Archive for July, 2008

SCCA Firecracker Race

This will be a brief post… In summary, we went over the car’s troubles over the past two weeks – the biggest issue being – life was hard given the lack of a functioning starter.  The overwhelming consensus of the folks at the track and on Apex was to buy a Tilton Superstarter, and forget about it.

That sounded like a good idea.  Implementing it at $480 for a silly starter (oh, right super)was a little disturbing; but, I think we have established this hobby is not cheap, especially if you want to do it right.

A new Tilton starter was acquired from Pegasus and installed.  It only required minor tweaking to get it installed.  We had to use a few flat washers to get the proper clearance between the bendix and some other piece of metal in there.

New Tilton Starter

Some other new goodies included the steel rain rims being blasted and powder coated.  They came out quite nice.  Jared @ High Performance Powder Coating did them for us – – If you’re local to Crystal Lake/NW Chicago ‘burbs we’d recommend them for coating.. They’re very shiney!

Rain Wheel - Post Powdercoating

So, lots of little things (as you can see from the post down below, too) to make our weekend a little less stressful.. Possibly, even allowing us to drive the car and not work on it all weekend.

This was also our first event using the newly aquired RV as our tow and home vehicle for the weekend..  Having the RV for inside storage when its rainy is very, very nice.

Thursday (getting to the area)

This week, I had to work in Parkersburg, WV.  I was hoping to leave around 2 or 3pm on Thursday, which would give me 3 hours of westward driving to Dayton, which is home.  Then, I have an hour of packing things up into the BMW, and Elizabeth and myself would be on our way to Don’s in Crystal Lake.   The plan was to stay
If you like pictures – start at A, go to B and pack car, then drive to C.  Then finish packing and loading the racecar stuff into the RV on Friday at 6am, then drive to D- Blackhawk Farms Raceway. Horrible idea. Who thought of this?

Well, as usual, I get out of West Virginia a little late – around 5.  So, in our current plans, I get to leave Dayton around 9 – for a 6 hour drive to Blackhawk Farms.  Some folks will tell you “we race in Chicago, at Blackhawk”.  No. No, you don’t! You race 2 hours from downtown Chicago and 300 feet from the Wisconsin border!  I only stress this because, I can drive from Dayton to Chicago in 4.5 hours. Blackhawk in South Beloit, IL, is well into 6 hours.  Crystal Lake is 350 miles – which is a pretty ballsy 5hrs.

So, with this wonderful idea in place, we head out sometime between 8 and 9.  We hit a spectacular summer thunderstorm about an hour south of Gary, IN… All I remember was sunshine on the right of the car (illuminating the big-yellow-adult-porn-store sign, which, I am a firm believer that all porn shops on interstates are required to have a horrible hand-painted yellow sign.  If I ever repaint a racecar, it’ll be in porn-sign-yellow.) and on the left, was a humongous thunderous looking pile of black elevated moisture.  Someone with an education that starts not with ‘liberal’ and knows science would call it nimbus-something-special, however, I’ll refer to it as damn-big-rain-cloud+lightning.

Well, with that, our 5-hour hopeful drive turned into about 6 and change.  The BMW did get a good dousing, which is beneficial, as I haven’t washed it since April.

Friday (getting to the track)

Friday morning consisted of throwing the remaining stuff into the RV and heading out to Blackhawk.  Elizabeth wanted to take a shower before we left, and much to my encouragement of showering in the RV’s shower while we drive there, she did so only in the non-portable comfort of the house.  So much for roughing it this weekend.

Here’s Don doing work on the car, while I slack around and take pictures.  Note the very green grass.  That’s because it had been raining for, oh, uhm, the last week.  A tad bit “marshy”.

RV Setup


Prior to getting on the track, we have to get the car tech’ed.  The SCCA stewards are, uhm, sometimes a bit oppressive.  It is probably all in the interest of safety, but sometimes it can be very frustrating to get to the track only to find out you have a headrest that is 1/16″ too small (fixed with a layer of duct tape), or you don’t have a fuel sampling port just in case you win the race (we don’t have that issue) and someone says you cheated with some new fuel (if you find any other fluid you can put in the tank to make these things faster, let me know!)..

The April SCCA school+race had a few tech stewards inquiring about the ability of the Lola to be towed given the setup of the engine cover.  The engine cover went over the main roll hoop, which meant a cherry-picker type lift could not yank it out of the grass to bring it off-track in the event we did something stupid on the track.  We argued for a few various reasons, decided it was useless to argue with these stewards, and let them tell us what to do…

They told us, in April, to remove a certain piece of metal on the cover that would allow access to the roll hoop.  These pictures show what we did (look behind the helmet).

So… fast forward to today, when we’re prepped to race with no tech issues on our mind.  The same guys are running tech, so, Don and I think this’ll be quick and easy.

Well, no.

The stewards (some of the same guys!) look at the logbook, look at the changes (as you can see in the pictures), and say it will work to tow the car with (probably, gruff gruff) but they think the opening has created two problems –
A)  – they say it is a duct.  Which, without my big old head in front of it, it might push some air down there to cool the engine more – but no way is it supercharging the air going into the engine.
2) – they say we know do not have a barrier between the engine compartment and the driver.
Us: “Huh? You told us to take this thing out. ”
“And, look at the all the other cars – most don’t even have a high engine cover – so they don’t have firewalls up this high either”
“And, ok, fine, here’s a twenty”

Anyhow..The stewards let us off, with our promise to investigate the setup in the near future.


It was a bit damp on Saturday morning.  The sun was apparently sleeping off the night before, so the track remained pretty wet for a while.  We decided Don would go out first, as he’s never driven the Lola, and given our history – there’s a chance I’ll blow it up within a few minutes and he’ll never get to drive it.

In brief – its wet, Don’s never driven this thing before, the slicks are cold, and did I mention that Don has never driven this thing before (although he’s quite good in his Vintage Vee):

Don does a few slow laps.
Don comes down the straight a little faster.
I think, “wow, he’s going a tad fast”
Don touches brakes around the start/finish tower.
Car spins on the front straight, out of my sight to the right.
I wet my pants, and, promptly start running down the side of the track.
Somehow…. The car spun completely around, stayed on the track, and was pointing forward.
While I go change my pants, Don comes in, apparently to change his shorts too.

Well, that was Don’s practice session. His next ride is Sunday morning for qualifying.  We’ll see how that goes (maybe).

After a short while of another group out on the track, I get to head out.  The car actually doing something when I mashed the start switch was a nice change.   I go out for my practice session and it is somewhat uneventful.  Nothing spectacular on old R60 Hoosiers – but it was hot – so the were pretty sticky.  Nowhere near as sticky as the R25 compound I might have used (by budget, not purpose! I promise…) in a Club Ford before, however :-).  No timing on Friday, so no idea how fast or slow I was.

The group was pretty light… I went out and returned without incident.  The car ran great – seemed to rev thru 6400rpm (soft redline for those of us on a tight budget!) or so, the new gearing selection was great (thanks Brad!), and the car seemed stable even at speed.  I came in, parked, and we waited until the next test/practice session.

Well, it wouldn’t be Don and myself racing if disaster didn’t strike.  We go thru the car to get it ready for the session,  and we don’t find anything wrong with the car, compared to last events – tires still have pressure, nothing is oozing out the bottom (well, we paddocked in the gas so it wouldn’t be so obvious this time), and we don’t have any spare parts on the table that belong in the car.

We goto start the car. Nothing. No groaning. No click. Nothing. Sonofabitchnofriggenway!

While we frantically look at switches and wires – the heads of Don and myself end up at the starter solenoid about the same time.  Well, what is left of the solenoid.  The brand new (less than 2 hours of engine time) Tilton Superstarter XL-whatever-shininess had shit itself.  The solenoid is attached to the starter housing with 2 long bolts, that, you might expect a $480 racecar starter to have lock-tited, or saftety wired, or something.  Well, no. Tilton apparently did not do that to ours (more on that in a minute).

What happened? Well, in the last 2 sessions, the two bolts holding the starter solenoid (the thingy that engages the bendix (the thingy that turns the flywheel on the engine to start it)) decided to take a break from their holding duties and are sitting somewhere on 1.96 miles of track.  Oops.

To get me out on the track, we unbolt the wires to the solenoid that is now dangling by the hot-wire from the battery (a hazard in itself) and tape the wires to whatever doesn’t look conductive (well, more tape, and then more tape). Then we do what we know best, we push start the car!


We had a rough time in April with the T-440, and we were really hoping to have an unstressed race, but, we already lost the starter so that was out the window.  Hopefully it’ll be ok the rest of the weekend….

I get ready for qualifying, which, means getting all ready, then yelling like a 4 year old in a wagon “Push! Push! Push!” at Don (and whomever else happens to be around to help) until I can pop the clutch in 2nd gear and start the sucker up.

I grid up for qualifying and head out.  Qualifying was uneventful as my last session, as my track time was blessed with a warm track and hot tires.  I qualified somewhere around 4 or 5 out of 8 Club Fords, with a “I’ll blame crappy tires” time of around 1:21 around the track.  I’ll also blame my fear of running off track and stalling, which means I can’t restart the car (thanks, Tilton!) and that would suck.  Or something like that.


I was psyched for the race, even though I was pretty stressed that the car would blow up.  So I started the car; rather, Don started the car by pushing me down the gravel paddock area with me yelling at him again (get to the gym, tubby, really)… and… headed down to the grid.

My big stress point is getting to the grid without stalling the car.  Then, once I get to the grid in this heat, I have two concerns – one, the car overheating (although it never has), and two, me overheated (black suit + helmet + hot car + sun).

So I don’t explode, and the car sticks around 190f water temp.  Onto the next stress point – not stalling the car pulling out of the false grid to get onto the track.  Ok, that works out ok – although I probably took half the life of the clutch with me.  I try to stay slow and hopefully make it to my grid spot on the track just as the pace car takes off – so I don’t have to come to a complete stop.  Well, dammit, that doesn’t work. I have to come to a stop.

Now the pace car starts to move.  I get the car moving without stalling it. We’re moving now! Yes, this is the big deal so far today for me.  Yes, I agree, that is sad.

The pace lap is ok. Car feels good. Granted, we’re only doing 40-60mph.  We come onto the straight, and somewhere in the distance the green flag waves.  I do not know this by sight, I know this by feel.  You can feel the 25 car engines revving to 7,000 RPM.  I will make note that a downside of being in the pack of the grid, is that by the time this occurs, I am pretty sure the air I am breathing is about 0.0002% oxygen and the rest pure exhaust nastiness.

The start is good. I end up on the inside of turn 1 and actually might have passed a car or two that was on the outside, as those folks slowed down a bit due to some traffic (I’m really ok with being in the back on starts…).

The first lap I just play follow the leader – everyone is slow enough that I can play.  I just don’t want to get someone elses paint on my car.  I’m sure they don’t want my paint on theirs, either.   On the straight it opens up a little – and the guys behind me that didn’t qualify but have fast cars zip on my me.  I generally have enough time and lack of attention to wave at them.  They wave back. They feel bad for me, I am sure.  I also make a point to wave, or at least make sure they’re there, at the Lindstrand group in the pit.  I am sure I’ll need their help soon.

Oh, did I say I’ll need help? Right. About lap 5, I am heading down the front straight and had just shifted into 4th gear. I guess (and estimate based on a worker with a radar gun later that day)  doing about 115-120mph (someone correct me here if I’m way off), when, get this – the nose of the car flies off!  I barely even saw it – all I know is it was no longer there, and my legs were much cooler than a second before.  I am positive I was the only one out there with forced air conditioning.

From witness accounts, the nose flew up in the air high enough to let three cars pass under it.  Luckily, it landed about 100 feet from our paddock area – so it was easy to retrieve.

On this lap, I decided to come into pit lane and see if anything else was hanging off the car.  Luckily, I found Bruce Lindstrand, which, I promptly stopped in front of (see, waving earlier helps) and yelled “Do I need this?” pointing at the nose-within-a-nose setup of the Lola – the other piece of fiberglass body work that was probably also going to fly off now that the other part was off.  Bruce agreed that I didn’t, pulled it off, and sent me on my way.

On this lap, the folks standing at the fence spectating were now pointing at me – like, maybe, they were surprised to see me come around again. Or, maybe they were saying something like “Hey, watch this dude, I wonder what else is gonna fly off his car! <swig of beer> hah hah”

Well, nothing else came off my car, but, another car had their nose fly off as well, but on Sunday – you can read about it here on John Haydon’s blog – )

About a lap later (yes, I know, we’re only on lap 7 or so now), I started getting a high-RPM miss. It was for sure electrical.   About a lap later, I couldn’t get the engine over 5,500RPM, then it was 5,000RPM max… I knew I had to keep going for a few reasons –
I had used my pit stop quota with Lindstrand.  He was probably (and should) going to send me a bill if I stopped in front of him anymore.
I knew I had to complete half the race in order to make this race count for my SCCA license, which I needed.

So, I kept going – I played with throttle position to get the maximum revs out of the engine before having to shift.  On lap 10, 9 completed (whew!), coming up to the carousel (turn three) – the car completely quit. Luckily, I was near a corner station, which I was frantically waving at in hopes they’d tell me what to do while I was still coasting.  They were quick and smartly guided me around their corner station and behind the wall.  They asked if I was ok, probably made some side jokes, and then gave me some water as it was crazy hot outside, much less in a race suit.

I watched the race for a bit from the corner station.  Then a little SCCA Subaru wagon came to tow me back to the paddock.  The irony of it all is, if I hadn’t removed the engine cover metal to expose the rollbar – they wouldn’t have been able to tow me, and I was a long way from the RV 🙂

What happened?

Well, two issues – first, the nose.

I had put the nose back on, as I clearly remember doing so earlier that day.  I must have slipped the bottom lip of the nose OVER the aluminum floor pan extension, rather than UNDER it like it should have been.  Thus, once it got enough air under there it just pulled up, ripped the screws out of itself, and took flight.

Second, why’d the engine die?

Don and I had rewired the coil, and most of the car since April.  Somehow, we wires the hot/+ wire TO the condenser on the distributor, rather than the negative/- wire.  This cooked the condenser over time, thus having no spark.

Lessons learned. Beer drank.  Sunday’s entry money down the drain, as we didn’t have a starter to crank the car and troubleshoot, we called it a weekend. Oh well.

However, I did end up officially “finishing” the race – 9 laps did that for me.  So, I earned my SCCA regional license. Yay!

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Lola prep for Firecracker Regional

The last few weeks have been busy, both under and around the Formula Ford, and with our paypal accounts and AmEx cards… Lots of things on our list to fix, and some new candidates popped up.

In summary, our accomplishments include:

  • Installed new Tilton XLT starter
  • Changed gears to be more appropriate for Blackhawk Farms than the last time (and found out there was a 17/34 1st gear in there.. no wonder it took off like a rocket. That’s a 2:1 ratio. zoix!)
  • Learned that new starter was not disengaging the pinion gear from the flywheel
  • Uninstall new Tilton XLT starter
  • Shim starter, reinstall. Works splendidly.
  • Changed oil
  • New plugs for hot summer temperatures (Champion C57’s, I recall)
  • Bled brakes & clutch
  • Mounted Hoosier R60s on spare rear rims, after cracking a rim in April
  • Rewired entire car after frying battery (maybe starter? maybe solenoid?)
  • Replaced some various hoses, fittings, and in general tidied up the car
  • This should be all we need to run a stress-free (err, less-stress) weekend at Blackhawk this Friday-Sunday.

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