Monthly ArchiveJune 2018

2018 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car – NCM

This weekend went well. It did not go perfectly, but it went well.

The third leg of the 2018 Optima Search For the Ultimate Street Car visited NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, and for the third year in a row, I was there. For the first time, I had my daughter with me as my crew chief. We loaded up in the Period Correct Tow Pig and headed south.

Friday went just like any Friday at one of these events goes. Arrive unload, tech, hang out. I scored all my D&E points for equipment working properly, got the stickers on the car, walked the autocross course a few times, and met up with Eric Brown for dinner. I had a sandwich nearly dropped in my lap, and retired to the hotel for a mostly sleepless night.

Saturday morning began the festivities. It wasn’t that hot on the thermometer – mid-high eighties – but it was HUMID.

This year, instead of running the autocross as a free-for-all, they’ve split the classes into run groups. GTV was in the second run group, so I had the morning to stew for a bit before taking my shot at it.

I managed my best autocross run in the first session, my third run, a 31.8. At the moment, that was good for fourth in class. But others got faster as the day wore on and I didn’t. I ended up ninth, which is still respectable, and just a tenth faster would have launched me several spots up. Spots 3-9 were inside the same second. It was close.

A comedic moment: As I came off the course on one of my runs, I noticed James Greenwell running at Optima Jim McIllvane, who was sitting at the finish with his camera, screaming, “Please tell me you got that!”

What Jim hadn’t gotten was my car picking the front wheel several inches off the ground coming out of the last turn of the autocross. Another photographer caught me packing the tire in another turn, and that shot has already made the rounds on Facebook.

And before you ask, my GoPro failed me. It got video, but all the GPS and accelerometer data was corrupt, so no track maps or G-meter data for this weekend, which sucks. I’m pretty sure I was pulling some major Gs, especially on the road course.

This is my *second* best run. The camera didn’t catch the first one. Somehow I switched it to still mode and it didn’t record. Doh.

Further, two weeks ago the Kentucky Region SCCA had an autocross at NCM. Same surface, similar conditions, so it’s a great opportunity to see if my upgraded GN1 intercooler worked:

Two weeks ago on top, Optima on bottom.

Two weeks ago on top, Optima on bottom.

Data doesn’t lie. The new intercooler reduced my average intake temperature by 11 degrees, and the minimum temperature by fourteen. And this is just a 30 second autocross. You can see the intake temperature plummets with airflow through the core.

Design and Engineering went well. I went in with a plan, and executed it. My standing at the end, however, was disappointing. Despite really good scores, others had better scores. My nearly stock body work and original 30 year old paint were my weak spots, netting me scores in the middle fives out of a possible eight. My drivetrain and suspension scores were in the middle-to high sevens. I have to figure out a way to goose my body scores, and name dropping more parts vendors will help. I managed to not run out of time this year, so if I repeat that speech, I have space to add some more detail. I may need to work on some props, too. I got better D&E Judging scores than NOLA, but ended up with fewer points because of how the series assigns points. They rank everybody, first to last. Your rank is your point total, not your actual judging numbers.

The line for D&E gets long sometimes.

The road rally was uneventful. Just a quick jaunt north to Mammoth Cave National Park and back. Wednesday rode along. The highway travel made it apparent my tires had seen better days. The rears had several flat spots on them, making for a rough ride. However, the A/C in the Buick works fantastic, and after being out in the tepid swamp air all day, we had it blasting on max, icicles forming in our noses. Several people apparently got lost, though. Which sucks.

Wednesday using her serious face.

Sunday was the nail biter day. The Hot Lap Challenge and the Speed Stop. This year, we were running the entire NCM 3.14 mile Grand Full course. Now, I’ve searched the webtranets, and I am confidant that what you are about to see below is the very first footage of a Grand National completing the Grand Full Course at NCM. Either parade laps or at speed. First. Ever.

Track Map, courtesy NCM Motorsports Park

For those not familiar with NCM, the track is crammed into a sliver of land along I-65 just outside of Bowling Green, Kentucky. It is in proximity with the National Corvette Museum as well as GM’s Bowling Green Assembly plant, where the Corvette has been built since the 1980s. In order to get such a long track stuffed into a small tract, it loops back on itself several times. There is no runoff. Armco barrier and concrete walls everywhere. A mistake will put you somewhere unpleasant. On top of that, the track is enormously technical. Large elevation changes, blind corners, and very high speeds. It’s daunting.

My first session ended with a billowing smoke screen behind the car and the distinctive smell of burnt transmission fluid. The 20 minute sessions were too much for the parts store synthetic I had put in the gearbox. It overflowed out of the dipstick tube, hit the exhaust, and made a scene.

A quick trip to the Winding Road race shop for some Mobil1 ATF, a cut up gas can for a drain pan (thanks Darrell!) and the completely burnt stuff was out and fresh new clean fluid was in. I also shortened the rest of my sessions. As soon as I saw I was catching up to traffic, I went ahead and pitted.

And I caught up to traffic a lot more this year than before. It feels good to be passing instead of getting passed. I passed a 370Z, a C6 Corvette, a C4 Corvette… I think a few more but I forgot already.

My best lap time ended up being a 2:34.8 during my second session, which is damn good considering this is a 1987 Buick. Good for eighth in GTV. I backed the time up with another 2:35.2 in the afternoon, but by then the track was hot and the tires were greasy, and I was tired and making dumb mistakes. Hell, in the video of my best lap, you can see me screw up deception and go two over the rumble strips.

My third track session ended early due to fuel starvation. Despite having half a tank of gas in the car, I pulled enough Gs in the sinkhole the fuel pulled away from the pickup and starved the engine nearly enough to stall the car. Oops.

And how about the intercooler? This isn’t a scientific comparison, because the tracks were totally different, but this is my manifold temp chart from Putnam Park two weeks ago (light green) overlaid with my temperatures from NCM (dark green). You can clearly see I’m cooler everywhere, and the ambient temperature at NCM was higher than it was two weeks ago at Putnam.

Manifold air temp chart

Manifold air temp chart

I love it when I can prove money I spent actually accomplished something!

The fourth session was no faster than the second, so once I started catching traffic, I pitted. No sense in cooking the transmission further.

Speed stop did not defeat the car this year! But, I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. Eleventh in class. My times were competitive, but just a few tenths too slow. I probably could have picked up more time with more attempts, but by the afternoon, I was TIRED. Reaction times were suffering. My pad knockback issue in the rear of the car also made for an inconsistent pedal, which makes consistent speed stop runs difficult.

I got video of my speed stops, but I can’t correlate the video with the results, so I’m not going to post them here. They’re not terribly riveting viewing from inside the car.

All in all, I finished ninth in class, but even more surprising – I’m now in third for overall season points! Consistency and attendance gets you there. Now, I’ll have to really crush it at Barber Motorsports Park in August to keep that position.  I really need a nearly 400-point event to lock it in. Any number of people will surely jump ahead of me after the Pikes Peak event, which I’m not going to be able to attend.

But the series only counts your top three. So a good showing at Barber could put me back up close to the top, and with everybody above me already having an invite to Vegas, the class winner invite could fall through to me. If the stars align and I hold my nose just right. I also need to buy a lottery ticket and find a rabbits foot to rub on.

Conclusion of a successful weekend!

By the end of the day, the car was back on the trailer, and had gotten there under its own power and seems to be no worse for the wear (besides the tires, I think they’re close to shot. Oops).

Big thanks to Brad Lay and Boost Crew Motorsports for helping me with the car. This engine didn’t miss a beat this weekend. A huge shoutout to Slambert Performance Engineering for helping me with the exhaust repairs after Midwest, a shout out to the Optima  and FM3 folks for putting on such an awesome series of events, and a HUGE thank you to Tim Thompson for lending me his trailer.