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Race Tale, Carolina Motorsports Park, 1-3May09.

A saga of crumpled sheetmetal, smashed windshield and a blown motor



I’M SO SCREWED!  My mind shrieked as I flew across the track backwards at 80mph towards the tire wall.  “GODDAMNIT!!!”, my thoughts shrieked, “MY CAR IS F**KED!!!!!!”


With clutch and brake firmly pressed to the floor I braced my helmet against my seat back and gritted my teeth together as the wall raced towards me in my rear view mirror.


The car slid off of the track, thru 10m of grass and I watched the tire wall rush towards me in the mirror,  closer and closercloserclosercloser, oh god, oh god, oh god, my poor car……



1May (Friday) was a 3hr race that was fairly uneventful except for oil pressure problems.  It was excellent to be racing again after so long.  I was rusty and slow, but dang how it was fun.  I did the enduro's first hour, Fred Switzer my enduro buddy and Clemson Pshrink, did the second, and I did the last hour.   I was about 3 secs/lap off of my normal times, which is pretty awful.  But the times didn’t matter.  I was finally back at the track and it was a blast.


The past several months had been hard.  An evil mechanic in Atlanta had my car for Dec& Jan.  He’d taken my money and hosed up my motor.  In early Feb I got the car back, thanks only to some police assistance, and then with a lot of help, swapped out the entire messed up motor at the track 48hrs later.  It was a truly epic effort that re-affirmed one’s faith in humanity and the American male.  It, incredibly, only took 4hrs for us to do the motor swap, although figuring out some nagging problems took the rest of the day. 


But the replacement motor, sourced from a local junkyard, turned out to be weak.  Figuring out what it’s problems were consumed the rest of Feb and then making it strong again took all of March and April.  I learned a lot, but it was neither easy nor inexpensive.


By early May I was ready to go and had a motor that was reasonably strong.  But the aforementioned oil pressure problem was an unpleasant surprise.  Likely an indicator of engine death due to bearing failure.  All the efforts of the past couple of months had been associated with fixing problems in the top half (as in head and valves) of the junkyard motor because it had turned out to be weak.  I’d not fooled with the bottom half (as in bearings, crankshaft and pistons.  And apparently it had come from the junkyard with tired bearings.


In an attempt to get the motor thru the weekend I drained the oil out and replaced it with really thick (50W) oil that would help maintain the higher oil pressures needed to keep oil in the bearings.  That got me from scary low up to badly low.  Very sad.


On Saturday we did a practice session, qualification (for starting positions) and then the race.  This would be a 40min “sprint” race which is far more exciting then the long enduro because there’d be 70-80 cars on the 2 ¼ mile track and since it was short, folks would be a lot more aggressive.


My biggest problem was that after 6 months of motor problems, yes 6 months, I was really rusty.  I’d just started getting the hang of this particular track last Fall and now it’d be half dozen track days before I had a prayer of running my old times.  The second problem was that I was getting a little low on tires.  Fred and I had “corded” 2 tires in the enduro, which is to say that we’d run them right into the steel cords.  So whereas I’d thought I’d be racing on 4 pretty decent ebay tires, I ended up having only 2 decent ones and two pretty worn tires.  I put the worn tires in the rear because front heavy cars are easy on rear tires.


Saturday Qualification.  Each time I pushed the envelope and tried to take turns harder, my rear end would get out from under me.  I was having to constantly “catch” my rear end because the darn car kept trying to exit turns backwards.  It was exasperating.

Saturday race. I had the greatest start of my life. Everyone just seemed to be asleep at the switch and I caught the green flag just right, an opening appeared in front of me and I roared thru the pack. I must have passed 6 people by the time we got thru turn1. It was glorious.

10min later, to my surprise, my rear end got out from under me on the exit of turn 1 and I went flying off of the track into the infield. There were a lot of spectators along the cyclone fence and they went running off in terror. The big sand trap slowed me down in a hurry.  Fortunately I didn't get stuck, nor hit a tire barrier that formed an island in the middle of the sand trap, and I roared back out to the track in a spray of dirt.






A couple minutes later I spun on turn 12, and that too was a surprise. In both cases the rear end started going out from under me altho I really wasn't asking that much of it. It should have stuck. I then did a perfectly competent correction to tuck the rear end back underneath me, and then I was backwards. Was irksome.

5min later I was hauling ass trying to catch back up to everyone and my rear end got out from under me again.  This time on turn 8. I did a good correction that, to my surprise and frustration, once again didn't work worth a shit and next thing I knew I was headed across the track towards a tire wall at 80mph.  Backwards, of course.  The tire wall was approaching in my rear view mirror godawful fast. I was so screwed. This one was looking like it was going to be bad.  I pressed my helmet back against my seat, clenched my teeth together and thought, "God don't let my car get all smashed up". Here comes the tires, here comes the tires and WHAM.

No. Not really a WHAM. It was more of a "bink". My tense shoulders and face scrunched up in a grimace, all sagged with relief.

I figured that after 3 spins, God was telling me to call it a day. So I started driving towards the tower, in the grass, backwards. Which is when BillZ also lost it on turn 8 and ended in the outside dirt fighting to stay in control.

The geometry of the situation was clear. If Bill lost it, he was going to come across the track to the infield just like I did, and then plow into me. I hit the gas to get out of the way (backwards) faster, but that just caused dirt and grass to spray.  Low on useful courses of action, I started sending Bill warm thoughts "Come on Bill, hold it together, hold it together".  And just when it was looking like he was going to launch across the track into me, he got it together and roared by. With my best wishes, I might add.

I did bend some sheetmetal on the tirewall, but not much.  I would later go to the ambulance and get a bandaid for the fender.  One has to amuse themselves where they can.

After those inexplicable spins I checked my rear tires with a durometer and it turned out that my rear Ebay tires were 20% harder then my front Ebay tires.  Ah so <recognition occurs>.

My oil (50W + STP) pressure was 35psi@ redline.  I was using molassis for oil and I was still no where near 60psi.  Not good.

Saturday night a big storm blew in. My carefully anchored EZ-Up foldable canopy/sunscreen was blown over with such force that it's corner smashed my windshield glass. Dang.  I’d only had the windshield a year.

Sunday's qual. Under decals and dirt, the grid workers didn’t notice my crunched windshield so they waved me on to the grid. 


I did awful in qual tho. I was slow because I was rusty, my tires sucked, and the previous day's spins had sapped my courage. Every time I hit the brakes to set my turn entry speed, anxiety was making me over-slow a bit.  But I did put both of my crappiest tires on the same side of the car. I figured that way my traction issues would at least be predictable, as opposed to ending up backwards all the time.

I was able to work myself up from 3 secs slow to 4 secs slow.  Sigh.

Sunday's race. They started the Miata's right behind us and I was tail end charlie of the E30's. Folks got tied up at turn 1 and I got by someone. Then there was some chaos in the turn 4-7 complex and I used it to get by another car or two. Fred and I then raced fiercely against each other for about 4 laps or so. We battled our hearts out turn after turn.  Often we were separated by only inches.  Goddamn it was fun.  He got ahead of me, by cheating of course, but I had a good turn 8 and I roared thru the 100mph “kink” with balls of steel, managed to not go sideways at the kink’s exit, and came up abreast of Fred on the inside. We then headed into turn 11 side by side, both trying hard to come up with some way to take the turn that would defeat the other.

Then, I think simultaneously, we both exclaimed "F*******K!" as we saw 10' worth of Johann's exhaust system sitting on the track right in the middle of turn 11. I had room to get by on the inside but Fred was screwed.  Fred reacted, by tapping the brakes early and tucking in right behind me.  I reacted by howling with laughter.  It was a thing of beauty the way the exhaust system peeled Fred off of me just perfectly.  “Doom on you Fred”, I howled.  Chortling over Fred’s ill-fortune, I neatly cut the turn a little tight to avoid the exhaust pipe, and then exited the turn backwards into the grass.


I got back on the track and hauled ass after the pack. I was pushing as hard as I dared but my lap times just sucked.  I was also noticing that my oil pressure was falling again. When it started peaking at 15psi@ red line, I decided to call it a day. I figured that it was going to be a hell of a lot harder to rebuild and swap out motors if I blew up the engine and therefore couldn't move the car.

Most of the evenings since then have been spent in the garage until midnight or 0200.  The bottom end of the motor that was pulled out of my car in February went from the machine shop to the race engine builder this morning.  Tomorrow I take the day off of work and spend the day helping them build it.  Then if all goes well I’ll swap the motor at home this weekend.


I’m a little intimidated by this motor swap.  It’s one thing to do it surrounded by smart people.  It’s another doing it on your own. 

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