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Why you should be careful managing your RAID

Shifting gears a bit from the normal fare, here!

I have computers at home. A few of them. There my desktop, which is an HP Pavilion case, but the HP motherboard died, so I swapped in a new one, so it really isn’t a HP Pavilion anymore. My girlfriend has a Lenovo mini-tower that’s probably 12 years old, but still gets the job done. My daughter has a Chromebook. There’s an old laptop hooked up to the TV in the basement, and then there’s my laptop.

But at the center of it all is the big boy in the basement. And by big boy, it has a really big case. It’s not that terribly powerful. My desktop has the same CPU and amount of memory in it.

But the big boy is the server for the house. It run Linux, boots off of 300GB laptop drive, and had four 1TB drives configured in a RAID10. It runs KVM, the Linux Virtualization system, and I have a few VMs I run on it to do things.

There’s a VM that houses all my MP3s and video files, and runs Plex Media Server so I can get to all my stuff from anywhere in the world. Then there are a few other utility partitions.

But this story isn’t about the cool software, it’s way down at the bottom of the stack, where the disks are. See, I picked RAID10 not for the screaming performance, but because it provided protection against half of my disks failing. Sure, RAID1 would have gotten me that, but RAID10 has a significant performance boost.

It’s worked well. But fast forward to today. I was running a two-disk mirror in my desktop. The other day, I replaced those with a single SSD, which made a huge difference in performance. Now having two extra disks, I figured it would be a good idea to slap them in the server and get some more space.

So, I shut the server down, and installed them. Booted up, and found them. I repartitioned them for the RAID software, did an OS update, and rebooted it again.

Then I went to add them to the raid. No big deal, but the added in as spares. When I tried to grow the array onto the spare, if complained. The RAID10 wasn’t expandable! Crap!

But wait! I was only using 880GB of the 2TB available, which means I had enough space to make a new RAID1 with the two new drives, migrate all my data, then rebuild the other four disks as a RAID6.

Then flip the data back over, and join the two new disks to the RAID6! Easy! Double disk failure protection maintained, data expansion achieved.

Except I got careless. After a reboot, the drives re-ordered themselves, and when I went to remove the spares, I accidentally removed one of the disks with data on it. The array instantly started rebuilding onto a spare. No biggie. Zero interruption, zero data loss.

MDADM rebuilding my array

But, this rebuild took about five hours, so I went off and did other stuff.

Once it was done rebuilding, I issued a pvmove to get everything from the first RAID10 to new RAID1:

The PVmove has started

Now, the beauty of all of this is, after the initial reboot where I confused myself and pulled the wrong drive, the system (and the VMs running from disk images stored on this array) all stayed up. I could stream Infinity War no problemo.

Streaming movies off my media server while it moves itself.

So, once the data was moved onto my fancy new mirror, I broke down the original RAID10 and rebuilt it as a RAID6.


And now we move it all again. A pvmove from md1 to md0 ensued. Again, all the apps stayed up. Which is good, because I kicked off the data move before the RAID6 had fully initialized. So it took forever. Nearly 24 hours. Oops.

But it finished. Once it did, I tore down md1 and added the disks to md0. Voila! A six platter RAID6 array with 3.7 terabytes of usable space!

So, you may ask, why go through all this trouble?

Because two reasons:

  1. My luck is bad. The RAID10 with four drives provided protection from at least one disk failure, and two disks if the “right” disks died. RAID6 protects me against a double disk failure under all conditions. Depending on used capacity, I can lose two drives, have it rebalance down onto the four remaining, and then lose ANOTHER drive.
  2. Expansion. The RAID10 couldn’t be grown. This can. So in the future, I can replace these 1GB platters with larger disks. As long as I do it one disk at a time, I keep the ability to lose a drive while it incorporates the new disk, and once all six have been replaced I can grow the raid into the additional space.

So there you have it, the answer to the question nobody asks: “What does Andrew do when he’s not working on that car?”

Except I worked on the car, too. Check out my Instagram for photos of the polish and wax job I pulled off in the garage.




On the subject of fiberglass bumpers

Well, I have a composite front bumper now.

The stats:

Material: Fiberglass impregnated resin
Weight: 7.3 pounds naked
Aluminum bumper support weight savings over stock bumper shocks: 3 pounds
Total installed weight savings over stock bumper (also weighed naked): 46.7 pounds

I could drone on about how to refinish a fiberglass part, but I’ll just hit it lightly and give you all some pictures, since there are literally thousands of how-tos on prepping and painting fiberglass. There’s no secret: Make sure the part is clean, use lots of body filler, and sand until your arms fall off.

I prepped and painted mine at home, in my basement, with Duplicolor rattle can product from the parts store. I think it came out just fine.

First scuff Primer
Lots of putty went into this thing. Wet sanding after paint
Finished with lights installed New lightweight aluminum bumper supports

Now, the big question? Why?

Weight is the enemy. The more mass the more energy it takes to move it, and once it’s moving, it takes even more energy to change it’s direction. On top of the simple question of mass, the position of the mass on the car makes some mass removal more effective than others.

In this case, I had 46 pounds of mass hanging two feet ahead of the front axle. Go to the gym. Pickup if a 45lb dumbbell, and hold it close to your chest, and twist your torso back and forth. Sure, the dumbbell is heave, but you can move pretty easily.

Now extend your arm with the dumbbell still in your hand and try to move it. The difficulty level goes up quite a bit, and the period, the amount of time it takes for you to move that mass from one side back to the other increases, just like a pendulum. It’s the same concept as a figure skater spinning.

So getting this much weight off of this particular location is going to be extremely noticeable. That 46.7 pounds of mass 24″ from the front axle actually gets multiplied in terms of the force it imparts on the front axle. By removing just 46.7 pounds from a lever arm that’s dangling two feet in front of the axle, I’ve removed possibly a hundred or more pounds of load from the springs and reduced the amount of force required to change the direction of the front of the car by a lot.


On the subject of hood vents

Many cars, mine included, have issues with air management under the hood. As speeds increase, the ability of air to pass through the radiator opening and then out of the engine compartment becomes somewhat troubled. In almost every instance, the high pressure that builds up inside the engine bay can actually stall airflow through the radiator, and cause overheating.

In my case, the high pressure built up also will exert a force on the hood from the bottom, which can actually lift the front end of the car off the ground at speed. I have experienced this first hand. It’s not cool.

So, with the track activities this past year exposing not just the front end lift problem, I also experienced issues with the car getting too hot at high speeds. A sure sign of airflow stalling as it moves through the radiator. This also leads not just to higher-than desired water temperatures, but the lack of airflow out of the engine bay leads to extremely high underhood temperatures, too. Stuff starts melting.

So, the answer? Vents. The air needs a place to go. The question is where to put them. Super-serious race cars vent it out the sides, through the fenders. This gets the heat out without affecting the dynamics of air flowing over the car, which could mess with a race car’s carefully designed and adjusted aero bits.

But  that’s hard for a street car. The easiest for me is a vented hood. Nobody makes one, though. So I’m going to have to buy a fiberglass hood, and cut holes in it.

But where to put the holes?

I needed to run an experiment. I needed to measure the air pressure on the top of the hood at speed in various locations. The spot with the lowest pressure would provide the greatest differential between the already-known-to-be-high pressures under the hood. Maximizing the pressure differential will maximize airflow.

First thing we need is something to measure with. You can use a fancy expensive magnahelic gauge, or go cheaper. I bought a manometer from Amazon for $35.

It has two ports. You leave one open to atmosphere, and run a hose from the other to the spot where you want to check pressures. It compares the different in pressure between the two ports and tells you what it is. The plan is to tape the end of the probe hose to various spots on the hood, drive around at a couple of speeds, and see what the results were.

So, since I’ll have to drive the car, I enlisted my daughter to operate the manometer and record the results.

First, the hood grid:

Gridded and labelled

Each spot corresponds to an area roughly the size of the vent that would end up being there. The plan?

Drive at 35mph and 65mph with the probe in the center of each section, record the pressure. We also measured, for novelty, the pressure on the fender where GM and ASC/MClaren put the side vents on the GNX.

Side vent!

And, to settle a debate that’s bounced around on the interwebz for awhile about removing the weather strip at the cowl end of the hood we also checked at the base of the windshield in the center:

Cowl test

So, fully instrumented, we set off. After about an hour of driving around and moving the probe, we had our results!

Speed/Location 35 65
1 -0.05 -0.06
2 -0.02 -0.06
3 -0.04 -0.02
4 -0.02 -0.39
5 -0.08 -0.38
6 -0.04 -0.33
7 -0.07 -0.27
Fender 0.7 -0.08
Cowl 0.18 0.42

The measurements are in KPA/100, and represent the difference in pressure between the reference port inside the car and the pressure on the hood. So -0.04 means 4kpa less than the reference port.

So, interesting!

First off, this proved a high pressure area forms at the cowl. So, do NOT remove the weatherstrip at the base of the windshield for cooling. It will actually force are INTO the engine bad from the top and stall out the radiator. That’s not what we want.

The other interesting data point was the fender location. That is where GM put the vents on the GNX. Part of the fender location was tradition: Harley Earl first used three vender vent holes as a styling cue for Buick back in the 1960s, so GM put them there. But that’s not the best place. At 35mph, we recorded a positive pressure there. At 65mph, the pressure differential was no greater than several spots on the hoot were at 35.

So, no need to invest in an GNX vent kit and cut my fenders. It’s a bad spot!

The best spots were areas 5, 6, and 7 on the hood:

The best was 5. So, a vent just in front of the bulge is going to provide the greatest pressure differential. Side vents at position 2, like you commonly see on Corvette hoods, won’t be optimal on this car. A forward location with respect to the engine will also help a lot. Air passing through the radiator slams right into the intercooler shroud and the front of the engine. With louvers in a forward position, that air will get sucked right out. It will also pull air past the turbocharger and wastegate complex, which should cut down on underhood temps overall.

So, something like this installed forward of the bulge:

Or a smaller pair on either side of the hood centerline in the area of zone 5, like these:

Either should dramatically improve airflow through the radiator, reduce pressurization of the engine bay and allow more are to move through it, and reduce front end lift at speed.

All I have to do now is measure again against some templates made for various louver offerings from Trackspec, and get myself a glass hood. And now that I know that placing vents up closer to the window in zones 1 or 2 won’t work as well, I don’t have to waste money on vents for those locations.

Isn’t science great?





G-Body rear disc brakes


There seem to be lots of people wanting to do disc brakes on the back end of their G-Body. There are kits from various vendors like Baer and Wilwood and Aerospace Brakes, but those kits are REALLY pricey. They’re likely worth it, but we’ll talk more about that later.

What we’re going to talk about here is attempting to do the conversion more cheaply. Lots have done it, but nobody that I’ve been able to find has really documented it well.

The set up I’m going to install here is based on Speedway Motor’s kit. It uses the rear calipers and rotors from a 1995 Cadillac El Dorado, along with some new backing/caliper mount plates from Scarebird Brakes. I chose to piece the kit together myself instead of buying Speedway’s because I think the Scarebird bracket is better. It’s one piece where the Speedway bracket is two, and it has a hose lock mount, which makes the install much cleaner. Also, the Speedway kit doesn’t include some necessary stuff, like flexible lines to adapt the axle hard line to the caliper. This is no small detail, and Speedway doesn’t even put the length and ends required in the instructions.

New, before we get into the nitty gritty, I’m going to answer two questions that I was never able to find answers for.

1. Do disc brakes save weight compared to drums?


At least, not with this setup. The El Dorado calipers are iron, and the rotor is not a flimsy piece. I weighed what I took off and what I put on, and this disc setup is five pounds heavier than my steel drum setup. This is where the high-end kits from Aerospace and Baer shine: They use aluminum calipers to save several pounds.

2. If it’s not lighter, why bother?

Because physics. Disc brakes are able to shed heat much faster than drums, so if you’re going to do any kind of road course work with the car, you want disc brakes. The drums work fine for autocross, but I actually had a problem at the last Wilmington Champ tour from heat buildup inside the drums. That course was nearly a mile long, and at the end of my last run, I had a little fade. Back in the paddock, after the car had sat while I changed tires, the shoes stuck to the drums and the car wouldn’t move until I judiciously applied some throttle to break them back loose.

3. Is a disc brake conversion a bolt and go?

Not on this platform.

At least, with this particular setup, you must have the axle flanges (the part with the lug studs in it) turned down by 0.190″. Otherwise, the rotor won’t fit over the flange. The Scarebird bracket eliminates any cutting or drilling on your axle housing. Other kits require enlarging the holes in the housing flange, and some even require cutting off the housing flanges and welding on new ones with bigger bearings and a bigger flange surface. Do your homework here, or you could end up with a brake kit you can’t install.

This route, in my opinion, is the easiest. It’s nearly a bolt in, and the parts are common GM stuff. New pads, rotors, and calipers are only as far away as your local parts store.

So, on to the parts list for attempt one:

Part Number Quantity Description Price Notes
NA 1 Pair of Scarebird Brackets $124 Scarebird Brakes
AAZ-18-4138 1 Caliper Passenger side $76.97 Summit
AAZ-18-4139 1 Caliper Driver Side $76.97 Summit
AXT-AXCD154 1 Bendix Ceramic brake pads $18.97 Summit
BEN-PRT1261 2 Bendix Rotor $71.88 Summit
RUS-657300 2 Brake Hose $47.97 Summit
WIL-260-13783 1 2LB residual pressure valve $19.78 Summit
Parts Total $436.54

Some other odds and ends you’ll also need: Gear oil  and brake fluid. I already had some, so I didn’t have to buy more. If you’re looking at the Speedway kit, this route is cheaper by about seventeen bucks after you’ve added the brake lines and the residual pressure valve.

The brake lines are Russel braided stainless units, 9″ long with a 3/8-24 inverted flare on one side, and 10mm banjo on the other.

The  two pound residual pressure valve is important. It keeps 2psi of pressure in the rear line, which keeps the pads pressed up against the rotor and help prevent knockback. It replaces the 10psi residual pressure valve you should have with your drum brakes (see my other posts from when I replaced my master cylinder).

I just got the $18 ceramic pads. I run Hawk HPS on my front brakes, but the rears don’t handle that much of the load, so I’m not convinced that I needed Hawk product on the back. If they prove to suck, I can always change them later.

Now, on to the how-to.

The first step is obvious, get the car off the ground and safely supported on jack stands, then remove the wheels.


Now, get the drum off. Depending on when you last serviced your brakes, this part might be easy, or it might be hard. It was pretty easy for me, they wiggled right off.

Drum gone! Shoes and springs!

With the drum out of the way, you have to take apart the shoe assembly. Take a picture of it before you do, just in case something happens and you have to put the drums back on. Remove the circular clips that hold the shoes on at the bottom, then get the springs unhooked from the pin at the top, and the whole mess will fall off the axle.

Next, pop the differential cover, remove the center pin in the differential carrier, and get the C-clips out, then pull the axles. Now is a good time to inspect your ring and pinion and the spider gears.

Now, the axle flange. I have read many a note regarding having to turn the axle flange down so it will fit into the new disc hats. But nobody says by how much. One of my favorite stories was a guy that put the car up in the air, started the engine, put it in gear, and then held a grinder up against the flange while the engine spun it. He just did that until the rotors went on. Novel, but I like being more precise. I also don’t want metal shavings all over the damn car.

So, I sat one of the drums down on the garage floor with the wheel face side up, then put the new rotor on top of it, and lined up the lug holes. I then stole some play-doh from my daugher’s ample supply, and placed it as such:


This allowed me to carfully set the axle down into the rotor. The putty compressed where it interfered, and gave me something to measure.

Test fit

Measure that squished part

Measure from the edge of the flange to the edge of that smashed putty, and you know exactly how much to take off the flange. Mine measured anywhere from 0.144″ to 0.160″. I had the machine shop turn it down by 0.200″ to make sure it would fit.

So, for google: You must turn down the axle flange by  at least 0.200 inch to get it to fit inside the rotor hat. More on this later.

While your axles are at the machine shop, go ahead and soak the brake line nut, the giant nut at the top of the backing plate that holds the wheel cylinder, and the two smaller bolts at the bottom in penetrating oil, and let them sit. After the liquid wrench has had time to work, hopefully you can break the line nut loose without destroying the brake line. Then you can remove the wheel cylinder and the backing plate.

Everything removed

Now would be a good time to replace the wheel bearings.

But there’s a catch here. There is a lot of slop in the axles on a C-clip rear end. This causes something called knockback, where the axle assembly moves laterally, with the disk moving along with it. This will knock the rear caliper pistons back into the caliper. The next time you go for the brakes, you’ll have a looooong pedal as the rear calipers push the pads back up against the rotor. Now that you have it apart, it’s an opportune time to take care of this.

I didn’t take care of this when I originally did the swap. More on that later.

From here, it’s easy. You put the new Scarebird caliper plate on. You put the axles back in. You put on the new brake hoses and attach the calipers. Then you mount the rotor and bolt the calipers to the bracket. Easy peasy. You swap the e-brake cables side-to-side to get enough length and hook them up.

All buttoned up? Ebrake isn’t connected yet, but it’s basically there

Then you do what I did: Put the wheels on and go for a test drive. During that test drive, you will probably realize the parking brake mechanism on the calipers hits the frame. That’s what happened to me. Oops. The El Dorado caliper also uses a ratchet mechanism that’s powered by the parking brake to seat the pads against the rotor. I never could get it adjusted properly. The brakes sucked.

so, tear it back apart and go shopping for a new caliper.

I settled on Wilwood’s 120-9333 caliper. It’s a lightweight cast-iron single-piston caliper that uses the same GM D154 pad as the El Dorado calipers. And it has no parking brake provision. That gave me the clearance I needed. I lost the parking brake, though. But I have an automatic transmission. The parking pall is way stronger than any parking brake would be.

But that changes the parts list:

Part Number Quantity Description Price Notes
NA 1 Pair of Scarebird Brackets $124 Scarebird Brakes
120-9333 2 Caliper Passenger side $159.90 Summit
AXT-AXCD154 1 Bendix Ceramic brake pads $18.97 Summit
BEN-PRT1261 2 Bendix Rotor $71.88 Summit
RUS-657300 2 Brake Hose $47.97 Summit
WIL-260-13783 1 2LB residual pressure valve $19.78 Summit
Parts Total $444.50

Here’s where the price started to climb. Sure, $444.50 total for what was on the car, but I had $180 ins useless El-Dorado calipers sitting on the floor. I eventually sold them at a swap meet for $75.

So, put all this together, and they worked!

Until I went to my first event. Knockback. Every corner I had to pump the brakes to push the rear pistons back against the rotor. It sucked. It was really bad in a slaloms. Upon entry, they’d be fine, but after one or two shimmies, I’d go to tap the brakes and there’d be none. It made things difficult.

So, how to fix the knockback? I was already using a floating caliper. I had to stop the axle flange from moving.

After some research, I settled on the Strange A1033 C-Clip eliminator kit. It provides a tapered outer bearing suitable for street and track use and adds a good bit of safety. A broken axle will not result in the wheel separating from the car.

Installation of the C-Clip eliminators is straightforward, but does require cutting on the axles and housing. There’s no going back. I also stepped up to a better brake pad set.

So here’s the new parts list:

Part Number Quantity Description Price Notes
NA 1 Pair of Scarebird Brackets $124 Scarebird Brakes
120-9333 2 Caliper Passenger side $159.90 Summit
A1033  1  Strange C-Clip Eliminator  165.99
DP41146R 1 EBC Bluestuff Pads $127.90 Summit
BEN-PRT1261 2 Bendix Rotor $71.88 Summit
RUS-657300 2 Brake Hose $47.97 Summit
WIL-260-13783 1 2LB residual pressure valve $19.78 Summit
Parts Total $717.42


We ended up ~$300 above the initial estimate by the time we were done. Youch. Not such a bargain, especially after factoring in all the time spent working the bugs out, and the money sunk into parts that were tried and removed isn’t in this total.

But, did it work?

Sort of. The C-Clip eliminators definitely make it better. But they don’t remove all the knockback. They just can’t. There’s not enough structure on our housing ends. The whole thing flexes under load. The Eliminator kit has turned out to be a wear item. After a season, I had a considerable amount of lash in the left side, so I replaced the entire kit. The bearings and races and seals added up to nearly $135 and were flung all over the country, which meant extended shipping times. The entire kit was in stock just up the road in Cincinatti. So the extra $30 to get them all in one box and delivered overnight made sense.

Does it work fine on the street? Absolutely. But for serious track duty, you need to bypass this whole mess and go straight to a full-floating axle assembly. There’s just no way around it. Everything else has turned out to be a frustrating band-aid.

If I were to do this all over again, I would have tried a set of Kirban aluminum drums with new shoes shod in the EBC compound, drilled the drum backing plate for ventilation, and built rear brake ducts. The drums seem expensive at $200 a set, but they slip straight on. They shed 10lbs of unsprung rotating mass off each corner, and no knockback problems. They’d be worth a try.





2018 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational – Part 3: OUSCI

The actual event! After 21 days of prep, three days of driving, four days of the car in the SEMA show, where I also walked nearly forty miles, it was finally time for the actual event.

The invitational follows the same multi-segment format as the regular season events, but runs are somewhat limited, and the schedule is altered to wrap it around the SEMA show.

For instance, we did D&E in Optima Alley.  I lucked into an early Thursday time slot. Going early in D&E can be an advantage, because it allows you to (in theory) score higher before they’ve seen other, possibly better cars. Of course, that doesn’t logically follow, because the judges will simply score the better cars above you anyway. Sure, the margins get squeezed, but I don’t think the finishing order changes much.

The big advantage is getting it out of the way. During the regular events, lines at D&E can leave racers making choices between staying in line for D&E, or missing autocross runs. That wasn’t a problem in Vegas.

Picture doesn’t show it, but I was way out of shape here. Credit: Kaleb Kelley

Friday night, we moved into the paddock area like any normal Friday. By the time I’d gotten there, my Dad was already helping a fellow racer replace a smashed transmission pan. We got him running that night and he ran the weekend without further problems.

Saturday we got up bright and early and headed to the track. Today we had but one thing to do: Autocross.

The autocross course was actually two courses. Side by side starts on sort-of-mirrored courses, and only six runs to get the job done.  It was like an SCCA Pro Solo but without the tree. Fastest time from each side was added together for the final time. The courses as laid out by Brian Mason were short, and not very Buick friendly. Each side featured a switchback, greater than 90 degree turn that proved challenging for me and the car. My new EBC Bluestuff pads also turned out to need some break-in after all. During my first run, I mashed the brakes for a 180 midway through the right hand course, and the car just didn’t slow down. I sailed off course, finally able to make the turn after scoring a blatant DNF. The pads improved dramatically over the next two runs. By the time the afternoon run group came around, they were superb.

At the end of Saturday, I was sitting pretty in 17th in GTV in the autocross segment. My worse finish of the year, but this was the invitational. I was running against all the people that had actually won at events. The goal of not-last was intact.

Saturday evening was the road rally, and the cooling fans came back to bite us again. We couldn’t get both of them to run. Pull the relay for the fan that was running, and the other fan would come on. Plug the relay back in, fan wouldn’t come on. Pull the other relay, the fan that wasn’t running would come on. Back and forth.

We eventually tracked it down to the power source for the relays. I was getting 12v from an unused brake warning light feed that’s powered off the dash. The feed couldn’t supply enough amperage to run both relays at the same time. Oops.

Locking up the rears during Speed Stop. Credit: Kaleb Kelley

We spliced 12v from the A/C compressor clutch, which had enough juice, and the problem was solved (temporarily).

Sunday morning was Hot Laps and speed stop. After Orientation Laps, I made my first speed stop runs. The car worked. The Traction Control worked. The Speed Stop courses featured the same switch-back turn from the autocross course the day before, and I think I managed that feature much better on Sunday.

My first hot-lap session was uneventful until the last lap. As I was approaching the front straight, the car died. I coasted into pit road and restarted the vehicle. It ran normally. We were puzzled. I emailed a log file off to Eric Marshall at Turbotweak.

Instead of running my second track session, we decided to get all of my morning Speed Stop runs in. It was less risky since we didn’t know why the engine had stalled.

But Eric got back with us quickly, right before lunch. We’d lost sync from the camshaft sensor. The TR6 ignition was set to kill the engine if the cam sensor signal was lost, and that’s exactly what it did. This was a huge relief. This was not an engine damaging event. It was a loose connector. It also didn’t happen again.

So we sent it back out. My afternoon hot lap session went perfectly. I was still learning the track, so my laps were far from competitive, but I was still good for 17th in GTV. My Speed Stop landed me in 18th. A better than expected D&E performance landed me at 17th overall in GTV and 67th overall out of 100 for the event.

Hot Laps! Credit: Kaleb Kelley

Very much not-last.

We opted to skip the final road course session. I didn’t expect to go any faster due to being dead tired. So we packed all our stuff, then drove the car over to the road course paddock for the big OUSCI group picture shoot. After that was the awards ceremony.

Brian Johns cheesing for the camera after winning GTC

Then we loaded up on the trailer and headed back to the AirBnB.

The next morning, we left for home. With my Dad and I swapping seats every fuel stop or so, and napping along the way, we managed to drive straight through. 33 hours in the car and we were home. Tired, dirty, but with a running car and huge sense of accomplishment.

To-do list for the off-season is surprisingly small, and I’ll detail these further in another post:

  • Still having water cooling issues, need to address that
  • The car needs a vented hood to reduce front-end lift and improve cooling. A front splitter is probably a good idea, too
  • Weight reduction. New front bumper is already here. Vented hood will likely be fiberglass. A glass trunk lid with a spoiler might not hurt
  • It needs stiffer springs. Going to have to fiddle with that.

Compared to what I’ve had to test and fix since last August, this list is nothing. It’s a weekend’s worth of work once the parts arrive.

Now the thanks. I could not have done this alone. Big, huge thanks to:

My Dad. Road trip partner, sounding board, rock of support.
My girlfriend, Darcy. Patient, supportive, I’m amazed you’re still with me.
My Daughter, who is my biggest fan
EBC Brakes: Thanks for sponsoring me and supplying me with some excellent friction materials
Boost Crew Motorsports: Without their technical assistance and valuable 20+ years of experience drag racing these cars, the vehicle would not have survived the season.
TurboTweak, who supplied my ECM, the new MS3Pro based ECUGN. It worked flawlessly since the first turn of the key after installing it., for all your vinyl needs
Fay’s Suspension, this Watts Link works.
SpeedTech Performance, supplier of quality suspension components
AFCO Racing, for my custom-valved shock absorbers
The Kentucky Region of the Sports Car Club of America, for providing the playground I needed to be the kind of driver I need to be to compete at this level
The Ultimate Street Car Association for putting these events on!
Optima Batteries for being the title sponsor for the series!

And a host of others I’ve missed. Thank you all. I couldn’t have done this with you. The plan for the winter is to relax, address the things above, and maybe go after it again.

Driver and crew chief!


2018 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational – Part 2: SEMA

After getting the invite to the Optima Ultimate Street Car invitational, I faced a daunting task. I got the invite on October 8, 2018. Load-in for SEMA was 8pm on October 29. I had 21 days to secure lodging, make sure the car was set, clean the car, make sure the tow vehicle and trailer would make it, and pack.

The first thing I did was put the car on jack stands and go through it. What did I find? The front brakes were cooked. The rear bearing assemblies had excessive play. The exhaust was leaking at a slip joint under the torque converter. All of this had to be fixed. On top of that, I needed to get the car to a professional detailer to polish the pain out properly and detail the engine bay.

Of course, my typical luck reared its head. The parts to rebuild the rear bearing assemblies got lost by UPS and were delayed a week. I had order a second set and have them next day’d to get the rear end back together in time. I returned the first order once they finally showed up.

New EBC Bluestuff pads

The brakes were another conundrum. I wasn’t happy with my Hawks. They stopped the car great, but I was less than ½ the way through a set of pads, but the rotors were toast. With pads being $150 an axle, but the rotors being nearly $500, this equation was balancing backwards. I turned to EBC. I ordered a set of Yellowstuff pads on the recommendation of many good friends, some of whom had won SCCA National Championships with them. But when the pads arrived, the bed-in procedure wasn’t going to work. EBC recommended 1000 miles of street driving to properly bed them. I had a week.

So I contacted EBC’s tech support for advice on an accelerated bedding procedure. That conversation ended with me in EBC’s sponsor program and a set of pre-bedded EBC Bluestuffs being sent to me. Awesome. Thank you EBC!

New engine oil cooler

I also added an oil cooler, hoping it would remove that source of heat from the radiator and get me the kind of endurance I’d need to finish a track session.

The car hit the detailer, and once I’d fished the stupid air freshener pads out from under the seats, it was ready to go.

The Period Correct Tow Pig got an oil change and an inspection at Grossman Tuning, and I was declared ready to tow my car across the country.

So, the night before departure, we loaded the car on the trailer, threw all the gear in the bed of the truck and got a good night’s sleep. We even plastic wrapped the car, since we were anticipating driving through a lot of rain.

Seent! The PoorVette!

The trip to Las Vegas we uneventful. We stopped for gas about every 300 miles, and stopped for the night in Amarillo and Flagstaff. We passed a car hauler with a couple of fellow competitors on it between Amarillo and Flagstaff, and we got passed by from friends on 93 between Kingman and Vegas, which was funny.

The famous Cadillac Ranch

Load-in Monday night was a thing. We had to be in the Platinum lot at 8pm, with a drivers’ meeting at 9 and load-in to start at about 12. As my luck would have it, the car’s cooling fans didn’t work on the drive to the platinum lot. We spend a good bit of the time trying to figure out what the hell was going on. We managed to hot wire it so one fan worked, which got me to Optima Alley, where it would sit in the SEMA show for the remainder of the week.

All loaded in to the show

The SEMA Show. Wow. Enormous. My Dad and I walked almost forty miles that week, and I don’t think we saw half of it. Every new car gadget and gizmo was on display. The booth cars were breathtaking. We even busted some Chinese firm that was selling counterfeit knock-off wheels.

Just ONE of the halls.

The car got a LOT of attention. People walking down the line almost always stopped. If we were near the car, they asked questions. Lots of questions. It was fun.

Friday was SEMA Ignited! They guided us out of Optima Alley and into a gauntlet lined with bleachers. There was an MC announcing all the cars. Jay Leno crossed the road right in front of me, gave me a thumbs up, came around to the drive side window and told me the car “looks good.” Jay Leno liked my car. It’s officially cool.

Once we escaped the madness of the Ignited show, we were on our own getting to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to set up paddock. Once I got the car there, my Dad met me, and we stopped to help Nick Kistler replace his crushed transmission pan.

Once that was done, we retired to the AirBnB apartment we’d rented for the week, and crashed. In the morning, the actual Optima Invitational would start. Stay tuned for the recap of the final weekend!



2018 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational – Part 1: The Run Up

First, a brief history on my involvement in the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car series:

Back in 2015, my friend Brian Mason sent out a feeler to our local SCCA region about the Optima USCA event that was coming to NCM that year. At the time, my car was not in the kind of shape to undertake track work, so I didn’t sign up. But I researched the series, and decided it was worth trying. I spent the winter prepping the car, mainly by replacing the radiator and fans, since I anticipated heat being a problem (oh my, how right I was). A year later, I took it to the 2016 NCM event.

It didn’t finish day one. An electrical problem with the new fans left me with no fans. I had respectable D&E scores and mid-pack autocross times, but the car didn’t even start the road rally and I ran none of the Sunday segments. I vowed to be back.

In 2017, I ran the Midwest Muscle Car Challenge, then the Optima event at NCM. I did really well, all things considered. 10th in class overall at NCM. The car finished the event, I was happy.

Then came New Jersey. I drove the car to NJMP.  Thirteen hour hour drive with my tires in the back seat. The autocross on Saturday was a brutally competitive and close fought battle. Less than half a second separated positions 2-11 in GTV. I landed at ninth on the autocross portion. I also got one Speed Stop run in on Sunday. But during my second track session, I spun a rod bearing. I lucked into a spot on a friend’s trailer and got the car home.

After that event, I looked back at my previous events and decided, “I can do this.”

I was about to turn 40, and the engine had to come out of the car anyway. Instead of doing the typical mid-life crisis thing (buy a Corvette and some gold chains) I set a goal for myself to get the car into the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational in 2018. I had a plan:

  • Upgrade the car to survive the events
  • Run at least three events

I couldn’t afford the kind of build that would garner an invite by winning a single event, but I could afford the kind of build that would finish well enough consistently enough to get in to the invitational on points.

Over the winter of 2017-2018, I rebuilt the engine. I won’t completely recap that build here, since you can learn all about it in my earlier blog posts. But, unlike my previous rebuild in 2014 after a simple head gasket failure, I went pretty much all-out. Starting with a quality forged crank and moving outward, I built an engine following a recipe that goes in 10 second drag cars, but instead of running it at 25-30 psi, the plan was to run it at 15-17. Instead of a razor’s edge 900hp, I settled for a dead-nuts reliable 450.

Additional preparation included an auxiliary transmission and power steering cooler, seats and four point harness, and additional sensors.

For 2018, I signed up for three Optima events: NOLA Motorsports Park, NCM Motorsports Park, and Barber Motorsports Park. These were the three events closest to me. I also entered the Midwest Muscle Car Challenge, and I won a two-day track event from the Kentucky Porsche Club. The SCCA Time Trials Nationals at NCM would close out my year. All of this was to compete and develop the car. As it turns out, I would need all of the events to get across the finish successfully. Here’s a (very) brief synopsis of the track events of 2018:

NOLA, April 14: First event of the year for me, period. No testing on the car. Parts delays during the engine build had me cutting it close, but I made it. Scored 343 points despite issues with hose couplers blowing off on the road course and Speed Stop.

Midwest Muscle Car Challenge, May 14: Putnam Park, wastegate bolts failed, blowing wastegate gaskets; nylon push lock vacuum lines melted.

NCM, June 2: Transmission overheated, still had problems with popping on Speed Stop because of leaking exhaust gaskets; A hose touching cam sensor was pushing it around, causing the engine to lose cam sync and stall. Still scored 321 points.

PCA Track Weekend, June 8: Two days at Putnam Park, No major problems

Barber Motorsports Park, August 4: First event with new ECUGN computer. Extra power exposed dramatic issues with body movement, new shocks and springs would be required; transmission overheated; melted MAP lines caused popping and stalling. Still scored 307 points. New AFCO shocks ordered and installed the following week.

Peru CAM Challenge, August 18: Transmission overheat and ensuing fire required a transmission rebuild and a much larger cooler.

SCCA TT Nationals, September 28: Turbocharger gasket failure ended weekend early, required replacing turbo mount hardware with Inconel studs and a better gasket

At this point, I had run a very intense season, scored a total of 975 points, and had been mentioned in three OUSCI prediction articles:

But it wasn’t a done deal. I was very much on the bubble. I didn’t register for the Road America event, which means my fate was in the hands of the GTV competitors that showed. If a dark horse or two made the event and laid down some serious points, I was going to get bumped out of contention.

And when the results from Road America were published Sunday night after the event, some back of the envelope calculations revealed I had, in fact, missed the cut:

Final Results after Road America

Final Results after Road America

But! All is not final. People sometimes can’t make it and that bumps others up. The next morning I got this communication:

Facebook Message from Optima Jim

Facebook Message from Optima Jim

I told Jim that if invited, I would accept. I’d just done the math and didn’t think I’d made it. I was wrong.

Later that day, the actual invitation arrived. I’d done it. Despite all the issues, I’d done well enough to be invited to the premier invitational automotive competition for street legal cars in the nation. My car was going to be on display at SEMA, and I’d get a chance to compete against the best of the best at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Goal achieved. Now it was time to prep the car and actually get there.


Cooling is a thing.

While my friends are still tearing up the track at NCM, I’m looking at logs. Figured out the bottleneck in my cooling system: Engine oil.


You can click for a full-sized view. In the bottom chart, you can see the water temperature (green) stabilize along with the engine oil (white) while the transmssion continues to climb until it stabilizes a bit later (red).

The first good bit of the log is the out lap, so not WOT.

When I started hammering on it, the oil temp suddenly rises, and the water follows. The transmission’s temperature bumps every time I got WOT. All of the increases are correlated with high torque converter slip events. At NCM there’s not a lot of time between WOT segments. There’s the front straight, but the back esses and the stretch between Deception and Tabletop are so gently curved I was flat through there, so the track has essentially three ~2000′ straights. The back and middle sections are also uphill. So those put a bunch of heat in the converter. The car can’t shed it fast enough.

So, common element here is the radiator. The engine oil and transmission oil pass through coolers in the radiator. The transmission now has a huge auxiliary cooler, but not the engine oil. The heat from the engine oil is dragging the water temp up, which is pulling up the transmission temp. Once the water temperature exceeds the transmission temp, the water is going to start shedding heat into the the transmission circuit instead of the other way around. Thermodynamics. All three systems will want to reach the same temperature. Sadly, I think that temp would be somewhere close 250.

So I probably need to disconnect the engine oil cooler loop in the radiator and run that through its own exchanger.


Where I have been?

It’s been a months since my last entry, and things have been interesting.

After the meltdown at Birmingham, I thought I had licked the transmission issues with an additional cooler, and I had replaced all the melted MAP lines and covered them in heat-resistant sleeve. I also found a turbocharger gasket that had burned through, and replaced it along with all new hardware.

Transparent gaskets are cool!

But all was not good. I travelled to Peru, Indiana for the CAM Challenge. On my third run of the day, the car caught fire. Oops.

Quick thinking by corner workers had the fire out, and after a tow back to the pits and a couple hours spent cleaning up my mess, I had the car on the trailer and ready to go home. When I got home, the transmission came out.

What I found wasn’t pleasant.

That’s not good

Scoring and chatter marks indicated the torque converter was moving in unwanted ways. The heat had melted a nylon spacer in the pump and make a mess. There may have been other issues, too. In any case, the transmission went back to to the shop and the torque converter went back to PTC for diagnosis.

The verdict from PTC was the thing got hot. They freshened the converter and sent it back with a recommendation: use thicker transmission fluid. Apparently the thinner stuff will cavitate inside the converter and that creates a lot of heat.

So that led off into some research into transmission fluids. I had been using Mobil1, becaue it has a really high temperature tolerance. But it turns out Mobil1 is really thin. I charted all the major varieties of cluid I could find information on and came up with this:

Comparison of flashpoint and viscosity index

The brands are sorted by viscosity index. The Red Line high temp is the heaviest, but has a rather low flashpoint. The Motul Dexron III is slight thinner but with a much higher flashpoint. But the Motul costs $17 a quart.

Moving over one more, the Castrol Transmax Dex/Merc gives me almost as much viscosity as the Motul. The flashpoint is lower than all the Motul products, but higher than everything else. And it’s $14 a GALLON. Winner

Additionally, I addressed the cooling issues:

Old and busted on top.

This new cooler is more than twice the size of the old one. It nearly fills the grill apterture.

New cooler installed

Around the radiator you’ll see the new radiator box in kit from GNS Performance. This kit replaces some rubber baffles that had seen better days. It forces all air entering the grill opening through the radiator opening. Nothing leaks out or around.

I got some dope headlight covers from my friends at TR Custom Parts. No pics because I haven’t installed them yet, but back in the day I had a set. They were worth over 1mph in the quarter mile. I figure with the car being much faster and going on race tracks, they couldn’t hurt.

And to top it all off, I replaced the suspension… again. New 250 pound springs in the rear, and new Afco shocks all around, with the fronts being custom valved 70 series. Hopefully the wallowing we saw in Birmingham will be resolved.


All I’m waiting on now is the transmission itself to get back. Fingers crossed it happens soon. My next local event is an autocross here in town on the 16th, followed by the SCCA Time Trials Nationals at the end of the month.




Optima: Battle of Birmingham

My third and final Optima USCA event of 2018 is in the books. I’d gone into the event with high hopes, but sadly I ended the weekend with my sails deflated.

After having recently installed the awesome new ECUGN in the car, it was running great. More than great. It was awesome. Full boost in every gear, correct AFRs, traction control. I was primed to kick some doors down. But it was not to be. This weekend was yet another lesson in bottlenecks and balloon squeezing.

But first, let’s talk about Barber Motorsports Park. I’d heard that this track was something to behold. The stories didn’t do it justice. I’ve been to some nice golf clubs. This place was nicer. The grass was perfect. There were sculptures hidden all over the place. There was a giant metal spider in the infield.

Arrival Friday afternoon was uneventful. The format was a bit different due to some peculiarities with the track and a PCA event running that day. I listen to the Optima podcast regularly, so I had the scoop on how it was supposed to work. When the time came, we made an orderly transition from the side lot to the paddock. It took less than an hour. Bit props to the staff for pulling that off.

Saturday morning at Barber Motorsports Park

Saturday is autocross and D&E day, and those went well enough. The autocross course was on a section of the facility called the proving grounds. Instead of a giant flat piece of asphalt, it was a series of curves around beautifully manicured grass islands, with an enormous banked turn in the back. I’d never driven on a turn with this kind of banking before, so I decided to push the limits early. I found them:

Lesson for corner workers: Run perpendicular to the car, not away from it.

My best run was a 39.3 I think. It was a mid-pack finish. The car didn’t feel as sharp as I’d hoped. Here’s the in-car of the best run, check out the Buick pulling 1.9g on the banking:

But the lack of sharp handling? Well, Brian Mason managed to catch me running from a vantage point up on the hill, and well, watch this boat pitch and wallow:

So, either my shocks have died, or the extra power and braking has imparted forces on them that they can’t handle properly, or a combination of the two. Either way, this thing is all over the place. I’ll need to fix that. Soon.

GTV Doing D&E

Then, on my last few runs, I started having issues with the car wanting to stall and popping. A quick check under the hood found a melted MAP line. That’s bad. On a speed-density system, if the MAP signal is wrong, the fueling is wrong, and you can damage stuff. Fortunately, the ECUGN has a failsafe. I have a backup table loaded that registers RPM vs. Throttle position, and specifies what the MAP reading should be. If the reading from the sensor is too far from that table, the ECUGN switches to the table. That keeps the engine fueled properly even in the event of a MAP line failure. the issue is at low throttle inputs, the MAP signal wasn’t far enough from the table value, so it switched back and stalled or popped.

Melted MAP line

These melted MAP lines would turn out to be a recurring theme for the rest of the weekend.

I did pretty well at D&E this year. 26th overall, scoring 74 points. I think that’s my best D&E finish ever. And I needed it. My middling autocross performance didn’t do me any favors.

Sunday was track and speed stop day. Hoo boy is this track fun. It’s technical, lots of elevation changes. Plenty of places where the wrong line will hang you out to dry. I loved it. For one session.

My best lap was my first lap. 1:56.9. I caught up with some of my compatriots and never got around them. The car felt great except in the downhill braking sections. Once again, the shocks weren’t up to the task. For instance, in the lap video above, you’ll notice a little screw-up braking through the corkscrew. The rear tires came off the ground. Oops.

Sadly, on the last lap of the session, my transmission temps hit 220, and fluid burst forth from the dipstick tube, running down on the exhaust, and creating a spectacular cloud of smoke. At the same, the car backfired, which led many observers to think I’d blown the engine.

But no worries! It was just that stupid MAP line melting shut again! Damnit.

And to top it off, the studs that hold the turbocharger to the exhaust manifold backed out and the gasket failed. Steel studs don’t like extreme heat cycles, and they finally gave up.

So, back to the pits. I shuffled off to the parts store to get some brake cleaner and more tubing. I cleaned up the engine bay as much as I could with the brake cleaner, and I replaced that melted tube again, this time covering it with some DEI branded high-temp sleeving. I cinched down the nuts on the turbocharger as much as I could and headed for the Speed Stop.

I managed a clean set of runs. But, at the end of the right side, the car stalled. The replacement MAP line didn’t quite fit right at the sensor nipple, and it was leaking. It also couldn’t build boost quickly because of the exhaust leak. Unable to address the issues at the track, I loaded up and headed home.

So, the event was disappointing for me, but at the same time, not a total washout. I still managed 307 points, which puts me at position six in GTV for the season. With two events left, it’s possible for a select few people to leap ahead of me, but there is still a slim (slim) mathematical possibility I could land one of the at-large bids to the invitational event in Vegas. I’ll know in October. It’s out of my hands now.

As for the rest of the year, well, how about the rest of this week? The SCCA CAM Challenge is this weekend in Peru, Indiana. So far I’ve already replaced the burned up transmission fluid and removed a lot of melted electrical conduit. The melted conduit has been replaced with DEI sleeving that should hold up better. The leaking MAP line has been replaced and also properly heat shielded. The turbocharger comes off tonight so I can replace those worn out steel studs with Inconel studs and lock bolts, and I have a new set of springs and AFCO shocks slated to arrive Thursday that I’ll throw in Thursday night.

So stay tuned! CAM East this weekend. The next big event for me after that will be the inaugural SCCA Time Trials Nationals at NCM in late September!

A huge thank you to Boost Crew Motorsports for help getting the ECUGN going and a list of other small bits of assistance that made getting there at all possible, and big props to the FM3 crew and Optima for putting on yet another fantastic event!