Friday, July 3, 2015

Blackhawk Classic XXIII

Sometimes things start off well and go all to hell. Sometimes things start off all to hell and turn out well. The Blackhawk Classic XXIII was pretty much of a mix of these two.

Built in 1967, Blackhawk Farms Raceway is 1.9 miles long, flat as a pancake, and has the very best facilities bar none. Owners Paul and Carol Musschoot have really put a lot of money and effort into it. The chalet serves as an eating area on the lower level, with a very nice spectator tower above. The grill is 3 steps from the chalet, and the food is good. The shower/rest rooms are clean, showers far better than the "name tracks" we have attended. Grounds are meticulouslymaintained, and camping, be it with a tiny tent or a motor home, is welcomed without additional charge. Each year improvements are made.

Alex Christopher (L) shares some quality time with Blackhawk owners Paul and Carol Musschoot

Following Spring Vintage we decided it was time to find the source of the oil leak and elevated coolant temperature. Suffice it to stay that once one starts heading down this path it becomes a long one, with lots of twists and turns.

Off came the head and down to Competition Specialists it went. The almost inevitable call from Steve Blom came: "Jim, you have a really beat up exhaust valve seat. And the guide is completely destroyed." This after only three race weekends! Crap.

Well, that was the only good head for that block, and it needs to come out anyway to search for the oil leak. We have two weeks. Wait! Make that 4 days given all the other commitments. Crap. Life became very regimented. Again. Still.

Transportation Coordinator Sam Seward came up from Milwaukee and we lifted Block A from its moorings. Not much sign of a leak from the engine, but there was a transmission cover bolt standing very proud of its seat. And that confirmed Race Coordinator Joy Perry's sharp olfactory observational skills that we were throwing Mobil 1 gear oil from the top of the 'new" Sellholm tranny. The bolts went to the drill press for safety wire holes.

Racer's Best Friend
And those bolts ain't goin' nowhere again!

The car ventral surface (that's biologist speak for bottom) got a good pressure washing and new coat of Ford Gray paint.

While I was at it, I decided now was the time to get rid of the very heavy driveline spacer made necessary by the 'new' Sellholm transmission. Off went an Amazon drive shaft to Appleton Crankshaft to be shortened. Of course that's not as simple as it sounds because BOTH halves need modification and then because it's a two piece shaft, it has to be sent out to be balanced. (Don't trust Internet ads that say "We balance two-piece drive shafts.") $423 later we had a shiny dandy looking correct length  driveshaft.

Might as well replace the clutch while we're at it -- after 2.5 years and knowing what it has gone through, it must be time. The new Tilton disk and pressure plate arrived from Pegasus in time, Of course, it can't be just that easy -- the new one has a slightly different profile and also, most ominously a different number on the pressure plate, A call to Pegasus ended up in a call to Tilton, which ended up with a consult with their fabricators, and eventually the message that it was indeed the right plate, that the numbering was now a serial number and not a PN. Geez, why cannot they say that up front and save everyone some angst?!

Motor B had been lounging in the trailer for over a year, awaiting its turn. This is the one that was the original creation from bottom to top by Competition Specialists. Thanks to help in my absence from Crew Chief Dave Buettner, we got 'er done in time to get to Blackhawk Farms for the annual Father's Day Blackhawk Classic.

As we sat waiting for the track to open for us to cross into the paddock we watched the late morning practice session. Our three Volvo buddies Jeff Babcock (122), Joe Brabender (123) and Alex Christopher (92) were out putting their Swedish Iron through the paces.

On the last lap Alex came around trailing a plume of white smoke., When I got to the paddock Alex's hood was up and the guys already in discussion. Removal of the valve cover revealed a broken roller rocker . Unfortunately, that was not the extent of the damage as a look inside the cylinder with our 'protoscope' showed lots more damage. Well, one did not need to even get in quite that far ...
Uh, something doe not look right here. (David Farrington photo)
I really admire (and am jealous of) Alex's ability to face adversity. While he was disappointed that his weekend had ended before it really even started he made a great weekend of it nonetheless. Class act. VSCDA helped out in this regard too; they refunded much of Alex's entry and race fees. Thanks VSCDA.

I got out onto the track for the afternoon practice sessions. The new motor had only 20 minutes of break-in run time on it. so I took it easy. But I could tell she was really rarin' to go! In fact, after the session I texted Buettner that we had one sweet motor.

That feeling held up until the cool down lap of the second practice, when very suddenly I lost a cylinder. So now it was my turn to look for issues, and once again it was found under the valve cover.

No. 4 exhaust valve spring
Now, I carry just about every spare imaginable. But "my kingdom" for this too!

... which, unfortunately, was home on the shop pegboard.
And my buddy Duane Matejka sent me this so I can duplicate it. This is a mechanical engineer's work at his best! (Well, maybe that's just a little overstatement.)

R Sport Engineering Valve Spring Compressor
I need to give credit here for some really wonderful help that managed to find a way to reinstall a spring to get us back on the track., I went to Autozone and bought a valve spring compressor make for the wimpy stock springs. Ray Freiwald suggested stuffing a rope in the cylinder with the piston at TDC to prevent the valve from falling into the cylinder. Then Dennis Birkholz and Mark School spent hours trying different things, and after a good night's sleep Dennis used a channel locks to compress the new spring, and Scott Barr suggested wrapping a small hose clamp around the whole mess to keep things from flying apart. Wahla! It worked!

It looked a bit like an operating room late into the night.
So how did it all turn out? Pretty darn good! On both Saturday and Sunday we finished first in class and on Sunday second overall, behind only the insanely fast Bugeye of Colin Comer. In the Dad's Day Handicap Scramble (staggered start with slower cars first) I set a personal Blackhawk best lap and 'beat' my buddy Colin, finishing 3rd overall.

Here's the video of the race that really counted.

Next up: The Hawk with Brian Redman at Road America.

And here are a few bonus pictures ...

This racin' is a tiring business! Jeff Babcock (David Farrington photo)
Colin Comer, in his usual position  (David Farrington photo)
Doug Senk was there to help out whoever needed help. (David Farrington photo)
Mark School gave me one heck of a run for my money with his Saab Sonnet on Saturday (David Farrington photo)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Spring Vintage 2015 @ Road America

Wisconsin + Early May + Lake Michigan = Unpredictability

Spring Vintage at Road America is an SVRA event. Tony Parella and his crew were out making people feel welcome. The tech sessions were serious, the anticipation for a good weekend high.

P and B's Race Engineer David Farrington flew in from Chattanooga, picked up at what we old timers still call Billy Mitchel Field by our Transportation Coordinator Sam Seward and handed the keys for a TR6.

1st in Class 3DP

Meanwhile, our Race Coordinator (AKA Joy Perry) is addicted to weather, or more specifically, weather forecasts. I start getting the reports a week ahead. As the week wore on this year, I said. "I don't want to hear it. Tell me if it's good. otherwise I don't want to hear it!" But I hear it anyway.

We pretty much had it all. Saturday was beautiful. But the most notable was Sunday morning wind off the big pond 20 miles east of Elkhart Lake.. 

Spring at Road America. Where's the tower????(David Farrington photo)

Because Road America has decided to get sticky with competitors camping by their rigs, we decided to drive home Saturday night and enjoy the comforts of home. We left Larsen in sunshine and 70's and arrived at Road America to fog, wind, damp, chilly. Ugh. But it could have been worse!

You're really not interested in that, are you?

OK, we had a good weekend. The field was not as deep as in the past; given SVRA's push, that's a bit surprising. Too expensive? Too iffy with respect to Wisconsin weather?

Groups 1, 3 and 4 were combined. 1 is the very slow group (there was only 1 car in it) .4 is a whole lot faster than 3, so we got to hear the road of Chevy V8's as they blurred by on the back or front straight. Group 3 was where the action was for the most part, and we were in the thick of it. More or less.

I never really know exactly how to refer to our car. Farrington calls it No. 1. Something about that bothers me; maybe it seems presumptuous. Well, anyway, the car ran well all weekend, and here's what I think you might be wanting to know: We placed 1st in class in both the Saturday and Sunday races.

We had lots of friends stop by, including one of our major sponsors. Because the car was running well there was enough down time to really enjoy the weekend, as you will see in the large photo gallery below.

Nothing like having a P and B Motorsports sponsor come to see what is being supported! This is Louise Googins of Googins Advisors, Inc.  (David Farrington photos)

One has to finish in order to come in 1st. On Saturday, On Saturday Pat Star (Class 3DP) and his Morgan had me beat handily. He was racing hard with Dawn Meyer in her Class 3EP '61 MG but on the next to last lap he suffered ignition issues and, well, I did not. So we ended up 1st in our class.

The only other Volvo there was our good friend Ray Freiwald. Here's a bit of trackside video of our racing on Friday. (Video length-33 sceonds)

And here's a little of the action (and inaction) on Saturday. Note the beautiful blue sky! (Video length-55 seconds)

On Sunday we changed to a set of new Hoosier Speedsters. Until you have run a bunch of these races it's a bit hard to imagine just how significant a new set of rubber can mean. Meyers and I were gridded next to one another. From the drop of the green flag to the end of the race we were on a tether. I could see that her tires were not performing as well as mine, so I was doing a lot better in the corners than was she. But her car had a bit more than mine, so, well, here's the video ... (5:52)

Captioned Photo Gallery

No visit to Elkhart Lake is complete without a visit to one of America's most iconic racing watering holes, Siebkins

Joy does her 1950's impression of a Coke Girl.

New Glarus Brewing Company (their beers are not sold outside Wisconsin) has a knack for brew names, and Siebkins has a knack for displaying them.

Race Engineer David Farrington holds courts with Louise Googins, or is it the other way around?

Jim Slapikes brought his new 1800 creation. This started as a basket case, and Jim got into it before he realized just how deep he was, but it turned out great.

The Sign County crew makes these events into a real family affair! Always fun to watch them. 

Saturday night dinner in the cavernous Road America Center, home of America's worst acoustics.
SVRA honored Gordon "Duck" Waddle  for his decades-long service to our sport.

More video displays around tghe track allow spectators to keep track of the action on the various parts of this 4 mile track. new this year is a screen rotation that shows standings.

Racing and fishing, especially when one is from Montana, is not a bad life. (Phil Koller photo)

Racing can be very very stressful. 

Ray Freiwald and Dale Schmidt catch up (Phil Koller photo)

Must be nice to have a modular car like Rick Phrang's.

Race photographer/videographer (new job title, only slightly more pay) Phil Koller on the other end of the lens.

Some people arrive in a little more style than others.

One has to see structural beauty here - Gunnar Phrang's Camero

When Jeff Johnk is contemplating, he sees his daughter Jessica. Does the middle of the steering wheel have any philosophical significance? (Top David Farrington; Left, Phil Koller; Right, David Farrington)

Next up, Blackhawk Classic at Blackhawk Farms Raceway on Father's Day Weekend. We should have a full complement of Swedish Iron there. Guess I need to get out into the shop and work on that "minor oil leak." 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

VSCDA's GingerMan Spring Brake 2015

Here’s a brief report on VSCDA’s 2015 inagural event at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, MI.  Based upon our experience there last year we had packed our down vests and knit hats. Coming from balmy Atlanta, we were pessimistic about the accuracy of the weather forecast for anyplace that was a fly-rod’s cast to Lake Michigan in May. Leaving 70 degrees of Indiana, I reported the temperature drop as we drove along the sand dunes of far western Michigan. It hit 51.

But it was not snowing. Or raining.And there was a great turnout.

This Renault brought lots of smiles, and images of old-time picnics

We were the only Volvo running this year, even thought there was a record turnout. The weekend is referred to as “Spring Brake” and starts with driving school, so there are a goodly number of cars with X’s behind their numbers. One of those was a car that is very familiar – a nice 356 Porsche dubbed ‘Dr. Dreadful” owned an [normally] operated by Rick Gurolnick. The mystery of the X was solved when we learned that Dr. Dreadful’s 17 year old daughter had gone through the school over the weekend with Dad’s car.

Robbie’s “X” did not describe her lack of experience. Youth has its advantage, and she’s gonna be a force to be dealt with. She good and not afraid to keep her foot in it or make a move.  After a couple sessions with her -- chasing her, I hasten to say, and truthfully, unsuccessfully, around the track I teased her and Rick that I could see that this was not going to end up as a once car family.

Robbie Gurolnick on the grid

Here’s what Rick had to say about the weekend: 

Racer friends:
Thought you might like to share a great "bucket list" event I had last weekend: 17 year old Daughter Robbie Gurolnick took the VSCDA vintage school, passed and raced the weekend in my 1960 Porsche 356 Roadster, her first time driving the car anywhere, some 30 years after I started in it.  And she rocked it! I picked Gingerman as a place for her to start in a rear engine car as it has generous, easy runoffs.  They had races Saturday and Sunday.  Out of about 35 starters she gridded 6th and finished 5th on Saturday with some great dices and a couple racers coming over to shake hands and congratulate her.  On Sunday everyone was gunning for her, but she gridded third and charged on the start up to second and a lap later was heading for first when the car lost midrange and went flat - Darn!  (Not an exhaust leak - I checked that earlier during practice - but maybe a failing mag pickup in  the distributor or dirt in the jets).  Ironically the GoPro mount broke and got run over by one of the following cars - including the SD card - so no videos. Anyway we had a wonderful time, everyone was as nice as could be and very welcoming.

Rick Gurolnick

Robbie and Rick Gurolnick, proudly displaying Robbie's diploma

Sometimes I wish I were a father.

Race Coordinator (aka my dear wife) Joy Perry was the only formal P and B Motorsports crew for the weekend, and we got on pretty well. Jim Blett, Volvo engine builder/Jeff Babcock 122 crew member came over from his central Michigan home to lend assistance and also delivered a B20 block/crankshaft for Jeff’s next engine build. We were happy to have him, and were able to pick his brain of the considerable knowledge he has as a crew member on a previous LaCarerra Paniamerica team (since we  -- that’s the royal “we” – are building a 444 competitor for the 2016 south-of-da -border-down-Mexico way races).

The weekend was pretty uneventful. People behaved themselves. One of my Driver’s Committee comrades remarked that it was early in the season and people did not want to risk messing their cars up so soon.

The Brits celebrated the Queen, or at least celebrated something

As usual, Group 2 was the largest of all, with 39 entrants. At the head of the pack was Colin Comer with his screaming  1959 Bugeye Sprite. Colin pretty much ran away from everyone in every race he was in. He chose to sit out Sunday’s Feature Race, given that it’s about as much fun to run alone as it is to do a track day.

I, on the other hand, did not have that problem. Starting on the inside of the 4th row I had a, ahem -- interesting first half lap with a Mini beside me. Now I have a thing about Minis. That is, I loathe don’t like them. They remind me of bees around my head irritating me. That Mini buzzed me good going into the technically, ahem – interesting -- Turn 4. I saw enough metal next to my door that I, ahem – decided – to take a brief agricultural excursion. I watched the back of the pack go by and re-entered the track.

Because I had been carrying around a track radio all weekend as part of the Driver’s Committee I imagine what was being said: “Control, Turn 4, 1 Red four wheels off … has re-entered track.” (“Watch ‘im.) But since this was a race there was no black flag infraction, so I started making up time.

Turns out I may have had the best race ever, especially with John Hagen's and his '63 TVR. The video will show you all of this; I will save the outcome for you to discover. But I will say that there was only 0.08 seconds between me and the higher finishing car in my class.

So we’re in preparation for SVRA’s Spring Vintage at Road America May 14-17. Yep, this week. I feel I am living, breathing, eating and sleeping raced car prep.

Keep ‘em rolling, and we’ll see you on the flip side of Spring Vintage. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Mitty 2015

If there is ever an excuse for a party, the Mitty is great one.

You may recall that all last year we struggled with an intermittent ignition miss. Struggled might be just slightly and understatement. More like, “What’s with this g-d – car????”

Two significant winter changes took place, and at least one of may have them solved that issue, but I am not saying which because I don’t have a clue.  Sorta like your local car dealer: “We’s got no idea what’s wrong wit your car madam, but we’s gonna  replace everyting and charge you until it sure does go away, or you do.”

Sam Seward, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin (OK, Bayside) Volvo chauffeur who lends his 1800 to Race Engineer David Farrington each time he comes out, and a semi-regular visitor to the P and B Motorsports shop, has been pointing out every chance he gets that his fancy distributor is really the cat’s uh, meow. Yep, meow. So I made contact with and we now are major 123 fans and advocates. This is really state of the art, with the only moving parts being the shaft and rotor.

123 distributor. Ain't she a beauty?

I want to recognize Ed Madak who is the U.S. distributor of the 123. I had some difficulty, and if there was ever a person who epitomizes “customer service” it is Ed. He responded to text messages in minutes, and walked me though the rather atypical installation.

We also have a dandy new head that our Whidbey Island Volvo guru Phil Singher at VClassics spec’ed out for us, using his secret formula for flow and power. When the old one finally came off the good folks at CompetitionSpecialists Racing Engines noted a tiny crack in one of the ports. Phil’s incorporates years of experience, including the build for the La Carerra Panamericana class-winning Apple Farmer Racing team’s 122 Volvo.

Bottom line, we got ‘er runnin; and gunnin’. Which is a good thing because over the winter I thought I might be losing a crew member due to his frustration with my inability to get it right.  Some people are soooooo  sensitive.

So on to the Mitty 2015. Is there ever too much of a good thing? It  was jammed with entries. Road Atlanta did not help with double booking a track day with load-in day for us, so there were some pretty testy people sitting in haulers and some pretty harried HSR staff workers trying to make nice.

Crew Chief Dave Buettner drove 11 hours from Pine Island, Florida in his Winnebago to join us. And Wednesday was a beautiful day … until the microburst right about the time we were settling down for a good night’s sleep took the Eazy Up for a rib-snapping ride (“This product is meant for shade only. Self destructs in breezes exceeding 3 mph.”).

We’re looking for new shade now.

Let’s do the Thursday Test Day!  See what we can do and play with the carb jetting. Groups 2 and 3 tested together. With over 70 cars on a 2.5 mile track, it’s bound to get messy. All three test sessions were cut short by the black flag all. Pretty much what we tested was our patience.

Volvos attract each other. And so do their owners. Melvin Hodges II brought this nice 122 by, and we created yet another new friend. (David Farrington photo)

Friday was a beautiful day with good track time. Both qualifying sessions resulted in new personal bests for me, and placed me second in class for Saturday’s races. I entered the evening feeling pretty hopeful. Did I mention that the Mitty is a good excuse for a party? They line up a s—t boat load full of sponsors and treat the teams to some southern hospitality of food and drink. Tim Stoddard from Classic Motorports, one of the big-name sponsors, was on hand to introduce BMW legend Boris Said. BMW was the featured marque. Could that be why Buettner came 11 hours?.

HSR's James Redman (yes, Brian's son)brought a group by to look at our car. (Dave Buttner photo)

Also as usual Farrington was making children's days by inviting them to sit in a race car.
This young lady was thrilled (David Farrington photo)

The paddack was in a highly visible corner and thus the car had a lot of people coming to check it all out. Farrington even parked his ES behind #1 so it could also have admirers. (David Farrington photo)

And then the rains came.  The tinkle on the roof of the motorhome was persistent from 10 p.m. throughout the night. My mind’s eye could see the river of water flowing across the track at Turn 5. So as Saturday dawned grey and wet, we decided it best to stand pat in favor of going out on a very wet track.  And the gods were once again with us, because all day on Friday the announcers had said they were taking credit for the great day and Saturday was going to be someone else’s fault. But the skies broke and Saturday just got better and better. Accu-Weather was watched and the rain tires came off.
Andrea Nichelson and her husband Alan from California stopped by. Andrea loves 1800s. Nothing quite like a pretty woman who loves 1800s. (David Farrington photo)

Hot digity dog, we is goin’ raicn’ boys. And then the car crapped out.

So Saturday evening was one of those “We don’t wanna be around Jim” evenings. Neither did Jim, but I’m stuck with the SOB. We fiddled a bit and I tried to drive it around the paddock and on the access roads but the myriad of slightly inebriated race fans acting like slightly inebriated race fans did not help the cause. I.e. I could just imagine one across the hood in my personal testing session. And what the inside of a Georgia jail cell looks like.

There nothing short of worrying about Wisconsin politics  that keeps this good ‘ol boy awake more than a car that ran well one day and then acts like it’s been parked with the mother-in-law for too long the next.
Porsche City. But the Mustang won.

Our Sunday race was not until 3 p.m. so I had plenty of time think on it and stew. And by golly I ain’t telling you what took care of the problem, but the problem got taken care of. Sometimes it’s best just to not tell the whole truth, lest you all know what a complete dipshit I can be.

You've read that some F1 cars used the engine as a structural element holding the car together?

Now here's the way to change a motor! (David Farrington photos)

Thanks to my Saturday non-start, Sunday’s race began with no one in my rear view mirrors, but we had one hell of a good time changing all of that.  I had listened closely at the drivers’ meeting about how no one sitting as a back marker at race start should jump on the gas when others in the front were just getting the green flag at the front. So coming under the bridge I did just what I needed to do – jumped on the gas while the others were just picking up steam at the front.  Hey, I take advice. Here’s the video.

All’s well that ends well, and I managed third in class and another personal Road Atlanta best.
I love Road Atlanta. I love the big courses. I love the warm weather and southern friendliness, and the way HSR treats the entrants. Life can’t get much better folks. Next weekend we are on to Michigan and GingerMan Raceway. Stay tuned.

Where's the Crew Chief Shop Teacher when you need him?

We got a nice surprise when Sports Car Digest used us as part of thier April 30 Mitty Report too!

Oh, and lest I forget, I want to point you to the blog of next year’s great adventure creator, Cameron Lovre, who is putting the pieces together for the Chihuahua Express and La Carerra Panamericana Volvo 444 that is going to thrust us into fame and fortune with wins in the 2016 Mexican races. (Not only does is this turkey building a kick-butt car, he writes better than I do too.) Take a look at Cam's most excellent blog at SwedishRelics. I relish the opportunity to drive it fast....