2008-07-28

24 Hours of LeMons follow-up: Dorifto Dogs media coverage

Raleigh News and Observer 2007-07-26:
Dying cars' day in the sun
LeMons race heaps love on heaps of junk. Winning is beside the point

Raleigh News and Observer 2008-07-24:
24 Hours of LeMons
Video coverage of Dieter's test run at the Sanford autocross.

Jalopnik 2008-07-27:
Destruction Action Of The Cursed BMW
Video of the "People's Curse" ceremony

2008-07-27

24 Hours of LeMons South


First and foremost, behold the "People's Curse" ceremony on the left. That was one of the main attractions of the event. For full (poor-quality) photo coverage of the crushing and the rest of the race see my LeMons set on Flickr.

Now that I've got the excitement over watching a car squashed by heavy machinery out of my system, let me report in somewhat chronological order.

So I got to the event around eleven-thirty on Saturday, having driven about 3.5 hours to get there. The race start was scheduled for noon, and I caught the last few minutes of the drivers' meeting and even had a bit of time to say Hi to everyone on the team I was rooting for (all of them members of THSCC) and take a few shots as they were getting ready for the start.

Now for those of you unaware of what exactly the "24 hours of LeMons" race is about, here's a short summary: It is an endurance race, in which only cars that were bought and prepped for 500 USD or less can participate. If you are into details, read the rules.

The car Dorifto Dogs (who I will also refer to as "us" or "our team" from this point) were using was a 1986 BMW M3 e30, and in full accordance with the "dog" theme, they called the car "Dieter."

Here you can see Dieter being rolled backwards, but for reasons other than lack of reverse gear. You see, Dieter is not a real race car, so of course he has a functional reverse. But somehow, it seemed to be easier (and more suited for the race environment) for five guys to roll the car back than for one to find the reverse...

The event started with a "parade" of three or so laps, also known as transponder check. Each car was equipped with a transponder unit to count the laps it completed. Spectators and crews lining the fence cheered on their drivers as they passed the pit/tech area, and then the officials threw the green flag and the race began.

Within ten laps of the race start the first car broke down. You can see it being removed from the track below.

Many more cars would follow its fate.

At various times, I saw whole cars and also car parts (e.g. a driveshaft) removed from the course.

The race was not particularly fast, with top speeds reaching 70 miles per hour (112.6 kmh), and dropping to below 30 mph sometimes in the tight slow spots.

Besides being a 22 year-old car with a hideous paint job and a fake bone glued to its front bumper, Dieter did not have any major issues and survived the entire race without a single breakdown.

Our team had six drivers who were changing every 45 minutes.

Race officials were watching over the race to make sure everyone was playing by the rules. I thought it was funny that in a jalopy race metal-to-metal contact, as well as overly aggressive driving, hitting of the barriers, spinning and such were strongly discouraged. For teams and drivers who consistently broke the rules, there were a number of penalties ranging in severity: from mandatory pitting, addition of a "Grille of Damocles" to the front of the car for aggressive driving (the grille would have inward-turned spikes aimed at the radiator, which would destroy it if the driver were to push someone again), and even tarring and feathering of the offending driver.

Here you see one of the race officials getting ready to weld something humiliating (I did not catch what it was and for what offence exactly) to the hood of a car.

I also saw some feathers scattered on the lawn as I stopped by to check out the standings at some point.

Good thing our team did not do anything requiring such drastic measures!

That doesn't mean that they were behaving though--as a matter of fact, they got four black flags (penalties) by the end of the first day, leaving them pretty much at the mercy of Jay the chief LeMons race guy, to kick them out for good or let them continue.

I was there as about forty minutes before the end of day one Dieter bumped into a tire wall, getting smeared with mustard from the impact. They had mustard- and ketchup-filled pantyhose in all the tire walls, so that it would be apparent if a car came into contact with it. The race has a four-strikes-and-out rule, and we already had three black flags on our collective conscious, so the situation was grave.

We all ran to the tech area where they had the car pull in, and waited for Jay to come tell us the verdict. We must have all looked sufficiently crushed and humbled that he generously allowed us to continue. On the condition that he doesn't see any of us getting black-flagged again. Tomorrow.

That's right, tomorrow.

We were grounded for the rest of the day, as the competition was busy lapping the course while we followed the car to our pit spot.

The second day started somewhat somber, with everyone expecting a black flag to end the great adventure any minute.

Admittedly, I did not show until shortly before noon, but that's what all the team mates were saying. But apparently Jay's dressing-down of our team worked, and hours went by without incident.

I got to the pits just minutes before the "People's Curse" ceremony, and was glad to hear we were still in the race!

Now, about the "People's Curse."

Quote from the official LeMons page:

Halfway through the race one entry will be chosen by popular ballot for immediate crushing. Could be yours. Heck, it probably WILL be yours. Be prepared.

Each team gets one ballot to vote for the "curse." This time, the team "Salad Bar" was overwhelmingly selected to be crushed. That's where the title picture came from. More "curse" pictures of ever-diminishing quality can be found on Flickr. The fogging in the shots comes from the unfortunate fact that the camera was taken from the air-conditioned hotel room, in an air-conditioned car, right to the crushing ceremony in the hot and muggy South Carolina noon, causing the inside of the lens to fog up. As you see in later pictures, it all cleared up eventually, but the most exciting pictures are pretty much awful. Sorry.

The rest of the day went well, without any new penalties, and with the team consistently improving its position in the race standings.

Our team did not win any trophies, but the fact that the team did not get banned and the car survived the entire race and was still in driveable shape was reward enough--for me, the loyal fan, at least.

I picked a different route back home which proved to be more scenic and a whole 40 minutes faster than the way there, as selected by my nav, which was just as well after a day baking in the hot sun.

2008-07-25

Better living through chemistry (with apologies to Fatboy Slim)

Yesterday I got to play CSI, digging in potentially hazardous substances that nobody would touch voluntarily, latex gloves and all.

A friend of mine (who asked to remain nameless) has had a misfortune to rent out a property of his to an unreliable tenant, and had to evict her after a number of late payments plus one skipped one. So she moved out, leaving behind an amazing mess, and my friend asked me to help him bag up and carry to the dumpster all of her stuff, so the cleaning crew could actually clean the place the next day.

Here are a few items I bagged, to give you an idea of what we were dealing with: moldy loaves of bread (2), petrified mac-and-cheese in plastic container (3 tbs), bathing salts (set of 10, caked with grime), warped Velveeta cheese squares (didn't count), semi-liquefied lettuce (1 pt), and I could go on and on. We ended up with nine large garbage bags full of stuff.

There were a few usable things in there too, one just had to find them and get over the general feeling of disgust with anything that used to belong to that lady. My friend did not want most of it but a few lightbulbs and some loose coins. I walked away with two Pyrex dishes, square and round, a can of WD40 (unused, by the look of it), one massive cedar-wood coat hanger, a 2-liter can of unsweetened pineapple juice, and a bottle of Old English Scratch Cover for dark wood.

Well, I have to tell you, this stuff is magic! In a fit of cleaning frenzy, triggered by all the mess I saw yesterday, I took an hour today to dust the furniture and mop the floors in a couple of rooms, and thought, Let's try the scratch cover thing.

It is worth noting that the cabinets in my condo look far from new, and have not received much "tender loving care" in what seems to be their entire lives, so they're all scratched and water-stained, particularly the ones in the two bathrooms.

I have not expected that much improvement, seriously. Have a look:

Guest bathroom drawer BEFORE...

...and AFTER the application of scartch cover.

Guest bathroom cabinet door partially treated. Scratch cover applied on upper right corner. Lower left is untreated.

There is no ingredient list on the label, but whatever this stuff is, it's working!

2008-07-20

Adjusting the nut behind the steering wheel

There's an old autocross joke that goes: The most effective modification you can do to improve your results is to adjust the nut behind the steering wheel. And I did. Not like the results are that great yet, but I think I had my first real breakthrough.

My main problem so far was driving a good line and having consistent, mostly clean slow runs. Most of my instructors would tell me that I wouldn't go fast enough, wouldn't push the car to the limit.

I think I got that one at last!

The course was really long and complex, with some very fast sections, followed by slow elements requiring you to drop a lot of speed. Have a look at the results:

I know I don't look all too great in the final standings, but have a look at class results, because this table lists all the runs. I am really proud to say that, no matter how many cones I hit in the first run, time-wise it was pretty damn fast, faster than times I would usually drive. I rode with three really fast drivers in the first heat before I ran, two out of three runs ending up spinning out of control and off-course, so by the time I ran, my adrenaline level was high and also my fear of losing control of the car was diminished, because I just have experienced it twice. So I gunned it.

At this point I want to give credit to Chris Petersen, who rode with me on my first run and was pushing me to go faster. I ended up with a pretty impressive (for my standards) 76.252 seconds run. Yes I coned it all away with +9, but I am just very glad that I found the edge and the aggressive driving style I was lacking in the past.

Now of course, with me going faster that I used to, the inputs need to get adjusted as well, and that will take some work. However, that will be good work, since I have not had as much fun driving autocross ever since my very first run on this same airport runway last year. Getting the car just to the limit of traction and teetering on the verge of losing control is really exciting, and doing it right (which I am not yet doing) will be just great.

It rained in the afternoon, and I have not yet run in the rain, so my third run was slow, albeit clean, while I was figuring out the traction. Fourth run, I got a little more confident, and confidently coned away any chances at a good final time. :) But for some reason, that does not seem to matter as much as the new feel I got for the car, and the new confidence in it and in myself.

In the fourth run, I was sliding and drifting halfway down the runway after coming out of the sweeper, but somehow always catching the car before it would spin out of control. Every tenth of a second I thought it was going to be it, the tires would lose what little traction they had and I would go spinning off course. And somehow, this thought did not frighten or even concern me, but made me want to prevail, and don't ask me how, but I made it to the finish line, each time riding the rev-limiter at about 60 mph (in second gear).

Also, softening the front shocks just a touch made the popping noise from the front end go away, so I think I will keep it like that until I get the new Racing Beat sway bar and the RB adjustable end links in. Hopefully with a more substantial sway bar as well as all-new bushings, plus some tweaking of the end links, I will be able to autocross on front shocks on full-hard.

2008-07-16

Ground Controls in action

Alright, after talking so much about just how awesome the car now runs and looks with the new springs, here are a few shots for you to look at and compare.

Before: stock springs over Konis. Note the space between the fender and the tire.

After: Ground Control adjustable springs over the same old Konis. What a difference! Current ride height settings: front 12.5" (31.75 cm) from the center of the hub to the fender; rear: 13" (33.02 cm).

Although by no means a tall car, Bonnie looks almost like an SUV in the old picture :)

And here are a few glamour shots of my baby and her new springs.



Runs like new!.. Better!

So my car threw a CEL last morning and it turned out to be PO402: EGR Flow Excessive Detected. So a thorough intake manifold cleaning was needed. So I dropped the car off at Sports and Compacts this morning to get that done.

Also, I took the opportunity and asked them to have a look at the front suspension and see what makes the popping noise. One of the ideas was that it could be the front sway bar binding up.

So the intake is spic and span now, and all the front suspension was checked through and through, two bolts were tightened (none of which were removed or loosened during the sping upgrade), but everything seems to be in order.

So my next step is to play with the shock hardness settings to see if softening the front some will help. After that, when I upgrade the sway bar, the hope is that the added stiffness will make that popping noise go away.

I have the front sway bar mount point reinforcements waiting at home already, so all I need to get are the end links and the actual sway bar (I am eyeing Racing Beat).

Fedora Ambassadors, here I come (again)

So there, I'm out of a somewhat prolonged retirement from the Fedora Ambassadors, and taking up some of the chores again. Happy to, BTW.

I attended a meeting of North American Ambassadors last night and though it started a little slow, it turned into a very lively three-hour discussion very fast. You can read the meeting notes for yourself, and if you do, please also read the follow-up sent to the ambassadors-list by Max. It corrects a few errors and clarifies a couple things.

Now, if you haven't heard/read me advocate this before, here's my mantra: Money is power. Give money to the people.

Besides from that, I think I haven't really said anything groundbreaking in the meeting, and this was not too groundbreaking either.

Aside from participation in Ambassadors meetings, I also took over schwag request processing and shipping. I anticipate to start ordering schwag eventually when we run out. At this moment, there is something along the lines of 2000 Fedora 9 CDs and DVDs stashed away in my cube.

So this is the official return of Madame l'Ambassadrice Fedora.

Triad points event: July 13, Winston Salem: First problem surfaces

June is a fun month for autocross, it seems. Every weekend almost there is an event I can go to. So last weekend, I attended a Triad event in Winston Salem and for the first time since I got the new springs I did not forget to tighten the shocks. In case you don't know, I got Koni adjustable shocks on my car, and I set them on full hard in the front and a tad bit softer (about 15%) in the rear.

This of course added some extra stiffness, but also brought an interesting problem to light. Whenever body roll was highest (like switching from right-hand ssweeper into a left-hand one) something in the front suspension would pop. After the first run, I and my co-driver (I volunteered to let an experienced driver co-drive in exchange for instruction) checked everything visually but found nothing. After the second run, we jacked the car up, stuck our heads underneath, checked the wheels for excessive play in the bearings, yanked on the sway bar, with the same result. The handling did not seem to be impaired, so we just did our best to ignore the pop-pop-pop as we steered the car through the sweepers and the slalom, and hoped nothing too important would fall off.

Everybody got four runs, all in one heat, at this event. I was running in second, and by the time my co-driver and I have gotten all our runs in, all parts were still where the should have been, as far as we could tell, at least. In regular street driving, no matter how spirited, none of this popping noise would come up, by the way. So we changed the tires on the car and I loaded the car up and parked it in the shade.

I was working in fourth heat, and this time again, I had an assignment I did not have before: starter. That was a lot of fun! Getting the cars to pull up to the start cones, exchanging a few words with the driver, if they felt like it, wishing them luck and watching them start... Definitely beats standing out in the field waiting for a cone to fall over.

So today I am having the car checked out for the popping sound as well as some emissions code that came up yesterday morning. We'll see how that goes.

Oh, and if you're wondering about a course map to this event, there won't likely be one, because it went about like this: Start, turn left, right-hand sweeper, short straightaway, left-hand sweeper, right-hand sweeper, short straightaway, short slalom, 90-degree right turn, finish.

Edit July 20, 2008.

Results from Triad event posted:

Overdue follow up: Course map for June 6 autocross

So this is the course map for the NASA autocross that was held at Virginial Motorsports Park (VMP) on June 6th. It was as long of a course as it looks. Good times were coming in just under 70 seconds. My best time was a low 74 plus one.

I seemed to be the only one at the event to have made a course map, so I haven't been able to cross-check it with anyone else. It might be very inaccurate. Plus I ran out of paper at some point, so the last three C-boxes before the finish are drawn from memory.

The even was fun. About 50 people showed up, so we got eight runs each. Not that that helped me any, but autocross is primarily for fun, and that it was!

This was also the first event at which I got to do a different work assignemnt from the usual picking up of cones: Timing announcer. That was fun, and I allowed myself to talk smack a little. "The blue Porsche comes in at 71.090 plus... thirty cones?" That was in reference to a car which took out two or maybe three consecutive elements, about seven cones. Car's "name" has been altered to protect the innocent :)

2008-07-09

Car lowered: Total awesomeness ensues

So on Saturday I have successfully lowered my car with the Ground Controls, with generous help from a friend. The car rides so much better now. I have not expected that much improvement. Seriously, I expected some additional stiffness, but not all the other great things it brings with it!

The car turns in much easier, with less body roll and better grip, and I was able to do the turnarounds at the autocross in Petersburg so much more aggressively than I would usually do. I still was last in class, but enjoyed the new ride so much I did not really care about results.

Got the car aligned yesterday, with a little more aggressive negative camber. The alignment is still pretty docile, and I might make it a mite more aggressive at a later point again, but streetability of the car is also a concern, since most miles I put on it are in daily driving.

In addition to the handling improvement, the car looks much more aggressive now, with no more than 2cm clearance between the wheel and front fender. Sorry, no pictures yet, but I'll post them here as soon as I get a chance to wash and wax my baby and take a few glamour shots of her :)

Big surprise: Cheney suppresses testimony on global warming effects on health

Just read this on WP: Cheney's Staff Cut Testimony On Warming. Sad, but not surprising.

2008-07-02

Spring Odyssey: Ground Control to Major Tom...


They're here!

The Ground Control springs have arrived today, to be installed on the weekend. Don't they look yummy, all shiny and colorful like that?

If that goes well, I'll have to eyeball the ride height for the first couple days until I can get the car cornerweighted and properly aligned by Mark at Performance Chassis next week.

There is an autocross in the Petersburg, VA area this Sunday, so I might actually go there to try out the car with the new springs (but with the alignment still out of whack).

Gotta see how the spring installation goes first though.

Wish me luck!