Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rod Blagojevich Never-Say-Die 500: Saturday Pt. 2

Several months ago, Alan and Eric endeavored to begin a 24 Hours of LeMons quest, a Ford Escort dream that at times closely resembled a nightmare. Despite stubborn engine and and suspension swaps, wiring fit for torture, and last-minute scrambling to meet safety requirements, we finally made it to the race and even had the car on the track for a bit over the three days of race events. Here is our story:


When we last left off, Team Resignation's #74 Ford Escort LZX2 had grenaded its engine after 75 minutes of racing in the rain. The cause was traced back to a faulty hose clamp, which had allowed all of our radiator's water to dump out onto the track at some point1. This, combined with a non-functioning temperature gauge, led to our engine severely overheating and killing itself dead.

It should be noted that Kiko had driven Alan's daily driver ZX2 to the track. This car had been a warrior for Alan: 210,000+ miles on the odometer and only a few minor problems (like the ubiquitous 3rd gear problem common to most ZX2s). We had brought it to the track to harvest some odds and ends that we figured might be needed (but could be easily replaced back onto the daily driver): spark plugs, a hose, a belt, maybe some nuts and bolts. It was a fortuitous decision.

With no hope of reviving the race car's original motor, team members turned to Alan with a simple question: "How badly do you want our racer back out on the track?"

We gave Alan some time to consider swapping in the engine from his daily driver. It wasn't an easy decision; we only had room to tow one vehicle back. This meant that if we swapped the engine and that engine blew up, we had absolutely no way to tow both cars. And if the race engine didn't blow up, one of us (Alan) would have to drive the race car home.

Alan decided thusly: "We didn't come here to only run for less than two hours. Let's swap the motors and get out there ASAP." He then needed some time to say goodbye to his trusty ZX2, which he'd had for about 7 years2.

In the meantime, Johnny borrowed an engine hoist from the Top Fool Elemonator Subaru team.

The plan was:

1) Pull both drivetrains

2) Seperate the trans from the race car and mate it to the daily driver's engine.

3) Drop good drivetrain in race car.

4) Get out for a few laps on Saturday (It was about 12:30 when we began, and racing ended at 5).

With Alan's expertise on Ford Escorts, we had the race car's drivetrain out in short order. However, it was extremely difficult to move the hoist at our grass paddock space. We pulled out divots (which we replaced dutifully) and had to manhandle the hoist around on the grass. But we managed

Pulling the ZX2 drivetrain proved more difficult, as the car still had power steering (we had de-powered the steering rack on the race car) and air-conditioning. We spent some time disconnecting both items. Thankfully, nothing serious was broken on the engine, and it looked in good shape. It came out easily enough after some coaxing and a little swearing.

24 Hours of LeMoNs - 19 from Daniel Meyer on Vimeo.

By this time, people had started to drop by and see what our silly asses were up to. We got visits from several other teams, as well as some spectators, the previously mentioned NPR reporter3, and one Judge Phil of the LeMons Supreme Court4. Most people seemed intrigued enough by the engineless car with Nixon in the back. They were a little taken aback when we told them what we were up to; I think most came just short of calling us lunatics and idiots. And rightly so.

In short order, we disconnected the daily driver's third-gearless transmission and attached the one Alan and Eric rebuilt for $40, some elbow grease, and the help of a retired machinist. Alan also swapped the belt tensioners between engines, as we'd re-routed the serpentine belt to accommodate for the deleted power-steering on the race car.

As Saturday's race session drew to a close, we looked to an empty engine bay and knew we'd be on track Sunday morning, at best.

With a lot of hands and some good luck, we had the "new" drivetrain mounted in the car before sunset. We worked for a couple of hours, reconnecting the wiring, the hoses, and the radiator. While Alan and Eric had done these things before, it was now simplified in that they didn't have to swap in wiring harnesses. We also replaced the valve cover gasket on the engine.. The car at this point looked like a car again.

And so, sometime around 8:30 p.m., we felt we'd reconnected enough stuff to try starting the car. And with no dramatic tension whatsoever, the engine immediately roared to life. Our shouts and cheers drew the attention of neighbors, who came over to see if we'd finally done it.

While Alan had led the charge in re-engining the car, the swap was entirely a team effort:

We spent the rest of our night reconnecting odds and ends; Alan bled the clutch line, while Eric and Pat swapped the Falken tires onto the car in preparation for the car's return to the track Sunday morning.

We traded beer with the TFE team, the Racing 4 Nickels guys, and a couple of spectators who were camping for the weekend. We learned that there had been a three-car accident during a full-course caution, and the #146 Team Cougar Bait Saab 9-3 was leading the race.

We headed to sleep around 10:30, exhausted and with a short to-do list for the pre-race morning.

Before going to bed, however, we decided to store the melted engine in Alan's ZX2, rendering it mid-engined.

1 Naturally, nobody would have noticed, since the rain fell heavily throughout the car's brief life.
2 Go here for Alan's farewell to this car.
3 Watch this clip. At about the :20 mark, the NPR reporter tells us to just do what we would normally do, but just don't swear. Less than a minute later, Alan describes what's wrong with the car to a driver from another ZX2 team. The NPR reporter gets the whole thing, and then Alan describes the spark plugs as "covered in shit," thusly ruining a perfectly good sound bite.
4 Judge Phil took some pics of the swap, too. You can see them on his uber gallery, along with a thousand or so other pics.

*Photos by Dave Belland, Alan Cesar, and Seth Graham. Video by Brian Quezada

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