If your steering system has...
If your steering system has a lot of slop or doesn't provide precise feel from the front wheels to the steering wheel, you simply cannot drive as well as you are capable.
There is a reason that most Mini-Stock (or other four-cylinder) events are dominated by Fox body Ford Mustangs. Ford's Fox platform for the Mustang ran from production years 1979 through 1993, and was an incredibly popular car. It was relatively lightweight, cheap, and featured good handling. And here's a plus for stock car racers: The four-cylinder engine offered in the base Mustangs, as well as Ranger pickups, is an excellent motor option for Mini-Stock racing.
The problem is, the Mustang is also popular among drag racers and street performance enthusiasts, and the junkyards are quickly drying up of suitable donor cars.
Besides that, one area where you may not want to depend on the junkyard for your parts supply is the steering system. Mustangs use a space-saving rack-and-pinion design that is easy to install and works well. But it is also designed for power steering assist. Most racers simply use the power rack with the hoses cut or plugged shut and live with it. But the power rack usually has a high ratio (normally 2.5 turns lock-to-lock) which can deaden steering feel and make driving the car more difficult.
Plus, depending on a junkyard for your steering system can be a gamble. "If the car has been in a wreck, the rack can be damaged in ways you cannot see," explains Flaming River's Steve Cole, one of the industry's top manufacturers of performance steering systems. "If the guy at the scrap yard has already pulled the rack off of the chassis, you won't even have a chance to see if the car was wrecked. A hit at the rear of the car is no big deal, but if the car has been hit on the front, especially if the wheels have absorbed an impact, the tube can be bent or cracked, or the gear teeth can be cracked or broken.
"Also, if you are trying to race with a steering rack you've pulled off of an older car, even if it works, you don't know how much wear it has gone through. If you are trying to race a piece that is just about worn out, it can affect your ability to drive the car. With a Flaming River unit, you know you are getting completely new parts. That includes a new pinion gear, a new housing, and even new tie rod ends. This keeps everything nice and tight so you get excellent feel and your steering inputs are precise."
A secondary benefit of an aftermarket rack is the ability to ditch the extra weight and complexity that comes with the unnecessary power steering assist mechanisms. Since Mini-Stock racers aren't willing to suffer the horsepower loss of running a power-steering pump, replacing the stock power rack for an aftermarket manual rack not only cuts weight, but also functions better on the track. Flaming River offers different ratios depending on your needs. For example, the rack that racer and car owner Patrick Norwood installed in his Mini-Stock for this story is a Flaming River quick ratio unit. The 15:1 ratio, while labeled "quick" (it is compared to the 20:1 standard manual rack), is still slower than the power steering rack at 3.3 turns lock-to-lock. This means less work to turn the car, more precision from the steering wheel, and less "dead" feel from the rack in return.
In the following, we've documented a Flaming River steering system install into a Mini-Stock owned by Norwood. This steering system will work on any Mustang chassis that still has a stock cross member as well as any fabricated front clip designed to work with the popular Mustang components.
This is the Flaming River...
This is the Flaming River system. It includes a quick ratio manual rack, U-joints, a support bearing, and a quick-disconnect for the steering wheel.
It is possible to race with...
It is possible to race with the stock steering shaft, but as you can see here, it is far more cumbersome and heavy than necessary.
New replacement tie rod ends...
New replacement tie rod ends for Fox-era Mustangs are easily available from most auto parts stores. Norwood found that the set he purchased needed to be clearanced with a grinder in order to fully thread onto the ends of the rack.