Good Times at Grand Bend!|
July 27, 2002
Grand Bend, Ont, Canada -- Grand Bend holds many of my fondest personal racing memories. It's a place where it just seems we can do no wrong. From a few #1 qualifying efforts and a pair of wins in the former Canadian Shoot Out Series to running our first 7-seventy-range pass and officially setting a former NMCA Super Modified elapsed time record, the racing surface at the Grand Bend Motorplex is just too kind to us. Our string of good fortune would continue with this year's visit to "The Bend", but as usual we'd have to endure our typical rash of early trials and tribulations. It was the normal spectacle and drama that is NMCA Drag Racing...
The first test of our resolve would come on Friday evening as we prepared to make a check out run. The engine was being warmed in anticipation of hot lashing the valves. Just as the temperature gauge was getting close to the desired reading, a very distinct squealing noise could be heard over the low rumble of our idling engine. I immediately cut the power. We pulled the valve covers and a short discussion took place in order to determine the source of the squealing. A moment later, we were removing rocker arms and push rods so that I could fish lifters out of their bores. Fortunately, I didn't have to go far. The roller wheel on the intake lifter for the number one cylinder had given up the high performance fight. Even more fortunate, we had caught it before any damage had been done to the cam lobe. I grabbed a spare lifter out of the cabinet, lowered it into its bore, and completed the re-installation of the push rods and rockers. By now the cool night air had moved in and the dew had began to settle on to the track. Our opportunity to test had passed for the evening. That was pretty much a drag because this would the first time we'd be running on our new Hoosier tires. They are significantly wider and slightly taller then what we're accustomed to running so we badly needed to get some experience with them. It wouldn't be Friday night though...
This made an already busy weekend, even busier for us. This event would be filled with a couple potential "extras" for us. Our transmission builder, the venerable John Hutchinson (a.k.a. Hutch) of Hutchinson Transmission Service was on hand to dole out some bonus cash for top qualifying customers in Super Modified and Nostalgia Pro Street. Now is that cool or what? Thanks Hutch! Then there is also the B.E.S. Chicago Style Shoot Out. This is where the top three qualifiers in Super Modified, Super Street, and Nostalgia Pro Street would all be thrown in the same cage to duke it out for a piece of a nearly $1500 pie after the final round of qualifying! This gig would pay you $100 just to make the show! The Grand Bend Motorplex would also serve as the forum for the Super Modified/Super Street rules/class structure meeting. We would be discussing the direction/structure of both classes for the 2003 season and beyond.
The next morning, we warmed the motor with all ears carefully listening for a sign of further trouble. Nothing! The valves were lashed and we were ready for qualifying in front of a packed house. Canadian fans are great and they come out in droves every time the NMCA comes to town. Not surprisingly, it was much of the same this year.
For the first round of qualifying, we'd post a somewhat disappointing 7.87 at a very slow 171mph. Why was the mph so far down from what we're typically accustomed to? Not sure... Was there a chance I lifted at the score boards, which are about the 1000' mark, instead of running it all the way through? I didn't think so, but maybe... Well make sure next time, OK? OK... We were currently parked in the #2 qualifier slot. We reviewed the data-logs and concluded the car really wasn't going anywhere anyhow. The new Hoosier tires were only slightly taller so the circumference (roll-out) couldn't be that much different and the weight is surprisingly the same as our old 10.5s. So why so lazy? Why don't we change the rear gear and see what happens... So that is exactly what we'd do. We headed for the staging lanes for qualifier #2 a short time later.
The results from the second qualifier did improve, but only slightly. We ran a 7.83 at a paltry 173.2 mph. I reached up, hit the parachute lever, shut off the nitrous & ignition, and shifted into neutral as I crossed the finish line and sped into the shut down area. Shortly after I felt the tug of the parachute opening, the car made a strong move towards the wall. With white knuckles, I carefully coaxed the car away from the rail. But no sooner had I done that, the rear of the car again drifted out and I was once again pointed at the wall. And again I was able to steer it away... I rolled into the last turn off absolutely convinced that I had gotten into some oil that was left form a oil down just a few pairs before. I exited the car and headed towards one of the safety crew so I could inform them to take a look at the track. The safety crew member pointed toward the ground behind our car and then told me what really happened.
I looked down at the wheelie bars. That's when I saw one of the shroud lines wrapped around the t-handled quick release pin. This obviously explained why the 'chute didn't open evenly and, as a result, the rear of the car was being steered around. I was slightly embarrassed as I untangled the line. At that point I just said, "Thanks" to the safety crew guys, told'em to keep up the good work, and I quickly gathered up the rest of the parachute as I made a hasty exit from the area to save myself further embarrassment.
Upon returning to the pits, we further reviewed the data logs. What on earth is going on here? Where has all our mile-per-hour gone? The other Super Mod competitors are running MPHs close to what they normally do so we can't blame the track timers. At least we were qualified #1 now. But every member of the Pelech Bros. crew knew that 7.83 wouldn't stand for long. The crew then began to prep the car for our third and final qualifying attempt. In the mean time I decided to exercise my open invitation to come into the tower and converse with NMCA announcer, Al Tucci. I always make a point of visiting with NMCA announcers Al Tucci and Marv Noel at every event. It's always fun to go up and chat with those guys. It gives the spectators a glimpse into what going on back in the pits as well as a different perspective of what's happening on the track. It also allows me to give our sponsors valuable air time exposure, and in this case, especially Hutch's Transmission Service since we were at his home track.
Al and I chatted for a few minutes and as I exited race the control room of the tower, NMCA Tech Director, Rob Barnes pulled me aside and redirected me to the hospitality suite. He told me there was somebody in the suite that wished to have a word with me. I thought, "That’s cool... Who have I offended now?" I nervously entered the room and announced my presence. "Hello... I'm Ted Pelech... I was told somebody wanted to speak with me?" A lady approached and introduced herself as Sandy Rissman from DTS, a.k.a. Drive Train Specialists. For the uniniated, DTS is the Super Modified class sponsor. Our General Manager, Tony Flosky has spoke with Sandy on several occasions, but up to that point, I had not had the pleasure of talking with her. As we chatted for a few moments, she expressed her excitement and enthusiasm for DTS's involvement with the NMCA and the Super Modified class. It was also mentioned that this was the first time she had attended a drag race and she was just in love with it. Unfortunately, I couldn't talk too much longer with her and I had to politely excuse myself back to our pit to assist with preparation for our final round of qualifying. But before Sandy and I parted company, I invited her to stop by our trailer for a "Cliff Notes" education in drag racing.
I returned to our pit and a completely race ready car. The crew and our guests were just casually sitting around and conversing. We proceeded to the staging lanes for the last time on Saturday. As our car crossed the top end beams, a 7.82 / 173.4 mph would be displayed on the scoreboards. Still another elapsed time improvement but barely a MPH improvement. Unfortunately we didn't improve enough in the ET department to hold our #1 spot. We ended up getting bumped down to #2 which was still good enough to get into the BES Chicago style Shoot Out, but the ET wasn't going to be good enough to get anywhere in the Shoot Out.
The typical post-run maintenance was executed with additional attention still being paid to the cylinder #1 valve train. Everything looked good, but... The spark plug from #1 showed an ever-so-slight trace of oil. It was barely even enough to be concerned about, but.... It was enough to be concerned about because it wasn't there the run before.
It wasn't much later that Sandy and her escort Bob stopped by. I introduced her to the Pelech Bros. Racing team and familiarized her with the Super Modified class as well the components that make up a Super Modified car. As our car was prepared for the BES Shoot Out, Pelech Bros. Racing general manager Tony Flosky and myself then accompanied Sandy and Bob (or Bob and Sandy) on tour of the Super Mod pits. We also introduced them to many of the drivers & crews and familiarized them with those team's cars.
As I said earlier, our #2 qualifying position was enough to get us into the BES Chicago Shoot Out. This would be a one shot deal to make the $500 bonus round. Of the nine cars from the three classes, only the fastest two would advance to the Shoot Out final round. For the initial round, we'd be running Jim Huber. Not that it really mattered; all three of the Super Mod guys weren't going to have much of a fair chance against the Nostalgia Pro Street and Super Street cars. There was really no point in beating on our parts by making a hard run. Huber as well as ourselves realized this, so for fun we raced Huber straight engine to engine with no nitrous oxide. The race was obviously pretty boring, with Huber running slow and us running even slower. But as I mentioned earlier, there was no point in either of us running hard, especially considering that we may have a problem on our hands with the #1 cylinder. We'd just graciously accept our $100 from BES and call it good. We pulled the spark plugs again hoping that the oil on #1 was a fluke. It wasn't. It was there again in the same minuscule amount.
Now the question was; do we pull the motor and do exploratory surgery on hole #1 or do we let it ride. Crew Chief Prock looked at some things, checked some things, put some gauges to some things, and thought about some things. He then disappeared into the trailer for a few minutes. We could hear somebody chanting in Latin from inside the trailer. With a boom, a flash of light, and a puff of smoke, Prock emerged from the trailer. We all eagerly looked to him for this answer. "We'll race the damn thing just the way it is." We've seen it plenty of times before, especially with the thin, synthetic Royal Purple Oil that we race with and especially with our out-dated oil pan. Royal Purple is probably the only oil that nitrous oxide will tolerate. In most cases, when oil is introduced into the nitrous combustion process, the pistons become victims. With the Royal Purple, we get the best of both worlds, more power and less volatility with the nitrous.
With Prock's executive order, we commenced with locking down the Pelech Bros. Racing compound for the evening.
It had rained all night and as we awoke on Sunday morning we were greeted with a cold rain and the blustery Canadian north winds. The weather reports seemed pretty shaky for the day so we kind of dragged our feet getting to the track. When we did finally arrive at the track, management informed us that there were three strong weather fronts swirling over our heads, with the strongest headed directly for us. Due to that, they also recommended that we take down our canopy before Mother Nature ripped it down. We were told a decision on whether we’d wait the weather out or we'd be dismissed for the weekend was forthcoming shortly. Racing for the day was looking pretty bleak. But we were making the most of it anyhow! Crewman Todd and his lovely wife Amy whipped up breakfast for the entire PBR entourage. Love those two! They are fantastic people! We were treated to their culinary stylings with a delightful menu of delicious scrambled eggs, sausage links, hash browns, and toast. All concocted right in the PBR pits!
After breakfast Prock and I headed off to the Super Modified/Super Street class structure conference. The short version of that story is nothing major will be changed in either class for 2003. We'll just have to wait to see for sure, I guess. As we left the meeting, we were told that the weather outlook was improving rapidly and it looked like we were going to be racing! We hurried back to pits to go over the car one last time and to make sure it was race ready before eliminations started.
In the first round of eliminations, we'd be racing the Nova of Windsor, Ontario's Jim Pollier. I shared a few words with Jim in the staging lanes before our race. He informed me that he had just ran his first ever 8-second pass in qualifying so win-or-lose, he was going to be a happy guy. We shook hands, wished each other well, and belted into our cars. At the start of our race, Jim gambled on the tree and came up snake eyes as he redlighted the start. We ran 7.89 at only 178.00 MPH. What is wrong with this thing?! We did finally see a significant improvement in the MPH department, even though it was still off our usual pace.
When the valve covers were pulled for valve lashing, a small piece of metal was found laying on the cylinder head in the oil. Closer examination revealed that foreign substance was A PIECE OF THE EXPANDER FROM THE OIL RING!!! How on God's green earth did that thing get all way up into the top of the engine?!!! Where did it come from? Was it an old piece that lodged in the block, oil pan, or heads somewhere only to be shaken loose now? Or did it break off on assembly? Or did it break while running? Was this the reason for oil on the #1 spark plug? None of the spark plugs looked any worse then they had... And if an oil ring stack had failed, I certainly would've thought we'd see A LOT of oil on a spark plug. The compression and leak down showed no major concern. A couple of the numbers were down a touch, but nothing that pin pointed a problem or indicated that we shouldn't continue racing. So race we would.
Side Note: Class is now in session. Can I have your attention, please... Let's hypothesize on the dynamic, as well as the order of events, that would've had to take place in order for that piece of oil ring to get to the TOP of the engine. We will base our assumptions on the fact that the errant piece of oil ring WAS installed in the engine in its proper FORM... as well as FUNCTION.
FIRST, the end of the expander would have to break. THEN it would have to work itself free of the two actual scraper rings. Neither would be difficult to accomplish in today’s high-revving racing engines. NOW, almost miraculously the relatively LARGE... Piece of expander would have to pass through a piston to wall clearance of LESS then .010 of an inch. Hmm... Speculating on how that could occur is irrelevant at this juncture of our hypothesis. We are more concerned with travel of our expander piece from the time it made contact with the crankshaft. Now lets refocus class... AS I was saying, once free of the piston assembly, the fugitive BIT of expander was free to drop into the roto-tiller like crank and rods. For the purposes of our STUDY, one must assume that the bit in question was batted upward into the bottom of the open camshaft tunnel, where the camshaft lobes PROCEEDED to swirl our bit around like a cat would be swirled around in a washing machine. At some POINT... We will also assume that ONE of the cam lobes swatted our well-traveled bit of expander right through one of the lifter valley oil drain back holes. BULLSEYE class! Our bit is now free to travel about in the comparatively serene setting of the lifter valley. IN order for OUR... BIT... To complete it's unholy pilgrimage, it would next have to encounter the frantic reciprocation of the lifters and pushrods. UPON encountering a lifter that could be potentially operating at 4500+ cycles per MINUTE, our wayward traveler would have most likely catapulted upward through one of the large pushrod passages. Now reaching the height of it's journey and the theoretical ceiling, our sure to be exhausted piece of expander ring was free to fall to it's final resting place in the lower rail of the cylinder head where it awaited discovery.
This would lead us to conclude...
Hell hath no fury like the internal atmosphere of a short stroke big block at 9000+ RPM!
For Round 2 of eliminations, we'd be tangling with the East Coast's, Anthony Di Somma. Anthony had been thrashing hard on his engine Saturday evening after damaging a piston in qualifying. A 7.95 for his first round victory showed that he was reasonably back on his feet. Performance wise, our first round 7.89 was well off our usual pace. I needed to be sharp in the driver’s seat being that our car was somewhat unresponsive to tuning changes. I was fired way up as we pulled forward for our match up. The ball was in our court and I was NOT going to allow us to be beat on a holeshot! The starting lights flashed and I let it happen! A .465 reaction time coupled with a 7.88 at 179.42MPH was put up on our board. Anthony had more troubles though as he came to a unscheduled landing shortly after take off. According to Anthony, a transmission failure was to blame for his car coming to a premature stop. We were now on our way to the semi-final round.
By our #2 qualifying berth, we would have an earned bye-run for the semi-finals. This is a switch for us... Normally we're the guys that have to race for the final round shot. It was nice to have a test pass heading into the final. And test we would... Prock was unimpressed with the mannerism in which our car was launching so he spent a few minutes with our four link software to plot a new intersect. Once he was pleased with what the computer displayed, he applied it to the suspension of our troubled car.
For the other semi-final match up, it would be the hungry Keith Mc Coy and Jim Huber. The quality of both of the lanes appeared even, so lane choice wasn't going to be a factor should our car respond poorly to this latest battery of adjustments. With our engine still being a question mark, we elected to merely shoot the car out to the 660' mark and step off it. We'd know enough by that point in the run. I followed my orders, dumped the parachute, and then rounded the top end to await the outcome of the Mc Coy/Huber bout.
It would be the Pelech Bros. Racing team against Team Huber in an epic final round battle, as the Mc Coys would again suffer defeat at the hands of Huber. By the determined look on Crew Chief Prock's face, it was obvious he was not taking Huber & Co. lightly. About the same time as Jeff was about to load the "jumbo-jets", Huber rounded the corner of our trailer to inform us that he wouldn't be participating in the final round festivities. Jim went on to elaborate. Apparently, a mechanical failure within his engine spelled the unfortunate end to his Sunday. But our wiley Crew Chief was skeptical. Upon Jim's departure, Prock ordered that the car would still prepped and loaded for bear, just not as much, in case this was a bluff... The car was once again placed up on the jacks, and another four-link change was executed.
With Huber bowing out, giving us a free-bee in the final, it was back to the tower for one last round of shameless promotion.
I returned to the pits to suit up for what I perceived would be a nice and easy victory lap. Prock then informed me of otherwise. We were all still on the clock and there was work still to be done. He wanted to know why our car wasn't working as anticipated. Jeff was planning on an all-out run for our final pass, regardless of whether it was a solo or not. We were greeted with hand-shakes and congratulations as we entered the staging lanes. It was a great way to end a tumultuous weekend! And it only got better as our car would finally post a decent ET of 7.78 seconds at 179 MPH.
Now it was off to the scales, fuel check, and tech inspection to get the official seal-of-approval stamped on our win! The engine size and class legality of our car was verified as well as our contingency claim sheet. The fuel check came back clean as well. We were now free to go. It was a great feeling to return home victorious after all the adversity we had faced at the last several races. Three hours later, we unloaded the car and tools at the shop and called it a night.
The next evening we returned to the shop with a renewed vigor to begin our typical post race autopsy. As I've said before, it's amazing what a win can do for the human spirit... As I approached the dark and empty shop, I noticed something affixed to the roll-up door. It was a congratulatory note from our #1 fan, Caroline Flosky! She had artfully and thoughtfully scrawled out her note on a large piece of poster board. But that wasn't where it ended. I entered the shop only to find it had been vandalized with crate paper streamers, balloons, and checkered flags. There was only one suspect, CAROLINE! She will pay dearly for this! Mu ah ha ha!
Tim and I worked our way around the streamers and balloons in order to conduct our postmortem examination. I removed the upper half of our race-winning engine, finding nothing abnormal. When I rolled the engine upside down on the engine stand to remove the oil pan, I heard all kinds of stuff clanking around inside. It sounded like a handful sockets had left in the engine. I proceeded to remove the pan, where I discovered a few twisted up,
ribbon-like pieces of steel that apparently used to be oil ring scrapers and I also found several smashed pieces of piston skirt. Outside of the area surrounding the pin bosses, our #1 piston was GONE from the top of the oil ring
down. It was now evident how our piece of expander escaped form cylinder one... It didn't have to escape... It was forced out very early in the event! This explains why we had no mile-per-hour...
This classified autopsy photo reveals how the fractured piece of expander got past the normally tight piston-to-wall clearance. Because it didn't have to! It passed through a hole that you could've thrown a quarter through.
And to think this thing ran a 7.78 on 7 1/2 cylinders... Yow!
In a few short weeks, we’ll be headed to Salem Ohio’s, Quaker City Dragway in search of the elusive “Two-in-a-Row”. We did quite-a-bit of damage to this thing so we’ll be plenty hard pressed to get fresh parts in and get it back together. More to come later…
Ted & Tim Pelech
Pelech Bros. Racing