Between snow flurries, I loaded my trailer in preparation for my first race of the season. I had originally planned to run the January races in Florida (Sebring and Palm Beach), but my motor was off visiting Bob Wirth, the tuning guru, in California. My motor was a slug at the RunOffs, so I decided to fund a diagnostic dyno session. Wirth found 122 HP versus the 150+ needed and officially declared my Kawasaki ZX-10 a "boat anchor." It would take much $$$ and 4 to 5 months for him to build me a new motor. In the mean time he did manage to tune in another 10 HP before sending my "anchor" back. With 10 more HP than last year, I was looking forward to the first race.
Travis Duder, 5 time DSR National Champion and the í98 Runoffs winner, is taking a SE division track tour this season and will be at most of the races I will attend. He took a tour last year also, mostly playing in the NE before attending several races and the school at Mid Ohio. Travisís goal is to race at every active track in the US. He is more than half way there. Kinda makes one want to buy a motorhome and join him. His is nice, satellite disk, big TV for that non stop Weather Channel watching; GPS navigation system with software link to a detailed mapping software on his laptop computer; cellular phone and so on.
I was off to Savannah this year without my usual 3 Formula Ford amigos. Dan Carney and Mark Walthew are in a period of financial healing. My son Sean was on cash flow hold pending the sale and purchase of houses, plus with the expected arrival of a "future racer" in late Summer, his season schedule has to remain tentative.
Kathy, with her usual antique shopping agenda well planned out, and I left EARLY Friday morning, for a leisurely drive down. I wanted to arrive at the track in time to do an afternoon of testing if I so desired. We arrived during the lunch break. One look at the size of my practice group with dozens of FMís and FCís, I decided to just hang around. It was sunny and pleasant. Kathy went off to Savannah for the afternoon. Ed Dickerson, my chief DSR rival last year, was testing. He had already fried a motor. Travis was hanging out, also. At 5PM, I got my annual technical inspection for the year and an entry list. There were 11 DSRís registered. (Four to five was typical at most races last season.)
Saturday morning was chilly, but promising. Our group went out for practice at 0830 on very cold tires and brakes. Even braking well before the #5 brake marker, it was very questionable for a few precious milliseconds that I would make turn one. It was a quick wake up call to proceed to speed slowly. I was behind Travis and Pete Harrision (S2 driver and sometime TransAm competitor). I was too occupied to really notice my "additional 10 HP." A few laps passed quickly and I passed both of them. I noticed that the car was running hot (oil temperature) and it started to lose power going on the front straight. Travis blew by me. By lap 8, power was down a lot, and I went into the pits. The bleed fitting on the radiator was leaking and I had lost coolant (mostly on to the left front wheel . . .. I had blamed the loose handling in turn 10 on cold tiresÖ.). Oil got real hot as I reached my trailer. Ed Dickerson had had a drive system failure and was done for the weekend.
Travis gave me some stainless steel screws to put in the bleed holes (tapping some threads into the plastic radiator body). Filled the coolant system; but there was a leak around water manifold on motor. Drain coolant. Remove manifold to replace the four O-rings that get melted somewhat from the heat. Filled the coolant system. Small leak in hose from manifold. (Hose doesnít survive being DRY so near the exhaust pipes) Drain system. Replace hose and one recalcitrant clamp. Fill coolant. No leaks. Fire off the motor. Oil pressure was in the acceptable range. Decided it was safe (enough) to race. Finished just in time to get out for my 11:30 qualifying session.
Again, I followed out Travis and Harrison. I noticed a couple of engine stumbles, like electrical faults, on the front straight; but the gauges were normal. On lap 3, the engine went POOF (with a puff of smoke) coming out of turn 2. I coasted for a bit and noticed some serious FLAMES lapping around the monocoque chassis by my right shoulder. I drove instinctively and directly to the next flag station across a fairly wide stretch of sand field. Flames were SIGNIFICANT and adjacent to me. I pulled my fire system handle (nothing happened!) and I continued to approach the flag station. Time was in slow motion now. I could see their faces, slack jaws and eyes like deerís in headlights. I was yelling, FIRE, FIRE! They seemed frozen in their tracks. I bailed out of the car flapping my arms for them to hurry. Two guys arrive and cannot seem to get the pins out of the fire extinguishers. Iím sure their fumbling only took a second or two, but it seemed like 10 minutes to me. I was looking at a potential $25,000 barbecue. Fire went out quickly (engine oil on hot pipes) once the Purple K got to it.
At first, I thought I had had an electrical fire. It was easy to see all the fried wiring. Then I noticed one of my expensive Carrillo rods was lying in the engine undertray. I had killed again. I had my spare (very stock) motor along in the trailer, but with extensive wiring to be replaced Ė and I do hate this task, and am not very good at it, either- I decided to call it a weekend and hang with Travis. Interestingly, Travis despite being light years faster that me at the Runoffs, was slower than my (and Edís) typical Savannah times. We both use the same data logging system. I gave him copies of my laps from previous races. By the qualifying session, Travis had bested us by a second per lap and set a new track record. Travis concluded that I would have a bunch more fun when I get a big HP motor.
After Kathy got back from her day trip, we decided to spend the night in Savannah (room is paid for) before heading back tomorrow. Had the weather forecast been anything but dismal (possible violent storms and cold . . . . gee, just like at the Runoffs in October); I would have stayed the watched the DSR guys race. I would be home, warm, dry with a good drink in hand by the time they were loading up. I would not be joining the guys the following weekend at Charlotte. Too much work to do on the car and with me just starting an unexpected consulting gig. Although Charlotte is the closest SE Division track for me and Kathy loves the antique "Expo" place there, I hate the track, the excessive fees, arrogant track management and the endless petty rules.
Brian Little provided a brief race report via email on Monday. Travis won the rain soaked race after electing to start at the rear of the group. Mike Schmidt (Zink 22/ Kawasaki) got second in his first ever National race. Brian took third.
My fire system malfunction was caused by the excess pull cable length getting caught up in the release handle. Will have to cut off those extra 4 inches.
Are we having fun yet?