If you have been racing long enough, eventually stuff gets bent. In most cases, those unfortunate impacts that crease body panels and flake off paint are accidental, while other times, these events are shamefully intentional. Regardless of who had the racing line, who is at fault, or if the shunt was intentional or not, the resulting damage needs to be fixed. NASA prides itself on running a professional series, and the caliber of cars at the 2019 NASA Championships at Mid-Ohio presented by Toyo Tires proved how far the series has come along since NASA’s humble Pro RX-7 beginnings more than 25 years ago.
One of the reasons the aesthetics of the cars racing in NASA look so professional is because of the rule book requiring such a high bar of presentation. In NASA’s Club Codes and Regulations in the Racing and Competition Section, Chapter 18.0 General Competition Vehicle Rules, there is an important decree that keeps NASA racing cars looking more professional than your average dirt-track racer. That rule is 18.1.3 Car Condition and states the following: “All competition vehicles must be in good condition. Excessive body damage, primered body panels, etc., will not be allowed. The vehicle’s mechanical condition must always meet the safety requirements and not pose a hazard. The vehicle may be inspected for safety violations at any time while at the race facility. The competition vehicles must meet the “50/50” rule that means they must look undamaged and straight at fifty (50) mph from fifty (50) feet. Only the Race Director, Executive Director, Regional Director, or the race promoter may grant exceptions to this rule.”
NASA isn’t requiring that any damage be repaired to Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance standards. They are simply asking their members to try to get a car back into shape enough that it looks good as it goes down the racetrack. That is what the fans want to see, and at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, we actually had lots of fans in stands. As a person who has had his fair — and unfair — amount of contact over the years, I have learned a few tricks that can help you fix your car, even if you aren’t a body and paint man. A few tools, some simple must-have items in your trailer, and you will have your car ready to pass the 50/50 rule and get you back out on track.
RUB ONE OUT
One of my favorite tools for getting rubber off my hood and windshield after an on-track session and also to quickly remove rubber and paint transfers after some “rubbin’ is racin’” moments is Mothers’ R3 Racing Rubber Remover. I would like the shake the hand of the chemist that came up with this stuff because he or she got it right. It wipes away sticky rubber transfers in one swipe. With a little more elbow grease it also helps rub away paint transfers from paint, wheels, anything. When I have an impact to my racecar, I start with this stuff to take away all of the gunk that is visually ugly from the crash and then see what I am left with.
The next step after you have most of the transfers washed away is to see where some metal work needs to be done. It is time to get out the B.M.F.H. You know, the big, uh, hammer.
The trick to using a big hammer is to go easy at first. If you pound too hard, you will pop the dent out and push the metal too far the other way. Then you have to go back that direction, and things start to look wavy. I like to have my hand on the outside of a body panel and feel the force and the flexing of the dent as I add force to my hammer hits. I’m not a trained body man, I’m simply a guy who has had to learn how to fix dents at the track quickly. I’ve learned that the right amount of hit in just the right spot might pop the entire dent out with one smack. The lucky smack if you get it right, — or the seven hundred unlucky smacks if you aren’t as fortunate. Eventually, the metal will go the direction you want.
TOUCH IT UP
Pro Tip: Before you go to your next race pick up a small bottle of touch up paint that matches the paint code of your racecar (or something relatively close). These are around $20 and commercially available at most auto parts stores. You would be surprised how much damage you can hide with a small amount of touch up paint.
Remember this is the 50/50 rule, the car just needs to look good from 50 feet away at 50 miles per hour. Sure, using a toenail brush to paint a car won’t win you any car show awards, but this ain’t a car show, it’s a high speed road race and the car just needs to look good at high speeds. Don’t over think it. Just fix it before the next session.
COLOR GRABS THE EYE
You can see in the above photos that our Mothers’ Racing Rubber Remover, our hammer, and some touch up paint didn’t quite get the entire job done. A lot of sponsor stickers were trashed from the contact. I’m not an artist and I don’t bring paint to match every color sticker on the car. But, I do bring spare pieces of vinyl and some scissors. You would be surprised how much you can fix decals with some tiny strategically cut pieces of vinyl.
I don’t go crazy trying to make the decals absolutely perfect. I simply put enough vinyl in position that it tricks the eye into thinking the sponsor sticker is undamaged and readable. After the race weekend, I can use the vinyl cutter and make an new sticker, but at the track these little patches are good enough.
GOOD ENOUGH FOR GOVERNMENT WORK
Below you can see the before and after pictures of a quick repair in the track garage at Mid-Ohio. Those repairs were done to make sure when our car hit the grid for the big race it looked great. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say it looked great, but it looked great from 50 feet away and 50 miles an hour anyway. And that is all that mattered.
NASA’s 50/50 rule is an important part of our sport because it forces us to bring a professional looking car to grid. Trust me, I can tell you from hanging around dirt-track pits that without that rule NASA would look more like a destruction derby at your local fairgrounds. Rubbin’ is racin’ and racecar drivers will always prioritize speed over aesthetics. Grab a few supplies and toss them in your trailer so you will be ready for the next time you and another driver try to occupy the same real estate at the apex of a corner. Spoiler Alert: It never works! You’re going to need the B.M.F.H.!
Rob Krider is a NASA Honda Challenge 4 National Champion and the author of the novel, “Cadet Blues.”