Why Larry's Birthday didn't go according to plan

yet again.

What is it about merely thinking "I want to enter this race" that causes things to go wrong? There is no mystery why racing breaks things. You are pushing things to their limits, not their design limits, but their physical limits, on occasionally a little bit beyond.

I cannot remember a time when I wasn't interested in cars. When I was 7 years old, I'd draw pictures of dragsters. When I was 9, I'd sit in our Datsun 510 (bluebird) and pretend to race it, using the clutch and everything. I think that it was in November of '86 that I went through the Bondurant 4-day course. I remebmer that as I drove up to Sears Point the night before classes, the song that was playing on my CD was Clannad's "journey's at an end", I did not realize how truly prophetic that would prove to be.

In February of '88, I went through the SCCA drivers school and got my racing license. Over the next seven years I spent most of my money, time and credit on racing. It possibly cost me at least one job, and definitly cost me big chunks of both my love and social live's. Unless, of course you consider spend most of your nights, alone or with scruffy beer guzzling reprobates in a cold garage to be a social life.

In '95, shortly after the start of my brief marriage, my racing pretty much came to an end. Racing may not have cost me my marriage, but my marriage pretty much cost me racing. Being a serious junkie, I didn't totally give up the "habit". By teaching with a local car club at their open track events (http://www.nasaproracing.com), I'd get free tracktime. It's not racing, but it takes the edge off of my jones.

In 1998 I went up to Portland to drive a friend's camaro in a low-budget stock car enduro the day after my birthday.. I wasn't feeling well. It turns out that I had pnumonia, The companyt hat I worked for also went out of business that weekend. It was not my best birthday ever.

In 2000, Team Continental from Portland held a race at Thunderhill racetrack, about an hour north of Portland, over Labor Day weekend. In short, the one club which my MG is legal to race with, drove 500 miles to hold a race on one of my local tracks, the weekend before my 40th birthday. On top of that, the car that usually wins the class that my car is in is the same make and model as mine. Granted, that car is a full time race car and mine is a "race legal" street car, but given a home track advantage I could at least dream of giving them a run for their money. In short, my driving sucked. Years of "playing nice" at drivers school had taken the edge off of my driving . On the other hand, it was like giving a recovering alchoholic a shot of whisky.

Over the past year I've been working on regaining my edge. Pushing the car a little bit closer to the limits, paying attention to my lap times. Taking the drivng just a little bit more seriously. As I had hoped, TC once again will be having a race over Labor Day Weekend. A couple months before the event I started preparing. I started shopping for parts that needed replacing, or upgrading, to make the car race reliable. I even repaired the fender that had gotten crunched last year, and took my MGBGT to Earl Schieb for a 20/20 paint job(**).

The night that I got the bumpers, lights etc. back on the car after painting it, I drove it to a dance in Oakland to show it off. On the drive back I realized that my rod bearings were indeed histroy. The engine only had 24,000 miles on it, but about 2,000 of those were on ractracks (16-20 hours a year on racetracks, more than many racecars get). I also had had the fitting to an oil line break which caused me to basically dump all of my oil out on the freeway, not good for bearing longevity.

Friday night, nearly a week later, I finally had the new bearings in. The rod bearings, as expected, were trashed, the mains looked just fine, so I kept the old ones. I hooked the fuel & ignition up. There was water in the radiator, but no fanbelt, and the motormounts were loosely in place. If things went wrong, I didn't want to have to undo the last couple of hours of work to fix them. The car fired up, made great oil pressure, and a really bad noise. It was an intermittent hollow thunking from deep in the engine compartment.

I gave up for the night, got up early then next morning, pulled the oil pan and rechecked all of the bearings that I could get to. Everything looked just fine. Nothing seemed to be hitting in the motor. The 7/16th" wrench that I had misplaces was NOT in the oil pan. I did notice, however, that the downpipe for the exhaust was actually touching the block. I hoped that the nasty noise was the exhaust hitting the block because the motormounts had been loose, buttoned everything back up and fired the motor up again.

While I was working on the car Saturday morning, I got a call from the friend that was mounting my new race tires. All four tires were marked as being for the right hand side of the car, something that is not particularly useful on a car that has two wheels on each side.

The car fired right up, had her normal throaty exhaust note, and didn't make any extra, expensive sounding noises. I finished putting her back together and for a test drive, headed up to a friend's birthday party about 50 miles away. She had good oil pressure, and ran reasonably well. Power was up from what she had been the previous week, but it still didn't seem quite right. She'd occasionally hiccup when cruising down the freeway, and I had noticed some nasty buildup on the plugs (granted they were likely over 5,000 miles old and I had had a couple problems with a head gasket). When I got home, late that night, I did a quick compression test: 110, 60, 130, 100. Not good, but not too surprising either. Rather than a brakejob, Sunday would be spent putting the low mileage ported head and a new headgasket on the car. I bitched and moaned about how wantng to go racing seems to be as effective at causing things to break as actually racing, but I had expected to replace at least the gasket if not the head anyways.

After getting a much later start on the day than I meant, by late afternoon I had pulled the head. There was some really weird buildup around one of the exhaust valves, but I had a pretty fresh head ready to go on anyways. I then noticed that the pistons did not look good. OK, so there was a lot of coke buildup, but there were also rectangular divots in said coke buildup on piston #4. There was also little bits of piston missing around the edges, showing me more of the piston rings than I really wanted to see.

A new set of Venolia pistons is only about $250. They also take several weeks to make them up and ship them, too late for a race in two weeks. Then there is the fact that my dad is having heart surgery next week, and will need me to babysit him when he gets out of the hospital. This is going to play hell with the aggresive deveopment schedule at work, which is already stressed because a couple of the developers on our team decided that it was time for them to go to grad school, not that this will change the delivery due date. In short, racing is just not in the cards for me this year.

The good news is that I caught this before the pistons turned themselves into a large number of randomly shaped pieces of aluminum. I suppose that it is theoretically possible that if I remove the deposits from the top of the pistons, I might actually find that all the chunkiness is in the deposits. I'm not holding my breath over this however. The other bit of good news is that the cylinder walls are in fine shape. I don't have to rebore the motor, or perform any other expensive machine work, at least not that I know about at this time.

As long as I have to replace the pistons, rather than putting in the 8.8:1 pistons, I can install 8.0:1 pistons. Why would I want to put lower performance parts in my track car? Because a company in Australia, called hi-flow , sells a supercharger kit that bolts on to an MGB in about 4 hours of work (as reported by someone on the mgs mailing list). With the 8.0:1 pistons, this can be good for over 60% more horsepower. Considering that last year the car was putting 75bhp to the ground, this sort of infusion of power would bring her up to the acceleration ability of a new honda civic. This would be a really good power return on investment, except for the detail that if I had a few thousand dollars to spend on Trick Racing Shit, I'd be that much closer to paying off my debts so that I could afford to race on a regular basis. The reason that I'm not racing is very simple, I'm trying to get out of debt.

Besides, for what it would cost me to do all this cool stuff to the MG, I could probably buy a used Miata, which out of the box would probably turn a faster laptime than my MG would, even with the supercharger. I'm fairly sure that if I were to sell the car, as is, for the piddley amount that I could, and buy a used Miata, I'd be further along towards faster laptimes, for less money than if I tried to fix her up, that little bit more.

So, rather than having a racecar and an impending race in a couple of weeks, I have a freshly painted, nearly complete, mostly assembled, set of parts for something that loosely resembles a racecar, and a major conflict between what I want, and what I should do.

(**) When it drives by at 20mph from 20 feet away, it looks great.

http://validator.w3.org/check/referer Larry Colen
Copyright (C) 2001 Larry Colen
Most recently modified by lrc at Fri Aug 24 12:37:02 PDT 2001