Virginia behind us, Indy ahead

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121 mph is not particularly fast in the racing world. My friends on liter engined race bikes routinely top 170 mph on track and that’s just second or third gear with three more to go! Incredible. And of course, speeds routinely top 200 mph in Formula One racing and 230 in Indy Car racing. Nonetheless, the 121 mph top speed recently achieved in my Lola Formula Ford, at Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia, seemed particularly intense. Could the intensity have come from the vintage nature of the car? Its frame is old and flexible, so handling can be unpredictable. And as speeds rise, it’s far from aerodynamically sophisticated. I dare say the nose generates lift rather than downforce, reducing grip and causing a rather non-committal front end. Such is vintage car racing. Braking, as in, slowing down with some measure of control, would become the true issue of the weekend, though, and perhaps the most significant catalyst of my sense of increased intensity.

Thursday practice; routine. Many hours in the simulator provided much needed advance awareness and within the first five laps or so, I was comfortable with where I should be trying to put the car, what gear it should be in, and where time can be gained when courage and attention are at their maximum. Good fun learning a new to me track.

Friday morning was a qualifying session. We managed a mid-pack time. Acceptable, though nothing to brag about. Friday afternoon’s race started well, but after just five laps, the shift-rod that runs four feet or so to the back of the car, snapped. In neutral, as it happened, I coasted off course and and to the shade of a West Virginia forest. In full gear, to include long undies, a two-layer driving suit, gloves, helmet, etc., I think I lost 5 pounds watching everyone who’s shift lever didn’t break, race on. A new shift rod-end was fashioned by a willing and skilled local fabricator/machinist and we were back on the track for Saturday morning’s race. Lap times were improving as I learned the track’s nuances. Many thanks to Ted Eller for working late into Friday night on our behalf.

Saturday afternoon brake issues became……uh, issues. Cresting turn 4, top of third gear, turn in, lift just a bit, back to full throttle, then brake hard for the tight left hander. And, a huge pull to the right upon brake release! Lucky to stay on track. What the? Flat tire, hit from behind, broken suspension? None of the above, press on, be prepared for it to happen again. The next heavy braking zone, at the end of the main straight doing the 121 mph referred to earlier, could be exciting. It was. It happened again. Same pull to the right. At least I was ready for it and again was able to stay on track. My pace was compromised to put it mildly, dealing with this anomoly, and a mid-pack finish was something to be happy with all things considered.

Thankfully, a Gerling brake guru happened to be at the track and had heaps of parts and advice. We changed piston seals on the right caliper, polished its piston and cylinder with Scotch Brite, and the reluctance of the right brake to release seemed gone.

Sunday morning was a Historic Ford only race. Just 15 or so of us, unfettered by the previous inclusion of the more modern, but not always faster, Club Formula Fords. More braking drama, though, despite our previous efforts at repair. But now the pull was upon brake application, not release. Seems we’d come upon a time in the history of this car at which all it’s brakes needed attention. Managed a sixth place finish. Better was on offer but with dodgy brakes, I dare not try to take full advantage of the car’s usual braking strength. Argh.

Too little time to make further brake repairs before the main event Sunday. A descent start amid the mixed field of 26 cars afforded me a great bout with three other cars for the entire 20 minute race. Attached are two short videos showing the start (fair) and finish (a last turn pass). Brakes, or lack thereof, held me back, both literally and figuratively. Too sketchy from too high a speed to be too brave and try to accomplish too much. 15th overall, 5th out of 12 among the Historic Formula Fords. Acceptable for the first time at this track competing with savvy locals.

Since returning home, we’ve rebuilt all four calipers, fitted new brake lines, new brake pads, and improved the shifting mechanism. We’ve also installed new and more adjustable Koni shocks, and hopefully improved some of the aerodynamics around the nose to improve airflow through the radiator to reduce engine heat which was right on the edge of acceptability at Summit Point. Would that we could reduce the lifting action of the nose, but that would violate the rules as the cars must, alas, remain loyal to their original shape. Many changes, though, and hopefully each will contribute in it’s own way to faster lap times, a more rewarding driving experience, and a better result.

We race next, this weekend, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The “Brickyard” itself. Who’d have thunk it? Not since my younger days, dreaming of a professional driving career, have I thought I’d ever get to drive a race car, in competition, at such a place.

We’ll be on the road course, about 2.5 miles in length, just like the oval, and will drive the main straight backwards, so ok, not exactly the Indy 500. Regardless, we’ll race across the yard of bricks all weekend and be at one of the most famous race tracks in the world. Special. Over 250 cars are expected, all open wheel formula cars.

For more details on the Indy weekend, check out; the Sports Vintage Racing Association’s (SVRA) website:

https://svra.com/events/2017-open-wheel-world-challenge/

I’ll take fingers to keyboard again after recovering from the weekend with some thoughts on how it went. For now, fingers simply crossed that we have fewer issues than at Summit Point. Good times are once again on the horizon. Stay tuned. And for a taste of last month’s event, I offer the following helmet cam footage. A little jiggly but still some good footage of an old-school, east coast, road course.

The start: https://youtu.be/lF7SwhhtOoY
The finish: https://youtu.be/iQ7pR5eMcIM

And for those interested in getting started in vintage racing, here’s an outstanding video produced by and staring my good friend, Andrew Wait. First class stuff:

Preparation

Preface:

Below are my thoughts regrading the preparations for our last race. The race has now come and gone, this post being a bit behind the time line. Priorities did not allow for a timely posting. Sooner than later I hope to post a bit about how the weekend went. And with luck, I’ll attach a bit of on car (helmet) video.

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Proudly, I mentioned to a fellow competitor that I had changed the gear ratios in my gearbox for the first time and with my own two hands. He politely held back some, though I could tell not all, his inclined laughter when I added it had taken me three days. Most experienced with the procedure can make the change in 30 minutes or less. Nonetheless, I remain proud. There is a lay shaft, pinion shaft, spacers, hubs, shift forks, lions and tigers, oh my! And of course the cogs. And each of these things must be in it’s assigned spot if you want first gear to be first gear and second second, and so on. All new to me. It is not underheard of in the history of formula car racing for a driver to venture out on track to quickly find second gear is now where fourth gear should be or vice a versa, or third where first should be, etc., etc., etc. Many combinations of wrong are possible. But low and behold, after three days and several phone calls to patient experts, I got it right, and venturing out for the first time onto the Summit Point Motorsports Park main course, each gear was where it was supposed to be. And the shifts felt as they should.

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Four speed Hewland racing gearbox. Choose ratios wisely.

And changing ratios to suit the long, high speed straight between turns 10 and 1 at Summit Point was not the only heavy lifting done in preparation for this weekend’s Jefferson 500 (still need to ask why the name) hosted by the VRG (Vintage Race Group). In addition to the needed ratio change, which now allows for a top speed of around 120 mph–15 mph faster than the bigger cogs used at tighter tracks (look at your bicycle and it will make sense), we also replaced motor mounts that may have been on the car since its birth in 1972. Their wear was allowing a minor shift of the engine we suspect may have been part of the reason the car was difficult to control in right-left, or left-right for that matter, transitions. It felt like excess body roll with but with a delayed reaction.

We also discovered the metalastic rubber bushings that connect the two axles to the transmission were worn and needed replacement. They, too, were very old. Replacing them took considerable effort. Bolts were bent, bolts were stuck, and bolts were installed backwards. Cutting implements that plug in were needed!

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Gearbox left, axle right. Metalastic donut in between.

Finally on the list of heavy lift items, the broken frame member–discovered while cleaning the underside of the car (cleaning always a good idea for reasons beyond vanity). The failed part was a piece of tubing that triangulates the box tubing that makes up the back of the car–where the engine is. Its failing could also have allowed some motion of the engine within the frame thereby adding to the feeling that something big behind me was sloshing back and forth and taking the car with it. Not ideal. Melting bits of metal together is best left to skilled professionals, so off to the local welder the car went. And after some much needed cajoling and banter with the professional welder, the separated frame member was as one again and rigidity restored. Relative rigidity, of course. These old cars are nothing like today’s. To say the frame is rigid, an important feature for great handling, is a stretch by any of today’s standards.

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Frame repair, beneath clutch line. A little rough in appearance, but good enough for now.

Additionally, intake and exhaust valves were adjusted, brake master cylinders replaced, some fluids renewed, and lots of cleaning and polishing done.
Beyond the car stuff, entry forms were sent, additional in-trailer storage was developed, hotels reserved, and travel plans finalized. And, at least 10 hours spent in my racing simulator–a pretty slick contraption we developed specifically for the purpose of learning new tracks. Time spent in the box is a great investment in the weekend. More about it, and its nauseating virtual reality goggles, another time.

And now we are here. Summit Point Motorsports Park, northeastern West Virginia. A long way from home and on our own. Day one a success. Registration easy, unloading the trailer and car easier. The car ran well and the hotel is more than adequate.

Tomorrow we qualify in the morning, race in the afternoon. 47 Formula Fords, most probably repaired or maintained in ways similar to mine, have arrived to compete. 17 Historic Formula Fords (1972 cars or older) and 30 Club Formula Fords–slightly newer though not always faster–cars. Both groups will race together but scored separately. My goal; top twenty overall, top 5 in my class. Possible, though perhaps a bit optimistic given my disinclination to crash, well, ever, but especially the first time racing at this track and racing with this group of people, each new to me. Always good to have a goal. A sort of payoff if reached, even if only in measures of personal satisfaction.

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Our home for the next three days. Hospitality suite at the rear.

Huge accolades thrown Fred Hecker’s way. Were it not for his strong work ethic, ingenuity, and help in prepping the car and keeping the car running, I would not likely be able to go out and play as easily as I do. And of equal importance is his willingness to get the car to and from the races so that I can remain home working as often as possible to pay for all this merriment.

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Two Wheel Season Opener

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Me. Number reflects my birth year and coincidently, my current age. Clever, eh?

Preface:

I had really intended to walk away from motorcycle road racing. Its been great. Had a few moments of glory, got to spray champagne on a podium or two, had my 15 minutes of fame–boxes checked. But then my motor builder found new power in my little Yamaha R3’s engine. And the shock manufacturer modified what I had on the bike to an additional level of customization just for me. And looking back on last year’s performance, it was not the way I wanted my motorcycle road racing “career” to end. Yes the race car is probably safer, suits my skill set and courage levels a little better, and is more than totally engrossing. But there’s just something about being at a motorcycle road race. Some great people to race with, some pretty darn good tracks to race on, and some pretty good adventures still out there, waiting to be catalogued.

And so with that in mind, a few words about my most recent motorcycle road race. Perhaps the last I’ll do, but perhaps not. Unpredictable variables will dictate my future on two wheels.

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There are a lot of ways to fall off a motorcycle and a lot of things that can cause one to fall off a motorcycle. Fortunately, the manner in which I fell of my motorcycle during the season opener of the Midwest Cafe Racing Association’s season opener at Putnam Park Raceway was arguably the best way. And the cause of the crash, one of the least embarrassing ones as it was quite simply, a minor misjudgment on my part. Midway through turn 9, a 70+ mph right hander, the front tire simply lost grip and out from under me the bike went. I thought it, the front tire, had more to offer. Once leaned over, in mid-corner, knee-slider grazing the pavement as bike and I arced through the turn, there isn’t far to fall, just a couple of feet, if that, so a low side crash, where the bike simply slips out from under you, is the best way to come off if coming off is inevitable. But damn it, damn it, damn it! I’ve fallen off. It happens. If you are going to push, race, seek podium glory, limits must be teased, sometimes exceeded.

I slid on my right hip for a short time, in a stable position, on pavement, before exiting the track, tangentially to the originally intended path, as one might imagine. Once smooth pavement became bumpy dirt and grass, I began tumbling ass over tea kettle for what seemed like an unreasonably long time. Enough already! Stop! Such is the inertia of a 180 pound mass traveling at 70 mph, I guess. After one last roll, silence, save for the noises of bikes still on track, still racing. I popped up to my feet fairly quickly to assess the damage–to me, not the bike. First things first, after all.

Thankfully, no damage to me. Two thumbs up to course workers heading my way to render aid. None needed. A few bruises to both hips, my right shoulder, and left wrist would appear come Monday, but nothing of consequence. I would argue that my general fitness regimen, to include a little weight training from time to time, has given me a little extra mass and bone density that adds resilience to crash damage. Who knows? Perhaps I was just lucky.

The bike was only almost as lucky. Very little damage to the bodywork. The exhaust pipe (expensive) was ok, and no damage to the frame or other critical, expensive areas. The bike, unlike yours truly, just slid. It did not tumble. The right clip-on was broken in two, however, from the initial fall. The clip on is a stout chunk of aluminum that holds the handlebar to the fork, so it’s breaking rendered the bike unrideable–no jumping back on the horse to heroically rejoin the battle. Shameless plug: Thanks Woodcraft, for the great rear sets, sliders, and clip-ons (yes, one broke, but that’s to be expected under the circumstances) and the sponsorship!

Twice before at that same corner the bike had warned me I was pushing too hard, the front wheel chattering and sliding up to but not beyond its ability to manage the corner. I wasn’t listening. My hair (what little I have) was on fire and I was seduced into a false confidence from the newly paved, marble smooth, track surface. After a decent start I found myself in second place. First place, Adam Rolfes, a hundred feet ahead, the gap stable. I was determined to at least catch Adam, if not pass him, and wasn’t paying attention to what the bike was telling me.

No parts to repair the bike before Sunday’s race but I stuck around to watch events unfold during the Sunday race I should have been in. Great fun to be around some really great guys and gals. Not so much fun to only watch. Many thanks to Jones Honda for offering me the use of a spare bike they had–a well prepared Honda CBR300. Would have been good to get some points, but riding an unfamiliar bike with no nature in me to just circulate to accrue just a few championship points, I thought it best to decline the offer, lest I crash a second bike in one weekend. A class move by Jones Honda of Columbia, MO, to offer me, one of their competitors, a bike upon which to race against them. Thanks for that, guys!

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Setin West and Cameron Jones on Ultralight GT bikes, similar to my R3. Wish I could look so good!

Adam Rolfes won Saturday’s race, and then crashed, much as I did, in Sunday’s race. Cameron Jones (Jones Honda) took the win Sunday. Well deserved, though he commented he didn’t want his win to be the result of Adam’s crash. A stand-up guy, Cameron is. He has truly become a stellar rider, and regardless of Adam’s miscue, was truly deserving of the glory.

Reflecting on the day, and the crash, I’m beginning to recognize the importance of focus. Teaching the new racer clinic as I do can be both fun and rewarding. No complaints on being offered that task. But going straight from the clinic classroom to my race bike, jumping on for a few practice laps, then back to class, then back on the bike for the race, leaves little time for pre-race preparation. I’m not one to seek isolation, need pre-race rituals, or music induced amperage, but after the fall, clearly some pre-race contemplation, and focus, is critical. Improvement only follows change. Perhaps small change, but change nonetheless. A moment before the race, be it on two wheels of four, to visualize what’s to come, to think about events soon to unfold, and to focus, will be a greater priority before the next green flag is waved.

For the next few weeks, the bike must be a lesser priority than the car. Just a month to go before the next car race. Much to be done to be ready. Car prep, trailer prep, mental prep, focus. New track, many changes to the car, added resolve to figure this racing thing out–and focus! I’ll punch out a few words after it’s all said and done.

Martinis, Ballet Shoes, and Left Foot Braking

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As the rear tires lose the necessary grip required to negotiate turn 8A at Sonoma Raceway without undue drama, and the car begins to slide closer to the edge of the track than I had planned, adrenaline, only a millisecond behind the loss of traction, flows through me. It reaches my knees. That’s a yardstick of sorts. When it gets to my knees my body is telling me I am in peril, or at least that I need to bring all resources to bear in order to survive, which I think would be peril. Thanks body, I really needed that extra alert. It’s not like I haven’t been paying attention for the last 30 minutes or so since I first belted into the car, but OK, I’ll step it up another notch–if that’s possible. A quickly applied bit of opposite lock and grip is regained, the corner negotiated. Speed about 100 mph.

And so it went, from time to time, while racing at Sonoma Raceway three weeks ago during my season’s second race weekend and race two of the Crossflow Cup Series. When I told this particular tale of drama to a fellow driver, his response was; “And then you stayed out there and did it again, didn’t you?”–his tone acknowledging that we are all nuts, plain and simple. His tone was pitch perfect.

Improved pace on a race track requires change. Change this most recent weekend was to move to left foot braking. Left foot braking as I did for hundreds of laps each weekend karting during my younger days. And I dare say that this return to left foot braking gave me the confidence needed to control the car much more on it’s edge than ever before, be it around turn 8A or any other.

The Lola has three pedals, four if you count the dead pedal–the pedal to the far left that is simply a foot rest, or brace. Throttle right, brake next, then clutch to the left. Given the nature of the the Hewland racing gearbox, the clutch pedal is only needed when setting off from a stop. Clutch in, select first gear, release clutch, add fuel. Underway.

Sadly, too few drivers know of this manual transmission stuff. Sad because when done well, shifting gears manually is very satisfying. And done really well, it can embody all the precision, expertise, and delicacy exempified by the perfectly batted ball, thrown football, or dunked basket. And it must be done well, masterfully in fact, if the car is to be smoothly controlled approaching and negotiating a corner and if a winning pace is to be attained. Too often racing doesn’t get credit for it’s difficulty and required athleticism when compared to America’s traditional stick and ball sports. Among the many difficult things in racing, downshifting and braking, at the same time and smoothly, is one of them.

Before “The Change,” my left foot was relegated to mere passenger status, placed firmly on the dead pedal, my right foot operating both brake and throttle simultaneously. To slow, burn speed using the ball of my right foot on the right edge of the brake pedal, roll my foot to the right to blip the throttle while continuing to brake with the left half of my foot. Select the lower gear, continue braking, turn in, add throttle, off throttle, select next gear up, back on throttle, accelerate, exit the corner–the subconscious mind, and right foot, hard at work. All the while, the left foot atrophies against the dead pedal.

Historically, because of pedal arrangement, it was called Heel and Toe. Your heal worked the throttle, bringing up the revs for a smooth downshift, while your toes of the same foot simultaneously applied the brake, slowing for the approaching corner. The more accurate term nowadays would be Left Side Of Foot, Right Side Of Foot, but that’s neither brief or catchy. Heel And Toe, it is, even though it’s not.

But, since the clutch pedal is not needed (much), why not bring the left foot back onto the field? Two pedals to work, two feet to work them–makes sense. The heck with this heel and toe stuff, clever as it may be. Now the left foot focuses exclusively on the brake pedal, and the right foot applies only throttle. Simple, precise, faster. To make that doable, a larger brake pedal was fitted and the clutch pedal was moved to the left, out of the way. Now, to slow for a corner, its left foot on the brake, burn off the speed, right foot on the throttle, blipping up the revs, moving from fourth gear to third, to second, to first, as needed. Much more precise.

And since new duties had been assigned the feet, new shoes seemed appropriate, too. Ballet shoes. Indeed, ballet shoes, at least so they seem. Virtually a non-shoe. Don’t walk around in these things–zero arch support and even less sole. Paper thin and very skinny. For good penmanship, you don’t wear gloves while writing. For good footwork you don’t want bulk. Thin soled, narrow, light, flexible shoes–that’s what you want. A new pair of Italian OMP shoes are now the small interface between flesh, subconscious mind, and pedal. Excellent feel for maximum braking. Fire resistant, too, of course.

Lap times were, give or take a bit, a full 1.5 seconds faster than ever before! In racing, that’s, well, a lot! Surely it was in no small part due to “The Change.”

In Saturday’s event I managed eighth place, Sunday 7th. Good races with pressure from behind, some of which I succumbed to, and challenges ahead, some of which I met. Each day a grid of 26 or so entries. As an independent, not supported by a professional shop (though I must acknowledge the wonderful help of the guys at John Anderson Racing, who, out of the goodness of their hearts, continually offer much needed advice and counsel lest I do serious damage to self, car, or others), not too shabby.

Martini now all but gone but has left in me the inspiration to make further improvements to car and self. New parts to be ordered and the simulator awaits, as preparation continues for our first race east of the Rockies; The Jefferson 500 at Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia, May 18-21. We’ll race against, so far, 45 other cars and drivers, all but one of each strange to me. Great fun and continued adventure awaits.

Many regrets that we must abandon the West Coast Crossflow Cup Series for the remainder of the year, but new and exciting tracks await eastward and closer to my back yard.

Left foot ready, willing, and anxious.
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Lemon Drop Martini: In shaker half full of ice: Juice of two small lemons,
4 parts vodka, 2 parts Cointreau, 3/4 part simple syrup. Shake, serve in chilled martini glass. Worth 3 tenths a lap……..kidding.
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Weekend One, The Season Begins at Laguna Seca

Laguna Seca Raceway, Monterey, California was our first race of the season just a couple of weeks ago. What venue could be better?  I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula, actually worked for the Jim Russell Racing School at Laguna Seca, at age 22, in return for race time in their Van Dieman Formula Fords–cars very similar to the car I am racing now, almost 36 years later.  How far I have come!  I like to think of Laguna as my home track.  Not that I am necessarily at my best there, but time spent in the stands as well as in the garages has generated in me a fondness for the place I have for nowhere else.

Hosted by the Historic Motor Sports Association (HMSA) it was a two day event that transpired in what seemed like a matter of hours.  20 minutes of practice Saturday morning, then a race that afternoon.  Race results Saturday determined the grid for Sunday’s “Feature” race which followed a brief morning practice.  But this time, Saturday’s race was different, and was in fact the real “feature” race.

I’ll explain.

In most US vintage racing, there are bragging rights for victory or a fast lap, but generally that’s about it.  Some of the older and more historically significant cars can be pricey.  Fender banging, wheel rubbing, fist shaking, and generally risky moves are to remain the purview of professionals and therefore refrained from by we mere mortals. The powers that be tend to think trophies or a championship points race might just be the impetus for bad acting.  No trophies, no podium celebrations, no championship points to accrue in pursuit of glory at a year end awards banquet. And certainly no champagne spraying on a podium! Such is the nature of most vintage racing. Sigh!

This time, though, Saturday’s race was different.  It marked the beginning of The CrossFlow Cup; a five race series to be held at four different tracks with the blessings of three separate vintage racing organizations. Points to tally, trophies to win, medals to wear, and maybe a girl to kiss. And….Champagne to spray!  Wonderful. The powers that be have been won over, for now, and been convinced that we Formula Ford drivers could be trusted to behave with an acceptable level of civility and not kill each other before turn two, or destroy our cars forever and ever. And if we did wreck the cars, well, what the hell, they aren’t really that pricey. Well, not like a 1967 Ferrari Testa Rosa, anyway. So they said yes to the idea of scored competition and The Cross Flow Cup is born.  Game on!

Saturday morning I was able to qualify 16th out of 27 entries.  Nothing to brag about, but I’ll take it.  Now that a championship is afoot, some serious folks are getting more serious and some heretofore mild mannered racers are finding the fire in their belly once again.  I did manage a good start passing five cars before turn turn two. https://youtu.be/g35aOP7S2wA Nothing like that feeling.  Were it not for the concentration needed to manage turn two and not throw away all I had just earned, I’d have been screaming in my helmet as though I’d won the lottery.  No, I just passed 5 cars at the start of The CrossFlow Cup, this is better than the lottery!  I gave up a couple of spots during the race, one entering turn 10 that I particularly regret.  Should have blocked, ah, I mean defended, more, and made the aggressor really earn the position.  Lesson learned. 12th place finish.

Sunday’s race was not nearly as exciting for me, though I managed a 10th place finish.  No drama to report–neither having to defend nor ever in a position to attack.  No points on offer for the Sunday race, “just” a race, old school, vintage style.  A fun factor that is still off the scale, but not the same as the points race.  What could the difference be? Check out: http://www.norwestff.com for more details about The Crossflow Cup.

Next report; the recent weekend at Sonoma Raceway.  Martinis, ballet shoes, and left foot braking.  I’ll explain.

Full Disclosure

Ok, its a Pinto engine, alright? There, I’ve said it and its true. My single seat, open wheel, fun as hell Formula Ford race car is powered by a Ford Pinto engine. This may mean little to those born after cell phones were everywhere and vinyl records nowhere, but to those of us who have been around a bit longer, it does mean something and regrettably, in the minds of many, not a great something.

The Pinto was one of Ford’s very early attempts at producing a small, economical four passenger car. It’s power plant was a very reliable, cheap to build, and cheap to maintain 1600cc four cylinder engine that produced a whopping 95 brake horsepower, give or take a few. The car was not much to look at or drive. But, in it’s day, the engine was a good little work horse and therefore the power plant of choice for a new racing class that, because of the engine choice, became known as Formula Ford. Actually in use prior to the Pinto, in cars marketed in Europe, and known as a Kent engine, the iron block, push-rod motor, was installed in entry level race cars driven by budding professionals. A cheap way to race with other identically engined cars, show your skills, and become a professional race car driver–or not, depending upon the depth of the afore mentioned skills and other things like, money, maturity, and more money.

And one more thing we may as well get out in the open. The four speed non-synchronized gear box is from a VW beetle. Well, the case and only the case is. It’s guts are rock crushing, rock solid, straight cut, Hewland gears. Four speeds in all, selected with an H-pattern shifter. Manly stuff to be sure, and used in all manner of race cars for many many years.

So my car is a 1972 Lola T204 Formula Ford, powered by a Ford Pinto engine, and has a VW gearbox case. You may think that summary a bit dull, but such thoughts would be misguided. It weighs just 1125 pounds with me in it. And it’s engine is skillfully balanced and tuned to produce 115 brake horsepower, give or take a few. The car is fast. Not super-car fast, break your neck, go 100 mph in first gear fast, but fast nonetheless. Quick they’d say in Europe. Top speed is about 150 mph if you install gears tall enough and have a straightaway long enough. At most road racing tracks in the United States, and Europe, too, for that matter, top speeds rarely exceed 120 mph. But that’s enough to keep most people’s attention. Certainly mine.

The frame is simple, cheap, steel tubing, the body equally simple and cheap fiberglass. Neither the four wheel disc brakes or rack and pinion steering are powered by anything but human muscle. It even relies on points, condenser and a single coil for its spark. Not a single computer aboard. Couldn’t be much simpler.

Its old, but there are modern versions powerered by the same engine type running every weekend at club races around the world. It’s a good formula still, 50 years after the concept was conceived. For hobbyists like myself, who long ago gave up the idea of being a professional driver, old (the car that is) is good. It keeps things cheap. No need to buy the latest aerodynamic version. Or the one with lighter suspension pieces. Or the one with upgraded brakes. When raced at vintage racing gatherings, the car must be built no later than 1972. Everyone on equal ground. Nice.

What’s In a Name?

Martini Racing, that’s the name I should use, since so far most of the big decisions I’ve made about this year’s season of racing have been, uh, lets say inspired by, motivated by, blamed on, the consumption of at least one, or more, of the simple but to the point adult beverages (lemon flavored, please). So, it is with that excuse that I announce the name of our team for 2018: Wirrick Racing! Martini Racing was taken. Creative, eh? It was suggested that since it’s my car and my team, it should have my name. Kind of liked that. It was also suggested that naming it as I have is a bit egotistical, simple minded, and self-centered. (No, no, tell me what you really think) So be it. Racing is all of those things. Look at me, look at me! Go round and round faster than everyone else (if you can), and who’s driving this thing, anyway? Me! Right. Guilty on all counts.

I thought about some funny names, some descriptive names, and some meaningless names. Too often, though, such names, like so many personalized license plates, leave casual observers wondering what the hell the owner is trying to say. Don’t want that! In the end, it seemed simpler to just use my last name. Soon forest green Polo shirts will show up on my door step emblazoned with Wirrick Racing, upper left corner. Let’s hope the green matches the color of the car and that the team, proudly attired in matching wear, unites in one cohesive, kick-ass group of friends hell bent on making me, me, me, look good. Team shirts; a first for me that should add to the fun. Well, for me, anyway.

Next rambling will be about the car. Enough of this trivial stuff. Let’s talk race cars and racing!