Salem, Ohio -- So now we head into Salem, Ohio's Quaker City Dragway with our second win of the NMCA Street Legal Shoot-out Series season just behind us. Someone once said, "You're only as good as your last race…" Well our last race wasn't great by any stretch, but we did win so I guess something can be said for that. One of the items on the Pelech Bros. Racing "To Do" list is to win two races in a row. So this would be our chance. We went through the normal post-race/pre-race drill. Bring it home, tear it apart, put it back together, and take it out to race. We had make sure we had everything ready early this time due to a pre-race appointment. One of our much appreciated business associates, Victory 1 Performance, makers of the finest titanium valves in the racing industry, is located within mere minutes of Quaker City Dragway. Conrad Dahl, the proprietor of Victory 1 Performance, urged us to stop by for a in depth look at the processes and procedures that are involved with producing their top quality titanium valves.
We pulled into Quaker City Dragway, hustled through our pit set up, and headed for Victory. We just hoped we'd be headed for a victory of a different kind on Sunday evening, if you know what I'm talking about… Anyhow… Upon our arrival at Victory, we were greeted at the door by Conrad. We small-talked for a few moments as we were led to a the back of the building where the process begins. We stopped at the foot of large rack of round titanium stock. Conrad then showed us over to the area where the titanium bar is machined to the appropriate slug size for the valve stem extrusion process. But before the slug is extruded, it's first dipped in a release agent to prevent it from hanging up in the extrusion dies.
The stemmed slug is then preheated to some obscene temperature. At that point, the forge operator then removes the white hot stemmed slug from the oven and places it in the valve head forging press. When you look at the forging dies within the high tonnage press, you'd think there was no possible way the remaining titanium slug could ever be forced into the dies. But somehow, the press seemed to effortlessly form and eject the rough valve.
Conrad then informed us that the "one-piece" process wasn't nearly as effortless as it appeared. In fact, it was nearly the straw that broke the camel's back. He had enlisted some of the most knowledgeable individuals from the industrial metal working community to advise in his project. You have to remember, Victory 1 Performance isn't producing the typical, welded, two piece titanium valve or a "cast" valve. Conrad spent a few years and a lot of dollars establishing, fine tuning, and perfecting the process before his first valve was ever produced. Obviously, he succeed.
Tim and I were then taken over to the machinery that applies the moly coat to the valve stem. This is the next step in Victory's titanium valve production process. Moly is applied to the valve stem in a ultra high temperature process that much resembles spray welding.
At this point, the precision machining begins. The stem diameter is cut first. This is the dimensional foundation for all of the remaining cuts and grinds. And the last process is the grinding of the actual valve angles. The valves are then cleaned, boxed up, and sent to you.
What impressed me most was that these aren't mass produced, cookie cutter valves that are pulled off the shelf and shipped out, they are nearly custom produced, in-house, on the basis of individual orders. This assures high precision accuracy and quality control that is second to none. You'd think that it take longer to manufacture valves in this manner, but it doesn't. I'm amazed that Victory can produce and deliver in the same time frame as the mass manufacturers.
Precision titanium valves aren't the only components produced at Victory, they also produce their own spring retainers, spring cups, and valve locks.
Victory 1 Performance is currently in the process of relocating to the motorsports capital of the universe - Charlotte, North Carolina.
It was lunch time when our tour ended so we did what seemed obvious. Conrad, Tim, and myself sat down at the local Mexican joint where we told lies and bench raced over burritos and chimichangas. After lunch, we headed to the airport to pick up our crew chief Jeff Prock of Applied Nitrous Technology and his fiancé, Tammy. We then headed to the track to go over a thing or two. By the time we got to the track, it was beginning to get late so we didn't do too much.
Saturday morning began with the typical engine warm up and valve lashing. After hot lashing the valves, Prock wanted to begin working on the tune up. The first thing he does is make sure the engine revs and goes on to the convertor all nice and snappy like. The engine seemed a touch soggy on the free rev but I shrugged that off as the hot and humid, poor quality air. But there would be no shrugging off the snapping, popping, banging, and burping that took place as soon as the engine was under load as we attempted to get it on to the convertor. The engine just seemed like it didn't have enough muscle to load the convertor. This seems familiar, but I can't put my finger on it…
Prock toiled relentlessly on the lap top as he tried to tune the illness out of our poorly performing engine. The best he could do was move the popping and banging up and down the RPM scale, but he could make it go away completely. We definitely couldn't run the car the way it was, so we began looking elsewhere. Ignition timing? Cam shaft timing? Crankshaft pick up? Bad injector? Faulty ignition? Faulty ECU? Broken valve spring? Smashed convertor? The im-possibilities seemed endless. One by one we began working down the list. Replace this, test that… Jeff D'Agostino, from the world famous Fast Times Motorworks, offered to double check the centerline of the camshaft. Luckily for me, it was right on. It would've been my head if it weren't. By now, the first round of qualifying had come and gone without our participation. We didn't have time to worry about that. If we didn't get this figured out soon, we'd miss round two as well.
We had worked down through all of the possibilities with the exception of a broken torque convertor. I got on the phone with John Hutchinson of Hutch's Transmission to discuss the possibility that we'd broke our Neal Chance torque convertor. He said, "No way." In the interest of time, he suggested that we look elsewhere for our problem. But it was too late, Tim already had the trans 75% of the way out of the car. So we double checked it anyway. And no problems, just as Hutch said it would be.
The second round of qualify was now passing.
With the way the engine was popping and banging out of both the intake and the exhaust, Crew Chief Prock was suspicious of a valve train problem. The intake manifold was pulled off and the entire valve train, minus the cam shaft, was removed. Nothing blatantly obvious was found and the re-assembly began. For some dumb reason, the pressure got to me and I snapped as we all worked to hastily get things back together. I inexcusably lost my cool and mushroom-clouded right there. I instantly realized the error of my ways and I felt like a jerk. And I felt like a bigger jerk as Tim pulled me aside to set me straight while Tony did damage control on my behalf. I sincerely apologize to Prock, my entire crew, and to everyone else who was there and had to put up with my crap. It won't happen again.
About this time, it was suggested that we replace the ignition. A loaner MSD 7-AL2 ignition system replaced our MSD CD-10. Our on-staff electrical engineer, Todd R. Betts and I quickly worked through this project. The sun was slipping below the horizon as we scrambled to button down the last few items in preparation for our one and only shot at qualifying. We re-fired the car and for some reason it did sound slightly better. Better, but far from great. We now knew the ignition wasn't to blame. Why can't I remember why this all seems so familiar?
Prock decided that the safest thing to do was just to go up and make a simple engine only pass to meet the NMCA's minimum requirement for placement on the eliminations ladder. We'd work at it more afterwards.
I drove up the steep hill that leads into the water box. Prock lined me up and gave me the nod. I whacked the throttle and the car lazily began to spin the tires for a second or two before spitting out a couple push rods. Believe me, a racket like that will have you off the throttle and diving to flip off every switch in the car right now. In utter disgust, we towed the car back to the pits.
The valve covers were again removed, the damage was assessed, and spare parts were installed. I was now a beat down and broken man… Let's just head for the hotel and order a couple pizzas. I'm sick of this thing. Tomorrow, we'll just load up and head for home.
When we returned to the track on Sunday morning, the car was already out of the trailer and Todd was going through the entire EFI wire harness. Even after all of the punishment that our morale had taken, he still wasn't giving up. Jeff D'Agostino was periodically checking on him and offering his assistance in the matter. After Todd completed his exploration, I again climbed into the cock pit and fired up the engine. It was still the same old mushy, soggy, popping, and banging crap. We were now relegated to spectator for the day. I reluctantly informed the NMCA officials that we would not be present for eliminations. The first round of Super Modified was called and here we sit in the stands. I just hung my head…
This was a devastating blow to our hope for a late season charge to the top. At this point, I was just praying that we'd still be in the "Top 3" in the point standings at the conclusion of the event. The door was now wide open for Huber to bury us and for Di Somma to pass us.
Our would-be opponent for the first round was the E&R Racing '68 Camaro of the Catalano Bros. I about barfed as the Catalano entry ate a lifter on the burn out. They simply shut off there car and towed it back to the pits along with their free first round win. If we had merely shown up at the starting line, we would've taken the round win even with our pitifully run car. Just shown up… That's all we would've had to do… I climbed to the top of the bleachers, said my good-byes, and prepared to jump off the back.
Just as I turned back towards the track to utter my final words, I watched Erin Cheffer whack Anthony Di Somma in that same opening round. This would keep Di Somma at bay in the points chase for now. Erin had just became my new best friend… Well until the next time I'd have to race him, that is… I kind of looked around to make sure to nobody saw what I was up to and just non-chalantly walked down out of the stands.
We stayed to watch another round or two of eliminations before packing up and heading for home.
A few hours into our ride, it occurred to me exactly what was wrong with our engine… It was the head gaskets… I began to recall last year's outing at the Mid Michigan Motorplex when our engine was running just as poorly as we attempted to make Friday evening test passes. Fortunately then, the problem was more obvious and we quickly remedied it. Too bad the same couldn't be said for our Quaker City Dragway outing. I just pounded my head on the steering wheel… The rest of the way home…
Ted & Tim Pelech
Pelech Bros. Racing