Thursday, January 06, 2011
Making a Mustang II Fly
In 1997, I had been out of racing for a while as I had ventured out on my own to start a computer networking consulting service which turned into a full blown computer store. But once you have spent a couple seasons behind the wheel of a stock car on a short track, the urge to get back in one is pretty heavy. One of my racing buddies called and had a proposal. He and his father both raced ministock 4 cylinders and they somehow ended up with a third car, a Mustang II with a 2000cc four cylinder. They were wanting to sell the car and knew a race car does not sell sitting on jackstands in someones yard. It needs to be seen making laps at the race track. So, they asked me to race it until it was sold. It sounded like a good idea as I only had to pay for fuel and occasional tires. At the time, the rulebook called for street radial tires which I could pick up used at a reasonable price.
The first night at the track, I looked the car over. It looked like the roll cage was of safe construction, but was just a basic cage. I would prefer it to have legs running into the trunk area and under the hood, but it was just a basic cage in the driver compartment. The seat looked to be safely mounted and the safety belts were attached to the roll cage correctly. The car had seen plenty of action. It was blue from the firewall back. The front fenders and hood were white which told me the front end had been replaced after some serious action in the past. most of the sheetmetal showed signs of being "re-formed" with a couple of ballpean hammers. Further inspection of the interior revealed that who ever "hulled the car before installing the roll cage did not know how to put a car on a diet. In racing, you want to remove as much secondary sheetmetal from the stock body to get it as light as possible. You then build a strong substantial roll cage which gives the car its weight and strength. Someone had simply pulled out the interior but did not cut out the secondary metal. This car was going to be slow because it was overweight.
The blue and white colors and the No. 2 on the car loosely resembled the blue deuce that Rusty Wallace raced for Penske Racing. And about 20 feet away, it did not look too terribly bad. And the folks in the grandstands could not get closer than about 20 feet so, it worked out ok.
When the track steward called for the ministocks to take to the track for practice laps, I elected to not run the first few laps at full speed. Instead I elected to make a few laps at partial throttle to feel the car out. The first time through the turns the car demonstrated a significant amount of "push" or understeer, which means, you let of the accelerator, turn the steering wheel left, and the car continues going straight. Pump the brakes lightly, tug on the steering wheel a bit more, and it would eventually make it through the turns without flying off the top of the track. I made a mental note that the car was probably front heavy and needed more rear percentage. We would need to put it on the wheel scales next week and see how we could move some weight.
Once I knew how the car acted in the turns, I put the power down coming out of the turns and made a few laps with the accelerator firmly on the floor. I started setting a decent pace and continued to figure the best corner entry to deal with the car's push tendency.
Coming out of Turn 2, I noticed one corner of the hood was beginning to flap. Odd, maybe one of the hood pins was not clipped in good. The next lap, I heard a noise, and suddenly the hood flew back over the windshield completely obstructing view. I moved my head a bit to the center of the car and down a little, just enough to see through the cowl of the hood. I was able to slow the car and limp it to pit road for some assistance. A buddy of mine from my local volunteer fire dept, snatched the hood off, and I returned to the track for a few more laps.
When practice was over, we went to work on resolving the hood problems. I discovered that the hood pin clips had not come lose. In fact they were still clipped to the hood pins which were still in the hood. Unfortunately, the hood pins were no longer welded to the car. The welds had broken loose because who ever had welded them had not gotten a good penetration where they had welded to the body work. We did not have a welder at the track, so I pulled out a dozen bungee cords from the trailer and two rolls of duct tape. We taped the hood to the fenders then ran bungee cords from fender well across the hood and to the other fender well in two different locations. We then duct taped the bungee cords to the hood and fenders.
When I went back out on the track for the heat race, the car had the appearance of a giant seagull. the hood and fenders would swell with speed and airflow under the hood. When I let off the accelerator to enter the turns, the bungee cords would draw the hood back down and the fenders back into the car. After a while, it was comical to watch.
Due to the car's poor handling and low budget motor, we lost sight of the leaders in a few laps, but it beat sitting at home watching television.
Over the next few weeks, I put the car on a significant weight loss program with a Milwaukee sawzall and a air operated cutoff wheel. After properly removing the secondary metal out of the roof, doors, quarter panels, hood, fenders, firewall, and trunk, I then starting bending additional roll cage tubing to make the roll cage more of a chassis component with two legs running off the back of the main hoop and into the trunk area to plating welded above the rear subframe construction. Two legs were added under the hood running parallel to the front subframe construction and turning down to plating welded just behind the radiator. Additional door bars were added for safety and a "Petty bar" was added from the center of the horizontal bar behind the driver's shoulder to the bottom of the A=Pillar bar on the passenger side to overcome the stock unibody construction's flexing when cornering at high speed on a left hand circle track.
We then put the car on the wheel scales and began to get it back to minimum weight requirements by adding bolt on ballast while at the same time carefully locating the ballast to achieve the proper rear percentage to correct the push tendency. The battery was relocated from its stock location under the hood to the trunk area to help increase rear percentage as well.
As we were required to compete on radial passenger tires, we did some experimenting with air pressures with the car sitting on the scales. We made notes on how much the weight at each corner of the car changed when adding or subtracting one pound of air pressure. This proved to be a very effective means of adjusting the car at the race track.
During all of this work, one night I made the comment to my friend that I was going to make this old Mustang fly.
As the season went on and as we continued to rework the car, it began to handle better and better and became pretty competitive. Without any work to the engine, I started coming home with top ten finishes. Late in the season, I got a deal on a virtually new stock 2300 Ford Ranger engine. I had some work done to the head and ordered a racing camshaft for it. My brother put it back together with a completely stock bottom end. When we took it out with the new motor configuration, the car started finishing in the top five.
At the end of the season, East Alabama Motor Speedway always holds the "East Alabama State Championships" which pays considerably well and draws hundreds of race cars. We elected to take our chances and take the blue deuce to Alabama for the event and see how it worked out.
When we went out for practice laps, I made a few laps as hard as possible to find my rhythm. The track was fast and I could almost run the car flat footed (almost make an entire lap without lifting off the accelerator). I then began to coast and let another car pass me, and then fall in behind them to see how we compared. After a few minutes, I figured we were in the 20 fastest cars of the 50 or so that were there for the ministock division.
During our qualifier event, I was closing in on the car riding in the last qualifier position. He suddenly bounced off the wall, crossed the track and hit the blue deuce in the right front corner. After the contact, the car started to push in the turns which indicated to me that he had bent a tie-rod end on our car ruining out toe-out setting. Our laps times suffered due to the push, and another car overtook us in the closing laps. I would have to qualify in the consolation race or the "consi" on Sunday to make it in the show. If I did not make it in the show, we would not collect any purse money. No Show, No Dough.
The next morning, we disassembled the right front suspension and found the bent rod end. We located a local auto parts store and purchased a replacement. We repaired the car, reset the front suspension settings and were ready to go.
When the Consi started, I had a singular focus. Pass as many cars as possible and get a transfer position for the show. At some point in the race, I was passing a car going into turn three. At East Alabama, you do most of the passing on the top side of the turns. I had my left front tire at the center of the other car's passenger door when another car attempted to pass me on my right side going into the turn. Unfortunately for all three of us, there was not that much room. The outside car hit our car in the area between the rear quarter panel and the rear edge of the passenger door. The contact forced me into the side of the car I had been passing which glanced our car off to the right flipping the car off the top of the race track.
At East Alabama, the top of Turns three and four are about 30 feet above the ground behind the track. So, when the car went off the top of the track, all I could see was blue sky and the tops of pinetrees in the distance. Things seemed to go into slow motion for a bit. I decided that if I had my feet on the brake and clutch, I could get my legs broke when it hit the ground. So, I moved my feet as far back under the front edge of the seat as I could. I pulled my elbows in tight to the edge of the seat as I could and braced my chin against my sternum and held on tight.
The car hit the ground with the passenger side tires and bounced back into the air showering clods of red clay as it hit. The car then hit on the passenger side tires again. I thought it was going to roll over on the roof, but it bounced in the air again and again slammed down on the right side tires. This time the car stopped and it was raining red clay clods. I loosened my grip on the wheel and began to slowly catch my breath when another car slammed into the driver's door. My vision narrowed and I felt light headed for a few minutes. Finally everything stopped and I began to take inventory of myself. I still had narrowed vision and my thighs were hurting pretty good.
A firefighter approached the car and started talking to me. He looked me over, took a pulse and asked me to sit still for a few minutes. After my pulse rate simmered and I convinced him I was not going to pass out, he let me crawl out. I heard a hissing sound climbing out the window and noticed the valve stem had been knocked out of the left rear tire. I reached in and kicked the car out of gear and pushed the starter button, but the engine would not turn over. It acted like the motor was locked up. They called for a tow truck and I walked around the car to survey the damage. The driver's door had to large gashes cut in it and the right front corner looked to be sitting too low.
I hobbled to the fire truck to hitch a ride back to the pits and our trailer. My elbows were hurting pretty good where they had been beating on the fiberglass racing seat during the crash. My thighs were hurting pretty good from beating against the drive shaft tunnel on one side and against the roll cage door bars on the other side. I took a goody powder, rubbed some icy hot on my aching shoulders, and set down in some shade with a Gatorade.
I was pretty dejected because I thought we had a good chance at making it into the show with the blue deuce, but it just was not meant to be. My buddy came over and said, "Well, you lived up to what you said you were gonna do."
"How's that", I asked?
"You said you were gonna make this old Mustang fly", he replied.
I guess I had.