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.

1 Comment »

  1. Richard Morris Said,

    August 23, 2009 @ 11:18 am

    Hi Mike,
    It was great meeting you at Road America at the FF 40th. I have several photos of your DL12. Let me know your email and I will send them to you.
    Best regards,
    Richard Morris
    (Hawke DL15 owner)

Leave a Comment