Rants, Recipes and Ramblings

Firebird Race Report Part 1

Originally posted on 10/7/2001


For those that have complained about a lack of race reports I present the following (Being posted to both the F500 list and on the Wheel:


Since this is a Double Regional for the San Diego Region this weekend here in Phoenix at Firebird I will send two reports.

I had taken my car in to have the motor repaired (we thought we had experienced a lean burn again) but when the motor was taken apart it was discovered that a rod had broken. Of course all the parts I had gotten for a top end rebuild were only going to be part of the solution. Chuck Voboril had two spare Kawi motors and sold one to me so that we could get the car back together and running while I get the other motor fixed. We worked until late Friday getting the motor in and running (had a CDI fail) so the first practice on Saturday would be the first test of this motor (other than a couple quick bursts up and down the street before the car went on the trailer)

The morning dawned a typical gorgeous early fall day here in Phoenix with the temperature just right and I could not wait to get on track and see how the car would run. Driving from the Paddock to Grid for practice was a real joy as the motor felt really strong and the acceleration snapped my head back against the head rest when the clutch engaged at 5k RPM.
Pulling onto track behind a LeGrand CF (the last one ever made) I quickly made short work of him and set my sites on reeling in another CF and then trying to keep up with the FF when it all came to naught! On the third lap a Swift DB-1 FF had gone into the wall in the “Valley of Death” and brought at the Black Flag. While sitting in the Pits waiting for the mess to be cleaned up we were told they had stopped the clock and would get at least seven more minutes of practice time. This turned out not to be the case however as just as were starting our cars they waved the Checker to end our sessions with just three laps having been run! As I stepped on the gas to head back to the Paddock I could not get the motor above 3500 RPM. Since the clutch does not engage below 5k this presented a bit of a problem and required a ignominious flat tow back to my Paddock. Since the motor would start and run (albeit weakly) I figured it must be a fuel starvation problem. Fuel Filter and fuel pump checked out ok so after checking the spark plugs I decided to check the fuel cell in case the pickup was not clogged. Rolled up my sleeve and dug out the foam and did not see a problem there either. Put the car back together and thought for grins lets try it. Fired it up and like magic the motor screamed to life when the throttle was  opened. We thought it must have just been “one of those things”, so we sat down to talk to our guests that had come out to watch the races.

When the call to grid for Qualifying was announced I jumped in the car with great anticipation. Alas it was not to be! The motor came to life and when I stepped on the gas the car surged forward for about 30 feet and then ground to a halt with the 3500 RPM nonsense!

Pushed it back and cursed it. With the car up on the jack I pulled the K&N air filters off and started the car. It roared and the motor had no difficulty in reaching 8200RPM so I took it for a run up and down the paddock sans air filters and did not have any problem. Put the filters back on the car died again. Time to scratch your head and say “what the…”

After cleaning the filters (no difference) I decided to go back to the 260 jets I had been running in place of the 290’s we put on the car when the new motor was added. Took it for another test run and it was donut time (Zanardi – not Krispy Kreme). Look out Vees and CF’s.

During the lunch break we watched as a wall of ominous looking clouds built up along South Mountain and began to march towards us with occasional lightning and obvious areas of rain.

The first (SRF) and second (SRX-7/Pro-7) run groups were able to complete their sessions with little or no rain however it started to come down during the third group (FA/FC/FM) and then let up for the end of their run in time for the big bore cars in the fourth group to run on a drying track.

The Race… Or
Our group was up next (FF/CF/FV/F500) and another wall of clouds was headed our way. While it “does” rain in Southern California it hardly ever does here in Phoenix so in answer to your question “what are rain tires?” I can say “huh?”

Out we go with a pending rain shower with all of us on slicks. Since I did not get a qualifying time I had to start from the back. No big deal really since I knew I could work my way past the Vees and start to run down the CF’s within a few laps. Of course following a smokey Vee through a fast decreasing radius sweeper (the Looper at the end of the drag strip) on an already greasy track is not a real confidence inspiring undertaking.

Once I got the tires heated up I was able to take advantage of the conditions by kicking in some oversteer in the fast turns and drifting the car out to the rain line (if there is such a thing in Arizona!) and I was able to turn the fourth fastest lap with only FF’s outpacing me before the rain hit.

For those that have driven onto a drag strip in the rain you know what it is like, for those that have not let me paint the picture. Unless the rain is really coming down hard water tends to drain away and besides your tires are still nominally on pavement. Not so turning onto a drag strip in the rain. All the rubber and gunk that gets laid down by the dragsters merely serves as a catch basin for all this rain water. Added to that of course is the pretty paint that covers the starting line. This means that for quite a stretch of the track’s surface (and right were you want to be taking a late apex and putting the power down) you instead have to pussy foot across this no-mans-land by starting with an early apex and setting the car setup so that you have a straight shot to “coast” across the painted surface and then get on the gas while straddling the center line and running on a part of the track the dragsters do not use.

In an F-500 with a clutch that starts putting the power down in a rush at 5k RPM this gets to be a pretty tricky game to play. I only had one problem in this area and as the rear end came around in a spin and started to slide rearward (it is at this point that you gain a real appreciation for just how narrow a drag strip is, I had visions of being a pin ball bouncing from wall to wall) I stood on the brakes and the gas to try and arrest my drift (with lots of front bias this lets me stop the front wheels while still being able to put power down to try and dig out of a problem). This worked too well because as soon as my rear wheels got off that horrible rubberized ice rink they bit into the track and launched me the opposite direction. I turned the wheel to the right and was able to spin the car around and ended up sitting on that wonderful piece of asphalt between the lanes and pointed in the right direction no less. There is nothing quite as wonderful as small miracles.

My only other “off” was at the end of the drag strip when I realized I had delayed my braking to long on the increasingly wet surface and that it was going to be difficult to make the turn. When I got on the brakes hard to try and slow for the turn the tires decided they wanted to try body surfing instead of stopping. Fortunately drag strips have long runoff areas so once the tires came to their senses (silly tires) I was able to whip the car around an watch five other cars go by before I was able to reenter the track.

From that point on I decided to merely circulate and try and stay out of trouble for the remaining 8 laps and get a finish.

All in all an eventful day and I did not feel to bad about my first foray onto a wet greasy track with slicks on. Certainly will give me a greater appreciation for what others are going through when I watch races with intermittent rain showers.

Hopefully tomorrows event will be under clear and cool skies.

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