Short and Shorter
The differences between speedways
and short tracks seem obvious. But
just like the subtleties between a
two-mile track and a 1.5-miler, the
differences in setup and driving for a
quarter mile such as I- 10 Speedway
in Blythe, Calif., or a three-eighths like
Tucson Raceway Park, or Irwindale’s
half-mile track can be significant.
“We can run a lot more motor
[at a half-mile],” says Steve Teets of
Short Track Racecars. “The shock
package is different also. We can run
a lot more rebound, because aero is
more important, just to keep them
tight. On the small tracks, you come
off the rebound and let the car move
around and work a little bit more.”
A high-horsepower, low-grip car
like a Lucas Oil Modified can make
passing tricky at best. The type of
track changes the equation as well.
“Blythe is a one-groove bullring; it’s
tough to pass,” says two-time champ
Jim Mardis. “Vegas is a one-groove
track. Irwindale’s wide, but because of
the small tire, everybody migrates to
the top of the racetrack, and it’s very
hard to get by people on the bottom.”
And, unsurprisingly, the racing
style changes with the speeds the
cars are moving as the tracks get
longer and cornering speeds go up.
“At the shorter tracks, there’s a
little more rooting and banging. It’s
more forward drive issues and trying
to get the car pointed in the center,”
Mardis explains. “At the bigger
racetracks, it’s really about rolling
the center, and you kind of give
each other a little more room and
respect. I personally like the smaller
TRACK LENGTH IS KEY IN SETUP
AND THE NATURE OF THE RACING
“I’ve learned the key
phrase ‘just enough.’ how
much of anything do you
need? It’s just enough”
felt it two or three times in my whole
career when I’ve said, ‘The car is perfect.’”
At Irwindale, Gerchman felt his car was
a little too free, too loose in the first
practice session. In the second, it was still
not tight enough. Add to that his relative
unfamiliarity with the track, and
Gerchman had his work cut out for him.
“I’ve been driving different lines this
weekend more than ever,” he says. “I’ve
How much shock tie-down do you need?
It’s just enough. Those numbers can move
around. But it’s one of the biggest things
I’ve learned, because the mind wanders
and you maybe want to do more than you
need to. The other lesson is patience,
because they’re longer races with no tire.
The guys that save their stuff to the end, it
normally works out for them.”
It was a lesson well illustrated at Irwindale,
where Gerchman dominated most of the
75-lap, no pitstop race on the half-mile
track. But, in the end, he had nothing left
to fight off Capello. Fact is, a good setup
still needs a good driver to make it work
for not only a lap, but the whole race. The
type of track doesn’t matter; the driver’s
brain and contact points are still key.
“I tend to read my competition not only
as a person, but how they react in a car,”
says Gerchman. “That’s the biggest thing
you’ve got to learn. We judge people
sometimes by certain things that they do.
It’s almost like their own gestures, but
you’re seeing it through their car. You’ve
It’s a game not only of physics, but
psychology, too. Short track or
superspeedway, that’s one of the things
that never changes about the sport.
(ABOVE) Early going
in the A-Main at
Irwindale. As the
race progresses, cars
will tend to migrate
to the high groove.
and Modifieds “guru”
Steve Teets talk setup.
been working more on that than actual
car setup. It’s a balance of trying to get
the car right and figure out the track.”
To get zoned in on a setup, there are
only so many parameters to play with.
One area, though, is wide open.
“The shock package, the roll centers
and the A-arm angles…it’s all the stuff that
I think that I’m a little behind on right now
that will make or break you,” says Mardis.
“It’s really all you’ve got, because
everybody makes a lot of horsepower and
everybody is on the same tire. [Suspension]
geometry is free and shock absorbers
aren’t. It gives you some room to think.”
Mardis has learned, though, that it’s
easy to go overboard with these cars.
Oftentimes, restraint is the key.
“I’ve learned the key phrase ‘just
enough.’ How much of anything do you
need? It’s just enough. How much
horsepower do you need? It’s just enough.
Half-mile irwindale sees aero and
outright power coming more into play.