On the Wrong Foot|
March 08, 2004
Centerline, MI -- The motivation to sit down and write race re-caps doesnít come as easily as it does when youíre running well and winning races. Heck, when youíre winning, you donít care about anything. But the same can be said when youíre not running well and losing races. Itís a fine line separated by nothing more then attitude.
Iíll try to paint a positive picture of our season, but the truth is there was very little that was positive about it. It was a pretty sharp contrast to the up-swing that we ended the previous season with. And to build on that up-swing, instead of just leaving the car alone and not changing anything, we decided to change everything - which is probably where most of our problems started.
The year began on the wrong foot at the season opener in Atlanta, Georgia with poor weather and electronic gremlins. We had some really trick new tuning software loaded into our F.A.S.T. EFI control box. It was so trick that I had no idea how it worked or what to do with it and it showed every time the car hit the track. Fortunately, drag racing has a very efficient system of quickly weeding the ill-prepared out of competition.
We sat out the next few weeks to get things right as we shouldíve before we even left the shop. It was just as well that we did, the next two races were plagued by poor weather including a nasty-bad hail storm that smashed the crap out of everything at one of the facilities. Thank God we didnít have to suffer through that ordeal.
When we rejoined the tour at Marylandís Cecil County Dragway, we were ready for it. We had meticulously prepared our car and headed for the track a few days early to get in some test time. Our Crew Chief, Jeff Prock of Applied Nitrous Technology was just as prepared. The first thing he did was cut the tune up in half so that we could get the driveline and suspension sorted back out. It didnít go a smoothly as we had hoped, but it was better to be addressing these problems now instead of during qualifying or eliminations. Our testing would come to an eventful end when the parachute would fail to deploy on our first full pass. Our nice, new, light weight, front brakes that Tim had just purchased through class sponsor DTS Ė Drive Train Specialists were pretty well smoked. But at least I didnít fly the car of the cliff that the dragway claims is a sand trap. Tim spent the rest of the evening deglazing the rotors and resurfacing the pads. Saturdayís qualifying would be rained out and our one qualifying session on Sunday would end our weekend. Just as I approached the finish line, fire shot out of the new hood scoop. The rest of the pass was clean and the tune up was proven and safe so we had no idea what caused the flame out. After the valve covers were pulled, the problem was clear. The #6 exhaust rocker arm stand bolt had backed out and dislodged the push rod. That was no big deal, we have plenty of spare Trend Products push rods on hand. But the smashed tip of our Victory 1 Titanium valve and the junked stand bolt hole had us loading our stuff into the trailer earlier than any of us wanted to.
We returned home, quickly tore our engine down, sent our cylinder head out for repair, and ordered replacement parts. Our friend, Jeff Tigner quickly repaired our cylinder heads to better then new and I immediately re-assembled our engine.
Even though we put a lot of time and effort into preparing for the US131 Dragway Event in Martin, Michigan, it was still a disaster. On the first pass of the weekend, the car launched nicely, the RPMs accelerated strongly through each gear, and then the car surprisingly fell on itís face half way through high gear. I coasted through the timers to a so-so 7.82 at a low 170 mph. I had no idea what happened. At first, it seemed like maybe we had burned a piston but the tune up was too soft for that to happen. We towed the car back to the pits and pulled the spark plugs to see if that was the case. A few of the inside cylinder sparks plugs were indeed slightly burned. Prock was completely baffled. The tune-up he used was far from aggressive. Just after we put the car up on the jacks, Tim crawled under it to begin removing the engine for repairs. He came out shortly after with some even worse news. We had kicked a connecting rod out of the engine. I was in denial that this had happened. The engine sounded fine on the run. Iíve been behind the wheel in the past when weíve broken rods or beat up valve train parts, and believe me, it makes so much racket that there is no mistaking it. If you want to know what it sounds like, take a hand full of silverware and throw it into a running garbage disposal. Yeah, itís that bad, but it didnít do that this time. I crawled under the car to see for myself. The small hole in the oil pan at the pan rail was all the evidence anyone needed. So once again, we packed up and got out of town.
We got a look at the full scope of the damage when we tore the engine down. It was bad. After the rod broke, the beam jammed into the cam tunnel extensively damaging the valve train. This explained why a few of the pistons were slightly burned. When an intake valve or two failed to open, the cylinders that did have functioning valves were forced to ingest the nitrous oxide that the inoperative cylinder did not take in.
We spent the next few weeks begging our suppliers to help us out by getting us replacement parts even quicker then usual. The fine folks at Diamond Pistons were right on top of the situation. In fact our guy Chris at Diamond did us another huge favor by brokering a deal with his contact at GRP to get us quickly switched over to their Connecting Rods. Thank you GRP and thanks again, Chris and Diamond Pistons!
The next trip was to ET Performance to see if they could save our mangled cylinder heads. They took a few minutes to assess the damage and come to the conclusions that the heads would survive.
Over the next few days we gathered all of our new and repaired parts and bolted our engine back together.
The next race on the NSCA schedule was at the Mid-Michigan Motorplex. Itís getting to be the end of the season and we still havenít really found our groove. Up to this point, itís been pretty frustrating and the frustration would continue at this race. On our first qualifying attempt, the linkage for 3rd gear broke on the burn out, but I wouldnít figure that out until I tried to shift into 3rd on the actual run. The attitude of the car wasnít exactly perfect at the launch, but it was just decent enough to stay with it. I shifted into second and car really began to accelerate nicely. Everything felt and sounded great as the shift point for 3rd approached. The shift light lit up and I stuffed it into 3rd, but nothing happened. I smacked it again even harder. Still nothing. So I stepped off it. When I got out of the car I noticed the transmission end of the shift linkage was lying next to the gas pedal.
We towed the car back to the pits and began fixing the linkage and doing our regular maintenance. Thatís when our Crew Chief discovered yet another dislocated exhaust rocker assembly. We came to the track prepared for this with spare rocker arms and associated paraphernalia but I wasnít prepared for the casting damage that was done.
Luckily, we were fortunate enough to be graced with the presence of Mike Polasek from ET Performance, the cylinder head folk from Walled Lake, Michigan. Yet again, Mike was faced with the task of accessing the damage to our cylinder heads. The damage wasnít major, but it would require welding and re-machining. Some of the local Motorplex racers suggested that we give Steve Morris Racing Engines a call. When Steveís name was mentioned, Mike from ET lit up. ďI know Steve Morris! Letís give him a call!Ē A few minutes later, the Polasek clan and I were headed to the Muskegon area for repairs. Talk about customer service! Itís very re-assuring to know that your cylinder head shop is so well networked.
Steve quickly laid down the required welds and allowed the castings to cool before machining. Within a few hours we returned to the track and completed the re-assembly. The guys did an excellent job prepping for the return and we quickly finished up.
Hoping for better, things only got worse on Sunday. The first round of eliminations was absolutely disastrous. Not because we broke more parts, quite the contrary. We didnít even make a run. When I started the car in the staging lanes it was idling erratically. It had done it earlier in the weekend but I thought we had remedied the problem. But it was back again. One moment it would idle high, the next the idle was so low that it would just stall out. This made the already difficult to drive Bruno transmission even more difficult to drive. I just tried to deal with it. But after the burn out, I couldnít keep my act together. The result of my horrible burn out was a car that wasnít properly lined up in the racing groove. I needed to back up and straighten out. I donít remember if anyone actually instructed me to do so or not, but thatís not important. What is important is that as I was fighting the transmission for reverse, Crew Chief Prock opened the passenger door and started to lean in, just as I muscled the transmission into reverseÖ with the idle upÖ The car then lunged rearward and smacked Prock with the door. He frantically jumped out of the way to save himself. That was all he could take of this mess. All he could bring himself to do at this point was stomp away in complete disgust. I was determined to complete the run. I pulled forward and attempted to stage. The Motorplex track official observed what had been going and exercised his authority to shut me down to save me from myself. After our crew pushed me and the car back from the starting line I went to smooth things over with Prock. I heard what he had to say, he heard what I had to say and everything was cool. So the rumors of Prock quitting or me severing our ties with him can now stop. Neither happened.
We spent the remainder of the day working on the items that had plagued us through out the weekend.
National Trail Raceway near Columbus, Ohio was the last stop on the NSCA tour and the end of our troubled season. In the past weíve always been fast at National Trail, very fast. Itís where we made the first ever 7-sixty range pass for a Super Mod car and where we set our second national elapsed time record with a 7.62 the year after that. This year wouldnít be quite so generous. Jeff was ill and not able to make the trip up Ohio so Tim and I would be left to our own devices. We really didnít do too much to stray from the basics that Jeff has taught us and the car ran decently. All through qualifying weíd run, trouble free, in the 7.80-or-so range, solidly placing us in the top half of the field.
In the first round of eliminations, weíd race Keith Mc Coy. Keithís a very good driver and if youíre not up on the wheel, heíll smack you with a tight reaction time and make life tough on you. I knew what I was up against so I was paying attention. When the starting lights flew, I got the jump. But that would be nothing to hang my hat on considering that Keith had problems while attempting to launch his car. I motored down the track to a respectable 7.75 second elapsed time for the first round win. But weíd be stripped of the round win when we came in light at the scales after the run. Keith would now be reinstated and heíd be proceeding to the 2nd round instead of us. And so ends another tough season for Pelech Bros. Racing.
Ted & Tim Pelech
Pelech Bros. Racing