Martin, MI -- The short, two-hour trip to US131 Dragway not only marks the beginning of the second half of the season but also the beginning of the NMCA/NSCA Super Series "Northern Swing". Finally, we don't have to go to the track, the tracks are practically coming to us. The final 5 races are all less then 5 hours from home. Thank God...
After less then spectacular performances at St. Louis, Virginia, and Maryland, we were left with no other option but to send our car to the crusher. OK... Even though I did seriously consider crushing the car and selling it for scrap, we didn't. What we did actually do was completely dismantle our car. About the only thing left on the frame and body was paint. We pulled all of the suspension off the
car. All of it!
Tony coordinated sending out our shocks & springs for testing and arranged for their return. We also ordered some different rear springs as well. While waiting for all these boxes to crash the door, I inspected every square inch of the chassis and VERY closely inspected all of the mounting brackets. I pointed every light in the shop under the car and grabbed a handful of rags & a can of brake cleaner. After thoroughly cleaning the bottom of the car and becoming completely baked by brake cleaner fumes (they're serious when the say "well ventilated"), I started tapping around listening for an indication of a cracked or broken tube, weld, or bracket. I didn't find anything that was cracked, broke, bent, dented, smashed, trashed, mutilated, spindled, or folded and nothing was rusted, busted, corroded or exploded. Everything was fine. But who knows for sure, I was trashed on brake cleaner.
The shocks & springs returned shortly there after. Unfortunately, all had performed flawlessly in testing. As disturbing as it sounds, I would've preferred to have been told that something was completely junked and that it was going to cost me several hundred dollars to have it fixed or replaced. As least we would've known for sure why our punk of a car was acting so unruly. So here we are standing knee deep in suspension parts. I quickly got to work reassembling the suspension so that the car was mobile again. I had to hurry up and get it done so we would be on time for our weekend appointment at the nearly famous Al Bergler's shop to install our new and improved rear sway bar that is MUCH beefier then our previous. Uncle Al prides himself on his customer service policy and same day service. He got us in and out very quickly.
Tim made mention that our relatively new wheelie bars were already looking pretty well mangled. Since we were starting completely over, we better eliminate the trashed wheelie bars from the equation. We wanted to be sure that NONE of the suspension components would be in question as we worked to re-establish a functional base line set up. So at the last minute, Tim quickly fabbed up a new set of stronger, longer wheelie bars.
Now the car was now practically brand new again in the suspension department. OK... Put it in the trailer and let's go break something.... Click here for the rest of the story...
It was nice to not have to leave for the track until Friday morning. We casually pulled into the newly refurbished US131 Motorsports Park and prepared to set up camp. The place was nice in construction and layout, but it was a dry, dusty, dirty mess. The grass barely had the opportunity
to sprout before we were trampling over it. I think it's safer to say we were pitted in the sand then to say we were pitted on grass. I was kind of disappointed to see such a beautiful facility come up short with unpaved pits. Hopefully paved pits are part of the future plans...
With as dusty as the place was, we departed for a lumberyard to purchase some cheap carpet to lay down under our car. We selected beige; a nice neutral earth tone that perfectly complimented the natural colors of the dirt and the few burned out, dying blades of grass that surrounded us. After that was complete, we prepared the car for Prock's arrival and the Friday evening test session.
Temperatures were expected to soar this weekend and they did. We inspected the new racing surface with members of the Catalano operation. It was very green with very little rubber down and it was getting very hot. At that point, I started having flashbacks to the tire torturing, slip and slide party that was our Cecil County outing. I freaked out and got on the phone to Tony & Mike back at headquarters (and anywhere else that might be helpful) in a panicked attempt to get a pair of wide rims and big tires ordered and sent to the track by Saturday morning. They tried everything they could but couldn't pull it off in time. We had no choice to run what we brung and that was the trusty old 10.5Ws. Hopefully, they wouldn't let us down. But I wasn't gonna hold my breath.
This placed an even greater sense of urgency to our testing and qualifying. Prock would only be with us for Friday & Saturday and we needed to make sure the car was working well before he left. Jeff was leaving Sunday morning for a week of testing in Sweden with some of the European street car contingent. He is now, truly, an international man of mystery and intrigue... Anyhow... Prock and Tim commenced with the final measurements and adjustments to our suspension set up. I was instructed to suit up and we then rolled on to the track for our test shot.
Applied Nitrous Technology's Jeff Prock, Fast Times Motorworks Jeff D'Agostino, and EZ Street stand-out Bob Curran discuss the finer points of the NOS plate system.
Everything we needed to know would be accomplished within the first 60' to 330' of the track. Prock's orders were to march to the 1/8 and lift assuming that we even hooked up in the first place. An oil down set us back quite a while and by the time we did get the nod to go, our nitrous bottle had cooled off and was running about 825 psi or so. We thought about swapping the bottle out for a warm one, but Prock vetoed the notion. He said, "Nah… Leave it alone. The car might be a little soft, but for what we're trying to accomplish, it'll be fine. It'll keep the tune up safe too."
Finally our time came. It's been so long since we've made a hooked up pass that I almost didn't know what to do. To complicate matters further, on the launch the tach rotated on it's mounting point right out of my line of sight. I was now looking at the side of my tach. That's no good. I just rolled my eyes, sighed, and slapped the tach back into position. By then the needle was approaching my shift point and the shift light went on. So... I shifted… And shortly after, lifted. With the tach attempting to fly into the trunk, I knew we were hooked up pretty good. We were already pretty pleased considering our untried set up and the shaky racing surface. We now had our starting point.
The car was dragged back to our pit for the typical shake down before loading it in the trailer for the night. Everything was proceeding smoothly and there was little-to-no concern as we began removing spark plugs for a reading. Plug #3 was pulled and the sound of groans could immediately be heard through out our pit. Yep... It burned #3. No way... There was NO possible WAY this thing burned. In denial, we pulled out the compression and leak down checkers in the hope that maybe it just nipped the plug alone, after all the bottle pressure was down, there was no death-puff of white smoke, and we didn't run it through the top end. It was just a short blip. It can't be burned. Yep, it was burned...
It's 11:30PM! $*@&$)!!! It'll be 5-in-the-morning before we have this )%$*@!( thing back together!
Get the hook...
We've got a whole pile of important guest who will be dropping by tomorrow and we need to have the thing healthy and running well for them.
It was late and everybody would've much rather have went back to the hotel, me included. Instead, it was time to get busy. Now you don't need an army to replace a piston. It's pretty much a one man job. I told the gang to just help me get the engine out of the car and on the stand. I wouldn't need them any more after that and they could go back to the hotel to get some rest. But none of them were really interested in the offer. Instead, and I don't know why, they decided to hold a all night trailer side candle light vigil as I worked on the motor. Well everyone but Tim... He chose to just go to sleep behind the car on our plush new carpet.
As we worked through the late hours, several different creatures of the night passed by our door. Raccoons, skunks, Erin Cheffer, opossums, Joel O'Donnel, owls, and their bud Jimmy were all drawn like bugs to the light of our trailer. The Anderson brothers, Gene and David, also stopped in to convey their condolences and extend their best wishes to our injured patient. They also demanded to be mentioned in this very write up just for stopping by. OK, fine! The Andersons soon joined Prock, Cheffer, O'Donnel, Jimmy, and the other nocturnal creatures outside our trailer. Between the clicks of the torque wrench, I swear I could hear singing. As I adjusted the torque wrench, I peered out of the trailer to investigate. What did I see? All of our visitors had joined hands and, led by our crew chief Jeff Prock, they were singing a very heart felt rendition of the old religious folk song Kumbaya.
One by one they each took a verse and then joined together on the chorus.
Erin Cheffer started with "Somebody needs you Lord... Kumbaya... " I just thought, "Hmm... This is odd..." But whatever... If this makes them all feel better so be it. I continued to listen as I plodded along.
O'Donnel led his verse, "Somebody's praying Lord... Kumbaya... " I thought, "Yeah, somebody's praying all right... Somebody like ME!" I was beginning to get a little annoyed.
Even though these guys were now becoming a distraction, I labored on. But I was truly touched when the Anderson brothers harmonized on their verse, "We need a blessing Lord... Kumbaya..." Yep, we definitely need a blessing right now, I thought. That's normally Bernice Flosky's (Tony's wife… But that's Mrs. Flosky to you.) department (She got connections, you know....) but we'll take all the help we can get. These guys were bugging me now....
Now Jeff takes hurt pistons very personally. VERY PERSONALLY. But this was a little out of character for him. I tried to just ignore it and continue working, but when I heard him lead the verse, "I need a miracle, Lord.... Kumbaya..." That was it. That was all I could take. I couldn't put up with this any more. I had too much work to do. So I had no choice but to chase these animals back into the woods. I jumped out of the trailer, wildly swinging my torque wrench. At that point the candle light vigil was over and people were scattering! Soon order was restored. Once everything settled down and silence returned, beside the chirping of the crickets, the low groan of our generator and the clicking of my torque wrench were the only sounds that could be heard.
The dark eastern sky was just beginning to lighten up as I tightened down the last nut on the last valve cover. We locked up and headed to the hotel to sneak in a couple hours of sleep and a hot shower. It wasn't long before Tim and I quietly left Jeff and Tammy sleeping as we went back to the track to run through everything one more time before the car hit the track for qualifying. A couple last minute details and we back in business. Jeff showed up not long after us and he began to ponder the necessary refinements to the tune up. The engine was fired and the sweet smell of racing fuel wafted through the morning air as the pits slowly came back to life. The valves were lashed, new plugs were installed, the battery recharged, and the nitrous bottles were warmed in preparation for our first qualifying attempt of the day.
By now, many of our guests were beginning to arrive. We hoped we'd be showing them something that was worth driving all the way to Martin. And we did... A nice 7.75 at almost 180MPH was carded for our first attempt. Hmmph... I guess I actually put it back together correctly. Wonders never cease... The run was fairly nice, and relatively uneventful. It wobbled
the tires a bit, but overall it was a good run for the preliminary #1 qualifying position. Now the question is; will it hold up through the rest of the round. There were several tough guys who were capable of out running the number that were still to hit the track. One by one our fellow competitors made their runs. At the conclusion of the first round of qualifying, our 7.75 stuck for #1! But let's not call it a day just yet. There's still two more rounds of qualifying and I'm sure our competitors will only get faster. We'd run a good number that we knew would have us positioned well on the eliminations ladder so now was the time to experiment. Which is exactly what Prock would do. The Pelech pits were pleased.
Our second qualifying run wasn't quite so pretty. It had begun to get warm out and track was going away… And so was our opportunity to better our 7.75 pass. We were back to our old tire smoking ways. Another aborted pass... The Pelech pit grew restless. That's OK... We were experimenting. Needless to say, we didn't improve on our 7.75, but luckily, neither did anyone else... After two rounds of qualifying, we were still #1.
After reviewing the qualifying numbers for Round 2, I started making wishes. Part of me wished the show slowed down so that our final attempt wouldn't be made until later in the evening when the track would come back around and we'd have a better chance of improving. But then again, so would the competition. Then I started wishing for the 3rd round to be run ASAP, in the heat of the day when the track was at it's worst and when our competitor would have the most difficulty in bettering our number. In reality, it didn't matter because the whole thing was out of my hands anyhow.
Dr. Prock prepped the car for his next experiment and we headed to the staging lanes for our final round of qualifying. We kind of hung back at the rear of the lanes so that we could observe the other competitor's performances before we made our run. I was belted in to the car as Tim watched from the front of the staging lanes as final attempts were being made. The guy who was most likely to beat us out for the #1 slot, Jim Huber, rolled to make his final run. From where I was sitting, I couldn't see what was going on so I just watched Tim for a reaction. Tim turned with a slight smile on his face, pointed in my direction, and then gave me the #1 sign! We managed to make it all the way through three rounds of qualifying and our #1 position was still intact. I pulled around the corner into the water and proceeded with the burn out. All of the pressure was off because this pass was no longer as critical as it once was. And I'm glad that was the case because the car once again smoked the tires. I killed the nitrous switch and motored into the shut down area and then back to our trailer.
There was lots of smiling faces in the Pelech Bros. Racing pits when we returned! Since we didn't make anything even near a complete run, the engine had been spared for the evening. The only thing left to do now was prep the car for lock down and put it away. Since Prock was leaving for Sweden in the morning, he gave us the run down for Sunday's on track activities before we all went our separate ways for the night. Remember, I had very little sleep and the heat had further exhausted me. I was nearly asleep before we even left the track.
On Sunday morning, the car would be taken back to where it was for the 7.75 run. We had a bye-run for the first round to assure that we were back where we needed to be. So that was cool.
For our first round solo, the car ran a 7.81 at about 179-or-so. Not too bad... It did put up a bit of a stink when going on to the convertor and it did jiggle the tires again at the launch, but that should be a decent race day number, assuming that we can hold on to it. The 7.81 will give us lane choice for round two of eliminations. Not that it'll really matter. Both lanes were equally inadequate for our purposes.
Jim Monson would be our next combatant. Jim has been progressively ironing out his new combo and has been slowly but surely getting faster. But I was more concerned about Jim riding on large tires. He held the advantage on this slick track. It's a rare day when he aborts a run and we had done it twice in qualifying alone! He was surely going to get down the track and if we struggle, he'll knock us out. In the staging lanes, Monson had his boys try to lay a little voodoo on us. They circled the car with goats blood and danced around the car while chanting some incoherent gibberish about dead batteries or starters or something... And as we prepared to do our burn out, one of them whipped my door open and threw chicken claws and feathers inside the car. Now, if they had thrown a bucket of Kentucky Fried in the car, they would've had a better chance of distracting me. Next time, don't go so cheap boys. Instead of digging through the dumpster for scrap parts, go to the counter and place an order.
We completed the burn out and staged the car. When I mashed the throttle, the car again didn't want to go on the convertor. Oh no! Maybe their voo doo worked! The starting lights flashed and for an extra split second, I waited for the convertor. If I let the trans-brake button go now, it will certainly blow the intake manifold clean off the car. Monson left and I could wait no more... If it's gonna blow, it's gonna blow... But I ain't gonna let this race go without even making an attempt. So with a flinch, I let of the trans-brake button. When I did, the car tried to beat the tires square. It shook the snot out of them. So now I'm late, Monson's out on me, and the tires are shaking like a bowl of grape jello in an 7.0 earthquake. Ugh! The voo doo definitely worked. I short shifted and waited to see what happened. Miraculously, the car cleaned itself up and began reeling Monson in. We sneaked by with a 7.87, or something like that, to advance to the semi-finals. Their low brow, black art tactics didn't work after all. Two lessons learned here. Good will always triumph over evil and don't mess with Mrs. Flosky!
In the semi-finals we'd be paired with another big tire car, it was the guy who dominated the Cecil County race, Anthony Di Somma. The conditions at Martin weren't much different then Cecil County... Very hot and slippery with the track getting worse with each passing hour. But Anthony seemed to be a little off this weekend. We were detuning the engine just as fast as we could to keep up with the deteriorating track conditions.. This may sound a little deranged but I was on the verge of praying for an oil down... Or two... Or three... Anything, just as long as it would slow the show into the later evening hours when the sun would be lower. I figured that track may come back around then. That would definitely slant things in our favor. But to know avail, we'd be racing at the worst possible time of day and that was right now. We looked over both lanes and consulted with Jeff D'Agostino of Fast Times Motorworks. He favored the left lane and we weren't about to argue with a man of his expertise. In fact, Mr. D'Agostino was even so kind as to line me up in his preferred racing groove. But even then, we evidentially didn't detune the engine enough. The car lost traction at just about the 60' mark. I aborted the pass and conceded to Di Somma. In hindsight, I guess I should've gotten a little braver in Prock's absence and adjusted the shocks after all. But that the beauty of hindsight, now isn't it?
I returned to our pit and several long faces. We had a strong car that day and if we could've kept a leash on it, or got some big tires on it, we certainly could've won. Mom welled up a tear at the disappointment of her boys losing. I just chuckled and explained to Mom that this wasn't our first loss and there will be many more to come. So don't shed many more tears, you'll need some for later. In every pairing of every round, somebody must lose. It's a cruel sport, but this is how it works. I mentioned how were just one of fifteen other competitors who had lost. Maybe it'll be our turn in Grand Bend...
It was nice to have so much help when it came time to pack up. We were ready to depart in no time at all. We thanked our guests for coming out, apologized for our inadequacy, and hastily departed the track so we could catch dinner… On Mom's dollar. We caught a bite at the Outback in Kalamazoo and returned to headquarters just an hour-or-so later. Our stuff was unloaded and I was actually in bed before midnight on Sunday. You can't beat that!
So another weekend of NMCA Super Series championship racing had come to a premature end for us. But I'm not too disappointed. I think we did very well considering the adverse track conditions and the fact we were starting over on the suspension set up. And speaking of championships... Our #1 qualifying effort coupled with our semi-final finish gave us a greatly needed boost in the championship points chase. But we need more. We need to not only be going to the final round, we need to be winning final rounds, and setting a record or two along the way. At this point, taking the overall championship is a pretty tall order, but second place is wide open right now and several good teams are in contention for it. Buckle up! This ride could get bumpy.
After last year's disappointment with our final standing in the national points, I swore I'd never allow us to get caught up in the same desperate rat race that we did at the very end of last season. But here we are and it looks like we're headed down the same dark alley. We're making changes we shouldn't make, spending money we shouldn't spend, and just plain doing things we should be doing, not to mention, working harder then we should've been working. But oh well... You got to have goals and what good are they if you aren't willing to do what it takes to achieve them.
We’ll try it again in Grand Bend… See you there…
Ted & Tim Pelech
Pelech Bros. Racing