Evolution in racing has created new set up options. Installing and adjusting your sway bar correctly will help you to achieve repeatable speed. Whether you run a standard 1 1/8” bar or a 2” big bar you team should have a reproducible routine to ensure the bar is loaded as anticipated every time.
Establishing a Baseline
Upon arrival at the track and with your car race ready it really pays to set up your scales on the most level ground you can find. Shim the scale pads if needed and mark the pad location so that you can weigh the car at the track in the same spot. Once the scales are set up, weigh the car and record any difference that might be created due the track ground not being level as compared to your shop set up. By establishing a baseline at the track, you will be able to make adjustments and use your baseline to maintain proper loading of the bar, ride heights and wedge. An established baseline will help to get you back to your desired numbers even after many trackside changes. Check the sway bar at the track, with the car on the scales, and note any difference in preload as compared to when you set the bar in the shop.
With a standard 1-1/8” bar and your car in race ready condition I recommend setting the sway bar on perfectly level ground. Race ready means that the next thing your car does is head right on the track. Full of fuel and everything set. Your shop should have marked places on the floor so that the car is weighed in the same level place each time. Spend the time to make the scale pads are perfectly level in your shop.
Setting the bar on the scales allows you to verify that the wedge is set to the desired number every time. With a standard set up and 1-1/8” bar setting the bar with the driver in the car works best. When the driver is in the car you make your adjustments accounting for the 12 pack of beer and large pizza your driver consumed during the week. Set your ride heights, stagger, air pressure, front to rear balance, and wedge. Be sure the fuel tank is full. If you run high rebound adjustable shocks make sure to open them up for the set up routine or have a set of dummy shocks of the same brand that are used only in the shop for set up purposes.
Personally, with a 1-1/8th inch bar I recommend loading the bar 0.5%. Many teams choose to run the bar neutral which is just fine. I always felt that the 0.5% preload helped the driver get into the corner. If your driver is smooth, and your corner transitions are modest, then neutral can help keep the care free in the middle. You can create your own preload setting and adjust as needed at the track but having a routine is the goal.
With a big-bar Mike Leary of Leary Racing Shocks recommends adding wedge to the car by preloading the bar. Leary sets the wedge in the springs and then adds additional wedge with 3-6 turns of preload and sometimes has winning success using 9 turns. There is some debate here as some chassis experts think big bars are too sensitive and they prefer to run them neutral – Chuck Carruthers is in this camp.
With a big 2” bar there is debate on how to establish a set up routine. I see teams that have their crew jump on the front bumper to get it down to the stops where they then set the bar. This may work for some teams but I think there are too many variables for this procedure to be consistent. Even with a big bar set up, I recommend setting the bar at ride height. Mike Leary of Leary Racing Shocks likes to use the big bar to add wedge to the car. Mike recommends setting minimal wedge in the springs and then adding 2 to 4 percent of additional wedge in the bar to reach your desired wedge total.
If you are running a bump stop set up west coast set up guru Chuck Carruthers recommends pulling the springs and letting the car sit down on the stops. Chuck then sets the bar neutral with the car on the stops and with the driver in the car.
The one time it might make sense to have your crew stand on the bumper is when you are running a LF coil bind set up. Setting the bar with the coils bottomed out provides for fixed compression against a solid surface. If you run coil bind in the front, Carruthers recommends loading the bar 3-5 turns once the coils have reached the bind point. Coil bind set ups are really reserved for teams that can afford testing to work out all the bugs.
Mounting your sway bar properly is very important. Ensuring that attachment points run 90 degrees and are free from binds helps to keep your car fast. Awkward angles can create binding through travel making car performance unpredictable.
Utilizing bushings to support the sway bar in the bar eyes is a vast improvement over letting the bar grind against old style steel sway bar eyes. Installing slider sway bar mounts on both frame rails allows you to adjust the bar location so that your bar stays lined up even if you switch to different length arms giving you more adjustability in your car. Some sway bar arms have multiple holes to connect to the lower control arm. Shortening the sway bar arm increases the effective bar rate and with the slider bar mounts you can move the entire bar to keep the links 90 degrees for optimal performance.
Using sway bar eye bushings keeps your bar running smoothly and eliminates binding. A swivel eye self adjusts for perfect alignment. This swivel eye is removable allowing the bar to be dropped out the bottom for quick sway bar changes.
Swivel adjustment eyes allow you to use a ratchet to load the bar making for quick and easy adjustments. The swivel system allows you to preload the biggest bars with ease. The swivels prevent binding and self adjust keeping in line with the bar. Quick sway bar changes can be made as the swivel eye unbolts allowing the bar to be dropped out the bottom.
Adding preload to a sway bar effectively increases its rate. If your team feels you need a bigger bar you can wind in some load to see if you are going in the right direction before spending the time to change out the entire bar. Moving the sway bar links just one hole has a profound effect and is another adjustment option.
If your car is a little loose on entry then adding preload to the bar can help to settle it on entry. A bar that is neutral or set slack can, at times, cause a loose entry condition. A quick preload adjustment can be made during practice and your driver can give you an instant report. My feeling is that race teams should do everything in their power to avoid a car that is loose on entry. If your car is tight in the middle the driver can compensate with a different line to help minimize the push. With a loose entry condition the only thing the driver can do is to slow down. Loose entry should be avoided at all costs and in this condition winding turns in your sway bar may be good fix.
Choosing the right bar is difficult. The best way is to consult with your chassis builder and simply watch what your competition is doing. At many tracks it remains to be seen if the new big bar concept is better than the traditional bar set up. Most crew chiefs agree that the big bar set up is good when you hit it. The offsetting factor is that the big bar concept is finicky and you can be out to lunch as soon as the smallest variable is introduced. For less experienced drivers a standard bar set up is going to produce more feel helping them through their learning curve.
Whether you use a standard bar or a big bar establish a routine so that your sway bar is set the same way each and every time. When you preload a sway bar the increase in rate is exponential as you add turns of load. Teams should experiment with the car on the scales and record the wedge number increase with each turn. Charting the wedge change with each turn of preload only takes a few minutes and it will give teams the information they need to make precision changes at the track.
The bottom line is that a smooth operating sway bar that is installed free of binds will make your car faster. The precision parts available today offer an advantage. In the past, one piece sway bars were simply bolted in and taken for granted. Your team can find consistency and extra speed by tuning up your sway bar installation coupled with a sound routine for loading the bar.