Being prepared is the biggest advantage any racer can have when the green flag drops. One of the best ways to be prepared is to complete a thorough inspection of the car. The idea is to stop trouble before it starts.

We spoke with a group of racers in various types of racing for their top post-race inspection tips. The common ground in their advice is safety. A good inspection is not only about being ready, but being safe as well.

Charlie Armstrong, of Alexander, Arkansas, is an IMCA Modified dirt-track racer. He has thought much about safety, especially since breaking his foot in a multi-car racing accident.

“Safety is not only a priority, it is a must,” Armstrong says.

Keep It Safe

• Check all Grade 8 SAE bolts for self-locking nuts. Make sure they are still in place and tight.

• Make weekly checks for frame damage and cracks in welding. This is more important on dirt where the track can attack a car.

• Check seatbelts weekly. Watch for rips, tears, ease-of-release mechanisms and mounting points. Check specifically for wear at points where the belts go through the seat. Look under the seat to see the mounting of the submarine belt.

• Check brakes after every race. Are the pads cooked? Are the bleed valves tight, hoses/lines not damaged/nicked? Rotors should not be discolored or cracked. Spin rotors to check for warp. Are rotor vents and calipers blocked with debris?

Parts Checks

Once all the safety checks are complete, the list is broken down to specific areas of the car.

“We go from the outside of the car to the inside,” Armstrong says.

• Spindles. Check for gouges in all machined areas, excessive play in bearings and spindle washer/nuts. Look for cracks in tie-rod holes.

• Hubs. Check for excessive play in bearings, the condition of threads on the lugs and how the lugs are mounted to the hub. Slowly spin the hub to check for out-of-round. Hubs are the first item Armstrong checks. He looks for cracks in the stud holes.

• Upper/lower ball joints. Check the mounting, excessive play and threads for damage and sufficient grease.

• Upper/lower A-arms. Check all nuts for tightness, arms for bends or gouges, bushings for wear and the mounting plate for cracked welds at the frame.

• Tie-rod ends and sleeves. Look for bends or gouges, excessive play in the ends and cracks in the sleeves. Are washers/nuts cotter pinned properly? Are the sleeve nuts tight?

• Steering box including pitman and idler arms. Use a ball-joint spreader to check the flex in each piece, look for leaks in the power steering box, pump and lines. Run through left/right turns to check for binds and less than desired travel.

• Center link. This is a piece that should be painted regularly. Paint will chip if hit by a rock or flexed enough to bend. Check holes for taper and wear, and check that the washers and cotter pins are properly attached.

• Brake lines. Check each line one at a time to ensure thoroughness. Start at the master cylinder and go to each corner of the car with a clean rag to check for leaks. Then run your fingers along each line to check for nicks and gouges. Look for kinks and sharper than normal bends that could cut the flow of fluid. All fasteners—including hold-down clamps—should be tight.

• Calipers. Are the mounting and hold-together bolts tight? Are the bleeders tight and not roughed up? Is/are the pin(s) that floats the pads without bind? Is the pad wear OK and evenly distributed?

• Radiator and cap. Is it clogged? Are too many fins bent? Check all mounts for secure fasteners. Is the cap tight and in working order?

• Shocks. Check all mountings, nuts and cotter pins (if used) for proper installation. Any dents in the outer tube? Are the shafts free of gouges? Look closely for any contact from nearby components.

• Brake fluid condition and level. Check the smell, color and texture for overheated damage. Is there enough fluid in the master cylinder? Are the master cylinder mounting bolts tight?

• Driveshaft. Check U-joints for excessive wear/play, the shaft for straightness and the welds for cracks. Look closely for how much shaft comes out of the tranny. Marking is one way to see if the two are separating. Any scratches on the main body or ends? How close is it to the safety loop?

• Lower control arms. Check for straightness and any bends. Check mounts, bolts, nuts and bushings for pullout. If you have any spherical rod endings, make sure they have the proper washers installed.

• Upper control arms/pull bars. Same as above, plus check the tension on the pullbar.

• Rear-end housing and gears. Check all cover nuts/bolts. Check for leaks at pinion and housing locations as well as axle ends of the housing. Are brake mountings tight? Are axle tubes straight? Is there too much pinion play? Are all mountings of arms and shocks tight and not cracked at the welds? And don’t forget the simple one—enough fluid in the rear?

• Track bars. Check for straightness, mounting of bolts, nuts and washers. Check mountings for cracks in brackets and welds.

• Fuel cell. Check for any new scratches or dents on the outside container. If found, check inside. Are the fittings for fuel pickup and inlet tight? Fuel filter and mounting tight? Is the cell mounted securely to the frame? Make an attempt to regularly check the ball-check valve when the cell is empty to ensure correct operation in a rollover. When the cell is out of the container, check the bladder for abrasions, rips and tears. Every time you look at the fuel cell, always check for leaks.

Engine Bay

In the engine bay, the checklist becomes more itemized because there’s more to monitor. In fact, the lists we’ve seen are more than double in numbers when it comes to checking the engine.

That was the case when we talked to Rick Knowles of Willis, Michigan, who races a pavement Late Model at Toledo, Ohio, and Flat Rock, Michigan. Knowles says his team does a very thorough inspection of the engine to make sure it is running properly.

“I tell my guys to not be insulted if I double check them and they can double check me because the idea is to find the problems first. It doesn’t matter who finds it. We use a team approach to inspecting the engine. Spark plug wires are always a problem when they come off after we check the gaps. So we use one guy to check that and he announces he has finished that part of the inspection so the rest of us know it,” Knowles says.

“We break it down to the upper and lower parts of the motor for two guys to look over. But everybody looks for oil leaks. It doesn’t matter who checks the throttle linkage, I always check that again myself.”

Such a complete inspection can require absolute concentration.

“Checking nuts and bolts is one thing we do patriotically,” Knowles says. “These things have a tendency to shake nuts and bolts loose. I also do a sort of ‘pre-flight’ at the track where I jiggle the wheels and look for loose bearings and bad joints in the car.”

Here are some other engine checks from Knowles:

• Check all hoses and clamps. Look for tears, cuts and leaks and check the tightness of clamps. Some racers use two clamps per hose end to ensure tightness.

• Check all belts and pulleys. Look for wear or irregular wear, loose pulleys and nicks.

• Check fluid levels for content and leaks. This includes power steering, oil, clutch, radiator and brakes.

• Check overflow tanks (radiator and oil) and drain if needed. Look for fluid leaks or stains from leaks.

• Check to make sure valve covers are tight and not leaking.

• Are the pulley brackets tight? Check the alignment of belts.

• Check and clean the radiator. Remove rubber and dirt, and check the condition of the fins. Look for leaks.

• Air-box seals. Look for openings in the air box. Is the seal intact?

• Radiator mounts. Are they tight and not cracked?

• Check fan blades for damage. Check the fan’s mounting bolts for tightness.

• Electrical connections. Check for loose connections including the battery, kill switch, starter, cockpit switches, terminal block and ignition. Check the condition of all wires and terminals.

• Charge the battery.

• Make sure the oil pressure light works.

• Check fuel lines from the fuel cell to the carburetor. Check for kinks, leaks, bends and wear.

• Throttle linkage and springs. Check for “no-bind” operation. Check for at least two fully operational return springs.

• Motor mounts. Check for tightness, bends and cracks.

• Distributor cap, rotor and wires. Check distributor cap for cracks and wear, rotor for chips and wear, wires for secure fastening on both ends and burnt or discolored wires.

• Shifter linkage. Are all fasteners secure? Does the shifter move freely and does it fully engage the gears?

• Check all engine and tranny nuts and bolts for tightness.