St. Louis Recap & Shop Update

I returned on May 8th from my little Cinco de Mayo Vacay in Cabo. On the 9th, the thrash was on to finish the plug wires on Screamin’ Woody a transmission leak on Texas Thug, and to load both in the stacker. Before leaving for Mexico, I ordered the 10.4mm plug wire parts from Taylor Wire to be overnighted – but they screwed me and the parts weren’t waiting for me. I had to carnivalize a new kit I had reserved for the Thug to finished the driver’s side wires.

The Thug had had its transmission rebuilt and a broken header stud removed – which was quite the project – requiring removing the intake, rockers and pushrods. The car literally hadn’t been started in 2021. All was assembled and valves ran, and after filling with trans fluid – a leak was discovered from the drain plug. The drain plug would go to about 15 pounds of torque tight and then would go loose again. It had to be either the plug or the pan with stripped threads. I drained and swapped plugs and the new one appeared to have tightened appropriately.

Since a lot of work had been performed on both cars, I took each for a blast down the raggedy country road my shop is on. Cows won’t be giving milk, chickens won’t be laying eggs and corn will be stunted for the next month – if you listen to my neighbors. Both appeared to run Ok, although the Thug didn’t feel quite right. The road is very narrow (two duallys can’t pass each other until one stops an pulls over) and beat up from huge tractors and combines using it. It takes a lot of attention for me to make a blast on it, so I can’t also pay a lot of attention to diagnosing when trying so hard to stay out of deep ditches.

I loaded the cars, golf cart and other racing paraphernalia. Monday morning we were to leave at 1PM to get a little head start and through morning or afternoon rush hour traffic, but Deb was an hour behind on being ready. We left at 2, but had to return as she forgot her phone, so we lost another hour. The intention was to get to the Walmart in Atlanta, Texas – which is 300 miles and 5 hours. Their parking lot is big enough to park in a corner for the night, and allow Deb to get groceries and supplies for the week. However, leaving late got us stuck in Houston traffic, and again in Lufkin. We only got as far as the Marshal, Texas (200 miles) Walmart in the 5 hours – and dropped anchor there.

Tuesday, we drove about 550 miles and parked for the night at a Walmart in the Ozarks – about 100 miles from the track. Wednesday, we headed to the track, making a little detour to hit a Flying J, so we could top off (remember the pipeline had been hacked, and I wasn’t sure if I could get diesel when the race ended) diesel and dump the waste tanks. We arrived on the track at about 3pm and parked, set up our pit, and I pulled out the wagon to get the golf cart out.

Thursday I established Credentials, Teched in the car, jacked car up to remove the worn out slicks, and to take to the Mickey Thompson trailer for some new 33″ 10.5Ws. I picked them up a few hours later, put them on car, and went to the VP trailer for 15 gallons of race fuel. I then made my two test hits. The first was in the 9.5s and the second in the 9.7s – after adding 200 pounds.

Friday we had a time trial and two qualifying hits scheduled. In the Time Trial, the car was a little slower than I’d expected. I chalked it up to my cars always a number slower for the first run of the day.

For the first qualifying, we had a long wait because of an oil down.

When I made my hit, the engine immediately sounded bad and I got out of it. In Atlanta (a couple of weeks earlier) the #1 Intake rocker slipped off the pushrod – hammering it to death. I have 572 heads and Jesel rockers suck on them. When Indy last freshened up this motor, they told me that with my cam, I needed to increase the rocker ratio and buy a new set. I told them OK – but to replace my TDs with TD – and not use Jesel under any circumstance. They ignored me (the least of my problems with those assholes) and put Jesel rockers on my motor. The geometry sux! I’d ordered TD machine rockers and Smith Brother push rods, but I planned to put on after St. Louis. Well the same thing happened – with the tip getting knocked off of #1 Intake Push Rod.

The tip wasn’t laying in the head, and that was going to require me disassembling the engine to the point of finding the tip.

Here are a couple of photos of the wagon while it was running.

Fortunately, I had the Thug on the lift and there was at least one qualifying left – so I could change cars. I unloaded the Thug, teched it in, notified the tower of the change, put it on the charger and checked it over. I finished in just enough time for the second qualifying. I’d not raced the car in three years and didn’t know what to expect.

For the first pass in the Thug, it felt like it was stuck in the mud, the shift light wasn’t working, and I had a sinking feeling in my gut when I saw the time slip.

Ryan Goodin & Bruce Lang pitched in to help decipher the problem, and it was found that the timing was set at 20 degrees. The distributor was tight and there was no reason I could think of it on why it would be set so low – but we set at 35 degrees.

The next morning I made the 3rd qualifying hit without any weight – to see what I had.

The timing loss appeared to have been the trouble.

Because of the two slow qualifying passes with this one too fast, I was way down the qualifying order, and got matched with Gabe Ray in a 9.50 car for the first round of Eliminations. It rained most of Saturday late morning and early afternoon, so the first round of elimination didn’t happen until the evening. Just before the call, I pulled the car out of the trailer and took for a ride to warm up the juices and the valve train. The car didn’t feel right and we found the timing fell again by 7 degrees on the last pass. Something was obviously wrong – there was no time to do anything but reset the timing. As I did my burnout, my idle dropped, meaning that my timing most likely dropped. I knew my chances would hinge on cutting a far better light than Gabe.

I had to leave 1/4 before Gabe, with my 9.75 Index vs. his 9.50. The car did launch well – but I saw the Stupid light go on. There was no need to play the stripe as I’d already lost – so I ran the car out and finished about 3 cars in front of Gabe. The car didn’t not feel good going down the track – and I was surprised at the gap of Gabe and the time slip numbers. It turns out Ryan gave me a couple extra degrees – which I wasn’t aware of.

I spent the rest of the night breaking down my pit and loading up the trailer. It was too late to leave, and the pits were still to crowded to easily navigate out of anyway – so we spent the night at the track. Sunday we watched rounds until none of Team Thug was left in NSS (the semis), and pulled out at 11am. We drove 600 miles – which was as far as the Walmart in Atlanta, TX. Monday morning we left early for last 300 miles to avoid Houston rush hour. It was heavy rain all of the way to Houston, with a couple sit and waits from rain related accidents. We arrived at the shop at 3:30. I unloaded the cars and golf cart, backed the rig around and into its port, plugged it in and drained the tanks.

While it had rained on Sunday at the shop, it wasn’t currently raining and the grass was high. The storm was heading our way as the sky was turning black, and I didn’t mow then, it would be weeks before my next chance. The skiters were already thick in the grass, so I jumped on the zero-turn and mowed the five acres – finishing just as the rain really started to come down. I mention that because I almost had to build and Ark!

Two hours after mowing
Shop the next morning
The shop in the afternoon

Wednesday morning I made the Thug ready for it’s road trip to Radley, LA. Two years ago it had a strap loosen on it while on the lift in the stacker, and the car moved over to the lift post. The guy who had originally painted the car lived in Louisiana, and I’d made arrangements to take Thursday for him to fix damage and tune up some other Knicks and chips. I marked all of the repairs needed with liquid chalk and loaded into trailer.

In the afternoon, I disassembled the engine in the wagon to look for the push rod tip, and I also removed the Jesel rocker assembly. Below are the photos – albeit out of order.

Yup, I had to get the extractors out a couple of times, but got lucky and they did their job. I’ve ordered new bolts to replace anything questionable. Stainless steel Hex and Torx socket screws look good, but are soft and round out easily when not replaced after too many in/outs. I got lucky and found the pushrod tip in one piece down in the engine valley. The intake is now back on and the motor is waiting for the TD Machine and Smith Brother push rods to be installed. That’s beyond my level of confidence, so Damon will come by and do. I ordered some 29″ front runners (front tires) to replace the 28s on the car. I’m hoping to be able to stop raising trailer to keep the collectors in the wagon from catching in the rear door gap with the front height increase. I also need to change the 5pt harness that expires in June. I ordered new slicks for the Thug – as the ones on it now are worn out. I’ll go fetch it back on June 1st. I’ll change the transmission pan (as it still leaks from drain plug); find out and fix why its dropping timing; and change oil, plugs and wires – with new looms – like what I’d done on the Wagon.

In mid June I’ll be leaving to run two races in Wisconsin and two in Columbus, Ohio. I’ll run one car each for two races to make sure they’re they’re both ready for July – which has us going to three races.

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