Finally, after three years we got around to a real Test n Tune in the Jeep. We made a trip down to LA... or lower Alabama on Sunday, to visit the SCCA Wiregrass Region and enjoy the wonderful concrete surface that they have to run on.
Why concrete you ask? The most important event of the year is the SCCA Solo National Championship that's held in Lincoln Nebraska the first week of September. More than 1000 competitors gather to battle for the ultimate autocross win, and it just so happens that the event is held at an old Air Force base on a concrete airfield, located at Lincoln Airport. It's an old Strategic Air Command base, and the 12,901 foot primary runway was designated as an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle. But we get one big area (big enough for 2 courses, a practice course, two grids, paddock space for 1000+ cars, trailers, motor homes, and other assorted vehicles, tents, and people. Great site.
So concrete testing and seat time are very important if you expect to do well at the Nationals. Unfortunately, there aren't any sites in the Atlanta area so we end up having to drive quite a distance to find one. This autocross was held at Hunt Army Stage Field located just outside of Dothan Alabama. The field is used for helicopter training normally, but when it's not in use, the Wiregrass Region holds their autocrosses there.
It was a perfect day for an autocross with a nice breeze, sunny skies, and temps in the upper 70's to low 80's. The concrete surface is like most airbases and is a coarse but smooth surface. No loose stones, gravel, or grit that I could tell.
We brought a whole crew with us this time. Myself, Jim Murphy (the car owner), Dan McMahan, the suspension tuning and tweaking guy and the Jeeps mechanic, and my son Matthew and his girlfriend Calley. Matthew and I were doing all the driving, so the plan was to split Jim's runs between us. We knew they got a lot of runs there since the turn-out is usually pretty low and we were right. We were split into three run groups so the car pretty much ran all day long. Dan made changes to the track bar on Matthews first 4 runs, and the front sway bar on my first 4. By the time we were about halfway done, Matthew and I had both agreed on what we felt like was the right balance. Matthew made the statement that it didn't feel like the front of the car would plant and turn like it should. Dan made a few more adjustments to the alignment and it got better.
But things REALLY changed once we took off the Avons and put on the Goodyears that we ran at the Nationals. Night and day difference. The difference was so profound, the car was picking up the front tires under hard acceleration. Matthew got two runs on those tires and I started a run... and it was then that things went bad. I was about a quater of the way through a run when I heard a loud bang and the car started wobbling around. To me, it felt like a tire had come off, but instead, the front arm on the left side of the axle had snapped in half, so the axle was cock-eyed in relation to the chassis. In the process, the rod punctured the fuel cell when it snapped.
The broken link is sticking straight up in this picture. It would normally be pointing to the right and be horizontal. The tube was very thin walled and obviously not up to the task it was installed to do. Heavy duty rods are going back in.
So that ended the day. Matthew ended up with 12 runs, I had 10, Extremely valuable testing and seat time. I learned quite a bit about the car (even though this is the 3rd year I've driven it!) that will certainly help out in the future. Next comes 4.56 gears (instead of 4.11) and some changes to the inter-cooler piping to help out on throttle lag.
Keep in mind that Jim Murphy's results were actually mine and Matthews
Raw - PAX - Class
One of my runs...
One of Matthew 's runs...
People think I'm crazy. And probably more ways than one. But when you tell a person that you like to go out on a hot 90 degree day and stand around on hot asphalt for hours just to get three or four 1 minute (if your lucky) runs, they look at you a little strange. And the National Championships are even worse. Those are held in Lincoln Nebraska, which is about 1200 miles one way from here in Atlanta. So you figure you drive 2400 miles round trip, which takes about 30 hours (or 1800 minutes) total pulling a trailer, just to make 6 runs at less than a minute a run. I'll finish when you quit laughing...
Have you ever wanted to just get in your car and just drive it as hard as you can, and see what it will do? Have you ever wondered why they build cars with so much power that you can't practically use it on the street? .
My love for cars started with my first car that was a high school graduation present from my parents, a brand new 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. 455, 4 speed... really fun car to drive. But it wasn't until I got to the University of Tennessee and saw the UT Sports Car Club autocrossing on one of their large lots before I even knew something like that existed. But I knew immediately that I had to try that out, and sure enough, I was addicted from the very first time.
There is something about pushing a car to the absolute limit, but there is more to it than that. It's as much about pushing yourself to the limit that makes it so exciting for me. Combine taking yourself and the car to the limit, while doing it at a place where you aren't going to crash, where you aren't going to hit anything, and where you won't get a ticket, and all of your inhibitions (well... driving inhibitions) disappear. And you are doing this in a controlled environment where you can actually get a time to see how well you are doing, not only comparing your own times, but also with others with similar cars a setups. The freedom of not worrying about the safety factor, allows you to take it to 10/10's without fear, and makes it that much more exciting. Keep in mind, an autocross is an extremely fast paced activity, it's not like driving on a race track where you have time to relax on straights. In an autocross you are working from the moment you start until the moment you cross the finish timers. You hardly have any time to actually think, so much of what you do is just react. You'll come back from a fast run out of breathe and your hands shaking.
Just to give you an idea... we occasionally autocross down at Turner Field (we have one this Sunday the 30th there), so here is one of my runs on that lot from last year.
So if you have a few extra hours to spare tomorrow, come down to Turner Field and watch. We actually start running around 10am and will run through the late afternoon. I should be driving around 1pm? Our group is the first group after the lunch break (whenever that may occur!). It's free to come and watch, and if you like sports cars of all types, you'll love this. We usually have 150-200 entries with half running the morning session and the other half running afternoon. If you come down, look me up and say hello, I'll probably be somewhere around this Jeep looking thing! The owner is Jim Murphy so if you see a guy wearing red suspenders, it's not me.:-)
Just some thoughts about driving the "Jeep", a SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) E Modified car that remotely looks like a Jeep. The Jeep is owned by Jim Murphy, so I just show up and drive it!