The Ambassador of Air
Cody Miles might be the one guy inadvertently settling the debate on “bags vs static” without much notice. Not only is Cody a racecar driving, championship winning, record setting all around cool guy, he does it all in his Subaru STi… ON AIR. Cody is a bit of an odd man out in the racing world and people are starting to take notice. He's one of few if only racers in the US competing in track events on air. Most will argue that air can’t be adjusted like coilovers and your airbags will rip from all the abuse blah blah, but the lap times and trophies speak for themselves.
After snagging a first place finish in his first ever event Cody kept working and improving his daily driver at the time and ultimately transitioning it from a DD to a full on racecar. As most of us who plan on “lightly modding” their daily driver, Cody was never satisfied. The mods kept rolling in from suspension upgrades, forged internals and weight reduction etc. Pretty soon Cody had built a machine that was exclusively for the track. The decision for air over coils came from Cody’s need to have his cake and eat it too. We all know the benefits of air for being able to conquer bumper ripping speedbumps and luxury class comfort but not so much for keeping a racecar stable at speed. After seeing some of what Air Lift Performance had to offer, Cody went straight from stock suspension to air, completely skipping over the natural and sane choice of coilovers for the track which has proven to be a great move. Not only does he abuse the hell out of his air equipment on the track, the system is versatile enough to allow him to retain the comfort of a daily driver.
With a fully specced out Subaru Cody is making a name for himself and defending air suspensions everywhere with his regular podium finishes and various lap records across the US while competing in the Street AWD class at most events. Being one of the only competitors out there on air currently Cody doesn’t have a lot of baseline info to work with which means it’s a lot of trial and error to perfect his air setup. The amount of work Cody has put into this car in the short 4 years he’s had it are apparent all around. While there will be many who undoubtedly follow in Cody’s footsteps, (driver mod sold separately) he’s currently blazing a trail and isn’t slowing down any time soon. Cody was kind enough to give me the opportunity to pick his brain about why he chose to go with air over coilovers and how he got into the racing scene to begin with. While his accolades speak volumes, hearing Cody’s insight is way more interesting.
Can you give us a little background on yourself and how you got started in racing?
- "I grew up in a small town within Southern California that has tons of dirt and mountains to play with, which offered the perfect environment for motorcycles. I began riding at age 3, and was racing motocross at age 5. This form of racing was great for quite some time, but once I experienced how much fun cars could be I was hooked. I must’ve been about 10 years old when I found myself in some gigantic RWD boat car, surrounded by dirt, and enough open space to figure out what would happen when I planted the right pedal to the floor. I didn’t know what the word “drift” meant back then, but I was certainly making my best attempt at it… Until I’d get yelled at for all the dust that is =) . Fast forward a bit and I was finally driving at the legal age with a Toyota Tacoma that I poured every penny into since age 15. I absolutely loved that truck, but began second guessing things when I continued to find myself attempting to run canyons in it. Once I landed myself in a spot that allowed me to financially move forward with my “fast car” dreams, I decided that I needed a 2007 Subaru STI, which would serve as my daily driver. As every car enthusiast knows, that “daily driver” mentality only lasts so long… I quickly found myself building the car into a faster, lighter, better handling piece of machinery. I believe I did my first track day within the first year of owning the car. I’ll never forget that day, as it so clearly showed me how much work myself and the car needed. I became instantly addicted to improving the car, as well as my driving skill in order to pursue the never ending craving of speed."
Vintage pic of Cody hitting his first drift.
What moment made you decide to switch from a traditional coilover setup to air and why?
- "I actually went straight from stock suspension to air bags. I wanted to keep the car dual duty, with the ability to be low when I wanted, but also practical when I needed. I was in the market for coilovers when I came across an advertisement featuring products by Air Lift Performance. This ad encompassed everything that I was after, which was keeping the car practical, yet also improving handling… All while having the option to lay it on the ground whenever I so pleased. I didn’t know anything about air suspension, but I was willing to be a guinea pig given the amount of testing and development Air Lift Performance had put into their products, especially since they had real world results to back up their claims."
While choosing to make the switch to airbags might not be out of the ordinary, deciding to track said airbags is. Cody went through a lot of tuning while dialing in his setup to get not only his perfect ride height adjustments but also setting his bag pressures for the track. Which system are you currently running? What were you looking for when choosing a performance oriented air suspension?
- I’m running an off the shelf 3H suspension setup from Air Lift Performance, with ¼” lines and a 3 gallon aluminum tank. I chose the 3H management, ¼” lines, a 3 gallon tank, and a single compressor all for the sake of accurate height adjustments while keeping weight as low as possible. I was looking for something that could actually hold a corner balance accurately, even through all of the height adjustments it would regularly see… And that’s exactly what I ended up with.
Nothing but business in the trunk
What does making adjustments to your setup look like? Is it easier than before or more work?
- Well considering I came from OEM suspension components, it’s much easier! I’ve had other cars with coilovers, and as far as adjustment goes, my bagged setup is very similar. One of the biggest hurdles I faced when tuning my setup for track abuse was determining proper bag pressure, which essentially equates to spring rate. I didn’t exactly have everyone else’s specs to copy, so I had to slowly make adjustments and tune it into something that performed the way I needed it to.
Just like traditional coilover systems you can mix and match components on an airbag system to make it work for you. While opting for a smaller and lighter barebones setup, Cody not only gets the performance he needs to secure podium finishes he also has more than enough adjustability for whatever you might encounter on the road, all without the show class bells and whistles people see that come with most air systems. Cody also mentioned that he's running an off the shelf air system meaning you don't need special equipment or sponsorship stickers to tune your bags for performance. What type of maintenance do you do Before/After track days on your air system?
- It really doesn’t take much. Every now and then if I’m already underneath the car, I’ll check over my lines and connections, as well as verifying that nothing is rubbing the bag itself. Other than that, just spend two seconds bleeding the moisture from the tank and you’re good to go!
Have you had any problems with the system?
- I’ve been beating the same setup to death for nearly 4 years now with no issues. The system has been absolutely rock solid. People sometimes forget that air suspension isn’t a new idea, it’s been used on semi trucks that haul day in and day out while seeing the harshest conditions you could possibly imagine, for years.
Cody makes a good point in that air technology is nothing new and its actually been causing traffic for years in the form of semis and heavy duty vehicles which take more abuse than your average commuter car. Unless you blatantly neglect your airbag or something punctures it, the airbag will be fine and is much tougher than people think. What would you say to anyone still skeptical about the performance applications of airbags
- I like to keep this simple, because if there’s one thing I have no respect for, it’s false advertising. I could sit here all day in an attempt to convince people that Air Lift Performance products bring serious performance to the table, but I’d rather let the results speak for themselves. I’m far from the best driver in the world, but in the last couple years I’ve been able to set a few track records around the United States. Most notable would be a 1:31.26 at Road Atlanta, a 1:49.86 at Buttonwillow Raceway, and a 1:48.63 at NOLA… All while running in Street Class Spec.
Haters will say its photoshop
I know comfort on the track sounds weird but is there a noticeable difference between harsh bumps or cutting curbs?
- That’s difficult to answer simply because suspension is something that can be setup to be super stiff, or extremely soft. I used to run my setup a bit stiffer than I do now, but realized that I was actually limiting traction during certain scenarios. With air suspension especially, you can run a low pressure in the bags and achieve an extremely soft, plush ride. While also being able to bump the pressure way up until it literally feels like you have steel rods for dampers. I will say, that if you took a lap with me, or even just cruised around town in my Subaru, you would never in a million years guess that it’s on air suspension. There is a common misconception that air suspension for whatever reason feels sloppy or lazy, but I can assure you that isn’t the case. Getting the car to feel soft, or stiff is completely up to the end user, and luckily for us bagged riders is something that can be adjusted on the fly at the touch of a button =)
With all of that being said, I think it's safe to say that airbags deserve a second look from the performance community for many reasons. Not only do you get ride height adjustability and added comfort from most systems, the claim that airbags are unreliable and prone to failure can be put to rest. Airbags have been around for decades and have been in heavy duty vehicles and semi trucks which in most cases absorb way more abuse than your average car so I would say it's safe to assume they can handle what you've thrown at them. Hearing from a person who's been abusing the same setup for years with no issues should further help debunk the argument that bags can't handle the track. While I'm not stating from this moment on that bags are better than air, Cody is making it harder every day for the air haters to deny the numbers. You can find Cody tearing up events across the US and on Instagram @sidewaysandsmiling. Air Lift Performance also has a series focused on him which has some great content for people who want to learn more about Cody and his journey here. To learn more about air suspensions and how they work check out The Lowdown on Air Suspension.