2003 Petersburg ProSolo

As mentioned in the previous installment, we broke a hub, and took out an axle in the process. Fixing the hub turned out to be simple enough, but the axle was a little more problematic. Normally, whenever we break a part, it's treated as an opportunity to upgrade. But this failure wasn't an "ultimate strength" failure; the axle failed when we tried to use it (inadvertently) in a manner it wasn't designed for.

Upgraded, super-strength axles are available, at $750 a pair. OEM axles, which have proven plenty strong to this point, are on the order of $250 each. Ouch - surely there was a cheaper alternative without having to compromise on strength.

I did some asking around, and some of my drag racer friends recommended a company called Raxles. Not only were these axles a good deal less expensive, the came with a lifetime warranty, and the owner of the company seemed very concerned with quality. The recommendation from drag racers sealed the deal, and I bought a Raxle. Customer service was excellent, and the part arrived on time. Unfortunately, all the time spent doing research and the shipping delay meant we had to miss the 2003 Topeka Pro.

We also got a new shock valving from Bilstein, but time constraints prevented getting it installed. This didn't seem to be too big a deal on paper, because Petersburg, unique to all the races we run, is on an asphalt surface, and so maybe the too-soft-for-concrete rebound setting in the shocks at the moment would be OK for Petersburg.

So we finally got the car put back together, and I worked up the motivation to make the drive, and it was off to Petersburg. The 11 hour trip was nice and uneventful.

Once we got there, it was clear that the weather was going to be crappy. This, coupled to the slick surface, the short course, and the relatively small field boded well for our chances.

For the first heat, the clouds were heavy with rain, but for the moment, it was holding off. Given that I run first in the heat, this was an opportunity to put down a time and establish an early lead. The first run (first real run taken in anger since the previous September!) was sloppy and messy, and the car was crashing hard over the bumps - too much compression in the shocks for the bumpy surface. Even so, the time was reasonable and it was pretty clear that it could be driven around.

But on the very next run, the car snapped hard right on launch - so hard that it was hard to keep from running over the start lights. And for the rest of the run, the car kept trying to turn right under power, and really didn't want to turn left at all. At first, I thought it might just be a slick spot at the start line - some oil down or something. But it did it again on the next two runs, finishing up the heat.

The times were OK; nothing spectacular, but given that I'd spent three runs trying to figure out what the hell was going on with the car, the lack of speed wasn't all that surprising.

Back in the pits, put the car up on the stands, and three of the four corners were still connected to the driveline. The fourth - the corner we broke in testing - was now spinning freely. Further inspection revealed that the brand new Raxle had sheared clean at the outboard CV joint.

Interestingly enough, the axle didn't fail in the spiral stress fracture typical of exceeding the ultimate strength of the axle shaft. Instead, it snapped so clean that it looked like it had been parted in a lathe. I don't know what that axle was made of, but it sure wasn't very strong.

Well... that's the end of that weekend.

However, Ramzi offered the use of his VW to finish out the event, in exchange for some developmental feedback. 1700lbs, tons of grip, and manual steering.

In my first heat in his car, the shift linkage slipped in the shifter and I lost 1st, 2cd, and reverse. That meant running the entire heat in 3rd gear, which isn't quite as bad as it sounds, as the VW is geared pretty short - but launches were a little pokey. In the final heat, we had rain shortly before we ran, and while the course was drying out, the grip still wasn't up to snuff yet.

In other words, the times didn't improve much over the times I put down in my own car, and we wound up 4th. Thanks for the opportunity though Ramzi.

Back at home, the excitement still wasn't over. I bought a new, OEM axle to replace the broke Raxle, and then set about trying to remove the broken axle stub. It wouldn't pry out of the trans case. I tried the "ball joint separator" trick, and that didn't work either - instead, it cracked the trans case right around the axle seal housing. At this point, I stopped short of setting the car on fire, and instead dragged the car down the road to Magnus Motorsports to let Marco deal with it.

He tried pulling the driver's side axle and pounding the stub out from the other side - no joy. In the end, he wound up pulling out the transmission, and sending the axle stub, the front diff, and the portion on the trans case captured between the two to Quaife, who removed the axle (and refreshed the front diff too) under their lifetime warranty. It turned out that the Raxle splines deformed and swedged themselves into the Quaife.

So... an attempt to save some money on a hub, and a subsequent attempt to save some money on an axle, wound up costing much, much more money in the long run, two missed races (the Toledo Tour and the Topeka Pro) and finally ruined the event we did make it to. Can you say "false economy"? Can you say "really really dumb move"?

Ah well, live and learn, right?"