If you shop around a bit, everything in this basic race-day box of chemicals can be purcha
When racers talk about "chemistry" they most often are discussing that special bond between a driver and crew that brings victories and championships. But there is another type of chemistry-one often overlooked by short-track racers-that can mean the difference between making the show or going home early.
Over the past decade, researchers have come up with a variety of chemical solutions often able to save the day, or night, and get an ailing car back on the track.
None of the compounds work miracles. But some come pretty darn close.
I've patched a radiator with a two-part epoxy and bits of a beer can. Magic in a tube has stopped a chronic gearbox oil leak, and instant flat repair let me finish a race and eventually win a championship. I've also crewed on a car halfway around the world, where a leaking valve cover that couldn't be fixed with what we had on hand cost us a probable Top 10 finish.
There are some chemicals every racer should simply pack in the trailer or back of the pickup before heading to the track. They are cheap insurance for when things go wrong (they can't all be fixed with a wrench). This allows you to at least give it your best shot.
Marcus Janes, who races in the Pacific Northwest, tosses everything he might want in a plastic box that sits in a corner of his trailer until he needs something to fix his Dirt Modified.
"I'm always surprised by the people who don't think ahead and pack some of this stuff with them," he says. His box contains a basic assortment of sealers, thread lockers, extra brake fluid, and even water for the cooling system.
"It isn't always everything we need," he says. "But it is the stuff we most often use."
A half-dozen or more manufacturers produce lines of chemicals and compounds. Permatex, Justice Brothers, Valvoline/Pyroil, Cyclo, and Radiator Specialty Company (Gunk) are among the names with which you may be most familiar. Most of the larger companies market similar products, so the choice is really one of availability, personal preference, and what you grew up using in your own shop.
If you do some shopping, a basic box of lubricants, sealers, and special oils can be put together for under $50. A complete assortment will be more expensive, and much of it may sit for years before being used. The cost-effective solution is to get two or three friendly racers to pitch in and buy the comprehensive package, and then agree that whoever uses something simply replaces it before the next race.
A word of caution before you pop the top on whatever you decide to use: Most of these products are made up of some pretty nasty chemicals, the type of stuff that can cause real health problems. I don't know exactly what polydimethylsiloxane is, but I'm pretty sure I don't want it on my hot dog or on my hands. Any trackside chemical kit must include at least two pairs of nitryl gloves to prevent your skin from absorbing any of the compounds. It also should include a pair of inexpensive safety glasses, which should be considered a must anytime a crew member is spraying carb or brake cleaner.
Gloves and goggles are cheap, but they look very professional.
Here are the basics everyone should carry:
Anyone who does serious repair on race cars knows about J-B Weld and similar two-part epox
Quick-set epoxy: Mention J-B Weld to anyone who has ever worked on an engine and he or she will know exactly what you mean. There isn't much the stuff won't join and hold together, and it is good enough that many temporary trackside repairs simply become permanent.
There is a variety of forms for this stuff. The most familiar comes in two tubes that are mixed in equal parts and then applied to clean, dry surfaces.
There is a more recent quick-set version that looks and acts the same but simply sets up faster.
The newest variation comes in a pre-measured stick form, with one part inside the other (think multicolored toothpaste). Simply cut off as much as you need, and then begin kneading it. The stick form sets up fast, so don't begin working it unless you are a couple of minutes away from applying it. Its best attribute is it maintains a chewing gum consistency up to the point it hardens, so it can be jammed into holes or cracks or spread out across a wide surface.
"The original product was the twin-tube epoxy," says Todd Murphy, director of sales for J-B Weld. "Today there are even variations that can seal holes in radiators or gas tanks without draining them.
"The product line has been really expanded since then, with a number of specialty items for racers who need a quick fix," Murphy adds.
RTV Silicone: RTV stands for "room temperature vulcanizing." Permatex is probably the best known of the manufacturers, with a long line of sealants.
My personal favorite is Ultra Grey because it is designed for high-torque, high-vibration applications, which covers most of what we do to engines in race cars.
It is a great "cover" for things that you may want to use a couple of times (e.g., valve cover gaskets). It also works well to help compensate for the different heat expansion characteristics where aluminum and cast-iron parts mate.
It is good up to 625 degrees, so there are few places where it won't do the job.
Under ideal conditions, you apply it and let it set for 24 hours. Yeah, like that's going to happen at a racetrack. Under less than ideal conditions, there are few leaks it won't stop.
Ultra Grey also works well in place of old-fashioned paper gaskets often found in import gearboxes, which are prone to leak when asked to contain today's synthetic oils.
"The Right Stuff" is one of a couple of similar gasket makers that can save the day when y
Gasket maker: Loctite calls it "Ready Gasket." Permatex names it "The Right Stuff." Either one is as close to magic in a can as you will ever find at a racetrack.
They are great on-track substitutes for the paper gasket you tore while pulling the water pump or for the valve cover gasket that insists on leaking no matter what you do.
It comes in a pressurized can and works as a substitute for gaskets. It is so good that GM, Ford, and Chrysler use it during initial assembly at the engine plant.
Unlike most RTVs, the instructions for Permatex and Loctite say to assemble the parts within five minutes, torque to factory specs, and resume racing.
Those are the kind of directions any racer loves to read.