Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Definitely more lucky than good

 Let's go to Dallas.  As I recall,, those were the first words Greg said when he saw me Thursday morning and that was about 10:30.   This isn't such a big deal except I had been told the day before that we weren't  going.   We had just returned from Houston on Sunday night, and Dallas was mentioned only once and not with any conviction. You see, we had 49 runs on our engine.  Our engine builder doesn't like for us to put over 60 runs on our connecting rods, so we are a bit careful which races we choose to run. We know that we want to run at the NHRA division 4 Lucas Oil points race.  At the conclusion of that race we are pulling the engine out and it's going  for a freshen up.    Normally we do this over the winter, but last year we had a mid-season lifter failure, so some work was done then and got us off schedule. 

The first clue of the lifter failure!

Anyway,  we need to be careful of how many runs we put on the engine, so we probably should skip this race in Crandall (Dallas). So on Monday, " We ain't goin".  Tuesday," well maybe we should, we're not getting any younger.  At our age any race we miss might not get made up."  Wednesday, "We ain't goin." and finally Thursday,  "Lets go to Dallas."   "We can cut the clutch when we get there".   This spur of the moment stuff isn't to bad for me or Greg, we stay on the ready anyway,  but the people around us have no clue.  They don't know when or where we are going, but neither do we,  so they have to plan accordingly.   I really appreciate Judy for her patience and understanding.  I want to thank Chuck Dannheim for being  at the dealership to take care of everything.  He makes it possible for me to do this, and he never knows if he get's to go to lunch or should pack one.  He has a great attitude about it, and I never thank him enough.  We couldn't do this without the people at the dealership. Thanks, y'all are the best!
 If we're gonna roll by 6:00  I better get started.
  I've gotta fill the fresh water tank on the motorhome. It has a 200 gallon fresh water tank, but only a 65 gallon gray water tank.  As my friend Earl Folse would say "There go a problem".  But that problem is a series of stories all it's own.  Ha!   I also have to check the air in all the tires,( 16 of them)  make a grocery list and send Marshi to the store.  That's someone else that I owe a long overdue thank you.  Marshi has always taken care of me and Greg.  I expect she would take care of Greg, but she has always gone out of her way to make sure I had what I wanted.  Greg probably doesn't want to know what she has spent on Diet dr pepper and ribeye steaks. Oh yeah, she spoils us!  She always buys the best for us, and makes our life easier.  Thank you Marshi , we love you.
 .   Oh yeah I forgot, Gene Johnson will be with us for this trip, Gene has been racing with Greg longer than anyone. Well, Gene and Hager. These guys all went to high school together and are still close friends.  I think that's cool!
  So, we got all of our stuff together and ready to go.  First stop, Mexican food in Claude, Excellent!
  After dinner it's off to Decatur for fuel. 
"I love to hear the steel belts humming on the asphalt."

We got to Decatur and there was no "cheap gas" it was just the" cheap-ist " we have seen.  What are you gonna do?  We had to have fuel. The price doesn't matter as much when you just feel lucky to be there.
 The track is only 100 miles from Decatur, so we start thinking about where to stop for the night.   Preferably by an Ihop so we can eat breakfast.  A lot of times they are right next to a walmart so there should be some parking.    Weeelll, I know where one is , a Walmart parking lot with an Ihop and it's only ten miles from the track.   We can have crepes in the morning.    And besides all that we can get through Dallas at night and miss some morning traffic.  There could be some on this route: hwy 114 to 183 to I35E to I30 to I45 to 175.  No problem.  ROAD CONSTRUCTION AHEAD!  Yeah, road construction ahead and on both sides.  Ya know those concrete barrier walls the string out to form a lane ? The ones with walls on both sides?  And I,m sure your familiar with the way they move these walls in real , real, real ,,,, real tight and then put in a lot of curves and chicane's and a few large bumps and dips in the curves.  And you think your gonna scrape the side of your car sometimes?   Try it with this.....

I mean to tell ya, it was TIGHT going through that construction.  I guess nothing scares Greg.  I,m sashaying through all of that and he never blinks.  Even though I've been telling him for about 3 months that I need to go have my eyes checked because I don't see good at night.  He has "nerves of steel".  Gene on the other hand, not so much.  He didn't say anything, so I know he was seized up.  I was the most surprised that we made it through without a scratch.  Now, with that over, where is that Ihop?  Well there's the walmart, but that Ihop sign say's DENNY'S.  Oh No.  Crepes we ain't, sorry boy's.  You shouldn't listen to me anyway.  

We had a great room at the Walmart parking lot Hotel and Suites.

Well we survived Denny's ok.   We got to the track and took our place in line.  This racetrack is only about 4 or 5 years old and is a magnificent facility.  All concrete.  And I mean"all" concrete.  From the waterbox to the timeshack, concrete. Pits, staging lanes,even spectator parking, concrete.  Somebody spent some serious "jack" on this joint.  I've been to a lot of race tracks in my days and this place is NICE!!!  Jimmy Dickey once told Greg, "If you need to take your dog to pee at this place, you'll have to take him out the gate".  He wasn't kidding.

And checkout these dragstrip bathrooms....                     

This is an I.H.R.A. division 4 points race or pro-am. It is a two day event with a separate race each day.  We don't run a lot of these nowadays, but this one is to close and the track to nice to pass up. It doesn't matter where we go, if its Dallas or Buds Creek Maryland, we will see some very dear friends. That maybe the best thing about this "car hobby". The people we meet.  It seems to me that friends made at the races are friends for life.  It was a "social network" long before Facebook.  
  The track held a test and tune session on Friday.  We had planned on making a couple of runs then.  But that wind that day was relentless.  All the talk in the pits was about running in that wind.  These cars are FAST and they are light.  They do not like the wind. 50 mile an hour winds + 200 plus mph + a couple of big ole parachutes.   Not today.  So I got to do some visitation.

That's Larry and Sarah Smith.  Larry raced on the "Liquid Quarter Mile" for quite a few years before coming over to the cars. Larry looks a little sea sick in this picture.  We have been racing with them for quite a few years now.  Good racers, you know they will always bring a good package,  you better be up for it. Good people. 
Now, up to the staging lanes for our tech inspection.

With that done we are ready for qualifying in the morning.  There will be two qualifying runs in the morning and then first round will be about 2:00 pm.

Time for some sleep. Tomorrow will be a busy day.
We have installed engine block and oil heaters on our engine.  So when I woke Saturday morning, I started my little routine. Make coffee, get dressed, put away my bedding and go out and plug the bitch in. It's my morning ritual.  Get my cup of coffee, go out to the trailer,open the doors, put down my coffee, walk to the back of the trailer and open the access door and grab the end of the extension cord and start walking back to the front of the trailer.  This cord is on one of those retractable reels that click as you pull the cord.  So there I go,click click click click.  All the way to the end of the cord, walk to the trailer door, stop drink some coffee.  Put the coffee back down and walk into the trailer.  Tell the car  "good morning baby girl" and reach down and slip her oil pump belt off.  Get the cordless drill and "spin the oil up".  Then plug the block and oil heaters in. Tell her she's a good girl and walk back to my coffee.  Every morning.  I sometimes wonder if the people beside us are sitting in their motorhomes drinking coffee , looking out the window saying , here he comes, and getting a little laugh.  
On our first qualifying run the car launched very well, wheels up and in the middle with a 1.025 60 ft time. All looked well until the top of second gear.  Then tire spin set in and the car "got up on the tires" and started wallowing all over the track. Greg had no choice but to push in the clutch and coast through. No sense wreckin it. We will just go back and take some clutch out. We'll be alright.  So we did, we looked at our "data" and decided to pull a few grams of weight off the clutch.  We are trying to "slide" the clutch to control our "wheel speed"  (tire spin ).  
We got a call from Shea Lair while we were in the staging lanes awaiting our second qualifying pass.  She had driven out to the track to see Greg run.  She also brought some special guests.

Dr. and Mrs. Bruce Mickey.

Dr. Mickey was Brian's surgeon through all of Brian's surgery's.  Brian made a deep impression on him.  But Brian made a deep impression on everyone he met.  It was an honor to have them as our guests.  I hope they enjoyed it and I think they did.  Shea has been around the races a lot, so she took them and showed them around.  And in these pictures Shea and Greg explained how it all works.
The second qualifying pass was really no better than the first.  Great launch, in the middle  1.02 60 ft and the "up on the tire" moving all over the place.  The only difference  was, this time Greg took his life in his own hands and stayed with it a lot longer than he probably should have.  He still had to lift early, but ran a 6.68 at only 196 mph.  That 6.68 is a pretty good number but should have been at about 208 mph.  So we knew we had left "something on the table" but we have to control that tire spin to be able to eat it. Still though, that was good for the #1 Qualifier spot.  We will just have to go back and take some more clutch out and try to find that sweet spot. We need enough clutch to get off the starting line like we are, but also light enough to control the tire spin down track. 
We were the #1 qualifier at this same race last year with this run.

Now it's time for the first elimination round.  In the staging lanes we are trying to decide what to "dial".  We always have an idea what the car will run, but it's always nice to get some clean qualifying runs to dial off of.  We didn't get one of  those "clean" ones this time, so it's time to roll the fuzzy dice and pick a number.  Racers spend  thousands of dollars for weather stations, to help predict their dial-in.  Most of them have paging systems so the get updates from their weather analyzers while their in the staging lanes.  Changes in humidity, air temperature, barometric pressure,vapor pressure,oxygen content,grains of water in the atmosphere and wind speed all greatly effect the performance of these cars.  If you don't calculate these factors into your "dial" ,then, you are just rolling the dice.  We do monitor all of these things, then we get up to the lanes and break out the dice.  Hmmm.  That's just our program.  Just don't trust all them fancy gadgets I guess.  You know what they say about old dogs.
We decide on a 6.66 for our dial. We knew we could run quicker if the car "hooked up" all the way down the track, but so far it had not shown us that so we had to be conservative.  I know what your thinking about that number, but, it's fitting, because this car HAS been a beast so far this weekend. Once again, great launch, tire spin starts and Greg is forced to lift.  But the guy in the other lane runs down there and "breaks out" (runs quicker than his dial-in) and is disqualified.  We move on to round two.
Before the second round we made a four link adjustment to try to help with the tire spin and also took out more clutch.  This time the car great again and really picked up the front end and carried it.  I'm tellin ya, it was cool, until.  You guessed it, more tire spin, clutch it and coast through.  The guy in the other lane? He redlit (left to early).  So we are on to round three.  Wow, what luck. We went back and took some more clutch out.  Damn this tire spin, what is up with that?
Third round was almost a mirror image of the rest. Tire spin, clutch it and coast through.  The guy in the other lane?  He had some kind of  parts malfunction on the starting line and had to shut off.  We win again. On to round 4.  Damn, we're good! lol.  We took even more grams of weight off the clutch. We can't seem to slip this clutch.
Round 4:  We finally took to much weight off and this time the car shook the tires violently as soon as Greg let the clutch out and the car was going nowhere fast.  The guy in the other lane ?  I can't remember what happened to him, but, the result was.  WE WIN!  Were in the final.  What is going on here?  Not pretty but, we'll take it.  
We added some clutch for the final, but had the same result.  Violent tire shake.  This time the luck ran out and we lost.  But who would have thought?  We have not made a full pass under power since we got here and we are the runner-up.  When it's your day, Its your day!

We we as surprised as anybody.  Very cool.

Day 2- Race 2:

Sunday morning everyone was given one time trial.  This is very helpful to us, seeing how we haven't made it down the track yet.  But unfortunately we still did not have a handle on it.  Instant tire shake, clutch it and coast. We seem to be lost in the clutch can.  I have always heard of this, but we normally don't experience that problem.  But we are now.  We added some weight to the clutch and went up for round one.  Again, same thing, shake,clutch-it and coast.  But once again we win.  What in the world is going on here?  Second round our opponent is Bob Gulitti.  Bob is one tough out.  You had better be on your game for that team.  I told Gene "it looks like the lucky streak is over".  As Greg and Bob were staging Bob had a problem and rolled the lights and went red.  We win again.  Our dial-in was still 6.66 and as I was walking off of the starting line some guy said to me "whatever you do, do NOT change that dial-in.
Round three:
Our opponent is our real good friend Jimmy Dickey.  We have been racing with Jimmy for over 20 years.  We can fill a book with Jimmy Dickey stories.  Those of you who know him know that is the honest truth. 

Jimmy Dickey.
If you know him you love him.  And nobody enjoys drag racing more.  And he does it by himself.  He drags that car all over the place by himself and races it by himself.  And he is always coming around offering to help anyone else.  This is one good man.  I'm blessed that I have been able to call him my friend.

But now he is in the other lane,so scrap all that stuff I said for about 6 seconds.  Jimmy comes to win.  Don't doubt that!  We put all the weight back on the clutch for this run, that tire shake has to go away.  And that was what the car wanted.  It left like a rocket and Jimmy's car did not.  He had some weird stuff going on over there that was not conducive to" running the number ".  Our run was not pretty either.  Back to the great launch and tire spin in second gear.  But Greg "pedaled it" and got it down through there for the win.  We're in the semi-finals and still have not been down under full power.  AMAZING!  But when we get back to the pits, we discover that our wheelie bar has broken and can't be fixed there.  And it's not safe to run the car.  So that ended our lucky run.  We couldn't make the call for round 4.  But what a lucky weekend.  I'm not proud of the way we did it.  But, these rounds are tough to win and you had better take them any way they come.
But we still have a problem with our setup and we have got to do some serious research on a solution.

Poor Gene always gets stuck "packin the chutes". He got off easy this trip.  This picture is the one and only time we got the parachutes out all weekend. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Procrastination? Yeah, I've heard of that.

I can't believe it's been over a month since my last post.  Time has really flown.  But that's no excuse.  I've  got to post more often.  I apologize.  Now I've got some catching up to do.  In the last month we have been to Houston and back,then to Dallas and back, and then to Houston again.  Running up and down Hwy 287, and the Autobahn or as we call it. " I-45"! That interstate flows pretty fast and can be kinda fun,even in a Freightliner motorhome. We finally started this season in Houston "Baytown" officially. So that's where I'll start.
  Tuesday, March 1st :  I'm in the shop, getting things ready to go.  This rig hasn't been out of the shop since November,so I'm checking everything one last time.  Filling the water tank, checking inspection sticker (expired),license tags,tires etc..  Make a grocery list.  Check for plates,cups towels and all that other domestic stuff you have to have.  Then, back out to the trailer,just to straighten up a bit, put all the tools away and put stuff away in the trailer attic.  To get my stuff up to the attic I'll use the lift.  Going down with the lift, all was good. I started back up and , Hmm, this thing sounds kinda weak, I hope the batt- oh no! Oh crap it is.  I HATE BATTERIES!!!!!   I just checked the water in these batteries a couple  of weeks ago, they were fine.  Well, they Ain't fine now.  This normally would not be a big deal, but these batteries are under a cabinet, way back in a dark corner. You have to crawl completely under this counter with no room to spare, I'm tellin ya it's tight.  I told them how I felt," exactly how I felt ".  And then crawled myself up under there and got those "witches" out.

                         There they are...    JUST look at em!
                   I know they're just little helpless chunks of plastic and lead.  But I loath these things and there are
                seven more of these #$@!$ things in this rig.

Anyway,  I owe a thanks to Brandon Bass.  He is a technician in our shop and he charged them up,tested them and said they were good and I had better look for another problem.

                                       Thanks Brandon.

 Turns out, it was the battery charger that had gone bad, that was easy. Back in business! We got everything loaded up.

                          And we're ready to roll!

 On this trip it will be Greg and I and Dale Davis.  I'm glad Dale is going, it's always nice to have a third hand and Dale has been with us several times and he knows our program ,which  makes things much more fun.
 We get in the truck and go a whole 10 miles and it's time to eat.  Taco's Garcia on the way out of town. Excellent!!!

 When we came out of the restaurant our friend Brent was waiting by the motorhome.  He said "when I saw a rig like this parked illegally in front of a Mexican food restaurant I knew it was y'all."

  Then we go over to a trailer repair shop to let the repair man access the damage from a previous encounter with a gas pump.  Yes, that's correct.  That's another story I will save for later. Now we're finally going down the road.  We get to Decatur,this is one of our "cheap gas" stops.  A penny saved is a penny earned I guess.

                                   This was a bargain unfortunately.      
 We got our fuel,some bread,a few bags of ice and no onion. Swell.  Another great thing about Dale Davis I forgot to mention is, He will drive the bus! 

                                               He are cool.

 I usually take the late night to wee hours in the morning shift.  You don't see a lot of the scenery that way but you can really knock down some miles at night.  Just put on the Ipod and roll, I love it.  I started
driving somewhere south of Corsicana and ended at the Cracker barrel in Baytown.  Cracker Barrel restaurants  have R.V. parking in the back, which is very nice about 3:30 AM.  Get a little sleep and roll out for breakfast.

                         And we made a deal with our waitress for an onion.

                                      Now, we can have hot dogs.  Can't have hot dogs without fresh chopped onion. Now all that we have left to do is fuel again and a truck wash, then to the track.  We get to the track and get our credentials, the staff takes us to our parking spot, we open the trailer and geeze, I guess the ride was not  so smooth after all.

                                     Not a scratch. Wheew!!!

                           Now it's time to go through tech, we have to pass tech at each race. They just make sure your safety equipment is certified and up to date.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Now just a little routine stuff like calibrating our O2 sensors and balancing our new tires.
  And filling Judy's new cooler.  Which came with two rules, no sitting on the cooler and no standing on the cooler.  The funny part is that this cooler cost  $150.00.  Those of you who know Greg know that's funny!  That's real funny.

                                                                That's a nice 'en!

With all of the domestic's and car maintenance taken care of  it's time for some dinner and a good nights sleep.Qualifying starts in the morning.
   Top Sportsman is the class that we are competing in, this class is a qualified field (some classes are all run), but ours is a qualified field.  Only 32 cars will be in the race on Sunday,  the quickest 32 cars after qualifying.
The race is actually a "bracket" race  or "dial-in" race.  We have to predict the elapsed time the car is going to run and write that number on the car, that is our dial-in.  This is done to make a level playing field.  In sportsman racing this is necessary to give each competitor a chance to win.  Most of these guy's are just working people, some are small business owners and this is their hobby.  Without handicap or dial racing only the richest would win and the rest would be forced to quit.  Unlike the professional racers,  there is not a lot of corporate sponsorship for these cars.  It's  backpocket sponsorship for most of these guys.  So like it or not shoepolish (dial-in) racing is necessary. Heads- up racing is definitely more exciting to watch but cost prohibitive to most.  You wouldn't enjoy golf if you were paired with Phil Mickelson and expected to win.
 The announcement is made for Top Sportsman to report to the staging lanes for our first qualifying run.
  I took this picture in the staging lanes Friday morning, the camaro there is Earl Folse,  we have been racing with Earl for quite a few years now and is a very good friend of mine.  I also see Bert Prejean in front of him,he has also been a great friend to Greg and I.  That's Bert in the black t-shirt and red pants leaning on the golf cart, huffing on Hedi. The people we race with are like family, we all love the same thing and love to share that passion with each other.  Great folks, Good friends!
  It's time to qualify and we have drawn the left lane for our first run.  During the burnout I was thinking that the engine did not sound great, but sometimes they don't sound as good as other times.  To late to do anything anyway.  Greg staged the car, the tree came down and boom he is gone, the car is in the middle of the groove which is good but does not make it's usual move in third gear.  Usually the car really busts a big move in third gear,  sometimes I think it may" hyperspace " but not this time.  I thought we may have been light on the clutch but Greg said the clutch felt fine.  We tow back to the trailer to check things out.  We downloaded the run from our onboard data recorder and see that cylinder #3 was not firing.  We checked the plug wire,rocker arm and pushrod and found no problems.  Then we changed the spark plug on that cylinder and that fixed it.  I have always heard of bad spark plugs but this is the first one I have actually seen  myself.
So the first run was not very good, 7.05 @ 195 mph . Not good, but in the show.  We should run a lot better the next pass.  On the second pass the engine was hitting on all eight and sounded great.  We were in the right lane this time and when Greg let the clutch out the front end came way up and the car made a move for the center line, he had to lift and abort that run.  So no improvement.  Well there's always tomorrow.  Tomorrow came with excessive wind, cold and rain.  Did I mention blowing cold rain. Nasty!  Most people stayed in their motorhomes all day.  All racing was scrapped for that day,  which means qualifying is over and the fields were set.  Not good for us since we wasted  the two runs yesterday.  So now the delima.  Do we just dial off of our records?  Yeah we keep records.  Or screw the bad plug back in and dial off of yesterdays first run?
Hmmm, I ponder.  After a lot of point- counterpoint discussion we decide to try to dial with the bad plug installed.   Engine builders close your eyes and ears.  But we tried it and we were not successful.  Busted first round.  The agony of defeat.  Sure weather played a role, but we were all dealt the same hand.
So we loaded up the truck and headed home so we can do it again next week.  Remember what I told you before "That's  why they call it "Drag Racing".  This time it wound up being a drag.