The death and Re-Birth of a Race Car. Deadlines. NOTE: Here is a link to part one:
Monday. Time is getting short now. Just five days before I leave for the race and we are at Alamo Autosports. Brice Yingling will be tuning the car and expects that I have brought it to him ready to be put on the dyno. In fact, it still needs fuel (E85), and still needs the cooling system filled and purged. As Brice is closing up his shop for the day I am filling the fuel cell and radiator. Brice comes out and plugs his laptop into our AEM ECU and hits the starter. It cranks, but won’t start. Brice is a real professional and immediately starts looking at the initial map we had loaded the night we first fired the car. We originally started the car on premium, not E85, so the fuel settings were way off. Brice makes a few adjustments and the car fires right up. The water temp immediately jumps to 200 degrees. We start purging the cooling system, thinking there is just a huge air bubble. We fire the car again, and the temp goes straight back to 200 and is on its way to 220. Brice takes a look at the cooling hoses and asks me what all I removed form the factory system. We run it all down, with help from the Field Service Manual, and find that I have removed two hoses from the system that are needed to circulate hot water to the back of the thermostat. The back of the thermostat wasn’t seeing any hot water and wasn’t opening. I’m an idiot. We won’t be doing the tune tonight. I’m embarrassed that I have wasted so much of Brice’s time. I load up the car and drag it home and have a good look at the FSM to see what I need to do to correct the problem. I need a TIG welder to fix a fitting that had been modified on the factory intake.
Tuesday. First thing that morning I load up and drag the car down to the Fatman shop so we can get the cooling issue resolved and the car back over to Alamo. I have already rented (and paid for) Mineral Wells (Test Area) for Thursday so I can do a shakedown on the car, so I need to get this done quickly. There is a big hill at the back of the Fatman shop and it’s easier to unload at the bottom of the hill and drive into the shop at the top of the hill. The car runs and drives, so I unload the car from the trailer, fire it up and back off the trailer. Just as I start to slip the clutch and head up the hill, BANG. The spider gear on the driver’s side half shaft decides to separate itself from the CV joint. Not good. At first I think we’ve broken an axle. When I look under the car all I see is a greasy mess and the shiny end of the spider gear assembly. After closer inspection I see that what we have is the wrong axle, and all that has happened is that the spider gear slipped out of the CV cup. I had been told all through this process that the half shafts on a 240 were the same length on both sides. Clearly they weren’t, so I start making calls to find a passenger side half shaft. Everyone I talk to that day swears they are the same which I KNOW they’re not. I’m going nuts now, trying to figure out why everyone insists they are the same, even though I can plainly see that they are different. The full day is wasted. Finally, at the end of a long, fruitless and very frustrating search, I decide to call Carrigan. Carrigan is a guy I have traded parts with before and I call him up and ask him if he happens to have a set of S14 axles. “Of course I do!” he tells me. He always seems to have this kind stuff in his storage bin. Are they the same length? “Nope”, he tells me, “240SX never have been.” I knew it! I should have called him in the first place. I am so stupid. I could have saved a full day if I had just called him first. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get the axles till mid day Wednesday, so I go back to the bottom of the hill and start working on the cooling problem right there in the grass. This was a total shade tree mechanic moment.
Wednesday. Steve has fixed the fitting on the intake (funny story; I had to drag Steve out of bed to finish the welding after I finally got everything apart and since it’s late and won’t take long, he decides not to get dressed. Nothing funnier than a Fatman welding in his underwear…except the sunburn from welding in just his underwear). I’m now back in my own shop after a long night with the fix and a long tow home. I get a call from Carrigan just before lunch. He has the axles from his storage and does me a huge favor and brings them all the way to my shop. That’s a pretty long haul for him, and I really appreciate him taking the time to help. I have just a few hours to get the axles swapped in and tow the car back down to Arlington so Brice can begin working his magic. As usual, it takes longer than I expected and I don’t get back to Alamo until late in the evening. Brice already has plans for the evening, so by the time I get there, all we have time to do is confirm we have the cooling issue solved and finish a quick oil change from the break-in oil to the Motul Racing oil we plan to use for the race.
Thursday. Brice had planned to get the car on the dyno first thing that morning so I could have as much time as possible at Mineral Wells. Things didn’t go as planned (do you see a theme developing here?). One issue after another plagued Brice for most of the day and we didn’t get started on the dyno until about four in the afternoon. There is quite a bit of setup that needed to be done in the ECU before he could start doing any real work. Time is ticking by. We make our first pulls on the dyno and my heart is racing. We have 225hp at 5psi. Good start. Everything looks good so far, so Brice starts building the boost maps and begins to ramp up the pressure. Another Pull on the Dyno. 317 hp at 10psi and everything looks fine. Only issue Brice sees is that the turbo isn’t coming on till 3900 and doesn’t make full boost until 5500. Shift points are set at 7000rpm. Originally we built the engine to work from 4500rpm to 7500 or 8000rpm. After the deadline came and went we made the decision to back off of those numbers because we wouldn’t have any time in the car before the race. And priority number one was to make the summit. We decided on a conservative tune. The car would be harder to drive at these lower RPMs, but we were confident that we could make a respectable run and reach the Summit. So we stopped at 10psi and set the fuel curve slightly on the rich side.
Still Thursday. It’s nearly 9pm and I’m finally loaded up and on my way to Mineral Wells to shake down the car. I had completely forgotten that I still don’t even have the seat belts bolted in. It’s been a long day already. I make it to Mineral Wells and unload the car. First things first…get the seatbelt harness bolted in and complete a quick bolt check. Everything looks good. I climb in the car, strap in and put on my DefNDer neck brace and my helmet. Wow. This is the first time I’ve had a head and neck restraint on with my helmet and I’m ridiculously uncomfortable. It’s now pitch black outside and I’m starting to thank the Time Attack rules makers for requiring headlights.
I fire the car and start off slowly. The windscreen is filthy and I’m having trouble seeing, so I decide to do what I used to do on new ATV’s…donuts. Do a bunch of left and right donuts and get the car as sideways as possible so I can get used to how the car will break loose. There’s just a couple problems with that. My tires are a bit under-inflated (I have no air with me), and they’re brand new. The car hops a bit and doesn’t like to break loose. I’ll have to do more than donuts. I slowly scout out a small area that looks free of debris and large bumps and start doing long figure eights. With a bit more speed the car finally gets lively and the back end starts to break loose. It’s like a light switch, though. I either have crazy under-steer, or I’m completely sideways and out of control. Not much in between. I’m thinking about how I’m glad that I have another few hours to get used to the car before having to load up for the Peak. Just as I complete that thought a gush of fluid splashes across my windscreen. What the hell just happened? I looked at my temps, no problem…what the heck was it? Tons of smoke and then I smell the very distinct smell of burning power steering fluid. Dammit. I pull the car in front of my truck and shut off the engine. I hop out of the car and turn on the headlights on my truck and the problem was instantly clear. One of my power steering hoses failed and spewed fluid all over the headers and all over my windscreen. I have had all of maybe fifteen minutes in the car and now I was done.
I load the car, depressed and defeated, and make the long two and a half hour drive home. I’m emotionally and physically wasted. It’s 2 am by the time I get home and get the car unloaded into my shop. I call Steve on the way home and let him know what happened. Steve’s main business is hydraulic service and repair, so I knew he’d have no trouble sourcing a pair of new high pressure lines Friday and have them made and delivered before I needed to leave Saturday morning.
On the long drive home I did have a realization that picked me up a bit. “I just drove the car”. It was brief, and not without problems, obviously, but I did it. I accomplished something most people didn’t think would ever happen. I drove the damn car. That was a big deal for me. And, as I had been through much of this build, I was all by myself. Bummer.
Friday is my son’s seventh birthday.I have much more to do today than just fix the car and get it loaded for the trip. Most of the day is consumed with my son, which is great. I needed the break, mentally at least, and spending the day with Brandon and my family was perfect. Steve came through with the new hoses and brought them to the shop. And the rest of the day and evening is spent celebrating my son’s birthday. I’m a bit tense. I still have to load the trailer, load the car, and pack all my clothes and race gear. And because the car is being wrapped Sunday and Monday, I have to be in Colorado Saturday night. Time is getting tighter.
Saturday: Get away day. I get up way too early and start loading the trailer. I think I have everything. I was about to load the welder, but decided last minute that I probably could come up with one locally if I needed to (I’m an idiot). The trailer was heavy enough as it was. I get busy replacing the power steering hoses and it’s already mid-morning. Time is flying by. I finally get everything loaded up and I’m on the road by about 10AM. I thought I was in the clear. Not so much.
I borrowed the trailer from an old friend (I ran out of money and couldn’t buy one) and I was using Steve’s work truck to tow it. My truck is just a half-ton with a small V8 and Steve’s truck is a ¾ ton diesel. I had been using my truck to tow around town and out to Mineral Wells and the heavy load was killing it. As I got down the highway Steve’s truck started steering a bit light. There was a problem. Not sure what right now, but the truck didn’t want to hold its own lane and it was pitching like crazy. I knew that if I kept going I’d probably never make it to Colorado. I reluctantly turned around and went home to swap trucks. My little half ton would have to do. I finally got back on the road a little after noon. My truck didn’t handle the weight all that great, especially now that it was fully loaded with all of my tools and gear, but it was enough. I was finally on my way.
I fill up the tank in Sherman and turn onto Highway 82 towards Wichita Falls. Not even ten miles down the road, BANG, there goes one of the trailer tires. Luckily I have a spare. Two, actually. Better safe than sorry, right? I get out and get start changing the tire. It’s literally 108 degrees today. And not that dry heat you get in the desert. This is sticky, nasty, humid heat that feels several degrees hotter than it really is. I get finished up and crank the AC to cool down a bit. I’ll get the shredded tire replaced in Wichita Falls, no problem. I’m just beginning to cool off, maybe fifteen more miles down the road, and BANG. There goes another trailer tire. Holy Crap! This time, I’m on two lane blacktop, with a small shoulder. I get lucky and find a small turnout and pull over just clear of the road. I get started on this tire and all I can do is laugh (must have been the heat). So, between this and all of the other problems I faced while building this car, I’m starting to wonder if whatever it is that controls the universe is trying to tell me something. Should I quit now, or am I paying dues for some later success? I get the tire changed and now I’m just hoping a third doesn’t go, since I’m now out of spares (and energy).
I feel very lucky to make it to Wichita Falls without further incident. I limp into a local tire shop that, on the phone, assured me they have plenty of trailer tires in stock, and there’s not really any wait right now (I won’t tell you their name, but it rhymes with Miscount Fire). Of course, when I get there, they don’t have my size trailer tire in stock and the wait just to get started on the trailer is about an hour and a half. I am already exhausted and I don’t know the area, so I ask them to just get me a decent set of tires and get me on my way. I settle in at the tire shop for the afternoon. When all is said and done, I have had to buy a complete new set of tires for the trailer. They finally get me in and out and I’m on my way again. It has taken me seven hours to get as far as I usually get in two. It was shaping up to be a long night of driving.
Tire troubles are behind me now and I’m making decent time on my way to Colorado. I pass through Amarillo on Highway 287 and hang a left at Dumas Texas, towards Raton, NM. The road skinnies down to two lanes here and with the extra weight on the tail end of my truck it must look as if my bright lights are on. And, of course, every car that passes makes sure to let me know that it seems that way to them, too. Some of the gestures are friendlier than others.
Sunday. It’s early morning and I’m getting tired so I pull off to sleep for a couple hours. The wrap guy is supposed to be there early today, so I don’t have much time to spare. I get a wink or two and am back on the road and eventually make it up to my friend Lee Kent’s home in Castle Rock at about 8AM. The rest of Sunday is spent with Imagewraps finalizing the design and getting the printing started. Pieces of the wrap start to show up Sunday evening, and the rest of the wrap is applied overnight into Monday.