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Deja Vu and a Hot Pizza
Aug 15, 2007 - updated Aug 15th, 2007 11:04am
Web posted by Paul Harraka

--

This weekend we were able to welcome Domino's Pizza as a new team partner with one of the most exciting races of the season. After qualifying the #16 Team Domino's / Briggs and Stratton NASCAR Late Model fourth, we were forced to start in the sixth position due to a top-9 invert. At the end of an action-packed 100 laps, we were able to come home in second, gaining a few more points on points leader Eric Schmidt.

The weekend started out on Thursday with a 1-hour test at All-American Speedway to try and sort out some fuel system problems. We had noticed inconsistent fuel pressure and float levels (a mechanism inside of the Carburetor that regulates fuel level) at the least event, so we decided to take some extra time to make sure that we got everything sorted out. For the test, I added a fuel pressure sensor to out My-Chron Data Acquisition System. Using this sensor, along with some technical help from Holley Carburetors, we were able to pinpoint our problem as being the fuel pump. Replacing the fuel pump with a high-quality pump from Holley resulted in immediate gains in lap time and RPM. With the My-Chron System, we were able to diagnose a problem in 10 laps, when it could have taken a full test day without the system.

Friday was a fairly uneventful day, as I picked up a few parts, as well as our tires for the weekend, from the track parts supplier. I also spent a little bit of time at the shop working on a few small jobs that needed to be done on the racecar.

Unloading the car at the racetrack on Saturday, we felt pretty confident that we would be fast enough to win. We spent the first two rounds of practice scuffing tires and working with different gearing (Gear controls the ratio of Engine RPM and Tire Speed), as we picked up a significant amount of RPMs with the fuel pump change from Thursday. We also tried a new set of shock absorbers, which I really liked. I was lucky enough to spend some time with a few Penske Engineers going over graphs, and they helped me develop a great package. We had found what felt like almost the perfect combination when I started to feel a vibration. As I would go down the straight-a-way, it seemed as if something in the right rear corner of the car was shaking. I immediately pulled in and had the crew guys check all of the lug nuts, but they were all fine. I went back out for an easy lap to feel things out some more. The vibration was just as distinct, so I pulled back in.

Piece by piece, we examined all of the moving parts in the rear of the racecar until we finally discovered that the problem was that a right rear hub bearing had gone bad. We were able to get replacement bearings, and after packing them (Filling all of the spaces in the bearings with grease; we use Valvoline Synthetic Wheel Bearing Grease), got everything put back together in time for qualifying.

Our qualifying lap was not as strong as we would have liked it to be, placing us fourth in a field of 14 cars, but it was still a respectable lap. The fourth place qualifying position put us on the pole for the Trophy Dash, which I was excited about. Because of the vibration in practice, we didn't get to fully test one of the gear combinations that we wanted to try, so we decided to use the Trophy Dash as an "extra practice". Unfortunately, the gear that we chose was too low of a ratio, as I was unable to get as good of a jump at the drop of the green flag as I usually do. The lack of a good start, coupled with the fact that I was pinched down to the inside of the racetrack, allowed the second-place car to take the lead from me, and I was unable to regain it.

For the race, the top nine cars were inverted, meaning that we would start from the sixth position, which is tough because there isn't much of an "Outside Grove" (Area where grip has developed on the racetrack) at All-American. However, after some side-by-side racing, I was able to get in line in the sixth position by the time the first caution flag flew on lap 10. Because the race was 100 laps long, I knew that I just needed to take my time and gradually work my way to the front. When the green flag flew again, I began to slowly creep my way up through the field. By lap 26, I was up to the second position. I felt like I had the best handling racecar that I had had all year long, much of which was due to the new Penske Shocks. I ran there for about the next 30 laps when I had a brake failure. One of the seals in the left front brake caliper failed, resulting in brake fluid spraying on the rotor. This fluid caught fire, resulting in an under-the hood fire. A racecar needs a lot of different fluids and plastics to make it go, and the small brake fire, coupled with the heat from the exhaust pipes, resulted in a chain of small fires that lasted for about 10 laps. As these fires burned underneath the hood, I had to keep racing. However, I can attest to one thing: fire is hot, and heat from the engine compartment reaches your feet fast. My feet and legs felt like they were hotter than a just-delivered Domino's Pizza, and that's hot!

Heat also is great way to ruin racecar parts, but the Race Proven Alternator that we had installed never skipped a beat. Not only is that thing light and powerful, it is also extremely durable. As soon as the flames started, I turned all my fans on, and the alternator powered them all.

Eventually, all the flames died down, but I still had to battle issues with the car's brakes. This allowed Eric Schmidt, who was running behind me in the third position, to catch up to me. Eric followed me closely for about 20 laps before he started to get restless. He tried to dive underneath me entering turn one, but was unable to hold his car down, resulting in his front bumper clipping my left rear quarter panel just enough to spin me out. This spin put me to the back of the field, and as a penalty to Eric, they put him to the back as well. However, to Eric's credit, he immediately sent his spotter over to mine to apologize. When I got hit and spun, it shook me so hard that my knee hit the door bars, but thankfully I had installed BSCI padding there and it absorbed the impact to my knee.

Coming to the front from deep in the field is something that I had been able to practice 2 weeks ago at All-American, so why not try is again? I had 23 laps to pass 7 racecars. This time, I couldn't afford to be patient, as I had to pass a lot of racecars, and pass them soon. This was extremely challenging, as I was still fighting severe braking issues. However, I was able to climb up to second place by the race's conclusion. Eric finished right behind me in third, so I was able to pick up a few points on him. This was our seventh second-place finish in 13 races. I am not sure if that is a blessing or a jinx.

Our next race is a 75 lap event at All-American Speedway on Saturday, August 25.


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