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Shedding Pounds - Making Weight: The Racer's Diet

Editorial Automotive A.D.D.

E. John Thawley III
May 1, 2008
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Had I taken a high school physics class I would've learned that acceleration is the value of force divided by mass. In race car speak, force is the amount of torque available where the tires meet the road. Mass is the total vehicle weight that force must move and accelerate. All other things being equal, if I want to improve my car's acceleration I can only either increase force or decrease mass.

Hardly an issue of HT is printed without an article on improving power (force). So let's look at the notion of reducing vehicle weight, or mass. Let's talk about putting your car on a diet.

Drag race guys seem to do this instinctively. The first import drag race I remember attending was in 1996. It was a grassroots event in Sacramento, Calif., that was held at a time before import drag racing had caught the attention of big money sponsors. The pits were full of daily drivers, U-Haul trailers and hibachi barbecues. There wasn't a big rig in sight. Mixed in with the typical infield litter of tires, jacks and coolers were a lot of OEM car parts. Spare tires, jacks, seats, bumpers and hatches were all over the place. Plenty of subwoofer boxes too. These guys had driven to the track, taken a hand full of wrenches and field stripped their cars of everything they could think of to save weight. No doubt there are rules against this now but I distinctly remember cars running the quarter-mile with nothing but clear plastic, dry cleaner bags taped across what the hatch once covered. Anything non-essential was gone.

There are lots of ways to save weight on a race car. Some are expensive, some not. Some are as simple as unbolting a non-essential part, others take days and days of manual labor. It's all a trade-off but everything helps.

Some of the club racer, road race classes can be the most punishing for porky cars. Many have limits on engine mods so there's only so much power available to be had without cheating. At the same time, those classes have minimum weights to try and keep the cars safe and the playing field level. It's not uncommon to hear people with heavy cars bitch about minimum class weights. According to them, the minimums "are not fair." Too often they are described as being "unreachable with my car." They always imply that the rule makers are idiots and that their car is classed unfairly. Nearly as often though, they'll confess to something they haven't gotten around to removing to save weight.

I've decided to take an inventory of weight saving techniques I've seen in professional road race and club race cars alike-ideas available to anyone with the motivation to make them happen. Here then is my list of stuff every road racer should remove from their car (if legal in their class) before they bitch about their car being too heavy or the rules being unrealistic:

1. All undercoating from below the car
2. All sound deadening from inside the car
3. The parking brake and all related hardware
4. All inner fender work, brackets and fasteners
5. The glovebox, ashtray and coin box
6. The hood prop rod
7. The center console and related brackets
8. Replace the stock flywheel with a lighter one
9. Replace the stock pulleys with lighter ones
10. The OEM radiator fan, shroud and relay
11. The trunk/hatch release and cable
12. Replace hood latch, release and cable with aluminum pit pins
13. The fuel door latch, release and cable
14. All heating ventilation and air conditioning components
15. The heater hoses, clamps and heater control valves
16. The windshield wiper arms, motors, controls and washer bottles
17. The power steering pumps, hoses and mounting brackets
18. Replace the OEM battery with a race unit
19. The cruise control switches, brackets and relays
20. Replace the OEM mirrors
21. Replace the OEM side and back glass with Lexan or Plexiglas
22. Any unused OEM wiring
23. The door side impact bars (in caged cars)
24. The side windows, tracks, regulators and mechanisms
25. The weather stripping and trim

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It's easy to convince yourself that any particular item doesn't really weigh enough to make a difference. That oh-so-handy parking brake for example, or the heater/defroster you just can't bare to be without in February. Well OK, but if you haven't removed everything that is legal to remove, can you really say that your car is classed and weighted well? If your competitors are allowed to remove a given item, they probably will. Comfort and convenience are secondary in a race car. After safety, competitiveness should take priority above all else.
- E. John Thawley III
Contact: thawleyadd@gmail.com

By E. John Thawley III
25 Articles

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