All the pieces to be used...
All the pieces to be used during a test session-such as this pair of front spindles-are trial fit in the shop before the car heads to the track. The pull-down equipment allows the team to assemble everything it needs to test a new part and have it set aside and ready for a quick swap. June Boone
"I can visualize what the car is doing," he says. "I know how all the pieces work together. I just wish we could get them out on the track and make them work."
This day there is different work to do. Jefferson teases the controls on a set of valves that power the hydraulic rams that raise and lower the chassis on steel stands he and Carruthers built. The rams can change the attitude of the car to mimic how the suspension will be loaded as Jefferson or Jim Warn-who will be a rookie in the series this year-drive into a corner.
Carruthers designed the system with help from an industrial hydraulic supply center in nearby Walla Walla.
"They had no idea what I was talking about," he says, "so they sent one of their guys out here to see what we were going to do with them."
Jefferson figures every team that hopes to run near the front of the field has something similar. Some, he guesses, are more complicated and more expensive, while others are even more basic and cheaper.
"I don't know how you could set up one of these cars without something like it," he says.
In recent years, racecar suspensions have moved away from huge springs and modest size sway bars to thin, low-pressure springs and sway bars the size of old growth cedars.
"It's completely reverse thinking from when I began driving," says Jefferson, who works at the shop full-time, after commuting two hours each way from his home. "When I began, the last thing you wanted was coil bind. Now you design the suspension to completely collapse the right front spring in the corner."
"It's all new to us," adds Carruthers, the crew chief, who calls the work at the shop "pre-testing."
"We've got so much to learn that anything we can discover in the shop will save us time at the track," he says.
He tells Jefferson to bring the left front of the car down a tad, then eases himself from beneath the car to look at its attitude.
"That's about how it will look on the track," he says. "When you look under the hood at things like fender clearances, there really isn't much room to work with."
Carruthers figures that for every hour one of the cars will spend on the track, it will spend days and days in the shop. He knows now is the time to build the car to perform, and use the time on the track to confirm his theories.
"If you go to the track with specific ideas in mind, with certain things to test and if you are ready to do them, it can be very valuable time. If you haven't done a lot of the preparation in the shop, you are going to waste a lot of time and money at the track."
Carruthers says he didn't always know that.
"I remember when I was beginning," he says. "We took a car to Phoenix with two sets of springs, two sets of shocks and two sets of tires. We had no idea what a test session was.
"We got there and unloaded and saw how the other teams were prepared and I was pretty embarrassed. I was young and had no idea what we were doing.
"But at the time, I was convinced I did."
Today, he shows up with every piece on the car already tested for fit. He knows exactly what companion changes he must make if he wants to try a different spindle angle or softer spring.
Chuck Carruthers, left, and...
Chuck Carruthers, left, and Jeff Jefferson examine the effect of chassis load on a racecar's suspension. The pull-down equipment may not be as fancy as what teams such as Richard Childress Racing use, but it is just as effective. June Boone
The test window is narrow and track time is expensive, so the crew practices swapping the parts before leaving for the test session, so no one is standing around, scratching his head and wondering what to do next.
"What we are doing now is pretty boring work," Carruthers says. "But it pays off. It means that during the time we spend at the track we are learning things we can't learn at the shop, instead of learning things at the track we should already know.
"And I've come to recognize that I think a lot better in the shop than I do at the track, so it pays to get everything planned out before we load up."
He is fanatical about documentation, organization and keeping to a plan, even if it means compromising in some areas.