Archive for June, 2008

New tow and track car

You might chalk it up to another impulse buy of a vehicle, but, we waited an entire day before committing to buying the latest automobile… Don found a 1994 27′ RV near his house for a real decent price.

At first I was skeptical of A) Don finding any more cars to buy (given the “race ready” Formula Ford find) and 2) throwing more money into this “hobby”.  Well, apparently, Don should go into sales and I should buy some waterfront property in Kansas.

We each are 1/2 proud owners of this shiney RV with 30k 10mpg miles on it. Spectacular.  It even has floral print window valences. Bling!


There is some logic in saving money by not staying at hotels. However, we’ve yet to whip up an excel spreadsheet on this, because I’m not sure the Saturday-afternoon math we did on the phone works out.  More to follow. Or not. I think we’ll brush this subject under the rug.

The biggest benefits of having this 7.3liter-studio-apartment-on-wheels is the abilty to store all our tents, chairs, tools, equipment, etc in one place (lots of storage compartments on the outside bottom of the RV), as well as being able to stay on the track – eliminating the 6am drives from scummy hotels after taking showers wearing flip-flops to keep the ecoli at bay.  This will also come in handy when I cannot make my mortgage payments due to racing expenses.

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Don’s first VSCDA event

The weekend of June 13th brought Don and myself back to Blackhawk Farms, this time for a VSCDA event with Don’s 1962 Formcar Formula Vee.  This car is the 2nd Formula Vee ever made.

This car hasn’t been run in just about 20 years.  What’s the worst that could happen?  In general, the inappropriate but normal answer is, you die in a fiery crash.

This weekend, that was about the norm.


On Friday, I met Don out at Blackhawk just as he was gettting out of the car in the paddock (our favorite spot, the wonderful garage spot next to Tom’s office).   He had just finished his first session of the test day.

Not to sound like a broken record, or a record that is playing the Formula Ford song – but Don hops out of a car that is dripping oil.  OIL! No no no no no no, this must be a mistake.  Don must have kicked over a can of oil.  Or….not…. Oil leaks – This seems to be typical with anything we try to put on a track at Blackhawk.

It seems that the valve covers that came on this Formula Vee (which, by the way, was another impulse race car purchase by Don) are incorrect.  There is a cut-out on the top of the valve cover, that apparently needs to be the right size in order to let the cork valve cover seal make, well, a seal.
The culprit was the cut-out on the valve covers currently on the 1200cc stock VW motor are too small.  After 30 minutes of walking around trying to find a Formula Vee racer with a spare, we find Tom and his bench grinder.  10 minutes later and some metal shavings on the floor, Don has the problem solved.

Don gets suited up, I stuff him in the car, and he gets out for the last test session of the day.  He got a little late, and it was a short session – so he only got about 8 laps in.   He was somewhat slow on the straight, which is caused by the car refusing to rev over 4,000rpm due to (most likely) the transaxle fluid being the consistency of molasses.  We’re planning on changing this – tomorrow looks good.

So, I pulled out my stopwatch, but found that it rolled over by the time Don came around.  So, I pulled out my sun-dial and was able to get a semi-accurate lap time of 1:39.  In all fairness, Don’s 40hp 40+ year old car running 3/4 power is still faster than your street car around a race track 🙂

The car ran good – handled well per Don, and was overall a good 12 minutes of track driving after 7 months of prep work (no, really, this one only required about 2 months of work).  It seemed that the races tomorrow would go well.  Then, Don $&@*@D everything up on our departure from the track by saying “What could go wrong now?” (I’ve now learned to kick him everytime he says that, in hopes that pavlovian response will make him stop saying that).


We made it to the track about 9:30am, just in time to start our checklist of things to do before putting the car on track.  Don got to checking fasteners and I was putting gas in the car.  The fuel filler neck felt a little soft when I removed the fuel cap.  The cap isn’t bolted to the container, but rather is attached to the soft fuel bladder, so a little wiggle is expected.  I filled up the fuel tank in anticipation that Don will actually finish a race.  About 5 gallons, which should be plenty.

At this point, we should note that Don filled up the fuel cell to the top and let it sit for a month, to ensure there were no leaks.  No leaks. Keep that in mind as you continue reading, before you say “those morons took a leaky fuel tank to the track.”

Don gets suited up and in the car for the 30 minute qualifing session. Today, the car that now is not leaking any oil.  This is a first for us.  And yes, there is oil in the car (at one point in the past, I declared victory to a oil-leaking Porsche, when in fact the oil had been drained from it. Mr Bush, can I get a “mission accomplished”?).  The car fires right up (this car, differing from the Formula Ford, has a working starter!) and Don drives over to the grid.

– Don on track 0:00 – I walk over to the pit area in preparation to see Don come around the track after a couple of minutes.

– Don on track 0:30 – I finally figure out to make my phone act as a stopwatch.  Start timer.

– Don on track 1:30 -At speed, Don should do a lap around 1:35-1:39.  Should be coming around any time now!

– Don on track 1:40 – Hmm. Its the first lap. He must be taking it easy.

– Don on track 2:00 – He’s taking it REAL easy. Hurry up, slacker.

– Don on track 2:30 – I discard the stopwatch and setup my sundial for timing.

– Don on track 3:10 – I discard the sundial and tack a calendar to the post in the pit.

– Don on track 3:30 – I see the safety truck on the track around turn 4 behind us.  That’s not good for anyone.

– Don on track 3:45- Don’s not on the track anymore.  Don pulled off the track.  I hop in the Jeep find him near turn 5.  I find Don and the car smelling of fuel. Lots of fuel.  For safety reasons, I put my cigarette on the tire before leaning in to talk to him.. The entire cockpit area is slick with fuel and filled with gas vapor.  Fun.

What happened?   The fuel cell is old.  Maybe even older than Don.  The car is over 40 years old, and hasn’t been raced in 20 years.  So the fuel cell is most likely original (ack!) or 20-25 years old.  The bladder itself is fine, but the bonding agent used to attach the fuel filler neck broke down, seemingly in a few hours of fuel being in contact with it.  The fuel filler neck become unattached/unsealed to the fuel cell bladder, resulting in copious amounts of fuel sloshing around all into the cockpit.  Here is a picture of where the tank was:Dude, where\'s my fuel cell?

Those fuel lines used to connect to the fuel cell. We took it out in hope we could get the thing sealed back up….

Dissapointed Don

But, no go.  The entire filler neck is toast.  It disintegrated.

At this point, we realized our weekend was over.   Tom, our infinetly useful keeper of the track with his office next door to our garage place, offered free beer from his fridge and some consoling words and advice, including “just tape it up”.  Did I mention Don was covered in fuel and Tom was smoking? Awesome.

We tore off our red wristbands (which, while wearing, creates frowns while drinking beer) and became spectators.. we watched some great racing, packed up, and headed home.

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Photos from April SCCA race

I promised higher resolution pictures, and finally got around to posting them… Here are some good ones.

These pics were taken by Brad Ellingson (thanks, dude!), my most-awesome instructor at the SCCA school, and who also plays weekend photographer of things that turn dollars into noise on racetracks. He takes a ton of pictures, so chances are if you were at the school he could have a picture of your car. Or 50, like in my case. You can find his website here – – with his pictures and stories about his race cars, fast women and booze. Or, stories about race cars getting towed by minivans that tote kids to soccer practice during the week – really, pick your fantasy.

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