What Work goes on Between the Races?
by Tobey

(Updates are in reverse chronological order; scroll to the bottom for the first update)

So, Patrick and I got the brakes bled and the hood on one night during the week.  As the race crept closer, I got the gauges installed, cleaned up some of the wiring, and made the covers for the front blinker lights.  There were a lot of other small details, but no more real drama.  I finally got the car loaded in the trailer and ready to go on Wednesday night.  That allowed me to Thursday off, and prepare for the early Friday departure.

For the summary of the race, click here.

Sunday, March 3
We took a Friday and Saturday off from working on the car to attend the Grand-Am race at The Circuit of the Americas in Austin.  The wind was pretty brutal, but the racing was fantastic.  Had a great time.

Today, it was back to work.  I put in about 4 hours at the hangar today.  First, I transferred all my tools to the new toolbox I bought.  The old one served admirably, but it was time.  If I remember right, I bought it in 2004, and it has been used and abused ever since.  The new one is slightly bigger, and seems a bit sturdier.

Moving on to the car, I started by reconnecting all the wiring Patrick and I moved in order to repair the frame rail last weekend.  I also had to re-install the radiator hoses and fill it with water.  Then I started it and let it run for a minute to make sure all was well.  It was.

After that, I needed a break from mechanical stuff, so I grabbed the Goo-Gone and cleaned some of the residue left on the car from pulling the stickers a few weeks ago.  I got the front half of the car pretty clean, but it needs a good overall washing.  I hope we have time before the race.

When I let the car run for a bit, I was reminded that I needed to install new gauges.  At the last race, the water temperature gauge started acting up.  It would randomly quit working, then start working again.  The 2 gauges were the cheapest Summit-brand stuff I could buy when we built the car.  It is time to move up to Autometers.  I've used their gauges in many, many applications over the years, and never had one fail.

I started by removing the gauges, and using the mounting plate as a template to cut another one.  The existing plate only holds 2 gauges, oil pressure and water temperature.  We are adding a 3rd gauge this time, oil temperature.  I found a scrap piece of lexan and first drilled the 3 gauge holes.  Then I cut the plate out.  I got the gauges installed, and started the wiring process.  Made little jumpers to run power between the gauges.  And another set for the grounds.  That way, I only have to run one power and one ground to the car, and everything will work.  I also wired the gauge lights so that they will be on all the time.  It doesn't hurt anything, and it's just easier than trying to wire them into the dash light.  Believe it or not, that was 4 hours of work, I was tired, and so I decided to put off installing the gauges until next time. 

It is now 13 days until the race.  Tomorrow, I'll take the rest of the wheels to John to get the 2nd set of new tires mounted.  Then, we still have to install the new gauges, bleed the brakes, bleed the clutch, install the hood, fashion covers for a new holes on the front end, retorque all the suspension bolts, and a couple dozen more little items.  Patrick will be back to help on Tuesday, when we should be able to knock some of the big stuff off the list.

Put in a couple more hours of work today.  I dropped the rotors off at O'Reillys during lunch to get them turned.  Picked them up on my way to the hangar after work.  Got the rotors on, new pads installed in the front, and inspected the pads in the rear.  Decided not to replace them, as they were barely worn.  And I made Art an official member of the team:

Here's the new shock, freshly turned rotor, and new pads, almost ready to go (we still need to bleed the brakes):

While doing this work, I decided to take some data for future trending purposes.  At the Harris Hill race last October, we switched to a different Wilwood pad compound on the front than we used in the 24-hour race.  Everyone really liked the feel of this pad, along with the different calipers we also installed.  So we kept it the same for TWS in December.  I decided to compare the pad wear between the 2 tracks.  

As it turned out, Harris Hill seemed to use just a little more pad material than TWS.  Although the speeds at HHR are slower, there are more heavy braking areas, so it's not really surprising.  The measurements on the used pads are for the 2 pads together.  For the new, it's just one pad.  All the used ones have 14 hours of racing on them.

Next up is Hallett, which also has some hard braking zones.  So we'll use new pads for that weekend.  And the next race after that is the 14 hours of Daytona, where we'll use our last set of new pads.  After that, I think we'll start cycling the used ones back in.  Each set can easily go another 7 hours.  But they will be trash after one more 7-hr race.  We might hold on to the 4 best ones to use for track days or testing, but not for racing.

So I took a look at the rear pads next.  At the Harris Hill race, John and I both felt like the Hawk Blues were locking up the rears.  Thomas thought the bias was off.  Clark just drives and doesn't worry about it.  But, since 3 of us felt like the rear just didn't feel right under braking, we decided to try a different pad.  We went with the EBC Yellow.  I think the car felt much more balanced under braking at TWS than it did at Harris Hill.  Nobody else complained, so it must have been better for all the drivers.

It turns out that the rear pads did not wear much at TWS; just 1/16" off each pad.  Both sides had equal wear, so I left them in for the next race.  We'll inspect them after the Saturday race at Hallett, and we have a new set if needed.

16 days until Race Day, and we still have to bleed the brakes, bleed the clutch, hook up everything we unhooked to repair the missing frame nut, put the "new" hood on, fashion some covers for a couple new holes we created on the front end, and get the 2nd set of new tires mounted up.

Tuesday, February 26
Another day we should have taken a picture...
Our repair for the missing nut went well, the JB Weld was set up, so it was time to reinstall everything.  Except the bracket wouldn't fit.  3 of the 4 bolts would go, but the last one was not lined up right.  So I pulled it back off, Patrick and I stared at if for a bit, and finally noticed that it actually was tweaked a little.  So what to do?  Just wallow the hole out a little larger was the first, easy thought.  But I have a philosophy of never using the first idea; at least until you've ruled out a few more.  Give it some thought, then come back to it if it's still the best idea.
Idea #2:  Junk it, and get one at the wrecking yard.  Not a bad idea in reality, but it's kind of a pain, and we only have so much time.
Idea #3:  Untweak it.  Now we're talking.  But how?  After staring at it, and test fitting a couple things, we came to the point where we should have taken a picture (but I drew a diagram, which is not as good, but it works).  We put it on the ground, rolled the Miata onto the small end of it to hold it in place, stuck a long extension through the tension rod bolt hole, put a jack handle on the extension, and started twisting that sucker into shape.
Of course, I twisted it the wrong way at first.  Once we made that correction, I gave it a good pull, and like magic, the bolt holes all lined up nicely.  It was actually quite easy to twist that bracket the first 5-10 degrees.  You had to give it a good tug past that point to deform it.  Now it's all back together with a new rubber-bushed tension rods on both sides and a new sway bar bushing on the passenger side.

Last week, I had a business trip to Austin.  So I went up on Sunday and took the old engine from the race car with me.  Mark S., the dad of one of our drivers, is building an identical car to race with us next year, and so we gave him the old engine.  We got it installed and running, and it moved under its own power on Monday.  Good day of work.

Yesterday, it was back to the #92.  John had ordered a new strut, so Patrick and I got that installed with no problems.

We also attacked the missing nut in the frame for the suspension bracket (see the last update for details).  The solution we came up with was to run a long bolt all the way through the frame.  Easy enough to do, but upon further thought and talking with other, smarter people, we decided it needed to also be reinforced.  So, our friends at Capital Machine Works in Austin made us a spacer and a reinforcing plate.  It all goes together like this:

Now, the spacer will carry the load, and we won't crush the frame rail.  We JB-Welded the reinforcing plate to the frame rail.  After letting it setup for a couple of days, we will take the belt and suspenders approach and also put in a couple of rivets to help hold it in place.

We also pulled off the front rotors so we can get them turned.  Toward the end of the last race, we started getting some vibration in the brakes; hopefully truing them will fix it.  If not, we'll just have to live with it.

 It doesn't look like we got a lot done, but time wise, it was a lot.  20 days until the race.

Sorry, no pictures.  We were too busy working.

Patrick and I got started at the hangar about 10:00.  As we were getting the fuel tank into place, I was under the car, and got to looking at the dent in the tank.  It's always been there, and it's always bugged us.  But what could we do?  I decided to take it back out from under the car and take a look.  We pulled the fuel pump, but the tank configuration prevented me from getting anything to the dent from the inside to pop it out.  Then I had an idea:  Air Pressure.

The dent was probably 10" by 8" or so.  That's 80 square inches.  If we pressured the tank up to just 10 psi, that's 800 lbs of force over the area of the dent.  You know, it might just work.  So we plugged all the openings but one, and hooked the air hose up to the last one.  I turned the regulator down to 20 psi so we couldn't go too crazy.  Then I cracked the valve open and started putting in air.  After 15-20 seconds of listening to the hiss of air entering the tank, POP!  I closed the valve and we tilted the tank over, and sure enough, the dent was 90% gone.  Amazing.  I'm sure I've seen it done before, as there's no way this was a completely original idea.  But it worked. 

So we put it back in and got all the lines hooked up.  Then we tried to start the car.  No go.  A quick look showed that we never hooked the starter back up.  DOH!  So we tried again.  This time it cranked, but wouldn't start.  Another quick look...it helps if you install the wire connecting the distributor to the coil.  DOH!  This time it started.

So we went to lunch.

After lunch, we pulled the front tires to investigate the previously mentioned issues.  The oily residue behind the driver's front turned out to be a leaky shock, not a brake fluid leak.  Easy enough to replace; we just need to get a new one.

On the passenger side, it turns out that the bracket isn't tweaked, nor is the sway bar mount broken.  What is wrong, though, is that we were missing several of the bolts that attach the bracket and sway bar mount to the frame.  It looks like they were loose for a while, as the holes in the bracket are wallowed out.  Only 2 of the 4 bolts holding the bracket to the frame were still there, and one of them was loose.  That's never good.  

One of the missing bolts also holds one end of that sway bar bracket.  Since nothing is ever easy, the nut on the inside of the frame was broken loose, meaning there was nothing for a new bolt to thread in to.  Patrick had the bright idea of drilling a hole in the top of the frame rail, and just using an extra long bolt to pass all the way through the rail.  Brilliant!  We had to clear some wires out of the way, and disconnect both radiator hoses to get access, but it seems to have worked like a champ.  We didn't have any bolts to use, so we called it a day at the hangar.  I bought the necessary nuts and bolts on the way home.

All in all, a very successful day.  I also dropped 4 of the wheels at ProAm to get new tires mounted.  I'll take the ones that are on the car right now over there next chance I get.

Only a few more things to do, and we'll be ready for Hallett.  Just 28 short days away.

Wednesday, February 13

So, we finished the last race, went home, had a good Christmas and New Year's Eve, and then started looking forward to the next race.  Patrick and I spent most of the weekends getting the fresh motor together and in the test car so we could drive it around and get the motor broken in.  Only the best 240sx will do for motor break-in duty:

Amazingly enough, it passed a safety inspection.  Although in reality, it wasn't truly road worthy.  It did fail emissions though, which was no surprise.  But it bought us 2 weeks of ticket-free driving to fix it and get it retested.  Or to break in the motor then pull it out of the car.

During the 2 weeks of break-in driving (which didn't go completely smooth, as it involved pulling the oil pan from the new engine and swapping in a new oil pressure relief piston... don't even ask, we don't know what happened, it just wouldn't work and the pressure spiked too high), Patrick and I knocked out some other items on the list.  

We had to put on new number stickers, and remove the old ChumpCar stickers.  With the new sponsorship from Optima Batteries, we'll be getting new stickers with the new logo.  And the Nismorons stickers had to go also.  The front fenders are now reserved for Optima Batteries ChumpCar World Series (OBCCWS) sponsor stickers.  

I also took the time to try and remove a few dents from the last race.  For some reason, we keep getting hit in the passenger side, right in front of the rear tire and on the door. The repair is not perfect, but it looks a little better.  Here's the before and after:

We ditched the pop-up headlight mechanisms and had to do something to cover the resulting hole.  So I took the covers off the mechanisms and welded them to the hood and repainted it.  We will still have to fashion covers for the small gap that will be left, but that won't be too hard.

With the break-in of the new motor finished, it was time to put it in the race car.  On Friday, Patrick and I began a marathon 2 days of engine hoisting.  We pulled the engine from the race car at the hangar.  Then we went to my house and pulled the engine from the test car, put it in the back of my truck, and called it a night.  On Saturday, we put the new engine in the race car.  Of course, nothing ever goes perfect, and we had issues with drain plugs and fill plugs and driveshafts and stuff.  We had to call it a day before the car was completely done, as Patrick and I were done for the weekend.  We came back on Monday night and finished it up.

But before we started the engine on Monday, we turned everything on to look for leaks.  I smelled gas, and it turned out we had a fuel leak.  Not good.  We had to use the race car fuel pump in the test car.  When re-installing it, the pressure line apparently cracked.  Turns out the rubber line was old, soft, and coming apart.  It is probably a good thing we had to do the pump swap or this line might have started leaking during a race.  So, on Wednesday night, I returned to the hangar to drop the fuel tank and replace the rubber lines.  I went ahead and replaced both the pressure and the return lines, since I was there.  Here's a pic of the de-laminating pressure line, and the new lines installed.

And the fuel tank, taking a rest for a few days until I get a chance to put it back in; the stains on the left side are from the leaking fuel line:

But of course, nothing is ever easy.  The fuel tank is held on by two straps that bolt to the car.  One of the bolt heads twisted right off.  Of course, that let the strap loose, but the rest of the bolt was stuck in its hole.  That's not an easy thing to deal with, usually.  Luckily in this car, the other end of that bolt threaded into a nut tack welded to the trunk floor.  A few seconds with the angle grinder and a new nut and bolt will fix that right up.

And once we get that all fixed up, we will move on to the other damage from the last race.  The driver's side front shock and control arm are covered in a film of brake fluid.  Brake fluid leaks are not good; we'll pull the wheel and investigate.  And on the front passenger side, we managed to break a sway bar mount and twist a bracket that holds a suspension arm.  I have new parts on the way to get that fixed up.  Then we'll continue inspecting the car, looking for more things that need fixing before the next race.  Luckily, Firestone allowed me to buy a lifetime alignment for the race car.  I'll be taking it over there once I get everything fixed.  As I write this, our little counter to the left says "31 days until the Hallett Double 7."  We better "crack on", as the Brits say on "Wheeler Dealers".