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Old 09-29-2021, 06:48 AM   #1
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Back to the Bonneville Salt Flats; Racing!

I had been putting in some long hours at work, doing some tedious work on the van's fuel system, and get a phone call from a racing buddy Greg. He has no room to store the VW Karmann Ghia that he and I built and raced 5-6yrs ago, and wants to sell it. I'm talking with my wife about it, her ears perked up when I causally mention "Hey, you like to go fast, wanna drive this thing on the salt?"

Within a week, the car is sitting in my backyard, and a plan is hatched to race in 10 weeks at the World of Speed event in September.

I should back up 5 years, to the the last time we had this car out. It didn't handle well, and the engine smoked because the rings never seated. Greg drove it to 150mph, and spun the car out. I fixed the engine, and we took it to another event. Me driving this time, and it was still a handful to drive and I aborted the only pass at 140mph. We mothballed the project, life got in the way and we never got back to it. That is, until now.

I freshened the engine up in my garage shop, gave it 'the usual', inspected rod bearings, checked valve spring pressures, reassembled and took it to a buddy's shop in Lake Havasu for testing and an engine dyno tuning session. I fixed an issue with one of the carburetors, and jetted for peak power during the heat of the day, 240hp @ 8000rpm. With the 105degF temperature, the altitude correction put us in the right air density, for typical conditions on the salt flats, which is at 4400ft elevation. 240 (uncorrected horsepower at the flywheel) is pretty impressive from a 2332cc normally aspirated antique pushrod engine, if I do say so myself. But will this drag racing engine live running several passes at over a mile in length? Stay tuned.

I've already become a member of the USFRA 130 club, and 150 club (both in different VW Karmann Ghias, with a top speed of 156mph) At Bonneville, your earn a hat for said milestones, and I've done that. As I mentioned, my wife expressed a deep interest, so we hatched a plan and set a course, where she'd take a turn behind the wheel! We bought her some new safely gear, updated helmet, fire jacket, and I remounted the Kirkey racing seat higher and forward to accommodate her specific stature. If the driver is going to perform, the car has to fit. I also arranged to put a 'trainer engine' in the car, a borrowed 1600cc 'stocker' as she hadn't driven an air-cooled vw in 40yrs. I wanted her to drive it down some of our local farm roads, to get her reacquainted to weird feel of the car, before we turned up the wick with the race engine on an unfamiliar surface.

5yrs ago when we built this thing, after lower it by changing both the front and rear suspension, pressed for time, we had this 'high-end shop' who specializes in 4 wheel computer and laser assisted alignments, give the car the deluxe treatment. They guaranteed us it was ready for 150mph+. Well, it handled terribly.

Fast forward to last month, I now own a set of Longacre 'toe plates' a 'caster/camber leveling gauge', and a set of digital corner weight scales. I'm checking over the suspension, checking the fundamental chassis squareness with my alignment tools, a plumb bob, carpenter's square, and precision level, looking for something, some clue, old accident damage, some smoking gun. I discovered the front beam's top and bottom tubes are both bent, bent over 1/4"! In taking it apart, I also discovered 3 out of 4 ball joints and all the trailing arm bushings were worn out. A true 'ah-ha!' moment. How the alignment shop didn't catch this 5yrs ago is beyond me, but there it was. I apologize to every well trained professional and conscientious mechanic reading this, but can't you buy several of those "ASE Trained" sew on patches on ebay these days? I digress.

I replaced all the offending parts, re-aligned the front end, even moved the battery into the nose for better weight distribution, and took it out for a test drive.

What a total POS! Again, it still handled like a forklift at speed! Like a truck and overloaded trailer swaying back and forth over 70mph. Totally unacceptable. Good thing I found it now. Back to work!

I double checked the rear suspension toe setting, and to my surprise, it was out be a county mile, 3/8" toe out!

About the only thing that high-end alignment shop did was to lighten the driver's wallet, and center the steering wheel, tha's it!

It took me an afternoon to find the culprit, clearancing the parts with a hand grinder was all it took to get the rear suspension's toe to adjust. Once back together, the toe setting now adjustable, it came right into factory specs at zero-1/16" toe-in. The second test drive went MUCH better, night and day difference. Anyone reading this should make note about their van, do not overlook alignment, if it feels sketchy, don't necessarily trust the last guy who declared "I just had it aligned, it's great!" or the alignment tech who boasts "Well, it's as good as I can get get it, with all the modifications you've done to it..." as if you are to blame.

We swapped out the trainer for the race engine, and made the 600 mile tow out to the salt flats! (to be continued w/pictures)...

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Old 09-29-2021, 06:59 AM   #2
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Sweet sucess!

We signed up for the "130 Club" class, did the driver's meeting and rookie orientation, pre-drove the track to get Joyce familiar with the turnout, got through tech inspection, and got in line. Slow moving then threatening weather blew through, closing the course due to side winds, we packed it in for the day at 2:30 PM, not making a single pass.

The next morning driving coach Tom: " let's take it easy, under 100mph for your first pass, unless it feels great, then go ahead and 'stand on it'..." we talk about all the nuances of racing on the salt, how to deal with wheel spin in 1st and 2nd gears, gentle steering inputs "Just like flying a plane, right?" she asks. "Yeah, just like that..." Now I've never piloted a plane, but my girl earned and maintained her pilot's license, before letting it lapse 25yrs ago.

She leaves the starting line and shifts like a boss... easing out of, and modulating the throttle at wheel spin, rolling back into it, shifting when the pre-set amber shift light comes on at 7000 rpm, using the tachometer and sound, seat of the pants 'feel' just like we rehearsed. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, driving through the 1 mile marker at full throttle. The result was a 138mph first pass. The next pass, 153mph on the 1 mile course, pretty remarkable for a rookie.

The engine sounded crisp, was making good power, the car handling very well, as crew chief, I was all smiles

After 6 passes, she had (2) that were over 130mph, less than 140, for a successful "130 Club qualification" and her hat!

Ok, so I admit bias here, but I've coached 7 racers, maybe 10, but no one, NO ONE has followed instructions, was this laser focused, cool and calm, and shown natural ability like this gal.
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1995 E350 7.3 Diesel, 4x4 high roof camper, UJOR 4" lift
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Old 09-29-2021, 07:04 AM   #3
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Cool! Thanks for sharing. I've always been a Ghia fan but never have found the right one.
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Old 09-29-2021, 07:25 AM   #4
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Fun. I assume the muscles in your cheeks still hurt a little from all that smiling!
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Old 09-29-2021, 10:54 AM   #5
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That's completely awesome... thanks for the write up.
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Old 09-29-2021, 12:59 PM   #6
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One of the better reads I've had here lately! Congrats and great job to both of you!

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Old 09-29-2021, 01:41 PM   #7
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Wow, that sounds like super fun. Let me know the next time you plan to run, I still owe you a case of beer.
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Old 09-29-2021, 02:01 PM   #8
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Yay Joyce!!! What a great story.
All things being equal - fat people use more soap.
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Old 09-29-2021, 03:16 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by TomsBeast View Post
took it to a buddy's shop in Lake Havasu for testing and an engine dyno tuning session.
Geoff Hart by chance?
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Old 09-29-2021, 04:41 PM   #10
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Regarding alignments. I don’t trust any alignment techs that can’t align a car without an alignment rack. Period. Anyone can plug numbers into a machine and align a car, but if I give specific specs and get a blank look, I’m walking away.

Regarding females listening to directions better than men when driving is involved? 100%. Women take instruction way better then men. They typically don’t have the inflated egos to keep them from listening. I’ve had way better success teaching women how to drive then men.

That said, way cool! I love seeing women getting involved in motor sports and love it even more when they are successful. Nice work getting her up to snuff to reach her goal. That’s really cool! Hope someday soon my wife can get in a car and have fun again behind the wheel.

I know you know you have a rare breed there with your wife. Car chicks are rare, even more rare when they’re happy at speed. She sounds like a keeper I wish you guys luck with your speed records.

When your out there at bonneville keep an eye out for some crazies on a chrome missle shaped motorcycle. We’ve done quite a bit of wrenching on a bike for a local motorcycle group called brother speed. Not sure what record they are going for, but that bike is a freaking beast. I would never have the balls to play at that level.

"understeer is when you hit the wall with the front of your car, oversteer is when you hit the wall with the rear of your car, horsepower is how hard your car hits the wall, and torque is how far your car moves the wall."
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