Chasing Gremlins is Not Fun

Back on the 4th of July, we got our first win.  It was the first time we ever packed up and went home NOT having lost at the end of the day.  It was amazing and wonderful.  Almost a dream.

Headed for a Win in Mission

It was also the last time we had a clean weekend without any car issues.  Since then, we’ve lived a nightmare of “if it’s not one thing, it’s another”.

We went right from the high of that win in Mission, BC to the National event in Seattle the next weekend.  National events are their own special nightmare of hurry-up and wait.  We drove directly from Canada to the lineup for parking at the Seattle track.  That was Sunday night.

Then Wednesday, it was time to choose a pit and park the rig, a four hour ordeal of waiting and waiting for your turn.  Thursday was tech — nothing but tech inspection.  A two hour round trip to the track for a 5 minute tech inspection.  Friday we got two time runs the first chance to actually run the car, five days after we had brought it to the track.  The runs were OK, but not great.

Then Saturday we had round one.  Which we lost in an ugly fashion when the car unexpectedly ran well off the prediction, for reasons we still haven’t figured out.  Within a week we went from the highest high to the lowest low.

We had a two week break, then we went to the divisional race in Spokane.  We went to the test session on Thursday, and ran a perfect 9.05 right out of the trailer.  We made another fantastic run that day, and thought “the magic is back”.  How wrong we were.

The next day, the first day of time runs, we couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, with three runs that were way off the number.  Then we got a fourth run that day, and the car twisted and squirmed so hard off the line that Emily actually had to get out of it.  We couldn’t figure out what could possibly be wrong, so we went to bed.

In the Lanes

The next morning, when checking the car over, I discovered that one of the motor mounts had broken, completely in two.  Fortunately our friend and expert welder Jeff Yoder was there and was able to weld it back together.  But we missed the first time run that day.  The next run was dead on, so we figured we had it nailed.  And maybe, just maybe, it explained the terrible runs the day before.  Except it didn’t really fix it.

The next morning, Jeff noticed that we had two cracked motor plate mounts.  He came over, expertly welded them, and we thought, “phew” we dodged a bullet on that one.  And maybe had fixed all the motor mount issues.  (Except we hadn’t, as we found out later.)

In the first round of eliminations, we pulled up against Michael Dalrymple, the number 6 car in the world, and the leader in the division.  And we beat him, soundly.  That put a spring in our step, until we lost in the next round to Andy Morris, another divisional heavy hitter.  But we escaped from our gremlin-filled weekend with some good points.  And left number 8 in the division.  Not bad.

We next headed to Bremerton for a PNSCA race.  It was a disaster.  On Saturday we had a truly weird run, in round one, of course.  The car left the line, went on the stop (eased off on the gas as controlled by the delay box) just as it should, resumed hard acceleration, then … strangely, went back on the stop!

After spending all kinds of time trying to understand what went wrong, we discovered that all the twisting and torquing of the frame (caused by the broken motor mount) had broken a wire into the delay box, causing it to reset halfway down the track.  That was incredibly hard to find, but easy to fix.  But in the process we discovered that a weld holding the dash in place had broken, so we had more damage from the motor mount issues.

The next day, we discovered more damage.  Strangely, after our first two time runs, the battery was very, very low.  Normally it’s at something over 80% after a run, now it was at 20%.  I checked the alternator, and sure enough, the connecting wire was quite subtly broken.  A clear result of the twisting of the engine in the frame.  And of course, I couldn’t get the new one connected to the alternator because the connecting screw was a mess.  Fortunately, we carry a spare alternator, and it was quickly in place.  But we still had to rush to charge the car.  And that threw us all off our game.  We lost in round one.

The Fam Watching the Winners in Bremerton

We went the next weekend to the divisional race in Seattle.  The first test and tune run was a cold morning, and the track was a mess.  Emily had to get out of it, after the car got almost sideways, resulting in a throwaway run.

In between runs, our friendly welder, Jeff, came over and noticed that, we had four broken components to our motor support system.  The two thrust rods that prevent the engine from twisting in the frame looked OK but were broken.  And that had caused the previous failures (see above), as well as slightly cracking even the welds Jeff had done in Spokane.

The next run was fine, so we were feeling pretty good.  Except, when I checked the car over, the motor mount on the other side had broken.  Fixing the thrust rod that connected to it, had finally put enough stress on it to break it.  We rushed to Jeff, he welded that together, we replaced it, and we went to bed feeling OK.  Maybe, just maybe, we had finally found and fixed the last of the motor mount issues.

The next day, now the only time run day due to advancing weather, was an unmitigated disaster.  The morning began with Emily getting into an ugly scooter accident in the pits within minutes of the first run.  She scraped up her shin and hands, torqued her right wrist, made a mess of the scooter and badly bruised her ego.  Then we rushed up to the first time run.

It was not good.  The car strangely leaped off the line, like it wouldn’t hold on the transbrake.  It was an embarrassment and a disaster.  But both she and I wrote it off to her pain in the wrist and not being able to hold the button.  So we didn’t fix anything.

How wrong we were, when the car did the exact same thing on the next test.  Again, more embarrassment in front of a good crowd.  Ugh.  When we got back, I discovered that the ground for the transbrake was barely connected, almost falling off.  Another consequence of the terrible torquing and twisting of the car.  And a great explanation for the problem.

So we went up for the third test session, and not only did it do it again, but it acted so bizarrely that Emily shut it down at about 60ft.  And had to get pushed back off the line.  The ultimate embarrassment.  Oh… my… god.  I checked everything electrical over under the dash, found some OK, but not quite tight enough ground wires, and we went sulking home.

The next morning, I awoke with the brilliant thought that maybe it was a loose ground or wire elsewhere.  So checked the entire rest of the car, and found… nothing.  At the last minute, I decided to change the transmission and torque converter.  It’s an ugly job in the garage, and a really tough one in the pits.  But with the great help of our friends Ed Hauter and Greg Pessimier, we got it done.  Unfortunately we missed the only time session of the day, so we had to go into round one blind.

But confident that we had fixed everything, we went up ready to kill in round one.  The car held on the line and left wonderfully.  And… never shifted.  Holy cow, what else could possibly go wrong?

Lining Up against Dale Hrenko

The weekend was a nightmare, but we’ve had time since then to lick our wounds.  The tranny and converter when off to their respective doctors, and I ordered replacements for the ignition and delay boxes.  Maybe we can put this all behind us.

But, as you can probably guess if you’ve stuck it out this far in this sordid tale, both the transmission and converter were deemed “good as new, not a thing wrong” by their respective doctors.  So there was no explanation for the bizarre behaviors we saw.  In desperation, today, I swapped out the ignition box.  It’s the venerable whipping boy of the drag racing world, if things are not working, and you don’t understand why, change the ignition box.

On Friday, we head off to Woodburn for our last PNSCA double-header with a car that’s got all kinds of things welded back together, a transmission and converter that worked at the beginning of the year, and a brand new ignition box.  Join us in crossing every finger and toe you can find, that we’ve finally got it all back together.

Thanks for reading this long, and long-overdue, entry.  We’ll let you know how we do.

One thought on “Chasing Gremlins is Not Fun

  1. holy moly! and Bree wants a t/c rail? we are lucky that the little snowmobile car is usually gas and go anyway see you guys there good luck sadie floyd wants to sell us her rail for 22k think a bit steep for an 8yr old car

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