While it’s easy to see that improvements in engine and tire technology have led to increased on-track performance, track prep in recent years has contributed just as much, especially with higher-horsepower, heads-up cars. Over the last several years, the drag racing market has seen increased attention to both the personnel dedicated to the practice, as well as the products used to attain the ultimate traction. Providing the chemicals to make them successful, VP Racing Fuels line of Lane Choice traction products has led to numerous elapsed time and speed records across many drag racing sanctions. We rang up Total Venue Concepts head honcho Kurt Johnson, as well as VP Racing’s Jason Rueckert to help us shine a light on the subject.
Way back in the March 2017 issue of Fastest Street Car magazine, the cover story was the tremendous achievement of the Fiscus/Klugger Racing team and how they laid claim to the first 5-second and 250mph-plus pass on a drag-radial tire. In just the few years since that feat, however, we have now seen Radial vs. the World cars regularly in the 3.5-second range in the 1/8-mile, Street Outlaw cars in the 4.2s, and stick-shifted street cars in a race to the 6s in the quarter-mile. A lack of horsepower has never been an issue, but what has taken racers to the farthest reaches of performance is power management and track prep.
Now a well-prepped track is nothing new, but the chemicals that are employed have improved. Adding to that is a greater attention to detail given to both the application of these products, as well as the maintenance of the racing surface.
VP Racing Fuels jumped into the traction compound arena with its Lane Choice 5 product some 15 years ago. It was of similar makeup to the competition at the time, but cost of production outweighed the retail value, so the company started rethinking it’s chemical makeup.
“We started looking outside the box, and we had some failures early on,” said VP Racing Fuels’ Jason Rueckert. “We had some early petroleum-based compounds that worked great on concrete, but they failed miserably on asphalt.” Soon, VP got it right with LC6, but it didn’t work well in the cold.
“I did R&D for about two years on traction compound and visited over 350 tracks to talk with track owners about individual needs and to compare their comments,” Rueckert explained. “Kurt [Johnson] and I spent a ton of time together while he was at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis.”
The result of that research and development was Lane Choice 7, which debuted in 2011 and has become the go-to traction compound for tracks across the country, especially those that run radial-tire races.
“LC7 works really good,” Johnson noted. “It’s extremely aggressive and offers traction in exceptionally hot track conditions. In my opinion, it is the best stuff out there.” “It’s not forgiving, and that’s what today’s radial-tire-equipped, heads-up machines need for ultimate performance.”
As Johnson has been using LC7 for some time, he’s come to believe that there are occasions when LC7 isn’t the best choice. To that end, he worked with Rueckert and VP Racing Fuels on a new formulation.
“LC7 good from 50 to 150 degrees of track temperature, but its effectiveness also depends on how you prep it and use it,” Johnson said. Another issue he sometimes sees is that bracket cars can struggle with the aggressive nature of the LC7 compound, noting that like big-tire pro mods, bracket cars also need a bit of wheel speed to get moving quickly.
Looking to its original Lane Choice 5 product, VP freshened up the compound, which Johnson says “is more balanced, but not as aggressive as LC7 as a result.”
“I mix LC7 and LC5 and change the mixture based on the ambient and track temperatures as well as the cars we are running,” Johnson explained. “There aren’t many other organizations that I know of that change it based on the cars. They might mix in more methanol to alter one of the compounds, but they aren’t mixing the compounds.”
As you’ve probably come to realize, VP Racing Fuels offers more than just the fuel to keep your racing machine running.
“We are promoting the Lane Choice system; LC5, LC7, and our Starting Line Resin,” Rueckert told us. “It’s an all-encompassing track prep product line.”
Technique For Application
The way traction compound is applied to the racing surface is just as important as the product itself. Years ago, people would just spray it on and call the cars up, but more and more operators are starting to realize that there is more to it than that.
“When we started getting hot and heavy on the radial cars, we use to just load it on, but it wasn’t drying underneath,” Johnson explained. “A couple of years ago, I would spray two medium coats to allow time for the methanol to flash out. Now, we’re spraying three light coats. We continue to learn how to use the VP Products and how they work with the different track surfaces.”
As TVC also offers a track grinding service that not only smoothes out the inconsistencies in the concrete, but also establishes a specific texture for the rubber to grab on to, the application of the rubber and traction compound evolves.
“We continue to learn more about the relationship the rubber has with the surface and texture of the concrete, and how to best apply the traction compound to it. When we spray, you’ll see that it lays down shiny—it needs to flash out, so we’ll wait a bit and sometimes drag it to help it dry—we’re not actually dragging to lay rubber down at that point.”
Something else that factors into track prep is the time taken to accomplish the task, and Johnson is always looking for ways to speed it up.
“We’re working on a small sprayer that installs in front of the dragger that allows for quick touch-ups of a surface rather than running the spray rig every time.” Smaller touch-ups means less drying time and more racing.
Go to tracks across the country and you’ll see a variety of traction compound application devices. As a track manager, Johnson came to realize what operators need from the equipment, and when he set out on his own with his Total Venue Concepts company, he dove right into creating a spray rig that not only applied the products better, but will also save the track owners money in the process—TVC’s Hookmaster spray rig features an adjustable spray width that saves the track owner money.
“Off the starting line, we’ll only spray at 8-feet wide. Thirty feet out, we’ll open it to 12-feet wide, and at 60 feet, we’ll go a full 16-18 feet,” Johnson noted. That feature can just about pay for the sprayer in about a year at a high volume track.”
Another feature is the Hookmaster’s twin-tank design, which allows the operator to keep two different mixtures at the ready. “With the smaller tanks, we have the same amount on board, but I can pressurize the smaller tanks in seconds rather than waiting minutes for a large one to fill,” Johnson said. The twin tanks also allow you to keep both LC7 and LC5 on tap, and Johnson noted he does this so he can change the mixture all day long to keep the surface consistent throughout the day.
Keeping the track owner in mind, Johnson also designed the Hookmaster so it uses all of the compound in the system.
“Normally there is about half-gallon of compound in the spray bar system when you’re done spraying, and normally this would just get washed out off track, but the Hookmaster allows the user to pressurize the spray bar with air so you can spray it on track and not waste it. If you spray 100 times a year, that’s 50 gallons of compound you’re not wasting, which is about $700 in cost. We also dump a whole air tank through it and it keeps the nozzles clean without the added cost of using methanol to clean the nozzles. There’s a bunch of things I like on it personally. Everything is functional and it’s all about economy to the customer. This keeps the cost down. We offer options so customers can choose what additional functions they need, and that makes for a more cost-effective product.”
Though it sounds like the Hookmaster is the traction compound sprayer of the future, Johnson is still working on improving it.
“Weather conditions, daytime versus nighttime, humidity, direct sun, no sun; it all affects track temperature,” Johnson explained. In direct sun, temps go way up. The sum of all fears is when you get a sunny day with high humidity. I’ve seen track temps at the top end of 150 degrees or more.” Johnson also noted that the track is often different from one end to the other, and that can be cause for having separate spray mixes from front to back.
“Top ends are typically darker in color and hotter in temperature, whereas the cars sitting at the starting line create shade and cool the surface. “We are looking at implementing a solenoid on the rig so we can spray a mix for the front and a mix for the back end. We are also working with different nozzles to change the atomization of the fluid.”
Testing the Waters
Watch people survey the starting line surface and you’ll see a myriad of methods that people use to test it for traction.
“A lot of guys go out to feel the race track and they will spin their toe, but that doesn’t really prove anything,” said VP’s Rueckert. “You need to use your entire foot, as it better represents the contact patch of the tire.”
For radial tires that need a more aggressive grip or bite on the surface, Rueckert says that while the rubber may look good in the groove, you might be better off being a bit outside where it is stickier, and then drive back in the groove after launch.
Bottom Line For The Racer
VP realizes that there is a need for different products for different race cars, and it have built a system that complements the competitors of different forms of motorsports.
“Track prep in general has had such an emphasis as of late, and it has become something a crew chief needs to look at sharply,” Johnson said. Rollie Miller was responsible for getting me started years ago on recording track data. Now, I’ve got a pretty in depth notebook of how I spray each time and for every track. I’ll go back and review it to see if there are ways I can improve.”
Not only has working with VP Racing Fuels on traction concepts improved surface preparation, but the drag tire companies have also played an integral role.
“Jason Moulton and Tommy Kundrik of Mickey Thompson Tires have been instrumental in how I prep tracks,” Johnson told us. “There used to be a lot of conversations between us about how the track needs to be with different tires and different cars. You get them, the track prep guys, and VP all working together and you can accomplish a lot.”
As we mentioned earlier, ProMedia is committed to improving the show that is the NMRA and NMCA Drag Racing Series. With capable folks like Total Venue Concepts staff and equipment combined with technical partners such as VP Racing Fuels all working together, ProMedia continues to help racers achieve the best results possible.