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.
Perhaps the best improvements in thread lockers are the gel and stick forms. They make usi
Thread locker: Loctite and Permatex are the names most racers think of when reaching for a thread locker.
Permatex has recently introduced thread locker in a gel form. As the name implies, the gel goes on much thicker than the traditional liquid, which makes it well suited for use on Saturday night, when you are under the car, holding a mini flashlight between your teeth, a wrench in one hand, and a bolt in the other.
Loctite has come up with its own easy-to-use variation. It's a thread locker in stick form. On bolts, all you do is roll the threaded portion in the compound and assemble.
The one you pick depends on which company you prefer.
Mark Lane uses thread locker on the suspension pieces of a Modified at Sunset Speedway in
Or you might opt for one of each brand and use it depending on which seems most appropriate for your application.
Penetrating oil: There are as many products on the market as there are manufacturers, so there are a variety of options.
My personal pick is PB Blaster. I have no idea what is in the stuff, but it seems to work better and faster than anything else I've tried-and I've tried just about every brand on the market.
I recommended it to a friend who ran an auto wrecking yard (where stuff has to come apart in one piece if it is to be of any value) and after the first can, he ordered it by the case.
Radiator sealant: I was never a fan of this kind of stuff until I had to use it. The race car I was crewing on developed a pinhole where the filler neck was welded to it, and we simply didn't have enough time to remove it and do a proper repair.
The trackside parts supplier recommended a stop-leak, so we dumped half a bottle into the system and hoped for the best. Thirty minutes later the car came off the track, the outside of the radiator was bone dry, and it hadn't lost a drop of water.
I've since discovered that a number of racers add a bottle of Barr's or Justice Brothers stop-leak into their systems simply to cure minor leaks that come from dirt and debris being thrown up into the core. It's probably a good idea if you race on dirt and plan to finish the race.
Carb/brake cleaner: This is one of those things you probably already carry. Few racers can make it through a night without having to clean off something before working on it.
There are two different formulas for two different applications. Carb cleaner is made especially for the alloys used in carbs and intake manifolds. Brake cleaner is designed for the type of gunk that fills up around shoes and pads. While each one will work on the other type of part, it's best to use each one on what it was designed to clean.
Carb cleaner also removes excess fuel deposits from fouled spark plugs and encourages them to fire again.
Don't even think about using either one of them without safety glasses and nitryl gloves.
Starting fluid: I've seen guys do all sorts of things to get a reluctant engine to fire up, from dribbling gas to shooting carb cleaner in the air cleaner intake. None of them are good ideas, and they won't work as well as conventional starting fluid.
Pyroil starting fluid, manufactured by Valvoline, may be the best available. If your engine won't fire up on this stuff, your problem isn't lack of fuel.
Flat-tire fix: There's a limit to how good this stuff is, so if your competition ran a bumper through your left front in Turn 3, don't expect magic in a can to get you back onto the track.
However, if your wheel has been kissed a bit and the sealing rim has become a tad bent, or if you ran over a piece of debris on the track and have a tiny leak in your Street Stock radial, this stuff may save the day.
Valvoline and Radiator Specialty Company/Gunk make a long line of tire sealers, along with other products familiar to do-it-yourself racers.
Be sure to read the directions. You may have to put your leaking front tire on the rear and run the engine a bit just to get the goo to circulate and seal the hole.
It seems like every car has a screw, nut, or bolt that falls in the grass at least twice b
Clear silicone: It's the same stuff you use to seal seams around bathtubs, sinks, and showers. It dries quickly, provides a waterproof seal, and comes in handy for a variety of uses.
Got a sheetmetal screw that keeps coming loose? A bit of silicone on the threads is almost guaranteed to keep it in place. It can also be used on the top of those tiny brass screws and nuts on electrical connectors or on the backside of dashboard gauges.
Who hasn't been frustrated with a nut that keeps falling out of a socket, or a screwhole that is so remote that it is almost impossible to get the screw where it belongs? You can put a dab of clear silicone on the head of the screw (or on the edge of the nut) and let it set up for a few minutes. The silicone will hold the screw or nut in place until you can get it lined up and properly positioned.
While silicone isn't as good as thread locker, it can be a quick fix for a non-stressed bolt that keeps backing out of a hole.
I use it around the rubber boots on the distributor cap. Push the plug wire into the cap. Then, before you slide the boot into place, skim the inside with clear silicone. It helps keep everything where it belongs, provides an extra layer of insulation, and makes the wire connection virtually waterproof.
Marcus Janes carries his own assortment of sealers and supplies when he goes racing in his
Shopping: There is no way the preceding list is complete. It is simply based on being around race cars and racers for a number of years and seeing what has worked.
And you may have your own favorite, or an innovative idea of how to use a conventional product in a non-conventional application.
That said, it pays to prowl the shelves at your local parts store. Just because a product has worked well for you over the past decade doesn't mean some manufacturer hasn't come out with a better one.
Most of the producers maintain a Web site that introduces their product line, describes how to use them, and instructs the consumer about safety precautions he or she should follow.