Experienced drag racers understand that many duels on the strip are won or lost in the first 60 feet. Many enthusiasts new to getting down the track, especially those applying ever increasing amounts of power, may not have a great understanding of how to get a quick 60 foot time out of their Mustang.
Team Z Motorsports builds some of the fastest 60 footing Mustangs on the planet. From Open Comp and Coyote Stockers to the fastest radial tire cars anywhere, Team Z has been helping racers get from one end of the track to the other rapidly for over a decade. While they offer nearly every type of rear suspension available, our primary interest, and that of our readers, is likely in Team Z’s stock style suspension. In case you’re wondering just how fast a street car running these components can go, Team Z’s Dave Zimmerman owns a blown, street driven, Fox body coupe, has been as fast as a 1.15 60 foot time using his company’s bolt-on, stock style suspension parts. That 60 foot time is good for 7-second quarter-mile ETs.
What about those who are new to drag racing, who have never delved deeper than the occasional test ’n tune night and want more out of their cars? What parts are right, and how do you set them up? We talked with Zimmerman, to find out some of the basics every Mustang owner should keep in mind when planning suspension upgrades, and setting the car up for the track.
Team Z offers several different options for Mustang owners with stock style rear suspension. There’s the Street Beast series of parts, which are adjustable, but also feature urethane bushings for lower NVH levels. “Urethane bushings are generally what we’d recommend for a car that the owner is primarily using a street car or daily driver,” says Zimmerman. He says, (delete ,) the tradeoff for a quieter, and more comfortable ride, is that urethane bushings, while a dramatic improvement over stock, still deflect depending on the load placed on them.
Urethane bushings are generally what we’d recommend for a car that the owner is primarily using a street car or daily driver. -Dave Zimmerman, Team Z Motorsports
Team Z has worked for over a decade at designing and perfecting its rear suspension components. Constructed from 4130 chrome-molly steel, these parts are incredibly strong to prevent deflection and withstand the tremendous loads placed on them at the track.
Their lower control arms are built in a slightly smaller diameter than what most of us are accustomed to finding. They do this for tire clearance and simplicity. The lower control arms are built from the same diameter 4130 chrome-moly as the company’s four-link suspension systems. So whether it’s a 2,000-plus hp drag car, or a 450 hp street car, these arms can handle whatever the car owner throws at them.
Zimmerman says that Team Z has also worked for years designing suspension components that work within the restrictions of the Mustang’s stock pickup points. “We design our rear components so that customers can bolt it in, and tune from there. The design gets the car within a window for anti-squat, etc, and we’ve found if we can get you in that window, the rest can be tuned with spring and shock adjustments.”
Zimmerman prefers this simple approach to altering the pickup points in extreme fashion on the vehicle. Team Z offers upper control arm systems with relocated pickups, but they don’t typically alter the torque boxes where the control arms mount.
“A lot of people talk about anti-squat, but once you install your parts, and set your ride height, there’s typically nothing you can do to change it. So we focus on tuning the suspension.” According to Zimmerman, anti-squat effects how violently the suspension “hits” the rear tires on launch. More anti-squat tends to hit the tires harder, while less is softer.
Even if you choose to use the Street Beast for your street car, Team Z has worked to design a proprietary urethane blend for the bushings. This special recipe, gives the bushings in the rear control arms a higher durometer rating (stiffness). The result is less deflection than what is typically associated with urethane bushings in aftermarket control arms.
The Heim joints used in the Strip and Grip series arms are also a heavy duty design that Team Z specifies. The chrome-moly Heim joints are made for Team Z by FK, and feature a kevlar-nylon race. They are setup for a 1/2-inch bolt to handle greater loads over the smaller factory 12 mm bolt.
To begin setting up any car for the track, you must first have a solid foundation to build upon. There are some fundamental things that Zimmerman recommends enthusiasts do as their first modifications for better strip performance.
Mustangs have come a long way in the last decade in terms of body stiffness. That doesn’t mean that most still won’t benefit from tying the front and rear subframes together. This is especially true for ’79-’04 cars. “Having subframe connectors is a must for any car headed to the track, it stiffens the chassis and provides more consistent performance,” says Zimmerman. Team Z sells both under car (part number TZM-FL-UCSFC), and through the floor subframe (part number TZM-TTFSUBS) connectors, choosing which to use will be dictated by your application.
Tires are an important area as well. For street cars, and a growing number of street legal racers, drag radials, or an ET Street type tire is what Zimmerman recommends. If you can swing having a dedicated set of wheels just for the track, even if it’s for the rear only, that’s even better. Leave your factory rubber at home, “Something that handles corners well, isn’t going to launch well,” says Zimmerman. If you’re making regular trips to the strip, investing in a set of tires for the job is a good idea.
Keeping It Simple
With the basics squared away, it’s time to dive deeper into car setup. That’s where Zimmerman stresses to keep things simple, whether you’re a beginner, or a pro. “Don’t overthink things, keep things simple, start with a good set of upper and lower control arms, springs, shocks, and struts. Also keep the pickup points simple.”
Typically for customers using all Team Z parts, Zimmerman can offer a set of adjustments to baseline a car, based on its power output, weight, and the components installed. From there, fine tuning for track conditions and the individual car is involved.
Shocks and Springs
We design our rear components so that customers can bolt it in, and tune from there. The design gets the car within a window for anti-squat, etc, and we’ve found if we can get you in that window, the rest can be tuned with spring and shock adjustments.
Zimmerman spent a decade working on this spring design. The steel is a proprietary blend, in fact it’s the same as what’s used for many racing engine valve springs.
In the shock department, Zimmerman says Team Z always recommends adjustable shocks. They have worked with a number of shock companies over the years, and can make a recommendation to customers based on their individual application. The key factors here are that any shock or strut for a drag racing application should be adjustable, and feature drag race-oriented valving.
Front and Rear
The front suspension is another area that needs to be addressed as performance increases. Switching to a tubular K-member and A-arms is something that Zimmerman recommends for the benefits of not only weight reduction, but the ability to easily switch out front struts and springs.
“Losing 70-90 pounds on the front end is going to improve weight transfer to the rear, and switching to coil-overs allows you to tune using adjustable struts and different springs.”
Team Z offers K-members in both chrome-moly and Metal Matrix versions. Control arms are made from 4130 chrome-moly, and can be ordered with urethane bushings, or heim joints. They’re available in a variety of engine and chassis configurations. Team Z also prides themselves on its K-members being a “no-pry” design, meaning they bolt directly in with no fuss, and with old components out of the way can be in position in a matter of minutes.
10-second street cars aren’t uncommon these days. While slower cars can also benefit from an anti-roll bar, Zimmerman usually starts recommending these once a customer has eclipsed the 10.99 barrier. He says the anti-roll bar stops the car from twisting on launch. The ARB clamps both tires evenly and removes preload issues, allowing the suspension to plant both tires evenly for maximum traction.
Zimmerman explains that setting up a properly installed ARB isn’t difficult at all either, and he has a simple video on to explain how easy it is. Once the ARB is set, it only needs to be checked and maintained. Zimmerman does caution against using a ARB in a street driven car, pot holes, large pavement seams, and other road hazards can damage the part. He also says that Team Z doesn’t recommend using the ARB for preload, “We don’t like to use the ARB for preload, if your car needs 100s of pounds of preload, something else is likely wrong like thrust angle, alignment, or weight distribution.”
We talked to Zimmerman about some basic tuning strategies once everything is in place. First and foremost he recommends having the rear alignment checked. Many first timers, and even some pros, may not realize if the rear end was installed not centered and squared. According to Zimmerman, ensuring the rearend is squared and centered, ensures there’s no thrust angle, which not only causes the car to move in a direction other than a straight line, but also can cause wear and tear on the drivetrain.
Zimmerman gave us an example scenario to use in our discussion of setting up a Mustang’s suspension. For this example we used a 10-second street/strip Fox body, that weighs between 2,800-3,200 pounds. We asked Zimmerman where he’d start baselining this car. “We’d start with a recommendation of -2 or -3 degrees on pinion angle, more if there’s urethane bushings being used. Of course the rear end needs to be squared and centered first. From there it’s a matter for fine tuning.” Zimmerman used a 10-way adjustable Strange front strut as his example. He says front struts should be set to the middle setting on compression, starting around 6, and somewhere around 3 for rebound. This sets up the front end loose and allows more weight transfer to the rear.
From there, it’s a matter of testing the car to see how it does. “You can leave the car loose if it’s working well. Tighten the front end up to get the rear end gripping more and give less rise to the front end, or loosen the front end more if more weight transfer is needed. From there it’s a matter of controlling power and weight.”
Controlling power and weight depends on how advanced the car is. Street oriented cars may not have much they can do in terms of trackside tuning, or moving ballast around. Launch RPM, is something that most can control to a certain extent. Reducing or raising the RPM the car leaves the starting line at could be all the additional adjustment available to some.
In more advanced applications, tuning to control power at launch either via the computer, ignition, or power adder, can be crucial to getting off the starting line as well. Race cars are going to have more tools in their arsenal to fine tune these areas.
There’s also the support Zimmerman provides to all his customers. You can often find him at the track working with those racers running his parts at major events. Team Z also has a talented staff on hand to answer technical questions over the phone. Customers can be certain that the person providing their tech support is skilled and will be providing answers based on what they’ve learned in their years of working with Team Z and its customers.
Whether your Mustang is a street going car, or you have big aspirations of knocking down low ETs at the drag strip, understanding the rear suspension and what goes into it will get you down the track faster.