You've completed the season at your local short track and now it's time to quit banging fenders for a few months and regroup for next year. It would be easy--too easy, in fact--to pull your car into the garage, pull the garage door down, and forget about racing for a while. That would be a mistake, however, because there's a short list of things you need to do in order to store your car for the winter.
First of all, now would be a good time to freshen up the engine, provided you'll need to do that before racing again. Check the valves and valvespring wear, pull the oil filter off, cut it open, and look for problems (metal debris) there, and look at your records to see if it's time for a rebuild. Take the time to do a few simple things to your car now. Putting them off could cause problems later.
"There's not a lot to do, but there's a lot that people don't do," says Todd Fenoff of Pride Performance Motorsports. "They say, 'Well, I'll do it this weekend,' and this weekend they have a party and put it off until next weekend. Then they've got a family reunion or something else comes up. It's just something you need to do, and then the first race next year you're not running through all your problems, such as: 'Why is the motor skipping? Why does the No. 3 cylinder not have compression? Why are the rings not seated?'"
Engine rust is a potential culprit for a car that's stored for a long period of time, so take the time to guard against it. Ben Barnes of Barnes and Reece Racing Engines offers advice on how to do that.
"Crank the engine up and get it to normal operating temperature," says Barnes. "Then take some lightweight oil, 10 weight or something of that nature, and pour it in the carburetor with the motor running. Pour it in until the engine starts smoking out the exhaust real good, and then shut the engine off. What that does is it lubricates the cylinder walls and the rings to where it doesn't rust over the winter.
"If the motor is real dry, it will create some rust in the cylinders. If you get oil on those cylinder walls, they will not rust. When you put a new set of spark plugs in it in the springtime and crank it up, let it run slow and it will burn all that oil out of there, and you're ready to go.
"If you don't do that and it does rust a little, the first time the rings run across the cylinder wall it's going to wipe that rust off," Barnes continues. "Now, the particles that get rubbed off will be stuck on the rings or on the pistons. That could cause premature wear either on the rings or on the cylinder walls, which would eventually cause it to start having blow-by, and you would have to overhaul it. It's not a 100-percent occurrence, but it's what could potentially happen."
Next, you should drain the water from the cooling system. Go beyond merely pulling the radiator hose off, however, and remove the freeze (core) plugs from the engine block, making sure to drain the water completely out. "Don't put antifreeze or anything else in it to keep from freezing--get the water out," says Barnes. Before you replace the plugs, squirt some WD-40 or similar lubricant in there to prevent rust.
The next thing is to loosen the valve adjustment, backing the adjusting nuts to where you take all the pressure off the springs. That's not a necessity, according to Barnes, but releasing pressure from the valvesprings can only help. Also, seal the carburetor off and take the headers loose and tape the exhaust ports up.
Then drain the gas from the tank, making sure to take the fuel lines and the fuel pump loose to drain all the fuel there as well. Likewise, drain the brake fluid, again making sure the lines are clear, and store the car with new fluid. Brake fluid put under the heat and stress of oval track racing can deteriorate quickly, so it's imperative to thoroughly clean the system. If you store the car with fluid in the system, putting in fresh fluid at the start of next season will eliminate the possibility of using fluid that has deteriorated over the winter.
Fenoff recommends an oil change as well. "If I have a car that's going to sit outside, I'll change the oil in it," he says. "When you're running, sometimes condensation will collect in an engine, so you might have a little water in it that will freeze. The best policy is to drain it all out and put new oil in. Make sure your rear end and transmission both have good grease in them also. They get so much heat that it's a good idea to have fresh grease in there."
Barnes says to rotate a rear wheel every few weeks as another way to combat possible moisture buildup. "What that would do is put grease back all over the ring gear and pinion, the quick-change gears, and so forth," says Barnes.
While the car is in storage for a few months, it would also be a good idea to go over all the nuts and bolts, looking closely to make sure there are no damaged parts that have gone undetected. You should thoroughly inspect all the bolts and tighten everything down. Remember, a little preventive maintenance will go a long way toward a successful start for next season.
"We have customers who at the end of the racing season turn the switch off and never touch them until they get ready to race again in the spring," says Barnes. "It's a matter of preference. Some people will say you've got to do it and some people will say it's not necessary. It's always good to practice preventive maintenance, though."