Parked out in front of a defunct...
Parked out in front of a defunct Ford dealership, the Project G.R.E.E.N. Camaro got a lot of attention from fellow racers, fans, and even passers-by from the main highway. Photo by Forrest Jehlik
After our test of the Project G.R.E.E.N. Camaro at New Smyrna Speedway (Jan. '11), I couldn't wait to go out and race the car. The combination of EFI and E85 had the motor pulling so strong around the track, that I knew we had a car that could compete with many of the Super Late Models in and around Florida.
Almost immediately after the test was done we began discussing when and where to race it. Some of the Project G.R.E.E.N. team wanted to race immediately while others thought that heading to a bigger show would benefit the project more. Me? I didn't care where we went, I just wanted to race.
In all of this we did have one major hurdle to clear. The Project G.R.E.E.N. Camaro isn't really legal...anywhere...yet. So we had to work with track promoters and tech officials to get a waiver to run it. Looking back it wasn't all that difficult. I guess when Circle Track magazine comes calling, tracks stand up and take notice. After several discussions we narrowed our choices down and with help from Dennis Huth at ASA and promoter Greg McCarns, we settled on the Trickle 99 at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway.
At Argonne National Laboratory...
At Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago, researchers added a new data acquisition system to the Project G.R.E.E.N. Camaro that would allow them to gather real time fuel flow measurements.
The Trickle 99 takes place on the Friday of La Crosse's annual Oktoberfest race week, a four-day oval track extravaganza at the 1/2-mile speedway in West Salem, Wisconsin. Traditionally, the weekend features 20 different divisions and more than 800 laps of racing. Named for short track legend Dick Trickle, the Trickle 99 is a three-segment 99-lap race for Super Late Models. Each segment is 33 laps with a break in between when other companion races are run. That means we'd be able to work on and adjust the car during the breaks.
CT's Editor, Rob Fisher, wanted to debut the Camaro at a large event and Oktoberfest proved to be the perfect venue. "Our goal was to showcase the fact that new OEM technologies and alternative fuels could make effective racing platforms to a lot of people in one area. The packed grandstands of Oktoberfest did just that," said Fisher.
The Trickle 99 was going to be stacked with some of the most talented Super Late Model racers in the Midwest. Guys like Steve Carlson, Chris Wimmer, and Nathan Haseleu. It would be a true acid test for the Project G.R.E.E.N. Camaro. But there was work to be done before we hit the track.
Argonne National Labs
The data acquisition system...
The data acquisition system uses a sensor that is tapped into the fuel line via a stock pressure regulator and filter. You can see the gray wire leading to the sensor strapped to the red bar.
One of the big treats in this project for me has been the opportunity to meet new people and work in a different environment than the race shop. Part of our Oktoberfest race plan involved adding a data acquisition system to the car that would allow our project partners at Argonne National Laboratory to gather real time fuel flow measurements. In addition, the system would pick up CAN (Controller Area Network) signal codes that come out of the engine's ECU.
Once analyzed, this data allowed Argonne researchers to determine exactly when, where, and how much fuel was being used by the engine. Forrest Jehlik from Argonne told me that he was able to use this data to build a computer model that would allow him to accurately predict fuel consumption on the car to a 0.5-percent accuracy. Now that's some information I'd like to have at every race we run.
Arrival at the Track
Argonne National Laboratory is right outside Chicago and about a five-hour drive to La Crosse, so we left the night before the rest of the crew to get situated. We ended up parking in a closed Ford dealership right in front of the Fairgrounds. With the Project G.R.E.E.N. Camaro behind the hauler and in clear view of a main highway, we had a constant stream of people coming up to the car and asking us what division we ran, what the deal was with the motor, and more. The Camaro body and the LS3 engine really created a buzz, but when people found out we were going to run the race on pump grade E85, they often looked at us like we were crazy.
Argonne researcher Danny Bocci...
Argonne researcher Danny Bocci (a.k.a. Bill Gates) calibrates the data logger which uses a GPS mounted on the rear deck to cross correlate the fuel flow measurements with the car's position on the racetrack.
Because the Project G.R.E.E.N. Camaro is an experimental demonstration vehicle, we asked not to be scored nor did we take any points. We thought it was only fair since we were the only car in the race running with an electronically controlled, fuel-injected motor and one with pump-grade E85 in the tank. None of us minded since our reason for being there was to demonstrate the technology. I'd get my chance to compete for a win the following day but that's another story.
Greg McCarns allowed us to start the feature at the tail end of the field, which put me in 25th place. As soon as the green flag dropped on the first 33-lap segment, I began to drive toward the front. One characteristic of the EFI engine was that I had more torque available earlier in the powerband, meaning I could drive off the corner much faster than the carbureted engines. I'd pull them down the straightaways enough that they couldn't get near me entering the next corner. It's actually a pretty cool feeling to know that going into a race you've got the ability to get off the corner quickly.
Bocci discusses the data with...
Bocci discusses the data with driver Dalton Zehr during a break in practice.
I quickly made it comfortably inside the top 20 when the brake pedal began to get soft. By the time the first segment was over, I only had half a brake pedal. That prevented me from using all of the power the Camaro had. Mark Jones, crew chief, and I spent much of the break between the first and second segments searching for and ultimately repairing the problem. Debris on the track had caused a hairline crack in one of the master cylinder reservoirs and the Camaro was slowly loosing fluid. I remembered hitting something but I really didn't think anything of it at the time.
We barely had enough time to finish the repair and get back onto the racetrack for segment number two. I spent much of that 33-lap segment tip toeing my way around the track to make sure the problem was repaired. I figured I'd throw down in the final segment.
The Project G.R.E.E.N. Camaro...
The Project G.R.E.E.N. Camaro runs on pump-grade E85 which costs about $2.65 per gallon. The track was selling race fuel during Oktoberfest for $10.75 per gallon, quaite a difference wouldn't you say?
After some minor chassis adjustments and a once over on the brake system during the break between segments two and three, the Project G.R.E.E.N. team was ready to tackle the final segment. Because of our brake problems we restarted the third segment dead last (25th). But once again, the EFI motor coupled with the E85 proved to be a really racey platform and I came through the field to finish the equivalent of 15th just behind the yellow No. 22 of Nick Panitzke from Sauk Centre, Minnesota, and in front of Ross Kenseth (son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Matt Kenseth).
The engine ran flawlessly against the more powerful Super Late Models. And when you sit back and analyze it, it's pretty impressive. We took a basically stock LS3, the same EFI engine found in a production Camaro and ran competitively against the best SLM racers in the country. I was really able to power off the corners and down the straight, a direct result of the electronically controlled engine.
Another important factor that makes EFI not only an effective oval track racing platform but one that I'll continually promote has to do with ease of travel. What do I mean by that? It's simple. Oktoberfest is, obviously, in October in Wisconsin. The last time the car was run was at our track test at New Smyrna Speedway in July in Florida. Once back from that test, the car sat in our shop until a few days before we were scheduled to head north. We did our final prep and literally loaded the car onto the hauler and drove to Chicago. The car was fired a couple times at Argonne and then we loaded it back up and headed to the track. We put fresh tires on for practice and went out and turned respectable 18.8 second laps.
Between each practice session...
Between each practice session Danny plugged his laptop into the car and downloaded the fuel flow data. Eventually, we plan to have a setup where we can download the data in real time, rather than having to wait for a pit stop, but those systems are a bit more costly to gather the same data.
Now, Florida in July is quite a bit hotter and definitely more humid than Wisconsin in October. However, we didn't touch the engine once between these two events. That's right, no tuning necessary. And don't forget we ran E85 and race fuel through the engine during the test but are now running E85 exclusively in the race. Yet we didn't have to change anything on the motor, it's completely self-calibrating. Try that with a carburetor. While other teams were changing jets, we were drinking sodas and eating pistachio nuts.
This technology makes it easier, more economical, and truthfully more fun to race. I believe that using EFI technology in short track racing will give racers more options at a lower cost and really provide an opportunity to grow our sport. I'm not the only one who thinks so either, many of the competitors we raced against this weekend were very interested in not only the LS3 engine in our car but the body as well. I see the future of our sport being not so far removed from the showrooms of the car dealers.
Midwestern hospitality allowed Circle Track to achieve our goal of proving the worth of this technology. If it weren't for Dennis Huth at ASA and Greg McCarns (La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway), we never would have been able to race this car at such a high profile event as Oktoberfest. We are eternally grateful for their hospitality and support of Project G.R.E.E.N.
Although the checkered flag has fallen on Project G.R.E.E.N.'s first race, it's not the end for the bright red Camaro. On the contrary, it's just the beginning. The team is taking the car back to Florida for further testing and development work that will lead short track racing right into the 21st century and beyond. The car is slated to be featured at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Orlando, Florida, from December 9-11, 2010. But who knows, it may just make another track appearance before then.
There was no shortage of cars...
There was no shortage of cars trying to make the field for the Trickle 99-62 of them in all.
Gene Coleman, owner of Coleman...
Gene Coleman, owner of Coleman Racing Products and a self-described "old school racer," examines Project G.R.E.E.N.'s EFI motor. In the span of one race, Gene has become an EFI convert. Ask him and he'll tell you.
We had a brake problem during...
We had a brake problem during the race that caused us to loss pedal during the first segment.
Project G.R.E.E.N. driver...
Project G.R.E.E.N. driver Dalton Zehr dives under Brian Johnson Jr. to make a pass exiting Turn 4, a scene he'd repeat numerous times thanks to the broad torque curve of our EFI motor. Photo by Doug Hornickle
While some people may say...
While some people may say EFI gives an unfair advantage, we believe that it's really our good friend Evel Kneivel. Evel, kept a watchful, if not bobbling, eye on Dalton during the whole race. And with the exception of one minor excursion out the window during practice, the little guy stayed put. Fortunately a track official fetched the daredevil off the frontstretch and gave him back to us. We zip tied his butt to a rollbar for the race just in case the motorcycle legend decided to pull some more shenanigans.