The building season brings many challenges relating to constructing a car that is lightweight, built to perform, and easy to work on. Back in the day, we had to fabricate all of our hardware – somehow the job got done, but often the results looked like a kindergarten art project gone bad.
Today, there are so many pieces available at your local race dealer, the car building experience has transformed from duct tape and bailing wire to billet and strength. Really, you can bolt on about any manufactured part saving valuable construction time. As an added benefit, professionally manufactured parts make working on the car easy and efficient throughout the course of the year. During the ongoing maintenance that occurs over the course of the season a part made for the job saves a ton of time. Sometimes building a mount yourself saves money, but if it takes 3 nights to build it and you miss the first race then how much is really saved? If you have built many cars, past experience assists you in making the choice of fabricating on your own, or paying a modest price for a part that is manufactured specifically for the job at hand. Luckily for racers, racing manufactures work on thin profits and often teams can buy a professional part for less money than if they were to make a one off part on their own. A manufactured part is nearly always cleaner, stronger and lighter weight. If it is your first car build, then buying parts can eliminate many frustrating nights. That said – if you can do a quality fabrication job and save money then I am all for it. If the savings of making an item in your shop helps you to get your team to more races, then building it yourself can be a great idea.
Recently, I answered a comment about a Facebook post – a customer was smack talking about building their own bump shims instead of buying a manufactured version. Hey, if you can make a professional part you should – saving money in racing is hard to do and if savings means you can make one more race then more power to the innovation of the garage fabricator. Making your own Bump Shims is not too difficult, but when you factor in the time, hassle, and gas costs spent chasing down materials a production made kit starts to look pretty good. It pays to consider the big picture before starting and take note that a professional kit will come with all the small details handled right out of the box.
Professional Bump Shim Kit
A Professional Bump Shim Kit comes with an organizational case, a variety of shim thicknesses, and a billet wrench. The billet wrench reaches in between the spring coils making track changes quick and pain free.
A case in point is a radiator mount. Anybody that has built a stock car has spent multiple nights making a mount to hold their expensive aluminum radiator in place. When it is time to put on the hood on the day of your first race, it is a painful to learn that the radiator is sticking above the hood line. Often, the need to re-fabricate the radiator mount is discovered after you frame has been powder coated. For the balance of the year, your team gets to endure the pain of looking at burnt paint and a cobbled up mount every time the hood is opened. Of course, fellow competitors are happy to toss a barb your way to cement the negative effects of choices made during the off season.
Adjustable Radiator Mount
An adjustable radiator mount quickly adjusts from left to right. Multiple mounting holes ensure that your team can get the mounting height exactly right, even in the event of a body style change. The bolt on design makes quick work out of repairing damage.
Many series have shock rules that are designed to keep costs down. Other series utilize shock packages that come with a budget that would run a small city. If you have a pretty penny invested in shocks, then ensuring that your expensive hardware is mounted safely is a top priority. Nylon zip ties cost pennies a piece and hold shock canisters from falling off the car. With a zip tie the penalty is that your freshly painted frame gets scratched up and the cool anodize on your shock canister gets worn very quickly. Further, the smallest of dents in your expensive remote shock canister renders it useless. If you can build a nice canister mount in a reasonable amount of time then I say fabricate away. Before you start building four canister mounts to cover the corners of your car, it might pay to at least consider the parts that you can buy right off the shelf. Clean, quick, lightweight pieces that are optimally designed for quick adjustments at the track are features that are built into professional versions.
Remote Canister Mount
A Remote Canister Mount should have a rubber isolator reducing foaming. Doing it right protects your expensive investment and keeps your frame from getting scratched up.
I have seen body braces made out of scrap sheet metal strips, spare rod, or even scrap Lexan window material. These options work fine, but often the craftsmanship leaves a bit to be desired. And, if you want to make an adjustment to your fender width at the track then your team is burdened with the task of trying to fabricate in the pits without the luxury of the specialized tools that are available in the shop. Usually, manufacturing parts at the track creates a major panic due to the track schedule and fabricating in the field creates a ton of pressure at a time when teams should be focused on car speed.
Professional body mounts come fully prepared and ready to go. Depending on your type of racing you can chose a body brace that flexes with your fiberglass panels – their design pops the fiberglass right back into place after incidental contact. You can choose a rigid mount to hold your fenders steady in the wind created by high speeds improving aerodynamic performance. Whatever your choice, a manufactured version is ready right out of the package and installs in minutes. I am always amazed at how long it takes to fabricate something as simple as a fender brace. Still, if making body braces on your own is the money saving task that gets you to the track, then save some dollars and build away.
Solid Body Mount with an Aluminum Mount
A solid body mount with an aluminum rod will hold your body panels rigidly in place at high speeds for aerodynamic performance. Flexible mounts pop fiberglass panels right back into position after incidental short track contact.
When it comes to spoiler supports I recommend purchasing a manufactured spoiler brace. Sure, you can make a support easy enough, but it is difficult to make adjustable spoiler braces in the shop. You should consider that you need 8 matching spoiler braces before you start fabricating on your own. A machined professional unit comes with all the needed hardware and is built for good looks and quick spoiler angle adjustments. I always recommend Lexan rear spoilers if allowed by your rules. The vision increase is dramatic. Spoiler braces often need support washers and manufactured aluminum versions provide a clean look while keeping your Lexan spoiler from cracking. A simple washer can provide support, so pick and choose which purchased items fit your budget.
Rear Spolier Supports
Usually your rear spoiler needs eight supports. The ability to adjust your spoiler angle quickly can gain needed speed. Be sure to consider the big picture before jumping into making spoiler supports on your own. Often, you can purchase a professionally manufactured unit for less than you can make one on your own.
Hood pins work great to hold the hood in position especially if your hood is completely removable and lightweight. If you have a hinged hood or a steel hood, then purchasing manufactured hood hinges makes working on the car much easier. Billet versions lock in place and a quick tap releases the hood to close up the engine area quickly. Anyone that has been around racing long has had a hood fall on their head and the associated headache does little for productivity. If you can make good hood supports, then have a ball. Still – I am busy on that night and would choose to buy a pair. Manufactured hood hinge supports look good and have the strength to keep you working. Think about how many times you open the hood on a Saturday night?
Billet hood supports
Billet hood supports lock the hood in place in the open position, allowing for easy engine compartment access while saving your crew from bumps on the head. A quick tap on the hinge quickly releases the locking action. Mounting the hood to the car helps to prevent scratches on the roof and keeps your hood from flying off in the wind.
Your fire bottle is another area where buying a good mount can be beneficial. With care, you can make a solid mount for your fire bottle. Be sure to form fit any sheet metal and use hardware that handles the weight. Fire bottles are quite heavy and should you bounce off of something then you need to have a guarantee that the fire suppression bottle stays put so it can perform when you need it most. If you make fire bottle supports in your shop, think safety and be sure to use materials that can handle the heavy weight.
Mounting Your Fire Bottle
Mounting your fire bottle requires materials that handle the heavy weight of your fire suppression system. Safety first absolutely applies here.
A well designed shifter boot helps you to access the shifter lever bolts assisting in a quick engine or transmission change both at the track and in the shop. Making one is possible, but be sure to use fire resistant material for the boot. Safety items are simply not the area to save money so if you choose to make your own – do it right. For this project I would buy the best kit I can find.
A Shifter boot that snaps into place gives you quick access to the shifter bolts. Engine or transmission changes can be accomplished quickly. Fire resistant material offers protection and the reflective lining reduces cockpit temperatures.
Window nets can be difficult to mount on your own. Window nets need to be tight when buttoned up and the installation configuration can help your car to be more aerodynamic. If you make your own kit, be sure to paint steel parts preventing rust from deteriorating the window net fabric. A window net kit is a nice luxury when building or renovating a car. Safety first applies for sure. Ensure that the latch mechanism is easy to operate for both your team members and emergency personnel.
Window Net Mounting Hardware
Window Net mounting hardware should be rigid, ensuring a window net that is tight. The latch mechanism needs to be easily operable for your crew as well as track safety workers.
Car wiring is a mystery for many teams. You can choose wire up your car and make simple mounts for your switches and lights. Be sure to use a red flip up cover for the ignition shut off. In an emergency such as a stuck throttle, an easily seen big flip up cover helps your driver to hit the switch shutting down the engine quickly. You can install switch components on your own if you have the time. Keep in mind that you need to purchase the switches that are rated and sized properly. Rubber boots keep moisture and dirt out of the switches helping your car to keep running at all times. Solder all the joints so that you finish races. Over time, crimped connectors, that don’t seal the wire connections with solder, can corrode and fail. Washing the car can fill the wiring connections and switches with dirt and grease. It is always tough to see the race leader loose speed coming off turn 4 because a 10 cent connection failed on the last lap. I have seen more than one wreck due to a car loosing speed at the wrong time. Wiring is an area where you can do things on your own. If you tackle the wiring, spend the few extra minutes to use solder and heat shrink at all connections.
Manufactured Switch Panels
Manufactured switch panels make wiring the car a breeze. Billet mounts professionally locate switch panels in easy reach of the driver. Bolt on mounts allow you to adjust location with worrying about cutting off a welded on tab. Always use a red flip-up cover so your driver can slap the ignition off quickly in the event of an emergency. Rubber sealed switches keep your car running when it matters most.
In the end, building a car with professional components may be the choice that keeps your car running for that next win. A well built car may attract a sponsor out of the grandstands helping you to fund your fun. Building your car right is what matters regardless of where the parts come from. Safety items must be installed without compromise. If you can build a professional part, without spending 2 weeks per project, then self fabricating can be a great idea to save cost. If you place a premium on constructing a car that is easy to maintain, then purchasing well designed manufactured parts may actually save you time and money over the course of a long year. At 2:00 a.m., on the night before the race, the light bulb moment comes as you enter the self imposed sleep deprivation period that comes from trying to do too much on your own. If every race weekend comes with a Friday night all nighter, then the lack of sleep can help you to determine when to buy and when to build. If your team members are tired on race day it does show up in your finish results.
If you fabricated too many parts on your own for this build season, then experience might guide you for the next time you are ready to construct a new car. The goal should always be to build a better car than you had before. Prior experience will guide the way and your luck will be based on your preparation creating sustainable opportunity.
Go Forward – Move Ahead
Courtesy of JOES Racing Products