Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bench Races with Barry

On Friday, after recovering from too much turkey and football, Hugh and I drove to Morgan City to visit Barry Bussard and take a look at his new car.

It is impressive. That 1600 cc engine is going to be something to reckon with. It looks even more frightening with that huge carburetor and after-market intake manifold on it. Fortunately, Barry knows that it is way outside our limits and in making plans to use one that fits the rules.

He is currently in the process of making the car safe and legal, by installing an on board fire suppression system, new fuel cell, etc.

His only other major problem will be cooling. I am told that the 1600 engine really puts out a lot of heat and takes twice as much cooling as the 1200’s. The conventional wisdom is that it needs at least twenty four square inches of controlled intake cooling duct to prevent the heads from overheating.

It is a Zink C4, similar to Mikes. It is amazing that two cars that started out exactly alike can now look so different.

We spent and hour or so going over it, looking at details, making suggestions, discussing options, and doing some bench racing.

You have to do the bench racing…..It’s a rule.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rat's Nest No More

I was looking at the rats’ nest of wires and tubes that made up the engine compartment on my car. There had to be a way to clean that up so you find a problem when it occurred.

When they first started building formula vees they used dead stock engines. That doesn’t last long in any kind of racing. Soon all the racers were "blueprinting" their mills.

That means they made sure that all the rods were the same weight, as were the pistons and valves. The valves springs all had the same compression strength and the cam followers and pushrods were dead equal in length and weight. It didn’t mean big changes but when you only have forty horses to start with even a little bit is big.

But still you had a big fan shroud enclosing a fan, which rotated about the main shaft of the generator, which was driven by a belt connected to a pulley on the end of the drive shaft. The job of the fan was to force air over the cylinders and cylinder heads and also to push air through the oil cooler. That’s why it’s called an air cooled engine. Actually it’s as much oil cooled as air cooled, but you use air to cool the oil as well.

All this cooling comes at a price. Engine power. Since every thing drives off the crankshaft of the engine, you burn horsepower to make all the stuff turn.

Vee racers are an inventive lot. They are also very skilful at reading rules. The rules said you had to have a generator, and it had to be driven by the belt connected to the pulley. Nobody said it had to be functional.

Soon the guts were stripped out of the generator and a freely spinning shaft drove the fan to cool an engine with a couple of extra horses.

The next step was to loosen the fan belts. If it slipped a bit, who cared? Certainly not the guy who was getting the advantage of the extra power not used to whirl all that stuff around. There were even a few cases of drivers who worked out squirters which on demand, sprayed a little oil on the belt so it would slip a lot during that few seconds when they needed an extra little burst of power.

Then some smart guy figured out that you get a pretty good breeze at a hundred miles per hour. Why not use that moving air to cool the motor rather than a fan. Again the rules stated that the fan shroud had to be there but it didn’t say that there had to be a fan in it. Next thing you know they were ducting air from the outside, through the fan shroud and over the engine and oil cooler and the fan was junked. And since the generator casing no longer had any function what so it was done away with along with the fan belt, and the fan.

Once everyone was cooling with out side air, there was no longer a reason for the fan shroud and it went away. Finally that left the old generator tower sticking up there with no function except to supply a tube to pour oil through and provide a breather for the engine case.

So someone devised a little plate that serves that function and bingo, there goes the generator tower. And with it a stumbling block which makes it possible to start cleaning up the rats nest.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Under Tow

Another Step Forward
When you have a formula type racer you have a built in second problem.

If you are going to race it you have to get it to the track. You can’t drive it there because the DOT gets funny about cars with no turn signals or horns, or lights or all those other things that NAPA and Atutozone are in business to sell us. I think it is an economics thing.

That means you have to have a trailer to haul it on. For me, that is where the next part of the economics debacle comes in.

In the after-Katrina environment of southern Louisiana, the secrets of ancient alchemy have been rediscovered and through this process every small landscape trailer in the state has been turned into pure gold.

It starts with the guy who has a pick up truck and a trailer who uses it to haul all the storm debris from his house and yard to the dump. The next thing you know, his next door neighbor gets him to perform a similar service. After that, his next door neighbor's cousin’s sister wants it done and the waiting list grows. It’s not long before the man’s teen age kid (if he has any moxie at all) figures out that this beats the hell out of mowing lawns cause you can charge a ton because of the law of supply and demand. So he borrows Dad’s truck (or uses his own) and the trailer and is in business for the summer. By the end of the summer he has four of his own trucks and all of his friends are working for him and the cost of trailers has tripled.

Needless to say it is not the best of all times to be buying a trailer down here.

I had even drawn up a sketch of what I wanted and had the welding shop, which does my serious welding, price it out for me. It turned out to be nearly what I paid for the racecar. That dog won’t hunt.

I finally found a company in Quakertown, Pa., which sells trailer kits. It is just the right size, comes complete with all the parts (even a few I don’t need for my purposes) and is supplied with a certificate of origin which the DOT needs to prove it’s real. They won’t license it unless you can prove it’s real.

So it’s ordered and should be here next Wednesday. At half of what it would be cost to buy a used one locally. I guess they don’t have hurricanes in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Old VWs never die, (they turn into parts)

It was Sunday and we had nothing to race. We needed parts. There was only one thing left to do. We had to make a trip to Hammond.

In Hammond lives Gary Scurlock, our supplier of esoteric Bug parts and acknowledged guru of all things Volkswagen. If it fits on a bug, Gary has at least one copy sitting in his back yard, or failing that, he knows where one is. Handy fellow to know.

Besides, he was holding for me, a transaxle I had purchased a few weeks ago to have for spare parts. Like crown nuts and backing plates.

On top of that he was in the process of restoring an old formula vee to use in the Vintage races and we wanted to take a look at it.

When we arrived, Gary was already in his shop working on the vintage car. He stopped work long enough to chat with us and show off what he was working on.

It is an old Autodynamics, a design that came initially from Ray Caldwell if my memory serves. Ray would go on later to design the famous D-13 and D-13S series, the first vees ever subjected to the MIT wind tunnel. Now he designs chassis for NASCAR.

Gary is doing a beautiful job on the bodywork of the Vee, using techniques more often seen in fiberglass boat building than automobiles. You can track his progress on one of his three web sites.

Naturally he had just the parts we needed. Just on the off chance (I really knew he would have them) I asked about the head shrouds that Mike and Barry were going to require to solve cooling problems. Sure enough he had both the single port for Mike and the dual port for Barry. They were rusty but that is not at all unusual for old VW parts. Some sanding and paint would cure that.

There was some general discussion about the torqueing of the crown nuts on the rear axles. It sounds simple but it is a real problem.

Almost everything else on a bug tends to be a little loosy goosy. Not the crown nuts. They have to be torqued down to somewhere between two hundred seventy and three hundred foot-pounds. That’s a lot. Normally it is achieved by using a three-foot long pipe for leverage on the end of a thirty six-millimetre socket wrench. It is a straining experience and you run the risk of either a stripped thread or a hernia. Not fun. When that happens, you start looking for a new axle…..or a truss.

Of course Gary had a magical mystery tool to do the job. It bolts directly to the brake drum and through the use of gears, multiplies the torque by ten. No more straining on a long handle. Beautiful. Thirty pounds on the torque wrench equals three hundred pounds on the crown nut.

With the transaxle and shrouds in the truck and the borrowed magic tool under our arm, we let Gary get back to his work, and headed home.

It was almost time for the Saints game.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Big Wheel Keeps On Turnin'

When Mike and I got home from the day at the track, Hugh already had his car on the trailer and ready to go. All we had to do was transfer my toolbox and a few other little items from Mike’s car to the truck, and we would be ready to leave the next morning.

The throttle repair had been made and every thing was under control. We didn’t have to rush. It was a nice feeling.

But Hugh gets antsy on race days. He’s like that when he goes fishing too. He just won’t be happy until he is under way and moving. Heaven help you if you want to sleep in a little. We were leaving the house at six forty five because it was a magic number in some mental schedule he had not bothered to communicate to anyone else. At least this way we could stop for breakfast somewhere.

So, at six forty five we were off, Hugh with the truck and trailer and Rusty and I in the Porsche with it’s FOR SALE sign stuck firmly in the window. We gassed up and stopped at the local Waffle House to fuel the humans. Before Rusty and I had finished breakfast he was up and itching again. We let him go, finished our coffee, made a pit stop and got on the road. It didn’t matter. Nothing was going to happen until after the drivers meeting at nine o’clock anyway.

When we got to the track he had already picked a spot and we started unloading the trailer. We got the car down and erected our new shade tent although it was one of those dark and overcast days that indicated it was more likely to be needed to keep off rain than sunshine.

Everything had pretty much been checked so there wasn’t much to do but torque the lug nuts a final time, add fuel, and check the tire pressures. I was trying a different tire pressure setting this time and was anxious to see if Hugh felt it made a difference.

All the usual open wheel guys were there except Charlie (vintage Brabham) and Robert (Swift Formula Ford).

Bill Roland, (the only other driver my age) and his son David were pitted near us. It is sort of neat to see Bill there with his teen age grandson pitting for him. Bill drives a Spec Renard and David was piloting a sports two thousand. The sports two thousand is a closed wheel sports racer sort of car but it was running with us rather than with the much taller fendered flounderers. Like I said, it is and embarrassment thing.

The other new comer was Rory White, who showed up with is Formula five hundred car. These are neat little things, which are like big go carts in that they have no real suspension. They do however run a very potent water cooled snowmobile engine which puts out more horses than a vee to a chassis that weights less than ours.

Barry Brussard arrived to help us and we got Hugh launched for the practice session. All went well and he seemed to be settling in with no hassles. When he came in the car was smoking badly but we found the culprit quickly. A valve cover was leaking oil on one of the exhaust headers.

When it was time for the qualifying session we sent him out with instructions to post a decent lap time. He seemed to be working at it this time. At least he was pushing hard enough that he spun twice during the session. Best of all however just as the session was about to end he put in the fastest lap he had ever run.

I was getting excited as he started around again, thinking that maybe he was going to give us another.

Not to be. He didn’t show up again. The session was over, but still no Hugh.

That meant something had happened out on the track and he was stranded.

After a while we got word that he was OK. We watched as the wrecker was dispatched to go pick him up

As he explained it later, he was just getting to the end of the long straight (where you are going your absolute fastest) when he felt a little thump, and then a larger bump as the left rear of the car settled down. Just about then he looked up to see his rear wheel pass him. Remember that this is all while you are going about a hundred miles an hour.

Since he was riding on three wheels and a backing plate the car slowed down and eventually spun to a stop. Pretty exciting for a few minutes, but no cuts no bruises, no bleeding. Damp trousers maybe.

A wheel nut had come off. It had sheared a cotter pin and released the brake drum from the splined axle shaft. A soon as Hugh put a little pressure on it setting up for the turn at the end of the straight it had slipped right off, gone on vacation with the tire and dropped the brake backing plate on the track to take the abuse.

They eventually found the wheel, with the brake drum still bolted securely in place, a hundred yards down the track, sitting on top of the safety tire wall. I guess it felt at home there.

We didn’t make the race. Where are you going to find a 1964 Volkswagen wheel crown nut on Saturday morning in the south Louisiana sugarcane fields……………………and there wasn’t even a lawn mower shop in sight.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Doing Their Part

One of the things I have always loved about racing formula Vees is that you can buy parts right off the shelf. They are just not usually the parts of things you connect with racecars. They may belong on motorcycles, bicycles, dump trucks, spacecraft, wagons, boats, airplanes, washing machines or a plumber’s bench. Nothing is taboo.
On the other hand you usually have to fabricate things from scratch since there are few race car parts made to do what you need done. Either way I love the imagination required recognizing a perfectly good solution to a problem when it is presented "out of uniform".
Hugh resolved his difficulty with the throttle cable…. With pieces obtained from a lawn mower repair shop.

Flight of the Norton Vee

Today was kind of a red-letter day for us. Today our second Vee made it to the track. We had hoped there would be four out for this practice session but it just didn’t work out that way. It was time for Mike Norton’s maiden flight.

My car was not ready. Neither was Barry’s and Hugh was out (just for the day) with a broken throttle cable.

Mike had to go to the restaurant first thing to set the days specials so we left about ten thirty to go pick up his car and head out. We got to the track just as they were having a lunch break so the timing was right on.

We talked with Winston and had him do a safety check. After that we put Mike in the beast and had him making slow laps around he paddock area until he knew where all the gears were and was he sure the brakes worked.

It was the first time he had driven the car so it was all learning experience.

We got one of the Spec Miata drivers to take Mike out on the track as a passenger in a practice session. The made about ten semi-fast laps around the track showing Mike the lines through the corners, braking points, etc.

Mike said the guy had this neat head set to head set speaker system in the car so they could talk even at speed. It seemed to be OK while they were going slow but when they got up to speed he could hear him any more. I still haven’t figured out whether he meant it got too noisy or he just couldn’t hear anything when he was going that fast.

After a couple more laps around the paddock area, Winston waved Mike out on the track. Again, the timing was just right. The only other cars on the track were Bill and David Roland’s who are old hands and knew not to scare him too badly.

I had what I thought was going to be a great shot of Mike leading Bill through the last corner but when the picture came up it was just Bills car.

The shutter lag on the digital camera makes it difficult to get action shots at times.
Mike came off the track wearing that same silly grin Hugh had worn on his first day. I think every one of us has borrowed it for our first time out. There is just nothing else like it in the world.

So Mike lost his cherry and we found a couple of things to fix before the next time out.
The cooling system needs some work. There needs to be a better way to direct the air over the cylinders to cool the engine, a duct to the oil cooler, and the mounting for the seat belts needs to be modified to better contain the driver.

Other than that the car worked fine.

Oh, there was one other little thing. There needs to be a better way to attach the bottom clips for the nose. Mike just does not look his best in this position.

More About The Axle Beam

Well, the other shoe has fallen. It was another of those little things that you don’t see coming.

I had felt less than my usual strapping self over the weekend and didn’t get much done on the car. On Monday morning I got after it and attacked the front axle beam again. Remember that our goal is to remove the one that had been on the car for the last twenty years and install one that had a ride height adjuster on it. And get every thing else done by Thursday so we could make the practice day on Friday. No pressure…, none at all.

I had the second beam all prepared and painted and ready to install. I had even transferred the neat little shock mount brackets.

Removing the old one turned into a bear. I took all the battery tray pieces off the mounting bolts and let it hang. The bottom was pop-riveted to the undertray and I hoped I wouldn’t have to drill it all out and redo every thing there. With the tray dropped down, mostly out of the way, I started on the bolts for the beam itself.

Let me tell you. Bolts that have grown to be twenty years old think well of them selves. They have grown strong and are convinced that since they have been holding things together so long they have acquired tenure and are harder to move than an aging academic. Especially with a little rust and a few coats of paint welding them in place. Time for the convincer.

With a piece of pipe slipped over the end if a socket wrench I had enough leverage to crack the nuts loose and get the removal al started. It took a bit, but finally all the nuts were loose and the bolts came out. The beam still would not budge. I had to go looking again.

I found it. The mounting plate for the master cylinders is a piece of sheet metal which folds ninety degrees from the vertical plane under to form the leading part of the cars belly pan. I think the idea here was that this thicker metal would also protect the driver’s feet should some seriously unfortunate grounding take place. I liked the idea of protecting the driver.

Through this vertical metal plate a series of holes were punched. Three for the barrels of the front and rear brake masters and the third for the cutch master. Above and below each of these are two additional holes where the bolts hold the masters to the plate.

When we tried to move the beam, we could see flexing in the plate and when we looked closer it appeared that the plate was welded to the bottom of the beam. What’s more, it was in an area where you could not get to it to break the welds loose. That was a crusher. It would mean that the entire front end of the car would have to be disassembled in order to remove the beam. Pedal assembles, master cylinders, brake and clutch lines, undertray and everything.

It was already late in the day (did I forget to mention the afternoon rain delay), so with that depressing thought I decided to call it a day and put away my tools.

* * *

I worried over it all night.

I just couldn’t believe that the builders would put something on a car, which could not be dismantled. Especially in an area like the front beam which is prone to damage and likely to need replacement.

So I looked again, and sure enough, hiding behind the front plate was a piece of angle welded to the bottom of the axle beam itself. I guess that someone realized that the plate alone was not strong enough to resist bending from the pressure applied to the brake and clutch pedals. The angle solved that by adding strength at the top of the master cylinder assemblies.

As a mater of fact the top bolts of the masters, all three of them, were attached through the angle. That was why the beam still would not move. Easy enough, undo the top bolts and slide them out. Right. You got to be kidding. They were twenty-year-old bolts, sitting in an awkward position, and not ready to give up the place they called home.

Finally I had them all loose and Hugh and I were able to lift the old beam off the chassis.

With that out of the way I could test fit the new beam. I discovered that the bracket for the ride height adjuster on the lower bar was trying to occupy the same space as one of the master cylinders. Since the lower bracket would not be used it could be cut off and thereby remove the problem. It just takes time.

Of course by this time it was mid day on Tuesday. I realized there was no way to still get the car ready to load on a trailer by Thursday.

On top of that we had promised to help Mike Norton get his car ready for it’s first outing this weekend. The hours just were not working for us.

So we switched gears and started the final preps on Hugh’s car since he was planning to run the practice sessions on Friday.

* * *

Wednesday afternoon we went out to Mikes and helped him putter with his yellow beast.
He had turned the car over to Brandon to have the new roll bar installed. It would be higher in order to go up over Mike’s head.

Brandon did a nice job but the additional roll bar height and braces meant some adjustment had to be made to the bodywork.

A little work with a sabersaw and we were in business. It looked like Mike would be able to run.

* * *

Wednesday evening we had a nice dinner at Bull’s Corner with Barry and Kathy Bussard, Mike, Hugh and I.

It was our first chance to meet Kathy who turned out to be an attractive and charming lady. She is a little skittish about all this racing stuff but I think she will come around with exposure.
Since we are the only Vee/FST racers at the track we are sort of out own rules committee. Over dinner we had our first unofficial non-meeting. We decided that while we were trying to get the class started we will sort of just run what we have and have a good time with it.

I like that kind of rules.

* * *

Thursday morning we were doing the final prep stuff. Just the usual. Charging the battery. Cleaning up all the dusty and dirty places. Checking the camber settings, installing a new rain light. Checking the new running lights on the trailer. Stuff like that. With luck we would be ready to load the car by lunchtime on. Makes it easy that way.

Last time we went through this process, the starter was bad. This time we didn’t find it until late Thursday morning.

This week’s Judas was the throttle cable. It had frozen solid inside the tube that runs from the Go pedal to the carburetor. It was like someone had poured glue in the tube.

We removed the old cable to use for checking lengths and set out in search of a new cable.
It sounds like a simple thing, but nothing ever is. At our third stop we found something that might work and went home to try it in place.

When it got too dark to see what we were doing when Hugh blew the whistle. Stop for now. He would attack it again in the morning.

I, in turn, would escort Mike to the track and see him through his first practice session. If he was lucky, Hugh would make it out for the afternoon sessions.
We’ll see.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ferrari Dreams

We can dream can’t we?

Rusty and I attended the Ferrari Club event on Friday at our home track. Lots of red out there, with an occasional touch of yellow, a splash of blue and of course, a little black. Lots of interesting cars. It was a real hoot to see four car haulers drive in and then try to guess what was going to spill out of them.

We had gone under the guise of working corners just like we would for a race, but I don’t know why. These guys don’t look at flags. No, never, nada, nyet. They drive Ferraris. Black flag the field and they speed up. Oh well, it’s their equipment and their lives they are playing with. I guess if you drive a Ferrari you are invincible and your equipment is bullet proof.

After meeting and partying the night before, the F people got down to business. Part of the process of all this fun is that the drivers meet in New Orleans for an early in the morning breakfast and then drive in caravan to the track. With a police escort, no less.

The first four cars showed up (without the police) grinning like a bunch of high school kids with their fathers cars. Seems they got tired of gong slow, and drove away from them. (A nameless police officer told me later that the caravan was cruising at over eighty) Twenty minutes later the rest of the main group arrived (with the police) and entered with full fanfare. About forty really great automobiles shining like new gems.

The race prepared machines were already at the track and were now uncovered for everyone to see. These included four of the new challenge cup cars, one really yellow M type, one 335 SR ex LeMans car, and the real class of the show, a beautifully restored vintage roadster. Being a little older than most of the crowd, It caught my eye.

One look at the roadster and you could see Juan Fangio, Phil Hill or maybe even Moss behind the wheel. You might see just one of these in your lifetime. Merely sitting there in all its glory it gave me thrills. When it went out on the track, the driver wore a period correct half helmet with fabric earflaps. Wonderful. And the best part is that the damned thing was fast and sounded like the sweet music only Ferrari’s produce.

The French Quarter Classic crew did a great job of making the event memorable. All the right flags flew and the Ferrari garage (There actually is a Ferrari garage reserved where a couple of cars are stored and worked on) was converted to a hospitality suite, complete with buffet. No track burgers today.

The weather was beautiful, the cars fast and all in all a great outing. Lots of spins, a little excitement and a few raised heart rates, but in general all went well. Most importantly there were no accidents.

One exception. Some uninformed turtle thought he could make it across the track between turns six and eight and had the misfortune of walking under the wheel of a flying Ferrari. It had to be his fault and besides, he broke the wheel.

It was fun, very interesting and I’ll leave you with a few pictures for your imagination to swim in.
(Click on the small pictures to enlarge)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Show of Restraint

With the guys gone, I settled down to solving the problem of the camber limiter.

The original Grinch had been a "Z-Bar" car. That is it used a Z shaped bar to act as a torsion bar for the rear swing axles and additionally to keep the axles from going in to positive camber.

Mike Schiffer, the Grinch’s first owner after the Dassingers built it, decided he didn’t like that.

At the beginning of his second season with the car, he installed a cable restraint system.

The idea is simple. Cinch up the cable to the point that the rear axles are constantly in negative caber and can not droop any farther even if both wheels are off the ground.. Short, quick, positive.

It can mean however, that you get some very nasty transitions when the cable is at the end of its tether. You don’t get much warning of impending loss of traction. I guess you just have to learn, by unpleasant experience ( like spinning out), when it is going to go…… and not go there.
I could do without that. I wanted something a bit more forgiving.
I knew I was planning to build a "zero roll" system for the back end but I didn’t have time to do it before next weekends race. I also knew that in order to get the zero roll assembly under the rear end bodywork, I would have to drop the whole thing down as low as possible. That, in turn means I have to get a new exhaust system built that will not be in the way of the zero roll gear. Everything on a racecar is give and take. Move this a little bit here and you are in the way of something else. It makes you really appreciate watchmakers.
I finally figured out a system of brackets mounted to the upper coil over shock mounts and connected to the rear axle locating arm with a bar. The bar, in turn feeds through a spring mounted on the top of the bracket. Since the bar is threaded I could then crank down on the spring to adjust the amount of camber. The second spring should provide some slight warning the you are about at the end of your reach and maybe, just maybe, let you know when to back off.
We’ll see next week when we go to the track.

Beam Me Up!

Part of today was spent working on the new axle beam.

For Mike’s purposes the old steering box and steering arms and torsion bars had been left in place. I didn’t need or want them, so I set about making them go away.

The tower nuts had cotter pins in them to stop them from turning during heavy road vibration. Of course, the ends of the cotter pins had been eaten away to the point they very difficult to get to and had to be pushed out with a nail. Then you have to break loose the old rusted nut and spin those off. It is a good example of how little task eat up your time.

Once all of that is cleared, we pulled off the trailing arms and removed the spring leaves from the lower tube so I could replace them with a sway bar.

None of this is unusual, but it takes time to do.

Anyway at the end of the day the beam is clear and all of the old hardware has been removed.

The next step is to remove the old beam from the racecar and then start swapping out parts. The long-range goal is to have a beam with an adjustable spring package in the top tube and an anti-sway bar in the bottom tube.

* * *
Tomorrow Hugh and Rusty are going over to the track to play corner worker for the annual Ferrari club track outing. They are expecting a nice turnout of cars and it should be fun.

I’d like to go but since there is a race next weekend I am staying home to work on the car.