Madison, IL -- The holy ground of St. Louis’ Gateway International Raceway has never been particularly kind to us. We’ve been there twice over the years. Our first visit in 1998 would have us spinning a main bearing and a couple of severely burned pistons would be the result of our 2000 visit. Hopefully our third trip would be a little more fruitful.
For the third straight NMCA Super Series race, we were inundated with rain. The deluge started Friday night and didn’t let up until early Sunday morning. It would now be another case of mashing two days of racing into just one. In the weeks leading up to the race, we made a handful of changes and fixes to our car. This is exactly what the Pelech Bros. Racing operation didn’t need. None of the changes were that significant but we’d still need a pass or two to sort them out.
Fortunately, this weekend we’d be functioning under the direction of Applied Nitrous Technology’s, Jeff Prock. From the moment we picked up Jeff at the airport, he was like a caged gorilla that couldn’t wait to take his shot at Gateway International Raceway drag strip and the dense high horsepower air that was enveloping the region.
On Saturday, we did absolutely nothing but watch it rain. The day would be spent doing some minor prep work to the car within the confines of the trailer. While Tim and I did that, Prock sat down with the lap top, calculator, & notebook to work some of the bugs out of our tune up and to formulate his plan of attack. Once that was done, Prock spent some time having discussions with other racers about optimizing their tune-ups.
Later that afternoon, the race would be called for the day. Organization officials informed us that Sunday morning we would have one round of qualifying immediately followed by eliminations. Great! Now the pressure would be on…
We handled a couple last minute details at the track and then headed for dinner with Limited Street racer, Rob Wells and his Father and with our St. Louis area tour guide, Ford Series racer Jason Cohen.
Saturday night was a stormy and restless one… Especially when the tornado sirens went off… Luckily the track’s contents were mostly spared from any damaging weather.
We arrived at the track early Sunday morning to begin prepping the car for the event’s single qualifying session.
The car fired nicely and was running very smoothly. All of the time and fore thought that Prock put in on Saturday had the car sounding and behaving better than ever. The adjustments to the EFI maps were already beginning to pay off. We warmed the engine to operating temperature and began our torque convertor stall tests to further optimize our tune-up. When the engine was placed under load it began to mis-fire but when it wasn’t under load it ran smoothly. We didn’t need that right now…
Prock knew that since there was a misfire, it would certainly show up as an erratic reading on the O2 log. One of the banks of the engine had a mis-firing cylinder, now he’d just have to see which one. It was the even bank… Now is it 2, 4, 6, or 8? We began our witch-hunt. Since there was color in all of the spark plugs, we crossed fuel delivery of our list of suspects. It must be in the ignition then. We then checked every connection we could find looking for a loose wire. We swapped out the cap and rotor of the distributor… We pulled out the Ohmmeter and checked the resistance of each of our new Moroso spark plug wires. Nothing… They were perfect. We even installed a new set of spark plugs. Still to no avail. Whatever gremlin we were playing hide-and-go-seek with had itself an excellent hiding spot. My frustration meter was pegged! It’s always something with this dumb car…
I then climbed on to the roof of the trailer and prepared to jump. But Prock wasn’t giving up quite so easily… He never does…
At that point, he decided to examine the fuel system anyways… Namely the fuel injectors… After I was talked down from the roof, the car was re-fired and ran at an 1800 RPM idle. One-by-one, Prock removed the electrical connections from the injectors. Each time he did, the engine would drop 200 to 300 RPM… That is until he came to the injector for cylinder #2. When he removed that connection, nothing happened… No drop, no rise… Nothing. Suddenly everyones ears perked up… He reconnected it and the engine picked up RPM. We were now idling at 2000. AH HAH! For whatever crazy reason, the injector didn’t completely like its connection and it went out on strike. Once we negotiated with the injector and met it’s minimum operating criteria it happily went back to work with the other injectors.
I was now VERY fired up!
Good work, Prock! Thanks for not giving up…
And to think that we never initially suspected the fuel system… Just goes to show you, assume nothing! Every one is a suspect!
Hurry up! Get the car off the jacks and re-fueled! We’re running out of time!
Moments later, Super Mod qualifying was called to the staging lanes.
The engine was running exactly the way it is intended to… Perfectly! I pulled into the burnout area of the right lane and struck the tires. On Prock’s que, I released the line lock and powered forward out of the water. It felt great! Words can not describe it! What an animal! Lots of power under my right foot, no doubt!
Prock opened the passenger door to handle some last second tasks and gave me the thumbs up. I was confident we were about sit down at Gateway’s high performance buffet and stuff ourselves silly. Then I was awakened from my dream when the car rolled about 10 feet, violently smoked the tires, and sent the tach needle to tilt. That’s nice! Some people watch it happen, some people make it happen, I on the other hand was wondering WHAT HAPPENED?!
Everything looks great, right? Too bad moments later our hopes for capturing the #1 qualifying slot would literally go up in smoke. Tire smoke that is ..
I motored back to the pits in a daze. I didn’t even bother to stop for the time slip. It’s not like there was anything on it that we needed to see. We were, obviously, qualified very low. OK… No matter… We’ll win this thing from basement if we have to.
Tim researched who our opponent would be for first round. It was our old nemesis, Erin Cheffer! Mmm… Good… After the embarrassment that I suffered at the hands of Mr. Cheffer in West Palm Beach, I was primed to settle the score.
For eliminations, changes were made to the tune up, the suspension, and the tire pressure. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t have lane choice and left lane was clearly at the advantage. Needless to say, Erin would have us racing in the right lane.
As we staged for our first round pairing, I was READY! I wasn’t going to allow what happened in Florida to happen to me again. I wanted a piece of that silver car in the opposite lane. I got the jump at the start, but that didn’t matter… This time our car rolled 50’ before it smoked the tires. I so badly wanted to stab the throttle again in an attempt to run him down, but I remembered Prock’s instructions to never “pedal” the car. “You only get one shot.” So at that point, nothing else could be done, our weekend was over.
We’ll now be taking a step or two back to regroup. Some of the things we’ve changed on the car will be put back to the way they were previous to this race. We’ll then re-approach each of those changes on a one-on-one basis... Not the four-changes-at-once that we handed the car.
Losing early hurt, but it’s not like it was the deathblow to our 2002 championship hopes. (Well at least I hope not…) We still have seven races left. The problem is, with each passing race, our opportunities to get to the front of the pack become fewer. Any full time series racer that tells you they don’t pay attention to points is lying! We went into Gateway in second place just 3 ½ rounds out of first. This was where were needed to make our move. I don’t quite want say that our backs are against the wall, but we’re getting pretty close…
Our next race will take us from the Midwest to the East Coast. Through out history, many pivotal battles have been fought in Virginia. I see yet another epic battle looming on the eastern horizon. I can’t wait to get to Virginia Motorsports Park… We’ll turn the tide there… That’s assuming it doesn’t rain…
We’ll talk to you when we get back…
Ted & Tim Pelech
Pelech Bros. Racing