of a run. If you miss a shift, you better pray that your opponent breaks or misses a shift as well. Otherwise, you just lost the race.

For most racers, 1 second of their run (assuming that they shift through all 4 gears) is spent on shifting. By improving on the speed of your shifting, you can cut this time down significantly! Remember, rowing on the shifter is just ONE of the things you do when you make a shift. You also have to depress the clutch, then release it as well. All of this should be done as quickly as possible! Imagine if you could cut the time between gears to .15 of a second. You just saved .400 of a second in your ET!

To some, this next part isn't thought about too much. The right foot. Have you ever thought about how much time you actually keep your accelerator ALL THE WAY DOWN on the floor? Ideally, it should be all the way from start to finish or 100% of the time. Guess what? That's NOT the case. Remember, the 60 foot mark? If you mashed the pedal to the metal right at the start, chances are you did a burn-out at the start line (and many of you do this!). In majority of the front wheel drive cars running street tires, full throttle isn't reached until over 2 seconds!!! On a 15 second run, that 13.39% of the run! Then, some new racers still lift between shifts (sometimes this is needed on really powerful cars). Each time you lift or are not at full throttle, maximum thrust isn't applied to the vehicle. This certainly affects your overall ET. Up to .2 of a second can be found by simply applying full throttle, SOONER and LONGER!

So far, by just improving on driving technique, you stand to improve at least .875 of a second! That's almost a full second!!! And you still haven't bought any parts or got dirty installing anything!

Still NOT convinced? Here's another reason to improve on your driving skills. The more powerful your car becomes, the MORE DIFFICULT it becomes to drive fast! If you think handling over 300HP to the wheels of any ride is easy, you have a rude awakening coming. If two drivers, one good and one not so good, were to drive a 15 second car, the better driver would probably be .15 to .25 of a second quicker. BUT, if the same two drivers were to drive an 11 second car, the better driver would probably be up to 3 to 4 seconds quicker!!! Why? Because it take GREATER skill to drive a faster car. The faster the car, the better the driver has to be.

loose_05.jpg (22217 bytes)

The moral of the story is, before you start modifying your car to its outer limits, look to improving the MOST IMPORTANT part of the car. The part that actually CONTROLS everything!!! The question you need to answer is, are you REALLY as good as you think you are? If not, save your money and practice more at the strip before you buy that nitrous kit and stroker kit for your ride. Otherwise, you might end up like MANY other racers that have 12 second cars running in the 15's.