2010.gif (33588 bytes)

80-2009-erie.jpg (58865 bytes)

.80-2009Erie1a.jpg (16577 bytes)80-2009Erie2.jpg (20313 bytes)80-2009Erie4a.jpg (32110 bytes)

Click on photos to enlarge.

armond3-04.jpg (27681 bytes)
My Father
-always with me-
Armond Wickham

1923 to 2006

2010 Team Schedule
click here

80 GlenRidge6-10.jpg (64617 bytes)
3 wide-turn 2
Glen Ridge

80 BR2 4-20-10.jpg (53798 bytes)
Heat at Black Rock

80 BR 4-30-10.jpg (59176 bytes)
B main at Black Rock

Newspaper page 4-10.jpg (194314 bytes)
Syracuse Newspaper page

Newspaper closeup 4-10.jpg (207972 bytes)
Syracuse Newspaper

80 brewerton 4-10.jpg (144692 bytes)
Rollin' it into three
at Brewerton

80 whip weedsport 4-10.jpg (172705 bytes)
"We need ice skates"
Whip is laughing
at Weedsport


2010 summary
I thought each of the past few seasons was bad but 2010 was the worst.   Right out of the box we couldn’t qualify.   I spun the car at nearly every track we ran for the first few races and dropped like a rock in most races.    I tried everything I knew but we were out to lunch…., and breakfast AND dinner.

By mid season I was lost.   Nothing I tried helped and nothing I tried worked like expected.   This had been going on for some time and it just didn’t make sense.   I had refined everything trying to come up with some part I could blame, that wasn’t working  or adjustment that was way off.   But the more we talked to others and made changes, the more things stayed the same.    The front end would push or the back would break loose and if that didn’t happen, the harder I drove in, the more the car would skate up the banking. 

We got new torsion bars and tried different combinations.   We tried VRP shocks last year and used their recommendations for chassis set up from their set up sheets.  We dyno’d our Pro and Afco shocks again and used them this season.  We got a brand new frame in 2008.   We put on new tires.  We tried all sorts of setting over the past few seasons and got scales to check weights, but we could never get it right.   We even put another driver in the car for his feedback.

In mid 2010, after spinning and missing another race, I picked the brain of another racer and got a clue that maybe our long 88”wheelbase chassis might be contributing to the problems we were having.  It was something he had experienced on these short, slick, NY tracks.   He suggested going to an 86” chassis.   That was enough for me.  I had nothing else to try.

The Monday after that race, I called and ordered a new, built for me, plain vanilla, Maxim.  Although I had a bad experience with a previous car of theirs,  a lot of the strongest teams on our tracks were using them.    I had to try it.

When the chassis arrived, I looked it over carefully and was impressed, visually, with the fabrication.    The other Maxim I had was not welded right, the welds looked awful and it broke apart.

When this new frame arrived direct from the factory we put a fresh car together  and went to the next race, that happened to be at my hometown track, one mile away.   There, I managed to tip the car over trying to keep from running over the car ahead.   The car was definitely hooked up better  than the ones I had been using and it caught me off guard as I expected the other car to run away and not check up ahead of me.   When we finally did   get to race, we were much better but knew there was more and had to figure out what the car wanted for setup.  

It took a few races to get a feel for what worked, but the adjustments we made changed things as we expected and the car responded.    Now I could pick up the throttle mid corner and go forward instead of sideways.   It was an entirely different feeling but now the car felt right and I felt racy again.

So in my typical over analytical way, I’ve tried to determine what is different from the other cars.  To be fair we had decided to stay looser with the setups.   I don’t know if this was the whole problem with the J&Js or not.   If the J&J cars were just always set up too tight, they might have worked better with looser setups.   But it has been so hard for me to tell if we were too tight and if I was breaking the car lose to turn or if the car just didn’t stick and we needed to be tighter.   Or was it that the car would just not stick whether it was tight or loose.     I will never know now because all the J&J frames are for sale.    I know others make J&J cars work and they will probably make these go.

I did notice a difference between the J&J we had raced for two years and the backup J&J that we had raced several years ago and used for a few races again before the new frame arrived.   The backup car worked better and there was a little better feel in that car.  

So after having raced three different frames within a month or so, on tracks I had been to before, I sensed three different feels.    I don’t know if the results of that kind of test are conclusive for a broader sample, but it’s headed me in the right direction and I’m planning to get another new frame exactly like the one I just got.

The difference between being fast or last is not very much.   The competition is so close now that we are only looking at a few percent difference between leading and keeping up.   In my situation, I can not afford to run at the front, with all the expense required.   I know that the leaders have more horsepower, put on new tires every race, and have younger drivers and fresh stuff.   We are close, but not even.   There will be times when the right combination and some luck can put us up front.   I also know that I will have  to do the best I can with what I have.  

Our setup struggle is not over but I think that we can now be competitive.   All I can do is the best I can, in the shop and on the track.    When I beat my peers that might not pay the winner’s purse, but it will be a win for us.

ASCS at Sharon and Eriez 9-4 ,9-5-10

There is light at the end of this tunnel. As summer comes to an end so does my racing efforts for the year. Labor day weekend always provides lots of racing opportunities. Nearby Can Am and Utica Rome speedways set Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends for ESS. Lots of teams always show up for these races. We tried the Memorial Day events but didn’t make the shows. I’ve hit Utica Rome several times with confidence that we had a package that could compete on the dry slick but watched the features instead.

Also on Labor day weekend is ASCS at Sharon and Eriez, tracks where we have done well in the past. We have had problems at Sharon but our racing has been good there. We have also had good runs at Eriez. Those tracks are a six hour tow. After the short ASCS car count at Stateline last week and the short counts for Sharon and Eriez Memorial Day events last spring, we figured our best shot was to hit the highway.

The weather forecast was clear. The very hot and humid weather had moved on and it was a flannel shirt day. The temp difference created strong head winds as we headed west down the NYS Thruway. Cloud shadows were racing with the cars in the oncoming lanes. We used about 25% more gas with an already gas hungry truck that we now run in third gear after two transmissions.

Our early start got us to the track with time to get our pit set up and talk to the neighbors. As race time approached, 28 cars were in the pits and the track was run in but not very wet. For whatever reason, they had not put much water on the track. It was barely enough to keep the packer cars from raising dust. There were even some light colored spots in the turns that were dry. Very strange for a sprint car track. I told Greg to go up and take a look and when he came back we both concluded that hot laps would be more like a late heat or Bmain. We took some stagger out but left the car alone so that it would be a little chassis loose.

Hot laps came on a drying track. The car handled near perfect. It’s a feeling I haven’t had in a long time. The car rolled into the sweeping corners with a slight lift on the pedal and dragging some brake. Mid corner I was back on it, the rear kicked out just a bit and rolling out on to the straight. The tires were grinding off the loose pack and the car drifted to toward the back stretch wall. Three quick laps. We gained ground on the car ahead.

The pill draw put us on the pole of the loaded third heat. We made some minor changes to the car and headed for the track. When I hit the line, I stood on it and beat the outside row to the first turn. A couple of nasty holes right in the lower half of the entry to one, left dark moisture on the bottom. No one was going through those holes. I arced into turn one around the hole and ran the middle. The track was getting looser and I had to back pedal coming out, to stay off the wall. I led lap one. Two cars worked their way by during the race and we finished a strong third ahead of some good cars.

The top eight in passing points redraw for starting spots and nine to fourteen run a 4 lap dash for the next spots. I started third in the dash with some good cars. By now the track was black and slick. We made some changes to try in the dash before the feature but tried something more loose than what we had been doing in the past.

The car was great in the dash as everyone fell in line. There was no passing but no one was getting away either. I could still run the car in on the back pedal and drag the brake. There was still good bite in the car.

The four laps wore the tire more than the heat did. I sat with some drivers to watch the Bmain and one said he felt a groove on the track where it was taking rubber and he used half of a new tire in the 4 lap dash. Now we were all second guessing. Would the track rubber down and eat tires? This was my last race weekend and I was planning to use up what used tires I had. Now I’m wondering what to do. There will be a Prostock feature before us.

If the track takes rubber, you have to run that groove or you will get freight trained. That groove will eat normal tires. Word is spreading through the pits and top teams are headed for the tire trailer to get the harder D25 compound. I’m not buying a new tire and certainly not a D25 that I won’t ever use again. I have a tire from last season mounted up as a spare. It should be a bit tougher. Greg measures it and it is the same size as what is on the car now so we don’t have to mess with stagger. I’ll just have to take it easy on the rubber down groove.

Other teams are cutting up their new D25 tires as I climb in and buckle up for the A main. As I sit in the car watching the dust from the Prostock feature roll in the lights, I see a light misting rain start. It is very light and it takes almost 10 minutes before the wing starts to drip in front of me. No one is covering up but the track is slimy enough that the cars on the track are under caution.

The rain lasts more than a half hour and is heavier but still tiny droplets. The track takes enough water to need packers. We add some stagger and make some changes to loosen the chassis. We get a couple of hot laps and 5 minutes in the pits before we race.

All the D25 tires come off but can’t be returned after syping and cutting. It’s 1:30am, most fans have left, I’m sitting on the track waiting to get pushed off and it’s dead quiet. It’s a quiet I haven’t heard before while waiting to race. It’s like Wednesday….

Engines start and roll by. The push truck bumps me and I wave on. We start eleventh. The two big holes at the entry to one are still there but you can straddle them or run between them or really go low and go under them. It can be a problem for a full pack of cars entering turn one at the start.

Off four and into one, everyone makes it past the holes. It is three and four wide through the turns. The track is very fast. My car is stuck and we are holding our own against a pack all around me. I am wheel to wheel with a friend for many laps. Neither can get away. I’m on the bottom and he is only a couple of feet to the right. Lap after lap he keeps me low so I can’t get a run coming out. We pitch it together getting in and run the turns side by side.

There is a car just off the RF of my outside partner. He has a car at the cushion above him. Another car is three car lengths ahead of us. I don’t know what is going on behind but at times I see a nose outside of us. The battle continues for many laps and I lose half a car length giving him a place to stick his nose. We set the cars into three and he gets to the bottom cutting me off. I follow him out of four and we continue to race the pack. I try to get outside of him but the track is fast and it’s tough to make headway. After a few cautions things string out. At one point I count back to thirteenth but by the end I’m tenth.

That was a good run for us. The car really worked good. A few tweaks could have made it better but we were well within the window of a good setup. One thing we did and learned from was not get the car too tight. When I got on the throttle hard in the corners, the back would set out a bit, the front would lift and the car would follow the corner. I haven’t felt that in a long time. This car races totally different from the other two I’ve driven in the past 6 weeks, all with the same running gear and same motor.

Tenth is a good finish compared to the disastrous beginning of the season. More important was that the car worked very good and responded to the adjustments as expected. We learned a lot on this night. I got to feel a controllable car that went where I wanted it to. The more laps I got the more I found that I could get on the gas earlier and not have the car slide up the track. It will take some time to get full confidence back but this run was a good one for us.

The night ended as we loaded up at 2:30am and followed Zimbardi’s hauler to the camping area outside of turn three. After a good late night meal from Mrs. Zimbardi, Greg and I headed to their race car trailer to bed down for the night. Next day we had another race an hour away and we had to fight the adrenaline and get some sleep.

The car left a mud mess at the car wash. After the rain, it had definitely been a night for tear offs. We got to Eriez Speedway’s open pit area about 1pm and unloaded. A dozen other teams were there with cars on stands, going through their maintenance and setups. We had a few things to do and reset the car to our baseline block and turns.

The bright sunny day was hot when the wind died down but really chilly when it blew. We were constantly changing clothes. Greg was doing well considering the work, food and hours since we left home. Still fighting thru back trouble and near pneumonia last week, he did all the hard work while I helped and stored energy to drive.

They put a lot of water on the track and it had rained some for the last three days, we were told. We set up for tacky but hot laps were anything but…. The track was dusty and dry slick with grooves of ice. We were as good as anyone but this track was gone. The corners were rutty as there was moisture down below allowing the clay to lump and rumple. Cars were tearing ruts into the middle line. The top was a loose marbly cushion. It was nothing to lean on, only a cover for some remaining moisture.

I drew #1 and would start on the pole of the first heat. The bright sun is blinding in turn four. We put the visor on the cage, took some stagger out and put easy up shocks on the front. The track had some bite at the bottom and when I hit the line I jumped on it and made it to the first turn alone. For me at this track, I do best on the bottom. I led a lap or two and then saw a car struggling the top. I kept ahead for a while but he finally got to my outside coming out and I had to pinch the exit.

I saw a nose on the inside when I went a little higher in three but was able to get a good bite coming off at the edge of the rough stuff. I dove to the bottom of one and closed that door. He would have to run the ruts or the top if he was going to pass. I didn’t know who it was but later realized that it was the car that spun me at Black Rock a few weeks ago. He was close behind but stayed off me.

My second place finish in the heat didn’t make the redraw eight but would start me on the pole of the dash. Again I beat the outside row to the turn one. That felt good for the third time this weekend. I led a lap but got passed by one car to finish the dash in second. I would start tenth in the Amain.

They had done some work on the track with a roller before the dash that pumped up some moisture and made us a little bit tight. The car turned in ok but the front would push mid corner on some laps. I sat down with Greg and another driver and we discussed my setup. I wanted to loosen the car mid corner without making it loose coming out or losing the sidebite mid corner. Every choice to fix one thing could make another worse. The other driver had some good ideas for little changes that made sense. There was a latemodel feature before us and track conditions were a crap shoot.

We had gotten to a point where the setup was close enough that we were making little changes to fine tune. This was nothing like the desperate big changes we had been making with the other cars. We were zeroing in and competitive. I was gaining confidence in myself and what the car would do. This was a high point in a three year battle to get our car to work. Every race on this new chassis was getting us closer to right… I could feel it and others could see it. We were no longer the jam car.

I was starting the feature on the outside row. That is where problems usually happen here. On the pace laps, cars were splitting the groove wide band of now really rough stuff. There was the top and the bottom and the brave. The top was close to the loose stuff and was polished by the last race. The bottom had some promise. The brave could bounce out of shape in front of us.

We took the green and I ran the top of one and two. It was slick coming out of two and easy to spin the tires but the car was hooked pretty good and didn’t just slide up the track. I was comfortable on top and actually had to wait for the car ahead. Second lap into one and I am setting up the car ahead to pass outside in the back straight and going into three. I felt confident that I could run that line and maybe get by or at least alongside so he would have to pinch the exit. I knew I would get to the bottom eventually but right now there were cars wall to wall in this pack.

The track had gotten really dusty. It was so dusty with the lights shining through that you couldn’t see much detail. The cars were just outlines. I was just to the RR of the car ahead and really on it coming out of two… we all were. It was the greed of getting past the pushes the pedal… the tires were spinning for bite coming out with the car in a drift. I’m watching the car ahead hoping he doesn’t do a tail dance when SLAP BANG…. I flat-slap the wall out of two. It doesn’t really upset the direction of the car and for a second I’m still on it and racing but that was a hard hit and now I feel that the RR is going down on the frame. I never saw the wall…. I can’t believe it. I park it high in turn three and gesture for the hook. I know I broke stuff so there is no point in getting out… I’m done. They tow me back to my pit and we set the car on stands and go back to watch the race.

I was probably good for eighth to tenth as the race ran. In the pits we had a flat RR. When we pulled the wheel cover, the wheel looked like a soda can you stepped on. I made a 17” wheel into a 14” wheel. Surprisingly, nothing else was damaged or bent. If we were ready we could have changed RR tires and gone back out. We don’t have the crew and resources like a pit mule to carry all the spares and tools. You only get 2 minutes to do the work so you have to be prepared and have someone on the jack, the wrench and the tire. We have discussed this and plan that if we have a problem, we are done.

As disappointing as it was to crash out, I was still happy with how the car worked. It felt great to be racy again and knowing that even though this was our last race for the season, it’s a good way to go into the winter. I’d like to race some more but I have lots of outdoor projects that were put off until I was done racing that have to be finished before winter. Seems like a long time until my next race in May but not a bad way to end lap 60 around the sun. There are still flea markets, trade shows, planning, improvements, fabrications, measurements and repairs to do so my racing isn’t really over, it’s just redirected.


Stateline 8-28-10

The end of the season is approaching and I only plan on running a few more races. In the past we have done well at Stateline so I decided to make the long tow there to see where we stand. That track somehow suits my style. It’s not what I would pick as my favorite kind of track… it has long straights and tight turns but that paperclip has worked well for me. The straights are long enough that I can get a run off the corner and get a nose under a car that is spinning his tires coming off.

Greg has had his ups and downs this year and when we talked on Friday, he was sick. He was going to go but we talked and he decided to go to the doctor instead of the races. Good thing – he was a couple days away from pneumonia.

Alone at the track the Patriot staff and the Zimbardi team helped make sure that I got the car to the racing surface. I had the car pretty well setup at the shop so there were only a few simple changes to make during the night as long as there was no trouble.

A short field of cars at the earlier races continued to plague these western NY shows but it took the pressure off for me knowing that I could try things without worrying about qualifying.

The track was very wet and sloppy when we got there and by hot laps was packed into a field of lumps. It wasn’t rutty, it was more like padded down wads of clay that shook the tires all the way around. Even after hot laps and 5 classes of heats on the track, it was lumpy. The clay still had moisture but the roughness made the car loose.

I started sixth in the heat and ran with the pack. The bottom where I usually ran and made ground was sloppy and slimy and nothing but trouble. That forced me to the middle or top and there I had no advantage coming off. When a car ahead dipped a wheel in the slim, it splattered the helmet visor. The bright sun in the cloudless sky was just above the trees at the end of the long back straight and the sun shield I put across the cage still didn’t hide the glare. Between the muddy visor and the sun, it was tough to judge getting into three.

A car behind me worked the cushion and got by, leaving me seventh of nine in the heat. Passing points put me in the dash. This pays a little money and provides a chance to test a setup before the feature. There was still bite in the track during the dash. I tried my feature setup but couldn’t tell if the car was tight or just not hooked. It would wash up the track but stuck well coming off the corners. I finished fourth and that would start me twelfth in the feature.

I made only one small change, thinking that the latemodel feature before ours would make the track slick off as usual. When we got pushed off, I buzzed a corner and it still had bite and the bottom was still slimy. I was really concerned about the bottom. No only would I not be able to sneak around the bottom, but the big worry was that at the start someone may end up in that slime and spin or come up across the track.

The tow truck had spent a lot of time on the track this night. It wasn’t full moon but it was acting that way. It was a good time to be aware. At the start of the race, the pack charged into one and no one got into the slime. I ran the high line and got good bite coming out. I ran the outside for a lap or so but was loosing ground to the car on the bottom.

When I moved to the bottom, I was on the tail of the car ahead and chased him for many laps. I tried to pass above him but could not get more speed. The track stayed good and had bite top to bottom. I tried to get a nose under, coming out of the corners but when the car ahead would get on it and drift out he had just as much bite as I did. The middle didn’t slick off to ice as it always has in the past and that screwed up my advantage at this track. Cars in the middle and top were just as fast off the corners as I was.

I got by one car and he got back by. There was a pack of four other cars that I was racing with. Sometimes the car ahead would get a little wide and I could sneak a nose in but at the end of the straight I wasn’t beside him enough for him to see me and give way so I had to back out or I’d get chopped. I tried everything I could and eventually was able to get past two cars to finish 10th.

It was a good race and we were competitive where we were. I had set the car too tight and now know what I could have done to make it better. I’m still trying to figure out the best settings for this car. So far I have only had it on tracks with bite and the car hooks up really well. I expect the next two tracks in Ohio and Pennsylvania will be about the same.


The Christening... 8-20-10

Since the last race at Black Rock, I have been putting a new car together.  There was a lot of work to do, taking apart the 2008 J&J, cleaning the pieces, inspecting for damage or wear, fabricating some side panels and adding a few dzus tabs.   The new car is surprisingly similar, no I should say exactly the same as the chassis we are changing from.  The only difference that I can find that I am hoping is the difference is that the new chassis is 10 pounds lighter.  

Our car is already too light, we have to add weight to make the minimum so lighter sprung weight only makes that more difficult.   With the tubing layout exactly the same between the two chassis, the difference has to be in tubing thickness, here and there.   The cage, downtubes and lower frame rail on the new car is all .095 as I could see on the markings of the tubing, so the lighter weight has to be in all the bracing.

The new chassis is a Maxim.  If you have read about my Maxim Disaster, you will know that I not only didn't like the Maxim I had before but also didn't like the way the company acted when that car came apart.   I made this change because I've tried everything I know with my J&J cars and I can't get them to work for me.   Most of the successful teams are using Maxim and I decided that I had to make the change. 

This is a new frame, built at the Maxim shop and a plain vanilla car with some adjustment options.   I ordered it in the first week of July and it arrived by truck in the first week of August.   The first thing I noticed once I got it in the shop was the welding.  This frame was unpainted so you could see everything from tubing markings to the fact that every joint had been sanded to take off the black mill coating.   The TIG welding looked like it should...   even beading, uniform width, even penetration at the edges, uniform heat band, smooth radius in the corners.   Welding tubing is hard.  Thin tubing is tricky.  This guy was good.   It was a pleasant relief in contrast to the gob stopper job on the last Maxim.

I put the frame on stands and measured the four corners and found 1/4 inch of difference between the front tubes and the rear tubes.   My floor could be off by that much.   All in all, I was pleased with what I got.  I spent all day Saturday sanding the frame for paint and shooting it with race car red.    Tubing is also tough to paint.  By Sunday afternoon, the paint was curing.

We had been racing an older J&J, the backup car, for the last few races.   It was a good change and comparison baseline for the newest car.    The car we had been struggling with for the last two years sat in the backup slot, ready to be torn down, cleaned and transferred.   Monday after work and all the time up to the next race was used to put the new car together.   Whip spent several nights at the shop as well as Greg and his brother Rodney.   It took the efforts of a crew to do the job.

So the only thing we changed was the frame and torque plate.    Same running gear and motor.  The sprint car manufacturing industry has standardized the specs for the sport.   Everything from the J&J fit the Maxim.   Rear radius rods were an inch different but that was it.

The car was finished in time for the next race.   This was an ESS race, one mile away at Brewerton.  I wanted to do good there and I had new confidence with a new car.

I arrived early to an already full pit.  It was a beautiful day.   Thirty two cars showed up and I drew a five.  The car was really good in hot laps.   It turned in and stuck and I as catching good cars.    We made few changes for the heat.

I was starting on the front row of heat one.   The track had some bite and the cushion was mid corner making the groove narrow.   I tried to get a jump from the outside front row but entered turn one in second.  The car was hooked up and turned in but the car in front of me lifted earlier than I expected and as I twitched and braked to not hit him, the car broke loose and started to spin.   I stood on it.   The only thing to do at this point was loop it.   The tires were spinning and sideways now I could see the pack scrambling to avoid me.   The car backed up the banking and when the rear tires got to the cushion, they took hold and raised the front of the car like a lift bridge.   As everything disappeared but the sky, the car took bite on the RR and tipped over. 

We had used that wing for three seasons.   It was a testament to staying out of trouble.   It didn't owe me anything but it wasn't junk until now.  The crew righted the car and pushed me back to the pits.    I was pissed at myself but that's racin.

Whip had his pickup and said "we can go back to the shop and get the spare wing" ... so we left.   I was glad to get away.    10 minutes later we walked through the front gate with a fresh wing, past the hot dog stand and into the pits.   Greg and help from Teresa and nearby crews had stripped the wings off and had a new front wing in place.  

The top wing was soon ready and just as we finished up it was time for the B main.     Greg and Whip had changed the LR for less stagger while I was getting strapped in. Ready to go, I would start 10th with 4 to qualify.

Drop of the green we all fell in line.   The track had slicked off.   There was bite at the bottom and I headed there.    About three laps in,  I clipped a tire and the car got really loose.    There was a restart soon after and as I was trying to catch up to the pack, they dropped the green behind me and the leader came by and clipped the left front again, this time bending enough in the left front to send the car into the infield where I spun it to a stop.  

They hooked up the front end and towed me in.    Embarrassed, pissed, mad....   we put a straight radius rod on the LF and loaded up.   I never do well at Brewerton.

We went back to the shop and stuck a fresh front end in the car for Fulton the next night.  

Saturday was cloudy with rain forecast for Sunday.   Radar looked ok.   We headed to Fulton, 40 minutes away.   When we went out for hot laps, the track was the best I had ever seen there.    It was really sticky and smooth and fast.    We had too much gear and a little tight but we were as fast as the cars around us.  

Before we could change gears it started to sprinkle and just after we got everything loaded up it downpoured. 

Enough for one weekend.

Black Rock 8-6-10

It's been a hot summer but Friday was a relief with temperatures in the mid seventies and the humidity at less than soggy tee-shirt levels. It was Watkins Glen weekend so all the Nascar teams and fans were just 10 miles down the road from the track. Tony Stewart had been to this race for the past several years and this year providing a 360 team for Jessica Zemken he has been racing in NYS quite a bit. Word was out that Tony was coming. The stands were more full than I had seen them before.

The promoter, in a money making frenzy had scheduled 6 classes of cars as well as some Nascar celeb activities. It makes for a long night. We ended up being pitted across from Tony and JZ and had to plow through the small crowd to roll through the pits. The track was prepped with a comb over of cushion dirt, watered and packed.. it wouldn't last. I could see light colored spots when we pushed off to warm the motors so we set up for dry for hot laps.

The car was very good when we hit the track. The car had some bite and got through the corners as fast as JZ who followed. We didn't change much for the heat. My draw of 50 put me last in the second heat. It was loaded with strong cars and Tony on the front row. At the drop of the green we charged into turn one and the dust flew. One car went way high into the loose cushion and everyone was squeezing by. Then I saw cars pointed in wrong ways.

The dust curtain only allowed me to see a few cars ahead but one was flipping away from me and another was coming down the bank toward me. There was some wheel banging but I made it through. One car had gotten together with Tony and he flipped several times. They tried to fix the car but ended up loading it into the trailer. He focused on JZ for the rest of the night. The heat finished well for me (with help from the tow truck).

My third place finish from starting last put me second in passing points and in the top eight redraw for the feature. I pulled 8 out of the bag but not complaining. There was a lot of racing on the track and I was sure it was going to lose it's bite. The car felt good in the heat but I didn't want to be loose for the feature so we tightened things up, probably too much. A friend and I discussed the changes and he warned of being too tight. I thought about it but in the end talked myself into keeping the setup but agreed that I needed to get up off the bottom.

On the track I was ready to race and run a different line. At the start the car had a little push in turn one and I lost a couple of spots but once I got a feel for how the car was going to act I was able to run with the pack. I ran a higher line for several laps but had to back pedal more than I wanted to, so that the car didn't drift higher. There was moisture on the bottom so I moved down and found good bite coming off the corners. It was the same old game for me now.

There were others on the bottom and sometimes I could get a run on the car ahead but next corner they would hook up. There were some spins from cars going over the loose cushion and the banking. I was up to ninth. After a restart, JZ got a run on me and stuck her nose in on the bottom. She cleared coming off two. I could run with her and hoped to fill the hole behind here when she wedged the next car off the bottom. Between one and two I felt a tap and the car was sideways. It was going to hook up and go but then I felt a long puusssshh from the car behind. A deliberate bump me loose and then push me around not often seen in sprint car racing.

I was pissed and restarted about 21st. On the restart I charged in on the last place car and he cut me off and I had to pinch it to keep off him and spun again. On the restart I cooled off for a lap or so and then got my feel back and started working the bottom crawling past a number of cars. It seemed like it took laps to get half past but little by little I made it back to 15th.

It was disappointing not to have the top ten I was working on but it felt good to be passing cars at all. This race was with the backup J&J and it seems to be working better than what I struggled with for the past two years. Next, I have to restrain myself from tight setups. The afternoon before the race, a new frame from another manufacturer arrived at the shop. The next two weeks of evenings will allow me to put it together for our next races at nearby Brewerton and Fulton.


Brockville 7-17-10
There hasn’t been much here because there hasn’t been much to write home about. Fact is that I have been working hard on trying to figure out what I need to do to get competitive again.

We have gone to half a dozen races but have had trouble qualifying. Sometimes bad draws would kill us for the night but consistently we have not been fast.

Out of pure frustration and some discussions I decided to change cars. The first change was to abandon the 2008 J&J that we have been using for the past two years. I’ve pulled out the backup car that we crashed three years ago, had the frame repaired and put back together. I always liked that car so we decided to start over with it and see if it would make a difference.

The other thing I did at the same time is order a new chassis from a different manufacturer. It is what is winning a lot and has been a standard for many years. Last fall, Dave Ely told me to just forget about past experience and buy one and so after some months of struggling, I’m going to give it a try. The new chassis should arrive by the end of July.

So in the meantime, I’ve gone back to basics, doing what I know and using the backup car. The first outing was at Weedsport and a full pit area, slick track and high draw started me in the back of the heat and B main. The car ran ok but was only as fast as the car ahead. Very few found a way to pass unless someone made a mistake.

Saturday 7-17, I had planned to race at Brockville with ASCS. Everything was ready to go but Greg called and could not go due to severe back pain. He has been struggling with that and has gone racing before but this time he was not mobile and needed to stay home.

I thought about staying home, but decided that I needed to race, just to find out what I could with this car. No one I knew that could help had a passport so I went alone to the track in Canada, about an hour and a half away. I figured I could get some help but at a minimum, the ASCS officials are always good about getting me to the track with their four wheelers.

The line at the border was much longer than usual, more than an hour and a half, so by the time I got to the track I was already in scramble mode. I expected to have lots of pit time before the races. Now I had to get everything unloaded, change gears, choose stagger, set air pressures, mount shocks, etc. After working quickly for 45 minutes, they called the driver’s meeting, just as I got everything ready. I was out of breath from the rush

Hot laps were next. I lined up behind one of the fastest cars and was determined to keep up. The track still had some bite and was fast. The car drove in and stuck and I started to gain some confidence but the motor was stumbling now and it was getting worse. I pulled off and was thinking that I should just load up.

During the week I had leak tested the motor and checked the plugs and bypass setting. Everything looked ok. Could it be a bent pushrod or lifter or rocker, bad mag or wire, clogged nozzle….

I decided to check the nozzles. This bladder had been dry for a couple years and the fuel filter in the suction line was clear, (I had that apart last week). When I unscrewed the hoses I saw debris on the screens of every nozzle. I blew each one out with compressed air and put everything back together and put the hood back on. I was still in scramble mode and pushing to get done. I was in the first heat and we were up next.

I took out some stagger and checked air pressures, got strapped in and pushed out. My good draw put me outside of the front row. If the engine didn’t run right, I would just pull in. I felt the push truck touch my bumper and I was off. The motor came to life and when I had a clear shot I took off. It was crisp and back to normal, just junk in the nozzles.

When we came to the green I nailed it and flew into turn one on the cushion. The car hooked up on the banking of this 3/8th and I came out of two on the bumper of the pole sitter. The wet stuff was peeling away leaving a slick groove where I was running. Two of the best cars in the series were behind me and they slowly worked their way by toward the end of the race. I was fourth and made the Amain from the heat.

By this time, I had been full speed working on the car and driving on the track for a couple of hours. This was the first that I had a chance to sit down and rest. I was not in the B main so that gave me some time to think about setup.

This place usually slicks off like the rest of the tracks in the northeast. There would be heats for 5 other classes, B main and a feature for the modifieds before I saw the track again. I took the stagger out , and made several other changes to deal with the expected lack of bite.

I lined up 15th behind a strong car and past winner with a lot of experience at this track. I had finally got some time to rest and I was ready to race. At the drop of the green the whole pack charged into the first turn, top bottom and middle. There was moisture in the bottom groove and slick above that. The cushion has been pushed over the banking but there were some that saw a band of moisture just below the foot of marbles.

I hugged the bottom and got a good bite coming out beating the car to my outside and running side by side with the car that started ahead of me. He ran the top and I found bite on the bottom. For several laps we raced and when I got a run up under him he saw me and cut down to the bottom to cut me off and drive under the car ahead of us. He got by but I didn’t.

Now I was working that car. He was on the bottom but would drift up. I would stick my nose in but he would get enough bite to pull back ahead. There were several cautions and I could usually get in under him on the first turn after a restart but he would get enough bite to beat me off the corner. Finally I decided to try the middle where a car had worked his way past both of us.

When he went for the bottom, I drove in wide and could get to his RR but he would pull me. The last restart came at 4 to go, I counted back to 11th. I wanted a top 10. I knew the guy ahead of me. We were friends, his father had known my sister when they were in college. Passing him would be for the bragging rights of friendly competition. Yeah, I wanted to pass that car.

We had been racing hard but we hadn’t lost touch with the cars ahead. There were 5 of us that were racing in a pack. Two of the top racers in the series, the two of us and another that I hadn’t raced with before.

The green dropped, we passed the cone and charged into one, he drifted up and I railed the bottom coming out nearly even. We both ran into three harder than we had all race. I set the car on the inside and slid right up to him, picked up the throttle and pulled ahead, clearing him as we came out of four. We had a good race with no contact. I continued on and was gaining on the next car but the laps ran out.

I finished 10th and was competitive. The car wasn’t perfect but I was able to race it. I would like to have tried a few changes that I think would have helped. It was a good feeling to race again and feel competitive.

This has been a very difficult season from a competitive standpoint and the difficulties are probably not over. Despite the problems, I always have that feeling that I can overcome them and get faster. I’m always thinking up something to try to solve the problems and go to the track thinking it will help. Knowing that there were some things to change is what keeps you going.


June Update

You would think that will all the time I've spent messing with these cars that I'd have it figured out by now. But racing seems to be a moving target of sorts and no matter how much things appear to stay the same, they are always changing. One of the big changes is with the competition. Everyone is working to get better than everyone else. It's easy to get left behind or off on a tangent.

I've been measuring and refining and trying things, sometimes using common sense and sometimes going against it.  We have something wrong and we can't find it. Our changes just refine a bad setup.

So at this point in the season, we have been hitting tracks within a couple of hours of home. These races have all had 30 or more cars. We've had some good starting spots in heats and some bad. We haven't been qualifying.

Racing has become our test sessions. Each time on the track, trying something different that we think will fix the problem. Some of our tests have made the car instantly swap ends. We've tried a different driver.

I've ordered a new frame from a different manufacturer. That won't be ready for a month or so.

The results have been so embarrassing that it's not worth talking about the details. There are no stories of racing, just testing. The only fun things have been watching Jessica Zemken drive by everyone and her car owner, Tony Stewart, show up out of the blue and race with us again.

So that's the news from Lake Wobeme, "where the women are fast, all the men are obsessed, and all the children are about average."


Canandaigua   5-15-10
This track has been a staple for the Patriot sprints, holding one or two races each season since the beginning of the series.   We've had some good runs and some problems at this track but we always look forward to racing there.    So does everyone else, always making car counts high.

The weather was clear and cool with a stiff breeze that called for bundle up mode.  Greg and Whip went along to crew the car.  

The track was prepped as usual and the tough clay packed about an inch and a half deep.   Like most NYS tracks, the moisture is just in the loose stuff they grade down from last week's cushion.  Typically at this track, the wet stuff peels off to a small cushion and leaves the hard pan underneath.   The clay usually does not get dusty here but it can get slick.   The cool temps, and lack of sun, along with the mid spring water table would keep much of the embedded moisture, but the wind and 37 sprints would dry the surface.
After the race at Black Rock, I talked to a friend that has been running pretty good in the series.   We compared our setups and in the process I found some important differences.   It was two pieces of the puzzle that fit exactly with my side bite problems and my long held beliefs.   It was time to go back to my old setups and now with some measurements that made sense to me.

This information fit the problem so well that I now was excited to try it and had a lot of faith that we were finally headed in the right direction.    It's stuff I knew all along but had gotten away from as we tried new ideas to solve the too tight problems we had been having.    The VRP setups that we used last year are probably valid for the 410 cars in PA but didn't work at all on the slick tracks of NY.   The only good thing is that we gained a lot of useful information by working with the setup, that we can apply to this year's new (old) approach.

So with fresh ideas set into the chassis adjustments we were ready for the track.  
Hot laps were on a track that was barely broken in.   The clay chunked up in the turns to make a field of small loose wet clumps above the narrow groove.  The straights were so rough that the car bounced like we were in a plowed field under caution.  

When they dropped the green we found some more sweeping lumps and bumps.   Entering turn one was the worst.   One depression followed by another would bottom the car out twice just as you were getting the car set.    By the time the car settled down and  you got control, you were in the heavy cushion with a push.   It was tricky but a little better if you entered wider.   The biggest help was staying hard on the throttle to float the car over the rough stuff, but you had to get in just right.

With the tiny banking that flattens out, getting a little wide would carry the car even wider unless you lift.  Once I found a line that wasn't too rough I could start to feel the car.   We were a little tight and stuck pretty good.    Laps were flat out with a little back peddling for corrections once I got up to speed.

Another good draw put me third in the first heat.     We decided not to change anything as the track would be a little looser. 

At the drop of the green the pack hauled into turn one.   I was on the inside and there wasn't a way to get to the outside for the smoother line.    I turned in and ended up in the rough stuff, sending me across the groove and into the loose stuff.   I stayed on it but the front end was pushing in the wet clay and I had to lift to get hooked up and turn the car.   Unfortunately, a couple cars got past and I dropped to 5th.  

Throughout the rest of the race, the car ran good, turned in and came off strong and straight.   The track had lots of bite and everyone was fast.    I could stay with the car ahead but couldn't pass.  When the track is fast, everyone is fast.   Loosing positions with ASCS passing points is poison.    And with so many cars, any lost position can drop you out of a qualifying spot.   We would start 5th in the second B main...   Three to qualify.

As soon as the car rolled to a stop in the pits, Greg heard the hiss if a cut RR tire.   It was a nasty little slice in the tread that ruined a new tire.   During the race, the car felt like it was really laying over on the RR.    I thought it was just the heavy cushion and high speeds but now I realized it was the softening RR.
The track was staying pretty racy but still bumpy in the straights and miserable getting into one.   We didn't change anything but stagger as we put on a used RR from the trailer. 

Starting on the inside meant having to deal with the bouncing entry to turn one.   The start for me was a three abreast scramble into the corner with the two outside cars getting together.   I was able to cut and squirt away from them as they continued to bound toward the cushion.

The restart put me forth in the double file race to the flag and I held the spot and ran the cushion through one and two.   The track continued to be nearly flat out and I chased the third place car but could not catch him.    One spot short at the end of the B, put us on the trailer.  

Our series doesn't see too many rough tracks and we're not well equipped to deal with them.    The feature starting line up was already short three qualified cars that stayed in the pits.   ASCS rules do not allow bubble cars or we could have been in the show.  

Then in the race the rough track took its toll on 8 more cars.    Cautions for spins and get togethers led to 4 lap sprints between yellows.   
For us, it was very disappointing to miss another race from a good heat stating spot, but on the other hand we were very encouraged with the handling and setup.    I'm more confident now, than I have been in some time, that we are finally on the right track and can get faster and consistent.  

Black Rock 4-30-10
The sprint car racing season typically begins with the opener at Black Rock. Spring conditions can throw anything at you. A wet spring can make the track rough and miserable. Last year the track had brought in new clay and there was two weeks of rain every day before the race. The track was damagingly rutty when they ran modifieds the week before and was still a mess when we got there the following week. It was at this race last year that the car bottomed out so hard that it broke the engine block and pulled a neck muscle.

This year I was going to be prepared for a rough track and set out a shock package to use that could handle the task. The weather has been exceptionally warm and dry. When we arrived at the track we found that they had put a lot of water on it and it was working in slowly. Tracks can get rough when the water goes deeper than a couple inches. Then the clay can get a hole pounded into it as the soft clay is pushed out into a lump or big clumps can get rolled up making ridges and gutters.

There was no telling what was going to happen but one thing was evident, the place smelled like a swamp. That nauseating sulfur, sewer, swampwater order apparently was coming off the black clay. My draw was great. A two rolled out of the cage and that put me on the pole of heat one.

The track worked in after a while and when it was our turn for hot laps, the place smoothed off a center groove with a low crumbly cushion. The car worked good, turned in and came off well. Greg and I had deliberately set it up more loose than we would have in the past as a test. There were some races before our heat, so in the pits we made some small changes, mostly with tires.

As we were finishing up our pit work I looked up and noticed that the nearly all the cars in our area were gone. We were too far from the PA system to hear and none of the officials came to us as they usually do to tell us it was time for the heats. I scrambled into the car and Greg says "they're pushing off". We were as far from the track as the pits would allow and I was hoping I'd get there in time. I could hear on the radio that they were calling to get the cars in line for the start when we finally reached the track. They pushed me off and I made my way around to the pole and they called for green next time by.

As we got into turn four the car on the outside started creeping ahead and when we hit the chalk line he was a good half car length ahead. They let the start go and we headed for turn one. The outside car took the cushion and I went to the middle. The car started to slip up the banking and another car dove to the bottom under me. He was in the wet stuff and plastered me. I couldn't see ahead of me but could see on the peripheral some.

By the time I found the tear off tab we were in the middle of the back straight and lots of cars had passed. That was pretty much the end of the night for me. I ran behind the car ahead of me but couldn't pass. When we checked the car as soon as we pulled in, the RR tire had a cut an was down to about two pounds of air.

I bought a new RR tire and we mounted it for the B main We were starting last ( tenth ) and they were taking six. The B was like the heat. I could run with the car ahead, get under him coming out but couldn't pass. I blew a pole in the heat and didn't make the show.

We are still off the pace anyway and will keep trying stuff until we figure it out.  I talked to some other racers and have some new ideas to try for the next race.

April update -Weedsport and Brewerton Testing

It's time to burn some fuel. The major winter projects are done and the car is ready to go. Test sessions were scheduled at Weedsport and Brewerton in early April. Over the winter we tested engines, shocks and bars to see if we could find problems and to confirm, that what we had, was what it was designed to be. Stuff wears out but even new stuff isn't what it's supposed to be.

The primary engine is in great shape and ready to go and the back up engine is as good as we can get it for now. Some shocks were sent to a specialist in Indiana who tested and rebuilt them and other shocks were taken to Pennsylvania for testing.

I went though the car this winter, cleaning, checking, and rebuilding. I made some small changes that I am hoping will help the car stick better. Everything was put back together fresh and square. I found a couple of things that I think were working against me last season. The setup that I had been using was very different from what I had been running. I took it on faith that it would work and tried all last season to follow the plan, but the only time I ran good was at the end of the season when we changed back to our old setup.

The reason we went in the different direction was because the old setup wasn't good enough but the new one was worse for us. The good thing that happened is that we now understand much more about what works and what didn't, but more than that we have a much better understanding of why. I spent some time with the car on the scales to get a solid handle on what the setups and changes do to weight distribution. This put some hard numbers to the setups and changes that let me see how much change happens with a certain adjustment. All together, it should help make smarter decisions.

We went to Weedsport for the daytime open test session. Greg, whose mother recently passed away, was in need of some racing to flood his mind and reset. Whip was ready for winter to end and needed a whiff of the smell of hot dogs and racing fuel blended together. Jesse Ferguson always like to play with racecars and is a great addition to the crew.

Jesse's father, Terry has been a life long friend. His family and my parents were close when they were kids. Terry has always been involved in racing, oval racing hydroplanes and cars when he was younger and more recently involved in Vintage Stocks with cars for him and Jesse. Terry is a great artist and lettered my first midget in gold leaf. Recently he has lettered several restored Indy Roadsters. Jesse has several seasons experience with sprint cars with friends of his, so he comes to us with good pit and shop abilities.

When we arrived at the track, it looked like it might have some moisture in it. The track never works-in very deep and this one third mile surface is always hard. It didn't take long for the track to turn to ice.

We had a new baseline along with other changes but didn't know what to expect from the car. Thinking that we may have been too tight all last season, we wanted to start out loose and see where that took us.

By the time I hit the track, the sun, wind and other classes had burnt off all the moisture and what remained was black, slick and icy. The track was so slick that I could not give it full throttle until I was near the end of the straight and even then it broke the tires loose. I would have to pick up the throttle mid corner and half throttle it down most of the straight until the tires stopped spinning before I could give it any more.

This was a very slick track.... like driving on ice. The good thing was that this gave us a real chance to work with the setup. In the first session we had too much stagger and I looped it, and kept going.

We got faster each session. The car got through the corners better each time and had more forward bite each time despite the track getting slicker each time. We were able to go in one direction with the setup for forward bite (that usually takes away side bite) while doing other things with the setup to increase side bite.

This track was a worst case condition but the best situation for us to work with. Anything works on a tacky or moist track so I was glad that we had something dry to work with that really tested the setup.

The only bad part was that there weren't any other sprint cars there to compare to and they didn't have the transponder system working so we didn't get any lap times.

We all had fun and we were happy that we made progress on the day. Doug Elkins did a quickie interview with me that is posted on his website "Doug's Dirt Diary".

The next test session is the following Tuesday at Brewerton. The track is the same size and shape. There is no telling whether it will be tacky or slick. It usually ends slick but not be as icy as Weedsport. Our plan is to pick up where we left off and try some more changes.

Another nice day with bright sun and cool temperatures has made the spring very enjoyable. It's not nearly as warm as it was a couple of weeks ago but it's far better than clouds and rain.

The test session at Brewerton was a Tuesday evening deal but started and ended during daylight. It was a second chance for us to try some things and for me to get a little more 2010 seat time.

The track has the same shape but a different clay than Weedsport. It was wet and sticky and lumpy. The cars in the other classes rolled up chunks and lumps that shook the car under caution.

We got there after work and I had the car ready to go for the most part so as soon as we got unloaded we checked tire pressures and set the wing and hit the track for motor heat. Greg wasn't able to go along on this trip, but I had Whip and Jesse with me to scramble to re-adjust the car for the sticky track.

We ran out of time and I never got to change stagger so we hit the track with 11 inches which wasn't enough for a track with that much bite. You learn something all the time and this gave me a feel for a known tight condition. The car would turn but I had to fight it and wait, mid corner. There was a hole in the middle of one and two that I tried to stay under but always seemed to drift to it. I guess everyone did and that's why it was there. When I got up high to go around it, there was marbles and no banking and I looped it and stalled.

Each session was only 4 or 5 laps so things were happening pretty quickly. In the pits we changed stagger and Whip said the RR was rolling under quite a bit so we raised the pressure in the RR and put on 14 inches of stagger. Brewerton and Weedsport are weird, D shaped tracks. Brewerton's first turn is very square. Top or bottom you have to pitch it to get in. Three sweeps in and you can stay wide open up to four but the closing radius gets tighter at that point and you have to lift as four is square from there out.

With only 4 laps you only get a chance to feel the car and there is no time to play with different lines. The second session was better. Even with the tacky track I still had to lift and brake to get into one and then jump on it between the turns to get out. I could haul into three but then had to shut down to collect the car getting around four. We had too much gear in for the speed of the track but we didn't have time to change it. The choppy surface was upsetting the car with the VRP shocks on, so for the last session, I changed shocks to a set of regular shocks. These shocks had been dyno'd so I knew what they were and this would be a good comparison to the gas shock as the track hadn't changed at all from the first session.

Again, we only got 4 laps but that was enough to feel the difference. The car hooked up a little bit better and was less affected by the rough stuff. It didn't feel like it was going to bottom out on the right side or pogo through a hole.

So our test sessions let us get rolling for the new season. I got some laps in and we were able to compare some setup changes on both a very slick and a heavy track. I am now starting to get some confidence in our setup and the effects of our changes. Guessing what the track will do is an art that I have to get better at. The only problem we had was that there were no other good cars at either track for us to compare to so the competitive test will have to wait for the first race.

The next day, the local motorsports writer Doug Elkins, had an article in the Syracuse Post Standard talking up the season openers planned at local speedways.   The picture at the top of the page was of us, taken by Jay Fish at the Brewerton test session.    The photo tells what whip saw,   the right rear was really rolling under with 7 lbs pressure.  It probably would have taken 10 lbs or more to stiffen the tire with that much loading.

A Day at the Dyno

Dyno days are long days. Up at 3am and on the road to arrive at H&G in Pottstown Pa at 8am for the test. Greg picked up a stomach virus from his daughter's family and had to stay home so it was a one man show for me this time. Gus lets you do all the work so you know what's going on, and that put me in hyper speed mode from the time I arrived.

The previous couple of weeks has also been a grind (pun). After work and on weekends, I've been installing and measuring a few cams in the spare motor that was headed for this day on the dyno. It's headed for the dyno again because the motor never felt right from the beginning. It's hard to describe the way it raced but basically it just never came off the corners with the kind of force I was used to. After discussions with a few motor builders and cam manufacturers, I decided on a cam change.

A couple of the cams that were made available just wouldn't fit. The intake and exhaust valve clearance was less than the minimum and that meant that the valves would hit the pistons at higher RPMs and temperatures.

One cam fit but was so close to the original that the differences in grind didn't show up in the cam card numbers. The final choice was a cam that was enough departure from what had been in the engine that it was worth making the change.

With the cam finally installed and timed, and the motor sealed up and ready to go. I gathered other parts and pieces to test and loaded the truck for the Monday morning adventure.

Upon arrival, it takes a few hours to unload, bolt the motor to the dyno stand, hook up the hoses for fuel and water, header, plugs, throttle, temp sensors, etc. There really isn't anything new from the way it is in the car but it takes time for the adjustments. I had a couple of sets of headers to try and spares of fuel pump and mags, if we needed to rule out a problem there.

Once everything was connected, and the motor was fired up, it was time to check the timing. When changing cams, the mag is removed and I set timing with an ohm meter to see the points open when the rotor is in the correct position. Then tighten the clamp and it's ready to go. Once the engines is running, there are loads on the gears that drive the cam and mag and that squeezes out a small amount of lash. I compensate for the lash with the static setting but sometimes there are differences that move the timing a bit when the motor is running so it gets checked with a timing light and readjusted as needed.

The dyno computer and sensors can be affected by the electrical noise of a racing ignition so my cap and wires are removed from the mag and Gus provides a cap and wires with noise suppression. It all looks the same except for a small plastic thumbscrew knob on top of the cap, like the one that the kill switch wire hooks to on the side.

With the motor running, the timing light showed that the timing was a little too far advanced. I grabbed a 9/16 wrench, loosened the mag clamp and grabbed the top of the mag cap to turn it, like I always do. ZAP-ZAP-ZAP-ZAP-ZAP- EEEYYOWWW.

Gus thought that I would have remembered from last time I was there, that he told me not to get near that knob on top. Well, last time I was there, was about 5 years ago and that little detail had been lost.

That knob is there to connect an external coil. It has a little brass washer at the bottom. With my mag's internal coil that terminal is unused but was back fed with the spark plug's 20,000 volts and I touched the edge of that washer..., AND of course I was firmly grasping the 9/16 wrench on the mag clamp nut with my other hand, that was well connected to the metal of the mag and the engine. Big laugh from Gus on the complete circuit, not so much from me.

If you hate time consuming workouts, this would be a great way to exercise you right arm and shoulder muscle in less than a second. It is similar to the strain you would get from 30 minutes of lifting three hundred pounds with one arm. Don't know why I didn't get the same workout in the left arm but my right arm muscles were still sore, several days later.

So now it was on to testing the motor. We made fuel adjustments, then tried some timing changes (I now knew where to grab when moving the mag) and some other tinkering. Gus was able to smooth out the fuel delivery and get the most power from the motor but looking at the data, it didn't make any dramatic gains. The maximum power was about the same, but there was better bottom end (corner exit) torque and the motor acted more responsive than where we started. I won't know if this motor will race any better than before, until it's in the car. It's the spare and hopefully I won't need it.

I loaded up and arrived home after midnight. The motor work is done so now it's on to issues with the chassis. I have visited VRP shocks and got that set checked out so the next project is deciding what shock rates I want in the Afco shocks, and send them out to Indy for a work over. In the shop, we'll go through he chassis and make more spares.

January update

Somehow, it seems like there is lots of time to get ready for next season during Oct, Nov, and Dec, but when it becomes January, it feels like next season is just around the corner. I'm in pretty good shape equipment wise, but have a few projects that I planned to tackle this winter. One of the things on the list is the shocks.

I took the trip to VRP shocks and spent some time with Vince, explaining the problems I had during the year. He checked the shocks and they were right on the curves. I discussed the problems of feeling like I was not getting enough side bite and he decided that it was all due to wing angle and the 2" wicker that we are allowed, overloading the rear. I understand what he was driving at but I can't see how using less wing was going to get me more side bite. I'll factor in his suggestions but I need more than that.

So the plan is that we are going to move some weight around in the car to change the balance some and I'm going to try some different ride heights that worked well in the last two races last season and I'm getting backup sets of shocks ready.

I had used Afco and Pro shocks before the VRP units and had sorted through the 30+ shocks to find a handful that dyno'd near correct and useable. They worked ok and may agree well with some of the things that we learned last year. I am sending a couple of sets of Afco's to a trusted person in the Midwest that will dyno and rebuild Afco's to spec. That should provide a backup shock plan with pieces that will work as labeled.

This whole shock thing is probably less critical than I had thought. Other setup adjustments like height and tilt may be more key, but the shocks have to be right in order to control the transfer, or it just screws things up more.

Even though last season was a setup disaster, I did learn some new things about how various adjustments affect the car. I plan to apply that to some different combinations focused on gaining the lost sidebite. Chassis work will come later this winter, after I get the spare motor issues resolved.

The spare motor I had built last year was a dog. It was low on power and didn't tune up well on the dyno. It burnt valves when I first raced it and never felt right. So after much discussion, it appears that  what is needed is a change of cam.

A discussion with Jereco Competition Engines,  sent me back to Huggins Cams to get a cam reground to new specs. When I finally got it back in mid January, I put it in the engine and degreed it in, only to find that there was not enough valve to piston clearance, no matter where I set it.  I want to stay away from cutting deeper pockets in the pistons for valve clearance because it reduces compression and it has been a struggle to build the motor with compression at a high level. A lower compression level will reduce power.

Every motor is different and sometimes you just have to throw parts at it to get a better result... and that's tough to do when you don't have limitless funds or the everyday experience with a variety of motors. Jimmy D has been a great help and gave me some cams to try that will make changes where we think the motor needs help and still fit in the compression space without cutting pistons and reducing compression. I don't want to spend the money on another cam that won't fit so it has been a great relief to borrow things to try.

Motors are quite a puzzle with infinite pieces to try and no way to calculate an improvement. The reality is that I will be going to the dyno in mid February and I basically get one shot at a cam choice. At the dyno, it can take all day to get everything mounted and hooked up and then dial in the fuel, timing and exhaust. Changing a cam can take me a couple of hours on a hot motor and there may not be time to do that and get it buttoned up and running again so we can dial in the fuel again. Another day on the dyno (if available) is another expense I want to avoid.

I expect that no matter what we do, we should see an improvement based on how the motor dyno'd before and what direction we need to move. The first cam choice was blind but now we see how this one performs, the next guess should be better.

So the next few weeks will be to focus on getting the motor ready to go and then it's off to the dyno in Pa.

December update

           Check out the "Racing 2009" page for the ASCS banquet update.   

So begins a new season.   I passed up the Harrisburg - Silver Springs - flea market this year but decided to go to the Kreitz flea market while we were at Teresa's parents in Pa over Thanksgiving.   Fewer sellers than 5 yrs ago but still plenty of parts and pieces.   I had a list with a couple of dozen things I was looking for but always find unexpected things.    It's hard to pass up really good stuff at twenty cents on the dollar.    The big surprise for me was a set of electronic scales at a give away price.    Everything checks out ok with good calibration and accuracy.   This is something I've wanted to have in the shop for decades but never could afford it.    I've been close to buying scales before but more direct needs always snagged the funds.  I hope that working with scales will help us sort things out and learn what some of our adjustments are doing.   It's only a tool to see static weight at the shop but should help us be more consistent.

Also on the winter list is reworking the spare motor.    I have discussed the problems with a couple of motor builders and teams and have a couple of ideas of what changes to make.   The motor configuration is pretty standard and the only thing anyone can think of that will make a change is the cam.    So I have called Steve Huggins and have a new cam coming that will be what has been suggested by him and one of the Pa motor builders that I've worked with.    After the new cam is installed in the spare motor,  I plan to go to H&G for a session on the dyno.    Each motor only has only seen a few races since freshened so I should be in good shape for this season.

I found a really good deal on an ATV that is a little larger than the 90cc Polaris that we've been using.  The Polaris 90's are used by   many outlaw teams but ours just can't get the car up a hill.  The one I picked up is 180 cc and had a broken transmission case.   I pulled the motor and replaced the case (a $50 part) and now it runs great.   Even with the larger motor though, this ATV doesn't seem to have much more low end power than the Polaris.    So I'm thinking I will sell both ATV's and get something else with more power.   But I need to keep the ATV small enough to fit in the space on the trailer and not break the bank.

Happy Holidays to all.