Semi-Final Finish

Bremerton Raceway is always a favorite track of ours and that’s where we were this weekend. Since we don’t spend much time at Pacific Raceways, we consider Bremerton Raceway our home track. The people are friendly, the atmosphere is laid back, and most of all it’s familiar. The only thing better is a Pacific Northwest Super Comp Association race there. The two combined makes for a wonderful weekend everytime.

Mike and Mom Come to Cheer

Mike and Mom Come to Cheer

We are nearing the end of our racing season and this weekend was the PNSCA races #8 and #9. Going into the weekend, we were 7th in points and had a 7 race streak of first round wins. Not a bad place to be! Friday night was spent testing our new launch RPM. We lowered it about 1000 RPM to compensate for the excessive hiking of the front end at the line. With the help of a digital camcorder and some extra eyes, we determined it was lifting the front end just enough. Confident we had fixed the problem, we packed up for a good night’s sleep.

Em and Mike Clean Up

Em and Mike Clean Up

Saturday morning my mom and brother came out to watch us race. It’s always a treat when we get fans and Chris and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Our time trials were wonderful and we felt ready for the race. I had a preference for the left lane this weekend due to the large bumps in the shut down area of the right lane. With a hardtail car it makes it quite difficult to stop the car without bottoming out or flooding the engine. So, for safety (and sanity) reasons, I opted for the left lane whenever possible. In first round I beat Tom Gresham with a .022 light and a perfect 8.900. Couldn’t ask for anything better! And we extended our first round win streak to eight consecutive races.

Second round I beat Rod Lee with a .013 light and a 8.899. Even though we broke out, he broke out worse… leaving me the win! Now, this is the first time we have made it to third round without a bye or no-show, so Chris and I were thrilled! Coincidentally, this happened to be the semi-final round! I paired up with Bob Woodruff, the points leader, and unfortunately broke out with an 8.888 and a nasty .043 light. I have to admit, I was nervous! Even though we didn’t make it to the finals, we moved up to fifth in the points and we even got our first ever payout!

Getting Ready to Beat Rod Lee

Getting Ready to Beat Rod Lee

Sunday wasn’t quite as exciting as Saturday. We really had trouble running the number on Sunday and couldn’t quite seem to get a hold of it. Our time trials were all off and my lights were horrible. I think Chris and I both had things on our mind that day and I knew I was dreading the drive back to school that evening. It just goes to show you how important the psychological aspect of drag racing is. If you aren’t there 100% it is nearly impossible to win. We lost in first round with a really slow 8.92. I wasn’t anywhere near where I needed to be on the light either.

We may have ended our streak, but we definitely had a wonderful weekend nonetheless. That first win keeps getting closer and closer!  And we are solidly in the top 10, back in seventh place, only a few points out of fifth.

We have two more races left: a PNSCA Race in Woodburn, Oregon – September 12/13 and a Divisional in Medford, Oregon – September 25/16. Hope to see some of you out there!


If It’s Not One Thing…

There’s an old saying: there are million ways to lose in drag racing.  It’s been true for us, we’re finding all kinds of ways to lose, at least in round two.

We’ve had a remarkable run of success, especially for a team that’s been racing for less than two years.  We haven’t lost in round one in the last seven races, since early May, and that’s wonderful.  But the only way we’ve made it past round two is via a bye or a no-show.  And we have found a lot of different ways to keep that ugly streak alive.

For a couple of months we have struggled with a terrible stumble when the throttle is floored at the line.  Instead of smoothly going up to the RPM we want to leave the line at, the engine would gasp, stumble, and burp, then get up to speed.  The graph here shows you a good run, in green, and the stumble, blatantly visible in red; the vertical line is the green “go” light.  In a sport where hundredths of seconds are a lifetime, clearly a delay like this is a problem.

Green is good, red is not

Green is a good run, red is not

But as you can also see from the graph, in the worst cases the engine would never even make it to the desired RPM before it was time to go.  So the whole run would be messed up, far too slow, and we’d lose in a big way.  Ugh.

The real killer of this problem is that it wasn’t consistent.  One time we’d get a great run, the next it would stumble badly.  As I stood at the line, I could hear it gag, and know we were in trouble.  Then we’d look at the data, and see clearly the issue — we love the Racepak V300SD data recorder, it shows these problems in glaring clarity.  No guessing why we ran so badly, just look at the graph.

We fought the issue for months.  We tried bigger accelerator pump squirters, bigger and smaller air bleeds (both idle and intermediate), even changing the way Em hit the gas.  Nothing worked consistently.  At the Seattle national event, we had it badly on the first time run.  I called Patrick at Pro Systems, our carburetor guru, and discussed several options.  But debugging problems at a 2000 mile distance is hard.

While trying to adjust the level in the float bowls, I asked our friend Rick Dearinger for help.  He discovered that the rear bowl just kept filling, and flooding the engine.  Sometimes.  We took out the needle valve to check it.  And there it was, a chunk of rubber blocking the valve from closing.  Sometimes.

Simple Hole, Complex Problem

Simple Hole, Complex Problem

The real kicker was that I recognized the piece of rubber.  It came from the fuel line I had installed to solve another problem, the engine was stalling at the end of the track under hard braking.  That rubber line connected the two float bowl vents, and it needed a vent hole cut in it.  I was sure I had cut a nice clean hole.  And yet the little piece we found was a dangler from that cut hole.  Ugh.

But wonderfully, removing that little piece of rubber completely solved the problem, and it ran consistently, and perfectly ever since.  Thanks Rick!  We fixed the problem just in time to get a great second test run in at the Seattle national event.  Then, as Em noted, we went out and beat Rick in round one.  Sorry, Rick…

Leaking CO2 System

Leaking CO2 System

We were so excited that we had won a round in a national event, we missed the fact that we had a leak in the CO2 system.  We had noticed it before the first round, but we needed to rush to the staging lanes and we had enough for round one.  Unfortunately, there was not enough for round two.  But we were so giddy, and rushed, for round two, we didn’t fill it.  So we found another way to lose — no CO2, no throttle stop, and no shifting.  Ugh.  And our losing in round two streak was intact.

Then we went on to Mission, British Columbia for both a Pacific Northwest Super Comp Association race and the Canadian National Open event.  We showed up for testing on Friday, and made some wonderful passes.  We are getting a handle on tuning the car.

We still had the nagging CO2 leak, but constant vigilance and topping off the bottle kept it at bay.  These kind of leaks can be tough to find, usually you listen for a hissing.  At the track, where it’s more than a tad noisy, this can be hard.  I recently had some quiet time at home, found it, and fixed it.  I also bought some bubble leak detection fluid, so that I can find and fix these at the track.

But in the true spirit of “if it’s not one thing…”, we had another problem at Mission.  The dreaded red light.  We had all red lights in our first several passes.  Usually I just write this off as something Em can fix:, settle her nerves, add more time in the delay box, something.

Another Red Light in Mission

Another Red Light in Mission

But this time it was serious.  These were not just red by a few thousandths of a second, but red by a lot, like several hundreths of a second.  Sure we could add that much delay to the box, but there was something else wrong.  We’ve never seen red like this.

While we worked to figure out what the issue might be, we had racing to do. We ran the PNSCA race on Saturday just putting a whole lot in the box and hoping.  It worked in round one, but we lost in round two with a red light to our good friend Ed Hauter.  Again, the round two jinx got us.

After much discussion with friends, we determined that the car was hopping out of the staging beams.  There are infrared beams across the track that control the start and measure the times all down the track.  At the starting line they are just an inch or so off the ground, down track they’re five inches off the ground.

The way you determine when you’re “staged” (ready to race) is by blocking those beams with your front tires.  That also is how they start the clocks, when you leave that beam.  Normally, you leave the beam by rolling forward.  After careful observation, I was able to see that the car was actually doing a small wheelie (lifting the front wheels) out of the beams.  That’s much faster, and was what was triggering our red lights.

Just Right Lift

Just Right Lift

Normally you want just a little lift (see the picture).  The left wheel will always come up higher, the torque of the engine twists the frame, so you want to look at the right wheel.  This picture is perfect, just a tiny bit of lift on the right front.  But the Mission track was stickier, the car was running great, and that right front was coming up several inches.  Enough to leave the beams, enough to make a red light.

The only way we could think of to solve this was to add weight to the front of the car.  But we didn’t have the time or equipment to do that in the pits.  So on Sunday for the Canadian National Open, Em put .050 (aka “a ton”) in the delay box and we went up for first round.  And it worked.  We had a perfect 8.900 pass and Em had a .005 light.  Of course, this was really a .055 light with the delay…  But we won, qualified #1 in the field, and went on to round 2.

Of course, that .005 was too close, so Em put .060 in the box, figuring a .015 light would be great.  And, if you’ve read this far, you can guess the next chapter of this story.  The weather was sweltering, the track was slipperier, and the front end didn’t hop up quite as much as it had all weekend.  So her otherwise good .020 light turned into a glacial .080 light with the delay, and we lost in round two.  Yet again…

Emily, Jason, Jack, Jenna, Chris

Emily, Jason, Jack, Jenna, Chris

Home again, with a chance to fix things, I had a great talk with our old friend Jack Beckman and he gave me several solutions to the wheelie problem, without adding weight.  As Jack said “why would you take a wonderfully light car and add weight to it?”  We already have trouble with the car bouncing on rough tracks and return roads, why make it worse?  And adding weight is a crap-shoot.  How much is enough?  How do you tune it?  It’s a very clumsy tool.

Instead, Jack gave us two other ways to solve the problem, both easier and more tunable than adding weight.  But I’ll save the details for the next blog.  When we’ve actually fixed it.  And maybe won a round two…

We’re headed into the next race in Bremerton (our local track) next weekend, the 15th and 16th with many things fixed, and a renewed determination to fix our round two jinx.  Hope to see you there.

First Round Wins and First Time Experiences

The past couple of weekends have been great experiences for me and Chris. We have had 9 races so far this season and have won a round in 7 of those races. Also, we haven’t lost in first round in 7 races in a row! Not only have we had luck on the line, but we have gone to our first National event and even raced out of the country! No wonder drag racing season in my favorite time of the year!

Chris and I were determined to make it to a National event this year. Seattle is only a little more than an hour drive from our home, so it seemed like the perfect event. Parking was quite the run-around. Chris parked the trailer in line on Sunday and went back to the track on Wednesday to move it into a pit. Although it took a lot of energy on Chris’s part, it seemed to work well for the crowd of people looking for a pit. We pitted with Chuck Linne and Rick and Gladys Dearinger, some of our friends from the Pacific Northwest Super Comp Association. Thursday was tech and racing started on Friday!

Our first test pass was plagued by that horrible stumble that we’ve had for months now. Chris spent time on the phone with the carb guy in Michigan trying to figure it out. I was convinced there had to be something else wrong, but had no idea where to start. Rick came over to see what was going on and imparted some wisdom on our poor souls. He found small piece of rubber stuck in the needle valve. This rubber prevented the valve from closing and consequently flooded the engine on the line. However, since it was rubber, sometimes the debris itself closed off the valve. This is why our problem was so inconsistent and extraordinarily hard to track down. Rick fixed our horrible problem and we haven’t had a single stumble since!

Staging Against Ty in Round Two

Staging Against Ty in Round Two

Our other time run was smooth and provided some great data. Chris and I were quite nervous for our first round at such a big event. We got up at the crack of dawn and headed to the track to get ready on Saturday. When we arrived we found out that Super Comp wouldn’t be racing until 5pm. We arrived at the track at 7:30am and had friends coming to watch around 10, as we assumed that’s when we would be racing. We told everyone to stay home for a couple of hours and Chris and I sat back for a long day. When first round FINALLY came around, we accidentally paired up with our good friend Rick. I tried really hard to avoid lining up next to him, but unfortunately it didn’t play out like I had hoped.

But, the cards were in my favor that round and I beat Rick on a wonderful pass, with a .003 reaction time. Our second pass obviously did not have the same luck. We were paired up against Ty Anderson and I had another great reaction time off the line(.010). However, it could tell immediately off the launch that something was wrong. About a two seconds into the run I reached down to see if it had shifted or not and as I thought, it had not. I shifted the car into second gear, but unfortunately I heard the rev limiter hit and knew I had to get out of the run. Chris and I got back to the pits to find out that we had a pretty serious CO2 leak. Without CO2 the car won’t go on the stop and won’t shift. Although we only made it to second round, we couldn’t have been more pleased with our progress.  We won a round at our first national event!

Another Red Light in Mission

Another Red Light in Mission

This past weekend we headed up to Mission, BC for an Association race and the Canadian National Open. Chris and I have never been to Mission, so we were excited for the chance to get up there. We did some testing on Friday evening and had an Association race on Saturday morning. We had a bunch of problems with red lights but were confident we could tackle the problem.  We made it through first round on a lucky double red light — we were the least red. In second round we lost on another red light to Ed Hauter. On Sunday we made it through round one by with a perfect 8.900 and a 0.005 reaction time, and qualified number 1!  But because we were being so cautious about red lights, we lost in second round on a holeshot. We finally determined that the red light problem was caused by the car hopping out of the staging beams on the line. But you’ll have to wait for Chris’s blog to hear about that one!

We have three more races left this season: Association races in Bremerton and Woodburn, as well as the Medford Divisional. Hope to see some of you out there!

Summer Adventures

This summer has been by far the busiest summer the Williams family has had in a long time. It’s been quite an adventure keeping up with everything. We go from one trip to another with barely a chance to sleep. I, personally, have been living out a suitcase since May. I have makeshift homes all across the Northwest and have quickly learned that I am the self-proclaimed worst packer in the world. It’s been tough at times, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I realize I left you all hanging on the Spokane Divisional in June. After a great weekend right before, we went into the divisional with confidence. After a Boise Divisional fiasco, we were really hoping to have a good weekend. Our time trials landed us with more than enough runs for data and a good handle on the track. After my time spent focusing on mental preparation, I was ready to put it to the test.

Are You Lookin At Me?

Are You Lookin At Me?

I found that most of my issues seem to be calming myself down right after I’m strapped in and keeping my focus on the lights at the starting line. I am beginning to understand and predict my nerves, which has helped me control them. But honestly, focusing on the lights has been a struggle for me. I’ve never thought of myself as someone that had trouble focusing, but it’s really an issue at the line for me. I have so many things running through my mind that I actually forget to focus on the light. I can regularly have stunning lights, but my consistency is solely based on how focused I am at the light.

It has taken me a long to figure this out and I’m currently in the process of figuring out how to harness my attention at the line. For instance, at the divisional I was having great lights until second round when we had a problem at the line with the carburetor. I heard the problem and lost all focus, resulting in a terrible light. This is one of the reasons this sport is so appealing. It is so complicated and keeps you on your toes constantly. Even the best racer needs to constantly be checking himself to make sure he’s staying focused. This is definitely not a simple sport.

Back to the divisional – We were paired up with Chuck Linne in the first round. I had a great light and a fantastic number in the box.  We won fair and square even after he red lit. Chris and I couldn’t believe that we had won a round at a divisional. This was icing on the cake for the wonderful time we had spent in Spokane. We were not quite so lucky second round. We had Emmitt McKillop for this round and all was looking good until I went to step on the pedal. We have had stumbling problems with our carburetor for most of the year, but were sure we had figured it out. However, on this particular run the carb stumbled for over a second before it got up on the chip. I was so freaked out by the stumble I pretty much missed the light. Since we didn’t leave at the right RPM there was no way we were going to catch Emmitt, nevermind how late I was on the tree. We ended the divisional frustrated with the carb but overwhelmingly pleased with our performance.

His name was NOT flipper.

His name was NOT flipper.

Right after the divisional Chris and I headed home to Woodinville to pack up for our family vacation. The Williams family headed off to spend 10 relaxing days in the French Polynesia. It was a once in a lifetime vacation and was time with my family I will treasure forever. Needless to say though, it took plenty of time away from drag racing! Now we are back on track – at the track. This weekend we are doing our first national event! The Seattle Nationals run Friday through Sunday in Kent, WA. This is a wonderful experience for us to dip our toes into the National racing pool. As well as the fact that it is close enough for us to sleep in our own beds at night. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated with our progress at the race!


Number One Qualifier!

That’s right, you heard me – We got number one qualifier this past weekend! This past weekend was by far the best weekend we have had racing our Super Comp dragster and Chris and I are sitting on cloud nine.

The weekend started off great with afternoon racing call. Spokane County Raceways decided to start the Saturday session at 3pm to allow racers travel time that morning. It offered a great chance to rest up a little that morning and more than enough time to get our act together at the track. We said hello to old friends and met a few new ones. This group of racers are the sweetest, most generous people I’ve ever met. They make this such a wonderful experience.

Number One Qualifier Grins

Number One Qualifier Grins

We were able to have three qualifying passes before round one on Saturday. Our first pass, right off the trailer, landed us with a 9.053 (adjusted from 8.90 to an 9.05 because of altitude) in our pocket. Chris and I were stunned and even speechless when we realized this might give us the #1 position in qualifying. Our other two passes were close, but nothing could beat our fantastic run. After we finished the passes, I ran to the Woodruff’s trailer to check out the ladder and low and behold, I clinched that #1 position! Not only was I #1, but this position offered me a bye for first round. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to this weekend.

Try to Get the Friggin 4-Wheeler Started

Try to Get the Friggin 4-Wheeler Started

My second round match-up was Chuck Lynne. Chuck has been racing for a number of years and as much as I tried not to be nervous, I was. I have a tendency to be so focused on the finished line that I always miss the win light at the end of the track. I rely on Chris to tell me over the radio how the race went. The only thing I heard after round two was screaming into the headset. We had beat Chuck with an .018 package! Now honestly, I could gone home right there and I would have been content. This day was the best day of drag racing that I had ever experienced. I’ve never been that high qualifying and I definitely had never seen third round! Unfortunately I was paired up against Bob Woodruff for third round. He won on a holeshot (beat me on the starting line), which made me realize I need to do some work on my lights. But honestly, nothing could ruin this day – It was perfect.

Sunday was a great day as well. We spent a little more time chasing our number and I spent the whole day chasing those lights. I got another bye first round when Tom Gresham had some engine problems and couldn’t make the call. My second round opponent was Mike Seekins (#1 qualifier this race with a perfect 9.050). Unfortunately I red lit this round. It wouldn’t have stung so bad had I not ran a 9.056 (.006 from perfect). Oops! This was about the time I came to the conclusion that we had done enough work on the car this year and I needed to do some work on the driver!

Changing the Oil - Righty Tighty...

Changing the Oil - Righty Tighty...

When I first started drag racing, Chris bought me Tami Eggleston’s video set called Psyched Out! – The Psychology of Drag Racing. I have spent the past couple of days watching these videos, thinking about my driving abilities and figuring out some new ideas that I could implement this weekend at the Spokane Divisional. She also offers some workbook pages to help keep track of your progress and let you know when your driving skills are slipping. I plan to use these this weekend and focus on my driving. Hopefully this will produce some better lights and maybe even a win light!

Hope to see you all out there this weekend!

Of Friends and Fixes

Em updated you on how we finally got our Boise bugs nailed and ran better in Bremerton (but not quite well enough to get a win light…).  I thought I’d tell you how we did that.  It’s really a testament to what good friends we have, and I love to talk about them.

We had several problems in Boise.  The first, and probably easiest to fix was a stumbling problem, where the car would stall after the burnout or even on the launch.  Em recounted how embarrassing that was, so I don’t need to reiterate that.  However, we fixed that problem by realizing that Boise is at a very high altitude, and that we were probably pushing too much fuel through to match the thinner air.

Bob Johnson, our engine builder, and I had debated on the dyno whether to leave the size 96 jets in the carburetor or to go back to 95 (smaller means less fuel).  Since it made just about the same amount of horsepower with either, we decided to stick with the 96s. But Boise seemed to need the 95s.  Bob was pitted next to us and helped us figure that out.  Less fuel works better with the thin air, so that fixed the stalling problem.

Bob "the builder" Johnson

Bob "the builder" Johnson

The other problem, however, was much more confusing.  The issue was that the car wouldn’t stay “on the stop”.  And that requires some explanation.

When we leave the line, the car launches and then immediately goes on the throttle stop.  The throttle stop is a device between the carb and the intake, and its job is to slow down the car for just a couple of seconds, then get out of the way.  It does two things: it slows a really fast car down to the 8.90 seconds we need to run, and it provides us the ability to tune the car to within the thousandths of a second we need to run in this incredibly competitive class.  We run a Dedenbear TS6 stop, and it’s a wonderful, top-of-the-line device — very consistent and very tunable.

The problem we were having in Boise is that the car wouldn’t stay “on the stop”.  That is, it would drop to the RPM we had set, but instead of staying there for the duration that we had chosen, the car would continue to accelerate.  Fortunately, we have a Racepak data logger on the car and could tell that this was happening.  Without the logger, the car would just look very fast, and we wouldn’t known what was happening.  In a future post, I’ll show you some output from this wonderful device and walk you through the myriad things it tells us.

The question then became, why?  Why would it not stay where we set it?  Was the stop broken?  We tested it, and it appeared to be working.  But working in the pits is not the same as on the track.  Maybe something was broken inside the stop?  I didn’t know.  But with Bremerton just a few days away, I couldn’t take a chance.  So I ordered another throttle stop from our friends at Jegs just in case, and had it shipped in by air so I’d have a spare.

But I didn’t think that was it.  Something else was going on.  As a “hail Mary pass”, I tossed a quick email to our friend Jack Beckman, the consummate professional racer who sold us the car and has been the source of much wisdom.  I explained the problem, and pressed “send”.  Within 30 seconds, my phone rang.  It was Jack.  We discussed the problem, and he came up with a half-dozen ideas, from loose intake manifold bolts to a flaky carburetor.  Then I casually mentioned that we’d changed the way the car shifted… and all heck broke loose.

You see, after our test session in Seattle, Bob the Builder had suggested that, rather than shifting at a specific time down the track (like 1.2 seconds) we should shift when the car reaches a specific RPM (say 7400).  It made complete sense, that’s the way you shift your car by hand – crank it up, shift when the revs get so high, and so on.  It’s also the way to get the most horsepower out of the engine, it would be operating in the peak horsepower range longer.  The car would go faster because we were running in the engine’s sweet spot, and because we’d be shifting out past the time on the stop, it would be more consistent.  So I changed the car to shift on RPM before we got to Boise.  (My winter re-wiring job had made this an easy change.)

Emily, Jason, Jack, Jenna, Chris

Emily, Jason, Jack, Jenna, Chris

When I mentioned this to Jack, he went bonkers.  Why would I do such a thing?  Who suggested it?  Has that person won the Super Comp world title, like he had?  And so on…  But, I said, it seems to make sense.  Well, it’s wrong, he said.  Why?  That’s where it got interesting.

It’s because the car is just too darn powerful, and the changes we made to get more horsepower over the winter had made it even more so.  With the car in first gear, the engine is too strong, and just continues to accelerate, even though the throttle stop is restricting the fuel intake.  It’s like a wild horse, just striving to be free.  The huge engine just needs to run, and if you give it muscle (by leaving it in first gear), run it will.  The trick is to shift into second really quickly.  He even suggested that, with all our additional horsepower, we should move from last year’s setting of shifting at 1.2 seconds, down to shifting at 1.0 seconds.  Our buddy Ed Hauter (the PNSCA president) said that some people who run the really big engines (the 632s and such) don’t even shift, they run in second gear the whole way.

This seemed a little “out there” to me.  Why would what gear we’re in change how the throttle worked?  But hey, as Jack said, he’s won the world championship, so it was worth a shot.  And again, the re-wiring I had done over the winter made the change easy.  I even made it so that we could switch back and forth at the track with just a chip change.  And off to Bremerton we went.

The change was almost miraculous.  From our very first run in Bremerton, the car stayed on the stop just like it was supposed to.  Our only problem was that it was still too fast.  But that was solved by slowing down on the stop and staying there longer.  Soon we were back in the game, and ready to compete in this ultra-competitive class.  Thanks, Jack!

Funny thing, the next Monday, my new Drag Racer magazine showed up and there was a tech question to the editor about this same issue.  And the answer was just the same.  Shift on time, and shift early when running on a throttle stop.  Counter-intuitive yes, but it works.  Oh, and on that same Monday, I sent back the new throttle stop I ordered, because we clearly didn’t need it.

So thanks to Jack for his help.  I even called Jack on Saturday at Bremerton with another small problem, and he always took my call, and dispensed great wisdom.  Bob, too, has always been there to help, even when I’m being stupid.  Thank you, Bob, for always taking my call, and for not laughing (at least to my face) when I ask a stupid question.  It’s friends like you who make racing so rewarding.

PNSCA in Bremerton

Fun fact: In the summer I like to pretend like I don’t have any responsibilities. It’s not a great excuse for my lacking of blogging, but it’s all I’ve got. But never fear – EMDUB is here!

Two weeks ago Chris and I packed up and headed to Bremerton with high hopes for our first Pacific Northwest Super Comp Association race of 2009. I finished up school that Friday and drove 5 hours back to the Seattle area. I immediately headed to bed and was on the road with Chris for Bremerton at 6:30am.

We arrived in plenty of time, set up and felt good about our car (especially after all the Boise problems were solved). Our first two passes were time trial passes and they both turned out pretty well, although a little fast. We were up against John Young in first round and knew it was going to be a tough race. We dialed in what we thought was best and headed up to the staging lanes.

Emily Ready to Kill

Watch Out...

However, when we got to the staging lanes there was a frenzy brewing on the track. Everyone hopped out of their cars and headed to the starting line to hear the news. Although it was clear weather, days of rain had left their mark.  In both lanes water had seeped up through and onto the track. They cleaned up as best they could and ordered us all to get into our cars. With many nerves less than calmed there was a bit of a discussion amongst the racers, and with the track owner, about the condition of the track. We came to the conclusion that it was safe and proceeded with round one. Fortunately (or unfortunately) we were the last pair up and were able to get a good look at the other drivers’ passes. Bob Woodruff was in the right lane in front of me and had quite a scare in his pass. His tailend swung out so far that he was almost in the grass.

With this on my mind, and last-second words of advice being whispered in my ear from the track owner through Chris on how to avoid the water (yes, I said AVOID the water – how does one do that in a race car?), I pulled up to stage. I had decided in my head that I was going to make this pass and had comes to terms with it. I let all other thoughts slide from my mind and focused on the task at hand. Fortunately that pass went just fine, except that I never saw that win light. John Young is a tough competitor, who later went to the finals in that race.

Once round one was over, the drama ensued. A number of drivers were livid about the track and nervous to continue. The association as a whole came to the decision that we would toss out the round, start this race over the next day, and attempt to do both races on Sunday. This seemed to be a fine decision and we all packed up our trailers. A group of us headed to Round Table Pizza for some dinner and then it was off to bed.

Sunday morning was another early one, but started off as slow as can be. The track sessions were moving slower than the day before and the Super Comp cars were barely getting any track time. We finally made it to the redo of yesterday’s round one at about 11. This pass was gorgeous, except for that itty-bitty red light I had. Too bad because I had John on a double breakout. Oh well.

Green Light

Green Light

The first race took so long to finish that a number of the racers left before the end of the day. It wasn’t until almost 5pm that we were able to start the second race – way later than we had hoped. Since a few racers had left, including my opponent, I got a bye first round and a guaranteed entrance to second round. Woohoo! My excited was short-lived however, when I found out I had Rick Dearinger in second round.

Rick and I have had many a match up and this guy gets me every time. I was not going to let him win on a red light, so I put a good chunk of time in the box and crossed my fingers. Unfortunately, Rick is tough cookie and beat me fair and square. I promised him that one day I would kick his butt and he said he knew that day was coming so he was going to rub his win in as much as he could. I just figure that I appreciate my wins more when they actually do come!

Unfortunately third round ended up being rained out and that was the end of the weekend. It was a bit of an unconventional weekend, but a good one all in all. With a few races under our belt, Chris and I are looking forward to back to back weekends in Spokane. Hope to see you all out there!


Speedbumps in Boise

Our first race of the year was in Boise, a few weeks ago, on the first weekend in May. I apologize for the long delay in posting, but things have been a little crazy.

Not only was Boise our first race of the year, it was our first entry into a major NHRA Divisional race, just adding to the butterflies. To top it all off, it was also Emily’s first time behind the wheel in eight months. To expect everything to go swimmingly would have been foolish. As such, we didn’t expect much. Good thing…

I drove the rig to Boise on Thursday, April 30th, tagging along with our good friend Ed Hauter. We met up before 6am at a nearby interstate exit and made the eight plus hour drive in a bit of a rush. Ed had a new engine in his car and was hoping to get there in time for an afternoon test session. Unfortunately, we missed the test session by a half-hour or so. But we got there without incident, set up our pits, and prepared for the next day.

Emily drove over from Pullman Thursday night and met me at the hotel (after a quick visit with her beau Mike, a Boise guy). We scurried to the track early on Friday, hoping to get in a couple of good test sessions in the books.

As you may have read from posts here, I had completely redone the car from the frame rails up. Not only did we have a completely rebuilt engine, now making about 890 horsepower (+90 over last year), but my serious case of “while we’re at it” meant we had all new electrical and electronics, a completely rebuilt transmission, new fuel pump, water pump and starter, all new plumbing, new tires, etc., etc. I even changed the way the car shifted gears. Basically everything that could make the combination different was changed. Sure, we have all new stuff, and some of the best stuff around, but it changed everything.

So we needed all the testing we could get. That was not to be. Our first pass was a bust because of a silly error. In warmup, we set the throttle stop in a kind of backward mode to test the “dead stall” (the RPMs when on the stop). We forgot to set it back. Funny thing about drag racing, going slower as you go down the track is not a good thing. So that pass, and any potential valuable info to be gained, was a bust.

Em Deep in Concentration

Em Deep in Concentration

Our second pass was better, Em was on her game and cut a great light, and the car seemed to run well. Too well, in fact, we ran far too fast. Our target in Boise is slower than normal (9.20 seconds vs. the normal 8.90), but we still ran well into the 8.70s. Something was wrong, the car didn’t seem to want to stay “on the stop”, but just kept going faster and faster. It was just an animal dying to run fast. Hmmm… what’s up with that?

We were also having problems with the car stalling out. It just wouldn’t idle right, and died after Em’s burnout. This problem only got worse. On the third pass, it died twice before the launch, and we got pushed off the starting line. Ugh. Talk about embarrassing. And no data… Not a great way to end our first day at our first Divisional race.

Saturday dawned with threatening weather, and the track in a hurry to get runs in before the rain came. So instead of getting the two or three more test runs in that we had hoped for, we were headed into Round 1 of eliminations. Without a good run to our credit. Ugh.

Overnight, Em and I had decided to change the carburetor jets to compensate for the thin air, hoping that this would mitigate the stalling problem. Boise’s Firebird is an interesting track, with a silly, long staging area and a 180-degree turn right behind the water box. OK, if you’re in a little car, but in a dragster, it means a two (or three) point turn. Makes for some fun, especially when the car wants to stall. We hoped our last minute changes would fix it.

Ready, Set, Go!  Wheels Up!

Ready, Set, Go! Wheels Up!

We scrambled, got ready, and got up there armed for round one. We were running a little roadster, and it all went well. No stalling, so that part seemed fixed.

Unfortunately, the “going too fast” part was not fixed. Despite slowing the car down a bunch, we ran an 8.91. Super if you’re in Seattle, way too fast in Boise (against the 9.20 index). So our weekend was done. As it turns out so was most of the racing for the day. They managed to get a few more cars in before the rain, but that was about it. Sunday was a “hurry up and wait” for most teams as they finished the racing between the rain showers. For us, it was mostly pack up and go.

We learned a lot in Boise: Emily’s still darn good on the tree, the car can easily run what we want, and we still love this whole racing thing. But we left with a lot to do, and fix. That’s part of the whole racing thing too. What we have going for us are some good friends, and great resources. We solved most of our issues the next weekend, with the help and advice from those friends. But that’s for another post. Stay tuned.

While We’re At It

I promised an update on the engine, and you’ll get one.  On Tuesday we’re taking it to the dyno, and you’ll get a full report and pictures after that.  But I’ve been working hard on the car, and Em’s all over me for a blog update in the mean time, so here you go.

Perhaps the most fun part about winter with a race car is the chance to take a look at what you have, and imagine how it could be better.  So this winter, as I started getting things out of the car, I began looking at improving things.  And I got a bad case of the “while we’re at it”s.

The current case of it started with a simple little problem.  As we started working on the engine, Bob pointed out that we really should fix the fuel pressure gauge.  You see, the engine was out and the fuel lines were on the floor, but it was still reading pressure.  Probably should fix that.  And it would be great if it was in the dash, so Em could know if there was a problem.  OK, maybe we can work that out, I thought.

Empty Dash

Old Dash Now Empty

Then, we realized that with the new vacuum system we should probably have a gauge for that too. And that created a problem, a really crowded dash. Or what could be called a “10 pounds of stuff, but only a 5 pound bag”.

In addition, we wanted to have the Racepak record those pieces of data.  This isn’t a big deal, as it can record all kinds of things.  But the dash was a real problem.  Fortunately, Racepak makes a neat electronic dash (the IQ3) that easily connects to our existing data recorder.  So, the answer was simple: replace the tach, water temp gauge, and oil pressure gauge with the IQ3.  And we’d get all the other data there too.

This means rearranging the whole dash, and building a new one.  I’m up for that, I thought, no problem.  Of course, that caused another problem: the Dedenbear CC3 delay box wouldn’t fit on the dash in the new configuration.  That’s OK, they make a smaller box (the Lightning) that has all the features we need and will fit.  Then the next problem, all the switches wouldn’t fit.  Tried a new Painless panel, but it wouldn’t fit either (gotta love the narrow chassis…).  So I ended up returning it, getting all new switches from Painless and committing to redoing the existing switch panel as well.

All in all, I ended up gutting the dash, and starting over.  A project I was looking forward to.  Until I got into it.  The more I tore things out, the more I found that needed to be fixed.  Wires that were patched, some were undersized, and some that were completely unnecessary now that the Racepak was going to handle it all.  So, another case of “while we’re at it” came, and a complete rewire of the car was added to the to-do list.

Gutted Car

Gutted Car

And if that’s not biting off enough, as I got into the rewire job, I found more and more that needed to be done. Several circuits that should probably be on relays were not.  So in came a Dedenbear Multiple Relay Center, a neat solution to the problem.

The back panel behind the seat would need to be organized, with the new vacuum system, and much of the wiring was connected to it.  It would also be nice to move the radiator overflow catch can up there (from back by the read end).  And it would be a neat place to put the relay center.  So a new back panel had to be crafted.

When I stared laying all of this out, I realized the MSD ignition box was a) old and out of date, and b) bigger than ideal for the space.  And if I got a new MSD 7AL-3 box, I’d have the latest box, and would have an even better place to put the relay center.

So, a serious case of “while we’re at it” has resulted in a car that is completely gutted.  I’ve spent so much time tearing it apart, I’m not sure if it will ever go back together.  But I’m sure it will… with time.

Unfortunately, I only have a month.  We’ve decided to do our first test session on April 10-11.  That gives me very little time to stop tearing things apart and starting to get them back together.  It will all start with the engine and a trip to the dyno on Tuesday.  Stay tuned.

Rain Nationals

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! Or not…

Maybe we'll see some racing!

Maybe we'll see some racing!

Chris and I had been eagerly waiting the kickoff to the 2009 racing season. The off-season work on the car has kept Chris (and Bob) pretty busy these past couple of months, but nothing gets the blood pumping like hearing those engines run. Chris and I had planned our trip to Pomona months ago and could hardly contain our excitement for this past weekend. I planned to fly out to Seattle Thursday night and meet Chris for our 7am flight the next morning. We made it to Ontario early on Friday holding our breath for that day’s qualifying. The weekend was supposed to be filled with rain, but Sunday was looking like the clouds were going to part and bless the track with some racing.

Friday was a complete bust. We headed to the track, just in case the rain held off long enough to race. We walked around, said ‘hello’ to a few friends around the track, and ultimately ended up underneath a tent while the hurricane ensued. We finally gave in and decided to head to the car only to be caught mid-storm. The result was two soaking, cold and grumpy race fans hiding out in the rental car. The rest of the day consisted of course work for me, programing for Chris, and naps for all.

Cold and Silly Looking

Cold and Silly Looking

Saturday offered a little more hope for racing. When we arrived they were busy drying the track, and the racing started, better late than never. We were thrilled to hear those engines start up again! They made it through a couple of pairs before they were forced to stop because of rain. The whole day was stop and go racing due to the rain. And it was cold and windy in the stands.  But they managed to get one qualifying round in, which was enough to race on Sunday. The forecast was looking good for race day and Chris and I were crossing our fingers.

Sunday proved to be a huge disappointment. It started only 30 minutes late, but a few pairs would run, the rain would start, and two hours of drying would take place. Rinse and repeat.  It was like that throughout the entire day until the unforgiving rain canceled the whole event. NHRA was barely able to make it through one round. It wasn’t until Tuesday that they were able to finish the race. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to see those final pairs.

As Chris often says, “I love this sport, but we really do spent a lot of time waiting.” If I had one complaint about drag racing it would be the ridiculous amount of time I spent on my behind waiting for the next pair. Ah, well. You take the bad with the good, right? All in all, I’d pick a rained out weekend with Chris over nothing at all.