I finally got to try my hand at this whole “Roll Racing” thing at the NWN Motorsports event in Bremerton, Washington. It took me three tries to get the starting procedure figured out (how to deal with the transmission being in the right gear at the start), but after that it was pretty cool. I drove the car 350 miles round trip and made 6 passes without issue. The fuel pump worked flawlessly the whole time, so hopefully the troubles I had on Raceweek are behind me. I even got to enjoy the air conditioning on the way home!
I only had three clean passes. The first one was against a 900 hp Corvette Z06 that walked me pretty decently, then a 600 hp BMW M3 that was very close (until the end), and then I walked all over a N/A LS swapped 72 Camaro. The only video I got was from the driver of the M3 (video credit needed!)
Overall it was a pretty cool event and I was happy to get some successful road miles on the CLK without having to pull over every 10 miles. Thanks to fellow Mercedes enthusiasts Alex Gaston and Jason Byrd for the hospitality!
We made it to Day 7! The race wasn’t over, but we could smell the finish line! We decided to get up early for once, and we hit the road about an hour before sunrise. The car was cruising great at 75-80mph (allegedly) all morning long. The only mishap was when we actually ran out of gas! My Holley dash blocks the fuel level gauge on the OEM dash, so I couldn’t see how low the fuel level was. I had looked earlier and thought we could make it much further, but obviously I was wrong. Luckily we coasted right into a gas station and filled her up and hit the road again.
As the sun rose and the temperature along with it, we started having more fuel system problems. It was just before noon, a few miles before the first checkpoint of the day, and about half way to Great Bend. When we got to the checkpoint we were greeted by our new best-friend Fred from 1320 Video.
This time we moved our sprayer nozzle from the cooler in the front of the car to the pump in the rear. Now Robert could pump our little sprayer like crazy and keep the pump cool-ish. It wasn’t perfect, but it bought us enough time that we were able to limp down the road by taking 10-minute breaks every few miles.
Just before the second checkpoint, to keep things interesting, the Raceweek Gods decided to throw us a new spin on our fuel system problem. When we replaced the fuel pump in Kearney the day before, we installed a variable speed pump and were running it on low speed. This had an unexpected side effect. The car still uses the factory fuel tank, which is a saddle style tank with two sides. The return fuel flows through the driver’s side and picks up fuel in a siphoning device and carries it over to the passenger side tank, where the main fuel feed is located. With the OEM pump (and our high-flowing pumps earlier in the week), there is enough flow so the siphon works correctly. With our variable speed pump running at only 30%, the siphon mechanism didn’t work and we ran out of gas (again!) with the gauge showing 1/2 tank – unfortunately the WRONG half. We were fortunate enough to have fellow Raceweeker (and 2nd place in the 14.0 class) Chad Williams stop and give us enough gas to make it to the next station where we filled up. Thanks Chad, I owe you!
Even with the pump running at 30% speed and a full tank of gas, the temperature kept making the pump die and we had to pull over every few miles. It was excruciating, but we eventually made it to the track with plenty of time to spare. A quick inspection of our CV boot field repair revealed that it was once again flinging grease everywhere, so instead of making a pass we just broke the beams and called it good. It was not the way we wanted to finish, but we DID finish!
In the end, we were the slowest car in our class (Limited Street) of those that finished, but there were 5 that didn’t, so I consider that a success. I owe many thanks to my Co-Driver – Robert Mumford – because there is no way I would have finished without him. Every time I was ready to throw in the towel he was there to pick up my slack and allow us to power through the rough patches and get this thing finished. Thank you Robert!
Day 6 was a race day in Kearney, Nebraska, and it was the hottest day of the entire trip. I think the high temperature was 106°. We got to the pits pretty early so we could get setup and then sit around in the shade until it was time to run. While unloading the car, I noticed a CV boot sitting on the ground right in front of the car. Seeing it reminded me that we had noticed a small tear in one of the boots on the passenger side rear axle that was going to need some attention. As it turned out, the boot laying on the ground was the boot from the car. With the inner CV joint completely exposed and flinging grease everywhere, we had no choice but to fix it. We borrowed the Mini Cooper from Matt & June and ran into town to get a field-repair kit. On the way back we picked up a fellow Raceweeker who had put his car in the ditch just a mile from the track when all 5 of his wheel studs sheared off. We ran him back to the store in the Mini so he could get some replacement studs, then we dropped him at his car and went back to fix the CV boot.
With the boot replaced, I lay down and took a nap in the shade while Robert hung out with other racers and watched the racing. When the sun started going down we decided to make the short trip to the local gas station to top off with some fresh E85 in order to raise the ethanol percentage of the tank before making our passes. We made it to the station just fine, but wouldn’t you know, halfway back to the track the fuel pump gave out again. This time it was dead-dead, as in hotwiring it directly to the battery did not make it run. And we were stranded with NO tools on the side of the road. Luckily, a fellow Raceweeker stopped by on her way to the parts store and gave Robert a ride back to the track, where he picked up some tools, one of the other fuel pumps, and borrowed the Mini again to come rescue me from the side of the road. We slapped in one of the pumps that kinda worked and made it back to the track in time to make a pass.
During the first pass, the car leaned out and died going down the track and I ended up with a 13-second timeslip. The problem turned out to be a pinched fuel feed line, which had kinked and collapsed from so many pump changes. I ran over to the Motion Raceworks support trailer and bought some fittings and a new piece of -10 hose and had it replaced in about 15 minutes, with just 2 minutes to spare before they closed the staging lanes. The car spun off the line during the pass, so I shut it down and coasted to a 16 second timeslip. This meant we had to turn in the 13-second slip, which busted our chance at a 10-second average for the week.
Not even two miles into the Day 5 drive we had our first problem. The car bottomed-out and ripped off the rear muffler. Luckily we stopped right away and removed it before the road tore it up. With the muffler strapped to the roof, we were quickly on our way again.
And just as quickly we were sidelined by fuel system issues, just 5 miles down the road. This is where I almost lost it. I came as close as I ever did to throwing in the towel when Robert had to push me and the car across three lanes of traffic so I wouldn’t be blocking the turn lane. I’m pretty sure the four-letter words are still echoing off the mountains as I type this. Fortunately the “fix” was just to hang our Fuel Cooler 3000™ outside the engine compartment, dangling in front of the headlight in the relatively cool air. This got us up and down the mountains, through our first two checkpoints in the Estes Park area without issue.
When we hit flat land again, the temperatures were soaring and traffic was slow-moving. This led to yet another boiling fuel problem. We stopped for a long lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, and then headed over to Lowe’s to get a garden sprayer that we could rig up to drizzle cool water on the Fuel Cooler 3000™, marking the third and final revision of the contraption. It worked sorta OK, but we still found ourselves pulling over frequently. We did have a nice rainstorm that brought some temporary relief. By the time we hit the third and final checkpoint for the day, it was after dark. There were still a few locals hanging out who had been there since 4:00 in the afternoon. After a quick chat we were on our way again. This time we bombed 150 or so miles in the cool darkness without any further problems.
We finally pulled in to the hotel parking lot sometime around midnight and were immediately greeted by Fred from 1320 Video, where we gave this interview:
Day 4 was the first day we had to drive and race. We started out in Pueblo and took a route through the mountains that took us over 10,000 ft. in elevation and included a checkpoint at South Park City in Fairplay, Colorado. This is the very same South Park that was the inspiration for the town of South Park in the animated TV series. The heat and altitude caused problems for both the car and myself. We had to stop several times on the way up the mountain to tinker with the fuel pumps, and by the time we got to the checkpoint it was mid-day and I was suffering from altitude sickness. We sat in a bar for a while and talked to the local sheriff, who recommended I get a bottle of breathable oxygen from the local grocery store. I did, and it helped.
After sitting for a while, we headed down the other side of the mountain on our way to Bandimere Speedway for a night of racing. I was still feeling ill from the heat and the altitude, so I just sat around until the sun went down and then made a single pass for the night. The car ran 11.20 @ 122 mph, which I considered a win and turned in that timeslip. It would mean that our goal of running a 10 at each track was busted, but we could still end up with a 10-second average if things went well from here out.
After turning in the slip, we visited the Motion Raceworks trailer at the track and got a fluid cooler and decided to plumb the return fuel through the cooler, with a fan borrowed from the transmission cooler to prevent hot fuel from being returned to the tank.
Day 3 was a race day at Pueblo Motorsports Park in Pueblo, Colorado. We started the day off by getting my new-to-me-again Hoosiers mounted on my road wheels. Thanks to Steve’s Tire World for getting to us first thing in the morning with no wait.
With the Hoosiers mounted, we headed over to the track so we could get setup and sit in the shade for a while before racing began. I made my first pass early in the day just to see how the car would react to the heat and altitude. With a DA of 8250 ft. I managed to run 11.057 @ 123 mph. I knew the car would give us our ten-second pass if we just waited for a while, so that’s exactly what we did.
After watching Corey and Jason scramble to put a nitrous kit on the Chevelle (so it would build boost at this altitude), I decided to give the engine bay a quick once-over and check the oil. Good thing I did, because I discovered that the blower belt had been shredded during the last run. Robert and I quickly put on the spare belt and I headed over to the staging lanes.
My second run was the pass I was looking for: 10.97 @ 123 mph. And I got to run next to Derek Bieri of Vice Grip Garage, who was driving Motion Racework’s “El Toro” Mustang.
Day 2 was the first of two drive days. All we had to do was drive from Great Bend, KS to Pueblo, CO taking the designated route and stopping at one checkpoint along the way. Easy enough, right? Well….
We were about 90 miles into the trip when we started having fuel system problems due to the heat. We tried adding 5 gallons of cool E85 from one of our onboard jugs, but it didn’t help much. We ended up losing fuel pressure and stopping on the side of the road for what would be the first of several fuel pump changes. As luck would have it, Fred and Witty from 1320 Video stopped by to pay us a visit. Scott Witty captured some of my favorite photos of the whole trip while we were working on the car.
After changing pumps we made it into the next town with no problems and sat down for a nice lunch at Freddy’s
With full bellies and lifted spirits, we set off toward our first and only checkpoint for the day. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it very far before fuel pump #2 gave out. We had just passed a truck stop when we pulled over on the shoulder and then proceeded to coast backward down the onramp for about 1/4 mile where we pulled into the truck stop and found only a sliver of shade to work in. By the time we were done, the shade was gone and it was a sweltering 95 degrees.
Fuel Pump change #2
This time we had switched to a pair of parallel Bosch 044 pumps which put out over 90 psi and drew 30 amps. We had to rig up a relay and fuse for the new setup and then we were on our way. But not very far. We took the very next offramp because the fuel pressure wasn’t regulating properly. We figured the problem was having two pumps running when we really only needed one. The plan was to disconnect one pump and only run the other, but that would only work if the pumps had check valves, which we were unsure of. As luck would have it, they DO have check valves, so we were on the road again, running on a single Bosch 044. By now the sun was setting, so the cooler temps helped get us to Pueblo with no further problems.
The first day of Rocky Mountain Raceweek started off smooth enough. The car passed both the NHRA tech and the RMRW roadworthiness checks with no problems. As I was putting the sponsors’ stickers on the car, Fred from 1320 Video came rolling up to interview me! I also talked to Elana Scherr from Car & Driver, as well as Luke Nieuwhof who was shooting for the new Sick Magazine. Not a bad start to the day!
My goal for the week was to run a 10.99 or better at every track, which was a tall order given that the DA would be above 8000 ft. for at least two nights of racing (Pueblo and Bandimere) Even Great Bend is a couple thousand feet higher than Portland, so getting a ten at all might have been a stretch. Luckily, the car ran great and clicked off a 10.87 @ 127 on my first run. It was a good thing, too, because on that run my fender sliced into the driver’s side rear tire and ended my day abruptly. All of a sudden the Raceweek thrash was ON as I had to figure out a tire situation for the rest of the week. Running on my street tires would have killed the fun for sure.
Remember the guy who bought my Hoosiers on Day 0? His name is Adam Wildhaber and he was kind enough to sell me back the tires! As luck would have it (for me anyway), his truck was only running in the 15-second range and didn’t need the tire anyway. That meant I would be running Hoosier DR2’s on the track AND the road for the next 1350 miles.
After 1600 miles and two full days on the road, we made it into Great Bend on Friday afternoon, giving us time to sit and relax in the hotel parking lot. I had brought a pair of Hoosier drag radials to sell to another racer, so we enjoyed the sunset while we waited for him to show up for the tires. I knew this would be the calm before the storm, and boy was I right!
These parking lot gatherings turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. It was great seeing all the cars and meeting people from all over the country. It didn’t hurt that I was running with two of the most beautiful cars in the whole event – Corey Thompson’s 7-second Chevelle, and Ryan Saiki’s masterpiece of a Camaro. I really felt out of place in my beater ‘Benz.
My cheap eBay seats finally gave it up. After just a couple passes at the track with the new M113k powerplant, the ratcheting mechanism in the driver’s seat broke and the back would no longer stay fully upright. I took this as a sign that I should upgrade to a proper set of seats!
I decided to go with the Kirkey Series 65 seats since they are lightweight, relatively inexpensive, and would bolt right to my existing home-made brackets. They are also designed to bolt to the rear brace of the roll bar, which is an NHRA requirement.
I got the 16″ size, which fit my 5’10” 200lb body snuggly but comfortably. They fit pretty well in the car too, with plenty of room between the center console and the door armrest. The shoulder bolsters just barely touch the doors when they are closed. I may wrap a ratchet-strap around the bolsters and squeeze them in about 1/2″ for better clearance.
The total weight of each seat, with the seat covers, steel brackets and mounting hardware came in at 23.5 lb, so that’s a savings of almost 40 lb per seat over the stock units. It remains to be seen how comfortable they are on long trips, but my first few drives around town have been just fine. They are, however, quite a pain to get in and out of.