Monday, February 22, 2010

ChumpCar Streets of Willow 24 hours

Just got home from yet another great ChumpCar race. This event was held at Willow Springs Motorsport Park on their Streets circuit. The track is about an hour north of LA. It's a 14 turn 1.8 mile road circuit. Lots of great banking with some moderate elevation changes. It's pretty busy. You only get about 15 seconds of time to check your gauges on the front straight and the rest is pure white knuckle turn carving. The event was held as a full 24 hour race with two one hour breaks to switch between the day and night course lay outs (there were concerns about people falling out of the "bowl" at the end of the course and be out of sight of any course workers). I ran this event with Free Range Racing (not to be confused with the team we are building that is talked about on this blog).

We had been planning to run this event for some time so a plan was hatched to leave the car down in California between the Infineon and Streets. With a couple of favors called in and favors for these favors we managed to get a place to put the car after the race. It was kept outside behind a nice locked fence. Unfortunately the fence didn't keep out the rain.

There was silt, 3 week old "lunch" that was lost at infineon, and several inches of water.

The lunch has matured a fine mold. Goody.

Our chariot! Pete from Killer Bee Racing ( is a good friend of the Team's and offered to help us out. He did a lot more than help us out though. He brought Brownie (The word's greatest crappy RV) and called in favors to get the car stored and to get a trailer for us to use for the weekend. Add in all the driving he did and a full two days of crewing and his efforts count up to be truely great. Thanks for all the help pete, this just simply wouldn't have been possible without your help.

Since we flew down, all the spare parts we had were stored in two plastic totes and whatever we could stuff into the trunk and passenger seat. You will also notice the exposed air filter pointed straight up in this picture. We were pretty concerned about the massive rain storms California had been experiencing over the last couple of weeks. After the quick load up we headed south for the track. A quick stop for food and a sham wow (lol scam wow) gave us some confidence that the seat would be usable.

We made it to the track at 1:35am saturday and tried to get some sleep. The green flag was going to drop 8 hours and 25 minutes later and fter sleeping we had to change the wheels/tires, de water the intake, change the rear brake pads, change the oil, and a number of other prep things to the car. In addition to all of that, a couple members of our team are ChumpCar staff now and had obligations to get the race ready for everyone (I got to help with the timing!). We really could only afford 2 or 3 hours of sleep.

It was pretty cold over night. The daylight also helped us notice some details about the lack of maintenance the car had been getting recently. The weeks of weather have not treated the car well. This master cylander for example was a brand new reman 3 weeks ago.

Concerns for the intake turned out to be unfounded. Just touching the key fire the car right up. It was even able to idle on its own! That has traditionally been a big problem for us. Turns out the start/alt/o2 sensor that we installed during the infineon really was needed. People slowly started to trickle in.

Llyod and big Dave doing their thing teching the Krider pizza delivery car. I had brought a bunch of wireless network gear to try and get living timing out to most of the pits. Unfortunately the junk I brought was not working as designed. We only got about 100ft of coverage around the timing trailer. Ohh well, next time we will figure it out.

Some local drifters came by to put on a little show for us. This fellow had just lost his bumper and got out to tuck it back in his hatch.

Before we knew it the race was ready to get started. Our first driver was Gabe (the other person posting on this blog from our team, Apex of Failure)! This was his first real race ever but we were confident that he would do well and he did. The brakes weren't doing great but they came around after some use. He managed to get his full 2 hour stint in.

My biggest competitor is my nerves. I would say I had a 5/10 on the nervousness scale. Enough that I was starting to doubt my self. A good 20 minutes in the car cured me of that though. It turned into one of the better driving experiences in my life. This is my fourth race with this team and this car and I'm really starting to understand this car's language. I built up enough confidence to really push it beyond it's limits and get into trouble. You can't find the car if you don't cross it some times ;). I had the back end coming out and more than a couple off road excursions. Llyod even mistook my driving as matts (our fastest driver). I'm pretty happy about that.

My rallycrossing wasn't without cost. As my stint was ending the car kept getting louder. Louder in a bad way. We have a 92db noise limit. I started getting really concerned when I could feel extra heat from the engine bay (behind me, MR2's are mid engine). Fearing a fire, I radioed in for instructions. The radios were down, again. Freaking radios. Some day when I'm rich, I'm going to pay someone to make perfect redundant radio systems for my race team. After a series of failed attempts to communicate I told them to stand on the bleachers and wave if I needed to pit. I managed to spot three of them waving and came in. It was determined that the exhaust manifold had cracked but there wasn't really anything they could do about it right now and I was sent back out.

The awesome new noise this car was making now was pushing me even further. I got about 20 minutes more out there before POOF. Cloud of smoke coming out of the back of the car. Luckily it happened on the turn before the pits and I was able to dash in real quick.

I got out quick fearing fire but we were lucky (kind of?) and it turned out to just be a CV boot ripping and flinging oil at the exhaust manifold and burning off.

Sum total of things that were probably my fault:

  • Huge hole in the exhaust manifold.

  • Broken wire to the fuel sender, causing us to dump fuel into the engine

  • Broken/loose motor mounts which cause the engine to move around tearing the cv boot

  • Broken CV (due to boot failure

Matt gets an exhaust manifold from Racey Diva from their dirt camaro. This is reportedly a very lucky part. He cuts a section to use as a patch for our car.

Llyod even jumped in with his fab skills and helped get this patch on! Thanks again llyod.

All better! Pete jumped in and applied his electrical talent and got the fuel sender hooked up again. The CV was another story. We had blown the passenger CV during the last race and had to replace it with our spare. I'm pretty sure this spare came from a field car and was in unknown condition. Knowing this coming down here, we had a brand new CV shipped to pete and brought down with us. Toyota in their infinite wisdom decided that they needed to make about 15 different CVs for their 4age cars in the late 80s. That means its nearly impossible to get the correct part for your car (I know, I tried once for 2 months to get the correct part for my sister's corolla FX16 before failing and having a shop do the work). Our new spare was wrong.

Close, but totally unusable. We had to take what spares we could get our hands on and make a new CV.

A great team effort here with just a little help from our friends (more like a lot!) got us back on the road again.

All the cars were called in at 5pm for a one hour break. They needed to reconfigure the course for a safer night layout. It also gave the teams a great safety break. Everyone started preping their headlights.

Metro gnomes had some old BMW headlights with retrofitted HIDs.

Eyesore out does everyone again :).

It's 6pm and the race is back on, without us. The generic CV boot we had sent george to get turned out not to fit.

An hour after the night race had resumed we had something together. Erik hopped in the car and got his first stint. He had to pit 10 minutes in with badly aligned headlights. A quick pit got him back out. While erik was driving for this race, I had been shanghighed into running timing. I spent a pretty good ammount of time in this shack staring at a laptop.

At least there was a heater in there :). During erik's run, two coyotes showed up at turn 12 and gave the course worker a good scare! They had to run and hide in their car for a bit. This really is out in the middle of the desert. Since we had 4 more driver's after erik's stint before mine, this was as good as time as any to get some sleep. Boy was I tired. I got almost 5 hours! That's way more than I would have ever expected.

During my sleep, George, Matt, Dan, and Gabe all got stints out there. Some pretty aggresive pavement and some locking of the breaks got us this nice flat spotted tire. It was changed with a spare. During George's stint he hit the passenger door of Racey Diva's Z TWICE IN TWO LAPS. Were not sure what happened but they were ok. They aren't too happy about their door though. George got about an hour at night. I was woken up when gabe went out to get ready. I suited up and wandered around the pits for a couple hours getting ready to race at night. Night racing is another whole level of stress for me. We don't have great headlights.

When gabe came in (radios were down, so all all pits were pretty much unannounced) he had no forward motion anymore. We were lucky he made it far enough to not need a tow. I had to wake matt up. He had gotten maybe an hour of sleep. Yup, another CV. I was pretty sure our race was over but no! Matt fixed it again. This time we salvaged parts from the spare driver's CV and we got another good passenger CV for the car.

Only took an hour to fix it this time. Were getting better at this (or I should say, matt and dan are). I got us back out on track at 5am.

I lasted about 45 minutes. It was enough time to get used to the changed course and start building up my confidence again. Turn 14 onto the front straight was especially iffy. It was a 180 degree right hander over a skid pad. There was no point of reference. You had to turn in without having any idea if you are going in the right direction and hope that you got it right. I had 3 or 4 offs due misjudging that.

Then in turn 3 (a double apex left hander coming from a downhill with pretty decent camber ending up hill) all of a sudden the car wouldn't turn anymore. Smack and SPARKS. Sparks everywhere. No power. I was safely off the edge of the road, but in a moderate danger zone. I couldn't do anything but make sure my safety gear was on tight and hope no one else made the same mistake while the tow truck came for me.

The truck reported that it was I had hoped, a bad axel. They asked me if I wanted to take it back now or if we were done. They said it wouldn't be very safe to take it in now. Matt had left instructions that we had exhaust all our CV parts and more and if it broke again, he was not to be woken. This surely meant that we were done. I took them up on their offer to get a ride back and we pulled the car off the track more and I got a ride back in. As I got out of the car, I fully understood the situation. The driver's rear wheel had FALLEN OFF. The wheel bearing had failed sending the wheel, outer part of the wheel up, and the center section of the wheel hub flying off into the darkness. We couldn't even find it. The car was sitting on the frame with its little brake caliper still clinging on to the brake rotor surface. We weren't just done, we were REALLY done.

So there our car sat till the 7am break when we could safely tow it back in and inspect the damage.

Major props to the car recovery team at this event. Two guys staffed our entire race (and MORE on sunday!).

Matt says, "I can fix it!"

This would make a nice clock. So we weren't done yet. We had full spare suspension corners and could theoretically replace this whole side. Work started to make that happen.

What gets damaged when a wheel hub breaks like that? Yes thats right, THE CV AXEL! We had to Frankenstein A THIRD CV. Since we used parts from out spare driver's CV to fix the passenger CV, we had to perform a similar maneuver on the driver's CV now. This was cake for us now. Hilarious failure cake.

Our spare wheel hub was from a 85 mr2. Apparently these were inferior with slight different mounts and smaller brake rotors. There was no way to make the spare unit fit on the car. We had to salvage the old wheel hub. Yes, the same wheel hub that had flow apart and sent me off the track. We had to remove the wheel bearing from the spare hub and install it in the failed one.

Dave, a big shout out to you here buddy, thanks for helping make this happen. It sounds crazy, but we actually made that happen. Other than the smaller rotor (which cause the brake pad to overlap the rotor surface) theoretically everything should have worked.

Fearing the danger of this setup, matt took the duty of putting it back on track. The first 10 laps were slow making sure everything was ok but matt was able to turn of the screw and get us back on pace. We were even putting in good times! George got another run after matt and erik was sent out at 11:30am to bring us home (Checkered flag was at 1pm).

Erik pulled in at noon with a problem so big that we really couldn't do anything about it. Rod knock. The engine was done. That was it, we were done. I finished my last stint working timing and rushed over for awards. Final results:

We even got a trophy! It's like they knew what was going to happen in advance. This is the "constant variation" award. For constantly having the same problem in different ways. Get it? CV award? I love it.

A big congratulations to the winners Eyesore (First place AND best theme!),

2nd place Punk racing

3rd place B-Team (I pitty the fool who underestimates their consistency)

What a race! Even though we didn't finish, everyone got at least one stint and everyone who wanted a second got it as well.

Everyone was eager to get home, shower, and sleep but we couldn't leave just yet. At some point we had lost our transponder. A $450 little blue box that triggered the start finish line recording your official time. If we couldn't find it, we would have to buy another (since we rented it). We all sighed, grabbed some walking beers and headed out to the track to find it.

We were lucky and on turn 3 dave saved the day again!

Matt got dinner for everyone in celebration. We headed back north to make our flight out of oakland on monday.

Our drama was not over though. A driver mouthed a warning that we were loosing parts off our trailer and we pulled over right away. A wheel had escaped. We back tracked to see if we could find it. Pete spotted it and we pulled over. Erik and Matt must have been too sleep deprived to think properly and ran across a busy 5 lane california freeway to recover it.

It had another good flat spot on it (it matches the rest now :P) but the wheel is still good.

The car is now safely resting at a friends house in the bay area with, 4 bad wheel bearings, 2 bad axles, completely worn out breaks, starting a bad mold habit, a bad motor, an iffy fuel sender, and badly needing a light upgrade. She is a very tired race car. The plans for the future? Someone is going to have to go down and get it. Looks like this might be my last drive before we get Apex of Failure up and running. That's a long time to the next race, maybe I can find another seat at VIR or something.

I noticed today that my racing shoes are visibly worn. I think I can safely call my self a racer now. Boy that feels good.

A big thanks to ChumpCar, PETE WHO IS AWESOME, Dave, all of our friends, John, FreeRange racing and well everyone. See you all soon!


Gabe, who also had a guest seat with Free Range at this race wrote up his own perspectives over on our Team's blog at


Links related to the event (updated as I find things out there):

More pictures from John:
"Just got home thread":
Another thread:
More pictures:
Eyesore's Twitter feed (the winner):
More pictures:
More press: