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


  1. Hi! I admire this car on occasion on my way to Caltrain in the morning. I love the Killer Bee, and I finally stopped to take a picture this morning.

  2. Hi Ashi! Thanks for the kind words! Glad it makes you smile.