Why Shocks are Such an Important Part of Your Race Car Setup

Aaron Lambert
Post by Aaron Lambert
December 20, 2021
Why Shocks are Such an Important Part of Your Race Car Setup

The most successful drivers understand that knowing their car inside out gives them an edge over their competition.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for the optimal race car setup. Every driver is different and has quirks and preferences that determine adjustments needed. But what all drivers agree on is that a car that doesn’t handle well won’t perform optimally.

While many drivers give equal care and attention to the chassis, tires, brakes, and engine, you stand to gain the most performance improvement when focusing on your suspension.


The Importance Of Shocks In Your Race Car Setup

The main focus of a suspension is the shock absorber and spring package. Shock absorbers are critically essential devices for any vehicle as they can alter handling, ride, tire grip, and even aerodynamic stability.

Depending on your application, rules, and budget, there are many shock types and internals to choose from. Just blindly searching for the various shock manufacturers and their products wastes time and money without first knowing how shocks work to improve your race car setup.

Let’s dive into what shocks are and how they help level up your performance.


What is a Shock Absorber?

Without getting bogged down in the science, in race car setups, a shock absorber (sometimes called a damper) is a hydraulic device designed to absorb and damp shock impulses and reduce oscillations and dissipate energy created by the springs, allowing your tires to maintain traction at all times.

Spring-based shock absorbers commonly use coil springs or leaf springs. Their primary job is to control the speed your wheels move up and down, and they perform this job by stopping your springs from compressing and rebounding too quickly.

They use valving of oil and gasses to absorb and dissipate (usually through heat) excess energy from the springs. Oil flow is controlled by the main piston and base valve inside the shock. The resistance oil experiences while moving through the piston and base valve is called damping force.

As the oil moves relative to the piston and base valve, the kinetic energy converts to thermal energy, which dissipates into the atmosphere. Compression and subsequent rebound strokes convert and dissipate energy, allowing the shocks to absorb bumps and obstacles instead of being translated to you.


How Does it Work?

Springs support your car’s weight and absorb or damp the various shocks generated from road friction, and ensure the wheels track the road’s surface as it changes. Over track bumps or curbs, the spring compresses, absorbing the force, and then rebounds to release the energy.

Springs control the distance at which the wheel moves up and down, but the shocks control the speed at which they move up and down by stopping the spring from compressing or rebounding too quickly. 

Depending on your setup, they can also separately handle the compression and rebound of the springs. Stiffer shocks slow spring rates, and softer shocks allow the springs to move faster.

Shocks control the tire contact patch over bumps.

If a shock is too stiff, it can cause the tire contact patch to bounce off the road surface over bumps, making your car feel less predictable. However, too soft shocks will make the body of your car or bike bounce after hitting a bump or rut.

In a racing situation, traction loss can result in poor handling, and ultimately, poor race performance. It’s essential to find the middle ground between comfort and performance to perform with confidence.


Why Would You Make Adjustments to Your Shocks?

As a driver, you’ll want to find a balance between comfort and speed. Every driver is different.

You might prefer a loose suspension and can handle a car that moves around a lot. Other drivers prefer a stiffer suspension as they don’t mind feeling small bumps and prefer a more stable platform.

Depending on the type of driving you do, you can adjust shocks to optimize performance by adjusting compression and rebound damper settings. Highly adjustable shocks also allow for high-speed and low-speed damping.


How do you Know Which Shocks are Best for Your Race Car Setup?

Before deciding which brand you purchase your shocks from, ask these eight questions.

Penske Racing Shocks is a custom shock manufacturer, and every single shock is billet machined and hand-built. PRS constantly investigates ways to improve their products and service to their customers.

Purchasing your custom shocks is the only first part of the equation. How easy are they to install? Do you need help and continued support? Reach out today to learn more about the Penske Racing Shocks S3 process (Shocks + Setup + Support) and get help with the three areas needed for success.

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Shocks 101
Aaron Lambert
Post by Aaron Lambert
December 20, 2021
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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