Friday, December 01, 2006

Enough Already

This has nothing to do with racing, but it's been keeping me from sleeping at night.

Ridiculous Phrases That We Don't Ever Need to Hear Again

Seriously, people. Let's learn some new catchphrases and dump these which were worn out before their time.

You know
(Spoken by celebs in interviews) I once saw a snippet of an interview with a pop music star. His answer to a question about his music, in its entirety, was (approximately) "Well, you know, it's, like, you know, uh... you know, yeah." Well, now we know that you don't write your own lyrics. "You know" is code for "I have no idea how to articulate what I'm thinking." Not exactly what you expect from someone who gets paid millions of dollars to express himself.

At the end of the day
This strikes me as a grown-up version of "you know". It's the modern abbreviation of "when all is said and done." It sounded intelligent the first few times I heard it, probably because it seemed to have originated in Britain. Now NFL and NASCAR announcers are saying it. "You know, at the end of the day, you know..." At the end of the day, you go to bed. I guess I should be thankful the Americans didn't get there first with "You know, when the fat lady sings, you know..."

Black Friday
Help me understand the logic here. Black Monday refers to the 1987 stock market drop. Bad thing. Black Tuesday refers to the last day of the big one in 1929. Worse thing. Black Wendesday refers to the day the British Pound lost so much value due to currency speculation that the British government was forced to withdraw it from the European Exchange. Bad thing. Black Thursday started the 1929 market crash (followed by the original Black Monday and Black Tuesday). Big bad thing. So how did "Black" become applied to the (supposedly) biggest retail shopping day of the year? And by the way, it's NOT. It's overhyped nonsense, and now it has a poorly-chosen name. And if you're one of the 5am "doorbuster" crowd, then you need to go home and take a nap. Let's call it "Nap Friday" instead.

Put your "John Henry" by the X...
Has someone asked you to sign a document by asking you to "put your John Henry" on it? I hope you reached for a hammer. Because John Henry had a hammer. He was a steel-drivin' man. John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence with a famously large signature (the only signature on the document that can be read across the room). On the other hand, if someone does ask you for your John Hancock, feel free to sign the entire sheet like Johnny would have done.

There are plenty of good old cliches to choose from. Who decided that we needed new ones?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

No! Time to Lose!

At the risk of losing my own regular readers to more interesting websites, I would like to share some of the websites that have distracted me from working on the car lately.

This is a blog for the new-ish magazine Make: technology on your time, which is gripping reading for someone who enjoys better or cheaper ways of doing things. Everything from how to mount a flashlight to a bicycle handlebar with less than $1 in parts to how to build your own MP3 player. (The handlebar mount may translate well into "how to mount a small object to chassis tubes in a race car.") One of their mottos is "If you can't open it, you don't own it!"

Cool Tools
Kevin Kelly's "Cool Tools" is a collection of useful, cool, I-want-one tools and books recommended by readers. Less homemade than the things on Make:, these are the things the Makers may find useful, at least as inspiration.

Street Use
Another of Kevin Kelly's sites, "Street Use" is a collection of down-home technology. Can't afford to buy it? Chances are someone in the world has made do with something they had on hand. That's the spirit behind Street Use.

Worth 1000
A picture is worth a thousand words, get it? I still haven't explored every corner of Worth 1000, but their Photoshop contests got me hooked, and their Photoshop tutorials are my excuse to keep coming back. "How to Chrome Plate Your Cherries" -- how could I stay away?

The website for mental_floss magazine. Can someone tell me why I hated history class but I can't get enough trivia? Maybe because my history teachers never had the wicked sense of humor that the mental_floss staff has. I also have several of their brilliantly-written books, though I am still asking for the others (and a subscription to the magazine) for Christmas, hint hint.

Between all that and working on the Haydon Racing Online Store, how's a guy supposed to get any sleep?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I'm Back

Yes, back from Mexico, a little burned and a little wiser (Cancun is for teenagers looking to get drunk and for tourists looking to watch teenagers getting drunk, not for anyone desiring a quiet, relaxing vacation).

I am excited to announce the opening of the Haydon Racing Online Store! The designs haven't been finalized yet (I will be adding and possibly removing and rearranging), but you will be able to buy such wonderful things as:
  • A T-shirt with a picture of the Tiga on the front and "65" on the back
  • A T-shirt with "65" in a white circle and "TIGA CFF" and "Haydon Racing" on the front
  • A license plate frame declaring "I (heart) Formula Ford / My other car is a TIGA"
I'll gladly add coffee mugs, mouse pads, tote bags, and dog shirts (dog shirts?? dog shirts!) with racing themes if you ask. Just say the word and I'll try, or else I'll come up with some excuse why I can't do it.

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Back to Mexico

Just in case anyone needs me during the coming week, I will be in Mexico from Saturday (11/04) through Wednesday (11/08). I'll be "connected" again on Friday (11/10).

I'd promise to bring back some sunshine, but the forecast calls for rain through Thursday.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Bartelt Belt

Soon I will need to say good-bye (maybe only temporarily) to the Bartelt Belt.

Informally known as the "Club Ford Federation World Heavyweight Championship Belt," it was designed by Jack Bartelt to honor the Midwestern Council Club Formula Ford class champions. It's an impressive piece of leather, with engraved metal plaques bearing the names of all the champions. The center logo is a larger plaque depicting Jack's Lola T-540 surrounded by the legend "Midwestern Council - Club Formula Ford Champion." On each side of the center logo is a Midwestern Council logo.

The "tongue" (not the buckle) end has one plaque:
Past CFF Champions:
1987 Mike Mudjer
1988 Steve Stadel
1989 Pete Wood
1990 Jeff Jagusch
1991 Mike Wood
1992 Pete Wood

The buckle side has individual plaques, added as each championship is won:
1st Annual Winner of the "Bartelt Belt": 1993 Pete Mike Wood
1994 Marc Blanc
1995 Jack Bartelt
1996 Jack Bartelt
1997 Mike Schindlbeck
1998 Dean Elston
1999 and 2000 Millenium Champion Joe Christenbury
2001 Jack Bartelt
2002 Pete Wood
2003 Scott Reif
2004 Scott Reif
2005 John Haydon

In case anyone's counting, that's 2 championships for Scott Reif, 2 for Joe Christenbury, 3 for Jack Bartelt, and 4 for Pete Wood. Pete will get his name on the belt for a fifth fourth time in 2006. (Three champions won their titles in my car -- Dean Elston in 1998, Pete Wood in 2002, and me in 2005.)

Speaking of my car, the engine block is being checked for cracks right now. I need to test the oil pressure gauge and tear open a few oil pumps to try to build one good pump. I'm hopeful that if I keep working through the winter, I may be able to get the car together in time to run a very early 2007 race somewhere in the south.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Not necessarily news

Not much to report today, so instead here's a little racing humor.


Your email address refers to your race car rather than to you.

When someone asks where you went to school, you reply, "Skip Barber".

You always late apex the intersection and try to pass a few cars coming out.

You hate your one-hour commute but love the 600 mile tow to the race track.

You walk “the line” through the grocery store. Bonus points if you oversteer the cart.

“Overcooked it” doesn’t refer to food.

Your garage holds more cars than your house has bedrooms.

You have Lindstrand Motorsports on speed dial.

You save broken car parts as souvenirs.

You have car parts in your cubicle at work.

People know your class, car number, and car color, but not your name or face.

You bought a race car before buying a house.

You bought a trailer before buying furniture for the new house.

You're shopping for a new tow vehicle and still haven't bought furniture!

The garage floor is cleaner then your kitchen floor.

Eight socket wrenches… one spatula.

You have a separate drawer for 'garage clothes'.

Your first date involves her crewing for you.

You plan your wedding around the race schedule.

You're registered for wedding gifts at Pegasus.

Your Christmas list begins with a set of R60s and Forged Pistons.

Your family knows what R60s and Forged Pistons are.

105 degrees and sunny is a perfect day to wear a 3 layer suit and long underwear.

Your bathroom reading material consists of auto parts and racing supply catalogs, several books written by famous drivers, every book Carroll Smith has ever written.... and 400 car magazines, none of which have centerfolds.

A neighbor asks if you have any oil, to which you ask, "Synthetic or dinosaur?" and they reply, "Vegetable or corn."

You refer to the corner at the end of your street as "Turn One."

You've found your lawn mower runs pretty good on AVGas and even better on Sunoco Blue.

You spend more time polishing your A-Arms than you do on your hair.

Your wallet contains pictures of your racecar but no family members.

When someone refers to "The Good Book", you think of How to Build Competitive (Yet Legal) Formula Ford Engines.

Your winter long underwear is made of Nomex or CarbonX.

You tell your wife where you'd like to go on your vacation and she asks: "Why... is there a race there?"

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bad News

Very bad news.

All classes at the Runoffs had a fourth qualifying session today. SCCA has a really cool internetwebby connection thing that allows you to watch the timing and scoring results in almost real time (updated every 10 seconds) while the cars are on the track.

I made the mistake of watching the Formula Ford session today.

Most cars got about 6 laps, but I noticed that after Lynn's second lap, there was nothing from her for the rest of the session. I was a little concerned, so I left a message on her cell phone to ask what was up. An hour or two later, I got a return message.

I still don't have all the details, but the phrases "10 feet in the air," "landed on my head," and "half the car is gone" were all in her message. It seems that on her third lap, another driver tried a dive-bomb pass (a very ill-advised move, according to witnesses) and tangled with her, sending her flipping through the air. She landed upside-down.

Lynn was very lucky to have escaped injury, but she got her bell rung, she's out of the event, and her car is destroyed. I'm sick that her first trip to the Big Show ended like this. The event stewards are going to take disciplinary action against the other driver because multiple witnesses agree that he was entirely to blame for the incident.

I hope someone else had a good day today.

Friday, October 06, 2006


What was I thinking? I completely forgot to tell you the big news. Two of my racing buddies, Lynn Serra and Bruce Lindstrand, are going to the SCCA National Championship Races, AKA the Runoffs!

I'm jealous. The Runoffs was my goal this year, but I couldn't keep the car together. Bruce and Lynn both drove their hearts out all season and earned their invitations. Lynn will be driving the oldest car in the field, but don't count her out. Bruce's car isn't the latest either, but he was fast enough to lap me in the rain at Blackhawk with a broken steering column.

My car is Bruce's old car, and Lynn was a student at one of the first driver's schools that I taught, so I feel almost like my dad and daughter are out there. I'm so proud.

Oops. Bruce will probably kill me for calling him my dad. It's not like he's a really old guy or anything.

Progress Report

Well, if you can call it progress. The crankshaft is back from the machine shop. Woo hoo. It is now sitting on a shelf with a clean bill of health, waiting patiently for me to set up a new garage space.

Yes, there you have it, the reason I've been too busy to turn a wrench lately is that I am moving. On the plus side, the new abode has a basement. On the minus... the garage is detached, unheated, uninsulated, and currently occupied by a couple of little furry things. But I think evicting them is going to be the easy part. A little steel wool, a little expanding foam, and their little portals should be plugged. (I heard somewhere that mice don't like to chew steel wool. Is that just an old wives' tale?)
My mission, and I have decided to accept it, is to take an unsuspecting 2-car garage with bare stud walls and a single light bulb (with the light switch on the opposite side of the garage from the door, brilliant) and transform it into a race shop, while still leaving enough room for my girlfriend to park her car inside. Oh, and my budget is approximately zero. My head will self-destruct in ten seconds.

So here's my plan. Seal up every crack and hole I can find. The bare rafters should get at least a few planks across them so we can store things in the "attic", but I'm thinking something resembling an actual floor and even some insulation would be worthwhile. Some insulation between the wall studs covered with either pegboard or slat walls will keep the heat in and the tools off the floor. (One entire wall is already covered in pegboard, and I have two industrial shelving units for the heavy stuff.) Finally, paint every surface white to reflect the light from a pair of 48" twin-tube fluorescent lights.

Any other suggestions? I'd love to move the light switch next to the door, but I'm no electrician. If I were, I'd also convert to higher amperage (or whatever you do) to keep the air compressor from blowing a fuse, and I'd add an outlet about every foot.

What would you do to set up a new shop on a shoestring?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Progress Report

Just wanted to let you all know that there has been no progress to report.

The crankshaft is currently at the machine shop for a check-up. The engine block is on the stand, waiting for me to finish taking all the threaded plugs out so the shop can check it as well. The rest of the engine parts are scattered all over the place, waiting to find out their destiny: part of a freshly-rebuilt motor, or scrap heap? Reassembly will begin when and if the block and crank are given a clean bill of health.

The engine bearings all looked brand-new when I tore the engine down. There were no metal shavings in the oil pan, which suggests that the flakes we saw in the oil filter were leftovers from the last meltdown. (Yes, I know, replacing the oil cooler and all the oil lines after blowing an engine is just basic engine building. It's also bloody expensive, thanks.) I now suspect that a flake or two made their way into the oil pressure gauge line and blocked the pressure from registering on the gauge.

I am still looking for a good (pronounced "easy") way of testing the oil pressure gauge. I can hook a second gauge to it via a T-fitting and pressurize the whole thing with an air compressor or nitrogen tank. Unfortunately, the compressor and nitrogen tank to which I have immediate access are both located several hundred feet away from where a car could go. I will not take the gauge out of the car because removing and installing it risks damaging the gauge. I don't want to replace the gauge again if I don't really need to.

That's not to say that I haven't been keeping busy. My goodness no. I've been doing all kinds of things. All kinds. Like... well, losing at Scrabble, for one. I have also re-read a few racing books, started to get a bit of a tan (nearly almost learned to swim, too), and bought a staple gun. I also saw a college friend on Jeopardy! (she was the champion for a day), outgrew my driver's suit, and watched a parade featuring two -- yes, two -- brand-new garbage trucks.

Not all on the same day, of course. You have to pace yourself.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Broke, Busted, Disgusted (Reprise)

It looked like it was going to be a great weekend for racing. We got the same paddock spot as we had for the last Blackhawk National race, and Saturday promised to be sunny, warm, and dry (for most of the day, anyway).

The first qualifying session went fairly well, but a nasty old problem resurfaced. The oil pressure slowly dropped from a pretty-good 40 psi at the beginning of the session to a dismal 20 psi by the end of the session. I wouldn't have been too worried except that we ran into a very similar problem last year, with very bad results. I got down to a 1:21, which was within three seconds of my best lap time, despite running much older tires. Still, that put me 10th out of 11 in the class.

We checked over the car for the second qualifying session and put on softer tires in an attempt to at least get close to 9th place. I also cranked the oil pressure relief valve screw in, hoping to boost the oil pressure a little. When I started the engine for the second session, the needle on the oil pressure gauge jumped to a very promising 80 psi, but then it began wagging back and forth between 30 and 50 psi as the engine idled. That seemed to be an improvement over the morning.

I followed Allen Wheatcroft for part of the session. His car wasn't handling well during the test day on Friday, and that had taken away a lot of his confidence. He just didn't feel like he could trust the car. That worked to my advantage, allowing me to draft him for several laps before he pulled in. I stayed out for a few more laps and turned a 1:20, which was faster than Allen's time in that session, but slower than his time in the morning session. I was still gridded 10th of 11, and the oil pressure was now hovering around 20 psi at 6000 rpm and dropping to single digits at idle.

We checked over the car again, and this time we also pulled the oil filter to look for any signs of bearing damage. The oil that drained from the filter housing was sparkly with tiny metallic bits, which was normal if a little excessive. The damning evidence was spotted inside the filter by Bruce Lindstrand: larger copper flakes, each one only a little bigger than the dot that a medium-point ball pen would make on a piece of paper. You could probably get one caught under a fingernail and never even notice it.

Those little flakes are shavings of material from the inner layers of the bearing shell. When the crankshaft has worn through the silver/grey outer layer and has begun scraping out the copper underneath, that means the engine is not long for this world. The crankshaft depends on the bearing shells for support. Racing the engine after that support is scraped away will subject the spinning crankshaft to horribly stressful forces and will eventually result in in a bent (or broken) crank and a damaged block. That's exactly what happened last year.

The wagging oil pressure needle now seemed to make sense. If the crank were already bent, the off-center journal would swing around inside the remains of the bearing shell, alternately getting very close to the oil passage (creating a tighter clearance and boosting oil pressure) and swinging away (opening the clearance and dropping the oil pressure). At idle, this could happen slowly enough to register as visible pulses in oil pressure. What a revolting development this is.

We put the car back on the trailer and called it a weekend. I later heard through the grapevine that Bruce Lindstrand drove another inspired race to finish 3rd in a very fast crowd. For someone who isn't out there to win, he's been finishing awfully close to the front.

Now we play the "If" game. IF the crank is not bent and the block is not damaged, we will replace the bearings (with a different brand, I think) and get back out fairly soon, depending on the budget. IF the crank is bent but the block is in good shape (unlikely), I will look into one of the new forged crankshafts which are supposed to be stronger than the old cast cranks I've been running. IF the crank and the block are both bad, then I may be out for good. These blocks haven't been made for about 20 years, and there are just no more available.

Besides, with the luck I've had with the Kent, I'm ready to start shopping for a Honda engine instead.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

SCCA National FF Points

I forgot to include the SCCA National Points standings for Central Division Formula Ford yesterday. This is after 3 races, and including points won in races outside CenDiv:

1. Marc Blanc, Swift DB-6, 24 points
2. Bruce Lindstrand, Van Diemen RF-92, 23
3. Lynn Serra, Crossle 50F, 19
4. Mark Davison, Swift DB-1, 17
5. John Vlasis, Piper DF2, 13
6. Tim Wise, Swift DB-6, 12
7. John Haydon, Tiga FFA-80, 11
T8. Wes Allen, Merlyn Mk 25, 9
T8. John Luxon, Piper DF2, 9
T8. Russ Ruedisuelli, Van Diemen RF-99K, 9
11. Allen Wheatcroft, Van Diemen RF-98K, 3
12. Dan Faust, Van Diemen RF-93, 0

I'm not aiming for the #1 spot here. The top 10 drivers in the division get an invitation to the Runoffs, the championship shootout race in October. My goal is to be in the top 10.

Last night's weather forecast for the weekend was very promising. Sunny and 70 degrees. As of this afternoon, "sunny" has been replaced with "chance of rain" for Saturday. Yeesh.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Squish, squish, slide, slide

I think I'm almost getting back in the groove with this whole driving thing.

Last weekend was an SCCA National race at Grattan, Michigan. It was another rainy, soggy weekend. On the plus side, the high winds that whipped the area on Thursday had died down by Friday, leaving us with that kind of on again / off again rain that can't quite make up its mind if it wants to soak you with big drops or just annoy you with a fine mist.

The downside to that kind of weather (besides everything getting wet) is that it can be tough to decide which tires to run. Some big-budget teams will have dry tires, rain tires, and "intermediate" tires for just this kind of weather. Rain tires have deep grooves to channel a lot of water out from between the tire and the track, and the softer rubber gets sticky at a lower temperature than dry tires. The grooves on an intermediate tire are not as deep as on a rain tire, and the rubber compound is usually a little harder to deal with partially dry track conditions. If the track is not wet enough, full rain tires can easily overheat and fall apart. (On the other hand, my rain tires are several years old, so the rubber is harder than it used to be. I could probably run them on a completely dry track without overheating them, but I'm not keen to test that theory just yet.)

When we got to the track on Saturday morning, the rain had stopped long enough for us to think that dry tires might be the way to go, at least for the morning practice. (Before anyone calls me a bonehead, I would like to point out that more than half the cars in my group ran that session on dry tires. So at least I wasn't the only bonehead out there.)

For those who have never experienced it, let me explain that Grattan is a challenging track on a good day. If you or your car is not performing just right, it can be a nightmare. If the track is wet and your car has dry tires, it can teach you several new combinations of four-letter words. If it is possible for a car to slide in two different directions at once, it happened to me during that session. It was a struggle to get the lap times under two minutes, which was about 30 seconds slower than a mid-pack time in the dry, and maybe 20 seconds slower than a fast time in the wet.

I managed to keep the car on the track and pointing in approximately the right direction for the entire session. Before we had a chance to debate which tires to run for the afternoon qualifying session, someone reminded me of the old racing adage, "To finish first, you must first finish." More to the point, you don't earn any points by wrapping the car around a tree during qualifying. That translated to, "Put the rain tires on."

My brother Jim switched the tires in plenty of time for us to watch some other race groups trying to figure out the conditions. The on again / off again rain seemed to stop at the end of each session, only to start again halfway through the next, or vice versa. We were not the only ones struggling with the conditions.

The qualifying session was much less scary, but not much more comfortable. I ran about 10 laps, getting down to a 1:53 before calling it quits for the day. I had scared myself several times, and I felt that I wasn't learning anything more, so I pulled in before I had the chance to wreck the car. This season is all about finishes, not results. I qualified 5th of 6 in class, 15th of 16 overall. I only needed to hold that position during the race to score 5 more points and make the trip worthwhile.

Jim and I checked over the car and got everything ready for Sunday's race. One person can go through my "track" checklist in about an hour and a half, but having a helper makes it feel like about fifteen minutes, even if the helper only reads off the items on the list. When the helper is as much fun as Jim is, you're done before you know it. We packed everything up for the night and watched the last few qualifying sessions from the relative comfort of the truck.

Bruce Lindstrand invited us to walk the track with him after the last session of the day, and we jumped at the chance. I knew I would learn a lot from him, and Jim hadn't even seen the track in over 25 years. He was looking forward to testing his memory.

Bruce talked me through the spots where I had the biggest problems and reinforced the areas where I was doing things right. The single biggest gain was in the last corner heading onto the front straight. This is a fast left-hand corner that follows a blind right-hand corner and leads onto a straight that is over half a mile long. Losing speed in this corner means losing speed for the entire length of the front straight. I had been sliding the car along the inside line, tiptoeing along and waiting until the car was stable enough to feed on the throttle. Bruce pointed out that placing the car about two-thirds of the way farther to the outside of the corner would put me on some pavement with much more grip, allowing me to carry more speed through the corner as well as getting on the throttle earlier. That tip alone would cut three full seconds off my lap time during the race.

We got back to the hotel fairly early (single digits), took some hot showers, laid out our soggy clothes to dry, and fell asleep before we could even open a beer. Sunday's activities were scheduled to start later than Saturday did, so we slept in for an extra hour as well. I guess we had worked harder Friday and Saturday than we had thought.

Jim and I shared a laugh or two on the false grid before the race. The false grid is one place where good crew helpers can make a big difference to a driver. Many helpers don't realize that even amateur racers are under a lot of stress just before the race, with too many things to think about. Will the car finish the race? Should I hang back at the start to avoid being caught up in an incident? Was it a mistake not to replace that one bolt? Was I just imagining that noise during practice? Have we forgotten anything? Some of these helpers will talk at the driver about things not connected to the race. Whether they think that distracting the driver is helpful I do not know, but I do know that dealing with chatter about the legality of a car in another class, or complaints about the attitude of someone at a race two years ago, or opinions of someone else's family issues can be mentally exhausting.

A good helper will keep one eye on the grid workers and one eye on the driver. The only conversation will be about the car, the race, or just some random silliness to remind the driver not to take himself too seriously. My brother is definitely a good crew helper. He learned the serious part while crewing for my father in the '70s, but his sense of humor is beyond description. His explanation is that his brain simply makes bizarre connections, and that he is missing the filter that keeps most people from saying inappropriate or silly things out loud. Multiply that by the fact that he has a much quicker wit than almost anyone around him, and you might get some idea why my ribs hurt after spending a day with him.

Only a few cars spun during the race, and lucky me, I wasn't one of them. I tried Bruce's line through the last corner, gradually carrying more speed through the corner and giving it more throttle each lap. When I got down to a 1:50.02, I realized that I was catching the Formula Vee in front of me. But as I chased him during the next lap, I realized that I was overdriving the car and sliding too much. I had nothing to gain by passing him, so I eased off and held my position until the end of the race. Dan Faust, who had qualified third in Formula Ford, dropped out after 9 laps, which gave me 4th place and my first National race trophy.

This weekend's Formula Ford results:
1. Mark Davison, Swift DB-1
2. Russ Ruedisuelli, Van Diemen RF99-K
3. Bruce Lindstrand, Van Diemen RF92
4. John Haydon, Tiga FFA-80
5. Lynn Serra, Crossle 50F
DNF Dan Faust, Van Diemen RF93

I was thrilled to find out that my fastest lap in the race was only just over two seconds slower than Bruce Lindstrand's fast time of 1:47.794. Davison and Ruedisuelli simply ran away from the rest of us. They probably have more experience at this track in the rain than I do in the dry. Not to say that they aren't good drivers -- when Mark lapped me for the second time, I tried to keep him in sight long enough to figure out his line through the back section of the course. I lost sight of him before I could even see the line he took through the corner where he had passed me. Those guys were flying, and I was happy to have finished only three laps behind them.

We got the car loaded in time to have some of Lindstrand's pasta e fagioli soup before hitting the road. Despite an error in the Mapquest directions, we made it to the Muskegon port over an hour before the ferry was due to leave. That gave us time to put on some dry socks (and in my case, a dry shirt, dry jeans, dry sweatshirt, and a dry coat) and review the weekend before boarding the ferry.

What did we learn this weekend?

  • The Lake Express Ferry is an excellent alternative to driving through Chicago.
  • When in doubt, put on the rain tires.
  • I have spent about half of my total driving time at Grattan steering into the slide.
  • Be careful what you say to a trapeze artist; she may be a high school principal.
Next stop: Blackhawk Farms, May 20-21, SCCA "Carl Mueller Memorial" National race. Hey, a little sunshine might be nice!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sunday Muddy Sunday

The car was finally back on the track last weekend! Mere exclamation points can't convey how happy I am about it. The car performed almost flawlessly. If only the weather had performed as well.

(Keep in mind as you read the recap that last weekend's race was in a completely different league from where I raced last year. My old Tiga is now competing against cars that are newer and faster, driven by people who, for the most part, have bigger budgets and more experience. Winning is no longer the goal. Finishing each race is the only realistic goal for this season.)

Saturday morning was dry, cool, and cloudy - great weather for the first practice session. I still didn't know at that point if the car would run reliably, shift through all four gears, or even hold together. The brake system had been revised, so I didn't know what to expect when I hit the pedal. The rear wheel hubs were still untested (by me, anyway), the engine was freshly rebuilt, and the transmission was totally unknown. Add to that the fact that I was about to share the track with some very fast cars. Yes, I was a little nervous.

The car worked better than I ever would have expected. Only two issues came up in that first session: two of the three bolts that hold the radiator in place went missing (one was found stuck inside the bodywork), and shifting from first gear to second was a little tricky. Even shifting well below 6000 rpm and on old tires, I got down into the low 1:22s. About 5 seconds off my best time, but hey, I was only shaking down the car, not going for a lap record. I would have jumped for joy if I hadn't been so tired.

After such an agonizing winter rebuild, that kind of success was just what the doctor ordered.

My father and I did a thorough nut-and-bolt check and changed the oil as the rain started. The rain was very light for a couple of hours, but we soon realized that we would need to put on rain tires, disconnect the rear swaybar, and set the front swaybar to full soft for the afternoon qualifying session. We had a small issue with the rear wheel hubs (even with red Loctite, the wheel studs turned in the hub as the lug nuts were tightened), but we got the car ready to go with plenty of time to spare.

I lined up for qualifying behind Lynn Serra, who has proven to be a very good rain driver. I didn't realize how lucky I was to be following her until I realized how hard it was to keep up with her. Then it all started to come back to me. Mark Donohue, one of my racing idols, wrote about racing in the rain in his autobiography, The Unfair Advantage. He explained that tires lose about 70% of their sideways (cornering) traction in the rain, but they only lose about 30% of their accelerating and braking grip. This led to a technique of waiting until the car was straight after exiting the corner and then hammering on the throttle, then standing on the brakes (while the car is straight) and then tiptoeing ever so gently through the corner, getting the car straight, and then hammering on the throttle again.

I always thought that was an exaggeration. Then I watched Lynn rocket out of corner 6 while I was still sliding through the corner, trying desperately to get some power to the ground. Then I tried it. You really do just hang on for dear life doing about 20mph through the corner, and then as soon as the car is straight, you floor the throttle and zip up through the gears, then brake just a little earlier and a little easier than you normally would for the next corner. Hold your breath and stay off the gas as you wait for the corner to finally end... then full throttle again, up through the gears.

After another lap or two, I was confident that I had the technique down. I passed Lynn exiting corner 6 and went blasting down the back straight. I tiptoed through corner 7, then blasted off down the front straight, up through the gears, and stood on the brakes for corner 1.

Did I say "stood on the brakes?" Yeah... Mental note: Not quite so hard next time.

It's a very strange feeling, after blasting down the straight with the engine almost at redline, making all kinds of noise and vibration, to suddenly have all noise stop. All noise, that is, except the gentle "whoosh" of four tires doing their best impression of California surfers. The mind doesn't always respond well to that sudden change, and sometimes the brain locks just like the wheels.

Fortunately, the car remained pointing in the direction it was traveling (more or less) and just sort of slipped off the track onto the grass on the left side of the corner. Once it was on the grass, I was able to unlock my brain enough to begin pumping the pedal to regain some traction and get the car slowed down. I had to wait for Lynn to pass before I could get back on the track, which served to punctuate my realization that I should have followed her for another lap or two before heading out on my own.

I managed to turn a 1:47.044, which placed me 5th out of 7 Formula Fords and 19th of 21 overall. Allen Wheatcroft was right behind me, and Lynn was gridded next to him. (We were grouped with Formula Vees for this race. FVs run much skinnier tires and have much less horsepower - both of which are big advantages when it rains. The overall polesitter was an FV.)

The rain began to ease up after qualifying was over, but it came and went throughout the evening. My father and I did another nut and bolt check before packing up for the night. We tried our best to cover everything and tie everything down before the wind picked up, but when we got to the track Sunday morning, we found that the canopy had collapsed on top of the car because of all the wind and rain. Luckily we had done a good enough job of tucking things away that nothing got wetter than it already was, and no damage was done to the car. My paddock space was now a swamp, with a small moat surrounding the racecar and a much larger moat surrounding the truck.

Sunday morning also started off dry, but it began to rain again shortly after lunch. The day turned into a real nail-biter. Should we run slicks and gamble that the rain was going to remain a light drizzle, or should we run wet tires and risk burning them up (and losing time) if the track dried off? We finally decided to try the old trick of installing two rain tires and two slicks. Whichever decision we made, we would only have to change two tires instead of four. We put air in all 8 tires and waited with all eyes on the sky.

Fortunately, the weather made up its mind in time for us to get ready for the race. The light rain changed persistent light rain. Then it changed to a pouring, soaking rain. Change the two slicks to rains and head to the grid...

I let Lynn and Allen know that I was planning to take it easy on the start. Rather than dive into the blinding spray, I wanted to hang back a little, let any wrecks happen without me, and pick my way through the wreckage. It sounds like a good plan, doesn't it? Right up to the part where Allen goes motoring past. Then it has its drawbacks.

I followed Allen as closely as I could for about half the race. We were nose-to-tail for several laps, dipping our lap times into the low 1:44s. I thought he started to slow a little, so I pressed him a bit and even pulled out to pass between corners 5 and 6. I backed out of the pass, but he felt the pressure. He got on the throttle a little too early exiting corner 1 the next lap and spun off the track. I tried not to grin too much as I drove gently past him and back into 5th place.

The next lap, I exited corner 5 to see... Allen in front of me again. I found out later that he had spun again in corner 6 on the same lap. I decided to just spend the rest of the race following him rather than try a risky pass. The lap he wasn't in front of me, I could finally see that the track had oil everywhere. That explained why he seemed to be going slower before he spun. I just couldn't see it through the spray from his tires.

As the race progressed, the rain eased up and the track began to dry off. We all began searching for puddles on the track to cool our now-overheating rain tires. The checkered flag came out, and not a minute too soon. My best lap during the race was 1:44.098. Allen turned a 1:43.664 trying to catch me.

Here is the final finishing order for Formula Fords:

  1. Marc Blanc Swift DB-6
  2. John Luxon Piper DF2
  3. Bruce Lindstrand Van Diemen RF92
  4. Tim Wise Swift DB-6
  5. John Haydon Tiga FFA-80
  6. Lynn Serra Crossle 50F
  7. Allen Wheatcroft Van Diemen RF98
In case you're interested in the technical differences in the cars (and I know you are), here is a quick primer. Formula Ford suspensions can be categorized into different types based on how the shock absorber is connected to the wheel. The original type is called "outboard," so called because the shocks and springs are mounted entirely outside the chassis, and the wheel pushes pretty much directly on the shock (more correctly, the chassis pushes down on the shock, which pushes down on the wheel). The drawbacks to this suspension type are increased aero drag (the shocks are mounted out in the airstream) and increased unsprung weight (part of the weight of the shock/spring assembly is not supported by the spring, but becomes part of the wheel. The more unsprung weight a give car has, the harder it is to control the vertical movement of the wheels).

Newer cars generally have "inboard" suspension, where the shock and spring assembly is mounted entirely on the chassis, usually inside the body shell. There have been three major types of inboard suspension on Formula Fords, used with varying degrees of success.

The first type is rocker-arm suspension, where the upper suspension arm pivots up and down as usual, but part of the arm extends past the pivot inside the body. As the wheel moves up (or the chassis moves down), the extended (inboard) part of the rocker arm pushes down to compress the shock. The Swift fits into this category, and it is perhaps the most successful Formula Ford with rocker-arm suspension. (Actually, the rocker acts on a connected chain of smaller rocker arms before it reaches the shocks, but that's splitting hairs.)

The next type is pullrod suspension, where a rod attaches high up on the wheel end of the suspension and runs downward to the chassis. As the wheel moves up, this rod pulls on a linkage which pushes up to compress the shock. The Crossle 50F has a pullrod suspension. The main drawback is that the shocks must be mounted solidly at the top, which limits access to them and necessitates a much stiffer chassis structure than was common when pullrod suspensions were being used. (The Ray 95F Formula C car also used a pullrod suspension, and in 1995 it was one of the last manufacturers to use this system.)

The most "modern" type of suspension is the pushrod type. These cars have a rod that mounts low down on the wheel end of the suspension and runs upward toward the chassis. As the wheel moves up, the rod pushes up on a linkage which compresses the shock. Most modern Formula Fords use this suspension type, including Van Diemen and Piper. Formula 1 cars also use pushrod suspension. There is probably a lesson in there somewhere.

Meanwhile, back at the track: Bruce Lindstrand had the drive of the race. Several laps from the end of the race, he passed John Luxon entering corner 6. As he turned in for the corner, the steering column support bracket broke, letting the wheel fall down and to the left. He drove the rest of the race holding the wheel up against the bottom of the dashboard to prevent it from falling off completely. He still finished just a second or two behind.

The rain stopped within a few minutes of the end of the race, but not before everything was soaking wet and coated with a fine layer of sandy mud. This week's project is to dry everything and clean the grass and mud out of the car.

Funny, I feel like I just did that same thing a few weeks ago when I had the car apart.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Excuses, excuses

Hey there! Remember me? Yes, that’s right, the guy who left you hanging 3 months ago today. I know, nobody likes excuses, but here they are anyway, in no particular order:

  • Winter
  • Problems with the new gearbox
  • Cold and snow
  • It’s our busy season at work
  • Not much progress during the winter
  • Man, it’s been busy at work!
  • Went to Mexico for a few days to escape winter
  • More problems with the new gearbox
  • Haven’t had a minute to think about the blog because work has been so busy
  • Problems not necessarily related to the gearbox
  • I really hate winter.

I would love to tell you that I ran the first National race last weekend at GingerMan (where Lynn Serra finished third in her first National race, congratulations), but instead I was busy trying to solve a variety of gearbox problems. Some were my own fault (you’d think by now I’d know how to properly install the gears in a Hewland Mk 9 gearbox), and some were not even reasonable (a Sawzall is not a tool you normally reach for when you want to install a starter). I thought they were all behind me until yesterday. I’d like to tell you the story of yesterday’s problem, which is a pretty fair representation of how these problems have presented themselves.

Picture the scene:

It's a lovely Sunday afternoon in spring. The car is in one piece. The engine has been started and run, and much effort has gone into making the new gearbox suitable for this car. The last major project is to align the car, that is, to get the wheels pointing in the directions they should point when the driver’s weight is in the car. My father has come to my garage to help. His job is to simulate my weight in the car while offering encouragement and helping me to figure out why the math doesn’t add up correctly. (Usually by the third attempt to adjust any particular setting, my brain has become so fried that I start turning the adjuster the wrong way. He’s there to catch me when I do that.)

We have successfully set the front and rear A-arm lengths, ride height, chassis rake, and front camber angle. I head to the rear of the car to measure the rear camber angle when I notice a puddle of hydraulic fluid on the floor under the gearbox. A puddle of any type of fluid under a car is not a good sign, but a puddle of hydraulic fluid indicates a problem in either the brake system (potentially very bad, especially if it leads to a brake failure during a race) or the clutch release system. The problem is clearly not in the brake system because one item remaining on the checklist reads “Bleed Brakes.”

I wish the problem had been in the rear brake system. At least then the problem would be easily accessible and easily repaired.

So we spent the rest of the afternoon separating the gearbox from the rest of the car. It only involves removing 10 bolts and 2 nuts and disconnecting 2 hydraulic connections, but it’s still not a job I enjoy. Especially when we look inside the bellhousing and see… clutch fluid mixed with transmission fluid.

The clutch leak was embarrassingly easy to solve (I think). It seems I didn’t tighten the feed line to the release bearing properly, allowing clutch fluid to gush out whenever the pedal was pressed. But the transmission input shaft seal is also leaking heavily, allowing gear lube to flow out and mix with the leaking clutch fluid and make a real mess. If you’ve never seen a mixture of hydraulic fluid and RedLine SuperLight ShockProof gear oil, let’s just say it’s a pretty good appetite suppressant.

I searched through my spare parts, but I did not have a spare input shaft oil seal. As it was late on a Sunday afternoon, we called it quits for the day. It’s a rather odd seal, and most auto parts stores (particularly those open on Sunday afternoons) don’t stock them.

The seals are stocked by Pegasus Auto Racing Supplies, so I picked up three of them today. Hopefully the two spares will enjoy several peaceful years in the spare parts bin.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Driver of the Year

Last Saturday was the annual Midwestern Council of Sports Car Clubs awards banquet. We gather each year to honor the champions in each class and to present several special awards to members who have excelled in areas that aren’t scored. Sportsman of the Year is one of those awards, given to the competitor who is voted by the other members to have driven hard but always clean, helping others along the way, demonstrating the spirit of fair play, respecting others, and behaving well even in the face of defeat. Driver of the Year is awarded to the driver who has not only finished well in his class, but has also shown excellence in his driving skill (sort of a “champion of champions” award).

I was voted the Sportsman of the Year in 2004, primarily because of a long story involving an engine that I was told was legal, and a fantastic season (including a lap record) that I voluntarily forfeited when I found out that the engine I had been using wasn’t legal. I was glad that people appreciated my honesty, but I couldn’t help wishing that I could have been remembered for something other than that embarrassing episode.

This year, I was nominated again for Sportsman of the Year and also for Driver of the Year. The Sportsman nomination was partially because I helped to honor Frank Nelson, a Formula Vee driver who had passed away over the winter. He had asked to be buried in his racecar, but his family found that the cost was prohibitive. They mentioned that the next best might be to scatter his ashes around the racetrack from his racecar, and I jumped at the chance to be involved. I got his car ready to go, and I gave him his final ride just before the start of the first FV race of the season.

Lynn Serra won the Sportsman of the Year award, which I still enjoyed, since I was one of several people who nominated her. Lynn works on the Safety & Rescue team whenever she isn’t racing her Formula Ford. She frequently solicits help for other drivers who are in a pinch, but I honestly don’t remember her ever asking anyone to help her. I was thrilled to be voted the 2005 Driver of the Year. Even when I do well on the track, I sometimes find myself making excuses for my success (the other cars weren’t running very well, only three cars showed up, Pete must have had an off day), so it was a very pleasant surprise to have my peers give me such a vote of confidence.

I was also presented with a lovely plaque for the Club Formula Ford championship, but the real highlight of my evening was getting the Bartelt Belt.

Let’s back up a little. Despite what they show in movies (Le Mans and Driven being prime examples), racers are generally not a serious, dry, scowling bunch. Racing is a serious enough activity. We like to keep things in perspective by not taking anything else too seriously, even if it means poking fun at ourselves and what we do.

Jack Bartelt reminds us of the humorous side of racing better than anyone else I’ve met. When I first saw Jack race, I noticed that while all the other drivers would wave to the corner workers on their cool-down laps, Jack would instead shake a rubber chicken at them as he drove past. Jack decided to inject some humor into the Club Formula Ford championship while adding a little to the prestige and lure of the class at the same time.

In 1993, Jack made the Bartelt Belt, a pro wrestling-style championship belt with the names of all the past CFF champions on it. Every year since 1993, it has been presented to the CFF champion by “Action Jackson,” Jack’s WWF alter ego. The first Midwestern Council awards banquet I attended was for the 1993 season, and the hilarious presentation stuck with me. Ever since that night, I thought about how much fun it might be to be presented with the Belt. I confess that part of the reason I bought the Tiga was that I wanted a chance at the Belt.

Unfortunately, the people who organize the banquet have all gotten too old to see the humor and value in the belt presentation, so Jack was not given the stage or the microphone. We had to settle for an unofficial mini-presentation in one corner of the banquet hall after the official program was over. Several past CFF champions gathered to pass the belt to me in front of a small crowd of people who still appreciate lowbrow humor.

Here, Scott Reif (2003 & 2004 champ, in the glasses) prepares to hand over the Bartelt Belt while Jack “Action Jackson” Bartelt (1995, 96, 01 champ, in the mask) says some surprisingly nice things about me.

Speedy Petey (1989, 92, 2002 champ) was number 2 behind me this year. How do you like my Ford Cosworth tie??

The 2006 racing schedule is changing already. The June 24 Formula 1 support race has been officially cancelled. The National races at Nelson Ledges (July 29-30 and September 2-3) and Mid-Ohio (June 3-4) are sounding less appealing right now. Those tracks are a pretty long tow, and I’m not likely to gain enough points at those races to make the trip worthwhile. I may replace those races with some Midwestern Council events instead. And if I don’t get enough points early in the season to make the Runoffs, I may just finish the season running MC and SCCA Regional races.