March 30

Racing again.

We started prepping the car in December with an entirely new suspension setup and new rims with pretty aggressive tires. Most of the team worked on it at every opportunity, and today we got the alignment done. I’m leaving quite a bit out as I normally do; this hasn’t been an easy journey. I’m just happy to be this far along and on-target for a successful run.

Double Deuce nearing completion.
Double Deuce nearing completion.

This year we’re going to be competing in both LeMons and Chumpcar amateur series events in three states. Choosing which events to enter is always a problem, and scheduling work-time on the car is never easy when every member of the team is both working a full-time job and managing a household with family obligations. Our most experienced driver AJ had to bow out for the April race in Arizona, and Larry is going to miss the December event at Laguna Seca in California. Thankfully we found a paying stand-by for AJ’s slot in April, but for the other two events we have at least 1 seat open.

We’ll be doing our best to stay on the track and stay competitive for the two LeMons races coming up. Hopefully we have good weather and no mechanical issues. I’ll try to update with our status when I get to the paddock next week.

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April 12

Home from Sandy Eggo

I got a 2015 Mazda 3 sedan as a rental from Avis with about 25K on the clock and headed out on the I10 around 11:30 AM on Monday.  The drive was uneventful save for seeing the aftermath of a jack-knifed truck just south of Beaumont California as I was passing through.  A few miles before, I had seen a freeway warning sign saying there was a “truck jackrabbit incident” on the 79 at Beaumont and puzzled over what a “jackrabbit’ incident might be.

Anyway, I think I’ll stop taking the 79 as a short cut toward San Diego because that drive through San Jacinto valley & Hemet always annoy me half to death.  Coming down from hours of 82mph driving into 35mph traffic can be rage inducing when one hasn’t been properly caffeinated.  I may even consider switching to the I8 because the drive is much more scenic than the I10.

I had planned to stay in California until Thursday but we wrapped up meetings a little early on Wednesday so I checked out & started back home around 3:30PM & decided at the last minute to take the I8 east to the 85 through Buckeye & then hook up with the 10 back into Phoenix.  There were far fewer trucks on the 8 & the drive is absolutely beautiful the entire way.  The I8 winds through large rocky mountains down into a desert of drifting white sand before climbing back up to the Northern Sonoran Desert just as you roll into Gila Bend Arizona.  Someday I’ll make this trip in a convertible.

The car was…not my favorite.  It felt cheap and plastic everywhere, the road noise was horrific, and the automagic transmission does not suit my tastes at all.  I really don’t like how an automatic car will immediately lurch forward when I take my foot off the brake.  I’m quite accustomed to keeping my foot on the clutch or shifting to neutral when I stop at a traffic light, but I simply could not get the hang of it in this car.  I also did not like the lack of visibility at the rear quarters which felt quite dangerous to me in close-quarter traffic and those famously narrow California parking spaces.  With these modern designed vehicles it’s of little wonder to me that the backup camera has become nearly ubiquitous, and is in fact a mandatory safety feature in 2017 or 2018 model vehicles.

I got back home around 8:45 Wednesday evening and ended up being awake until nearly 2AM so I could finish up emails & incidents from when I was away.  I feel as if I should post a few photos but have just been too busy with other things to sit down and upload them.

The block walls in the back yard are going to be replaced starting next Monday at 6:30AM and I need to get some work done.

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April 2

It’s never too late for coffee.

I uploaded a video to YouTube of me driving the race car out of the paddock & onto the track.  Sharp-eyed viewers will take note of several mistakes being made right off the bat which culminate in my spinning sideways & leaving the track.  This resulted in a black flag & pit stop for safety inspection.  The HANS clip which came loose was fixed before I rolled back out of the paddock & the rest of the race was completed without incident.  See it here:

There are lots of video clips of the race available on Youtube from other driver perspectives if you just search for 24 Hours of LeMons Inde 2016.  You may even see our car #419 show up in a few of them.  Here’s a few good scenes by Jesse Cortez:

Last weekend Hal & I took the motor out of his 1997 MX5 and started the tear down.  The oil control rings were completely gone on all of the pistons and so we’re fairly sure we’ve located the root cause for the burning oil.  The cams are a bit worn & the HLAs weren’t spinning at all so there’s little divots in the tops of most of them.  Typically if you replace cams you replace the HLAs too, but he really wants to keep this car as close to factory as possible & finding “OEM” cams does not seem likely at this point.  This puts us in a bit of a pickle because if you have to grind the cams & replace the HLAs it will typically result in idle changes because the subtle difference in cam lobe angle, and will necessitate adjusting timing to compensate.  Every after market cam I can find changes the cam angle to some degree but the more severe the change, the more the ECM will have to compensate.  The OEM engine control module cannot be reprogrammed and so if the changes to cam angle & timing deviate too far from the limits of the factory programming, the ECM will have to be replaced with an after market module and a custom engine tune will need to be uploaded.  Some of the after market cams can’t even be used with the factory ECM at all.  Swapping that out & tuning a new one is an entirely different level of tinkering than we’re in the market for.

Monday April 4th I’m driving to San Diego in the morning for business meetings on Tuesday & Wednesday.  I’ll stay just a few miles from the office and come back home either Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.  Either way I’m working from home on Friday.  I’ll probably make a post from San Diego to critique the rental car and driving experience through the empty desert between here & L.A.  I’m taking the I40 to L.A. & then driving south to San Diego because the border patrol checkpoints on the I8 always delay and annoy me.  I plan to download an audio-book for the road from Librivox to listen to on the drive.  It’s such a brief trip that I likely won’t have time to see my friends Conquistador Marcos & Eve unless we can get together for dinner on Monday or Tuesday night.  We’ll see.

I guess the most interesting thing I can note in this post is that Hal & I pre-ordered a Tesla Model 3 on the 31st but probably won’t see it for at least three years.  I want a blue one.  :)  On my longest commutes & most circuitous travels around the metro area I drive maybe 100 miles, so for 90% of my driving an electric car with a 200 mile range will be plenty.  I know it’s a bit of a gamble to hand over $1000 now and wait three years for just the option to buy a new car, but I like the idea of an all electric vehicle and I’m very happy that an American company has taken the lead to develop something like this for the general masses.  When that battery plant is fully operational in Nevada, the Tesla will be the most “Made In America” car on the market.  I like the cut of your jib Mr. Musk.

The weather has been so beautiful in Mesa the last few days that we’ve gotten lots of work done around the property.  Pulling weeds and sweeping up, setting up a nice work area on the back patio so we can work on the cars under the shade and just generally enjoy being alive.  I worked my butt off earlier today so I had a nap and woke up just a little while ago.  I think I’ll go make some coffee and tinker with my robotics stuff.  Sure, I’ll probably be up all night now but it’s never too late for coffee.

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March 21

And now Spring is here.

I want to post some video of the race but I there is still so much to wrap up that I won’t have a chance to do it until later in the week.

We crossed the finish line at 3:30PM and had the car on the trailer and ready to roll out by 4:30 or so.  Since Hal & I stayed at a hotel and had kept most of our supplies within easy reach of our truck, we were the first of the team on the road.  I felt bad for not staying to fully pack up their campsite and convoying north together, but the packing was thankfully well in hand before we made our departure.

Life in Willcox Arizona moves at a slower pace, but everyone was friendly and we were able to relax and enjoy the small town life for just a few days.  It’s just about a 3 hour drive back home and even though the altitude difference is only about 2000 feet, I could feel the difference in temperature when we rolled down out of the hills and back into the mesa heat.  The drive is fairly uneventful, but I find the scenery absolutely beautiful.

March 20 marks the beginning of spring and by all indications thus far, 2016 in Phoenix metro is going to feel like living on the surface of Mars.  My face is fairly harshly sun burnt and I could feel the sting while I worked around the back yard today cleaning the truck and unpacking and re-organizing the tools.

IMG_1157Hal has been pulling the engine stats and checking over the brakes, fluids, plugs, wires, and various other components.  Since we have officially participated in a sanctioned competitive road racing event, we qualify for performance part discounts from Mazda Motorsports.  Of course we have much to do before it can go back to the track, but when she goes back out she will be sporting a new suspension kit and will behave like an entirely different animal.

So Spring is here and I am in love with Arizona and motorsports.

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March 19

This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient, but I do love Fig Newtons.

I tore ass down the straight and hit upward of 85mph before having to brake down to 60 for a right hander in third gear, brought it back up to 70 through the chicane before hard on the brakes for the right handed spoon.  I had consistent lap times in the 1:30 range and we are currently at 40th out of 57 over all.

IMG_1154This is one of the best days of my life and one which I will never forget.  I am nearly exhausted after just three 30 minute stints, a total of 1.5 hours of driving out of eight hours of racing.  We have another 6 hours to race tomorrow.

The car is running flawlessly.  We haven’t had a single mechanical issue, and have only experienced the previously mentioned issues with our tires.  Lots of chunking from the center lugs, impressive amounts of tread scrubbing, and a greasy-floaty feel on hard cornering.  Because most of the high speed turns are right-handers, the front driver rubber is taking most of the punishment.  We have directional tires so we swapped the port side front with the starboard side rear and I took her back out for another 30 minutes without any real issues.

We have to work on our pit/driver swap times because we’re averaging about 18 minutes per.  This facility doesn’t have a proper hot pit lane, so we can’t actually do any of this on what you would normally call pit-lane.  We actually have to roll all the way back to the paddock at 10mph to swap drivers unless we’re refueling at the same time.  We’re only permitted to re-fuel on the hot pit lane and it’s a pretty short drive back to the paddock, but in-and-out it just isn’t.

Still we can do better, but we’re all just really jazzed to be here and are taking our time to make sure we have all the safety gear on properly, are strapped in good and tight with radio checked before we start rolling again.  I saw a lot of cars black flagged, spun out, off the track, broken down, and some sure to be marked DNF when it’s all said & done tomorrow afternoon.  I don’t care if we come in dead last as long as we’re still in this for the checkered flag tomorrow.

We have a laundry list of things to do for the next race and just about all of them are pretty spendy.  I haven’t done the math yet to know if I can do any of them before the Colorado race but I know I’m going to have to prioritize needs vs wants.  I don’t know if I should do better tires or just more tires.  Bigger rims and wider rubber?  Two sets?  Or three?  I could make up for handling changes due to wheel changes with a fully adjustable suspension but that’s a whole different cost structure.

Funny note for the day was when Lawrence gave his cell phone to Cope before going out on track.  Cope put the phone down someplace and promptly lost track of it.  For the next several hours between driver swaps and dozens upon dozens of laps various members of the team looked for the phone and came up empty handed.  After the checkered flag a bunch of the drivers went out on track walking around picking up debris and found the phone at the end of the back straight.

Apparently Cope had put the phone on the deck lid of the car while strapping Lawrence into the driver seat and left it there.  Nobody noticed as he drove out of the paddock and it stayed on the back of the car all the way down the straight.  I guess it flew off after he cut speed for the right-hand sweep at the end of the straight, and it’s just lucky that someone happened upon it after the race.  The screen is cracked a bit but it still works!  A great souvenir for our first day on the track.

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March 18

We made it.

This far.

We had tech inspection this morning at 11AM and flew through with only one recommended change.  The kill-switch needed to be relocated so that it would be within reach of the driver while belted in with arm restraints intact.  This required moving the switch about 2 feet from its original position and fabricating an entirely new mount for it.

There was also a mandatory track/facility driver meeting today at 12:30pm to go over basic rules and directions and then the track was opened at 1pm for pre-race testing.

We elected to get the kill-switch modification out of the way before we took the out for testing so we didn’t really get to drive until about 2:30pm.  The team moved like greased lighting with Cope & Lawrence leading the charge to get the wiring modified while AJ fabricated a new mounting bracket.

The team insisted I be the first driver so I took her out for the first four laps, marking my first time on an unrestricted track in a modified vehicle in full safety kit.  I have to confess that I was not prepared for the rolling nature of the car under heavy cornering and the first couple of laps really rustled my jimmies.  I was absolutely the slowest vehicle on the track and was overtaken by at least ten different cars while trying to make my way around the first couple of times.

By the time I’d gotten through with lap three my heart was racing so much I had to bring it in and do a driver swap.  Chris was ready to go so I let him take over and drank some water to settle my nerves.  The car handled beautifully except for the tendency to lean dramatically in the turns.

The poor handling is caused by the nearly OEM suspension from 1996 on the car having covered more than 170,000 road miles with nothing more than shock replacement.  We did the shocks in prep for this event but didn’t touch the springs or sway bars which is something I regret now.  We sailed through tech and BS inspection without any question or investigation of our suspension.  I could have installed a VMAXX kit on here without issue and nobody would have suggested I was over cost limits.  Lesson learned.  For Colorado or Button Willow, we will have a fully modified suspension setup.

My next five laps went much better.  I was able to push her hard through the turns and take it just to where I was sure traction was going to break loose.  When she steps out, she remains very controllable and rolling off the throttle a little bit will bring her right back in line.  I definitely didn’t set any speed records but I certainly felt much better by the time I rolled her back to the paddock for another driver swap.

So the highlight of the day is that every driver got a turn of at least four laps on the track and we didn’t spin out, leave the pavement, get shunted off, or otherwise experience rapid unscheduled disassembly of the vehicle.

Tomorrow is the real thing.  There are not less than 55 teams participating in the event and we will have a very crowded track.  Instead of going for a target number of laps, we’re going to break it out into 30-45 minute stints depending upon driver fatigue and vehicle handling characteristics.

The first hour is all about survival and I’m slated to take the first 30 minute stint.  Wish me luck.  :)

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March 10

Ay, chihuahua.

This is the last major work weekend before we have to hit the road and we should be able to wrap it all up by Saturday night.  We’ve pored over the pre-race safety checklist and done our best to follow the rules.  Tomorrow we get her off for new tires & an alignment.  I’m just as excited as I am nervous because we still don’t have all the gear on-site and a couple of critical and exceptionally expensive pieces of equipment are still in transit.  Even if everything arrives on time and we don’t have any issues getting to the track & getting set up, the car could still fail tech inspection & be black flagged from the track.

 

Still, we’re optimistic.  Already looking ahead to Button Willow in October and trying to budget some suspension upgrades & better tires.  Any type of corporate sponsorship would be welcomed of course but there won’t be any big money even if we win.  The best we could hope for is some extra cash or free gear to offset the costs of fielding a car.

 

 

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March 7

Carrying on

At some point we have to accept life on its own terms and recognize that there doesn’t have to be a reason behind anything that we experience.

“And this, this is like my little window to the world, and every minute’s a different show. Now I may not understand it. I may not even necessarily agree with it. But I’ll tell you what, I accept it and just sort of glide along. You want to keep things on an even keel, I guess is what I’m saying. You want to go with the flow. The sea refuses no river. The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving. It saves on introductions and goodbyes. The ride does not require an explanation – just occupants.”

  • boat car guy, “Waking Life” 2001

Hal & I have been soldering on with the race car work while struggling with the loss of our friend, but the work has been good for us and we’ve made enormous amounts of progress.  After Eric got the seat mounted & harnesses attached we discovered a problem with the roll cage which is going to require some retrofitting, but it is probably going to be salvageable in time for us to get the car to Wilcox.  That leaves tires, instrument cluster, and door handles to be done in a week and I think we’re going to be okay.

View post on imgur.com

I will always remember Susan as the woman who taught me how to make the perfect pizza crust in my very own kitchen.  So on a more positive note and a completely different subject at that….

For many years I’ve avoided cooking steaks because I’ve historically had no talent at it.  Every time I’ve tried to follow a recipe and cook a steak, the meal has ended in disappointment and some sort of delivery service.  But to be fair to myself it’s not as if I’ve had decent instruction yet still lack the skills or anything.  Nobody in my family ever taught me how to cook a steak.

Well, that’s no longer the case!  I’ve finally learned how to decently prepare and cook a piece of bovine carcass which doesn’t turn out resembling a piece of old boot leather.  All praise shall belong to his majesty Gordon Ramsay and this little video of his :

I do like my steaks a bit more done than he does so I left them in the pan about another two minutes.  They came out tasting absolutely superb, though  I will add just a bit more fresh pepper next time.  I do have to get my timing coordinated just a bit better so I can have everything ready at the same time but Hal & I were both quite happy with how it turned out.  Next time I’ll even take photos.

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February 19

Winding up

We’ll be having another racing team work weekend to get the car ready to run.  The new clutch got here last night and Hal has already started disassembling the exhaust and power-plant frame so we can get the transmission out.  After work today I think I’m going to start on it.  The seat also arrived yesterday, it’s 2″ thinner than the first one and appears to fit appropriately.  We’re going to need AJ to weld up some sort of frame attachment for it and then get the steering column fastened to the dash bar.

 

The robotics projects are on hold for now because we have to get the car done and get through the race before I can really focus on the logistics of what I want to accomplish.  I’m also still waiting on deliveries of hardware and lots of this stuff has to come from China and Japan so it seemingly takes ages to arrive.  The race is March 18-20 in Wilcox Az, so after a physical recovery weekend I’m probably going to start on the automated mail delivery project (a.k.a. Project Pee-Wee-Herman), hoping to complete by end of April.

 

At least the work on the back yard resurfacing project is finally done!  I’ll have to upload some images into the gallery when I have time, and maybe do some before & after comparison shots.  There is a narrow side strip around the pavement which needs to be cleared out and filled in with some packed desert sand.  Our contractor is drawing up a plan to lower the sliding gate a little and motorize it so we can stop having to open and close it manually.  I’m so lazy I want my mail brought in automatically and my gates to open & close at the press of a button.  Life is good.  :)

 

I mounted the bedroom television to the wall last weekend and recovered a remarkable amount of free space in the room.  It feels so much more roomy that I’m sorry I hadn’t done it sooner.  At some point I’ll have to do the same thing in the living room, but I don’t want to make too many changes or Hal and the cats will forget which room is which.  :)   Eventually though, I’ll get this place into some sort of recognizable shape and style so it stops looking so much like a combination toy-store & frat-house.

 

The weather is so beautiful at this time of year that we’re leaving the doors & windows open day & night with the hvac shut off entirely.  I updated the front page of the main site with a photo that I took at sunset from the backyard a couple of weeks ago.  I’m not sure I remember it being this warm so early in the year since I’ve lived here, I wonder if that means the summer is going to be especially warm?  Time will tell, right?

 

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for this year so far.  I’ll get those photos & videos uploaded as soon as I can.  :)

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April 29

For want of a new chariot

I’m agonizing over the purchase of a new vehicle.  My fifteen year old Impreza still runs very well but it’s getting a bit long in the tooth and the transmission has been exhibiting signs of synchro-wear (gear clash) when shifting down to first or up into fifth.  I always have the option of pulling the transmission and having it rebuilt but, experience has taught me that once the case has to be cracked open the long term reliability of the unit will always be in question.  (Failure probability shifts from ‘distant and uncertain’ to ‘near and uncertain’ or ‘near and likely’.)

Faced with an unreliable horse or buggy, what would the traveler of yesteryear do?  For that matter, how did the Gladiators go about selecting their next chariot?  You think maybe they drew up a list of pros & cons, or needs, wants, and nice-to-haves before going off to interrogate the local chariot builders?  Perhaps I should read up on that.

My list of needs are pretty simple I think.  I need comfortable, reliable transportation with high-output air conditioning and a decent amount of power and torque for those rural passing lanes.  On this vehicle I prefer four doors, manual transmission, and either rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive.  I would also really like the price to be under $35,000 out the door.  Much to my dismay I’ve come to realize that manual transmission and rear-wheel-drive are pretty much impossible to get in this class and price range so I’m going to have to find a compromise.

The top contenders for my money are:

1. Subaru Legacy Premium
2. Mazda Six Touring
3. Honda Accord EX
4. Kia Optima SX

The bottom three are all front-wheel-drive and only Mazda gives me a manual transmission option.  It annoys me greatly that Honda won’t sell me an Accord EX with a manual transmission in blue paint.  It makes me far less likely to purchase a Honda.  I can forgive Subaru and Kia for this because a manual transmission is not even an option anywhere in the model lineup, and only Honda restricts my color choice based up on my transmission choice.  How about just letting me have whatever color I want?

My biggest concerns for both the Legacy and Six is lack of power.  Both of these cars have a ~2.5l engine and they’re both fairly heavy vehicles.  Summertime in Phoenix where the AC is running at full blast any time the engine is on can really sap the power from a small engine, particularly when climbing mountain roads.  In Arizona everywhere outside of the Phoenix metro area is mountain country, so I worry that any time I need to leave the valley I’m going to want for power.

When it comes to the Kia the issue is primarily around package selection.  The price starts out very reasonably in the $26K range but adding the Premium tech package (just to get heated seats), rockets the price to over $31K before adding any other options at all.  The Subaru costs thousands less even with the addition of Moonroof, Navigation, EyeSight, Blind Spot, Cross-traffic alert, floor mats, etc, and it comes with AWD as standard equipment.

I guess I’m really leaning toward the Legacy, but when I bought my Impreza 15 years ago I was able to get everything I wanted that I could afford to buy.  I’m not exactly sold on CVT technology in general and I’m unhappy that the Legacy sport model and GT/2.5l turbo options are discontinued for model year 2015.  The last thing I want now is three or four years of car payments for a vehicle I’m not 100% happy about.

Looks as if I’ll be sitting on this fence a while longer.

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