May 19th, 2009:
Neon parts get harder to find. First race of the season this weekend.

I called Brighton Chrysler to order some parts for my ITA Neon (race car) and found out that they’re in short supply. In fact, some of the parts that we replace as part of preventative maintenance are outright unavailable (ACR hub and bearing kits). I hope that Chrysler LLC comes out of this reorganization soon and starts getting parts back in stock. I’d hate to have to switch cars or classes just because I can’t get a $70 part…

In related news, I’ll be racing at Grattan Raceway this weekend. It’s my first race of the season and apart from a few maintenance parts missing (ahem), I’m just about ready to head out on my old tires and get on the track!

- Duane

July 27th, 2008:
Nelson Ledges SCCA Regional Race Complete!

This is my first season away from the comfy land of Spec Neon. Since the class is no longer recognized by NASA, the only place I could have raced in my “real” class was Waterford Hills. It’s a nice, technical track. However, I’ve been touring with my father-in-law Glenn (and his Spec Racer Ford) and it’s easier to tag along, crew for him, and learn as much as possible about racing. So, as mentioned in previous updates, I’ve committed to the improved touring (ITA) class. It’s a regional class with good competition and quite a few Neons. I’m still not as competitively prepared (no coilovers, big wheels, race engine, etc.), but I’ve been able to stay mid-pack.

The mid-pack trend continued last weekend at Nelson Ledges in northeast Ohio. I finished 6th in class and 6th overall both days. I stayed ahead of the other Neons… except for the last lap on Saturday, where I got stuck behind lap traffic (I was prety pissed… and my in-car video shows it…) and was passed 3 turns before the finish. Sunday was better. By mid-race no more Neons were in my mirrors, though the Hondas trounced me handily. Not too bad for my first time at Nelson Ledges. Lap times and positions are here.

Glenn did well, but was kept off pace by his tires. He really showed some amazing car control when it started to rain as he sat on the starting grid. By the 3rd lap it felt like monsoon season. Even though he was on his dry tires and had a spin early in the race (c’mon… it was POURING) he snagged a podium finish.

- Duane

May 26th, 2008:
First race of the year: podium finishes for everyone.

Chris “Cat Killer” Childs, Glenn “Father-in-law” Gehrke, and I raced at Grattan last weekend. Since both Glenn and I were racing, Gina was the crew chief. She took care of timing, radio communication, setup, fuel and everything in between. Without her help, I’m pretty sure I would have missed at least one of the sessions. We got out there on Friday to get some practice time in. Chris came through with some wheel spacers that allow me to run Hoosiers and I was able to try out the new setup on the last 2 practice sessions. Unfortunately, Chris also realized that his exhaust was beginning to leak and was cooking the steering rack in his Neon. He ordered a new rack and installed it Saturday morning. Later that day, Glenn qualified second and placed first. Chris qualified first and finished first, and I qualified third and finished third. This was my first podium finish ever. The good news was mixed with bad. Even though Chris finished first, he did so without power steering for the last 7 laps. With no other steering racks available in the area, he was forced to retire for the weekend. The next day resulted in a second place finish for Glenn and a second place finish for me as well. (Since Chris was unable to partipate.) The work on my Neon this spring really paid off. I’d also like to think that I’ve improved as a driver. I recorded by fastest time at Grattan to date (1:36.973) but I still have a long way to go. The fastest guys (including Chris) run in the 1:32 range. I think I have a second or two yet to find in my driving, but the car still has a long way to go too. I still need a coilover suspension, wider front tires, a limited slip diff, and an IT-prepped engine.

- Duane

May 8th, 2008:
Race car progess: engine is almost done.

The engine in my Neon is weak. To better prepare for the upgrade to ITA (from Spec Neon), I decided to shake some of the cobwebs out. A few weeks ago, I disassembled the top end of the engine to install an underdrive accessory pulley, 95 cam, exhaust header, new o2 sensor, new water pump, new water pump inlet o-ring, new thermostat, new seals and gaskets, and new plugs, plug tubes and wires. During the process of disassembling and re-assembling I learned a lot and made a mistake or two. Biggest mistake: don’t wedge a wrench in your cam gear to keep it from spinning while torquing the attaching bolt. Cam pulleys are much more fragile than they appear. Also, order all of the parts you’ll need ahead of time, preferably from the dealer unless you can get a much better price from a parts store. I spent several days trying to get the right o-ring for the water pump inlet tube from Murray’s that I could have gotten for the same price then next day from the dealership. Finally, start earlier in the year. You’ll never have enough time to do everything you hope to complete. Starting as early as possible helps.

- Duane