Thursday, August 30, 2012

“Keep it Simple, Stupid” Leads to Blackhawk Succes

There’s a very basic message in figuring out what is going wrong in a vintage race car. Actually, probably more than one. And it follows the KISS principle: “Keep it Simple, Stupid.”
In April we installed a brand new engine and have had nothing but overheating problems since day one. Head gaskets have been blamed. Compression ratio has been blamed. But what really was the fault was something so simple that it is really embarrassing to even tell the world in this blog: the darn timing was way to far advanced! The result was excessively high combustion chamber pressures under racing conditions, i.e. RPMs in the sustained 6000-7000 range.
Not to look like complete idiots, we had timed the engine, but had done that at about 3000 RPM and never checked to see what it was like at much higher, when the distributor was fully advanced. When we finally put a timing light on it – prior to pulling the head once again while the car was at Competition Specialists -- lo and behold we found it at least 10 degrees beyond what it should have been.
Steve Blom nearly turned ashen when he saw where we were. He was rightfully concerned that the bearings had taken such a beating that we could be in deep doo-doo. So I changed the oil and we cut open the filter and found – GASP! – no evidence of bearing flaking.
Once the timing was where it should be all that was left to do was a test before the next race. But where? Our buddy Denny Lamers from Lamer Racing suggested we try the local ½ mile circle track, Wisconsin International Raceway. A quick call found the track available for a very nominal fee, so Crew Chief Dave Buettner and I spend a couple hours playing NASCAR.

Not exactly the high banks of Daytona, but it sure was handy ...

.. and those concrete walls are awfully close! (Dave Buettner photos)
The outstanding news is that the car ran a constant 160 degrees. I must say I have no desire to get on that half mile oval with other cars, because we’re accustomed to run-offs and not concrete walls that are at the edge of the asphalt, nor turns that come up so quickly that the wheel always seems to be cranked left. But the day was a success and we packed up thinking we had the issue solved and were ready to go racing again.
I made a quick decision to register for Midwestern Councils’ Race 7 on Sunday, 26 August. Dave and I climbed into the truck at 4:50 a.m. for the 2:47 drive to South Beloit, IL. (When I mentioned tent camping Dave’s response was, “Uh, been there, done that, had enough.”)
We returned Sunday night, soaked and happy, despite a slight catastrophe with the EZ Up. The real test, under real racing conditions was an unmitigated success.

“EZ Up does not warrant under conditions of rain or wind”
I got drivin’ in the rain experience for sure. And the field was plenty small as a lot of folks decided to sit this one out. Rain tires and suspension adjustments kept us going in the right direction for the most part, albeit at somewhat of a snail’s pace compared to dry conditions. I saw about 95 mph one time down the front straight but spent a lot of time easy on the brakes and off the dry line. It was fun. And we even came home with some metal.
In fact I was leading the race for the first half but superior driving experience and a better car overtook me and we ended up second.
There is still a slight stumbling issue in the 4800-5200 RPM range, but we think perhaps that’s an electrical issue, so we’re going to work on that. But the bottom line is that the car is now more ready for Road America and the Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival than it has been all year.


  1. Congratulations! And it only took one full season, thousands of dollars and a mountain of misery to find your way to the solution.

  2. Congratulations on getting the issue resolved. Can't wait to see you run at RA.

  3. I would imagine this blog would not be in your your autobiography or book of memoirs. Duck