10 Ways To Completely Sabotage Your Race Car Setup

Aaron Lambert
Post by Aaron Lambert
June 1, 2022
10 Ways To Completely Sabotage Your Race Car Setup

It pays to be confident in your potential yet aware of your inexperience.

As a racer, you're constantly looking for ways to level up your performance and gain a competitive edge. Fine-tuning your race car setup is one of the ways to get ahead. But as necessary as it is to fine-tune, you can't just guess, copy others, or make sweeping adjustments without applying knowledge and experience.

Every track and race is different. And every racer is unique. This means it's crucial to set up your race car with precision and care to give yourself the advantage.

This article will cover ten of the top ways you can undermine your race car setup and how you can prevent these errors.


How To Quickly Turn Your Race Car Into A Mess

This is where experience becomes crucial.

The experienced driver knows it takes long hours of substantial work, minuscule adjustments, and fine-tuning to get their race car setup anywhere close to ideal. It's a meticulous step-by-step process. And the payoff is usually tangible–a faster, better-handling race car.

If you're a little newer to this, you might be fooled into thinking that an easy fix exists. Perhaps only a simple adjustment is needed, and you're good to go. Or maybe if you buy what the winners are using, everything else will fall into place.

If you're currently the latter of these two drivers, this article is for you.

Here are ten ways to completely sabotage your race car setup so you can prevent doing them.


1. Copying Settings From Other Cars

"My friend has a similar build, and his car runs great! I'll use his settings!"

Oh boy.

We wish it were as simple as bolting on what your friend uses or using what the winners are using, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the optimal race car setup as no drivers are the same.

Racing shocks can be intimidating, but they aren't a black art. You might think you'll never understand them, but forward-thinking companies like Penske Racing Shocks commit to teaching racers how to optimize their suspensions. Through the S3 (shock + setup + support) process, racers no longer need to feel intimidated.

Learn about your setup and which settings work for your setup. Blindly transferring recommended settings from another team or making similar adjustments to springs, tires, and shocks is a recipe for disaster.


2. Failing To Maintain Your Shocks

If you don't stay on top of your shock maintenance, you could set yourself up for headaches and handling issues.

Dyno Your Shocks

We recommend proper maintenance practices and checking your racing shocks regularly on a dyno to ensure you're not carrying an undetected problem that you could have caught sooner.

Inspect for Damage

Make sure you look for bent or ​​broken shafts and shims after an on-track collision or off-track excursion that will cause the shock not to perform correctly. Even the slightest bend in a shaft can cause improper shock travel, which can rob traction. It can also cause other issues like sealing damage that can cause your oil to leak out of the shock.

Worn or damaged shocks can also give off false signals of issues in other areas of your car, and they could hide real problems, too. Don't spend time fixing the wrong problems because you didn't do your maintenance and dyno testing.

Check Your Gas Pressure

We also encourage checking your gas pressure regularly as it can significantly affect performance and oil life, especially if one corner is cavitating and the others are not.

We are constantly asked how often you should check your gas pressure:

  • How often do you check your tire pressure? Now you don't need to check shock pressure every time before hitting the track or going for a ride or drive. But you should routinely check your pressure.
  • If you're racing, we recommend checking it prior to the start of your weekend. Maybe even every morning if you're attending a weekend event.
  • In short, it's quick and easy to do, and if there is a problem or something so simple could cause a lot of headaches, take the time and check it. 

You could spend an eternity trying to diagnose a problem that would disappear if you maintained and monitored your racing shocks.

FREE DOWNLOAD: How to Read a Shock Dyno Graph

In this free download, we outline how to read a dyno graph and, more importantly, what it can tell you about how your shock is performing.



3. Making Big Changes To The Springs Without Damping

You might consider changing spring rates to level up your performance. And that's fine. Like everything in racing, though, spring rates are personal and depend on your application, height and weight, driving style, and even differences in track surfaces.

Higher spring rates will give you a firmer feel and reduce body roll and body lean. Lower spring rates provide a softer feel and more compliancy. What do you prefer? Whatever you decide, ensure you include your dampers in the equation. Springs and dampers work together, so it's essential to give equal care and attention to both. 

Changing spring rates can definitely level up your performance, but if you make considerable swings in your springs, don't forget to make corresponding damping adjustments. Failing to do so could leave your car feeling numb, unresponsive, or underdamped.


4. Not Checking Your Bump Rubber Gap

Bump rubber stops are often overlooked but can be crucial to a well-maintained suspension. They help provide shock absorption and extra cushion. Adding bump stops on a vehicle's suspension prevents the suspension's metal parts from rubbing against each other or coming into different kinds of contact that could be damaging.

Bump rubber stops limit the axle's upward movement and prevent the tires from contacting the fender. Bump stops often bottom out before shocks, and you risk bottoming or topping out if you don't check your bump rubber gap or shock travel. This can lead to your car handling so poorly that even shock adjustments can't fix it.


5. Not Inspecting The Binding of the Spherical Joint Of Your Shocks

The spherical joints of your shocks allow your vehicle's suspension to move up and down while allowing the wheels to turn left and right. But they can get worn down, too. 

You might hear clunking sounds when the spherical joint starts to loosen. Conversely, if it tightens up, the steering might bind, and you'll have a stiff spot when turning the steering wheel.

It's easy not to think to check for binding of the spherical joints of the shocks when installed, and this can negate any shock adjustments you make. Friction, stiction, and binding are detrimental to a suspension's performance. 


6. Failing To Check Your Shocks Return To Full Extension

This is another critical step in maintaining your shocks. If your shocks fail to return to full extension after being compressed, the shock might lose its optimum performance.

Dead spots can occur when the shock loses sufficient fluid. This leads to poor performance and premature oil breakdown.

Proper maintenance and regular checks will help avoid this. We know not everyone can afford to have a shock dyno. But a simple test can at least ensure the shock is properly pressurized and has the proper oil level. With the spring removed, manually compressing the shock all the way and ensuring it returns to full extension under its own power is a great start to ensuring proper oil level and gas pressure are present.


7. Changing Too Many Things At Once

This seems obvious but is nonetheless reasonably common. If you make too many changes at once, you will not correctly identify any issues.

For instance, it will be near impossible to get an accurate read on the sensitivity of your shock adjusters if you also change the springs, adjust the ride height, and drop tire pressure.

We recommend that you always make minor, singular adjustments to one component and test one at a time. That's how you will root out the source of the problem.

We recommend that:

  • Every racer should have a baseline. A baseline is the "optimum" or best setup. It's a baseline, a setup that you're comfortable with that if you have a problem, you can always go back to, and you should have a familiar feel or handling characteristic.
  • If you have a good baseline, and your current setup is not working or you're having issues - go back to baseline, and if you're still having issues, maybe you have another problem (could be damaged, could be a bad shock, could be a number of different things, etc.)
  • If you go back to your baseline and the feeling is familiar, or you're happy with the baseline feel, that tells you the combination you had or are trying isn't working. Maybe try only one of the changes, or refocus on what you're actually trying to achieve. Are you trying to make entry better, are you looking for more drive-off? Are you trying to get better on curbs?
  • Remember, every change you make to improve in one area, will most likely affect another area!


8. Forget To Note Down Your Baseline Setup

What if you dive down the rabbit hole, making adjustments to several components all over your setup, and it doesn't work? What if it gets worse?

The simple fix is to return to your baseline. You may still have an issue at your baseline, but at least it's not worse. Oh, except you forgot to note down what your baseline setup was, and you have no idea how to get back there.

ALWAYS write down your baseline setup to continually return to it if you go down the wrong path. It's good to store backup versions of your suspension settings, so you have a whole season of logbook data. As well as your original settings, you'll have a history of settings for various tracks, weather changes, and your adjustments. Over time and experience, your baseline will continue to evolve and get better. The goal is to unload with a baseline that is close to your final setup. When this happens, you will just be fine-tuning during your sessions, not taking massive swings to get faster or more comfortable. 

Check out our FREE DOWNLOAD: Shock Build and Shock Setup/Lap Time Worksheet

In this free download, we provide both our Standard Shock Build Sheet, which is a great way to keep all your shock builds organized, and a Setup/Lap Time Sheet, a great tool to help improve your communication and record keeping of your chassis setup.




9. Fail To Do A Set-Down Of Your Shock Settings

Always do a set-down of your shock settings at the end of a session to ensure they are where you think they are. A set-down is just a recording of settings in writing, and this helps with baseline settings and settings for different tracks and provides a starting point for the off-season when you'll start adjusting and preparing for the race season.

If you can, have the same person make the shock adjustments. That way, you will know the adjustments are correct and consistent.


10. Think That Shock Adjustments Can Fix Any Problem

Sometimes, it feels like shock adjustments can fix nearly anything.

While shock adjustments are typically the best way to improve performance on track, it's not the ONLY thing to consider. Your shocks are just one component of your suspension system. And the suspension is just one tunable aspect of the entire car.

Always take the time to give your setup and all fundamental elements of the chassis a good look-over before dialing in the shocks.

Master the Process of Suspension Tuning Guide
The first step in optimizing your suspension is genuinely understanding it. That’s why we compiled this guide. To provide all the information you need to master the process of tuning your suspension and optimizing your vehicle’s performance.



 Are You Still Not Sure You're In The Clear?

It's okay if you avoided the above pitfalls and still have a significant issue with your setup.

There is a reason why these things can get complicated. There are a lot of delicate moving parts in suspension tuning.

Every setup has its unique hurdles to overcome. We know this at Penske Racing Shocks. We have been building racing shocks for decades, and we have seen it all.

We developed the Penske Racing Shocks S3 Process (Shocks + Setup + Support) for precisely this reason.

Reach out to us today to hear more about the S3 Process.

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Shocks 101
Aaron Lambert
Post by Aaron Lambert
June 1, 2022
After completing high school, Aaron joined Penske Racing Shocks in 2000 as a damper technician. Since then, Aaron served in multiple management and technical rolls in the company and oversaw all major sales markets including Short Track, NASCAR, Sports Car, and IndyCar. He spearheaded the company’s successful return to the Late Model market as well as the new S-link shock dyno product line. In addition, Aaron handles all dealer relationships and has been a driving force behind Penske Racing Shocks’ long term in-house manufacturing strategy . Aaron was promoted to General Manager in 2019, a position he currently holds.
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