Seven things to do this offseason that will payoff big next season

It’s the off season, it’s time to relax right?  Wrong!  Here are my seven things to do this offseason that will payoff big next season.  The time to start them is now.

Planning

While this post is mostly geared toward those that race their car, these items will payoff big next season for anyone that is involved with car events.  There’s little doubt that if you are involved in car related activities your 2019 plan is starting to come together.  You’ve probably selected the events you’ll be at.  You’ve reviewed test day schedules and have begun to outline your 2019 racing calendar.

A successful offseason is very important to a successful race season.  Everything you do now will impact how your race season starts off and having the right plan in place is best place to start.

So what should you plan for?  Everything!

How should you plan?  Well, that depends on you.  For some it’s a clipboard and paper.  Others like to

Offseason prep
One of lists from the last race car I prepped.

use tools such as Evernote, Word, Google Tasks.  There are so many planning and task management applications out there – if you have one that works for you, use it.

The best way to start is to sit down and begin brainstorming about everything you need and want to do.  Get every idea and every item that needs to be addressed onto paper.  (We’ll use the paper model of planning going forward) Just get as many items out of your head and onto paper as you can.  You’ll organize them later.  Don’t think just about the car.  If you tow, what about the truck and trailer?  Do you need to request off of work?  Renew a membership?  Register for your events?  If you are part of a team do you need to schedule team meetings?

Your plan will change over time and it should.  Sometimes you’ll determine some items don’t need to be done and other times you’ll find that one item leads to another, so be flexible.

Having a plan also helps with delegating work.  If you are lucky enough to have people wanting to help, having a detailed plan will make it easy for you and them to see what needs done and keep everyone moving.

Tools

If you are like me, weeks will go by before you clean out the truck and tool box after the last event.  Before you get started with your plan, it’s best to get your tools organized.

I have three different tool boxes and that has made my life a little crazy.  I have two race boxes at the shop and my main tools at home.  This offseason I decided to bring everything home to sort through and organize them.  Now that we aren’t karting I can live with two tool boxes.  Sometimes I’ll work on projects at the shop and other times I’ll be working at home.  Guess what?  The tool I need is rarely where I need it when I need it.  Ugh!  Since I won’t be racing this next season I will have less issues having the right tool in the right place.

As you clean out your box and organize all of your tools write down any missing or needed tools and plan those purchases.  Think about what you didn’t have at the track and needed – add it to your list.  If something is missing, figure out who borrowed it and get it back.

Read

Whether you are campaigning the same car or even a new car, read the rule book for the next season.  Be familiar with what changes are taking place and what may have been added or removed.  Don’t be caught off guard!

Also, take time to read through the on-line forums for your race series and any racing related magazines like SportsCar and Grassroots Motorsports for ideas and insights.

Parts, Equipment & Spares

There’s a word I yell at myself when I buy something I already have, INVENTORY!  There has been too many times that I failed to check what I already had or since I didn’t have it organized enough to know that I had it already.  Take the time to go through your spare parts, your track equipment, and your supplies.  As you go through your spare parts, think about what else you might need at your events.  We got caught off guard this season by not having enough lug nuts.  Time waster!

Race Storage Tote
My Storage Tote!

For organizing my spares and pit equipment I found these black and yellow storage totes at Home Depot and they work great.  If I were to do it again, I might find something similar that has a studier top.  All of mine seemed to have developed a crack.

Having a storage and inventory system will make transporting, storing, and organizing your equipment, parts, and supplies super easy.  Plus, you are less likely to forget something or buy a duplicate of it.

I developed a checklist in Evernote to help me pack everything I need for my events.  It’s also a great way to track inventory of needed parts and supplies.

Your Car!

WARNING, the off season is shorter than you think!  So this means, get working!

Now that you have read the rule book and put your plan together it’s time to work on the car. 

If you haven’t already – perform a proper inspection on the car.  Your plan probably includes items you already knew about, but there could be issues you aren’t aware of yet.  Get the car up on jack stands , pull the wheels and begin inspecting everything. Inspection items should include brakes, steering, suspension, fluid leaks and underside damage.  Inside the car check all wiring, your safety harness, fire bottle, seat mounts and controls.  If you find something that needs to be addressed, add it to your plan. 

It’s easy to postpone work until after the holidays and then say let’s wait until next week – this will go on forever!  Follow your plan and make sure that you execute that plan.  My advice is to do something to the car weekly.  This will allow to you stay focused on your projects and allows time to research items, order parts and even round up help.

Trailer

If you use a trailer to haul your vehicle to events, the offseason is a great time to take care of required maintenance.

Check all the lights, inspect the tires and test the brakes, if equipped.  Also inspect the trailer wiring and all welds.  It seems as if once or twice a season I find a fender weld that needs to be re-welded.

If it’s an enclosed trailer, clean it out, organize it and think about how you can best utilize the space for next season to make it easiest to work at the track.

Conditioning

The offseason is a great time to start up or continue your conditioning for race season.  Depending on the type of driving you do, it’s important to have good cardio and upper body strength.  As an endurance driver, I need to be able to handle the car, the traffic, and the heat for two hours.  Running and cycling helped me prepare for these longer stints.

Cardio training is very important for race car drivers and establishing a weekly workout routine will help you condition your body for the demands of motor racing as well as help with mental focus.  Sprinkle in some weights and sit-ups to strengthen your core and you’ll be amongst the fittest in the paddock.

However, I understand that working out isn’t for everyone.  If you aren’t the athletic type, perhaps walking a few times per week and eating healthy will help you perform better in the next season.

I hope these seven things to do this offseason will payoff big for you next season.

 

5 Tire Storage Tips To Ensure Better Results

Who has tires to store?  Many people do.  Snow tires continue to be used in wintery climates which presents a storage requirement for vehicle owners.  Weekend racers and Autocrossers also have the need to store their extra tires and wheels.  These tire storage tips are  important to make your tire investment last.

Here are my five tips to better tire storage.

1. Find A Cool And Dry Place

Where you store your tires is key.  It must be dry, cool and secure.  Make sure the tires won’t be exposed to direct sunlight.  If you are storing track or competition tires make sure it’s a place where the temperature won’t drop below 20 degrees.  Also, keep all tires away from furnaces and large electrical equipment as the Ozone developed by this type of equipment can damage tires.

2. Clean Is Key

Once you’ve determined where you’ll store your tires, it’s time to prep them for storage.  It’s recommended to wash your tires with soap and water and a car wash solution is just fine. If the tires will stay mounted on wheels, make sure that the wheels are clean as well.  If needed, use an approved wheel cleaner to get any road grime or brake dust off of your wheels that the soap won’t.  Make sure to throughly dry the tires prior to storage.

3. Bag Them

Today’s tires contain oils and chemicals that are important to the durability and longevity of use and when exposed to the elements these chemicals evaporate.  This leads to dry rotting and compound cracking.  When storing your tires it’s a good idea to place each tire into a plastic bag.  The more airtight, the better.

There a many ways to bag them.  The easiest and cheapest would be some large trash bags.  Just find a way to get the air out and seal them up with tape.  Another idea is to invest in tire storage bags like these (click on picture to get full details):

Another option is the tire tote.  Tire totes are a great way to store and transport your tires.  They are made from durable materials and include handles.  If you attend track days or Autocross events these will make life a little easier and keep your interior cleaner too.

4. How To Store

Tires are best stored upright rather than stacked.  However, if you are unable to store them upright stacking them is not the end of the world as long as you keep them off the concrete/ground, keep them in bags and protect the wheels from hitting one another.  Don’t stack more than four tires high either.  The weight on the bottom tires can actually push the sidewalls in and make remounting more difficult.

Need a rack?  There are many low cost, wall racks that will securely support your tires.  Check out this one here: Tire Rack for Garage.  This is one of the more expensive ones, but it’s worth the extra money.  I had this one in my garage at home and moved it to the shop.  It’s worth spending a little extra for it.  Yes, there are ones that cost less, but the quality drops off and the last thing you want is a failure that results in heavy tires and/or wheels crashing down in your garage.

5. Still On The Vehicle?

If you are storing a vehicle for the winter it’s a good idea to  move it once a month to move the tire position.  The weight of the vehicle on the same portion of the tire for extended periods of time can damage the tire.  Even just rolling the vehicle back 8-12 inches will help.  This is true for motorcycles as well.

Follow these tire storage tips and when the spring season returns your tires will be ready to go and in great shape.

To Mod Or Not To Mod – SCCA Solo Classing

If you are a car person it’s tough to leave a car alone.  You want to mod it, right?  Better tires, better handling, engine modifications, better flowing exhaust – you want to extend your personality into the car.   There’s nothing wrong with modifying your vehicle, as long as it’s done properly and does not impact safety.  However, if you participate in SCCA Solo (Autocross) events, you may want to weigh the pros and cons of what a modification can do to your class and category assignment.

This post is geared towards the car owner that’s thinking about competing in Solo or is already competing and is thinking of what modifications she should consider.

No mods
1982 Datsun 280ZX Solo Event 1991

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, or my bio, you know that I started in Autocross when I was 17.  I was in DS, D Stock, in a 1982  Datsun 280ZX.  In this promotional video from 1991 you’ll see me and my silver Datsun a few times.  It was fun being out their only worrying about sway bars, tires and tire pressures.  I went to a junk yard and bought some steel wheels and then went around to tire stores looking for used tires.  I found a set of Bridgestone Potenzas for next to nothing.  I worked at a car dealership so I could mount and balance them myself. Done!  Now it was all driving.

MINI Cooper S Solo no mods
2008 Solo Event – Stock MINI

If you decide to mod your car you may end up in a prepared or modified category and that changes everything.  There’s nothing wrong with being in a category other than Street, it just changes a few things like competition.  What I mean is that you may add a cold air intake, reduced super charger pulley, suspension upgrade and you may end up in a category that has limited, local participation and it’s easy to get outspent.

In 2008 I had a desire to get back into Solo events and purchased a used MINI Cooper S.  I looked at a few different vehicles and really liked the MINI.   I ran it once or twice in stock form and with the “run crap” tires.  Fun stuff.

Very few people leave their MINI Coopers stock.  Cold air intakes, exhaust mods, tire/wheel packages, reduced pulley for the supercharger, plus tons of other mods.  The bug bit me too.  Over a couple of years I had installed a reduced supercharger pulley, cold air intake, Borla exhaust, updated engine mounts, and a strut tower brace.   My main motivation for these modifications was for track days.  I wanted to be a bit quicker, but I also wanted a peppier car on the street.  It was quick and sounded good.  However, what I failed to consider was that with the pulley modification I was now in Street Modified FWD for SCCA Solo events.

Locally, there were few SMF competitors and if I traveled regionally or nationally – there’s no way my car would be competitive as the SM class has lots of allowances and the modifications can get pretty extreme.  From a competition perspective I would have been happier in DS, D Street.  Heck, I still have my magnetic car numbers from high school!

Don’t get me wrong, competing in a prepared or modified category is a great way to compete.  You’ll go faster, your times may be quicker and your car will handle better.  Just be prepared to keep up.

I’m not sure that I would have changed the mods I did to the MINI as I really enjoyed driving it, but I was always asking, “what’s next?”.  There would have been no stopping point and I was constantly looking at the forums for ideas and used parts to further build the MINI.  However, I feel as though I could have had a better time competing in a class that had more entires and trying to beat friends.  In SMF I competed against the clock and drove better to reduce times, but no trophies resulted from that as the entry list was light in that category.

My advice?  Review your Solo/Autocross goals, your budget and your appetite for keeping up with modifications to stay competitive.  If you are just getting started, perhaps run a season or two in street and get comfortable with driving and competing.  Once you’ve been involved for a while you’ll have a sense for what categories and classes are popular and you’ll have an opportunity to talk with people that own cars in other categories.

To learn more about the categories and classes check out the Rule Book SCCA Solo Rules.

 

7 Tips to Prep For Solo Tech To Make It Easy

Tech is a part of every SCCA Solo event and to make your morning a little easier, I’ve put together my tips to make Tech easy.

Why Tech?

Tech signs make it easy to find
Look for signs for the designated Tech area

There are two purposes for Tech; Safety & Identification.

The main reason for inspecting a vehicle is to make certain that it is ready for the demands of running a Solo event and that the driver, passenger, and other attendees are not in an danger of a failure.  The secondary reason for tech is to check that the number and class are clearly identified on the vehicle.

Who Techs?

Most regions have a Chief of Tech.   This Chief is in charge of Tech and will generally have a few other volunteers to help during the event morning.  The Chief is responsible for making sure that the vehicle and helmet meet the latest SCCA rules and guidelines.   If the Chief has any concerns they will be discussed with the driver and the Chief Safety Stewart.

Annual Tech

Some regions will have an annual Tech option.  This is generally reserved for SCCA members and is either performed at the first event or a special Tech day.  An annual tech inspection saves time throughout the season as the Tech’d vehicle and helmet will have a sticker affixed showing that they’ve been checked.  Just because a car has gone through annual Tech does not mean that it won’t be exempt for being checked at events during the season.  These vehicles will be randomly spot checked – so be prepared.

Tips To Make Tech Easier

1.  If you are an SCCA member go through the annual Tech process.  This will make your event mornings a little less stressful.  Plus you’re helping the event staff make their mornings a little easier too.

2.  Check your vehicle yourself or ask a friend to help.  Do this at least a few weeks prior to the season starting and then follow my 6 Steps To Maintaining Your Solo/AutoX Car during the season.

What to check?

  • Battery – Make sure the battery tie down / hold down is secure and that the terminals are tight.
  • Fluid Leaks – Leaking fluids will fail your car.  Fluids that leak from your vehicle  pose a safety concern for other competitors and could lead to failure on the cause or worse yet, fire.  If you spot leaks have a qualified mechanic repair them.
  • Lug Nuts – Believe it or not I have seen a car or two arrive with missing lug nuts.  It you swap wheels and tires for events make sure that you arrive to Tech with the wheels and tires you intend to run with.  Torque those lug nuts too!
  • Loose Steering & Suspension Components – Wheel bearings, tie rod ends, strut/shock mounts, and stabilizer bar components must all be tight.  Any looseness is grounds for failing.
  • Tire Condition – old or damaged tires are a sure disaster for running Solo.  Make sure your tires are in good shape.  They should not be older than six years and should not have any dry rot present.
  • Throttle Cable – If your vehicle is equipped with a throttle cable, it must be free of any restrictions and must return to it’s original position when the pedal is released.   Vehicles with electric throttle control must also have a pedal that returns to it’s original position.
  • Brakes – Your brake fluid reservoir must be full of clean brake fluid.  The pedal must have a solid feel and no lines should be leaking.  No mechanical brake components should be broken or missing parts.

3.  Inspect your helmet.  First, make sure your helmet is not damaged or extremely worn.  Second, make sure that it meets the current season’s requirements.  Every year the SCCA publishes the Required Helmet Certification Decals document.  Refer to it to make sure you are good to go.

4.  Remove loose objects.  Some people like to do this the night before an event.  Go though your car and remove any loose objects from the passenger compartment and the trunk.  Items like sunglasses, garage door openers, radar detectors will become projectiles while driving through the course.  In the trunk or hatch area take time to remove any loose items and check the spare tire area to make sure that the tire and tools are secure.  Obviously, some items need to remain in your car and those can be removed at the event and secured in a tote at your paddock spot.  It’s also a good idea to remove your driver’s side floor mat.  If it slides around it could interfere with your pedal operation.

5.  Check the SCCA Solo Rule Book for your vehicle to confirm your class.  If you are in a category, check any specific safety or vehicle requirements you may have for that category.

6. Have your class and car number clearly identified on both sides of your vehicle.  If you will be a regular participant in Solo events consider investing in

Class Numbers should be applied prior to Tech
Use contrasting colored class numbers and letters

a set of magnetic numbers.  First timer?  Contrasting painter’s tape or large numbers and letters printed out on paper will work too.

7. Present your vehicle and yourself ready to go.  When you roll up to Tech make sure you have everything ready.  If you change wheels and tires, have them mounted and the lug nuts torqued.  Using a Go Pro?  Have it mounted.   Open your hood and trunk.  Be ready to answer questions.  The individual performing inspecting your car may  have to ask questions about your car.  Be polite and courteous.

Remember, the Tech process is not there to give you a hard time – it is intended to help make you and the event safe.

 

6 Tips For Maintaining Your Solo/AutoX Car

So you ran an SCCA Solo event.  You had fun and now you’re looking at the Facebook Pics  that everyone took and you’re searching for the next event to run.  There’s one more item to consider – your car!

It’s always a good idea to look over your vehicle after a Solo event.  Also, it’s a good idea to step up the maintenance on your car during the Solo season.  Follow the tips below to  keep your car in good shape for the road and ready for the next Solo event.

  1. Check your fluids. Check color, condition and level.  Top off when needed and change the engine oil and filter more frequently.    Oil breaks down due to heat and while the course may only be 25-40 seconds long, those high revs can break down oil faster than normal driving.    Also, look for leaks.  If you spot a leak, get it looked ASAP!
  2. Re-torque your lug nuts.  Before, during and after events always check your lug nuts.  Torque them to the OE spec.
  3. Check your vehicle’s  recommended maintenance schedule and make sure that you are up to date. Failing to perform routine maintenance items like fluid and coolant flushes, timing belt changes, and tune ups may leave you stranded at the starting line.
  4. Listen for noises while the engine is running and while you are driving. If something doesn’t sound right, inspect it.
  5. Spend time with your car. While your spouse may get jealous, it’s time well spent.  Take the time to look around and under the car.  Look at the steering and suspension components.  Keep an eye on the axles and boots.  The more familiar you are with your car, the more quickly you’ll notice any changes which will allow you to address them prior to the next event.
  6. Lastly, ask for help. If you don’t have the space or tools to work on your car – find a shop that you trust and that understands Solo.  Another idea is to ask a friend or another SCCA member to help out.

Have you ever been to a Solo event where a mechanical failure held up the event?  Not fun, right?  Don’t be that guy or gal.  Take care of your car and it will perform well.  Remember, you can’t win if you don’t finish!