Eight Steps in Repairing a Race Car
©2002, Tim Lightfoot

Notes on piece: Racing automobiles can lead to some frustrating moments that are hilarious in hindsight....
Automobile racing is becoming quite popular in the United States and the number of people racing cars is growing exponentially. However, it always surprises novice racers when they find that one of the most frequent things you do when you own a race car is repair it. Actually, through exhaustive scientific research - I was tired when I finished - I have found that you spend 800% more time repairing a race car than driving it. Therefore, in effort to reduce the repair time for my fellow drivers, I’ve written this short essay to outline the eight easy steps to repairing your race car. I hope these tips can help make your repair and racing experience more enjoyable.

Step One: The first step in repairing your race car is to wreck it. Wrecking is actually accomplished quite easily with the help of other drivers. Just drive a clean race and someone is sure to oblige your repair fantasies and cause large amounts of damage to your car. As an example, I was feeling much too good about my race car recently because it had been running extremely well. A fellow racer, who shall remain nameless at this time, decided that he was Dale Earnhardt reincarnated and could make a pass through the infield grass. After he had completed his lawn mower imitation he learned that his brakes were fairly ineffectual on grass and so he had to have some way to make the turn that he was trying to make. That’s where my car comes in. It provided a handy cushion to make his turning easier, sort of like a pool table bumper helps change the direction of a billiard ball. This was a truly accomplished driver - he not only managed to tear off my left fender and front wheel, but completed a hat trick by destroying my hood, my right front fender, and tearing the carburetors off of my engine as well. Viola! The first step was complete (and now you know the answer to the age-old question: "How in the heck did I get grass in my carburetors?").

Step Two: The second step in repairing your race car is trying to make sure that as much damage is done to it as possible as it is jerked off the race track and unceremoniously dumped in front of your trailer. It is revealing when the first words that the tow truck driver says to you are not, as you might expect, "wow, those triple flips and five barrel rolls looked like they hurt - are you okay?", but rather "do you have gas on your hands?" In most cases, tow truck drivers are more concerned that you don’t get dirt on their truck seats than they are with the $13,000. race car that they are slinging around on the back of their truck. And then….have you ever tried to move an object that is supposed to roll on four wheels but has all four wheels folded up under it like retractable landing gear? It is amazing how quickly an object that was recently traveling at 100 mph can become an inert, immovable 1200 pound object. Getting your crippled car in your trailer is especially challenging after the tow truck driver leaves your car on it’s side, arranged in an interesting position somewhere near your trailer (there is actually a national "wrecked-car-arranging" contest that tow truck drivers compete in every week at local tracks).

Step Three: The third step in repairing your race car is actually taking it apart to find all of those little repairs that you never expected. Like, even though you were hit on the left front, the drive shaft bolts in the right rear have decided to shear off in protest because of lack of attention. Or when you are hit in the rear and you find that the oil cooler in the front of the car has mysteriously ruptured, thus leaking $30. worth of that expensive synthetic oil on the ground….you know, that expensive synthetic oil you use so you only have to change the oil every 4 races - even though the oil cooler just played the same trick the last race.

Step Four: The fourth step in repairing your race car is buying the new parts you need. If you are economically-minded, you have scoured the United States to find where you can buy parts for the cheapest available price. So you order parts from Wisconsin, Arizona, New Mexico, and Georgia and then find that the parts you just ordered are illegal because you didn’t buy them from the sanctioning body and the parts don’t have the little approval stamp on them. Hmmm…..$92. for a shock that I could normally buy for $50…I guess that little approval stamp is worth $42. Whoops that is unfair - you CAN buy approved parts from other approved dealers in the United States, but only if you have a mailing address in that dealer’s region (quote from the sanctioning body, "it’s against the rules because you are OUR retail client - we can’t have you buying parts from our other dealers").

Step Five: The fifth step in repairing your race car is buying more parts because the parts you got originally don’t fit your car or break upon installation (but hey, look on the bright side - they were approved!). Yep, that steering box stud that you just bought for $5.30 isn’t supposed to have threads that match anything else in the world (including the other two studs in the steering box). Oh and that engine that you have? Nope, it’s now illegal because the sanctioning body didn’t like the fact that you could open it up and work on it.

Step Six: The sixth step in repairing your race car is fixing the broken fiberglass parts. When you wreck your race car, it is a sanctioning body rule that every fiberglass part on your car must break, no matter if the part was involved in the wreck or not (see step 3). Therefore, you get to use a lot of fiberglass mat and resin (fiberglass resin smells like super-concentrated airplane glue). You grind off the paint and primer around the fiberglass cracks, cut a piece of fiberglass mat slightly larger than the crack, mix up the resin, and with increasing euphoria, douse the mat with the resin and slap it on the crack (the euphoria was from doing a beautiful repair job and not from the resin smell, REALLY!). You then wake up three hours later in a confused state with your dog licking your face and a pounding headache. The good thing about your trip …er… nap, is that now the fiberglass repair is dry and you can paint it. (TIP: Plan on a looong weekend if you have several fiberglass parts to fix.)

Step Seven: The seventh step in repairing your race car is actually making the repairs. You have all of the parts and you are able to put the car back together with a copious amount of time, sweat, and swearing (You: "Dear, why is the dog cringing?" Wife: "Because he never heard THOSE words in THAT order before"). However, now you found that the body parts that you so meticulously and lovingly massaged and painted, for some reason no longer fit. Hmmm….is the frame bent? Nope. Is it now time for a new front clip? Nope. Oh well, just drill new mounting holes in the body parts and there you go - no one will ever notice that the car has more mismatched parts and angles than Frankenstein’s face. After all, it IS just a race car.

Step Eight: The eighth step in repairing your race car is trying to replicate the killer set-up you had found the instant before your car was wrecked in step one. It is a racing fact that if you will not be wrecked until your set-up is perfect. Therefore, you should always strive to make sure that your car is less than perfect when you get to the track. Besides, then you can blame your poor set-up for your poor finish. Here are some lines that will help: "The car was so loose, it was like driving on goose poop. I was lucky just to finish!" or "The car was so tight, I closed my eyes several times when I thought I was going to hit the wall. I was lucky just to finish!"

I hope these tips help. And remember, if you see me on the track, my car is not perfect yet (i.e. I’m not ready to repair it again!)

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