Racer Two - The Sprint Car
    




           Around 1987 I began to tire of digging mud out of fenders and straightening and replacing bent body panels on the Morris racer. It  had been enormously successful considering its shortcomings. I was looking now at going much faster and with real control.  I.e. adjustable suspension, steering ratios, weight and balance, etcetera.  I looked at a couple of Sprint cars. It was kind of exciting shopping for something that would go REALLY fast. Fuel injected 360 or 410 cubic inch, huge tires, infinite set up possibilities and so on. A reasonable sprint car in those days would run about ten grand; that's your basic racer with or without spares or trailer, depending on the deal you made. An alternative that I considered was a track class open wheel sprinter with a displacement of 100 cubic inches. These were built and raced mostly locally, although the class has grown to a National formula. I liked the smaller cars and the smaller class size. It also gave me the opportunity to build my own design from scratch. Again my "staff" was there to help with the new car, "Racer Two".  Because 100 cubic inches is 1600cc, the most obvious engine choice was a Datsun SSS overhead cam. This was a very sturdy engine with lots of racing technology. So we pumped the poop out of it and ran it on methanol. Twin Mikuni carbs (no FI allowed). I built special tuned pipes and intake manifolding. I mated the engine to a Volvo gearbox because of its compact size. The clutch was a Ram coupler for a Chevy.  This thing was 5" in diameter and would hold on to a 410 inch Chevy and weighed about 5 pounds. In the rear I used a 240 Z  rearend which I locked and mounted in stock fashion to the chassis. Shortened half shafts went out thru a de Dion rear suspension to the wheels. A single inboard disc brake was used with an aluminum brake rotor. The front axle and suspension were pretty typical for an open wheel dirt car. That is left front brake only, straight tube axle, coil over suspension, panard bar and radius rods.  I machined the hubs, brake rotors out of 7075t6. I machined up the spindles and axle ends out of steel. I used steering from a midget racer, and set it up so the pitman arm came out the left side of the car. The reason was more right steering lock. If the drag link is on the right, the back side of the right wheel will rub on it, preventing maximum right steer. I've seen lots of guys spin out because they just didn't have enough steering lock to catch the car. Another of my personal preferences was very quick steering. It made no sense to me to have a steering ratio any slower than I could handle. Dirt track racing requires constant and quick adjustments for track and traffic conditions. I really liked the quick steering ratio I had built in because I could pick my way thru traffic, avoid problems and correct thru corners literally steering with my wrists. I could steer the front wheels 60 degrees right and 45 degrees left using 2/3 of a turn lock to lock. It was basically overdrive steering. The chassis was built out of 1 ½" mild steel tubing. Pretty much the first thing I bought when I finally made the decision to build this car was a tubing bender. That's a pretty basic start. The fuel tank was blow molded plastic with a rubber fuel bladder inside. Painting it was a challenge, but I soon learned a couple of painters tricks on how to make paint stick to "Tupperware".  The wing was interesting.  I'd built lots if little wings on model airplanes so it wasn't a mystery. The difference here was that I thought I knew more about wings because of it. Most racers mount the wing on a rack in the middle. I think that's wrong. The middle of the wing is where all the work is being done aerodynamically. If you dirty it up with sliding racks, tubing, bolts and brackets, it just won't work well.  I used cantilevered streamlined tubing to reach from the main cage to the end panels of the wing. A pair of diagonal streamlined struts kept it aligned. It worked beautifully. This particular wing was special as one of the "staff" found some wonderful numbers for a S.T.O.L. airfoil. It calced out to 395 pounds of down thrust at 70 MPH.  I believe it too; I ran two nights without it with much less traction. Plus we were going a  lot faster than 70 MPH. Building the wing was rather enjoyable. I had a neighbor with a vacuum forming machine, so I made patterns for the rib parts and pulled them out of ABS plastic. I made the ribs in three segments so I could incorporate two spars. I used ABS plastic because it glues easily. After the parts were aligned and glued I wrapped the whole thing in a sheet of 5052 aluminum and installed the end panels. The whole thing was then fastened with pop rivets.  It was smooth, strong, light, attractive and very effective.  I thought about manufacturing these things, but that's another story.  I used spun aluminum wheels, (Among the very few parts I didn't make) and Hoosier tires. This car was a high potential racer as it was technically superior to just about every other car in it's class.  Sadly I raced it only six times before it got sold. It was quite fast and a guy who wanted to get into the class in a winning car paid me enough for the honor.  The record was 3 DNF (teething problems) , One first, one third and one second. The third DNF was a doosey. It was fit for one of those racing show action intro shots.  At about the end of the third lap of a heat race (a heat race!),  I was running in 4th or 5th and saw an opening develop midway between turns 1 and 2. I was carrying a good deal of speed up into 1 and decided to stay in it and pass `em all on the outside. It would have worked, except someone slipped out a little and I caught his right rear with my left front. Because of the speed difference, and the fact that the guy in the back always takes the ride, I really took a ride!  Numerous endo's, lots of rolls. Were' talking like 3 and 6. The third night out my new racer really got initiated!  The tow truck set the wreckage on my trailer and my help figured out a way to keep it there for the ride home.  Sometime around Tuesday my headache had subsided enough for me to look at this mess objectively. I was pretty sore, physically and mentally. But I went to work dismantling the wreckage down to the good parts. I wish I had taken a picture of all the parts piled on the floor next to the main chassis. It was a big pile of broken and bent handmade stuff. The engine, bare chassis, steering box, one wheel, the drivers seat, and amazingly, exhaust pipes, were about all that I could salvage. Everything else had to be rebuilt or replaced. So I worked my ass off for the next six weeks. We set the chassis up on the shop floor using one bathroom scale and a divider bar. Back to the track!  It was just a little spooky strapping into this car after the last ride. I don't mind admitting I was a bit nervous, but after the engine fired and we got underway there wasn't time to think about being scared. This was the fourth night out in my new racer. Still without a finish. I don't know if it was heightened concentration, fright or luck, but we were really flyin'. We won the heat race pretty handily.  Ran away with the trophy dash and finished the feature with almost a ½ lap lead!  What a rush!  We got money!  The next two outings were rather eventful. We did well in the heat races, I'd used patience in the heat races, they don't count much. During the fifth heat race I sensed something wrong, it was a broken wing mount on the roll bar causing a change in the wing angle. Without welding equipment we couldn't repair it at the track.  I asked the pit steward if I could run without a wing.  He didn't know.  So I pulled into my place for the feature and no black flag, we went racing. I had never run this car without a wing, no practice at all.  I soon found out how effective wings are.  Wings allow you to run in more of an oval shaped line, the end panels help a great deal in the corners.  What I found myself having to do was pick a completely different line and run in more of a diamond shape.  That is go out wide and pitch the car over and "back" it into the corners like the old dirt track days.  Tailing it out does two things, first the rear wheels help hold you in the corner, second nobody wants to be around a car that doesn't fit the "normal" line. We got third in the feature. The sixth time I raced this car was the last for me although I didn't know it. I had fixed the problem from the week before and did ok in the heat race. I think we were to start 5th or 6th in the feature.  I really can't remember now how it was discovered but I had apparently overlooked leftover damage on another wing mount. Again I took off the wing and lined up for the start. Nobody said a thing and we went racing. I may have learned something about wingless racing, or maybe my competitors did,  as we picked up a second well ahead of third and the rest. Monday morning I got a call from the man who was to become the second owner of this car…      bw

Airborne: