The road to 2016 Nationals was probably the toughest in memory for us. We got started late in the winter getting our exhaust reconfigured to a conventional crossover arrangement instead of the 180 degree configuration we had. Ultimately this change was a huge improvement in horsepower and torque, but it caused a lot of rework in terms of the exhaust itself, the dash, wiring, and the tinwork inside the car.
The changes took a lot longer than anticipated and I was able to run 1 event in the car before the birth of my daughter, Aly. Kids have a way of shifting your priorities and I missed the next event in the car. Todd took the car to a practice in early summer and our motor decided it was time to let go, spinning a rod bearing and wiping out the thrust bearing.
Todd’s engine builder, H&K Racing Engines was actually on-site when the motor let go and promised an August 1st return date for the engine… Without going into details, that didn’t happen and the motor was received at 3AM on the 28th of August. A massive thrash and many late nights followed. When I arrived on Saturday the 3rd to leave for Lincoln, this is what I found:
Todd and Sweaty Jeff had busted their butts all night, but we still weren’t ready to go. A few more hours of thrashing and we were finally loaded up and on the road at 8:30PM, only about 12 hours behind our target leave time.
The trip to Lincoln was fairly uneventful. Once we got there we scrambled to find a test and tune spot so that we could scrub in tires. We’d failed to register for one since everything was such a last minute thrash. Unfortunately we weren’t able to secure a spot and we were going to have to run the event on unscrubbed tires. This meant 1st and maybe 2nd runs weren’t going to be very good, but that was life.
Day 1 was on the West course. Typically this is the tight and precise course, but this year it was relatively fast and wide open!
The 1st 2 runs were a challenge as expected. My 3rd run I overcooked the entry to the tight slalom and DNF’d, making me stand on my 2nd run. Todd struggled a bit with the car and I ended up on top by about 2 tenths on Day 1 with us sitting in 6th and 7th respectively. Thomas Pulliam was flying in Robert Lewis’ Mustang and took the top spot on Day 1, followed by Mike Maier and Mark Madarash. Unfortunately I have no video due to 2 failings on my part – 1) I forgot to put my memory card into my Replay XD camera and 2) our Race Technology Video4 was acting up. Both planned to correct for Day 2, but with rain in the forecast it was looking to be a challenge to get dry runs.
Our long streak of dry runs at Nationals ended on Wednesday with the skies opening up during the 1st heat and dumping on us. Everyone who had them swapped over to rain tires, ourselves included. Our rain tires are unfortunately not true rains since Goodyear doesn’t offer them. We’re running hand-grooved dry tires. A true rain tire has an extremely soft compound and a complex tread pattern to really effectively remove water and stick to the ground. Our tires work, but they’re not ideal.
The course for Day 2 had lots of 180 degree turns with long stretches between them. The East course historically collects the most water with the upper right corner of the map always collecting a giant lake. When we ran, there were puddles everywhere at the beginning.
Having resolved my failure to include a memory card in the camera, I loaded one in, though it was so small that we weren’t able to get all of our runs captured. The Video4 we didn’t run, because a leak in the windshield ended up dropping water right on top of it – not the best thing for electronics.
Run 1 for me was a disaster. Between a spin and our windshield fogging up, I was lucky to even make it through. The video above tells the tale and you can even see the camera fogging over! Needless to say, this wasn’t going to be our day.
The culprit to the fogging windshield was air leaking from under the dash and rising up to the windshield. Since the exhaust runs through the passenger compartment, it builds up a lot of heat which caused the fogging issue. Our solution was to stuff rags down to try and seal off as much air as possible. This worked partially, but still was far from the ideal solution.
My 2nd run was faster, but I forgot to turn on the camera. Todd’s 2nd run was also an improvement. Since we didn’t really have a rain setup for our shocks, tires, and sway bars we started experimenting since it was clear we were way off pace. Adjustments to soften the car were made with some improvement. Unfortunately we never were able to get an understeer condition out of the car which made it a challenge to drive. The course dried with every run, making 3rd runs the most critical. I went out for my 3rd run, and though I dropped time I really struggled with the car. When I got back to the pits we found that the right rear tire had gone flat somewhere during the run or the drive back to the pits. Luckily we were able to plug it before Todd’s last run. He improved again, but we were way off pace.
Our Nationals ended with a disappointing 12th and 13th place finish for Todd and myself, both out of the trophies. We didn’t expect to win this year with our lack of seat time and the last minute thrash on the car, but we certainly didn’t expect to fall this far down in the pack.
Lots of changes and most importantly PREP are planned for next year. The fogging issue we’d forseen and discussed for years, but never did anything about and our handling challenges this year were the same as last year. For 2017 we’ll have a much more disciplined plan to get the car (and ourselves) in racing shape so we don’t repeat this year! Still a lot of fun was had and lessons learned. Onward to 2017!