2002 Ft Myers ProSolo
As y'all may recall, the latter half of our 2001 season did not go so well. First we had a transmission ruined on the dyno. Then we shattered a centre diff at the Peru Pro. And then as icing on the cake, we wound up ripping three teeth off the front diff side gears and spitting them out the trans case at Nationals.
Destroying transmissions is no way to win races.
So when we got back from Topeka last year, the car went to TRE, with instructions to rebuild the transmission and make it indestructible. We should have done this much, much earlier, but we were always more concerned with making it to the next race rather than taking the time to get things done right. This would be the third time that Jon@TRE would have our trans, but the first time we'd be able to give him the time to do a proper job on it.
He put in a front Quaife (sourced from Hoosier Tom at Mid Atlantic Motorsport) to go along with the centre Quaife that went in earlier that season. He also worked his usual rebuild magic, and insisted that we go back to an organic clutch disk from the copper-ceramic 6-puck we had been running. The end result was a transmission that should be about as strong as it could get.
But I still wasn't satisfied. I never, ever wanted to have to go through another session of hypoid puking out the bottom of the car. Not ever. But we have to do these harsh stutterbox launches with big sticky tires in order to maximise our launch advantage, so I needed some way of adding extra cushion to the driveline.
I settled on having ACPT build me a 2-piece carbon fibre driveshaft. This replaces the front two sections of the stock 3-piece steel shaft with a carbon fibre tube. It eliminates a u-joint and a carrier bearing, drops about 20 lbs of weight, and adds considerable flex and cushion to the driveline. At $1200 and 6 weeks to build, it wasn't cheap, but anything is better than scrapping transmissions.
While I was at it, I replaced the front lower control arms, the tie rod ends, pulled the stereo, and added some flat-wire helper springs so I could start lowering the car some more. I also replaced my ultra high-tech Mountain Dew breather catch can with a proper breather tank.
Everything got put back together 2 days before it was time to head down to Florida for the Ft Myers Pro and National Tour.
Of course, by this time I hadn't had an opportunity to really drive my car since June, and I had five months to stew in my own juices worrying about it staying together at the next race. I had done everything I possibly could to prevent a recurrence, but it had blown up at all the previous races, and deep down, I was pretty well convinced that it was going to blow up yet again. My motivation for going racing was at an all-time low, and it took serious effort to load up the rig and get going.
At least the rig was one bright spot. We bought a brand spanking new Dodge Ram 2500 2WD long bed truck (with the Cummins HO turbo diesel and the 6-speed, and 4.10 LSD rear ar ar ar) and put an ARE DCU toolbox cap on it. This to replace the old POS Suburban that had served as tow mule for the past 3 seasons. Suddenly, we had working AC, plenty of power, awesome gas mileage, and a drastically reduced rate of engine fires. Best damn purchase I ever made.
Anyway, we loaded everything up, and drove the 21 hours to Florida.
The first day was practice starts. This was where I blew up the car at both Peru and Nationals, and so my mental state at the line can best be described as something approaching white-knuckle, stomach-churning terror. It was a wasted panic. The car stayed together just fine, rocketing out of the hole to a series of low 1.8 60' times on a sandy surface where no other car made it below 2.0 seconds. A good beginning.
Saturday AM. Normally we run two heats on Saturday, but it seems nobody checked the new timing equipment for waterproofness, and the heavy morning dew shorted out the tree. It took the better part of the day to get fixed, and a heat was cancelled because of the delay. It was well late in the day before Street Modified was called to the line. Of course, this waiting gave me plenty of time to chew on my liver worrying about the car, so by the time we got to run, I was a nervous wreck.
By this time, I had decided that if the car was moving under its own power on Sunday afternoon, with no internal parts having been suddenly made external, that I won. I did not care about times, positions, or points. All I cared about was having a functional car.
First run, I line up on the left. The car leaves hard, but I only make it halfway down to the end before I hear the KABOOM and the loss of power that signifies a boost hose blowing off. I limp back to the start, and sure enough, a hose has popped off - it seems the clamps were not tightened properly. This is no big deal, the crew cinches the hose back up and we get back in line.
Right side. It's not a bad run - not great, because I'm so rusty, but not bad - until I get to the braking area before the turnaround. The front brakes lock up, and the nose shoots wide. I catch it before I smear the outside wall and the fence beyond, but it seems my ABS is on the fritz - there's an ABS trouble light on. Great. The time is OK, but not spectacular.
Back to the left. I try to make it through the first kink without lifting, but the car is having none of that. Instead, it snap-spins and I give the corner workers a good scare. Free to be crazy on the rest of the run (it's already blown, so why not experiment?) I got to full throttle way, way early coming out of the turnaround, and get the shock of my life - normally, doing this would result in a lurid push as the front end slid wide under power, but not this time! Instead, there's the slightest hint of a push at initial throttle application, and then I hear the fronts scrabble for grip and the nose tucks in. Need to tighten the turn? Turn the wheel more, and the fronts pull the nose in tighter, powering out of the turn the whole time. Holy shit, that front Quaife WORKS! The old power-on push is GONE! Hot damm! Why the hell didn't I do this sooner??
Right side again. I use my new-found corner exit technique, but I'm timid and hesitant everywhere else. I'm just not trusting myself or the car at all, and the time is no better.
But hey, 4 runs are in the bag, and the car is still holding together, and it doesn't seem to be threatening to explode. The times suck and I'm driving like an idiot, but the car is till moving and that means I'm winning.
Then I look at the results....
I'm a good ways back, which is not at all surprising given that I have no left side time to speak of, but I'm nowhere near as far back as I should be. In fact, my right side time is the fastest in class, and by a good margin too, which is a REAL surprise given the calibre of the people I'm running against - I must not be the only one having problems. In fact, if I can duplicate my right side time on the left side tomorrow, I might be able to just sneak out a win. If I can pull half a second or so a side additional time out, I can probably nail home a win....
It's a bit of a jump from "still running at the end of the day" to "winning the event" but what the hell....
Sunday AM. I'm feeling a little more like my old self, and I've got a plan. Rather than trying to go out and set the world on fire with one run, I'm going to try and find one or two things on each run to improve the following run. Baby steps, rather than giant leaps of brilliance. My best right side time is a 36.1 - if I can do that on the left, I've got a shot. If I can sneak down into the high 35's, I can probably win. (Of course, the Z06 Vettes are running low 34s to high 33s which is where by all rights I SHOULD be running, but so what? I only have to go faster than the fastest car in MY class to win)
I start on the left, and it's a 35.5.
Back to the right, it's a 35.8.
Left again. 35.0 (but I clip a cone and it's gone)
Last run on the right, 35.3.
The Allen Civic makes one high 35 run, all the rest are 36s. Nobody else cracks the 35's.
Holy shit, I just won. Hell, I didn't just win, I clobbered the field by a little over a second.
HOLY SHIT I JUST WON!!!!
Not a pretty win, to be sure. I didn't drive particularly well; instead, I just sucked less than everybody else. But who the hell cares??!
I WON A PRO SOLO! FINALLY!
And the car is still just fine.
But the day is not over yet. I'm the top qualifier for the Honda Street Challenge, and I'm sixth qualifier for the Super Challenge. I now have two rounds of eliminations to go through.
They run the Super Challenge first. Here, they take your best raw times (ie, ignoring cones) from class competition and use those to determine your dialin for the elimination rounds. I'm suddenly in the position where I know myself and my car are significantly faster than my dialin is. I hadn't planned it this way, but suddenly I'm carrying a great heaping load of sand in the car. This is a huge advantage.
I line up against Alex Tzortsis in a Z06, and down he goes. Then it's a BP Vette... and I snap-spin the car in the first corner. It's so sudden that I'm sure I broke the car and oiled down my tires, but it turns out to be undamaged - I don't know what the hell happened. So much for the Super Challenge.
But the Honda Street Challenge... that's important. This one pays $500 for the win, and qualifies me for a $5000 runoff at the ProFinale. This is the big one. This one I must win. My first run is a little tentative (because of the spin) but the car feels fine. I wind up 4 tenths down going over to the other side, so I pull out all the stops on this run, and STOMP HIM on the way back. I did it! I won the HSC!
A class win and a Challenge win AND the car still in one piece, when all I wanted was a running car. Not too shabby a weekend.
Big, big, BIG thanks to Jon@TRE, who put together a driveline that could actually stand up to all my abuse. Without TRE, this would not have happened.
Big thanks too to Robert at Forced Performance, whose Big28 made all that power. We finally pulled it off guys!