Sunday, July 10, 2011

Preparation: Weight Loss

I had my car aligned and corner balanced back in January when I finished the build.  A bunch of local winning racers that I met at the track when doing my research and on the forum had recommended that I go to TFB.  Tim F. Barber has won more races and has so many trophies that his shop is absolutely overflowing.  His shop is located at Infineon Raceway.  Tim did a great job on my car at the time.

However since that time, I have had about 5 off track excursions (remember the big spin I told you about at Thunderhill...?).   After the last Laguna race, I removed the wheels, rotated them and washed the car.  While the wheels were off, I noticed that the passenger side tires seemed a bit more worn on the outside than I expected.  I didn't think much of it at the time.  However, when I drove the car over to TC Design when I had Tony build my exhaust.  I noticed that the car didn't feel the same and the steering wheel was slightly turned to the left.

My car is still registered and insured by the way.

Something was obviously wrong and tires are expensive.  I am planning on taking the car into TFB so I can have it aligned and corner weighted again.  In preparation of taking the car to him, I want to do 2 things:
1. Remove some weight.
2. Install a Cool Suite system.

I had my car weighed at Laguna on the Tech Inspectors scales just to check what it weighed in at.  I had half a tank of gas when I weighed the car at TFB the first time.  The fuel gauge was on E so I probably only had 2 gallons of gas in the car.  I weighed in at 2302 with me in the car.  The rules state that minimum weight is 2275 for the 1.6 Miata.  Fuel weighs about 6lbs per gallon so I figured I could stand to loose a bit of weight from the car.

TC Design trimmed material from the doors when they did the cage.  They trimmed enough to fit the dual NASCAR bars on each side so I had a little bit to loose - or so I thought.

There was a recent discussion on Mazda Racers about removing material from the doors:
In that discussion, everyone seemed to think that you needed a plasma cutter or air tools to trim the doors.  It sounded a bit over kill when I read that thread.  I had a look at my doors and the sheet metal is really thin and flimsy.  It seemed like it wouldn't be that hard to trim the doors with the tools that I had available.  Remember - I don't have air tools or a welder.  I work on my car in my garage with hand tools that I bought I Sears.

I had some time today and decided to try some weight loss techniques on my driver's door while I was doing laundry.

Have a look at this pic here.  Note that I already removed a rather heavy part in this pic as you can tell by the gray colored area at the top.  I also started cutting out a small triangle of sheet metal in front of the door handle.
If you look closely, you will notice a series of 1/2" sized holes along the top and bottom of that gray area.  That is where I used my power drill and a Uni-bit to drill out the spot welds and pull that part off.  Check out the pic below of the part removed and the tools I used:
Sorry, the Uni-bit is not pictured.  Do notice that long white piece of sheet metal.  Can you guess how much it weighs?
That part along weights 2.5 lbs!  Frickin amazing how heavy that part is.  It is rather thick gauge metal and is butted up against some thinner gauge metal.  I was able to remove that using the power drill alone and a screw driver to do a little bit of prying in about 20 minutes.

As you can see in my pic with the tools, there is a bunch of scrap sheet metal, a Dremel and some sheet metal sheers.  I put them to use as well removing a bit more of the door metal as you can see in this pic:

Notice the line where I stopped cutting on the top end.  There is a reason behind that.  That top section is two layer metal spot welded together.  It is actually quite strong.  The sheet metal used for those two layers is nowhere near as thick as the part that I removed.  I left that dual layer area intact and just cut/trimmed the single layer of sheet metal around that section.  I don't need to loose a lot of weight so it really wasn't worth the effort to go crazy cutting stuff out.  Plus the laundry was done. :)

Oh, by the way, that pile of scrap metal didn't even register on the scales so not much to loose there...

I stopped there for today, cleaned up and got the shop vac out to vacuum out all of the metal shards that the drilling created.  If you decide to to this yourself, do wear proper safety equipment.  I wore glasses and gloves and put shoes on once the shards of hot metal started sprinkling down over my sandal wearing feet.  That stuff is HOT.  I also got hit in the face with a decent amount of metal scrap while drilling so do be careful.  Some metal in the eye will result in a trip to the emergency room or worse....  I will drill out that top section that weighs 2.5 lbs from the passenger side during the week as I have time.

Regarding the cool suit, I'm going to try and build my own next weekend.  They retail for about $300.  Judging by some threads floating around the net, I should be able to build my own for about $100.  I'll post up about that when/if I'm able to pull it off.  The temps at the next race at Thunderhill is expected to be in the 90s and 100s!  Gotta keep cool.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Preparation - Finally got an exhaust

My car is underprepared.  Till now, I spent most of my time and money on safety and reliability parts - and track time - figuring I'd catch up on power later when my skills improved.  I haven't even adjusted the timing on the car yet.  Mostly b/c I have no idea how and am too busy/lazy to figure it out. :)  Exhaust was still the stock exhaust and cat.

Anyway, at the San Francisco region's Spec Miata Festival at Laguna a couple of weeks ago I won an ART tuned Air Flow Meter during the raffle.  The car pulled a lot harder up top.  It felt very good.

Power corrupts...

In my last race report, I told you that a friend of mine drove my car in ITE at Laguna.  I watched from the grandstands and heard just how quiet the car was with the stock exhaust.

I definitely needed to fix that issue too...

After checking out fellow SM racer, Juan Pineda's cool custom exhaust (by Evil Genius Racing) and feeling what the ART tuned Air Flow meter did, I decided I should get an exhaust.  I thought about the Springfield Dyno exhaust that many people run.  However, the fitment issues some people experienced scared me off.  Plus I'd have to take it somewhere to get the rear part welded on anyway.

Another complication with exhaust here in the San Francisco region is Laguna Seca.  We have to meet stringent sound levels when we race at that track - approximately 90db.  The Springfield Dyno exhaust is much louder than that.  Many people have the local race fab shops add a second muffler to the rear of the Springfield Dyno exhaust to make sound. 

So I decided to go to TC Design since Tony built my cage, he is nearby and he does awesome, timely work.  TC Design builds his exhausts so that you have 2 rear sections:
  1. A straight pipe that exits straight out the driver rear.
  2. Piping and a performance muffler that exits at the stock location on the Miata.
You can swap back and forth as needed and pricing is about the same or less than the SD exhaust plus having him add the rear section later.

So I scheduled an appointment.  Dropped the car off this morning.  Picked it up this afternoon. 

My car finally sounds like a race car.    Fixed that "problem".  Should have more power also.

I'd take a pic but its not easy to do in the garage.  The next race video should sound racier!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Catching up on the 2 Laguna Seca races - June 16-19 - Carnage

Laguna Seca race #2 - June 16-19 - Spec Miata Festival
I came into this race feeling so confident.  I knew the track better now.  I could trust the car.  And I had added the Grassroots Motorsports stickers. ;-)

The June event was a 4 day Double Regional event - which means 2 races instead of one.  Testing was on Thursday.  Practice and Qualifying was on Friday.  Saturday included one race and another qualifying event for Sunday's race.  In addition to all this, it was a Spec Miata Festival so we had an extra race on Sunday at the end of the day!  Very cool.

As part of the Spec Miata Festival, there were some extra special activities.  Friday night was a Spec Miata BBQ and raffle and we took a group picture at the corkscrew.  Its amazing how many Miatas you can fit on track 4 wide for a picture!  I gotta find that pic somewhere.  It was pretty cool.

Anyway, the BBQ and raffle was awesome.  Everybody brought something or multiple somethings and Mazda was giving away $2,000 worth of credit for parts at Mazda Motorsports.  I brought some stuff to give away and won 2 cool things.  I won an ART tuned air flow meter offered up by a fellow SM racer that switched to Sealed Spec Miata, which was awesome, and a set of front brake pads from M&L Racing, doubly awesome!  There were a lot of cool stuff being offered up.  Lots of generosity from a lot of the local shops and fellow racers.  

'Nuff of that.  Lets talk racing. :)

I did not attend the Test day on Thursday but it was eventful.  Apparently every test session ended with a black flag.  Lots of carnage and wrecked cars.  Fellow rookie Terrie G rolled his recently purchased flat black Spec Miata.  It did 2 barrel roles at the exit of turn 4 and came to a rest on its roof.  Terry did not enjoy retelling the story to us but he did.  The roll cage and safety equipment did their job.  Larry Oka and his crew came through and made the car driveable and a windshield installer came to the track to replace the windshield.  Amazingly enough, he drove and raced the car all weekend!  The workers gave him the "Hard Charger of the weekend" award for his efforts!

Friday went normally.  I was pitted with my friend John D who has been racing SM for a few years and has been a great help to me.  Gary P was also pitted with us.  I asked John for info on tire temps before going out so the car felt grippy.  It was pushing a bit at turn 2 and 11 still but I did what I could to get around it.  

Saturday and Sunday went normally too.  My times overall were faster by 3-5 seconds or so compared to the prior race. Although the video shows me getting passed more part of that was from front runners who had gone off and were making their way through the pack again.  There were about 70 Miatas entered for the race.  It was a big field!  I drove cleanly.  Others did not and you could see the body damage during the race.

The big exciting parts of Saturday and Sunday include 3 particular events:

1. Double Stinting
First, my friend and fellow RX7 nut, Guy, broke his car.  He is racing a yellow 93 RX7 in ITE.  His oil cooler exploded.  He asked to borrow my car for Sunday's qualifying and race so he could earn points and retain his lead in the championship.  I agreed.

It was weird having someone else drive my car but interesting to watch.  He kept it clean and I could tell he wasn't pushing too hard.  Just driving fast enough to earn points.  The odd part of the whole thing was that the car was now being used in 2 classes with little down time in between.  I wasn't sure what to do about tire pressures as a result.  I went out w/o changing pressures and the tires got too hot and lost grip as a result.  The second time around, he set the pressures for me while I suited up.

Lesson Learned: Tire Pressures when hot
I had no idea what to do about tire pressures when the the car was still hot and fresh off the track.  Apparently what you should do is set them to what you would have set them if the tires were cooler since they will increase by about the same amount the next time out.  Makes sense in retrospect.

2. Crashing and body damage repair
My fellow rookie racer Cliff and Gary P got into each other about 100 feet before the checked flag on Saturday.  Apparently Gary got loose and potentially lost control at the exit of turn 11.  Cliff was trying to get around him and their cars collided.  Cliff was sent into the inside wall damaging the driver side fender and scuffing up the front bumper.  His passenger side door and fender were also damaged from the collision with Gary.  Gary's car was also damaged in the driver side rear corner.  I broke out my BFH and crow bar and Cliff and Austin got it driveable again.  Thankfully it was just body damage and the car was ready to race.  Neither driver was injured.

3. Crashing and suspension damage
My fellow rookie racer Brandon driving the Sharpie car took a light hit in the passenger side rear wheel by another rookie competitor who spun and hit him.  I didn't know about it until we were starting to get ready to go to dinner.  His car was jacked up and he was changing to his street tires since he doesn't trailer his car.  He told me what happened and I popped my head under the fender to take a look.  

I had read that when a Miata gets hit in the wheel, the long rear bolt that attaches the spindle to the rear lower control arm bends.  So I quickly looked at the bolt and saw it was bent.  Oh boy....

So I got my BFH and the crow bar from Cliff and we set to work.  A fellow racer had a "Drift Pin" which we used to bang the bolt out and had a spare bolt that he sold him.  We spent an hour pounding that bolt out.  Everybody took a turn hammering.  It was kinda tiring.  I need to get one of those tools and add it to my collection of things to bring to the track.

Anyway, we got the bolt out and Brandon drove the Sharpie car to dinner.  Alignment didn't feel great.  He got it aligned the next morning and discovered that he had bent the subframe as well.  Looks like we'll need to fix that too.  He is mildly annoyed at the situation but...

Lesson Learned: Consider changing your setup instead of driving around issues
Now, remember the "pushing"  or understeer I mentioned in turn 2 and turn 11?  If I had given it some more thought, I could have raised the front or rear of the car 1/2 a turn on the coilovers to try and dial that out.  I lost a lot of speed on both of those turns, partially b/c of this handling issue that I was driving around instead of adjusting my setup to address it.  I'll remember that next time.  My car has been corner balanced and aligned by a TFB - a top level race setup shop based out of Infineon Raceway.

So that is the scoop.  Lots of lessons learned that should help me for the next race at Thunderhill.  As a rookie you learn a lot and the key to getting faster is seat time and understanding the mistakes you are making so you can try not to repeat them.

Catching up on the 2 Laguna Seca races - Memorial Day Race

I haven't had much time to post lately so my apologies.  We had 2 races at Laguna Seca within 3 weeks of each other.  Balancing a challenging job, family and prepping for the next race apparently was more time consuming than I expected.  Prior to these 2 races, we have been on average once a month schedule.  Once a month is easier to manage at this stage of my life.  More than once a month, while totally enjoyable, takes more time and effort than I have available.  The cost of 2 events on the same month is also a challenge but I'll leave that topic for a different post. :)

Memorial Day race @ Laguna Seca
Recapping the Memorial Day race at Laguna Seca - It was a total blast as expected.

Preparation - I had only been to Laguna Seca once before in my street car (1993 RX7) so I really don't know the track very well.  I had tried to prep by watching video to learn the line.  Watching video is an OK prep but the reality is that video doesn't do the track justice.  There is a lot of elevation changes which affect your braking points and how much speed you want to try and carry through the turns.

Coaching - As part of SCCA membership, you have access to the Racing Driver's Club.  This is essentially a mentoring program where they pair you up with a more experienced racer that you can ask questions to and they can give you input and coaching.  It is free to rookie drivers in the first season like me. :)  I spoke with my coach throughout the weekend and got great tips each time.

The car was reliable as expected. Gotta love Miatas. :)

So my first time out for practice session at Laguna, I felt lost out there.  I was supposed to go out with my mentor and do some lead follow exercises but I was late getting to grid and he had left already.  So I went out on track and realized just how lacking video was as preparation.  I slowly gained some confidence with the corners, identifying braking points, turn in points and exit points.

This first practice session, I also struggled with tires that just did not feel like they were gripping.  If you have read one of my first posts about SCCA Driver's School, you would realize that I had this problem before... The ambient temps on track were pretty cold that first morning and either I didn't start out with correct tire pressures or I was driving hard enough to get the tires up to temp and pressure.  Probably both.  Toyo RA1 like to be run in the 38-40lbs range depending on shave.

Lesson Learned: Tire Pressures, Tire Pressures, Tire Pressures!
It really is amazing just how important tire temps are.  It would have been helpful to have known what temps to start the tires out that morning but I had never been to the track and didn't have any setup notes and didn't think to ask my fellow racers for advice.

Anyway, I figured out the temp issue after the session when I checked my tire temps.  They ranged from 36.5 - 37.5 all around.  It didn't help my confidence though.  I was not feeling particularly confident about myself after this practice session.  Confidence is important - both in the car and in your own abilities.

Qualifying - I checked and adjusted tire pressures (adding 1.5 or so to some tires) before the next time out which was a qualifying event.  That one went much better.  The ambient temps had increased  tires felt like grippy and the car felt good again.  It did push in turn 2 at the end of the main straight and also in turn 11 coming onto the main straight but I did what I could to drive around this - more on this later in this post...

I don't remember exactly where I qualified but it was toward the back and around my fellow class of 2011 racers.  You can see the action in the video I posted.  Regardless of what the video shows, I loved every second of it.  :)  I got a slight tap on turn 11 toward the end of the race when the P1 and P2 drivers caught up with me but no big deal.

The one thing that surprised me was how much quicker the leaders caught up and lapped the back of the pack at Laguna Seca.  In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise really since Laguna Seca is a much shorter track than Thunderhill but I'm a rookie so it was...  At Thunderhill, I can get to the last lap of the race w/o being lapped.  At Laguna, b/c it is a shorter track, the leaders start making their way through at the mid point of the race.  I spent a lot more time driving my mirrors and that caused some mistakes on my end.  I'm still compromising my race so that I can let the race leaders through w/o incident.

Lesson Learned: The importance of Race Craft
I learned another big lesson this weekend.  Race craft is very important.  Although I don't have video of Saturday, I was stuck behind a slower driver with a faster car.  He was renting a well prepared car with a "pro" motor.  The car had a ton of power on me.  I could pass him on certain turns but he would just put the throttle down and motor on by me like I was standing still.  I'm basically running a low mileage (90k) motor from a 91 Miata.  I'm still running the stock exhaust and cat for that matter also.  I'm very unprepared compared to other cars.

You can probably see myself and my fellow rookie racers in the Yellow/Orange Larry Oka rental car driven by Austin and the Sharpie car owned by my buddy Brandon.  Austin was able to force the green car with the Union Jack hardtop into a mistake on turn 11 and the three of us barely managed to get through.  You can see how strong the motor in that car is by the fact that he was able to pace us all the way down the straight even though we passed him at turn 11.  Simply amazing.

I need to start learning Race Craft and how set people up for a pass.  I guess that's progress. :)

All in all, we had a great time racing and everybody went home with cars in one piece - which is more than we can say about the next race....  Read on....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

SCCA Spec Miata Festival race video - Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Just finished uploading my video of Sunday's race (June 19, 2011).
SCCA Spec Miata Festival race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

I will make a further post tomorrow.  I have another video from Saturday that I'm trying to edit and post.

Happy viewing!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Grassroots Motorsports stickers are on! Let the winning begin!

What's a race car w/o stickers?

Better question - What's a race car w/o Grassroots Motorsports sticker?!

The car is now equipped to win. 
Mazda stickers?  Check.
Mazdaspeed sticker?  Check.
Toyo Tires stickers?  Check.
Thunderhill and Sunoco money stickers?  Double check.
SCCA, class and number stickers?  Check.

My poor race car had been lacking Grassroots Motorsports stickers.  Crying shame it was...  Worse yet, my subscription had run out when my NASA membership lapsed.  I fixed that issue this last week renewing my subscription and ordering GRM stickers and a GRM hat. 

Grassroots Motorsports is the best racing magazine for us grassroots, DIY guys and girls racing on a budget.  Lots of good, useful articles.  Tons of great advertisers.  The Grassroots Motorsports forum/discussion board is also a fun, laid back place to talk about the racing and car addiction with like minded people.  Plenty of Miata fans and racers.  Etc etc.

 Sadly, the hat doesn't fit.  I ordered a size Medium hat since I wear a medium helmet.  Going to have to order a large.  This weekend is the San Francisco region SCCA's Spec Miata Festiva.  There is going to be a raffle, BBQ, double races for Spec Miatas.  I am going to offer up the hat as a raffle prize so someone else's head will be racier.

Anyway, pics of the GRM stickers.  Can you spot them? :-)

You can get your GRM swag here:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Video systems - Go Pro Hero or Contour or camcorder for video?

So, there was a long delay between my last race at Thunderhill in March and the last race at Laguna Seca.  This gave my budget some time to recover.  I have been pondering what to do about video for a while.  I had a few budget friendly options:

  1. Cheap Camcorder setup
  2. Go Pro Hero
  3. Contour
Cheap camcorder setup - I have been reading about track car and race car video on various forums for years.  Many people use their home video (camcorder) cameras with some kind of adapter for their track cars.  A couple of years ago Aiptek had introduced a small video camera that recorded to flash memory.  A lot of racers and track junkies experimented with that option with a reasonable degree of success.  Here is a link to a long thread on about this setup:

I actually bought the camera for free using my credit card points last year.  I was seriously considering this option but it required some mods and hacks in order to work properly in a race car environment.  I just didn't feel like investing the time and energy into it.  I will probably sell it off on craigslist or ebay soon.

So the choice for me was between the Go Pro and the Contour.  Decisions, decisions....

I googled around for a while looking for reviews on both.  There is plenty of info out there and lots of people have opinions.  Opinions are like body parts.  People usually have at least one and some of them stink.  So I took what I read with a grain of salt.  I wound up ordering both from using some of my credit card points accumulated during the build.  I wanted to see and feel them both so that I could make a better informed decision.  I figured I'd return which ever one that I didn't want.

I'll skip you the boring details but they both basically do the same thing.  The video quality when viewed on YouTube or Vimeo is basically the same.  Both have decent microphones.  Both are small.  Both are about the same price. 

Two things I liked about the Contour over the Hero:
  1. I liked the fact that the Contour had laser sights which can be used to aim the camera w/o much fuss.  You basically press the button and the lasers shine out through the windshield making it super easy to adjust.  I got it positioned perfectly the first time.
  2. The power switch on the Contour was also a little easier to use than the Hero with my gloved hand.  The Contour is a large sliding switch that you basically push forward and back to power on/off.  The Hero's power button is a bit smaller and takes a bit more dexterity to use but still doable.
I wound up selecting the Contour.  The one thing that I absolutely hate about the Contour is their idiotic Storyteller software.  It just plain sucks.  I started googling and searching various car forums and everybody agreed that it sucks.  I wish they would just give us a simple app that we could use to configure the camera.  Instead, they give you Storyteller - a poorly designed app that does nothing well and is supposed to also be used for video editing and is a pita to install and crashes regularly.  I wasted so much time with their application that I'm still pissed off about it. 

The Go Pro doesn't come with video editing software and you can configure it using the built-in menu which is a nice plus.  The Contour requires you to have your laptop handy to run the Storyteller software to configure the camera.  Thankfully, you shouldn't have to configure the camera often once you get the imaging and contrast set properly.  Oh, there is no instructions anywhere on how to configure it so just guess at what works....

Lesson Learned
Now there is a lesson in this long rant.  Be aware of your vendor options and buy from a place that will give you support if you need it.  Pricing being similar, the support of someone who can save you time and has already learned the lessons is very valuable.

I discovered that fellow Spec Miata racer Juan Pineda of Art of Road Racing fame is a Contour dealer.  If you wish to buy a Contour and want someone to tell you what you need to do to get it working w/o fussing around on support forums and such, I'd recommend getting it from Juan.  Here is a link: Contour GPS - Motorsports vendor and support.

I'm still trying to figure out what to use for video editing on a Windows laptop.  I'll think about it after the next race at Laguna. :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Racing Video from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca - Memorial Day 2011

I'm still wiped out from the weekend but here is a link to my racing video on YouTube.  This is my first time running video.  I bought a Contour GPS camera and mounted it a few days before the race. 

You may want to skip ahead to the 10 minute mark where the race starts.  I'm still learning about video and need to get some editing software.


Spec Miata Laguna Seca Memorial Day 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stripes, graphics, vinyl - aka trying to make it look like a race car

File this project under the category of "more work than I ever anticipated"...

For whatever reason, I like white race cars.  Makes it real easy to see sponsor logos (why I care about that on my unsponsored car I have no idea...) and to see if you have any oil leaks or other maladies.  My car is white as you can tell from the pic.  I'm also a big fan of blue and red stripes on white cars.  Like the Racing Beat Miata and the Brumos Porsches.  So I figured I'd add some red and blue stripes and be semi patriotic for the next race - Memorial Day weekend at Laguna Seca.  Laguna Seca baby!  Like the Vegas for car guys.  This is what the Racing Beat Miata looks like.

I wanted to do something similar to my car. 

"It's just some stickers.  Should take me 15 minutes to do this." is what I was thinking Saturday morning while hanging out at the pool with the wife.  So once I got bored sitting around, I went to TAP Plastics to see if they had any vinyl since they seem to have lots of other big boy toys.

I bought a few feet of blue and red vinyl sheet and came home thinking I'd install it on Sunday while the wife was working.  The local Bay Area Miata Driver's club had done a write up on installing vinyl stripes on a Miata. How hard could it be?  Yeah, right...

I managed to cut the stripes in the pattern I wanted without too much issue.  Then I tried to peel and stick.  That is when the annoying part started...  I got many many air bubbles when I tried to stick the stripes to the hood.  I pulled and re-attached the vinyl a few times and screwed up the vinyl a bit.  After spending more time popping the bubbles trying to make it look less amateurish, I gave up and stopped at the hood.  I was going to stripe the top and the trunk but I'm out of time.  Good enough for a home built Spec Miata.  :)

I also spent some time putting on the Toyo Tires stickers and AIM Tire stickers.  AIM had given me a great deal and great service on Team Dynamic wheels and Toyo RA1 tires shaved to 6/32" so I'll happily run their stickers on my car.  They also provide track side service so its good to support a local company.

Anyway, some before/after pics for your viewing pleasure.



Check out my custom touches on the Toyo Tires sticker.  I cut each letter individually and placed it on the wheel well so it followed the contour.  Pretty cool I think. :)

Now I just need to get my Race Technology DL1 lap timer / data acquisition system working.  I bought it used and am still trying to figure it out....

Sunday, May 15, 2011

How to install an AMB Transponder in a Miata (1.6L)

So, my friend John D hasn't had any luck with transponder wiring and needed to rewire his so I figured I'd write up a post of how I installed mine.  Some people just hard wire it to the battery so the transponder always has power.  This is probably OK as the transponder does not draw much electricity but I'd prefer to have it wired to switched power so it only comes on when the key is on and the car is running.

So here it is.

I installed mine at the front of the car, under the driver side fender, in front of the wheel along the frame rail.  I like this location b/c there is a hole right there to feed the wiring through to one of the air bag wires that uses switched power. 

I used two self tapping sheet metal screws to mount the transponder to the car.  Seen here:
View from a lower angle:

The wiring winds up coming through under the driver side headlight.  Here is a pic of the wiring from the engine bay.  It is the curled up black wiring in case you it's not clear...

Here is a pic of the wire I used to get switched power. If you haven't modified the air bag wiring, it will probably have a blue connector plug on it.  I cut mine off and wired it directly.

There you have it.  Easy peazy and reliable.

John's former mechanic had wired it to the wiper motor so it only worked when the wipers were on.  He had one of the race prep shops fix it at the track when he found out it didn't work.  The 2nd shop charged him $125.  Later he discovered that they had wired it to his crank angle sensor when the attachment failed and caused the engine to cut out after 6000 RPM.  My way is better than either of these professional mechanics....

Hope someone finds that helpful.  Let me know if you need further detail on those pics.

Maintenance - what you do between races

Any aspiring racer has heard the old saying "In order to finish first, you must first finish".  Part of that is having a reliable car - which means maintenance.  You should arrive at the track ready to race - not with a list of things to do.  So, in preparation of the next race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I'm doing some preventative maintenance.

Differential Oil
My buddy Brandon (new owner of the Sharpie Spec Miata) stopped in to watch and help me change the oil in my diff.  It had 3 long race weekends on it along with some street driving to/from the track.  Some people recommend changing the diff oil after every weekend.  Some say to change it every 2 weekends.  Everybody seems to have an opinion on this but no one seems to have any data.  I tried searching/Googling for oil testing results but came up blank.  I've been using Blackstone Labs. for oil analysis on my RX7 and street cars for a while so I figured I'd get my diff oil tested.

I bought a quart of 75/90 Neo Synthetic Gear Oil locally at my favorite Mazda/Rotary shop - Rotorsport in Santa Clara and proceeded to change the oil. As usual, I made a mess of myself changing the diff oil and accidentally spilled the sample I took.  I hate diff and transmission oil.  It smells terribly!  Next time...

If any of you out there has any data on diff oil and oil change intervals for the Miata, Please share.

The engine oil (Redline 30 weight Race oil) only has one weekend on it and it looks good so I'm going to wait another race weekend before changing.

At the last race weekend, my front brake pads had worn to the backing plates.  Thankfully, I had a spare set of Hawk DTC60 pads and replaced them at the track.  I thought the wear pattern on the front pads was a bit odd.  The driver side inner pad was worn more than any other pad.  I should have taken a pic but wound up throwing them in the trash.  I didn't have any grease for the caliper pins so I thought it would be a good idea to freshen the grease on the caliper pins.  It is important to the function of the brakes that the caliper pins are properly greased.

Here is a pic of the caliper pins that I am referring to.  It is partially removed in this pic.  There is one at the top of the caliper and another at the bottom.

This is what the caliper pin (its actually a bolt) looked like upon removal.  Not much grease on there eh?
I had bought some CRC Brake and Caliper Grease from the local auto parts store so that I'd have it in the future.  This stuff has moly and other good stuff that is supposed to be good for brake caliper grease.  I added this to my list of stuff to bring to the track so that I'll have it if I ever need it again.
I lubed it up liberally. :)

I re-installed the pins and torqued them to spec.  The top bolt torqued easily.  The bottom didn't seem to want to hit the limit so I gave up when it felt pretty damn tight. :)

I need to order another spare set of brake pads and also need a set of brake rotors.

Things to do while you are there - Inspect
Since I had the big spin at my last outing, I thought it would be a good idea to check that everything is still tight and do a "nut and bolt check" of the car while the wheels were off.  Actually, given the fact that I had my car, suspension, subframes, engine etc removed and re-installed during the build last year, it is a good idea for me to re-check the torque settings anyway....

What you basically do is get the torque ratings from the Factory Service Manual or other source and check that the bolts are tight to the correct torque setting.  If you don't have a torque wrench, get one.  I have a cheap one from Sears.  Randomly tightening bolts w/o knowing if they are already tight enough is a recipe for stripped bolts and expensive repairs.

Guess what?  Some of the bolts were loose.  The suspension bolts at the bottom of the shock and at the upper and lower A-arms were all tight.  So were the caliper to spindle bolts.  However, the nuts and bolts at the front subframe were not tight enough.  I rectified that situation and also re-torqued the engine mount bolts on the engine subframe.  Here is a pic of the nuts and bolts I am referring to.  The first photo is of the 2 19mm nuts behind the upper A-arm.  The second photo is of the 2 14mm bolts at the rear of the subframe.

It pays to be anal about stuff like this and check things regularly.  You don't want this to fail on track when you are driving all out.  The car is ready to go for Laguna Seca! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

First race!!

So now that I successfully passed Driver School, I registered and competed in my first race with San Francisco Region SCCA at Thunderhill Raceway this last weekend April 8-10.  It was a "Double Regional" race which means there were two races - one on Saturday and one on Sunday.  I registered for both and also registered for a second race in ITA on Saturday.  I figured I need all the practice that I can get so the extra race would help me practice.

I needed to successfully complete two races to get my provisional license signed off for my full license.  Did I do it? :)

I went up Thursday.  My fellow racer Cliff, had gone up early in the day and saved us some spots in the pits.  We had dinner on Thursday night and relaxed getting ready for Friday.  I went back to the Day's Inn to rest up and wait for John Dirkson to arrive.  Wound up staying awake longer than I should have talking with John and woke up way too early not being able to sleep wondering how Friday would play out.  Not a great start...

Friday was practice and qualifying for Saturday's race's.  Since I had signed up for both Spec Miata (SMT) and ITA, I did two practice and qualifying sessions for the Saturday races.  In Driver School, we only run the short track.  On this race weekend, we were running the full track.  The car performed well and was feeling good.  I kept checking tire pressures and managed to get them at 40 PSI.  I wasn't feeling that hot though.  I was beat.  I kept screwing up Turn 1 for reasons that I couldn't figure out.  Then it finally happened - I screwed up the turn badly and spun!

The spin...

Turn 1 at Thunderhill is a turn taken almost flat out in a Miata.  It is at the end of the main straight - so the fastest part of the track.   Check it out on the track map here: Thunderhill track map.

I got into turn one wrong which led me to exit the turn poorly.  I put all 4 wheels off at the exit and than ran alongside the track for a second and tried to get back on track gently w/o forcing the car back onto the asphalt.  I was doing OK for a moment or two and then it all went pear shaped. 

The car started spinning, I put two feet in on the clutch and brake and hung on for the ride as the car spun across track (thankfully nobody hit me as I crossed) and onto the inside grass between turn 1, 2 & 3.  There was grass flying everywhere.  I could barely see where I was going.  I just kept the brake and clutch down hoping to scrub speed and waited... 

Finally after what felt like an eternity, it stopped.  The sky was still up and the grass was still down so I knew I was right side up.  Beyond that, I had no clue where I was on track!  I saw a car go by and started driving on the grass toward where I had seen it and slowly got my bearings.  I looked for a safe place to get back on track where I wouldn't drag grass and dirt onto the racing line or get hit by a fast approaching car and eventually wound up at the entrance to turn 3 and started driving.

The car felt different at first. The tires were obviously slippery from being in the dirt and grass.  Although the steering wheel was straight, it felt like it took more effort to turn right.  Was it in my head or was there a problem?  I kept driving scrubbing my tires and trying to get my confidence back.  You know what they say about getting back on the horse that threw you?   Yep, I stayed out.  The first time approaching Turn 1, I was feeling uncomfortable but kept at it.  Eventually I was back at my prior speed and felt like I had shaken most of the spin out of my consciousness and decided to pit to check the car.

I jacked up the car and checked the nuts and bolts on the front suspension.  The A arms looked straight and nothing looked bent.  The tires looked OK and the wheels didn't show any bends so it looks like the car took the off w/o issue.

Now remember, this was just the first day.  What a start...

I kept at it with my pit mates, Cliff and John.  It was pretty tiring being out on track that much on Friday and Sat racing 2 classes.  My times improved over each practice and qualifying session but I was still near the back of the pack - which is to be expected from a new racer. 

By late Sat, I had finally figured out my issue with Turn 1.  I was taking the apex too early which was causing me to hit the exit point too early and pushing me off track.  I adjusted my line Sat and Sunday getting better but this is still a turn I'm going to need more work on.  I was doing reasonably well on the other turns and was catching people on 8 and through 2 and 3.  My confidence was coming back and I made big improvements in lap times by about 6 seconds.  So comparatively, I steadily sucked less as the weekend progressed. :)

The most shocking thing of the weekend was just how fast the experienced guys were.  They would catch up to us rookies toward the end of the session and lap us.  They came by like a freight train and were gone.  It was imperative to watch your mirrors and leave space for them to get by.  I would slow down on some spots just to let them by so that I wouldn't screw up their race.

Sunday's race was most memorable.  I had improved.  I started the race behind Cliff and was hoping to run a good race with him. I was keeping up for a few laps but then made a few mistakes which caused me to lose time.  Then I had a smaller spin in Turn 9 when I went in too hot and lost it.  My head bobbled side to side a bit and I felt my helmet hit the bar alongside my head.  Thankfully it was padded in SFI 45 padding so no harm to anything other than my pride.  I lost a few positions there and started clawing my way back.  I can't remember if I passed anyone after that but whatever, I had fun, I raced cleanly, I didn't have contact with anyone and I got my provisional license signed off which was the biggest goal of the weekend.

What a awesome time!

SCCA - Getting licensed to race - Driver School

So in order to race with SCCA, you have to get licensed - a Race License.  Here is a link to the details on SCCA's website: SCCA Driver School

I submitted my application in February and was accepted.  SCCA Driver School is a two part class.
  1. The first part is what they call the Ground School.  This takes part in a class room setting where the newbies / rookies sit and listen to a lecture the school coordinator prepared.  You can also have your car tech'ed or inspected at Ground School.
  2. The second part is a Race School weekend at the track (Thunderhill Raceway) where you are participating in various exercises on track, two races and learning how SCCA manages their race events.  
 I attended the Ground School in February.  Since my car was ready to race, I decided to have it tech'ed at Ground School as well.  Better to know if there are any issues before heading to track so you can fix them at your leisure.  My car passed tech with the only issue being some missing stickers which I bought there.  The lecture was pretty interesting.  The lecturer described what the on track test would entail and explained the history of the SCCA.  It was pretty painless and helpful experience.

I was impressed by the diversity of my fellow students at Ground School.  There were some younger people in their teens and some older people in their 60s from all walks of life.  There were even quite a few women there.  I met a couple of people at this event that I would meet and race with at the Race School

After borrowing a trailer from my buddy John Dirkson and getting my recently purchased tow vehicle (Ford F250) serviced and ready to tow, I towed my Miata up to Thunderhill and was ready to go. 

Race School was an exhausting and exciting 3 day event at Thunderhill.  It includes both formal lectures and on track sessions for 3 solid days culminating in 2 races on the last day.  A group of 1-4 students is paired with an instructor for the weekend who is chaired with helping you come up to speed on track and helping you keep it safe and learn.  In the formal lectures, the lecturer describes the exercises and discusses any general mistakes we made during our session. 

After each lecture, we would meet with our instructor and get his impressions about how we had done and what we needed to correct.  We would talk about race lines, braking, passing so that when I would go out for the next session, I could try and implement the next lesson at hand and correct any mistakes. 

Given that this was only my second time driving the car, I was struggling with a few corners and learning the car's capabilities.  I was chasing a problem where the car didn't have any traction on the front tires - understeer.  It was both annoying and a bit embarrassing as I was slower than many of the other students (more on this later). The instructor helped me through the weekend and I drove cleanly trying to hit my lines and be aware of the other cars so that I could pass and get passed w/o incident.  I maintained awareness of other drivers and the flaggers at the corner stations on each session.  Some of my other students didn't maintain awareness of flaggers and did things like pass under yellow flag, missed red flags and black flags.  Thankfully I did not. :)

Over the weekend, you talk to your fellow students and make new friends.  Everyone's primary concern was making it through the weekend w/o incident or contact with any other cars.  We all drove as fast as we could but were cautious to try and not do anything stupid like crash.

The last day of the Race School was 2 races.  This was the most exciting part of the whole weekend.  All of the students got on track at the same time and went for it.  We were finally wheel to wheel, making passes, getting passed - all at race pace and speeds.  There just isn't anything quite like being side by side with someone testing your skills against another driver.  Very exciting.

I learned a lot over the weekend about how an SCCA race weekend went and what to expect and how to be prepared for it.  I learned the race line.  I learned a bit more about passing and I learned a bit more about what I still needed to learn - like car setup.

Racing lessons learned:
  • Be aware - check flagging stations and check your mirrors for faster cars
  • Comparatively, I am not the next Senna :( but I have some skill and am a safe racer
  • Some people don't pay enough attention to their mirrors so don't assume they know you are there when you attempt to execute a pass.
  • Blind spots - be careful how you execute your pass.  It is your responsibility to execute it cleanly which means being careful that you aren't in your competitors blind spot trying to pull off a pass to avoid contact.

Car setup lessons:
  • Remember the problem I mentioned a few I kept adjusting tire pressures on the Toyo RA1 to around 38 PSI measured hot after each session.  38 PSI isn't enough for these tires.  They like to be at 40 PSI hot.  I chased this 'problem' all weekend and it wasn't until the last day, 2nd race that I finally increased starting/cold tire pressure sufficiently that the tires would warm up to their proper operating temps.  Once they did, I finally picked up a lot more speed and handling and could pull off some passes.  I was totally stoked that we had resolved this issue.
  • Visibility - My mirrors needed to be better adjusted so that I could see approaching cars better and could see competitors in my blind spots.  Need to fix that before the next real race.
  • Driver positioning - Turns out the racing seat that I had recently bought new had "broken in".  The seat foam had taken a set to my body and I was now a good inch further away from the steering wheel and pedals.  This made it non-optimal for fast driving.  I was going to have to adjust the seat before the next race.
  • Belts - The crotch belt was not adjusted properly.  Unfortunately, I had to pull the seat out of the car after the second day so that I could adjust the submarine belt tighter.  That was a challenge since I had never done it before.  I was struggling for a good hour until I got some help from my pit mate - Dennis Golden.  He was there helping a fellow rookie who was racing an RX7 in ITA.  Great guy who I learned was a professional racer with Mazda earlier in his career.  Thank you Dennis!

So, in the end, I graduated and successfully received my provisional license.  Yippee!

We were all exhausted and very very happy with the experience.

A special thanks to John Dirkson (SM #88) for coming up to Thunderhill and hanging out with me to help me get through the weekend.  There is so much going on that it is helpful to have someone else looking out for you and making sure all is well and giving you some tips.


Hello and welcome to my blog.  I will be using this blog to tell my story as I get started racing my 1990 Miata in SCCA's Spec Miata and ITA racing series. 

A little background on me - I'm a married, 40 year old technology professional.  We live in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

So how did I get into this crazy activity you ask? 

I have been into cars all my life.  I spent my youth playing with Match Box cars, remote controlled cars and bicycles, snow boarding and other fun, adrenaline filled activities.  When I turned 18, I started participating in High Performance Driver Education events (HPDE) with various organizations including NASA, BMW CCA - and anyone else that would have me.  I kept doing these events over the years in my mildly modified street cars over the years but always thought that I would eventually go racing.  While my friends were screwing around on the street and getting into trouble, I was doing track days and autocross and having fun and learning about driving and car control.

In my late 20s, I started racing karts with my buddy Marco.  This was when I still lived in New York (Long Island) and the kart track in Westhampton was still there.  Marco is a fellow automotive enthusiast and we had done track days together for years until he finally talked me into racing karts.  This was an incredible learning experience.  This is by far the best bang for the buck racing out there.  I stopped doing track days during this time since wheel to wheel racing in identically spec'ed race karts was far more exciting than track days.  This further fired up my desire for continued wheel to wheel competition but that had to wait thanks to the events of 9/11 and its affect on life in NY.

Eventually, I got married and my wife and I moved out to California.  Here I started doing track days again and finally decided to take some of my savings and pursue my dream to race cars.

So I faced various questions:
Which car to race with?
What class?
How do I get started?
How much is this going to cost me?
Can I afford it?

There were some books, websites and forums that helped me to answer these questions.  I will happily elaborate upon the answers that I came to if you, the reader, would like me to.  But for now, I will end this post by summarizing that I decided to race a Miata in Spec Miata with SCCA and will probably race with NASA as well. 

Some excellent references that helped me to take the dive include:

Now I will move on to my next blog posts to catch up on the activities of the last 2 months getting my racing license so I can finally do something with the car - Race!