This past weekend I had the distinct honor of participating in the the Midwest Muscle Car Challenge, brought us by the good folks at Bowler Transmission. There’s so much to unpack from the weekend, so I’ll start at the beginning.
First, the event format. It’s a track day combined with a highway cruise combined with an autocross. Very similar to the Optima events, but way more laid back. Successfully completing this event was rather satisfying for me, as it was the culmination of two years of car prep, including a failed attempt at an Optima event last year.
I’m going to start the story last early last week. I was faced with a dilemma: Rain was predicted. My street tires were old Dunlop Direzza Star Specs with just 2/32s of an inch of tread left, and my racing tires were year old Rival S tires with between 3/32 and 5/32 left. Neither of those were going to work well in the rain, and having driven on the Direzzas in the rain a few months ago, just getting to the event was going to be dangerous.
So I spring for a set of the new Continental ExtremeContact Sport. It’s a new tire that’s been reported by One Lap of America participants and a few magazine reviews to have near magical wet weather capabilities, while still being competent in the dry. And they are a 340 treadwear tire, so they’ll last a while. A call to my local Discount Tire, and I had them mounted by Thursday in time to leave.
The drive up to the event hotel in Cloverdale, Indiana was uneventful. But when I pulled into a parking spot at the hotel and pushed my gear lever into park, the shift cable snapped, immobilizing the car. Damnit.
So what do you do? Broken shift cable on a thirty year old car, and it’s 7pm on a Thursday? You start calling parts stores . Amazingly, an Advance Auto Parts in Terre Haute said they had one. We dropped the trailer off a friend’s truck and drove the thirty miles and acquired the cable.
Once we got back, another good friend had unloaded his trailer, fired up his generator, set up lights, and was ready to help. Getting the old cable out was a breeze, but the new cable didn’t fit. Turns out the parts store had sold me the shift cable for a THM200C, the three speed transmission, not the cable for the TH200-4R that I had.
After cussing a bit, we used some hose clamps and zip ties to make the cable work for the weekend. The car had park, reverse, neutral, and drive, and that’s all I needed. It worked perfectly all weekend.
The next morning was Friday, and we all showed up at Putnam Park
road course at 7am sharp. It was damp and misty in the morning, but quickly dried. There was a novice class room session for green people like me, and then about ten in the morning, we set off on our first session.
What a rush. I took it really easy, because I had no idea what the car was going to do. My instructor was really patient and very helpful. Between my worst lap and my best, we cut six seconds off during the session. I learned that the brakes were iffy, but grip was fantastic. The car handled really well, doing nothing untoward.
The second session started on a very wet track. The new tires showed their worth. My fastest wet lap was faster than my fastest lap from the previous session. These tires work so well in the wet that this novice driver didn’t have to make adjustments for the conditions. The car never slipped or broke traction. I was able to go full throttle down the entire length of the front straight and brake for turn one without any issues, and cornering was basically the same as it had been the first session. Sure, I was green and not pushing hard enough to need to make adjustments, but it was nice being able to concentrate on the line and not have to worry about also adjusting for poor traction.
The third session, I finally mustered the courage to mash the gas and really try to attack things. My times improved by another few seconds, and the brakes got even worse. But wow was it fun! 110mph before lifting for turn one. Sadly, I was having to brake at the 500 foot mark, and really early for most of the other corners because, well, my brakes are just too small for this car. But on the other hand, they got me through the day. They didn’t fade out, they just took awhile longer to stop the car than my fellow session mates.
The fourth session, I was able to go for broke. I got the car down to 1:31.6 with a lot of brake fade towards the end of the session. I even managed to get two wheels off at turn 7. I pitted in early after noticing that I was out of gas. Oops.
So, after four sessions totaling over 70 laps – nearly 120 miles of driving at wildly elevated speeds – the car survived without a burp. Though when I got home, there were some items to address. More on that later.
To say I was overjoyed is wildly understating things. I had my first real hit of the go-fast crack pipe. My friend Eric lamented the day. He was hoping he wouldn’t like it, because track days can be expensive. He loved it, and so did I.
Big props to 10/10ths Motorsports for running the track day. I had been quite nervous leading up to the event, and they made it run smoothly. I had the most fun I’ve had in an automobile since high school, and that fun didn’t involved the car moving anywhere.
After the track day wrapped up, we drove the thirty miles or so to Raymond’s Performance in Plainview, Indiana for dinner. The food was good, lots of really cool cars showed up in the parking lot, but it broke up a bit early. I think everybody was tired.
The next morning was the autocross at the Terre Haute International Airport. The course was a GoodGuys type due to limited space. A forty second first gear course made up of switchbacks and a slalom. The lack of my Rivals was apparent. I wasn’t competitive at all. Worse, after my third run, the heavens opened up, and that was that. About an hour later, there was a break in the rain, and they ran the challenge to determine the event winners, we had lunch, we did awards, and it was over.
With the event over, it was time to go home.
The next day began the post event inspections. And, umm, wow.
The tires looked great. The front brake pads were shot. My ghetto-fab transmission overflow setup worked, but also picked up a rock or
hit the ground and got a pinhole leak, so I had a puddle of transmission fluid under the car. Better in my garage than on the course.
But the most surprising find was under the hood. I melted some stuff. Specifically, the plastic things on the passenger side of the engine bay took some abuse from the downpipe. My radiator overflow tank was deformed, as was the inner fender liner and some plastic insulation on the A/C lines.
Obviously, this was less than ideal. This let me know I needed to raise the hood in between sessions, and we needed some heat shielding. Lacking time and patience to fab a proper one from metal, I used heat deflecting tape to wrap the offending areas. This should help it get trough the Optima event next week, and then I can spend June fabricating something prettier.
This should also be a wake-up call to my friends running alcohol injection and using the coolant overflow tank to hold their methanol. Last year at this same event, a friend of mine had an oil cooler line go which started a small fire, which turned into a big fire after the coolant tank breached and the methanol ignited. My experience shows that you don’t have to have a fire to damage the coolant tank.
If you have alcohol injection, move your methanol tank out of the engine bay!
I also fabricated a bracket to protect the transmission overflow bottle and keep it from dragging the ground.
So, the car survived with minimal problems. I’ve since also repaired the shifter with the proper cable, and new brake pads will be here shortly, this time stepping up to the Hawk DTC-30/SR compound to see if some extra Mu on the pads can improve things enough that I won’t want to go drop $1900 on a big brake kit.
Stay tuned for an update after the Optima event. Now that I can consider the car to be fully tested, I’m excited to begin that event without having to worry about the car.
Big thanks this weekend to some people that made it possible for me to actually participate: Eric Brown, for the ride to Terre Haute, and lugging around my Rivals that I ended up not using; Troy and Peggy Higginson, for all the help Thursday night getting my transmission cable patched up, plus some damn good food Friday; Lance Hamilton, for a great place to hang out Friday night; Gene Corbett, my track instructor, for patiently bring this n00b from terrified greenie to competent by slow not-as-much-a-greenie.
Stay tuned for my update after the Optima event!