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Featured The secrets to Rowing Gears Like a Pro From Those Who Know

Discussion in 'News' started by EmilioV, Jan 21, 2015.

  1. EmilioV

    EmilioV Administrator Staff Member

    By Scott Parker
    Photography by Race Pages & courtesy of the manufacturers


    Years ago the tires were bigger, the cars were lighter, and the engines made less power. The secret to going fast with a stick shift was letting it bounce off the rev-limiter, dumping the clutch on a set of slicks and driving it like you stole it. Of course the transmission didn’t always hold up, but you wore those broken T5s on your sleeve like a badge of honor. These days, things have gotten more complicated. It seems fewer Mustangs are going fast with a stick shift, as the definition of “fast” has changed. We tracked down some of slickest hot-shoes around to give us their take on driving with three pedals and even offer a few tips, so that we can help end this horrible trend.

    Justin Burcham
    Justin Burcham -Owner of JPC Racing and many 8-second time slips in his Three-valve and Coyote Mustangs

    Since the debut of the S197, JPC Racing has been credited with some of the fastest times with a stick-shift transmission thanks to owner and wheelman Justin Burcham. His advice: “Spend the money and do it correct the first time… Get a good clutch and a strong transmission that will take the abuse of power shifts. Determine how you are going to use the car, if it is a dedicated race car or a street/strip car.” In addition to finding an optimum clutch for your setup, Burcham emphasized the transmission. “My transmission of choice right now is the Tremec T56 Magnum. We have tested it beyond 1,000-rwhp and it shifts like a dream. The shifter is also mounted directly to the transmission, which gives you an awesome driving experience. These late-model Mustangs from 2005 to current all use a remote mounted/body mounted type shifter, which does not give you very affirmative gear changes. Also since the shifter’s not on the transmission, under extreme torque, the engine and transmission can ‘roll.’ The body stays in one place, and the transmission is trying to go another direction, which can also make it hard to get into gear.”

    In terms of driving tips, Burcham said there are so many variables that it is difficult to give generic advice. “The main thing to getting a good e.t. is driving very aggressively. A lot of times I tell people when I’m in the car driving a stick, I don’t really think, I just react and pay attention to the tachometer. It’s also best to be very comfortable in the car. I like to be close to the steering wheel and close to the shifter so you can get good leverage. You don’t want the shift to be at peak power, you want to shift after peak horsepower. But once again, it all depends on your combination and if it just flat-lines, or carries power, or rolls over, in regards to what RPM to shift.” Of course the stakes are a bit higher in a Coyote that makes 1,267 horsepower to the tire. “Pretty much as soon as you let go of the clutch on the starting line, be ready to grab the next gear and just try to keep it straight. It’s a rush. There is a great feeling of accomplishment if you hit all the gears and get to the other end of the track in one piece… Usually when you see sky you just have to keep pulling the gears and eventually the car will come down. If it feels like it is not going straight then the best thing to do is to pedal the car, but most stick-shift cars will come down if you just keep driving. It’s easier said than done. It’s definitely an ‘oh [expletive deleted]’ type of experience.”

    Jeff Smith
    Jeff Smith – Seasoned pro with Nine- and Ten-second Cobras in the stable.

    Jeff Smith simply has the street/strip setup figured out. He pulls off some impressive times while rowing his own gears and keeping his Cobras street-friendly. “In my experience and years of stick-shift racing, I prefer McLeod RXT clutch kit for a car that serves double duty (street/strip application). The pedal effort is like a Honda Civic, but the clamping force is unbelievable.” On older Mustangs, dialing in the clutch cable setup is essential. “Having an aluminum quadrant under the dash and using a firewall adjuster is what I have used on both my Mustangs. The Steeda setup, using the factory non-adjustable cable, is what I have found works the best. Having the correct clutch cable properly adjusted will affect the e.t. – this will allow the transmission to shift correctly at all RPM and allow for consistent clutch adjustment for proper disengagement.” For those wondering about IRS setups, Jeff recommends a differential brace and upgraded bushings along with Mickey Thompson ET Street bias-ply slicks. “The tire wrinkles and takes some of the shock of the launch thus allowing the half-shafts not to snap. 15 psi of air pressure is what I have found to be the best.”

    “Going fast with a manual transmission takes a lot of seat time and confidence. I try to relax and focus on my race, if you get anxious and get out of your comfort zone…you are sure to miss gears… 3rd is the most important gear in my opinion. Shifting at the correct RPM is essential to getting a consistent e.t. When I hit 3rd I am typically extremely happy because at this point I am past the 1/8th mile and that typically means I have another win under my belt.” Launch technique varies. “It really depends on the track conditions as to weather I slip or dump the clutch. If the track is hooking well…obviously I’m in favor of dumping the clutch. If the track is marginal, then I tend to slip the clutch a bit. However, slipping the clutch causes premature wear and tear on the clutch and flywheel. I’ve found that 3800-4400rpm is the best launch point; I always try to power shift. I have an N2MB WOT box, and it has a 2-step as well as an ignition interrupt allowing it to kill power when the clutch is activated. This lets the car shift under a load better. A good launch in a high horsepower car is hard to describe. It is truly awesome and quite an addiction.”

    Jim LaRocca
    Jim LaRocca – Historic Mustang shop LaRocca’s Performance and Ten-second bolt-on GT500 owner, as well as long-time badass.

    Jim LaRocca has the least modified car among our panel of experts, which is perhaps the most impressive thing about his accomplishments. Without dedicated racecar parts, LaRocca has had to rely on seat of the pants feel. “That car is real simple. Mickey Thompson drag radials on 20-inch wheels, MGW shifter, McLeod RXT clutch, and ’07-09 slave cylinder. The throw grabs more in the middle rather than at the top of the throw (like the ’11 and up slave cylinder). More travel equals more control. Otherwise your knee will be in a funky spot when you are trying to control the clutch. When it’s in the middle, you have more control with your leg – better leverage.”

    For Jim, driving is less a formulaic or mechanical operation and more a tactile and almost spiritual experience. “You have to become part of the car. You must feel it in your butt. You have to feel what the whole car is doing. It sounds simple.” Releasing the clutch, he says, is all about feel. “Driving a car on 20s, you’ve got to feel the clutch. You have to slip and ride the clutch to walk the car out of the whole. It is an exchange. It’s hard to explain, but it’s all seat time. It is very hard to do when you are just jumping in the car for the first time.” After getting out of the hole, Jim power shifts at an RPM that is determined by trial and error, though the dyno can also help. No line lock is currently used, he just hops off the clutch and onto the brake in 2nd gear. Then he walks it through the beams carefully. This is the decidedly old school approach.

    Tim Matherly

    “HiPo Joe” Charles wheels the former wheel-stand Real Street badass that Tim Matherly drove to several championships, while wielding a Pro 5.0 shifter in his right hand.

    Tim Matherly is quickly becoming a stick-shift legend in NMRA racing, currently racing a clutchless setup in Edelbrock Renegade. Though he made a name for himself in Real Street and Strange Engineering Coyote Stock. When we spoke with Tim, he emphasized clutch choice when discussing how to properly set up a stick car. “The clutch all depends on application. A clutch you run on the street is not necessarily what you want on the track. If you hit the tire too hard it is going to spin. You will shock the tire with a too aggressive clutch. You want to walk the line of hitting the tire just hard enough and slipping the clutch. Everyone thinks you need to be more aggressive, that is how you break transmissions.” Tim said in classes like Coyote Stock, slipper-style clutches like he runs now in Renegade weren’t allowed. So he works closely with the manufacturer to dial in the clutch specs for the weight, power, tires, etc. A couple other tricks of the trade include the use of a custom blend of synthetic trans fluid and 75W90 diff fluid for durability, and Liberty’s Gears’ face-plating and micro-polishing of the transmission. Tim also suggested a good shifter such as those from Pro 5.0 or Steeda with a positive stop to prevent breaking the shifter forks. “You’ve got to have a 2-step to know when you are leaving. It lets you be consistent and work on 60-ft times by adjusting the launch RPM. I use a line lock and brake pressure gauge as well. The 2-step is activated off the clutch switch. I pre-stage and put 300psi into the brakes while holding the button on the shifter. I use the clutch to pull into the lights, and let go of the button on the shifter.”

    Clearly Tim is all about using technology to his advantage when it comes to driving technique. “The dyno is the starting point. Peak torque and horsepower will give you your shift points. And you can calculate where the RPM will drop from the gear ratio. We have this technology at our fingertips, we might as well use it. I spend a lot of hours on the dyno before I ever get to the racetrack.” When it comes to launching, Tim’s “never been one to slip the clutch. It is not designed for that. We set up the clutch to do that for us.” When asked about his driving style, Tim said, “I’ve never been one to hold back. I get every ounce of what it’s got.” And as for the experience, “I’ve had the back bumper dragging in 3rd gear. It’s a lot of fun. You know where you are going; you can tell if the car is going left or right. I can shut my eyes and know how I’m going down the track. It’s nature.” What do you do when the car gets out of shape? “I’m probably the wrong person to ask. Everybody has their own way. I’ve been bad about not listening, won several races and been way out of shape. You can feel it in the seat of the pants. You know when you are in over your head. The best thing is to do is upshift and slow down the tire speed. If you unload the car will come around and unload rear tires real fast.”

    Mark Duber
    Mark Duber – Incredibly fast GT500 that recently won McLeod Clutch Shootout at SVT Shootout.

    Mark Duber was one of the first racers we thought to call, and was also one of the first to get back to us. Apparently the enthusiasm is mutual! His take on setup was quite a bit different, “I think one of the most overlooked aspects of going fast with a manual transmission is the importance of suspension setup. A manual transmission equipped Mustang is much harder to launch off the line and get down the strip. Many people assume power is the ‘end-all-be-all’ to going fast. Good quality suspension pieces, in addition to proper set up, are paramount.” High RPM shifting, he said, can also be problematic because of the syncros in your typical transmission. “Internal Linkage” such as that used in the Magnum XL is a great compromise between a face-plated, race-only trans and a stock 6060. “A transmission of this caliber will offer much more reliability and consistency with hitting shift points. The ability to shift at desired shift RPM on a consistent basis will lower e.t.’s and decrease frustrations when trying to go fast with a manual transmission.” Other setup tricks Mark mentioned included the use of a 2-step/WOT box, proper gear selection, and the manipulation of rear tire pressure and shocks. “For stiff wall slicks I recommend air pressure between 11 and 13 psi… These slicks can absorb the shock of a clutch dump off the line and give more consistent 60-ft times. Manual transmission cars launch with intensity on the line. This intensity causes the rear end of a car to go into a state of chaos. What a good set of rear shocks will do is keep the tires from unloading in an uncontrollable way.”

    “I typically prefer ‘granny shifting’ over ‘Power Shifting.’ The main reason for this is decreased abuse on the transmission. You have a much higher chance of damaging the internal syncros (if not face-plated) with power shifting, especially with extreme horsepower.” With over 1,200-rwhp in his 4.7L Kenne Bell-blown and BES-built engine, Duber’s GT500 certainly qualifies as extreme. “I recommend dumping the clutch when using a stiff wall slick and slipping the clutch with a drag radial. In general dumping the clutch on slicks will prolong drivetrain parts. The reason for this is that slicks absorb a lot of load on launch and leave the line with a controlled spin. Drag radials on the other hand have the tendency to ‘dead hook’ of the line causing excessive stress on driveline components. To launch a drag radial a controlled clutch slip is recommended. This can cause undue wear on the clutch decreasing durability.”

    “There is an unknown component to each and every run. One run the rear end kicks left, then next it goes right, and following that, you’re facing the wall at 30-60mph. You have to anticipate everything. The fun and excitement does not end after the launch either. The 1-2 shift is honestly the most anticipated part of the run. The goal is to keep the car pointed down the track, but sometimes that is not very easily done. You have to be on your game and determine if you’re in a safe position or not to continue the run. If prep is adequate the 2-3 shift is the point you finally feel the incredible acceleration of the 1200+ thoroughbred horses under the hood. The feeling is not scary but rather exhilarating. This continues through 4th gear until you pass the traps, where a feeling of relief exudes through your body.”

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