Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Snug Fit

Hugh has been fighting the "fitting" problem on his car again.

Over the past few races and practice sessions he had discovered that the position of two braces were restricting his arm movements making it difficult, or at least uncomfortable, to steer the car. The old bars hit him about half way between the shoulder and the elbow. It was like trying to drive with your elbows pined together.

Yesterday he cut the braces out and replaced them with a couple of curved pieces which will give him another three or so inches for his arms. It doesn’t sound like much but it makes a whole lot of difference. This allows his elbows to move which means he can turn without having to pass the steering wheel from hand to hand. He can keep both hands on the wheel and steer rather than aim.

* * *

I am still working on getting the Grinch ready.

Mike Murzi had told me he had a link pin type front end he would be willing to part with. What made it special was that it had already had the ride height adjusters installed on it. Since I had some serious ride height problems it sounded like it would be worth checking out.

Saturday morning, Rusty and I drove up to Maddisonville to take a look at it. It was perfect for what I needed so I bought it and we brought it home.

I had met Mike in an auto parts store and we started talking about racing. It turned out the he is a big VW enthusiast and always has a couple of projects going. In his garage I got to see a beautiful customized VW bug convertible. Sweet.

On the way back we stopped in Ponchatoula for lunch. They have done a nice job with the little town and it is quite charming. All of the old empty down town stores have been cleaned out and turned into antique shops, restaurants etc. As a result the side walks are filled every weekend with people walking from shop to shop having a good time. It is an interesting approach, which is salvaging the small downtown economy.

* * *

I’ts like Christmas; The postman has been busy again.

My helmet and two new front tires arrived today. I was expecting the helmet but the tires got here a lot sooner than I thought they would. Fantastic.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Carl's Gizmo

I sent an email to Carl Watral asking about the spring-loaded gizmo on the shifter.

Carl is a very sharp guy and does not put things in a car without thinking them through. I knew it had to have some good purpose or it would not be there. I had just never seen anything like it.
The more I work on Hugh’s car the more impressed I am with the very original thinking Watral did. Most drivers sort of follow along with what everyone else is doing. Not Carl. He seemed to have analyzed each problem from a fresh viewpoint and come up with some elegantly simple solutions. This is not to say that the solutions were achieved with out a whale of a lot of work. For example, compare the original body to the current version.

Current Vee thinking has a lot to do with first, body aerodynamics and second, how easy it is to draft behind. Carl slimed the original Warrior down to a needle that would punch the smallest possible hole in the air. The smaller hole means it will have less wind drag to make it less work for our limited motors to push through the air and less turbulence behind the car. The less turbulence the harder to draft.

This kind of evolution is apparent in every aspect of the car.

Carl explained that spring trigger was a reverse "lock out" devise. That I understood. It is possible, on occasion to get the car into reverse when you are slamming things around during the heat of a race. This gadget was to keep that from happening. I did not understand however, how you got to reverse when you wanted it.
The FV rules say you have to be able to access reverse from the inside the cockpit of the car.

Now that I think about it, I have never seen a race official check that out. Maybe it is better to risk on being called out over something trivial, not performance enhancing and easily corrected, than to lose a race because you had a bad shift problem.

Sometimes you have to make choices.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


The schedule for Saturday started with a drivers meeting at nine followed by the first round of practice sessions.

Formula cars would be first since it was the smallest field. Then came the bracket racers and the Spec Miatas, followed by the formula Mazda warm up and finishing up with the GTO, Vintage V8, practice.

After that would come the qualifying rounds in pretty much the same order. About the only change was that the red bracket would run with the Spec. Miatas because the lapping times were similar.

That would carry us until the lunch break.

After lunch we started on the days racing. Most races were scheduled for twenty minutes. First the open wheel cars, then a fifteen minute all bracket / Spec Miata heat race. At two thirty we would have the forty minute Formula Mazda feature followed by the big V8 bash and a final heat race for brackets and Spec Miatas.

* * *

We gassed up and started getting Hugh ready.

He took it out and turned only one lap before coming back in.

He could not get the car into fourth gear.

We took the rear body section off the car and started looking for the problem.

When you looked at it you could see that where the connection to the shifting shaft had moved. I also noticed for the first time, another of Carl Watral’s many innovations. He had some kind of spring loaded mechanism which I think was supposed to keep the shift handle in the right position.

After a bit of struggling we got to the point that we could get the car into gear again. First was still a little dicey but the only time you might need first on this track was when you left the grid. Other than that, most races only involve third and fourth gears.

Hugh took the car out and put in three qualifying laps that were not too inspiring and came in saying that the car as very "squirrelly" and that it seemed to be "all over the place".

Working with this incredibly astute and descriptive data I tried to analyze the problem and plot what a solution might be.

We had already resolved the camber situation so I went to the next item on the list.

I checked the tire pressures and was really surprised. The rears were running over thirty pounds and the fronts were 19 pounds on one side and twenty five on the other. No wonder the car would not handle like it should. I adjusted the tires to eighteen pounds on the front and twenty on the rears.

Hugh had not run enough laps to do much more than get in a qualifying time but it really didn’t matter. The grid position was going to be the same anyway. With four different cars, which would normally run in four different classes, lumped into a single "open wheel" group, the grid would be determined by the relative speeds of the different classes. That was exactly the way it worked out. We were slowest and last.

Until we get enough cars in our class out there to make a field we will be stuck in this category. There will be no opportunity to race with anyone, much less win a race. We haven’t gotten to the fun part yet.

All of us were pitted in the same area. The fastest of the group is Lee Romine, who drives the Formula SCCA car. It is very, very quick; even faster than the Formula Mazdas.
Lee is a super nice I guy. (I think he is an Orthodontist) He seems to be a very gentle man and it always amazes me that some of the most soft spoken people are the most competitive on the track. He also competes in the Spec. Racer Ford group in SCCA.

Hugh lined up in last place on the grid and went out behind the pace car to start the race.

I was keeping lap times getting frustrated. The times were awful. I could not think of anything that would cause them to be that bad, especially when every thing we had done should have made the car faster instead of slower.

It was the next day before Hugh told me that since he knew where he was going to finish he had not bothered to try to make good lap times. Instead he had spent the whole race just concentrating on one or two corners at the time, trying to work out his best lines through them. Unfortunately this also leaves us with no knowledge of what other problems we might have that show up when you are going fast. He did however say that the car was handling better than it ever had.

Thanks for small favors.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Hugh gets really itchy on days like these. Somehow if he is not the first one to the track he feels like he missed something. We had loaded the car on the trailer Thursday night and packed the truck so he was off before daylight. Rusty and I followed at a more leisurely pace. As we were driving the 53 miles to the track we got a call from Hugh telling us there were very few cars there and not to rush. Now wasn’t that a surprise.

We got to the track and signed in plenty of time. I went on to help Hugh unload the car and Rusty went out to work as a corner Marshall, something he has done often with the SCCA.
They were running three groups. First would be what might be called prepared "Race cars". This meant racing Corvettes, GT 1 cars, Production based racers and anything else that was not street legal.

The next group was the open wheel cars. That was us, a formula SCCA, a gaggle of formula Mazdas, and two formula Fords.

The final group was "Street Legal" cars. This would include The Spec Miatas, improved touring cars, etc. The three groups would cycle 30 minute track sessions all day or until every one got tired of running.

* * *

Our car was essentially ready so all we had to do was gas it up and start checking it out.

I planned to use the day to get the car sorted out after the changes we had made. This would be the first run with the new wider tires and the heavier wheels. We left most of the settings just as they were so that Hugh could see what it felt like. I was curious about the changes in handling.
During his first session, he was no faster than normal and if anything a bit slower. When he came in he reported that he felt like he was on roller skates. Straight line was fine but the minute you turn it was sliding like it was being on ice.

One good look at the rear tires revealed part of the problem. The inner third of the tire was there only part being used. You could see the pattern where one part of the tire was touching the track and the rest of it very clean fresh.

A rear camber adjustment solved that problem.

Formula Vees tend to run a lot of negative camber for the rear wheels, but that is on much thinner tires. With the wider tires only the inside edge was actually touching the ground. By decreasing camber, or the "lean in" of the tire, we could make the tire sit more flat on the ground and provide more wear surface. With more surface in touch with the ground you had more traction or grip. More traction should equate to higher cornering speeds. Higher cornering speeds should mean lower lap times.

I didn’t see it happening. Ours was the slowest class on the track so most of the time Hugh had to drive with one eye on the mirrors to keep from being run over by faster cars. This does not make for great lap times. That might be part of it. But there was still something else wrong. Toward the afternoon he did get in one fair lap but that was about it.

On the other hand, he reported that the handling was improved and that he felt like he was getting more grip into and out of the corners. He said the steering was more positive and that maybe he was steering too much.

He also told me he did not have to slam the car into gear as he had before. Later in the day he said he could not get into first gear at all.

That really had him worried. He was afraid he was going to break something he could not afford to fix. I wasn’t concerned because I had been through this before.

The shifting linkage on a Vee is a strange hodge podge of tubes and U joints. It sometimes gets out of whack and has to be adjusted to get it all back in place. I was sure that was the problem.
It was getting on into the hot part of the afternoon when a couple of guys pitted near us came over and asked if we would like to use their "easy up" shade tent. They had to leave to get something done on their car and rather than take it down only to put it back up the next day they left it with us for the afternoon. It was a real luxury and fast became one of the items on our "have to get" list. Saves a lot of sun burned ears and necks.
Even better news was that when we got home the postman had delivered my new driving shoes and gloves. Now I only needed a helmet.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cinco Logos

Further to the logo and Grinch saga.

We got a call the next morning telling us the pieces were ready and we could come pick them up

I made the fourth trip over and looked at the items. They really did not look bad but there was one little bitty problem. I had asked for four logo’s and one Grinch. What they had was four Grinches and one logo. I waited while they redid the order.

On the up side I now had five logos and four Grinches.

It worked out just fine, Rusty wanted a logo for his truck window, and now we had a spare.

Hugh decided to put his on the nose of his car. I wouldn’t have thought so but it looks pretty good.

Riding High and Running Late

Well, it is official. I won’t make the first race this month.

It turned out that the race was one weekend sooner than I had thought. There is just no way to get it done in time.

Especially since I discovered the front end problem.

I had noticed that the front beam seemed to have an awfully high ride height. I suspected that this might be partially due to worn out shocks that did not want to function properly. Surprise . Surprise.

When I took the shocks loose the front lifted up another three inches. Not good.

A couple of quick measurements showed me that the clearance between the bottom of the chassis and the ground in the rear was two and a half inches. In the front it was five and a half inches unloaded. Even with me in the car it was still going to be too high. The car would go down the track looking like a dog sliding his rear.

On top of that we had other problems. The starter on Hugh’s car had gone out and would not turn the engine over. The solenoid worked but not the starter.

This meant we had to find a new starter or take the one off my car and put it on his so he could run.

Fortunately, a few phone calls solved the problem and I had one ordered which would be in the next day. Hugh had a chance to fish a private lake filled with trophy bass that day and was not about to miss it. I didn’t blame him, so we planned to make the change on Thursday.

The next morning I picked up the stater and since it was Wednesday, went by to pick up the Logo and the Grinch to put on my car. Naturally they were not ready. “Please come back at four”. Around two thirty in the afternoon I got a phone call from the girl in the back room who was just beginning to do the work which was supposed to be ready at four. From the conversation it didn’t take long to realise she didn’t know what the hell she was doing.

I went by the shop at fifteen minutes to five, thinking I give them all the time I could. They had closed early.

I don’t usually deal with Tony’s Tinting any more. This kind of behaviour was the reason. I had been through something like this with them before. They had done the numbers for Hugh on this spray can paint job. The numbers were ok when we finally got them (late) except for being the wrong numbers. They did them again and finally got it right. Somehow they never have enough time to do it right the first time but always find time to do it over.

We have found that we can order our numbers from SR Racing in Kentucky and have them in LaPlace sooner than we could get them form a local supplier.

Ain’t that a kick in the head.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lo Go

We made back half a step.
I found a local shop who would take on the Grinch and the blind mule logo. Should be ready next Wednesday. We'll see how it works out.
* * *
I got around to asking why the Grinch was called the Grinch.
Luanne, Gary's fair lady, explained it to me.
It seemed that Gary and his brother Wayne had developed a reputation for showing up late for races. Often late enough that their names didn't even make it to the printed grid sheets. In spite of that they were winning a fair portion of the ones they entered.
The whole time they were building the car with their Dad they were kidding around about sneaking in at the last moment, with a home made car and stealing the race like the Grinch stole Christmas
It would be nice to fulfill the plot line with a win but it didn't happen that way. They had overheating problems and finished third.
So much for stealing Christmas.
The Grinch didn't get away with it either.