Race Prep for Sonoma

Team NachoFriend Racing’s last track appearance in July 2021 at Oregon Raceway Park was so dismal that I didn’t bother to document it here. Our 1985 Toyota Celica GT-S leaked fuel from the fuel sender and had ignition problems that sidelined us for a good part of Saturday’s racing. Of course the car couldn’t be bothered to divulge these issues during Friday’s test session. Temperatures in the mid 90s made movement sweaty and uncomfortable. Despite these frustrations, we did have a great time, got to hang out with some great teams and were awarded the Organizer’s Choice trophy, as well as a trophy made by our next door paddock neighbors, a first-time team, for helping them in their introductory race. Oh, I ended up in the emergency room a few days after returning from this race. My kidneys were shutting down due to dehydration. That was fun.

I decided we would try this again at the 2021 Arse-Freeze-Apalooza. This race will be held at Sonoma Raceway (or whatever they call it this week) in December. Dehydration should not be a problem. The Arse-Freeze will be the team’s thirteenth race. I rented the same house that we rented for the April Sonoma race so that our team would have a nice place to stay. The kids can enjoy the hot tub, while we older folk gather around the tv and sip fine Sonoma wine. I also reserved a garage space at the track so we could have some shelter there. It proved very handy during the April race, when we had to swap engines overnight (we will not be doing that again).

Preparation for this race, as usual, has been minimal. My 5’0″ tall, seventeen-year-old daughter will drive in her third race. The start button, located in the center gauge cluster, is out of her reach. She has to start the car by reaching up with her foot and pressing the button, a trick she learned from one of our other drivers who is under six feet tall. I fixed this by obtaining a new starter box, installing the old switches in it, and mounting it on the underside of the roof (she really couldn’t reach it if I mounted it on top of the roof). The starter button and ignition switch are now within easy reach. This box also has room for further expansion should we wish to install an oil slick or smoke screen button. I mounted a switch for the cool shirt system, though we won’t be using that in December.

New location for the switch box

A bigger project was moving our gauges from the center of the car to behind the steering wheel. Other than the tach, our gauges were previously mounted, along with the switches, in the center of the car. Ideally, they would all be behind the steering wheel so the driver wouldn’t have to move their eyes off the track so much. I bought an aluminum project box that was approximately the size we needed. Test-fitting proved it to be a little too tall (“could’ve used a few pounds” – Bob Seger, Night Moves) so we cut it horizontally to take out some material and Nash TIG welded it back together. We painted it black so as to be non-reflective and fabricated a black woodfiber laminate face for the box. To wire the positive and negative connections for the gauges, I purchased a set of bus bars (one red, one black), mounted them to the bottom of the gauge box and routed a 12 volt wire to the red one and a ground to the black one. This would make it easier to diagnose any problems in the future. Before, the power and ground were daisy-chained. The sender wires for the gauges needed no modifications.

New gauge pod behind the steering wheel

Bus bars I used for power and ground

Our drivers noticed a clunking from the drivetrain at our last race. We replaced the transmission mount with a new unit made by Beck Arnley, but the problem could also stem from the universal joints in the driveshaft. The Celica’s driveshaft is a two-piece unit and the u-joints are not serviceable. We can replace it with a new driveshaft that has serviceable u-joints, but the current cost is around $500 and at this point, I’m not certain we could receive and install it in time. It is a task we will consider when we return from Sonoma. If one of our drivers is sitting on the side of the track at Sonoma with a broken u-joint, we shall strongly consider it. We did manage to pull the differantial cover and reseal it, as it was leaking. Fresh diff fluid will replace the dirty fluid that’s been in there for about seven races. The engine oil has been changed, we’ll get some new Falken Azenis RT615K 195/60R14 tires mounted up, and the car should be ready to go.

We are switching up our drivers just a bit for this race, since we have team members who are preparing for a little one (future team member?) and they don’t have time to go do silly things like race $500 cars. So, we are losing a driver and his wife (who does the fluid checks when we come in to the paddock) for a bit, but they will be back. To replace that driver, we’ve recruited the help someone who is an actual race engineer and has racing experience. I fear our Celica may be a bit disappointing compared to the Lola chassis endurance race cars to which he is accustomed, but he’ll just have to deal with it and enjoy the nachos.