Saturday, June 20, 2009

Just a Saturday drive in the country

Saturday Morning, Day 1 of race... continued;

Having just avoided becoming public enemy #1 by evading and not squishing the previously mentioned Hare from Hell in front of dozens of kids and spouses that lined the fence, I continued onto the track and accelerated down onto the front straight.

The exhaust rang off of the retaining walls and was music to my ears, that Siamesed exhaust providing the distinct MGB engine song I have always loved.

I snicked the transmission through the gears and cruised through the set of downhill esses, listening to the car and checking my mirrors.

And I was frigging scared.

There are whole programs and established processes to help you become a race car driver. You join a club, they teach, you learn and practice, then eventually earn a license to do this crazy crap, AFTER demonstrating some brains and an understanding of the basic rules.

Me, I had never been through any of that. Online research aside, the only thing I knew for sure, was that there was a WHOLE lot of things I still did not know.

And yet here I was merging into a crowd of 100+ cars, one of the largest fields of automobiles stuffed onto a racetrack in motorsports.


It wasn't the going fast that worried me. Hell, any bonehead can drive fast right up until they go off in the dirt. It was the possibility of DOING IT WRONG. Of innocently doing something stupid that everyone BUT me knows about, of being punished, humiliated or banished from the island that worried me.

There are always unwritten laws in every group that newbies violate and veterans get to yell at them about. And there are really only 2 ways to learn these laws. A) Screw up and get yelled at, or B) Pay attention when OTHER newbies get yelled at.

What sets LeMons racers apart from other competition series is that they welcome newbies right into the mix. "Come on in, have a drink from the firehose, Ha-ha!" Sure, they do their fair share of teasing, but they also embrace and help the new guys in ways I have not seen elsewhere.

The secret here seems to be that this race is all about having fun. No one cares who wins. Much. So they say.

It is also much more accessible than the more famous clubs, where getting mired down in thick confusing rulebooks serves as a deterrent for many who otherwise would be interested. Here it is simple and easy to follow. And as a result, you end up with engineers, soccer moms and accountants mixing it up with veterans, professionals and mad men on the track.

My game plan was to play it safe, stay on the outside and out of trouble until I got in a groove. Perhaps find a car of similar performance on a good line, and follow them as I figure it out.

We did a bunch of caution laps under yellow/no passing conditions as they sorted out the transponder checks and such. It was pretty hot in the car but not unbearable as we played follow the leader around and around the track. We even had moments of spirited driving to make sure the cars were running ok.

Then my first mistake.

As I passed the start/finish flag station, the Honda from team LeMons Demolition merged onto the track, and I, being Mr. Polite and Conservative slowed down to give him space to merge in front of me. Besides, it was one of my favorites from the Altamont 08 race. How could you not love those caterpillar exhaust stacks?


I retrospect I wish I had goosed it and let him fall in behind me. The damn thing smoked and had a horrible stench every time he mashed on the gas. I'm kinda fond of old engine smells including smoke, especially the worn-rings blue-tinge perfumed variety, but THIS was the acrid engine of death kind of smoke. Awful. I soon found myself with a headache and watery eyes, trying to keep my distance for the remaining yellow caution laps. It slowly seemed to clear as the car warmed up, but then would come belching out again, and again for the next 15 minutes.

My tongue thickened and I wished I had some water.

Suddenly, a black and white panda screamed past! WHOAH! PANDA!!

I looked around and no one else was passing. I could not see any flag stations where I was so I resisted the temptation to floor it and held my position instead. It's a long race, I'll be dammed if I was gonna get a black flag at the very beginning, lol!

As we came around the final turns before the Start/Finish flag station, I finally saw the green, and of course so did everyone else. The smoking yellow Honda took off and got a few positions on us, allowing me to breathe some diluted oxygen at long last.

We filed into the long sweeping corner keeping our distances, then through the bends and hard to the right up the steep hill. This is the slow car killer. Not only is it steep, but it has a bump at the bottom that lifts your inside rear wheel causing it to loose grip and power when you need it the most. As a result, a bunch of us 4-banger cars got stuck in a clump behind the Pony Express unable to pass as we putt-putted up the hill.

After cresting the top of the hill the herd started to make it's way around the cowboy one at a time until there were just two of us left, team Delta Force (#.357) and the Killer Bee, which I thought was strangely ironic.

I figured it was now OUR turn to get by, but unfortunately we were now going downhill and the cowboy had gravity assisting him, just as the Bee started sputtering again. DAMNIT!

On the back straight team Delta Force out-dragged the cowboy and got by, while I floored the Killer Bee. But the damn horse was just as fast as I was. It killed me not being able to use 2nd gear, which had a super low and useless gear ratio. By the time the motor started making power in 3rd gear it was time to brake again.

Then it happened...

The horse went in a little too hot and started burning it's hooves trying to slow down. And as the contraption went around the corner, the cowboy on top looked like he was hanging on for dear life and trying not to fall over.

That was my chance. As he slid wide, I hung on the inside and out-cornered him punching it halfway through and emerged victorious! MY FIRST PASS!!

(The crowd goes wild)

On the video, after the pass I can be heard hooting and hollering once I realize I did not die. My heart was racing and I was full of adrenaline. (Also on the video, you can see that we weren't actually going very fast. How embarrassing.)

Next I set my eyes on that .357 car, and nearly got around him on the next straight... untill I realized I did not know which way the track went. "Uhhh.... you go ahead" and I fell back in line. Crap.

I stayed there for the rest of the lap until we came back to the right-hander up the hill. Somehow I hit the corner just right and got along side him with my momentum. Then it became a drag race of the pathetic as our heaps clawed their way to the top - mine with just a touch more momentum was victorious! Second pass!

Now feeling brave and cocky the track ahead of me was clear so I wound it out all the way down the backstretch, using the cone markers to gauge my braking and turn in points. This is cool! I can do this! I said to myself.

Then on the next corner I was passed by a brown and white Rabbit on 3 wheels like I was standing still. (AAHHH! A BUNNY!!) I was just pwned by Oolong, the bunny with a pancake on it's head.

I was awestruck. I had never seen anything like that before. I thought "Hey, I should follow HIS line!" Then immediately came to my senses "Am I STUPID? I can't follow THAT line!! He's on THREE WHEELS"

I barely had time to blink when I noticed we had somehow caught up to the pack. Huh!

Then I got caught behind a Biting Monkey and said goodbye to the rabbit as he bounded off in the distance. The Monkey tried to wave me by, but I was already wide open and had no more umph. Instead I held position and was blown off the road by the Swine Flu Pig and a turbocharged Shark.

(What the hell kind of race is this?)

The remnants of an Alpha Romeo (aka team Ecurie Ecrappe Autodenta) blew by Monkey boy and I just in time for another yellow, which would last for the next 25 minutes.

We slowly circled around and around, and I thought I was going to overheat at first. But eventually my heart rate slowed and I cooled off just enough to keep from frying.

Then at high noon - the horse was back!

SOMEHOW he managed to come out of the pits and slip RIGHT BACK IN FRONT OF ME!! AAAAHHHHGGG!! Are you serious? Ha-ha.. Ooohhh nooooo....

But wait, where was the cowboy? Oh that's funny! We have a Ghostrider! Runaway horse!


I got blown off the road by a pig wearing lipstick and the flaming Squirrel of Furry, who's claim to fame was it's meteorite impersonation at Thunderhill last year.

Oh, we're green! Go Go go!

I blasted past the horse and a black Corvair (Hey! Which way is that thing pointed? They should put an orange stripe on one end of it for easy identification!) and in turn was passed by a Star Wars Snowspeeder and Elvis' in a pink Caddi-Miata-lac, whom I followed for a while getting one of my best laps for the session.

When I got passed by a Windmill, a Bowling Ball and the LeMons Fire Department I decided it was time to pit, which fortuitously coincided with another yellow. Excellent...

One hour from pit to pit, a total of 16 minutes of green flag racing and nearly 45 minutes of yellow laps, where at least I was not loosing any positions, nyuck-nyuck.

I shut off the car and we swapped drivers; "Hey WOW man" Chong was up next, our supposed ace in the hole.

I approached smiling-bundle-of-cuteness-in-a-yellow-shirt-spouse and showed her my hands, which were shaking visibly from 10 feet away. I realized my arms were aching from the death grip I held on the wheel and tried to shake some blood back into them.

I asked how it looked and she said "Pretty good".

Did I look fast?

No, not so much, giggle

Next: Goin for Broken #2, Saturday afternoon.

Previous: Killer Rabbit™, News at 11

From the VERY begining... The Hook

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Killer Rabbit™, News at 11

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you the following breaking update:

The Killer Rabbit™ from team "Knights of the round track" (aka Stick Figure racing) has escaped! It was last seen at 11:06am, 22 May 09 in Fernley Nevada, trying to take out "Sparky, El Delusional Capitan" of team Killer Bees as he first entered the race track.

Bender and jkiel of Stick Figure Racing - were reportedly readying the Holy Hand Grenade with incantations from "The Book of Armaments"

Children and small animals are advised to wear garlic.

Details at 11.

(Notice the bouncy critter running from the left as I pass the flag station...)


Ok, I got stumped. I literally spent the ENTIRE week trying to edit our stupid 24 Hours of LeMons video from Reno Fernley Raceway last month, to get this 15 second video of the dastardly Bunny as it tried to kill me.

Turns out I did not read the directions on Flip Video camera (not that there were any real directions to read ayways) and I screwed myself.

Seems that once you download the video to your computer you can do some simple editing, chop it up and even put it to music. Yeah great.

BUT, once you export it out of the library, oh say like copy it to an external hard drive like I did to save 4 gig of SPACE, it's GAME OVER. You can't re-import it.



So I have been stuck with boring 2 hour videos that I could not do anything with.

Now don't get me wrong, it is an awesome little device, takes great video and is dirt cheap, but the software is TOO simple - to the point of being retarded.

The format is in MP4 which I don't care to know anything about, and it seems neither does Windows Movie Maker. MP4s won't load into the software. Online forums have a million different solutions and cheats to import codecs & masage the Divexs and xviDs blah-blah-blah... but the root of the problem is these two things just don't play nice and are really beyond my realm of interest.

So option 2 was to convert the MP4 into something like an AVI. Ok, GREAT!

2 days of searching for and monkeying with freeware later, I had it converted to AVI.

Except when you do that, you loose all the resolution and cant see the stupid BUNNY anymore! It's a white square block that flashes twice and disappears.


3 more days of research later and downloads later I had semi-workable solution from Avidemux, 15 corrupt test files, and finally the juicy little snippet above.

I was going to put music and arrow pointers in the video, but screw it. I'm done ha-ha. I'll play with my new software toys and if I don't screw things up, maybe I'll post more videos as I complete them.


We now return you to your regularly scheduled programing.

Next: Just a Saturday drive in the country

Previous: And they're off!

From The begining of this mess: The Hook

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And they're off!

Day 1...

Reno-Fernley-Raceway, Nevada Desert, 8am

Kevin Hey-WOW-man Chong and I stopped off at a local generic auto-parts store to grab a few last minute items for our wanna-bee race car like hose clamps, a fuel filter and a vacuum t-fitting. I wanted to try and solve our high speed miss before the race (which started in 2 hours!) but first needed to eliminate any obvious possible causes. I figured changing the fuel filter and hooking up the carb float vents to the stock system would not hurt.

After paying for our grab bag of goodies, we again wandered next door to choke-in-the-box for yet another breakfast burrito, then went to fire up Brownie, the world's-greatest-crappy-old-RV and head back to the track in time for the morning driver's meeting.

But Brownie would not start. Again. A turn of the key got me a nice loud "CLICK" and nothing more.

I have gotten pretty used to this recently. In fact, this is why I got the dang RV in the first place. My stepfather got tired of trying to fix it and dropped it off at my house one unexpected day.

The temporary cure is easy... turn on electric fuel pump, stomp on pedal 3 times, pop hood, remove wire from starter relay and touch it to the hot post on the battery. a few cranks and Vrooom!! Works every time.

The actual problem is kinda murky though, as everything in the starter system checks out fine and has been replaced at LEAST twice. Starter, solenoid, relay, key stitch, wiring, grounds, connectors, nothing has cured it. There is a HIGH probability that a bad part was replaced with another bad part, but I'm tired of messing with it and got good at hot wiring the starter.

It gets cantankerous on me at random and that's the way it is. Hot, cold, sunny, rain. It does not matter. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don't.

Which is fine unless you are at 4500 feet in the Nevada desert and the engine wants to stall at every intersection because it's running too rich. Thus I have also gotten good at 2 footed driving. One foot on the gas to keep it from stalling, one on the brake to keep us out of traffic, and the right hand shifting us in and out of gear whenever traffic clears enough for us to cross.

And this is how we made our way back to the paddocks at Reno-Fernley-Raceway just in the nick of time. People were bustling all over the pits and we had just enough time to do a quick tune up after the filter change and vent modification.

Everyone got busy with their assigned tasks and the car got poked, prodded, checked, filled and rechecked high and low. The radiator water was a little low but much better than the day before.

I threw on a new distributor cap, rotor and plug wires then went to change the plugs for good measure. I had brought lots of new spares I stole from my MGBGT restoration, and my thinking was that I would just swap things until I found the miss-fire culprit, then put the rest of the crap back the way it was.

As I went to install the first plug however, disaster struck.

The old plug looked fine with a nice light tan tint so I set it aside and started to install a new one. It went in fine and seated by hand, but when I went to torque it down it just started to spin.

"OH CRAP!" %^*&@#$ I yelled at the Lucas/Leyland gods.

I had turned it barely a quarter turn when the threads on the aluminum head galled up and let loose.


I started cursing the previous owner of this piece of crap, lord only knows what kind of damage he inflicted on it.

Still, the previous plug came out without any indication of trouble so I was pretty stunned by the situation. I thought for a second if I got it threaded in just right the plug may hold for a while. But then I realized the situation was hopeless... It would just pop out eventually. And the only real solution was for it to be taken apart and fixed correctly.

"Hey Pete, we gotta get going on down to the driver's meeting" Gargamel said.

"We are not going to make it to the starting grid!" I snapped. "We got a bunged up spark plug thread!"

Visions of yet another aborted LeMons race filled my head. "Sonofa..." I was pretty mad and disappointed...

Then as I looked around, I noticed I was surrounded by 106 really crappy cars that may or may not be running on all cylinders, and some did not run at all. This was the essence of LeMons. This is what it was all about.

"SCREW IT!" I laughed, "Lets go on what's left and run it till it blows, see how far we get!"

I took out the new plug and went to smash in the old one best I could, but lo-and-behold, it seated and torqued down correctly!!

Huh. What the hell?

I looked at the new plugs in the boxes, looked at the old plugs in the motor, then back at the new plugs and wondered if it was the right part number. "BAH! WHO CARES!" I shrugged and threw them into the parts box just in time for the drivers meeting.

Jay Lamm gave us the spiel about how crappy the drivers were, no contact etc etc etc. When he asked "How many first timers do we have?" I rolled my eyes and lifted my hand. Really depends on how you define first timer I guess. With any luck, this may finally be the last time I raise my hand.

After the meeting I suited up and chugged 2 more bottles of water. Many of the other cars were lining up for the start, but we decided to hang back and enjoy the shade of our tents for a while longer. The temp was already beginning to rise, although it seemed less evil than the day before.

Funny-cute-but-sleepy-spouse came up from behind and threw her arms around me, scaring the living bejeezus outta me. "Hey Squeeky! You made it!" I hugged her back. She had driven all night to get here after staying behind to take care of our gaggle of animals. Turtles, fish and a crazy dog. She also brought a handful of things I had forgotten, like toothpaste and Tigger's favorite toy, leaving the house at zero dark thirty to get here in time.

I strapped Tigger's toy onto the camera mount and stared at it for a moment. This was to be our mascot as Tigger-cat had passed away the week Before. It was also the second toy we mounted on the car, the first being a tiny toy horse that we mounted on the hood, given to us by fellow competitors from team Pony Express for good luck.

When Matt our pit neighbor from Free Range Racing pulled out we decided it was time to go. There were a steady stream of bubbles floating up from the back of his car which helped him stand out in case you missed the windmill.

The camera was on, I was strapped into the car and the motor started up. 4 cylinders, yeay! My team guided and backed me out of our pit and into line. As we waited and made our way to the track entrance I noticed another yellow car that appeared to be a Honda with the same bumblebee stripe livery slip in front of me.

Well whadayaknow... Traffic cone stinger and everything.

Guess I'm not as clever as I thought I was...

I made my way to the safety equipment checkpoint and showed him my stickers and shoes, and he waved me onto the track. I floored it and suddenly noticed a fluffy little bunny sitting in the grass below the flag tower.

Sure enough, as I approached him he darted out in front of me zigging and zagging for his life down the ramp, as little kids pointed at him from behind the fence.

I hit the brakes hard and swerved to avoid him, and watched him scamper off behind me.

Yes, I know. Shut up.

Some killer Bee we turned out to be. "Oh a fluffy bunny! AHHHH!"

Next Post: Killer Rabbit™, News at 11

Previous post: Testing, Testing, Is this thing on?

From The beginning of this mess: The Hook

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Testing, Testing, this thing on?

I have been taking a short vacation from racing, LeMons and cars in general. The last 6 months of thrashing and planning left me completely exhausted, but boy was it worth it. It has been nice to just sit back and relax for a while, and collect my thoughts.

The killer bee sits out proudly in front of the house on the sidewalk, attracting lots of stares from the morning and evening commutes. Still has the antennas attached too.

Then, unfortunately I got word that my contract at work is being canceled this week. Hard to be creative when your livelihood gets yanked.

We also picked up the ashes for Tigger-cat last weekend.

So, not the greatest week I've had, but I figure keeping busy will keep the downer thoughts away.

So sit on down and let me tell you a story, about the very first time I drove on a race track...


Friday afternoon, 22 May 09, Fernley Raceway

A team full of newbies has just passed the 24 Hrs of LeMons tech inspection, and sailed through the B.S. inspection.

We circled the car back around and into our pits and looked back and forth at each other.

The only thing separating us from certain doom in the form of driving a clapped-out 1977 Rubber Bumper MGB - decorated like a giant bee - out on a racetrack, was a simple turn of the ignition key.

Holy crap.

"We" decided I would be the first one out because, A) I am the mechanic and need to shake it down and check for problems, B) I built it by myself, C) I paid for it myself, and D) because I fricken said so.

I suited up and fidgeted with all the safety devices, got strapped in and realized I had to pee. I also realized that it was hotter than blazes in that suit.

So back out I came, made use of the facilities in Brownie - the worlds hottest and greatest crappy old RV, chugged another bottle of water and strapped back in. The second time around I came to the conclusion that it was MUCH easier to strap in if you left your helmet and gloves for last. Getting in and out of the car with the helmet on made for some amusing bobble-head moments as we clanked against the roll cage. Putting it on last solved at least half a dozen difficulties.

Later in the weekend we would get a system figured out, using every available hand on the team for faster driver changes, but for now caution was the order of the day.

The car started right up when I asked it to and settled nicely into a loping idle with good oil pressure.

"Here we go!" I exclaimed.

My teammates waved and hooted, then guided me backwards out of our pit.

I slipped the tranny into first, blipped the throttle and heard Lurch say "That sounds GOOOOOD!"

I slowly guided the Killer Bee through the paddock and into the staging area behind another car, where they appeared to be checking for wristbands saying you paid for track time.

And I became aware of a huge surge of adrenaline.

I took several deep breaths and relaxed, then focused. Now it was my turn. Cars were flying by off to my left and I could see the front straightway directly ahead.

The man checked my wristband, and said "Have fun!"

I eased the MGB past the station, then floored it...

The exhaust sang off of the retaining walls as I shot out onto the track. It was a beautiful English wail as I revved it up towards 5 grand. Power shifts into second and third gave me that familiar MG growl and bark I've known for years, only this time with more balls.

I started to wonder just what was in that motor I swapped into the car. Almost immediately though I heard something that would plague us for the rest of the weekend; we had a high speed miss I had not caught driving it on the streets.

I let up on the throttle and it cleared up, continuing to rev towards 6 grand before stuttering again.

It sounded like a weak or erratic spark, or possibly running too rich. I thought it was most likely the latter, as we were at elevation and the S.U. carbs do have a tendency to leak around the throttle shafts at idle.

I approached the first corner and found out it was a sweeping left-handed fish-hook. OH SHIT! I resisted the urge to let off the throttle (Never let up suddenly in an MG while cornering, unless you want to go backwards) and drifted through the corner. I stayed on the track but noticed it had a heavy push in the front. For the rest of the lap I tried to take it easy and get a better feel for the track.

There were off camber corners. blind corners, odd rises and falls. It was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be after watching the youtube videos. What does not translate into video is the elevation changes and camber tricks. It was great, but I really wished I had gotten a chance to walk the track like John Condren had suggested. Each consecutive lap I was getting a little more confident, but still could not figure out my visual reference points.

Some corners had cones, others did not, and I was having difficulty gauging where the apex were. When I followed other cars it was great, but as soon as I was solo I sputtered and hesitated.

Walking the track would have definitely helped. I also overheard one of the track folks say the cones were not all apex and braking markers. Some were just to let you know where the pavement ended.

Huh. (Scratches head) Ok.

The rest of my time on the track I payed attention to the motor and handling. The car would run great for a lap or two, then start to sputter at about 4 grand. Then it would be fine again. The handling was pretty heavy as the car did not want to rotate around the corners. I got the rear of the car a little loose once, but mostly it was the push-push-push of understeer. Not the light and neutral handling it should have been. I could see us going through a whole set of tires by Sunday afternoon if that continued.

I pulled back into the pits and was met by a bunch of smiling faces. It looked good. It sounded good. And it almost drove good.

We checked the tire pressures and adjusted the fronts down a bit. I wanted to use my new fancy tire pyrometer but by the time I got out of the car it was too late. They had already cooled down. I adjusted the carbs and the idle smoothed out, but was now a bit high so I lowered it and re-checked the sync using the rubber hose method.

We cooled the motor down and rechecked the coolant, which had dropped significantly. Uh-oh. I topped it off and checked the oil, and sent the next guy Lurch out on the track telling him to keep an eye on the temp and oil pressure and bring it in if either show problems.

45 minutes later he pulled back in with a HUGE shit-eating grin on his face. His face was red and he was yelling something underneath his helmet, which turned out to be "YEEEHAAA!!

He told me it had the same miss, and that he had spun it 180 on the back side of the track. I gave him a suggestion to watch liftoff of the throttle as it upsets the chassis and he debriefed me on what he felt. Good cornering but more push, great breaks, big jump between 2nd and 3rd gear.

Yup. it's gonna be a 3rd gear track.

We checked the water and it was low again. This could be a long weekend if that continues. I could not see any obvious leaks and there was no steam out the exhaust.

Now we sent "Hey-WOW-man" Chong out in the car. This was our team ringer, as he was an ex cart racer who had worked up to the national level. BUT, he had never raced in anything with doors.

He went out and we all lined the fence to watch.

He came by the first time at a good clip but not too fast. The second lap he was flying.

"Wow!" we said. "Look at Kevin go!" He was already passing people and weaving through traffic. Must be something wrong with the first 2 drivers, lol!

I had him go last because he is the most aggressive driver, and just in case he wads the car up in a ball.

When he came back into the pits an hour later he had the same grin the rest of us did. Only this monkey spun it twice, the second being a complete 360. Easy Kevin, it's a long weekend...

The temp was now steady at 2/3rds up the dial, a little warm for comfort. We checked the water again, and this time it was dangerously low. I figured it had a bad head gasket or warped head as we could find no obvious signs of leakage. This was the first aluminum head I had ever run, so it was a complete wild-card to me.

The track closed for the day and we had a team meeting.

We could A) replace the head gasket, or B) risk running it and pit every half hour to fill the radiator.

I told them I could have the head gasket replaced in a few hours so we decided to do it and be on the safe side. But first I wanted to check the torque on the head bolts.

Lo-and-behold, the front one was WAY loose, and we found evidence of steam leakage around it. A few clicks of the torque wrench later and I now had a new call to make. We decided we would run it as-is the next day, and if it still used water we could change the gasket after the 1st session.

That night we went out to dinner at a place in Reno called Louis' Basque Corner, an interesting place where the food is served family style, and the tables are long benches you share with other guests. The fare was AWESOME, and our new found friends were entertaining, and they were fascinated by our crazy LeMons race.

I looked over, and guess who I saw at the next bench?

Crazy old Lou Brero, and our friendly Judge Ed!

Next Post: And they're off!

Previous: Inspector Detector, or here come da Judge!

From The Beginning of this mess: The Hook