The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat

Race night has come to the Turd of Fire, and while we broke no records, and in fact plain down broke, we drove home under our own power.

First let me thank the many friends and family members that came to watch. Let me also thank my ‘Social Media Coordinator’, he’s the guy that talked me into making a Facebook page for the car and then invited everyone in the county out to see me fail, burn, win, or some strange combination of all three at the drag strip.

The first thing I learned is to keep your window crank in the car with you. It turns out you have to run the track with your windows up. I was unaware and rolled up to the starting line. The starter casually tapped my door and said something. I couldn’t hear him over my nerves. “Come again?” “Put up your window”. I grabbed the nub where the window crank would have attached if I had it in the car and twisted. Nothing. Tried again with both hands and accidentally moved the window even lower in the door, down below the window sweeps, ensuring that it definitely isn’t going to come back up again. I looked around the car desperately for pliers or anything I might have left laying there. Nada. “I don’t have my window crank, it’s over in my toolbox” I told the unamused starter. He said, “Hold on” and conferred with his coworker about the idiot with no window crank. “Windows up next time” they told me. Staging time.

The honest friend from work was very excited to see me stage with my back tires. He said someone does it nearly every grudge night. I was determined not to be “that guy” that does that, oils down the track, or otherwise screws up visibly. You know, like a guy that has his windows down and no way to put them back up. So, I’m easing in to the beams, lighting them both, and then pumping up and mashing the brake petal, holding the two-step button, and flooring it.

I had gone to the track with my two step configured to hold the engine at 2800RPM. On the street I was able to hold 2700RPM on the footbrake before it started to push the front tires. I figured the track could hold more. I was wrong. The front tires started popping forward, almost jumping either across the track or just popping forward, I’m not sure which. All I know for sure is that the car was slowly and inexorably pushing through the beams. By the time my panicked and adrenaline laced brain came up with a solution (let off the gas dummy) I had pushed through the beams for a redlight. I figured I may as well just go now, so I left off the brake and the two-step and went for a ride.

The drive down the track was exactly that–it seemed like a Sunday drive. The car was glued to the remarkably sticky track. It always spins first on the street, spins the 1-2 shift, and will spin second gear on a polished or other low traction road. But the track? It just drove. I shifted up to third and didn’t even steer. By 1100-1200 feet I was on the rev limiter at an indicated 118MPH. I had run a 12.83 at 117.45MPH. The car was together and still running, I had all my appendages and even a tiny bit of pride. I popped back to my parking space and picked up my window crank, then back into the lineup for the next race.

I had intended to increase my rev limiter from an engine saving 5500RPM to 6000RPM, and to increase boost to 15PSI from 12PSI. In reality all I got done was to decrease my two-step to 2600RPM and got my windows closed. There was just too much going on and I didn’t want to hold up the guys behind me in line so I could click things on my laptop. I staged (on my front tires), held the two-step, mashed the brake, and floored it. The car held and sat there on the line twisting up and misfiring, waiting for the big moment. I slept on the line (R/T .750) and finally got the car moving. I went up through the gears and again at 1100-ish feet hit the rev limiter at an indicated 118MPH. It was right about that time that the car filled with smoke. White, stanky, burnt oil smoke. I left off the gas and checked the mirrors, nothing but the tiniest puff of smoke behind me, and the car was not longer filling with smoke. I checked the oil pressure gauge (around 60PSI), water temp (240*–hot but not burn up all your oil hot), and listened to the motor and everything seemed fine. So I got back in it and took it back to the rev limiter, crossing the stripe at 117.78MPH after 12.13 seconds.

I picked up my timeslip while watching the engine continue to increase in temp, maxing out at 249* before beginning to cool. I pulled into my parking space and popped the hood. Oil covered the entire front of the engine, spun from the harmonic balancer up across both turbos, the water pump, bottom of the hood, radiator hoses, fans, you name it. Oil spatter had come out of the open fenders and covered both doors. It was a mess. It is obvious the oil had come from the front main seal which indicates that I’ve pressurized the crankcase somehow. I’ve either holed a piston, blown out rings, blown out a turbo oil seal, or burned up my PCV valve. I let the car sit there with the hood open to cool a while and trudged over to the viewing area to meet with the folks who’d come by to watch.

Beer was bought for those that wanted it, and we walked back to the car to poke around. I started by checking the oil–down about a quart. I sprayed the harmonic balancer and water pump with brake clean and fired the car up. No drips, and plenty of oil pressure. I let it idle a bit and we saw nothing coming out of it anywhere. After some peer pressure to run the car anyway until it flings parts everywhere we walked back to the stands for more beer and to watch the other cars run. Good times were had by all. And thanks again for coming.

I drove the car home and stayed out of the boost and appeared to leak no further oil. I suspected the Chinese check valve that I was using to keep boost away from the PCV valve had failed, but it was too hot and too late to check that night.

Lessons learned: 1) I don’t have nearly enough radiator. I still had the 19″ high radiator that I had in the car originally, so I decided I’d have to figure out a way to get that in the car. 2) I don’t have nearly enough fan. I bought a big sheet of fiberglass mat and we’re going to try our hand at that foolishness. 3) I’m giving up on Chinese check valves and not connecting my intake manifold to my PCV valve. I might run a line to the air filter. I might not and just let the valve cover vent to atmosphere. We’ll see. 4) My methanol valve corroded shut. My intake air temps were 140* before it melted the check valve and lost boost. 5) I should have put a 3.54 rear gear in it when I had the rear end apart, the 3.73 is too short. Instead of actually doing all that work I plan on just adding revs–that’s easier. 6) I’ve got 10s in that car, I just know it.

Does that thing do burnouts?

I’ve been buying various parts at the local Autozone for years. I was in buying some cheap part for a daily driver when the guy asked me about “that Firebird that you said you’ve been working on”. I replied with “It’s out in the parking lot.” Out we went to check it out.

Me and both Autozone employees are standing out there reveling in the glory that is the FireTurd. The younger guy asked about the burnouts. I obliged. The picture was taken a week later when I ran in for some other parts. It might have been an excessive burnout. No humans or animals were harmed in the making of this burnout, however some lady up by the nail place was extremely unimpressed and her face let me know.

Metal valve stems and new rear tires

The alignment on this car must be way out of whack. It chewed up a set of rear tires in less than 600 miles. Crazy.

Anyway, what better vehicle to haul tires and ramps then a FireTurd with no rear seats and a roll bar. Perfect. Let’s go.

Adam’s Service Center assisted in knocking the front tires off their beads so I could install my all metal valve stems (required for NHRA competition) in the front. For the rears I just dismounted the whole drag radial, installed my stems, and then slipped on the new drag radials. I rebalanced all four wheels and got them back on the car. I took the opportunity to go over the undercarriage and ensure everything was tight. I installed my NHRA mandated transmission blanket while I was under there. As much of a pain as it was to get the blanket slid into place and attached to the rear of the engine block, I believe it will definitely provide a good bit of safety should the transmission decide to the be the weakest link in the driveline. We shall see.

Windshield glass replacement

You might be expecting some good tips on installing windshield glass. In a way, you’re right. Here’s my good tip: pay someone else to do it. I paid someone else to build my transmission because I wanted it to work. I got professional welders to do my roll bar because it has to pass tech. And I paid a guy to put in my windshield because it cost less than getting a windshield shipped to my house.

The guys from A-Okay Auto Glass rolled out to my garage and had the windshield replaced with no muss and no fuss in about an hour. I don’t know whether the guy had ever done a second generation F-body windshield before but you wouldn’t have known it. The guy was bing-bang-boom done. It cost me a little over $200. I could have bought a windshield for a mere $139.00 from the good folks at Jegs but the windshields aren’t part of the free shipping deal. The shipping is so un-free, in fact, that there is a $99 shipping charge on top of the cost of the glass. So for a little less money, I got the windshield brought to my house and installed in my garage. A pretty good tip if I do say so myself.

If you decide against my sage advice, it turns out that f-body windshields are just glued in. Take out the old windshield, clean up the frame, lay out a thick bead of smutz, stick on new windshield. Much like the guys at the car shows that do tool demos, there is a trick to it and this oversimplification glosses over that. I still recommend you pay someone to do it.

Wiring sucks

It’s getting down to the wire (pun intended) and time to do some of the least pleasant of automotive work–wiring. It’s not the wiring that’s bad. I actually like wiring, I’m a computer guy after all and wiring is a part of that. The thing that sucks is contorting your arthritic body into the strangely shaped crevices that automakers leave for feet and working upside down. I learned some things today although there is no way to tell if it’s going to stick or not. Here’s the takeaways:

Remove your seats. This sucks. But do it anyway. I don’t care if removing the seat takes longer than you think the wiring is going to take. Here’s a hint–the wiring always takes longer than you think anyway, so just remove the damn seats already. Your back will thank you.

Lay down carpet. Or a pad. Or anything. You wouldn’t think that laying on your back for just a few minutes would be that uncomfortable. Please refer to the previous statement that the wiring always takes longer than you think. So lay down a pad or carpet. I did both and it was wonderful. I’ll never lay on the metal floor again. The pad really took some of the suck out of wiring.

Document as you go. You know how you’ll go back and write that down after your done? Yeah. You won’t. Somewhere you know that. Mark the wire, write it in a Google Document somewhere or something. I’ve already come back the next day to document and forgot where the wires went. You remember more quickly if it’s only been a day. If you come back a month later it will look like some drunk person threw spaghetti under your dash. Document.

Double check all your connections. There are few things worse then having to crawl back under your dash because something doesn’t work that should work. And while checking your connections, make sure you don’t have any hot conductors showing. I had a heat shrink blade connector that the heat shrink part slid back and it would arc occasionally causing the car to just shut off. I always thought I was hitting a safety shutdown for oil pressure or AFR or something. Nope–just a bad connector. Check ’em.

Last but not least, don’t be stingy with the zip ties. Good luck wiring folks.

What a (wheel)STUD

There’s more of that innuendo–you can’t get enough innuendo my English teacher might have said at some point if I’d have listened. A thorough reading of the NHRA rulebook states that the wheel studs must penetrate through the lug nut at least as far as the wheel stud is thick. A half inch wheel stud must have at least 1/2″ of thread in the lug nuts. The lug nuts must all be open ended as well. I missed the boat on this when I ordered the Moser spool and axles and only got a 1 1/2″ wheel stud in the axle. Another thirty-some dollars to the good folks at Moser Engineering and they sent me 3″ wheel studs with the necessary .625 knurl for their axles. Yes, I looked for Chinese knockoffs–there weren’t any at the time.

For the front axle I’m still running factory rotors, and they have a 7/16″ wheel stud with a .564 knurl. Note: for you front drum brake F-body guys ignore this, you guys have a different size knurl. I wanted to run 1/2″-20 wheel studs so the front and rear lug nuts would be the same. You’d think someone would have this but if they do, it’s well hidden. So what I found is that wheel studs for a Ford Edge have a ‘close enough’ knurl size of .560, are 2.3″ long, and have 1/2″-20 thread. The knurl comes through the rotor just a smidge but most people’s wheels are going to cover that gap easy. Also I found that having Ford parts on my GM product didn’t slow it down too much so it’s all good.

I went to the local hardware store and bought some grade 8 nuts and washers to pull the lugs in. I was able to pull 8-10 wheel studs with a single grade 8 nut before it started showing real signs of thread trouble. I threw an old socket over the wheel stud, followed by some washers with some grease between them, then cranked the nut on and pulled. It went very well, no problems to report.

Since I had to pull the front rotors off and GM carries the bearings in the rotors on early disc brake cars, I took the opportunity to replace the front wheel bearings and seals. Ebay to the rescue (again).

Creature Comforts, aka the FireTurd is now a Cadillac

The FireTurd is fast. The FireTurd goes straight. Those are the only two positive qualities I can think of. Everything else about the car sucks. It rattles. It is hot–and not just an uncomfortable hot, no, we’re talking convection oven air pouring through the holes in the firewall hot. You could use the footwells to get bread dough to rise. Something needed done. Well, something needed done as long as it didn’t cost too much. Ebay to the rescue.

I bought (not surprisingly) some sort of cheapie insulation. It’s really light and appears to be foil covered “poppy paper”, the packing bags of plastic puffed full of air. Whatever, no problem, let’s get shit done.

Not shown is the carpet kit I bought for the car. Molded carpet is the way to go. However, for those wishing to follow in my illustrious footsteps, a word of warning. I bought a rug for a four speed car because it completely covers over the transmission tunnel. Perhaps the four speed trans tunnel is larger than the automatic? I don’t know for sure. But I do know that I have a lot of extra carpet over my transmission tunnel. Luckily I punched enough holes and ran enough bolts through the carpet that it’s all held down. WIN.

The foil works remarkably well for heat. Noise abatement is less impressive but I think the carpet covers most of that up. But most importantly, it looks great.

Happy days are here again…

I took the car up to my friends at Adam’s Service Center. Adam’s is frequented by man who is now my Daddy Jack. Between his years of welding experience and his ability to contort his body in painful yet amusing ways, he was able to fully weld the entire roll bar and door bar setup. Thank you Daddy Jack. He made me be his tool bitch and his blower. Before any of y’all get any funny ideas, my job was to blow out the undercoating fires under the car. That was the only blowing that went on that day.

Knowing that I wasn’t going to have to buy another roll bar setup and redo all the work I had already done reinvigorated my spirit. I immediately quit the bathroom fixup job I had been working on (who needs a bathroom anyway) and got back to the much more important project of the FireTurd. I’m sure my wife and kids understand that I need to do burnouts more than they need to pee.

Fire, Baldness, Bad Choices

This was a side project that is only tangentially related to the FireTurd–mounting trailer tires. It’s related in that whenever the differential shreds itself on the starting line I will need a trailer to drag the car home. The bad choice was buying Chinese trailer tires. Again you’d think that I would learn, but the ugly truth is that I’d buy the Chinese tires again if given the choice right now. They were so cheap compared to anything else. And it’s a trailer so who cares. Also fire.

I was excited to try lighting the tires on fire to mount them. Believe it or not it worked twice. It didn’t work way more than twice. But two times it did work and was awesome. Naturally I don’t have video of the times it worked. Here are some times it failed.

Safety First, or in there somewhere

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve slowed down on the project significantly. I’m putting in another bathroom, it’s tax season, I’m old… I have more excuses if none of these sound worthy. But really, I was kind of depressed on the whole project. You see, when you put in a roll bar you should tack the whole thing in. Then you should mark everything. Then you should grind out the tacks and remove everything. Then weld in each floor plate completely. Then weld in each tube completely. When you are done, nothing is blocking your weld paths and everything comes out great.

Instead I had a safety erection. Well, more like a ‘git r dun’ erection. I wanted to “DO IT” as Shia Labeouf would say. So I cut the main hoop and had my daughter’s fabricator boyfriend weld that bitch in. Then I cut the rear bars and had them tacked up good and welded all around the top. Then I held off for a while, working on other parts of the project.

When it came time to get back to the roll bar the future son in law gave it his all. He broke out a big grinder and bigger professional welder and threw three or four hours into it. He made some great looking welds where his equipment would fit. But, where the equipment didn’t fit there were no welds. I pored over the NHRA rulebook looking for some sort of way out of the problem. There really isn’t any, especially when it comes to safety. So I got depressed and didn’t work on the car too much. This day, when I hacked up and fitted my driveshaft loop, was a bit different.

I brought the car up to the shop to use the lift. Life is easier when you have access to a lift. There is no comparison between standing up and walking and getting a tool and laying back down again versus walking over to the toolbox and walking back under your car. So I took the easy route and put the car on the lift at Adam’s Service Center.

The next hurdle was to fit my Chinese driveshaft loop. Not surprisingly, the universal driveshaft loop didn’t quite fit straight out of the box. Ultimately I hacked both sides completely in half and welded it back together again. Probably not the way the designers intended, but it works and is in the correct place. For those interested, the correct place is within six inches of the front yoke of the driveshaft. This project is done, and it’s on to the next.