Sunshine and Hot Laps – 2020 Northworst Grand Prix

NachoFriend Racing returned to Shelton, Washington in July 2020 for the Pacific Northworst Grand Prix at The Ridge Motorsports Park. One year had passed since our last race, at the same location. The world, and my world, had changed immensely since that 2019 race. We had experienced COVID, lockdown, face masks and civil unrest. My personal health challenge of a heart attack and open heart surgery in February kept me out of the driver’s seat for this race. Nevertheless, it was time to get back to the track.

We had made a few upgrades to the 1985 Toyota Celica GT-S. I eliminated the EGR system and installed EGR block off plates on the engine to prevent that system from leaking water which, at our previous race, led to the overheating of the engine. We had a new power steering pump that was acquired a while ago but not installed until now. This was an easy swap. Vacuum lines were replaced. Nash and Andrew changed the oil and deemed the brake pads sufficient to last through the next race. Most importantly, I painted the valve cover in NachoFriend livery.

Our newly applied valve cover livery.

Our residence for the race was a fifth-wheel that we rented. It had air conditioning to battle temperatures above 90° F. Our 16-year-old daughter drove down to the track in her F250 (Loretta) with her Mini Aussie named Delilah. While our daughter slept in her truck, Delilah opted for the luxury of the fifth-wheel and slept on the bed with me and my wife. She seemed intimidated by the whole experience and missed her dog friends from home.

Due to COVID, this 24 Hours of LeMons race required social distancing and masks. We were advised not to intermingle with other teams. 24 Hours of LeMons’ Chief Perpetrator, Jay Lamm, chewed out my son Nash for not wearing a mask. Nash was sitting in his own tent, now wondering if he was expected to sleep with his mask. We saw a marketing opportunity for our team and designed a NachoFriend Racing mask. Our team t-shirt for this race celebrated the fictitious 90th anniversary of the NachoFriend Racing team, commemorating the 1930 Monaco Grand Prix.

Unpacking the trailer before tech inspection, we discovered the handle for our hydraulic jack was missing. Communicating with the warehouse where we keep our tools revealed that it hadn’t been packed, so Max had to make a detour through Seattle to pick it up on his way. Later (too late) we noticed that we didn’t have the fire extinguisher required for refueling, which also didn’t get packed. Nash went out and picked up a couple of new extinguishers that were approximately the size of an aspirin. We passed tech with flying colors and were rewarded for our donation to the charity “Lemons of Love” with a “Bribed” stencil painted on our hood.

Another stencil for the hood.

With COVID-19 in full force, camping at the track was a wise decision. The governor restricted restaurants to those who lived in the same household and there aren’t a ton of dining options in Shelton in the first place. Sadly, our traditional Friday post-tech dinner at a Mexican restaurant was cancelled, but we made due with the portable grill I received for Father’s Day. Hot dogs, hamburgers chicken patties and pulled pork sandwiches kept the team fueled. Breakfasts of bacon and pancakes were a good start to the day. Someone figured out how to make the air conditioning work in the 5th- wheel, so we had a place to cool off in the hot afternoons. All in all, I would say we won the “camping” game.

Our “racing” game, while not a disaster, was a bit less successful. Saturday presented several problems. After our first driver, Brandon, came in for his first 2-hour stint, I saw there was oil sprayed over the engine. He speculated it might be coming from the dipstick, which has always been loose, so we headed over the the junkyard down the street from the track and found a dipstick from a Camry that looked like it would seal the tube. Later in the day I inspected the power steering pump reservoir and discovered it was overfilled. I believe that is the origin of the oil sprayed over the engine.

Upon returning from the junkyard, I saw the car was in the paddock. Overheating, which had been a problem at our last race, reared its ugly head once again. Andrew (it’s always Andrew) came in because the temperature gauge was around 250°, dangerously close to what one might think would warp a head. We had hoped to have solved this problem by removing the EGR system, but apparently this wasn’t our only problem. We dumped cold water on the radiator and sent it back out.

Later on Saturday, Nash was out running some fast laps and was black flagged. At the judges’ station, he was informed that a corner worker had spotted fuel leaking from the car. Further inspection in our paddock spot revealed a leak between the filler neck and fuel tank. We sent Brandon out to get some fuel-safe RTV and separated the neck from the tank. This ended our Saturday.

While performing post-day repairs and maintenance, we discovered the rear pads were worn completely down to the backing plates. Our brake pads were no longer pads. Calling every automotive parts store within 100 miles led us to the conclusion that there were no 1985 Toyota Celica GT-S brake pads available. Brandon decided to up our 24 Hours of LeMons game by taking one of the old pads with him to the parts store and finding the closest match possible. He reasoned that we could grind the new pad to fit our stock caliper. Brandon returned with rear calipers for a 1986 Toyota Celica. The pads match perfectly, but the backing plates were a bit off. We sent our team on an expedition to find another team with a welder so they could add some metal to the backing plates of the new pads. Our 16-year-old daughter ended up finding a skilled welder who, combined with Brandon’s grinding skills, allowed us to race with rear brakes on Sunday.

With the rear brake pad debacle solved, someone floated the brilliant idea that we might want to take a look at the front pads. They were toast as well, though not quite as crispy as were the rears. We did have a spare set of front brake pads. I purchased a cheap set of pads because they came with new metal hardware (clips). These brake pads were designed with a Sunday trip to the grocery store in mind, not braking after a long front straight on a race track. We installed the new pads and hoped for the best.

Solving the overheating problem was our next task. I pressure tested the cooling system after our last race and it held pressure up to the rated pressure of the radiator cap. The thermostat we ran was the original that came with the car when it was purchased four years ago. We had a fresh, new one which Andrew installed. Brandon, who is enthusiastic about changing the look of our Celica, speculated an air scoop to direct more air to the radiator, might help the situation. The car rides higher than normal because so much weight has been removed. Perhaps the air is going under the car instead of into the radiator. A trip to the hardware store later, thus was born the silver tongue. Brandon fabricated the air dam from sheet metal and installed it with rivets, bolts and a couple of brackets. Should we paint it pink?

Silver-tongued devil

After leading the race for much of Saturday morning, we had dropped out of contention by the end of the day. A contributing factor was our Toyota’s large consumption of oil. Our usage rate was approximately one quart per hour. Since adding oil is not allowed on the hot pit, every time we changed drivers the car would have to come into the paddock for oil and then back on to the track for fuel. Unfortunately, without the parts and tools necessary to rebuild the engine, there wasn’t much we could do about it. This won’t be as big of an issue at Sonoma, where cars must fuel in the paddock.

On Sunday, we were eager to see how our modifications worked. The cooling issues from Saturday disappeared, even though the day’s high temperature was 94°, compared to Saturday’s high of 80°. I can’t say whether the fix was the result of the new thermostat, the new air dam or a combination of both, but we enjoyed the luxury of steam not spewing from the radiator each time the car returned from the track.

The brakes worked, but to say they were not ideal is a bit of an understatement. Andrew flew off the track at the end of the front straight, not prepared for the lack of bite. Whereas the Celica’s best performance traight had been its braking ability, it was now hampered by the non-performance pads. Lap times were respectable, but a bit slower than Saturday’s, as our drivers had to cope learning how to cope with the street pads. The lesson we took out of this is to always have good spare brake pads on hand.

NachoFriend Racing enjoyed a full day of racing on Sunday. Our fix to the fuel tank was successful. After we took the checkered flag, trophy winners were announced over the loud speaker and we discovered we had won Judges’ Choice! It was explained in the 24 Hours of LeMons wrap-up video that we always bribed judges with nachos (though we weren’t allowed to because of social distancing) and they appreciated our efforts to fix the fuel leak instead of blaming it on a loose fuel cap.

Judges’ Choice trophy.

I deemed the 2020 Northworst Grand Prix a success. We overcame some obstacles, got to hang out at the track for a long weekend and our drivers got lots of time on the track. We have entered our next race already – the Arse-Freezapalooza in Sonoma in December. There will be some preparation to do before that race, but we should have plenty of time.