Archive for April, 2008

Getting to the track

Loaded up

Thursday began my first of two vacation days from work.. And predictably, it began with a conference call for work, then 2 hours of stuff that had to get done before I left, then another 30 minute call to explain what to do in my absence. So much for a full day off.

After finishing up work, I loaded up the car and trailer. It is amazing how much crap you have to bring…Tools (lots of tools), extra parts, tables, tents, fluids, cleaners, funnels (yes, multiple funnels!) and more.

I had picked up a few items during the day, and was just left with filling up 2 fuel jugs with race fuel from the local Mobil, and getting some beef jerky, which is required for all drives more then 30 miles for me.

I stopped to get race gas at a Mobil station that I’d never been to before. A few indicators of how the weekend would progress began here:

– I can’t drive a trailer worth a damn. I’ve never had to. I can pull it around, and back it up in a field, but I’ll admit my backing skills in tight areas simply sucks. So, I pull into the gas station, find the race gas pump, and need to backup. I backup over the gas pump hose, and miss the pump by a good 3 inches.
– I get situated at the pump (by not being parked on the hose) and fill up a 5-gallon container with race gas. $5.99 a gallon. Let’s hear it for foreign oil (insert other political blog link here), whatever. As I go to put it into the back of the Jeep, I spill at least 64 cents of my new shiny fuel all over me, the back of the car, and the stuff inside the car.
Lesson learned: Fill up your new fuel jug with water, and make sure it doesn’t have any leaks, before filling it with gas and expecting it to be watertight.

So I get on the road to head Northwest, with a Jeep smelling like gas and not beef jerky. In my gas-spillage adventure, I forgot about the beef jerky. Oh well. The drive lasted about 30 miles into the 50 mile trip from Don’s house in Crystal Lake to Blackhawk (South Beloit, IL) before started raining. Then it started raining really really hard. I believe this was just after Don, via phone, said “wow, there’s a huge red band on the radar right where <click>.”

I tried finding an overpass or drive-thru to park the car under, as you can see it isn’t covered and the idea of everything being soaked wasn’t too appealing. Alas, I’m in the middle of nowhere with a few grain silos, lots of trees, a tornado here or there, and no cover from the rain. Everything gets wet and dirty.

Trip to Blackhawk, in the rain


I got to the track early, but couldn’t get inside as there was a test day going on. My rain tires were inside the track, courtesy of Andy @ Schulz Motorsports, which I planned to get mounted today for the rain tomorrow. A series of unfortunate events led me to not being able to get the tires until after the tire shop near the track was closed. Oops.

The SCCA registration folks were great – I clearly was lost. Marry Ann, Sue and Bob were very patient with me to get everything straight. My novice permit logbook was sent to my PO Box in Ohio, but arrived only after I had left for Chicago. Apparently showing up to race without a license or any paperwork is not cool. But, after a few phone calls, some printouts, and offering my first-born I was ok with the powers that be.

Once inside the track, I started getting things setup. It was rainy, and everything was soaked as expected. I also learned another valuable lesson: Setup everything beforehand to make sure it works. One of the ez-up tents that Don had bought was missing a leg. Luckily, a bungee cord, a tie-down-strap, and the trailer worked to hold it up. Once Don and Michelle arrived, I was clearly explained the downsides of my half-ass-structure-job. I’m not an engineer. Both of them are engineers. Whatever, you dorks, it held up.

After getting everything together at the track, we ventured to the lodging facility Michelle had arranged for us. I refrain from saying motel, or hotel, because I’m not sure what to call this place. In my travels for work, I experience some crappy places to stay. Some have smoky non-smoking rooms, some have loud traffic all night long, some have a lobby that scares me. This place had everything, and everything worse. I’m going to save my writing on this establishment for tripadvisor.com or hotels.com. Let’s just say Michelle wore her flip-flops the entire time while in the room, and no one looked up once I questioned why there was silly string on the ceiling in our room. Uhm…Right.

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Thumbs up from someone who knows more than we do….

This evening, we had Yves from Historic Race Car come over and check out the [near] finished product… Yves clearly knows his stuff…and actually checked out the car a few months ago when it was in, uhm, lessar-quality-condition.

Today we finished putting the gearbox back together, reattached the suspension components we removed last night to clean and paint, measured rear-suspension hardware and ordered all new stuff, and cleaned off all the yellow spray paint that Don tinted the car with last night (one could argue that Don and the beer tinted the car).

Yves checks out our work

After Yves performed seemingly (relative to the last 2 months) easy chores, but things we never knew about, on the car – timing, adjusting values, pointing out what we need to replace and what we should/should-not do – I took the car around our ‘practice race track’ (which consists of 4 blind corners, 2 entrances for vehicle traffic, lots of kids riding bikes thru the area, and a lonely law enforcement officer every once in a while) to get the car up to speed and let Yves hear how it sounds.

It only took me 4 laps to actually floor the silly thing and get it over 6k RPM. I kept shifting early as I thought I needed to, only to find out that I wasn’t even in the car’s power band. Once I kept my foot to the floor in 1st gear, then into 2nd (thank you, no clutch shifting) I realized that this car is scary fast. I was only brought back to reality by the fire-pin I left in place gouging into my knee cap as I slammed on the brakes. Note: next time, buckle the belts and avoid slamming into small metal protrusions when braking while wearing shorts.

Bottom line: the car seems good. Sounds good. Looks much better than January. Is much safer (new fuel cell, new hardware, better harness mountings, etc).. and should be faster (that’s driver-dependent, so that might not be true as I have to drive it).

Today is a turning point in this whole adventure: Don and I feel like this weekend might actually happen. So, in predictable fashion, we drank all the beer we had at the shop, then went out and drank more beer. Then we ice cream sandwiches, complained about being tired, and went to bed. This…must…stop. Next week, of course.

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The easy stuff….

Tonight, our task list included:

  1. Change the oil
  2. Bleed brake and clutch fluid
  3. Flush coolant
  4. Make new headrest
  5. Remove, clean, repaint rear trailing arms on the suspension
  6. Drink beer
  7. Reseal the end cover and bearing carrier on the gearbox (bad seal job the last, and first time, we did it)

Well, I think our task list included more than this, but this is what we actually got done. We were both hoping for an easy night. However, this is never the case.

Two things learned this evening:

There’s no manual for race cars – So very easy questions for most cars, likeHow much oil does it need, end up being mild challenges for usSo, just fill it up, run it, and see how much more you can pour in. For those wanting to write a manual for us, it was 7 quarts of oil to make it to our feel-good mark – take note.

No job is simple on race cars – “simply” bleeding the brakes turned into an hour and a trip to Autozone. The right-front brake bleeder screw is 1/4″, which means its a really tiny wrench, with lots of possibility to round it right off. Well, someone (not us!) had done this prior (which, also means the brake fluid in there was probably 15 years old) so we ended up using the jaws of life to extract the little guy, which renders it useless. Luckily, the Autozone up the road had them in stock. I bought 3, just in case. And, in true karma fashion, if you buy spares in anticipation others will break, they won’t. Good thing they were $3.

The positive side of the evening included the coolant flush, which was painless and 10 minutes, and Don making the new headrest plate. During our SCCA tech inspection, the inspector wouldn’t pass us because the headrest was .5 square inches too small. Yeah, like .5 square inches is going to matter. That’s why I wear a helmet, right?

The trailing arms were relatively painless, too. Don paints the trailing arms, and gets high off fumes in the process Although I think Don has carpal-tunnel from scraping the old spray-paint job off. They look nice. They don’t look so bent when they’re cleaned up.

Resealing the Hewland was easier than before. Hewland Transaxle in disarrayThis time, it only took us two attempts at getting everything lined back up and spinning in the right direction. This required RTV’ing, letting the RTV get dry as we screwed around trying to stack gears, then removing all the RTV, re-RTV’ing, finding a broomstick (ok, an entire broom that Don wouldn’t cut up) to stack the gears on, then assembling everything properly. We’re getting good at this.

And, as usual, we succeeded in drinking beer. That part of the job never seems to take too long, cause too many problems, or require us to soak our hands in cancer-causing nasty oil.

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