Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Left Side Panhard Bar, Good or Bad for Modified Racing? (Dirt Track Digest/Ken Bruce)

Much debate has gone on this year regarding the left side panhard bar and how it is affecting both the race cars and the tracks itself. Right now, as this is being written, there is talk amongst racers and the tracks themselves on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania spec motor circuit to change the rules making the left side panhard bar illegal for 2024 and forcing teams to return to running the right-side panhard car in 2024. Granted the talks right now are in the infancy stage but nonetheless it is something that is being discussed. 

According to drivers I have talked to, the running of the left side panhard bar has made the car much more stuck to the ground with much of the weight going on the right front tire when they are entering the turns thus causing the rear to shift under the car giving the left side much more drive. Now, most drivers will tell you that getting more drive through and off the corners is what they all strive for. This scenario works well on the New York tracks which have a tendency to dry up and slick off more than the tracks in the NJ/PA area which usually have a lot more bite to them. The problem is that with using the left side panhard bar, it seems to cause the car to bounce through the turns much more than before, thus making the cars “wicked” to drive. It has been rumored that the left side panhard bar has caused some of our veteran drivers to retire because of the toll it puts on their bodies. 

As you can all imagine, hardly anything in racing is agreed upon unilaterally and this discussion is no exception. Opinions vary greatly on this subject ranging from let’s ban the left side panhard bar to keeping it the way it is now or to run the panhard bar on whatever side you like if that is what you want to do. I have talked to a lot of people, including drivers, team owners, crew chiefs, chassis manufacturers and track owners to get their views on this discussion. 

I keep hearing different views on what this would do to the racing and how much it would cost to convert the chassis to run a right-side panhard bar. I decided to go right to the source and spoke with Randy Williamson who is one of the top minds in dirt modified racing and co-owner of Bicknell Racing Products to get his view on the subject at hand.

“From what I understand, it is one driver who has started this and is lobbying for no left side panhard bar,” said Williamson. “I quoted it out last week for a team and I can’t remember who it was for and it’s basically going to be about $1,000 on the cheap end for somebody to do if the car is not already associated with it. Parts wise, you are basically looking at $400 to put it on. Now my opinion is that they are going down the wrong avenue and that some of these racetracks that have been terrible, the promoters need to look at themselves in the mirror and say that I have to give them a track more valuable to race on. I’m sorry but we (the SDS) should’ve have never raced Bridgeport the first part of the year, we shouldn’t have raced at Accord and after that race they pulled the plug and don’t have the regulars come back but we shouldn’t have been there that night and this is not anything about Gary (Accord track owner Gary Palmer) because he is a great guy and obviously cares about because he canceled a month of racing. Anyways, I just feel that getting away from the left side panhard bar is not the way to go.”

“What is the idea of a racecar? To hook it up with the track, which is what we have done with the left side panhard bar, it was something that was done on the Troyer 4-link cars that Kenny Tremont was so good with his 4-link car. I just don’t agree with what they are trying to do, if they don’t want to run the left side panhard bar, they can go with a J-bar. The J-bar will not make the car quite as violent but it’s not going to hook it up as good as what the left side panhard bars do now.”

The world we have now is based on technology and it keeps moving forward. Just look at your smartphone and think about the power we all have in the palm of our hands. Racing is no exception, and it is not going to stop. Heck when I started to go to the races the cars all had leaf springs. It is the way it is in the world today and it is not going to stop as teams and chassis manufacturers all look for the next big thing that will make them faster than the competition. Sometimes it is up to the drivers to adapt and work on getting better at what comes along.

“Matt Sheppard is a perfect example of this,” explained Williamson. “When we brought out the short link car originally, Matt Sheppard was winning every race underneath the son on torsion bars and he wasn’t really happy about these short rods coming out. But after a while he figured out how to make them go good and he is back to where he was before and winning everything.”

“Now, I know because I have talked to them that there are not a lot of teams that are happy about this deal and I am just going to say it, the people now that are lobbying for the no left side panhard bars are the ones that are not going good right now. So, it’s the same old story and my opinion is that when you are not going good you go home and do your homework. I talked to Ricky Grosso at New Egypt, and he is not interested in changing it. I was talking to Butch Getz (owner of the #15G driven by Duane Howard) and Jamie Mills about and a bunch of others as well. I just think they are going down the wrong direction trying to ban it.”

Another issue is that most of the chassis that are built right now are no longer equipped to run the panhard bar on the right side which just adds to the cost of changing it over.

“Most of these short rod cars that we have built are not equipped for it to be moved over to the right side,” mentioned Williamson. “I would say that right now at Bicknell we are building about 325 cars a year and I would say over the past two years over 50% of those cars have gone out of here not equipped to run a right-side panhard bar so anyone with one of those chassis have to either weld it on themselves or bring it back to us in Canada to have it done. I know there are other people that can do it for them, but my point is that nobody wants this except for a few drivers. The bottom line is if you don’t want to run a left side panhard bar then order your car so you can run the panhard bar on the right side and don’t make everyone else change as well.”

 As mentioned earlier I have talked to other drivers and car owners and have received different reasons for not changing and leaving it the way it is with the biggest reason being the cost. Yes, they said the actual cost to change over to the right-side panhard bar is not a deal breaker but that would not be the only cost involved as most team have the capacity to do it themselves but there all peripheral costs involved as well. One team owner said that all his shocks are tuned to run the panhard bar on the left side and changing it over would mean more time and money to have the shocks re-tuned to the right side panhard bar. Another team owner and driver told me that his motors are built to accommodate the way the cars handle right now, and he would have to have them all changed, and some said it would cause their current cars to be rendered obsolete and force them to buy a new chassis. One driver told me that he wasn’t in favor of it when it first came about but after getting used to it, he is against going backwards with the technology at this point. 

I am not a technical person by no means and would never claim to be one, but I do understand that anytime there is a rule change of any magnitude whatsoever it is a cost to the racers and God knows there will be more changes and costs as technology progresses that will force the teams to spend more cash to compete. For the bigger teams, a lot of that is negligent but for the smaller teams, the teams that race one night a week, any additional cost can be hard and to me it is the little teams that make our sport what it is today. 

I am not sure what will become of this down the road, both sides have good points and deserve to be heard but adding any additional and possibly unneeded cost is probably not the way to go at this time with the price to go racing what it is today. I do have to give credit to the promoters that have taken the time to talk to their teams about the situation at hand instead of just jumping and making a decision which would affect so many of their teams. 

This debate will go for the balance of the season and as of now, I don’t see any changes being made, at least until the offseason. My opinion is that it has to be all or none when it comes to the tracks making a change. If there is only one track that decides to ban the left side panhard bar, that will make it difficult for teams if they want to race a special show at that track. If teams do want to travel, that will cause them to possibly purchase another chassis and for what, a special race or two? Doing that is most definitely not cost effective, especially nowadays where the cost is more than it ever was to put a car on the track. 

This discussion will spark a lot of debate in the modified world, especially down here in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania region over the remainder of the season and into the offseason and there will be arguments on both sides of the issue. My hope is that all of the local tracks can get together and agree on this one way or the other instead of track A, B & C going one way and track D decides to splinter off and do their own thing. 

If you have any comments or questions, I can be reached via email at dirtracefan25@hotmail.com or on Twitter @dirtracefan25



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