Great Race post 7

June 15, 2011

Well, after last night’s exercise with the brakes, which despite all good intents and aids, was not very successful in modifying the problem; but we could see what it was and that put a finite (and tolerable) bound on the risk.  We aren’t likely to suffer catastrophic brake loss, anyway. Press On Regardless!  Of course it would be nice to have a replacement drum right here, but believe it or not, we could’t fit ALL the potential spare bits to build a spare Imperial, even in our big ol’ trunk!  I looked up Bill O’Sullivan in Harrisburg (using the phenomenal interactive Imperial Owner’s Map on our club website), but before I could move on that, Dave had a brighter idea.  I called the my mighty son Ethan (just turned 20), who was at home where we keep the spare 1961 Imperials!  He was able to pull a healthy drum from another car there (Subtle XS, our Teal Blue Crown), pack it, and get into the overnight to our hotel in Binghamton, NY, where we’ll be tomorrow night.  Brilliant idea and a Super Response by Ethan on the Home Front Support Crew.  He earned his crew tag today!  Oh, by the way – when I called to thank him this evening, he said he’s decided to run next year’s Great Race – with his 40Kmile Preservation-class ’66 VW Squareback (inherited from his Great Grandfather via his great Grandfather, if you catch the distinction) – How cool is that?!

Still, we had to run today and tomorrow with the burned drum (as Rumsfeld said, “You go to war with the army you have.”).  So, we decided to follow several new rules:
(1) Don’t Be Stupid (wouldn’t you think we used that one ALL the time?);
(2) Use an Averaging Method on Speed, rather than strict steadiness – we’ll let the ups and downs of the roller-coaster roads work for themselves, the better to save the brakes that remain.
(3) Don’t Use the Brakes (except when absolutely necessary) – we’ll work the transmission and engine a bit harder to Save our Stoppers.

The change in technique means we don’t really expect to do top-notch work today, but we do expect both the car and us to survive, to rally ANOTHER day (we think that’s more important).  Besides, the brakes are fine so long as they’re not hot: the jerk-left, drag, and squeal only appear after some use; most likely because the checks and cracks in the drum surface either drive it out of round or catch the friction material fibers like heels in a bootjack.  Or both.  So my hope and plan is to keep the brakes as cool as possible, so they’ll be useful when REALLY needed.

In fact, the Chrysler Cast-Iron 727 automatic transmission is so robust, it had no problem taking the gaff.  These things were once used by giant Neaderthals, to slay mastodons with a single swinging blow!  Then they were adopted by the Army for use as armor-piercing warheads on bunker-buster bombs!  In fact, one was used last year by NASA to crash into the Moon in search of water – and it still shifted fine, even after they found some and got it all wet.  Well, maybe I exaggerate a little, but these ARE some tough trannies.  The engine is a pushrod 413, so we can’t really rev it much over 5,000 rpm without popping some new holes in the hood, and that limits our road speed in first to about 35 mph, and in second to about 55.  Top gear will run up over a hundred, but we don’t much need that now, so we save it for timing runs on the interstate.  The ratios are such that we can mostly run in second, using first just for very steep slopes (like coming down Mt. Tuscarora today, or the one road with grade markings up to 15% !).  The 3-2 downshift is smooth anywhere from 20-50 MPH, but the 2-1 step is pretty fierce at anything over 20 mph (and not possible over 30-35).  There’s a lot of torque and big jump, so at 25+, it will chirp the tires and spill the sodas every time.  But it works.  We can hold almost and grade John Claussen can find; and we can punch down 3-2-1 (on our pushbutton control!) for full stops, using the brakes only for the last bit of each.  The drums stayed cool enough all day that we had almost no pull or screech at all!  The question then became – could we really rally this way; could we rack up even tolerable scores?

It was as beautiful a day as ever Pennsylvania can produce (hey, it’s harder for PA than Hawaii – so we appreciate it more!).  Cool in the morning, especially as we rose again to well over 2,000 feet for some more mountain madness.  The sky started with a general overcast that broke gently through the morning into sailor’s–dream cumulus clouds that danced from stage west to stage east under a light, steady breeze.  Only for a little while in the afternoon did some of them flex their nimbus muscles enough to suggest precipitation and that never came, either.

We ran a series of 3 and 2 legs again.  John laid out a masterful course that took us through the hills and over the bridges and creeks to BEEYOOTIFUL downtown Cumberland, MD for lunch and on into Hershey, PA and the HQ of the Antique Auto Club of America (AACA) at their amazing museum.

Great Racers around the AACA Museum

The runs were pretty challenging and in the afternoon included a Claussen specialty: the overlapping maze, where the route doubles back and crosses over itself several times.  That way, you see other cars in the race coming while you’re going, and crissing while you’re crossing.  It can be very disconcerting and a real threat to our confidence.  Even the best watch their position, and have a sense of where they are in the order as we run, but in these mazes, that reference is GONE!  Then, on one road, I became sure we had gone off course as we seemed to be running way out of the maze zone and didn’t see ANY other cars for a long while, but Dave held us to it and sure enough, the next turn did finally come up.  Our Mugglicity Reality Index helped, too: when we see spectators, we figure we must still be on the real course.

We didn’t miss any turns and we didn’t blow any stops today, despite the unusual braking precautions.   We also handled several unplanned moments: running up on slower vehicles; coming onto a confusing intersection (like the kind that defeated us yesterday).  We handled them all with precision and no panic.  Lesson learned: when confused, STOP, Mark Time, Think, & THEN go.  That saved us twice.  Dave says it’s a sign of maturity (but we STILL play with cars ,Dave….).  Anyway, we felt pretty good about the day as we came in.

Well, there was one super-tight right-hander where I dropped the right rear into the culvert and smacked the frame rail right down on hard rock.  If you’ve EVER seen the frame on one of these vintage Imperials, then an image of a locomotive chassis is in your mind now: a lesser car (including all known species of unibody transport pods) would likely have crumpled or at least acquired a new floor hump and jammed doors from a shot like that.  But the double-wall, box-welded, X-braced base of ol’ NO XQS just bounced back.  When I looked later, I couldn’t see but a scuff on the bottom.  OK, it did knock out our intermittent instruments again.  They had behaved for two days straight; but that jolt was enough to knock that gremlin out of its nest one more time.  They stayed out for the rest of the day; but I have confidence now that the motor is running strong and healthy.  Every now and then, the gauges wake up long enough to reassure me, too.

I had been teasing Dave about picking salad as we toss this WIDE-body jet down these single-engine runways.  It often seems like my side is clicking the centerline dots, while his side is wiping the weeds. Sure enough, at a gas stop where I was doing a walk-around check,  I went to pick out some little thing that was caught between the chrome sidesweep trim and the body paint – it was a head or two of fescue seed, plucked from the foliage as we passed, like an old-fashioned railroad mailbag, or the gold ring from a carousel ride.  Hey, at least we’re not wasting any of that nice paved road width!

Captured Fescue in Fin Spear Trim- We were Cutting CLOSE on Those Curves!

Scores today:  We hit a zero right off (3rd Ace – that’s one-a-day for 3-in-a-row!); then –7, +8, -2, and –11 seconds.  Sounds good (and it is, for us), but everybody’s getting warmed up, so we placed 28th today (9th among the 25 Sportsman entries).  That puts us in 4th overall for Sportsman.  We’d be in 2nd place, but for the age factor on our new-ish car – the leader has a 1916, followed by a couple of 1928 models, and ours is 1961.  Score is actual time multiplied by the age factor, so the teams above us have factors in the 0.7 range.  Ours is 0.955.  With factors, the leaders have a total so far of 32.39; but right behind them are 51.48, 53.82, then us at 1.00.17.  First place may be moving out of reach, but there’s not much space keeping us out of 2nd or third!  Overall (among all racers, including the experts) we moved up to 17th.

We’re out #20 tomorrow.  We’ll stick with the same plan that worked OK today – at least until we get that new drum tomorrow evening!

J ‘one of the bad-brakes loonies in the slushbox whale’ c

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