Our SportsCar Magazine staff has had its fair share of SCCA National Championship Runoffs podium finishes over the years, and while luck has played a role in many of those finishes, pre-event prep meant we didn’t use up any of our much-needed racing luck avoiding silly mechanical issues.
Over the years, one piece of advice that has stuck with us is having Runoffs-specific parts – this is a trick we learned from late EP National Champion Tom Thrash. Thrash once explained to us that he would take his best parts and put them on the shelf after the Runoffs, installing them once more when he prepped for the following year’s National Championship. This method saves wear and tear and extends the rebuild intervals on your top-notch expensive items like engines and transmissions. While we don’t always take it to that level, we have found this method can apply to other areas of the car as well.
Take, for instance, our H Production Toyota Yaris that won the Runoffs in 2017. This car is super easy on brakes, allowing us to go multiple seasons on the same set of pads and rotors; consequently, we’ve gotten in the habit of putting a set of brakes aside specifically for use at the Runoffs. By doing this, we have a brake set that is race ready as soon as it goes on the car.
Next, most racers are good about changing fluids, but make sure you haven’t overlooked any of the ones that are less frequently serviced. You might bleed your brakes frequently, but when was the last time you did the same for your clutch? Old, dirty fluid in the clutch line can damage the master or slave cylinder seals, so treat it the same way you would your brakes. Many racecars have power steering, and that fluid can be overlooked, too. In short, flush every system regularly.
The creeper crawl has become a Runoffs right of passage for us, although we’re not sure why we call it that because none of us own a creeper. Runoffs prep is one of the few times we pull out a crescent wrench and go bolt by bolt, from front to back of the car looking for anything that’s loose. If we find a loose fastener, we mark it with a piece of tape and then revisit it with the proper tool. This can be a lifesaver, as you never know what might have shaken loose during the season. This is also the perfect time to do an inspection of suspension bushings and anything else you don’t check on race weekends.
Finally, wheels are an often-overlooked item. Racers wrap sticky tires around them, punish them with curb hits and cook them with hot brakes, yet they rarely inspect them. It’s easy to give wheels a once over for physical damage anytime you wash your car, but we like to go deeper. Heading into the Runoffs is when we pull the tires off, inspect the wheels inside and out, and clean the tire-mating surface – something your average tire installer is not going to do. This also gives us a chance to inspect the valve stem seals, which can easily be damaged when tires are being swapped out on the wheels.
The more you do ahead of time the fewer distractions you will have at the Runoffs, which will make for a much more relaxing and fun experience. If you do end up on the Runoffs podium, you’ll know your pre-event prep likely played a larger role than that all-too-finicky “luck.”