Archive for May, 2009

Memorial Day @ Grattan

Why (do I write this)?

So, I feel obligated to state this up front.. If I didn’t, you’d get to the end and say “Wow, I want my 12 minutes of reading back.”.  So, yeah, this post isn’t that thrilling.  If you want the brief summary, see the following summary.  If you want the racing details, read the yellow text; if you want the details that I only write down here for my benefit in order to remember them in 5 years, read everything. But, regardless, don’t blame me if this one is boring. I warned you.

Rear brake master cylinder is completely dry.  Fill it up. Miss test session.
Saturday…Race anyway. Seems to hold most of the fluid.
Qualify 6 out of 9.
Race, finish 6 out of 9 (Although I am pretty sure I got passed and maybe passed someone.. but ended up in the same place).
Sunday….Qualify with 3/4 engine near last (7th out of 8 in CFF)
Run race, finish 3rd out 7 (yay!)


getting there

As with the Indy event, I planned this time to try to run the test session on Friday.  I had done some minor tweaks to the car since Indy and wanted to make sure everything was good.  This meant I needed to leave early (I’m not a morning person).  The drive from Dayton to Grattan is around 330 miles, and it is Friday of Memorial Day weekend.

A few things to consider on my first long-trip with the truck and trailer.  I estimate average speed of about 65 – and maximum warp speed in overdrive of, well, about 65 – this means well into 5 hours.  But, at 8mpg towing and only 30 gallons of fuel this means a fuel stop too.. So I figure 6 hours.

The truck and trailer have been packed and ready to go since last weekend, so my sucker-passenger-of-the-day, Kate, and I get off at about 7am without incident.  Other than the check engine light occasionally coming on (bad O2 sensor eventually found – replaced and went from 8-9mpg to 15!), and there being a bit of a cross-wind, the drive up was without much traffic or complication.

We get to Grattan: Weather is great, find a good parking spot (well, the spot finds me acceptable after trying to park the damn thing straight unsuccessfully) near Lindstrand’s trailer (because you know I’ll need parts and beg for help in, uh, about an hour?) and across from a team of 4 Corvettes.
Take note: If you want your ears to be functional for the next month, do not paddock up near a team hoarding 32 cylinders and open exhausts.  Wow. Loud.   That said, their crew chief was very helpful in helping me with a plug wire issue in my first test session (thanks, Danny!).


So onto the car… Kate and I unloaded the car and put the awning up.  I started the checklist on the car.  Everything was going great until I checked the brake fluid.  The rear master cylinder was empty. Empty!  Mike (forgive me, I forgot your last name), that runs an F500 and attended the same SCCA school as me, was walking by and offered to help bleed the brakes.  We bleed them, everything holds pressure.  So I make a note to check on that when I return.

I miss the first afternoon test session, but make it out for the second one.   This is my second time on the track (I had driven a FormCar Formula Vee about a year prior) and only the third in the Hawke.  I head out and check the brakes – things feel good. I use the session to learn the track (Grattan is amazingly fun.. always busy) and adjust the brake bias.  I come in and check the brake fluid.  I’ve lost about half of the rear master cylinder.  I fill it up and head out for the last test session (dammit, I paid $120 and I’m going to use it!).  The brakes are fine, I finally heat up the tires (it is only about 70f out), and enjoy learning the track.

I pull in after the test session, and the rear brake fluid reservoir is about 1/4″ from being empty. That is bad.

A quick visit to my urgent-care-clinic-at-the-track-Lindstrand Motorsports reveals that the seals are most likely bad.  I find this odd, because the master cylinders are less than 20 events old.  I pull the rear master and bring it to Nick w/ Lindstrand.  I suggest to just give me a new one, but she says that rebuilding is a $19 kit and new is $80.  I agree lets try to rebuild the seals.  About 30 minutes later, she comes over with two masters in-hand. Nick explains that the cylinder from the car has a defect – clearly visible when you look down the bore – about a 1/32″ deep by 3/8″ casting imperfection (like a fingerprint size) – that, when the piston sits in a specific position, will let all the fluid seep out.  The other Girling #G70 nick had in her hand was a new one, which took about 3 minutes to install and bleed.  Everything is happy now!

Saturday morning qualifying

Being group 6 – qualifying starts around 11am. This is fantastic for me, for a few reasons.  First, this is Saturday morning and I dont wake up early.  And, second, the track is heated up a bit.  I recall the days of Blackhawk at 8am with frost on the track.  Uhh, I’ll pass, thanks.

I head out for qualifying.  The group of Formula Fords and Club Fords is only 11 total (damn you, economy! damn you, lack of disposable income!): 2 FFs and 9 CFFs.  I qualify 6 out of 9 CFFs.

Fun time.  No issues, other than I am dreaming that the car turns better to the right than left. Odd. I chalk it up to my inexperience of driving.

Saturday race

Saturday afternoon we have our first race, late in the day, about 4pm.

Charles hunting in the bowl

Charles hunting in the bowl

This race was uneventful for me, as I was the lower side of a large speed differential I think.  Charles Smith, a friendly gentlemen I met at Indy running on tires with more heat cycles than years I am old (no, really, thats not a joke..), tailed me the whole time, and I kept struggling to find Steve Beeler but he ended up way ahead of me. Oh well.

I will note that I foiled my start strategy completely.  Someone, whom I won’t mention (that drives a green RF98k Van Diemen with a yellow stripe possibly numbered 9), had mentioned Friday evening to me, that, if you aren’t in your power band at the start, slip the clutch to get the car into 6-thousand-something-RPM and you’ll launch much better.  Well, when you have no experience doing this, and there is a fine line between slipping and burning and missing the whole point, you can really bog the car down + piss off the guy behind you + not really gain much on the start. Oh well.  Maybe next time. Oops.

But, the race was fun.  I learned a lot.. Didn’t run off the track. Didn’t hurt anything. And, all the brake fluid stayed in the car.  Yippiee!

Saturday evening, dinner and an alignment?

Before I owned the Hawke, Tod had not touched the suspension (but had done real well with the car).  So that meant the car had almost 20 sessions without an alignment or change.  I had decided to get that looked over.

I had inquired to Lindstrand Motorsports, who has helped me out many times in the past (with such great advice like “You know, after drinking 13 beers and not having any experience with separating the engine from the transaxle before, it is a great idea to take everything apart and replace the throwout bearing in 40 degree weather at 2am”), via email about aligning my car at Grattan.  Even though I never got a reply (have you noticed how racing and email doesnt really go together? I find it best if you just show up and/or drop off your car with post-it notes on all the broke stuff) , Bruce does read email and offered to align the car.  Fantastic!

I send off my girlfriend and guests for the weekend to dinner in Grand Rapids (where our hotel is), and do the usual “it’ll be an hour or so”.  I believe it is 6pm at this point.  Then I push the car down the the Lindstrand trailer.  Well, not actually into or near it – I think Bruce still considers me and any car I am around a liability, so we setup scales and such in the middle of the paddock-road.  That way, if things go downhill, he can claim he doesn’t know me and probably have me arrested.  Good decision.

Luckily for the car and physics, after helping setup the scales, I am told by Bruce to stuff myself into the car with some verbal propaganda about having accurate weight in the car (I think he just wants me to stop poking around and asking questions…).  After a few minutes, Nick returns from Grattan’s finest show facility.  I say finest not because it is really fine, but, because the mens’ shower at Grattan is dismal, so the womens’ must be better. And, “better” there at the track must be the best. Finest, even.  Well, finest-but-I-still-recommend-wearing-flip-flops-to-the-shower type finest, yeh?
I say all this to help you visualize the look on Nick’s face when she returns from cleaning up after a day of working at the track (I’ll note in retrospect that she was working with Allen, #9, which is a tough cookie to support all day for many reasons not including lack of an air freshener when strapping him in).   Nick is not expecting to help with aligning a car (that is way out of alignment), but, in normal team player fashion she hangs around for over 2 hours to help align my car.

The bottom line is, my car was running almost 1/2″ of negative rake (bad), toe was way out (bad), corner balance couldn’t be achieved (bad, again), and the chassis wasn’t level (uhm, good? nope. drat. bad…).  They did the best they could trackside, and agreed to it completely baselined soon.

At this point, you’re thinking I must have been bored out of my mind.  You’d think sitting in a car getting aligned for two hours is boring, but, with these folks doing the work it is pretty much like an alignment and a show.   A few notables:

1 – I’ll first note that Cindy Lindstrand had a broken ankle.  Apparently, breaking bones qualifies you for narcotic-level drugs in some states.   I think hydrocodone was the flavor of the evening.  And wine.   I don’t think the wine was actually prescribed.  Hilarity ensues.

B – When Bruce takes his hat off to scratch his head (which is often, when he works on a car with negative rake, different springs on each corner, and a driver who might cumulatively be an entire peanut gallery), Nick will find copious amounts of fallen hair, normally all over the suspension, and she’ll attempt to save the hair in hopes to return it to Bruce’s head.  Alas, Bruce does not want this back – or, at least, he doesnt want Nick to know this as he goes back to the road at 3am and picks up all these lost hairs.  You got issues, dude, they can’t put that stuff back in.

Bottom line – lots of changes to the car. I honestly can say there was a difference in pushing the car 150 feet back to my trailer.   Much faster. Really.

Sunday qualifying race

The brief qualifying race (its a 7 or 8 lap ‘race’ to determine your starting position in the race later in the day) was bad for me.   I will note that it (the race, not my time) was marred by Dave Harmison having an incident uphill at turn 11/12.  You can see the video from his car (rollbar facing rearward) here –
While it was a a really violent wreck, Dave fixed the car and raced since.  Rumor has it he is 2″ shorter after a broken back, which means Dave is still something like 6’14” tall….

My times were screwed up by only running with 3 out of 4 cylinders firing in the engine.  If you don’t put on all 4 plug wires, all 4 will not fire.  3 is not really good. Oops.

If we consider Dave ‘in the race’ I placed 9 out of 10. If we exclude Dave, well, I placed last. Check yer plug wires.

That all said – I really couldn’t compare suspension feel to yesterday because I didn’t get to push the car that fast (was limited to about 5,300RPM).  We’ll see about tomorrow.

Sunday race

I dropped more than a second, on a 2 mile course.  Which, while isn’t too impressive time-wise – the car was much better on the track.  It was more predictable, more stable down the front straight, and it actually turned in when going left.

Getting around ducky

Getting around ducky

If I had known the car was that much more stable and I was .5-1 second quicker, I would have pushed it harder.  I didn’t push it and kept it just a bit quicker than yesterday.    Not once did I lock up a tire on Sunday, but clicked all my lap times quicker than yesterday, where I had locked up a tire (rear, mostly – but sometimes an inside front) often.

I ended up 3rd out of 7 CFF cars that started – beaten only by Jason Byers and Phil Kingham, which I can deal with all day as they are awesome drivers with very nice cars.  If I felt inadequate about this situation – I would respectfully say I was beated by Magnum PI and Billy Mays. Which, if you’ve met these guys, might be accurate.   I am pretty sure if they ever read this, I will get my ass kicked at the next race.

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Indy (O’Reilly) Raceway Park Regional

So I will keep this one short (hah!).

I planned to shake down the car last Friday at Mid-Ohio, but, wrecking the tow and trailer does not lead itself to doing much testing.

Then I planned to do the full test day (Friday) at Indy Raceway Park just outside of Indianapolis, Indiana (O’Reilly Raceway Park for those corporate types).   Well, if you read the prior Mid-Ohio post, you’ll know that you can’t test unless you get to the track (on-time).

I started out Friday with a desire to replace all 4 trailer brakes on the 28′ trailer I now have.  I had an adjuster spring distenigrate after the panic stop last week, and one shoe separated from the shoe-housing-thingy inside the drum. So, $230 later I have 4 new 12×2″ Dexter self-adjusting (and yes, they work!) electric brakes.  I just have to install them. On Friday morning before heading to the track.

In the first time in my life, I actually finish a job in the time I thought it would take – I finish replacing all 4 brake housings/etc by 11am on Friday (after getting off an airplane from Dallas at 12:30am the night prior, no less).

I hook up the trailer and am off by noon.

After a few eventful wrong turns, based on some “new exits” off the interstate that apparently were not on the interstate I was taking, we make it to the track around 2:45pm (its a 2.5hr drive…. so not all that bad).

I am now hoping that I can park the trailer, get the car out, quickly get it ready and be on the track by 3:30 to run the test sessions until 5pm.  It starts pouring. It has been pouring rain for a while.  The paddock is pretty empty, so I decide to dock this rig in a grassy area between two gravel roads. I get out, walk the area and make sure it is somewhat stable and dry.  My flip-flopped feet with 200lbs (ok, 208) think its okay.

I get about 15 feet into the grass and stop. Not voluntarily. But something else stopped me.  I give it some gas. Stopped. Backup? Nope! We’re stuck.

At this point, Jim from Colletti Motorsports (also from Dayton) comes over and tells us that the folks in the corner of the paddock had to pull him out of the mud/grass earlier.So, 10 minutes later, with the help of a V10 4WD Ford Excursion I am out of the mud and back on gravel.  We park in an area with light-grass-coverage, but with little water and good drainage.

As good as this spot looks, it is terrible. The trailer sunk in 2″ into the ground.  I decide at this point there isn’t going to be any testing today.  I’ll just do the practice in the morning, qualify and then race.
Friday evening is uneventful – unloading and prepping.  I find out through the schedule that there is no practice session on Saturday morning like I had thought.  This means that I will be on a new-to-me-Formula Ford, with brand new brake rotors (not broken in!), on a track I have never seen or walked, much less driven on. Awesome.

Saturday morning comes around and Elizabeth helps me prep the car. I still need to adjust brake bias, the belts, make sure the new HANS fits good, and some other little things.


About 20 minutes before qualifying, I think its a good idea to actually drive the car for the first time around the paddock.  I get in, and find the clutch is not working at all. Uck oh.  A quick bleed and adjustment gets that going (hopefully it is resolved, but sounds like the pilot bearing is grabbing a little still).

I get out to the qualifying grid.  I am about ready to throw up at this point. I haven’t been in a racecar since the October Looong Race with Midwestern Council at Blackhawk (where I still need to write the blog write up… i know… racing in sleet gets to you), and I’ve never been in this car, and the thoughts are going thru my head – will the brake pedal go to the floor?  Will the transmission even shift (I swapped all the gear sets and dogs)?  Is the car timed right (if I rev this thing to 5k in my neighborhood to time it, I think the local yokels will shoot me on sight)? Does the new transpoonder work? etc etc…

Well – I headed out to qual – I waved a few folks by and then went at it.  The car is amazingly easy to drive.  I set the sway bars are near full-soft for this first time out.. and the car was great. I ended up qualifying 9th out of 13 or 14 cars in the FF/CFF/CFC/F5/FV group.

I come in without indicent.  Things are looking good.


Since I am in group 6, I have a few hours before I race.  We make some lunch, fuel the car ($8.50 a gallon! I’m glad I run $2.85 AvGas) and run thru the checklist.  It is amazing how many locktite’d things come undone on a racecar.  I check everything I can – an, in general, at least 3-5 hose clamps or nuts need tightening between sessions. Given my record of finishing races last year – it is important to do this every time you can….

As I am casually getting ready to run the race, I hear the annoucer call group6 (me!) to the grid for the second call. None of us heard the first call.. So, I quickly get dressed in all my fireproof goodies – which could be misinterpreted as my durka durka outfit.  No, I do not board planes dressed like this.

I hop in the car (already warmed up) and drive over to the grid, expecting to the be the last one there and late.

Well, they screwed up – it was first call to the grid.  I was there with about 3 other cars.  Everyone else is out of the car milling about.  I am sitting in the car baking in the sun. Luckily, it is only about 70 out.  And, I have an umbrella courtesy of my pseudo pit crew.

I will note now, that this is the only checkered-colored thing I’ve ever held in a race car. (sniff, sniff).

The pace lap was uneventful, other than this F500 dude next to me pointing at me to get behind him.  Last I checked, we grid up the same way we drive out, so maybe he was missing something or I was.. but, Once he got behind my at the start, I never saw him again.

The start was easier than I expected – as we came onto the drag strip and got 2-wide, the green flag dropped and we all took off.  The right side of the grid seemed to slow down, with a yellow Formula Ford or similar slowing down real quick and pulling off to the right.  There were 4 cars in front of me at the time, and they took off (damn good drivers!).  I kept seeing glimpses of them for about 2 laps, and then never saw them again.

I saw a few cars in my mirrors on the first 2 laps, then about lap 7 a silver FF got up close when I screwed up twice on the same lap, and promptly passed me.

It took me up to lap 4 to realize that I can go around turn one in 4th gear with my foot on the floor, but I still did about a 1/4-second chicken-lift on the throttle to get the nose pointing in the right direction.

Now is a good time to point out 6,500rpm in 4th (24:26 gear) is 117mph.

On lap 6, however, I got a little ballsy and didn’t lift.  Well, lap 6 is when I say I got stupid.  I ended up sliding the tail of the car out, and the counter steer took me to the inside of the turn at 100mph where it is really, really, really really really (x5) rough.  This shook the hell out of me and bounced the car across to the other side of the track (the outside, near the safe haven of lush green grass hiding nasty mud).

After lap 6, I decided to lift a little on the throttle to prevent having to dry clean my race suit.

The rest of the laps I spent trying to figure out the track – I’ve never been on it, and there are tons of open areas where you can really try 3 or 5 different ways thru a corner before you know what is fastest.

I ended up running 4th out of the whole group 6 of 15 cars or so. The 4 that took off ahead of me at the start almost lapped me (I saw the yellow CFC in my mirrors on the last lap), but one ran off or didn’t finish so I ended up with 4th place; and 1st in CFF.  Fastest lap was 1:48-something.

Full grandstands! yay!

Full grandstands! yay!

Overall, a successful day. I would have preferred to run the test day on Friday (if it wasn’t raining donkeys and elephants), and run the national race on Sunday (if I could…but I haven’t applied for my national license yet – which I am this week).

Thanks for reading this far. Really. Who does read this far? You should email me and I’ll send you something for doing so….


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