Project Mudslinger's maiden voyage onto the racetrack (seen in last month's issue) ended in mixed reviews. The bad news-we set the wrong toe-in, making the car skittish, and we lost a radiator hose in the feature, ending our night early in a cloud of steam. The good news-we didn't do any major damage to the little red race car.
Preparations for week two were fairly easy. We simply beat out a few dents in the sheetmetal, fixed the toe-in problem (from 1 inch of toe to 1/4 inch), and replaced both radiator hoses with new ones. From the start, Scott Helms and I agreed to rotate the driving privileges. This week, it's my turn.
It was comforting to have a better idea of what was going on at the track. The previous weekend, both the car and driver were brand-new. No one knew what to expect from either. After everyone had cleared out that first night, the management at Lancaster Motor Speedway was kind enough to allow me a few practice laps. Coming into my first race, I had an advantage over Scott in that I knew what the car would feel like when it turned left.
Although the Mudslinger ran...
Although the Mudslinger ran great our second time out, we soon discovered we hadn't solved all the problems.
In the hot laps, it soon became obvious that fixing the toe-in made a world of difference in the car's manner. Before, it was as skittish as a teenage boy meeting his girlfriend's daddy for the first time. Now it felt much more stable and predictable. Later, as the South Carolina clay dried out in the heat and feature races, it only got better.
The racing itself was fairly uneventful. Since it was my first time in real competition, I started the heat and feature from the back of the pack, which meant I had to do a fair amount of dodging other cars that had spun or wrecked. I wasn't comfortable, or, let's face it, fast enough yet to pass anyone on the track. At one point, after a big tangle, I had Darrell Waltrip'd myself all the way up to fourth, simply by puttering past cars that had wrecked or spun.
Trouble came during a caution well into the feature. While cruising around the track holding my place in line, a puff of white smoke came out from around the hood. For a moment, the rear end felt loose. The water temperature was at 240, but started going back down. I was having too much fun and didn't want to admit my night should end early, so I stayed on the track. Two laps later, when the green flag flew again, the car simply wouldn't go. I pulled into the pits on the backstretch and immediately shut it off.
After pulling the valve cover,...
After pulling the valve cover, the first sign of damage from overheating the engine was that the head had lost one of the rocker arms, and another arm showed signs of damage.
I had ignored the warning signs that we had again lost a radiator hose. Most of the water had dumped under the car, which is why the rear end felt loose for a moment. Everyone in the stands knew exactly what happened, but I had blindly kept motoring around the track. I had taken the temperature gauge dropping as a good sign, but that was only because there was no longer fluid in the cooling system. After half-heartedly watching the rest of the Mod 4 race finish, and trying to avoid direct eye contact with Scott, we packed up and left for home as soon as the track cleared.
Back home, we pulled the head off the four-cylinder and discovered the damage wasn't as bad as we had feared. The engine had overheated and seized a couple of exhaust valves, but that was about it. Johnson's Machine Shop, Project Mudslinger's engine builder, had the head back in fighting shape in no time, and we were ready to go racing again the next week. For the record, we now have plans to install a water pressure gauge in the Project Mudslinger cockpit at the next opportunity. There will be a big-fat-idiot light connected to it for yours truly.
The car was back together for a third assault. This time around, we went with NAPA flexible hoses and double-clamped both on each end. The rotation had Scott back in the car, which was good because I had a scheduling conflict and couldn't make it.