XXXXX NSX-FILES EXCLUSIVE XXXXX TUESDAY AUGUST 22, 1998 13:50:01 ET XXXXX
The following is how I remember the past month, some of it may not be completely accurate, but it is how I remembered how things went. I will post a more complete, accurate version in the next couple of weeks to the website, along with photos about the Hill Climb.
I got a call about a month ago from a guy named Frank Carlone, who said, "Hey, I hear you race your NSX, call me back if you are interested in racing your car in the NASCAR Featherline Southwest Los Angeles Street Race on September 5-7. They are looking for some guys to be in the warmup race, and wanted some exotic looking cars, specifically a couple of NSXs, to be racing around the streets of the LA Coliseum/USC area in the Pro Racing Series."
I started thinking, that would be really cool. There is racing all three days, and one of the days is a one hour enduro with a mandatory pit stop. I figure, hey, Wayne and I, instead of being arch rivals in the time trial sessions we have been running for the past 4-5 years, we could team up and see if we could actually race wheel to wheel with some experienced club racers. Only one problem, I need:
- A full rollcage
- Rear tow hooks
- Ignition/battery kill switch so emergency crew can shut off car from the outside of the car in case of accident
- Window Net
- SCCA Racing License for driver and co-driver
- Wheel to wheel experience prior to the LA Street Race, so they can verify we aren't some idiots who will go out there their first time and wreck a bunch of cars wheel to wheel. It would also be great if they saw us race in one of their events, like their 3 Hour Enduro on August 22 at the Touring Car Club Autopalooza event.
- Bigger brakes recommended, not mandatory.
After talking with Wayne, we decide, okay, time for us to move out of the Time Trial group at the the local car club events and move up to the Race Group, and start trying to take on the ZR-1s, LT1 Vettes, Porsches, Dunestangs, M3s, etc in wheel to wheel racing. Here’s the story of our continued downfall into darkness, continuing to pursue the adrenaline rush of speed.
My clutch is starts acting up, and I tell Larry the Mechanic at Riverside that something is wrong, it is shifting horribly. Larry says bring it in, and he will take a look at it. But first I got to get the rollcage in. Okay, so got to do all the above, and have everyone get everything done on time, and I only have one month. Based on past experience I should have
allocated 3 months, but let's go for it and try to do it in one month.
PREPPING THE CAR:
So I gotta get a full rollcage, right? How hard can this be? Wayne can pickup a rollcage for about $1000 bucks or so for his 944 Turbo, how much more pain could it be for my NSX? Maybe $2000, especially since I STILL want to use the NSX as my daily driver, so I would like the front half of the rollcage to be removable, so I could unbolt it out of the car for those months where there are no car club events. Frank Carlone mentions some people who could build a cage, but they are in LA.If I have someone doing major work like a rollcage, I want it to be local so either I or Wayne could check on them on a daily basis to make sure they aren’t butchering the car by putting in a rollcage.
I stop by the Rod Millen Motorsports in Huntington Beach, the guys who built the dominating fastest car/truck in the unlimited division at Pikes Peak Hill Climb (Toyota Celica and truck) the past couple of years. I talk to a couple of their engineers/fabrication guys, and they said that they could do a great, professional looking job on my car, but it would be very expensive, as they wouldn’t take any shortcuts or compromises in building the cage. Their quote was $4500 or so for just the cage. Ouch.
I decided to keep looking around. I stopped by this place recommended by a friend called Kiwi Autotech in Huntington Beach, about two miles from Wayne’s house. Ian at Kiwi said he could do it, and I asked him what kind of experience he had with rollcages/race cars, and I was concerned because the only cars he had in his shop were a bunch of beautiful looking roadsters/hot rods that he was restoring. He replied that he used to do lots of race car/prep/rollcage work, but since racers traditionally ain’t got any money because they blow all their cash on racing (sound familiar to any of your addicts out there?), he starting doing more hotrod/roadster work as people who want to restore and drive cars like this traditionally have more money to burn and he has to make a living and put food on the table, hence the restoration work he is doing, instead of adverstising as a "racer shop". At the rate that Wayne and I are burning through money doing this racing thing, I understand his logic. Ian also said that he has done lots of work on Porsches, brake work, rollcages, and he also used to crew on Mika Hakinen’s race team a while back. I decided that he seems like someone who won’t butcher the car. His estimate is $2500 or so for a rough estimate, and we agree to go with that. Meantime, I gotta go away on business for 10 days, and I put Wayne in charge of monitoring the progress on the car.
So now we gotta get a certificate saying we know what the hell we are doing on the track, we ain’t gonna wreck, we understand the rules for wheel to wheel racing, etc. I get pointed to the SCCA Super Schools, but there are none in the area until late fall/early winter. I figure we only have about two weeks to find and take a class, as the race is coming up quick. Our target plan is to get our license and run the 3 Hour Enduro on August 22, so we gotta get into a class quick. I want to take the Russell class at Sears Point, but they are booked solid and have long wait list. Skip Barber is the same at Laguna. I start calling some of the more interesting tracks, like Road Atlanta, Mid Ohio, etc, seeing if there are any potential classes in two weeks. Nada. Nothing. Zilcho.
Don Otto on the NSX list server mentions that a friend knows Bob Bondurant, and they could get us into the four day Grand Prix class in Phoenix, Arizona, and we can graduate and get our SCCA provisional license. Arizona? In August? I recall a co-worker who left Southern California (where from movie "LA Story" you know the weather only varies by about 1 degree a day all year long, a nice comfortable 70 degrees) who moved to Arizona and I laughed and said, "you are moving to a sandbox in the middle of a microwave oven, are you crazy?" Now here are Wayne and I, signing up for a racing class in Phoenix, where we will be driving in helmets/full nomex suits in 115 degree weather…but hey, it’s the only game in town…….
ALWAYS SEEK AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE:
I broke down and bought some of the Racing Electronics helmet radio gear, this way, Wayne and I could talk during the race either from car to car, or during the team enduro, from driver to pit area so we could plan pit stops, driver changes, track warnings, etc. I got the radios so they could also use one of the channels to talk on the NSXCA radio frequency. Of course, they ship out everything to us, but send wrong radios, so I have to go through the radio switcheroo to get the right ones.
BACK TO PREPPING THE CAR:
I go away on business for 10 days to New Orleans, where I proceed to drink 10 beers a night for 10 days. I tell Wayne to checkout Ian’s work on the rollcage, etc on my car. Wayne says that the Ian is like an artist, and the cage/etc is coming along great. It looks beautiful, high quality work, but at the rate he is going, Ian is burning through labor hours like crazy, do I want him to go over budget? I tell Wayne, might as well get it done right, especially if it is going to be my daily driver. Wayne says that Ian has to replace the rear passenger compartment window, as the rollcage has to bolt to the rear shock absorber mounts, so he has to build a Lexan passenger compartment window to throw the tubing to the engining compartment.
Ian also said that my racing seats are horribly mounted, and won’t pass SCCA inspection, so he wants to redo the mounts that I had hastily had another custom shop put on in the middle of the night before an event earlier in the year. Also, the rear tow hook can’t be cleanly done for cheap, as he wants to make sure that if it has to be towed out by the rear, they will be no damage to the rear bumper from angle of the chain/tow rope.
Also, mounting the ignition kill/battery mount is going to be more expensive, as the cabling has to go from front batttery compartment to inside passenger compartment, etc. etc. etc. I say, okay, just get it done as cleanly as possible, and make it high quality. Also, shock bushings are screwed up, we can build the right bushings/housings for the rear shocks, as the cage has to mount to there. Also, your old engine compartment brace bar won’t fit with the new rollcage mounts to rear shocks, so we have to build a new custom brace bar for you. Also, ……..(you get the picture)
I get back home from the business trip, and I pick up the car. I agree with Wayne, the rollcage looks like a work of art. Powder coated bright red, big hex nuts to remove the front of the cage if I want to just use it as a street car for a while. Ian says, "uh…..it was more expensive that I thought it would be, and Wayne said overtime was okay as you still have to get the brakes/clutch done, as well as work on tuning supercharger and quality had to be high. I had guys working around the clock over the weekend to finish it up for. I calculate we used about 190 hours straight time hours." HOLY SHITS. At their hourly rate, it is somewhere around $9000 or so. IAN says, "wait don’t panic, I will split the difference with you, as we needed the experience to build a cage like this for an NSX in case someone ever wants another one, but we would really think twice about doing it, because it is a pain in the ass to put it in this car."
Okay, semi-nice sales jobs. Cage is great looking. And Rod Millen was quoting around the same figure of $4500, and that was without all the other "gotchas" that came up. The Wife mentions something like, "hummmm….so you put $4500 more into your ridiculous looking car, and thus probably LOWERED the value of your car another $4500 by having a roll cage in it….hummm…..strange investment…". She proceeds to immediately go out and buy more clothes……what can I say? I can’t say, "Stop your wasting your money"…….thank God she has a job….
I drive car home. Small problem. I can’t see out of rear view mirror because rear rollcage bar obstructs vision. I only see a little sliver of what is behind me, because the rear spoiler also obstructs part of the vision (which you don’t notice if you don’t have a rollbar) I can’t see cops. I surely won’t be able to see any cars that are trying to pass me on the race trace. I curse, and call my friend Doug Ota who has a rollbar in his M3. He says, "oh yeah, I can’t see out of my rear view mirror either." Great. So now I install an el cheapo 2nd rear view mirror about 2 inches lower that the orginial. Now my front vision is slightly obstructed, as I have two rear view mirrors, one below the other. Oh well, I guess I can live with it.
I reach for CDs in the glove box. Oooopps…..Can’t open glove box. The front part of rollcage is in the way. I call Doug Ota. He says, "oh yeah, I can’t open my glove box either….". You can see where this is going…..
Beautiful California Sunset……..but the sun is getting in my eyes. I reach to put down sun visor. Oooops…front rollcage bar is in the way, I can’t lower the sun visors anymore, because the rollcage is flush with the roofline, and visors are behind the rollbar……so much for a streetable race car….. 🙂
BACK TO PREPPING THE CAR: Clutch
Larry picks up my car to drive back to Riverside, which is 50 minutes away. He drives it around, adjusts the clutch, and says it is fixed. He drives it back to my house, and also has installed boost gauge to make sure we are getting 6lbs of boost. I thank him. Next day, I am driving around, and it ain’t working right. Clutch is horrible, car is shifting horribly. Unfortunately, Wayne has his car at Larry’s getting his snap ring problem fixed, so Larry can’t work on my car immediately, and can’t install the new Comptech Brembos that came in. Larry says take it back to Ian at Kiwi Autotech, as he does high quality work and he can probably install it faster than Larry can. I drop the car off at Kiwi, explain to Ian I got another rush job, can he do it over the weekend. Ian says no problem, come back on Monday morning, and he can pickup the car. Monday I pickup the car, brakes feel great. I drive car to Larry’s, so he can put clutch in.
Larry says clutch was fine when he checked it. I tell him to get into the passenger seat. He hesitates, as he hates driving with me. We scream down the freeway offramp at redline in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd with the short gears before we hit the freeway, and the clutch is clunky and won’t shift. Larry is clenching the rollpage, eyes shut, teeth clenched, sweat dripping down his face, saying that cars are NOT to be driven like that, and no wonder the clutch ain’t working right, as I am driving like a madman. You see, Larry drives like my grandma, and shifts at 3500 RPMS, as he has to fix stuff like this all the time. So no wonder that the clutch works fine for him, he ain’t pushing the damn car. But I guess at least I know my mechanic isn’t driving around drag racing against other cars when I am not around……Larry says he will take the clutch apart. I call Comptech, and tell them to get one of them new single disc clutches ready for me……
BACK TO SCCA LICENSE:
Wayne and I spend four days at the Bondurant school, all we can say is "wow". Very professional organization. They mentioned that Ford uses it as their hot weather/testing ground, so Bondurant gets virtually all their cars at no cost. No wonder they have what seems to be about 90 Mustangs, 30 Formula Fords, 5 Skid cars that you can hydrallically lift any of the wheels to induce understeer/oversteer, 10 Contours, a bunch of vans, Trucks, etc. Of course they got great deal worked out for tires/brake pads for sponsorship, so rumor has it most of their "hardware costs" are pretty close to free. Ratio of instructors is 3 students for every instructor, and the same instructor is your instructor for all four days, so there is constant feedback regarding your improvement.
All cars have cages/harness/fire bottles/etc. in them. Mechanics work 24 hours a day prepping the cars for the next day/session. You break your car, you get another one. Brakes go bad, swap it out immediately from a standby car. We complete the class successfully, the 10 lap race was a blast, all six of us in the four day class were about 2 feet from each other front/rear/side trying to win the race ripping around the turns, people skidding out infront of me, getting out of shape on the turns, etc. Very technical track. A new instructor, ex-motorcross racer who had to take the class to understand what they expect from instructor, took first in the race, an older guy who blocked everyone else took second, Wayne took third, I took forth about a car length behind Wayne.
Wheel to wheel racing is very fun. During one of the practice sessions, my instructor said my ABS light was on, indicating I had no ABS, and did I want a new car. I said, "no problem, I like the way this car feels, I can handle it without ABS, I can modulate fine." Next session I was ripping down the front straight trying to catchup to people to pass, came in too hot, locked up the wheels, (okay, maybe I did need ABS), skidded big black tires marks for 200+ feet, went off the track, and bumped into the tire wall. I limped the car back in, totally embarrassed, and instructor said, "ah…..I think you need ABS". No damage to the car, but it was thunking real bad, and the instructor said, "you heard of flat spotting tires? Now ya experienced it first hand…."
Wayne and I tell Jeff Keck, our instructor, that we are usually within the top four fastest cars out of about 60 cars that are entered in the time trial road racing events that we go to, and have 40-50 events under our belts. After watching how jerky we drive, he kinda gives us that look like, "You actually have experience on the track?". Meantime, Jeff is buzzing us around in cars such as the Mustangs, Ford Contours, and 15 passenger vans around the race track at speeds so fast it is not humanly possible, and at the same time so smooth it is like an art form.
Meanwhile, me, Wayne, and the other passengers in the cars at screaming and sweating and holding onto the rollbar and clenching our teeth like Larry was in my car, as we think we are going so fast about 2 feet off the bumper of the instructor car in front of us, we are surely going to wreck into the other instructor’s cars or into the tire wall. Needless to say, the instructors as Bondurant are definitely some fast dudes and would easily kick our rookie ass around the track.
While in Phoenix, I am calling Larry every day," hows the car looking? I am calling Comptech every day. "Ya got that backorder clutch in?" Last day of school, Comptech says that they can’t have their single disc clutch ready in time for the the August 22nd date, so I should hunt around for another clutch. Luckily, we are in Arizona, the airport is literally 5 minutes from RM Racing, so Wayne and I stop there and pickup one of Randy’s dual disc high performance clutches so we can take it on the airplane home and give to Larry.
BACK TO CLUTCH:
Larry got’s the new RM clutch in. I take it for a ride, car is running great. Shifting is great, RM Clutch is grabbing really good. Brembos are impressive. Whew. We only got a couple days until the Enduro race.
TEST OF CAMERA:
Did a camera test the night before we leave for Buttonwillow. Oooopss, now that I have that 2nd lower rear view mirror so I can see under the rear rollbar, now the stupid 2nd rear mirror is RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of the damn in-car video camera….. now I gotta get rid of my camera mount, and get another one to lower IT two inches so the camera can see out the window…… 🙁
PRO-RACING ENDURO QUALIFYING AT BUTTONWILLOW:
I drove in the qualify race. Apparently they are going for best lap time to figure out gridding for the enduro. There are about 20 cars in the group, and there are some fast guys here. Meaning there are are at least four Porsche 911 racing machines there with big ass wings, huge slicks, stripped down for weight, one of them had GT1 stickers on it. Tilo is there with his yellow supercharged 928, and another couple of 928 machines. A couple of BMW M3s, at least 3 Corvettes (one ZR-1, and two of the vettes are the folks that have been winning at the Touring Car Club race group), a couple of stripped down Porsche 914s, some Toyotas/Hondas/etc. I would say out of about 20 cars, maybe 4 where actually driven to the track as opposed to trailered. Doug Ota teams up with our other friend Jeff Littrell, who is leading in points with his Sports 2000 in the local SCCA scene down here, and they are running Ota’s M3 with a big ass wing, new cam, etc. in it, and since they are experienced in the race group, they are determined to kick our rookie ass and put us back in our place since this our first actual race in the race group. Wayne and I have probably done about 40+ time trial events, but never did the wheel to wheel racing until today.
Enduro rules are that you must:
- Have a minimum of 15 minutes of pit time during the 3 hour race. You can split it up a minimum of 3 five minute stops, or one five minute and one ten minute stop. We go for the 3 five minute stops, with Wayne and I switching off every 40 minutes or so.
- One person must put gas in car, another person must have extinguisher in hand while fueling, both must wear full nomex and helmet
I ended up qualifying around 8th, behind the monster 911 machines, the yellow supercharged 928, a couple of the vettes, and Doug Ota’s M3. On my hot lap timer, I had a faster lap time than Ota with a 1:58.x, but the PRO-Racing folks did all their timing manually, so there is margin for human error, but no biggie, as it is a three hour race, and I can kinda follow Ota and see how he manipulates himself in traffic for my first race.
At the start of the race, due to my inexperience, I was following Ota going down the straight and when the green flag dropped, I stayed behind Ota, and four guys blew by me into turn one, a guy in a black 928 and a 914 on my left, and a Mazda and 944 on my right. Bastards, wait until I get some experience, that shit won’t happen ever happen again on the start. Everyone was about 6 feet from each other going into the first couple of turns. I blew by the black 928 on the second turn, the 914 on the back straight, used the Comptech Brembos to outbraked the Mazda and the 944 on the next couple of turns, used the Supercharger to chase down Ota in the M3 and the two Vettes. I duked it out with Ota and the two Vettes at FULL BORE for about 15 minutes (enduro? Screw the "saving the car for the full enduro", get in front of those bastards!), switching spots between us a couple of times. A bunch of fun!
I pitted after 45 minutes or so, and held the fire extinguisher as we put in gas while Wayne was getting into the car. I was so exhausted from the heat and driving I almost fainted holding the fire extinguisher. We had these el cheapo plastic gas cans, and a lot of the other Porsche teams had full on big 55 gallon fuel drums with hand pumps on them to quickly fill their gas. I drank about two gallons of water while Wayne buzzed around the track, wondering if I could gather up enough energy to hop back in the car and do another 40 minutes in the heat. It was really cool seeing Doug Ota with his M3 lifting one of his front tires off the ground in the lower speed turns. The Porsches had flames coming out of their exhaust during the downshifts, and Wayne said my car was doing the same thing. Wayne screamed on the radio that he saw one of the 911’s get air going over one of the hills on the track. I radioed to Wayne to drive as long as he could, as I was trying to recuperate. (How do those Indy guys do it for 2.5+ hours straight?)
Jeff, driving as the 2nd driver in Doug Ota’s M3, was doing a good job chasing down one of the 2nd drivers in one of the monster 911 machines, but ended up breaking the plastic radiator neck on the M3, thus they DNFed. DAMN, we forgot to bet them $50 as to who would beat who. Wayne came in, we refueled, and I went back out. Drove for about 35 minutes, came back in, pitted, and gave the car back to Wayne to finish the last leg. I told Wayne that if he kept going at a good pace and kept the car on the track, we would finish well in our first enduro, as some of the cars were starting to drop out or have "extended" pit times. My NSX was running pretty hot, getting real close to the red, so we had to start short shifting quite a bit in the early part of the race. The Brembos were absolutely AWESOME. No fade the entire weekend. We could outbrake just about anyone but the fastest Porsches out there.
Wayne brought the car home to the checker with the headlights on, as it was starting to get dark. We high fived on completing our first ever wheel to wheel race, as our goal was to not wreck the car. About 20 minutes later we had the awards ceremony (they didn’t have an announcer on the PA talking about the race, since they were keeping track of the laps manually). One of the monster 911 machine with John Sweeney at the wheel won the event. Tilo Steurer came in 2nd with his 600+ HP supercharged 928. And then they announced that the "Microsoft NSX" came in third!!! We took third place in our first actual race, beating a bunch of the Porsches, Vettes, M3’s, etc. So we ran about 72 Laps, somewhere around 200 miles, in 90-100 degree heat. Car worked fine except for it starting to get hot and I blew out another exhaust. Fortunately, I brought my old supertrapp exhaust along, and bolted it on Sunday morning for Sunday’s events. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to dyno with the new exhaust before I blew it up. Fortunately, RM Racing is modifying an exhaust for me also, hopefully that will be in on time for the LA Street Race..
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.
TCC was doing car shows, drag racing, wet tshirt contests, etc, in addition to the usual time trial and race events. Sunday of the Autopalooza, the TCC had their time trials and 10 lap race. Our race started late. I qualified the day before 2nd out of 20 cars, with the ZR1 vette qualifying ahead of me. Cars were mainly BMWs, the two vettes that always do well, about 5 Porsches, and bunch of Celicas/Mazda type of cars. Wayne was at the back of the pack, as his car was overheating and he didn’t finish the qualifying race. Tilo in the monster 928 was also at the back of the pack. During this race, the Vette and I traded leads a couple of times, but he passed a couple of slower cars that I didn’t get around in time before the "esses", so he ended up 2nd, Tilo blew by everyone for 1st, and I took third in the TCC race. Wayne passed about 10-11 cars with his 944. His temp gauge was in the red, but there was another 944 turbo in front of him, so instead of short shifting, he went to pass the other 944 and then the head gasket blew up in his car. So he DNFed…..
So driving home Sunday night, I passed a bunch of the cars I beat in the race. Their cars where trailered there, and I was just driving my NSX home! Just rubbing in it to those guys….. 🙂
We were supposed to ship Wayne’s 944 Turbo to Brainerd, Minnesota first thing Monday morning, as we got an invite to attend Louis Ruf’s wedding reception(owner/designer of the RUF 911 CTR machines). Brainerd has a 1.25 mile long straightaway. Unfortunately, we can’t take my car, as the LA Street Race is coming up quickly, we can’t take Wayne’s 944 Turbo as he blew it up……. so I was able to convince Wayne to take HIS GARAGE QUEEN NSX to the race track for the first time….. so right now his car is on an enclosed Transporter with five Ferrari’s (including an F40) to Brainerd…….. stay tuned for more action!
Thanks to the following people who helped make the 3rd place finish at the Enduro and the TCC event possible:
- Larry Garcia - Mechanic - Riverside Acura - 909-785-6600 (overall maintenance/installation of just about everything)
- Chris - Service - Riverside Acura 909-785-6600 (Service guy at Riverside that works with Larry)
- Comptech - Bob/Shad/Tim - 916-939-9118 (Brembos/Supercharger/Toelinks/Bushings)
- Randy - RM Racing - 602-273-7175 (Clutch, good advice, promptness, etc!)
- Ian - Kiwi Autotech - 714-841-4184 (Rollcage, installation of Brembos)
- Mark - Dali Racing - 619-238-4948 (sway bars, BP battery mount, etc.)
- Denny- Allen Tire -Costa Mesa 714-646-5236 (it seems like he is changing tires every week for me, stores tires, etc)
- Anthony - South Coast Acura - 714-979-2500 (Acura parts)
What I learnt this weekend.
- 1. My car will outbrake just about anyone since I got the Brembos
- I can keep up with the ZR1 Vettes now with the supercharger
- I need to get better at my starting/passing skills, and get more practice in this area
- I still need to get an exhaust that will work and get it dynoed
- Wheel to wheel racing is tough. I was never able to get any good tunes cranking on the stereo, as I was more worried about concentrating on driving in traffic. Usually I am switching CDs back and forth in the time trial events, but I was never able to do it in the wheel to wheel events....
http://www.nsxfiles.com (won’t be updated until after the LA Street Race)
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