Archive for April, 2008

First Race

Don and myself’s original goal was to run the school, get my license, and anything other than that was a bonus. So far, the entire cost of bringing the car up to spec, the school and race entry fees, and other misc things is less than a weekend at Skip Barber that would net me the same license (the same one Don has, as he went to SB and ragged on their cars).

Soooo…The idea of racing on Sunday left me more excited than a senator in an airport bathroom, namely that this is my first wheel-to-wheel race, with other drivers actually trying to win (rather than the less-aggressive school days).

The day started as usual – remove the spark plugs, use a blow-torch on them to get them hot, push start car and let it warm up. It takes a while for the car to warm up, as today is about 45 degrees with a high of only 55. There was talk of snow on the forecast a few days ago, but it seems to have passed. This is a good thing, given my issues with rain tires and slicks, I don’t need any other complications.

Qualifying

The day has 5 groups/classes of cars, each with their own 35 minute qualifying session, and 22-lap race. My qualifying is just after 9:30am. Qualifying is a little more relaxed, in that, I can show up a few minutes late, wave to the grid-starters and just drive out into the pit and onto the track.. Given our starting issue (lack therof starter), this is nice as I don’t have to stop the car, and risk the chance of stalling it.

I head out for qualifying, just behind the big group of cars that were lined up waiting. We all have cold tires, and my car isn’t fully warmed up yet. Driving cold slicks on a cold track is much like ice skating. You don’t steer the car so much as you suggest which way you’d like it to go, then eventually, maybe, or not, it will go that direction. Or, it will snap around on you before you can say “hitting-that-wall-is-gonna-cost-alot”.

I feel good during qualifying. My only hiccup was that even though I taped over part of the front radiator intake, in order to get the engine temperature higher on this cold day, I still didn’t get the car above 150f degrees. The engine really needs 180-190 to be able to blip the throttle as required during downshifts. This resulted in some squirrelly downshifts – where the engine would drag the rear tires down pretty quickly, upsetting the traction on the rear of the car. Some corners left me looking more like a Ricer-Drift-Central video game than road racing.

Anyhow, I qualified with a 121.something. That put me 12th position out of 26 cars. Not too bad!

Race

My run group, group 4, gets to race around 3:30pm. Group 4 includes Formula 500, Formula Vee, Formula First, Formula Ford, and Club Formula Ford (me). Most of the cars are equally matched with just a few seconds difference in laptimes. It makes for some close racing, which is always good with open-wheeled cars that will flip/do crazy things when you touch wheels with each other. Most generally avoid doing that. Those who don’t avoid touching other cars wheels generally only do it once.

I will write more about the actual race when I get some spare time.. For now, look at the pretty pictures. I should also have some better race pictures up, courtesy of my instructor who has a camera that costs as much as our race car.

Out of the 26 cars in group 4, I started 12th, and finished 10th. My fastest lap time was a 120.6xx. Which, I think is respectable for my first time out. A well prepped car and good driver could do 1:15-1:16. Not too bad for 1.95 miles (avg 84-86mph).

Don\'t I look snazzy?
If you’d like a signed poster of this, let me know. No, really.


Bruce Lindstrand drove this car (customer car, I recall) amazingly quick, even without a clutch.

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SCCA School, Day 2

Yesterday evening, we found the guy that seems to know everything at the Blackhawk, Tom, and got us into a nice paddock spot. Given the issues we had on the car, and have to work them out in the mud in the grass paddock, the $100 or so was an easy decision to have easy access to electric, air, lighting, and pavement to drop stuff on rather than 1″ of muddy water. I’d highly recommend paying the $ and shacking up here to anyone that doesn’t have a full rig to work on.

This was a good decision, given what happened during the day and the work we had to do on the car, and, that it was 39 degrees out and windy. Mind you, this is the end of April and it is near freezing. Crazy.

In summary, here is what happened:

– Car won’t start. Remove starter wiring and push start.
– Run 1st session. Good.
– Run 2nd session. Good.
– Run 3rd session. Crack rear rim.
– Mount rear tires on rain rims in a hurry.
– Realize throwout bearing destroyed in last session. No need to hurry now. Car is broke.
– Miss 4th and 5th sessions. But, I still get signed off on the school (yay).
– Decide to fix car tonight and race tomorrow.
– Drink beer to gain confidence in mechanical skills.
– Rip apart rearend of car, installed new bearing, reassemble

In detail, the day went as follows:

1st Session

After being confident we had resolved the starting issues last night, the starter will not turn over this morning. Profanity ensues from both Don and myself. We blow-torch the plugs to get them hot, push start the car and make it to the first session, just a few minutes late. I was a tad nervous without a starter, however, if I spun or had to stop and the engine stalled I would be out of luck to get the engine going again.
On-track, everything seems to go well. The car feels good and I didn’t run it off the track. That’s success in our book at this point.

2nd and 3rd Sessions

These sessions were uneventful, other than the (now normal) push starting the car. The SCCA grid folks were very helpful and accommodating to me. I even stalled it once on the grid, waiting to go out to the track, and some nice ladies helped get me going. I am sure they make fun of me when I’m not looking.

4th Session

This one was a good on-track experience. Lots of cars, got into some traffic, dropped my lap times down considerably (was running 1:35ish in the prior sessions) to a best of 1:25.8. Not too bad for my newness…
Upon completion of the session, I pulled into the pits to get off track and heard this ‘worrblely’ noise. I knew there was a car behind me from my mirrors, and I thought “wow, that guys car sounds horrible”. As I proceeded out of the pits into the paddock area, I realized that the nasty noise was coming from my car. Doh!

The car smelled horrible (even worse than our hotel room after 2 days of eating carnival-like track food). It smelled like burnt clutch disc. I didn’t have any clutch slipping during the session, so we agreed to run the car again without any changes – we couldn’t see anything broken, and we weren’t going to replace a clutch disc in the 30 minutes before the next session anyhow. We found out later that this was most likely the rear brakes being cooked from me driving the car harder (clutch disc and brake are the same material, and smell the same).

5th Session

Problem 1

We had an hour break for lunch before the next to last on-track session of the day. It was now about 55 degrees and sunny. Much nicer than the morning.. And much nicer than the rain yesterday. We begin our pre-race checking that Don compiled (and that we’ve added a ton of things to this weekend), everything seems to be going ok – fuel up the car, battery is charged, oil is good, etc, then a snag – left rear tire pressure is zero. 0. nothing. zilch. not pressurized. Uck oh.

We quickly take the wheel off the car, and, with our new paddock digs being so close to the on-track tire guys, we have the wheel to them in a few minutes in hopes they can find the leak. At this point, we both think I ran over something and punctured the tire. I hover over the tire dude while he fills the tire to 60psi and wets it down with soap (if there is a leak, the air will create bubbles in the soapy water on the tire and you can easily spot the leak). There is no leak in the tire, he says. What?! Has to be!

Next, he sprays down the back of the rim. Uck oh – it becomes apparent now – there is a hairline crack in the rim that runs 4-5″ around. That’s a show stopper. The rim could (will) come apart at the hub, crash into the suspension, and generally make the car uncontrollable, ruining my day and probably a few dollars worth of car parts, too.

Our solution is to
– dismount the rear rain tires (yes, the ones we just got mounted yesterday to race in the rain)
– dismount the rear slicks
– mount the rear slicks onto the rain tire rims (which, are heavy steel, and ugly too)

We get all this done just as the next on-track session is beginning… We think we’re all set. So I gear up and hop in the car…The car that now has 2 front gray racing wheels, and two ugly yellow rear wheels. Yay.

Problem 2

Don and Michelle stuff me in the car, and we get our usual push-starting process going. This is a complex process that involves, well, Don pushing the car, people staring at us thinking we’re crazy, me popping the clutch in 2nd gear, and the car starting. If this doesn’t work, we repeat these steps except there are more people looking at us, and some feel bad enough to offer to help.

This time, Don starts pushing, I pull my foot off the clutch pedal, and nothing happens. I realize this, but Don yells at me to let go of the clutch. I did! No! Yes. No! Stop! For some reason, the clutch is not engaging. Uck oh.

I abandon ship to inspect the car, which, given my status similar to the Michelin Man when wearing a driving suit and helmet, takes a few minutes.. We can’t figure anything out. We work the clutch pedal and it becomes hard as a rock. Something is clearly wrong between the engine and the transmission.

Between Don and myself troubleshooting, we think the problem could be with:

  1. Clutch disc
  2. Clutch hydraulics – master/slave cylinder
  3. Throw-out bearing (likely candidate, as it was making noise before this. Did we mention that already?)
  4. Transaxle (highly unlikely, as it was working fine before)

We venture out to find someone who knows more about this stuff than we do… We come across Bruce Lindstrand from Lindstrand Motorsports (http://www.lindstrandmotorsports.com). We determine he knows more than us from these little observations:

  1. He has multiple racecars
  2. He has these racecars in front of his really, really big trailer
  3. This trailer has tools and parts for racecars
  4. He isn’t as dirty as we are, so he must have more reliable racecars and work on them less

Bruce listens to what we have to say, and explains how things work inside the bellhousing assembly (which, we cannot see, have never seen, and really don’t think we can crack open and see at the track). He confirms our suspicion that the throw-out bearing is the culprit, however, you can’t be sure unless you take the trans out of the car (ick..).

At this point, I figure my racing is over for the day. And, since I’m missing 2 sessions for the day, I will not get signed off for the school, not get my license, and not be able to race tomorrow even if I could fix the car tonight. At some point after the first session I missed, my instructor (Brad for those following from yesterday) comes over to find out what happened. I explained my concern that if I don’t get my school signed off for the day, I can’t race (which I need 2 races to get my regional license), and will generally screw up all of our plans for the next month or two.

At some point in the near future, Brad returns with a certificate much like the one I received yesterday (the school I passed). Apparently, I’m not a moron on the track (its good they can only see me from one corner at the time) and didn’t piss anyone off. So, they signed me off. While the school completion is huge, and really our must-do goal of the weekend, we now have motivation to fix the car and actually race the car tomorrow.

Fixing the car

The toughest decision of the weekend comes around 4:30pm today. Here is what we know:

  1. I passed both school days, so I can race tomorrow
  2. The racecar is broke, seriously broke
  3. We don’t exactly know what is wrong with the car
  4. We don’t have parts to fix the car, even if we do find out what it is
  5. I need a running car to race tomorrow
  6. There is free beer

So, if we can fix the car, I can race tomorrow. Fix car. Free beer. Fix car. Free beer. Free beer + fix car. Decision made.

Disassembly

First, we want to make sure we have the parts to fix the car if we take it all apart. This could drastically change our decision on beer consumption.

We find Bruce again, and he has a new throwout bearing which is most likely the culprit. We get the bearing, some instruction from Bruce, and a weird look when we tell him we’re going to change it now, at the track, and race tomorrow. The reason he thinks we’re crazy is, because, the throwout bearing is in between the engine and transmission (see technical drawing picture below).

In order to get to this area, the rear suspension has to come out, and the transaxle.

So, with this thrilling news, we head to the pavilion to socialize a while and build our confidence in working on race cars (read as: drink beer, oh, and there’s fried chicken, too!).

After an hour or three, we grab another box of friend chicken and head to the car. By now, it is about 45 degrees out and windy. Perfect time to work on the car outside.


So, while I wrench on the car…


Don dances around…

Since we do not have a manual on the car (and one probably does not exist), we get to yanking out bolts that we think hold the rear of the car together. Within an hour we have this:


We quickly confirm it is the throwout bearing. This thingy should be in ONE piece, and not dangling like a hoop earring from 1984.

Reassembly

Bruce was nice enough to interrupt his wine party (ok, that’s a big of an exaggeration, but whenever you bring wine and wine glasses to a race track, you’re gonna get some flak) to check out our situation. He confirmed our only issue was probably the bearing…Good news.

We cleaned up the bellhousing of the transaxle, which was quite messy after the bearing had committed suicide in there, and put in our new bearing. Reassembly is just reverse of disassembly – and we didn’t run into any issues. Well, I take that back, Brad and Joe stopped by to heckle us, then offered to get us a beer when they were heading to get their own. It seems they proceeded to head to the pavilion, only to find about 15 corner workers (aren’t these the guys that are going to save my ass tomorrow when the car burst into flames? Uhm right) yelling “Toga” and empty kegs. They don’t come back to tell us, but instead head to Lindstrand’s rig where there is beer.

Once everything was back together, we confirmed that the clutch disc was grabbing and called it a night.

We enjoyed a celebratory beer, courtesy of Bruce Lindstrand.  I think he felt sorry for us.

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SCCA School, Day 1

Note: Once I get pictures from the event.. I’ll post them in here.. Until then, you get my witty banter (or lack of) in text format. Thrilling, I know.

My goal of the weekend was to complete the SCCA drivers school. This will allow me to race in the 2 required regional races and get my regional license (which leads to a national license, if I want). To get signed off, I need to complete both schools (one Friday, one Saturday). If I don’t do anything too stupid, drive somewhat quick, and keep the car running – I should pass.

Friday begins with a few minutes in the classroom at 7:30am. The chief instructor, Jim, gives a few words of advice, mates us up with our instructors, and sends us on our way. We begin with an hour (or less, depending how you count hours) driving around the track @ Blackhawk in my instructor’s truck.

Around the track, round 1

This is my first time around Blackhawk. I’ve been there twice before, but never driven on the track. Seeing the track is interesting, especially from my instructor’s big old truck. I used to think only rednecks had big trucks, but, my new instructor, Brad, has a big truck and doesn’t yet seem to be a redneck. On this note, Brad brings a camouflaged ATV with him also. And, I think he had a camo jacket. This was all very Alabama like, until I read his hat and spoke with him to realize he is former Army. This makes sense now, even if it was 10 years ago and he is a computer geek now. I’m sure he had a gun with him the whole time, in case one of us students went crazy he could shoot one of us. That’s ok, I had a gun the whole time, too.

Rain, rain, go away

The school is split into two groups, 1 and 2. Group 1 is closed wheel cars – mostly consisting of Spec-Miata’s, as well as some Civics, RX-7s, BMW 3-series, etc.. Group 2, my group, is open wheel (formula) cars. Open wheel cars this weekend encompass Formula 500, Formula Vee, Formula First, Formula/Club Ford, and some Formula Continentals.

Group 1 ran first at 9am… and the rain was moving in quickly. My issue was that the rain tires I had were with me, and the tire guys were just across (outside) the track. No one can cross the track while cars are running. So, just before the first session, Don and Michelle took the rain tires and rims to the tire shop and left them there with hope they would understand to mount them up.

Well, this didn’t happen by the first session. So I missed the first session, even after a delay for heavy rain and lightning. The Group 1 cars went out again, and during this time I was able to get and mount the rain tires.

Session 2

This was my first time on track with the Lola. It was raining lightly, and the track still had puddles on the surface, not to mention the mini-ponds all around the track runoff areas.
The first few laps were under double-yellow, which means you can’t pass other cars (not that I was going to) and need to drive cautiously in general. Once we got out of the yellow flag business, I took the car up to speed. I did about 2-3 laps, still timid in the rain, before disaster struck.

Blackhawk is a mild-speed course –most of the track is done with 2nd or 3rd gear. There is one corner (3D) 1st gear is used, and 4th is used on the straight (bottom of the track map picture) with my car. Some will argue that 4th is used more with the right gearing.

Bring a towel, its like rain!

So, at some point during my 2nd to 3rd shifting, or my 3rd to 2nd shifting (all without the clutch, mind you), the shifter had decided to do something I did not want it to do. In fear of something was wrong, I came into the pits rather than destroy the gearbox. Come to find out, the transaxle was stuck in 2nd and wasn’t hurting anything except my ego for going-fast.

Don and I quickly (in the mud) pulled the end-cover of the Hewland, re-aligned the selector fork, and resealed the transaxle. Problem solved.

Session 3

By now, the rain had gone away and it was humid and getting warmer.

Session 4

Session 5

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