It’s been awhile, but there’s been a lot going on, and I’ve either not had time to write, or I’ve been unable to because we had to keep some stuff on the down-low.
But the embargo is pretty much lifted and things are in motion that can’t be stopped, so here’s an update.
Back during the weekend of August 2-3, I had a double event weekend. On Saturday, I participated in the DriveAutoX event at NCM Motorsport Park. This is essentially the Optima folks’ take on an autocross event. I liked it. The normal format is qualifying runs Saturday and Sunday morning, then a pursuit style shootout.
Except we only had 30 cars, so we did qualifying and shootout on Saturday with the intent to repeat that on Sunday.
As has become typical in these Optima events, I came out of the gate early with some good runs, but the sheer number of runs (I think we had 14 before lunch!) works against me. I plateau early in the event while the less experienced drivers in superior equipment figure the course out and end up nipping me at the end.
The shootout was fun, though. The KY Region tried a similar format years ago – we called it a MirrorKhana – and had similar amounts of fun with it. This was no different. And I did pretty well, making it all the way to the semi-finals before the car stalled on me and I lost. More on that stall later.
The next day, which would have been the second day of DriveAutoX, was also a Kentucky Region SCCA Time Trials Regional Event on the road course. And I was entered.
I got three laps in before the car stalled again. My first hot lap was a 2:35 and change. The second lap was going to be a scorcher. I had clean air ahead, but it died going into turn 11. Pulling off the track, it caught fire. Again. The transmission front seal had failed once again and the now stationary vehicle was dumping transmission fluid onto a hot exhaust pipe, where it was igniting on its way to the ground. I bailed out of the vehicle and got away from it.
The track safety personnel got there in less than a minute, put the fire out, and began loading the car up onto the rollback. My day was done. After being checked out by the medical team, I was dropped off at my paddock spot. I let the car cool off before loading it onto the trailer and heading home.
But all that wasn’t the most eventful thing that happened that weekend. Not even close.
Friday night I got a phone call from Big Jim McIlvane, Optima Battery’s social media director and all-around number one guy. Optima was working on a project overseas and they needed cars. I needed to talk to Wally or Jimi at FM3 the next day at the DriveAutoX event to get the details.
And the details were insane. The government of Saudi Arabia, Bonnier Corporation, and FM3 were working together to put on the first ever Riyadh Auto Salon. Basically a SEMA-show equivalent for the middle east. As part of the event, FM3 was being tasked with providing automotive entertainment. So, they dusted off a made-for-TV autocross based concept they’d worked on a couple years prior and needed cars.
Posted by Khaosmix on Thursday, August 29, 2019
Additionally, they had guidance for diversity. I was told they were asked not to bring any Mustangs or Camaros. Apparently they’re already bored with those over there. These people wanted unusual, rare, exclusive stuff. High quality modified cars to showcase what can be done with aftermarket parts. The kind that get invited to the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational.
Now, this is a tremendous opportunity. And a big risk. I’ve had this car – as of this writing – for 19 years and eight months. I have put endless hours into making it what it is. Just handing it to some strangers and letting them ship it 7,108 miles to another country is a huge risk. But the opportunity? HUGE. Overseas exposure in a developing market? Jimi Day stated in an interview once that the Optima Series “Opens doors” for participants. He’s right.
After talking with my significant other, I threw my hat in the ring for consideration. I was quickly accepted.
But the timetable was now stupid. At this point in the year, I had a month until the SCCA Solo Nationals, and I had a busted transmission. But now, the car was due to ship out for Saudi Arabia the week I was supposed to be in Lincoln. So, Solo Nats entry withdrawn. SCCA Time Trial Nationals at the end of September also withdrawn.
But now instead of just fixing the transmission and getting to Lincoln and getting the car through six runs, then having another month to get the car ready for the TT Nats, I had to fix EVERYTHING, fortify it so it would survive an unknown number of autocross runs and possibly some road course work in a faraway land with limited access to spare parts, PLUS clean the car inside and out SEMA style.
Things moved quickly. On August 3 after the fire, I towed the car straight from NCM to my Dad’s shop, where we quickly had the transmission out and delivered to Boost Crew Motorsports for a teardown and rebuild. The internal damage was impressive. I had melted the nylon pump support bushing. It had gotten too hot again.
We made the call to Pro-Torque to source a new torque converter. Pro-Torque’s converters are built a bit differently than PTC’s, and are much more efficient (at nearly double the price, you get what you pay for). We also put the lockup back in it. It took two weeks to get all the parts together and get the transmission back. While we had the transmission out, we checked the thrust on the engine. It registered 0.0045″. Exactly where it was when it was first assembled. The transmission hadn’t caused internal engine damage. Bullet dodged.
In that time, I sourced Boost Crew’s Coil-Near-Plug ignition. This would remove the TR6 ignition box from my system and allow my ECUGN computer to drive the ignition coils directly. If this didn’t fix my mysterious stall, it would at least give the computer enough visibility into the ignition system that we’d be able to diagnose it.
We cleaned and dressed a lot of the wiring. I’d been having a scary issue with low oil pressure when the car got hot.
That issue turned out to be bad wiring and a cheap sensor. We relocated the sensor further from the turbocharger, and replaced the $19 Amazon transducer with a $160 SSI unit from Casper’s Electronics. Voila, oil pressure problem disappeared. It was all bad sensors and wiring. Where I previously thought I had 13psi of pressure with the oil at 190 degrees, I was now showing 26. Much better.
We removed a lot of melted wiring conduit and replaced it with DEI high-temperature fabric sleeve. We also plumbed in a second transmission cooler, a cooler with a fan and a thermostatically controlled switch. This additional cooler with its additional 15,000 BTUs of cooling ability, along with the more efficient torque converter should finally solve the transmission heat problems. We also moved the transmission fluid temperature sensor to the pan. It had previously been in the return line coming back from the cooler.
As with anything in racing, there were hiccups. At least one big one: While installing the transmission, we managed to snap the tailshaft mounting boss off. Oops. It came back out of the car and Bruce Domeck at Unique Automotive saved the day with a masterful repair.
Another hiccup? The front springs had popped out of the frame mounts. I had used some spacers to raise the nose, and they shifted out from under the springs. We replaced the Eibach 10″ springs with some 11″ springs from Coleman Racing. No more spacer, problem solved.
A firmware update to the ECUGN fixed an issue withe A/C shutting off on the highway, and we dumped the system and recharged it just to be sure it was working and had the proper amount of refrigerant in it.
I also had the KY Dent Guy come by and do a PDR on my left rear quarter panel. This panel isn’t protected inside the trunk. Over the years, things inside the trunk had punched little dents outward from the inside on the panel, making it pocked and rippled. He worked a miracle on the panel in just a few hours.
With all that work done, I replaced the seats with the originals. The NRGs had served me well, but for a show like this, the originals were in better shape and just looked better. My four point harness should mitigate the containment issues that led to me putting the NRGs in. Plus, the NRGs have allowed my stock seats to avoid four years of racing butt sweat.
So in they went.
And after all that, it had to be cleaned. This meant Sticker removal, compound, polish, and instead of wax, I stepped up to the new Mothers CMX Ceramic coating. I also polished and coated the door sill covers. The ceramic coating works. During a test drive, I got caught out in the rain. When I got back to the garage, the car wasn’t dirty. The water had simply flown off with all the dirt. I had coated the glass too, and it was even better than RainX. I didn’t have to turn on the wipers.
I also cleaned, polished, and coated the wheels. And somewhere in there I managed to flush and bleed the brakes.
In a miracle of miracles, we got it all done in a month, and I only had to skip two days of work to pull it off. The car was ready for pickup September 1.
Then Hurricane Dorian shut down all the east coast ports. So we waited. On the 6th, the ports opened, and on the 7th, the truck started rolling my direction. We could have made Lincoln after all. Darnit. Nonetheless, The car was picked up today (Saturday, September 9) and is en-route. The next time I see it, we’ll be Saudi Arabia.
So in the interim, I’ll be working with the organizers to secure a visa and nail down travel arrangements. Plus I have two months to learn Arabic.