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What it took to achieve success in our sophomore season serves as a potent reminder about the challenges in campaigning a race car. While it may look easy on paper, there’s a lot more to it than just a shiny paint job and sponsor stickers. Literally thousands of hours by dozens of volunteers went into our race effort in 2013, allowing the team to push hard and have confidence in the Jeep. The same can be said about the components used to ensure reliability and speed; 2013 saw many small changes that made all the difference and gave the team the edge needed to compete in a field where we often found ourselves out-spent and out-gunned. It’s also a reminder that the level of competition is a moving target–2014 is sure to see new, fast teams in the ever-growing Ultra4 “Everyman Challenge” 4600 class. Here’s a quick look behind the scenes at our ’13 season.
Our year began with the sport’s biggest race of the season, The Griffin King of the Hammers. 2013 proved to be even more brutal than usual, both in distance and technical difficulty; so much so that only one 4600 class vehicle finished in the allotted time– sadly not us. #4643 would spend a lot of time using the Warn winch and Viking Offroad recovery gear and struggling with fuel delivery issues. As a result our Jeep would cross the finish line just after dark in physical 2nd place, one of only two rigs in our class to actually take the checkered flag. When people say that just finishing is an accomplishment, they’ve got it right. We were absolutely thrilled to cross the line and celebrate with a trophy.
High off a heroic finish at King of the Hammers #4643 traveled to Sacremento to compete in the MetalCloak NorCal Stampede. You could sum up the Stampede by saying it’s like a compressed version of KOH; good high speed jumps with slow speed rock crawling interspersed, but on a short circuit. It was a lot of fun (the Bilstein shocks sure got a workout) and seemed to suit the Jeep well as we took home the 1st place trophy.
The next stop on the calendar was the 4 Wheel Parts Glen Helen Grand Prix, also a short course style race. This race would prove somewhat more challenging for #4643. A strange transmission glitch reared its head and was causing erratic shifting from the otherwise bullet proof slushbox. An unexpected shift in a bad place left the car on its side as the rest of the pack ran away. After getting flipped back on its wheels, the Bishop-Buehl Racing-built stroker straight-6 earned its keep, and amazingly the team finsished in 2nd place, just 0:1.16 behind 1st place. Not the top spot, but awfully close, and we still got a trophy!
Next up was a trip to Miller Motorsports Park for the American Rocksports Challenge. It’s always a treat to be at such a world class facility as Miller, but their brutal man-made rock sections further exposed the tippy nature of #4643. Ultra4 racing is always a compromise; you need the rig to be tall to handle the high speed jumps and whoops, but as low as possible, otherwise you might roll it in slow speed rock sections. Or, in our case, twice over the weekend.
The time spent on our lid would relegate us to another 2nd place finish, but again, quite respectable considering. Though all this abuse, it’s remarkable that none of our axle components from Yukon ever gave us a problem, and unlike most of the field we’re only running Dana 44s.
The 2013 season would culminate in Congress, Arizona at the Nitto Tire National Championships. All those 2nd place finishes had put the team in the point lead, but there were several teams within striking distance. We needed to finish higher than 3rd place in order to claim the National Championship. We had a big target on our backs, but our strategy was clear. SAVE THE CAR. Finish strong and don’t worry about taking first in the race, look at the national points…just make it to the finish line! This is always difficult when the red mist of racing descends and good judgement gets tossed away in the hunt for speed. The fun course in Congress, AZ made this restraint really hard, with great go-fast sections and technical crawling making it a fitting locale for the KOH/Ultra4 championship races to be held.
The terrain worked very well for the Cherokee, being the most like King of the Hammers of any of the other events of the season, and #4643 crossed the finish line in physical 1st place! After all the dust settled and the times were tabulated, we missed out on the official 1st place trophy by just 0:1.57, interestingly enough to the same rig that finished in 1st place at KOH. Now the real questions…depending on how points were scored/valued, would we be taking home the National Championship title? The officials kept their cards close to the vest, first telling us that we had indeed won the Western Region 4600 Class honors, but that we’d have to wait until the awards ceremony to find out about the National Championship. Finally just when we were about to lose it, the full scope of our achievements for 2013 was revealed:
Griffin King of the Hammers- 2nd Place
MetalCloak NorCal Stampede- 1st Place
4WP Glen Helen Grand Prix- 2nd Place
American Rocksports Challenge- 2nd Place
Nitto Tire National Finals- 2nd Place
2013 Western Region 4600 Class- 1st Place
2013 Ultra4 National 4600 Class- 1st place
For all of our hard work we were rewarded with a featuring role in the 2013 KOH DVD by Heavy Metal Concepts. Here’s a screen cap of an interview gone hilariously wrong.
We were also featured in a video game!
And the cover of a magazine!
It’s been a fantastic year. Hopefully you’ll follow along for 2014…we’ve got some big plans. Thanks to all the individuals who helped make #4643 possible, especially the volunteers from the North American XJ Association, without whom this crazy escapade would likely not have happened. You are far too many to list, but know that we thank you all.
See you in 2014!
Petty Cash Racing is certainly a Jeep-centric organization (I use that word loosely), but at the end of the day we’re just petrol heads and car enthusiasts. Which bring us to how a BMW 325i came to have our logo emblazoned along its flanks, and the beginning of this story. A couple years ago I towed our #430 Cherokee out to Denver for a 24 Hours of LeMons race, a not insignificant 1400 miles each way. I did this because my sister and her family live out there and her husband and their teenage boys are also car geeks. A race trip and family get together all in one? Perfect!
As predicted, everybody had a great time and my brother-in-law, Kevin, was bitten by the racing bug. This was all part of my plan, of course. If I could get Kevin to build a car in Denver, it would save me having to drag my car back and forth every year. And, well, more cars is always good, right? After the June ’12 High Plains Raceway event, the talk got serious and we delved into the fun conversation of “what kind of car should we build?”
The obvious answer was another Cherokee, but Kevin wanted something “fast,” even though #430 finished 6th overall at the previous Denver race. He wasn’t interested in the odd-ball cars that LeMons attracts, he didn’t want to have to reinvent the wheel (though he is a very talented engineer), he “just wanted to go fast.” His mind immediately went towards the big hp V8 powered Detroit cars, Mustangs and Camaros.
While it is possible for either one of these platforms to be very fast on a LeMons budget, they’re rarely reliable at that pace. I gently steered him away from the thundering V8 options and towards a platform that is hugely represented in LeMons, and for good reasons. The BMW e30 series of cars (318i, 325e, M3, etc) was sold in huge numbers in various guises all over the world from 1982 through 1994. The aftermarket support is massive as is the knowledge base and they’re just plain fun to drive.
With that settled, we began the hunt for the pick of the e30 litter, a late model 2-dr 325is. Months of scouring Craigslist finally yielded fruit (lemon joke), a 1989 325i 2-dr. The body was straight, though it had a salvage title from hail damage and a theft at one point in its life…and it didn’t run. Still, for $350 we had our shell. I figured we’d toss in a junkyard motor, sell off some of the interior (check out the bitchin’ seat covers!) to offset the cost, slap some paint on it and go racing. So I flew home to Seattle.
Over the next few months Kevin and I corresponded about various cars he was finding on Craigslist, what basic modifications we would need to do to the race car to get it track ready, etc. It was only when I flew to Denver to spend Christmas with them that I realized I might have created a monster. Rather than buy a junkyard engine, he’d purchased 4 other e30s as parts cars. Here was the sight I was greeted with:
Oh God, what have I done? Kevin claimed they were just “too good of a deal to pass up! I even got the convertible for free!” Turns out in my absence and left to his own devices Kevin had tapped into some hitherto unknown hoarder personality. But, he was right, we did have all the spare parts we would need, and true to accurate LeMons budgeting he was selling off unneeded parts to offset our costs. He traded a gas tank and a front fender (which the buyer never bothered to pick up) for a set of cheapo lowering springs. The rest of the family was less enthusiastic (okay, that’s not true…the boys loved having a fleet of BMWs, it was my Sister, Shannon, who was beginning to get suspicious).
To boost morale, we spent a day cannibalizing the fleet and turned one car into something less horrible. The battery was held down with plumbers strap (sticking through the body work), it had no rear bumper, just the shock posts sticking out like automotive Punji sticks, and BFG Radial T/As that were older than me. To top things off, it was an ’86 325es, the gutless “economy” model, saved only by the “s” in the name indicating a limited slip diff. We took it to High Plains Raceway for a track day to get everyone in the family some passenger-seat time and reinvigorate the race car passion. We got some strange looks in the paddock with our super-hooptie Bimmer, but it ran around the track all weekend, albeit 4-5 laps at a time before the brakes would fade away completely. The nautical levels of body roll made it pretty fun to throw around on track. Getting point-bys by track day heroes in newish sporty cars was highly satisfying.
Befitting a several hundred dollar car, some Hoonage was in order on deserted farm roads on the way home from the track:
I flew back home a couple days after the outing to the track with the admonishment to Kevin that it was time to stop buying cars and start building the one we were planning to race in 6 months time. If you’ve ever built a race car, you know how quickly your heavily padded schedule can disappear. All of a sudden 6 months turns into 6 weeks…and the car is still sitting on jack stands. So it was when I returned to Denver 5 months later, three weeks before the race to oversee the final race prep. Here is the (still not running) car I found in the shop:
No big deal, all it needed was brakes, wheels, tires, a roll cage, kill switch, a gauge cluster, seat, steering wheel, paint, decals, exhaust and a thousand other details. Pretty standard. After a weekend in the garage banging our heads against the wall hunting down loose or broken connectors (Pro Tip: It’s good to race a car you’re already familiar with), we finally got it running…exactly 13 days before it would make its debut on the track.
I admit, it doesn’t look like much, and certainly not like a track weapon milled from enriched Cheatonium-430 (this is an element we made up; all e30 racers get accused of cheating because the cars are so easy to make fast, so we just owned it from the beginning). Next step would be the cage. With only a couple weeks until the race, we turned to our friends at DSquared Racing to bail us out. They said, “Sure! Bring us some tube and we’ll whip something together for you!” So I did, using the only vehicle available to me, an early ’90s Nissan pickup. This is not its intended role.
To say that is was terrifying is a putting it mildly. But a few days later, we had a car with a cage in it. Next step, making it look like a race car.
Just because it’s a $500 car doesn’t mean it has to look like a heap of crap. Further, this BMW was going to serve as more than just a racecar; the plan all along is to keep it street legal so it can be driven to the track for lapping days, to car shows, to work, who knows. So making it look decent was up there on the priority list. Now, before everybody grabs pitchforks and torches, here’s the “paint booth” we sprayed the car in. I assure you, it was very LeMony:
With a week to go, things start to get tricky. Our original plan was to get a set of Falken Azenis RT-615Ks that would fit the stock “Bottlecap” 14″ wheels, but after a call to Falken, we found out they were on back order. Oh well, we had wanted to go to 15″ wheels anyway, but hadn’t really budgeted for that expense. I made a call to 425 Motorsports, a PNW based speed shop that supplies Petty Cash Racing with all of our safety gear, to ask for advice. They pointed us in the direction of Team Dynamics Racing 15×7 wheels. These wheels are very popular in spec racing because of their affordability and light weight, and I think they look great. We were lucky to get the last 6 in the Western US.
They arrived on Tuesday before the race, and the 205/50R15 Falken Azenis’ arrived Wednesday. We’ve been running these tires on the #430 Jeep for a couple years and have been amazed at their grip, longevity, predictability and wet weather performance. We’re true believers. A run into the local Les Schwab tire shop and they were mounted and balanced.
We were also very lucky to get connected with BBD Graphics so we could get the car’s numbers and associated stickers. Tammy at BBD was great to work with; I already had some of the graphics files and I knew what I wanted the car to look like, but I needed a pro to put it all together for me. Tammy worked through the night to get us what we needed (and team shirts!) in just two days. Putting the stickers on the car is always a special time, because it’s when everything comes together, it’s the payoff. And boy, did it pay off!
Finally Thursday evening, we were ready (ok…not really, but it was time to leave) so Kevin saddled up in the very graciously loaned Samuel Engineering 1/2 ton pickup towing a camp trailer and began the 100 mile drive to the track. I would be driving the race car there, and hopefully, back.
Kevin and I camped outside the gates of the track and took our first deep breaths in weeks, aided by a little Burbonium (as we came to call our favorite booze, Bookers). Friday morning came sooner than we hoped (“did we really watch ‘Days of Thunder’ last night?”), but the car still needed to pass tech and we wanted to put some track miles on it to sort out any last minute bugs.
I tested the car in the morning open track session, and somehow wound up in the “fast group.” This included an ex-Ferrari Challenge F430 and some other six-figure weapons-grade cars. The Bimmer held its own against some much faster machinery. At noon the track went cold for lunch and we headed to Lemons Tech Inspection to see if we’d crossed all of our i’s and dotted all of out t’s. Further, we’d be going through “BS Inspections,” the time when the LeMons Supreme Court decides rather arbitrarily if you’ve exceeded your $500 allotment. To distract them from all of our cheatiness, we put together a spread of my family’s famous shredded beef tacos.
The car passed tech inspection and was fairly assessed as being in “A-Class” with no penalty laps. We were quite pleased with ourselves as Friday came to a close. In the late afternoon the track went cold and we cracked the beers, just in time for our 4th driver and secret weapon to arrive from the airport. Anton Lovett is a name anybody in LeMons knows, because he is the single most experienced LeMons racer in the series’ history with something like 38 races under his belt. We recruited him to drive with us both for his speed and his never-say-die attitude; he’s an asset to any team that lists him on their roster.
We woke up Saturday morning with an attitude that if we just didn’t screw up, we might just be able to win this thing. I would get in the car for the first few hours, then pass it over to Anton. After that we would be rotating in our two rookie drivers, Kevin the builder and Russell, Kevin’s 19 year old son and my nephew. Things did not go as planned. I’ll now rattle off a list of the things that went wrong in no particular order, followed by lots of pics of us in the pits wrenching on the car:
-Lost freeze plug on track, replaced with one from a blown engine from another team at the track; we used JB weld to hold it in
-This resulted in chronic over heating all weekend
-Factory LSD began making more and more noise
-Wheel studs kept backing out
-Wheel bearing dust cover came loose and began to spray grease, requiring a bubble gum and pop can fix
-Driver side camber plate kept loosening up
-Airbox fell off
-Clogged fuel filter
-Lower radiator hose
-Upper radiator hose
-Both motor mounts
-Both trans mounts
-Carrier Support Bearing
-Steering wheel bolts backed partly out
-Steering wheel disconnect bolts backed partly out
-Seat came slightly loose from slider
-Seat slider came loose and wouldn’t lock in place
I’m sure there was more, but it’s all a blur. We’d go out for 4 laps and something else would go wrong. Then 30 minutes on track, then back in and an an hour to fix something else. But we kept at it, all day Saturday until we lost the driveshaft carrier support bearing surround; this failed because the two brand new motor mounts sheared off, taking the trans mounts and CSB. This was a weekend-ender.
That is, until Kevin drove the 200 mile round trip back to the pile of parts cars to scavenge a new CSB, which he cut out with a torch. We manufactured new solid motor mounts using a Sawzall, cutoff-wheels, 1/2″ drills and random bolts, and the trans was literally bailing-wired in place. We got all this done in time to take the green flag Sunday morning. Amazingly, Sunday went nearly perfectly! We turned laps all day and dragged ourselves out of the bottom of the standings, our fast lap times were within a couple seconds of the fastest cars leading the race. This bodes well for the future of this car.
Despite all the setbacks, we were able to take the checkered flag and we weren’t DFL. Here’s a video of me expressing my enthusiasm on our cool-down lap:
And here’s the team celebrating in our usual Petty Cash style, a post-race spray down with cheap beer:
We were very happy to have finished a 15 hour race, especially in a new car essentially built in two weeks. And the car would be driving home under its own power, with no race rash, no damage, etc. The triumphant crew:
Now for the icing on the cake; despite finishing down in the standing from where we expected, the sheer enormity of and volume of failures we’d had to overcome in order to finish earned us the coveted “Heroic Fix” award. Words don’t express the pride in the whole family/team effort.
We turned 610 miles on a race track all said and done between three days, about half as many as we’d hoped. But just like our team motto instructs, we’re staying flexible. Semper Gumbi; the next race will have a different, more positive outcome in terms of finishing order, but it’s hard to imagine a better ending to our first race with the Cheatonium-430 Bimmer.
Our faithful and much loved #430 Jeep Cherokee road race car has exceeded pretty much everybody’s expectations, recently being named by Car and Driver as the Greatest Road Racing Cherokee in (LeMons) History. The “in LeMons” caveat was quickly redacted by The 24 Hours of LeMons themselves, meaning we have a lot to live up to. But how do we crack through that glass ceiling that exists for 2WD SUV road race cars? A question that is commonly asked by nobody, anywhere.
We’ve been competing with basically a stock 4.0 for years, and have had a love/hate relationship with it. On one hand, it has six pistons in a straight line, as god intended. The AMC Six is typically reliable despite abuse and neglect, and usually good for 300k miles, but ignore what the Internet tells you; you just can’t make significant horsepower out of them on a LeMons budget (which is to say, basically nothing). We dabbled with the idea of forced induction, but that brought up questions of reliability (which we had *just* conquered) or a stroker 258/242 hybrid which would blow our budget and are fickle by nature. We knew the Jeep had the awesome Falken tires and the brakes to compete with the big dogs, just not the horsepower. The Cherokee’s barn-door-inspired aerodynamics were no help over 50 mph, either, further highlighting the lack of brute power.
So, what to do? It is commonly accepted that the least reliable engine in all of LeMons history is the normally bullet-proof 350ci Small Block Chevy V8 family of engines. So obviously we decided to pursue that route. Actually swapping in a SBC motor is not at all new in the Cherokee world, and the entire time we’d been screwing around with the AMC/Chrysler 4-litre engine, there was this Chevy V8 sitting in the Petty Cash High Technology Centre and Proving Grounds’ shop that had been scavenged and ear-marked for another project. It came from a wrecked ’99 Silverado pick-up that we’d bought and parted out years ago for said other project. The parting out and scrap value of the truck we bought put the last remaining component, the 5.3 liter LM7 V8, at an actual cost to us of about $150…well within our LeMons budget.
Stats for the Silverado truck motor looked encouraging, 270 bhp and 315 lb/ft out of the box compared with 173 hp/220 lb/ft for the AMC 6 cylinder. Also, mated to the power hog of an automatic transmission that we were saddled with in order to stay within our budget, we never saw anything like the advertised hp out of the AMC Six.
Conventional wisdom when doing a Chevy V8 swap is you just toss in the GM transmission that was originally behind the V8. But no, that would be too easy and would blow our $500 budget. Besides, the Aisin-Warner AW4 auto had been supremely reliable, despite an inadvertent 85 mph shift past OD into reverse one time. We also got in touch with some Toyota Supra experts, a car which inexplicably shares basically the same transmission. We mailed Fringe XVO our valve body and they sent us one back that had been tweaked for faster shifts; counter intuitively this actually reduces wear and keeps heat in check. With this mod and a couple coffee table sized trans coolers, we stuck with our trusty slush-o-matic and made an adapter to make it bolt up to the Gen III Chevy V8…how hard could it be? Turns out the answer is “very.”
In the end we used a 4L60E bellhousing from a Chevy Astro, a flex plate from a Camaro with spacers welded to it then bolted to the flex plate from a Cherokee, bolted to a Cherokee torque converter, all held together with an adapter plate that we made with a drill press, band saw and the power of positive thinking. We spent a great deal of time getting this bastardized combination to “kinda-sorta” work. Niggling details and lingering doubts left us with no time to do any real testing of the combination before race day. Knowing that we were venturing into the unknown, we ponied up for a fancy-pants, track-facing paddock/garage rental at Sears Point/Infineon/Race Sonoma/whateverthehell they’re calling it now. Baller status for sure.
We spent so much time fiddling with the transmission adapter (literally over night, through the morning, right up until the green flag dropped) that we neglected to give our new motor much attention. Before even dropping the 5.3 into the Jeep, we’d pulled the oil pan, checked the bearings, compression in all the cylinders, etc and everything looked hunkey-dory. It made great oil pressure (40 lbs at idle when hot) and after a few spirited excursions around the paddock we were fairly confident that this crazy idea would work. We even used a Camaro/Firebird LS1 oil pan with lots of baffling, our Accusump from the 4-litre and AmsOil 20/50 race oil from 4x4Oil.com We finally had the winning combination after 12 races: It was our race to lose.
Here’s our first lap out:
With our uber-conservative exhaust and only one lap to prod the limits, things didn’t really feel all that much faster than before. Hmphf.
After coming into check why the oil pressure was dropping off, the motor seemed to heal itself and regain its previous strong pressure. Faulty gauge? Ghost in the machine? Meh. Back out we went, with all the bugs surely sorted. Ha.
This time it was something stupid on our part, a coolant line that needed to go to the overflow tank and not be plugged with a screw like it was. So once more back in we came for a quick fix; by this time any hope of a class win was gone. You just can’t spend that much time in the pits and have any chance in the hyper competitive California races with 175 other race cars. So with a more relaxed pace we went back out…and had the same mysterious loss of oil pressure after 2 laps. Okay, fine..we’ll do it right and try to get the car back on track, but do it with an eye on actually fixing the problem, not just a slapped together short term solution. We decided to pull the oil pan and check the oil pick-up to see if it might be clogged.
It was…a lot. And there was also a great deal of metallic debris that looked remarkably like the bearings were tearing themselves apart. In 5 laps.
Hey, no biggie…we’ve swapped an engine every time we’ve raced at Sears Point, just never this early on. Par for the course, Semper Gumby and all that. The local generic parts store had rod bearings in stock for a 5.3 V8 (no surprise, GM has been churning them out by the millions for nigh on 15 years) for almost free. We decided that in addition to cleaning out the oil pick-up we’d throw in some new bearings for added insurance. With a couple hours to spare in Saturday’s session, the Jeep made a triumphant return to the track.
For two laps, then good bye oil pressure. We were officially flummoxed and out of ideas. Back into the engine we tore. We called LSx experts. We went from team to team to see if they’d ever heard of anything like this. We called Miss Cleo the Psychic. No help. In the end we put everything back together and changed the oil again, with a fresh filter hoping we might be able to get rid of the sludge that was giving us so much grief. Nope.
With no time left to source a junkyard motor at a reasonable price, we decided to pack it in, start drinking and save what was left of the motor and at least take the checkered flag.
Not a totally hollow victory, but also not very satisfying considering the staggering number of hours we’d spent in the shop putting the puzzle together. There is one ray of sunshine, a silver lining of sorts: The basic concept of a much more powerful motor in the old XJ chassis actually felt pretty composed and controllable. Of all things, the one-off trans adapter seems to work, and the tranny itself appears to be up to the task. There are some things to be addressed and sorted, but as a testing/proof of concept the weekend was a success, albeit a very expensive one. But hey, that’s racing and we had to pay the piper eventually. Hopefully this means our next event (Buttonwillow Raceway Park, June 29-30) will be trouble free. Hey, we can dream, can’t we?
The AMC/Jeep 4.0 liter inline-six: Synonymous with reliability, these engines are well known to easily last to 300,000 miles or more. They endure torture in off-road applications, overheating, water ingestion, low oil pressure from extreme angles and shrug it off like it never happened. They make decent power (ranging from 173hp-190 hp) and gobs of torque. What better possible endurance racing engine? That’s what I thought when I selected the Jeep Cherokee as the platform for the Petty Cash Racing 24 Hours of LeMons racer.
Before I explain how terribly misguided this assumption was, a little history is in order. In 1964, AMC replaced their previous Nash derived OHV I-6 with the basic foundation that survived until 2006 in continuous production. So this lump of iron has been around the block more than a few times, and like I mention, earned a sterling reputation for reliability, especially in its final iteration, the Chrysler influenced 242 ci/4.0 liter version. At first the team had very good luck with the 4.0. Our first race was Thunderhill in 2009, and the Jeep surprised a LOT of people that first outing. We actually had to get a special exemption from organizer and self-proclaimed “Chief Perpetrator”, Jay Lamm, just to enter the event. People were convinced we were going to roll over on the first corner.
Instead, we finished 63rd out of 156 entries, a convincing result considering none of the team had ever been on a race track in competition before. The motor did great, didn’t use oil and even sounded mean with our Cherry Bomb muffler and side exit exhaust. We thought we were pretty clever.
Things had gone so swimmingly at our first race, we decided to not change a thing and raced at what was then called Infineon Raceway, aka Sears Point. We finished mid-pack due to some unscheduled trips to the penalty box for contact with other cars. Up until this point, all we’d done to the Jeep was change the oil and brake pads. So far so good. In fact, things were going so well that we decided to leave it mostly alone for our next race at Buttonwillow Raceway near Bakersfield in December of 2010. We were baffled when we developed a pretty serious case of blow-by, and enough crank case over-pressure to blow out the dipstick out of its tube (enter zip-ties). Despite the slightly wounded engine, we took home a trophy, first place in Class C, this time 32nd/173 entries.
Our next race was at Sears Point again, and we were looking forward to redeeming ourselves. That lasted 3 hours and then a piston exited block-left. We were baffled. 4.0s are supposed to last forever! No matter that we bought ours with 201k miles and had proceeded to put about 3500 racing miles on it. We scrambled all night and swapped in a junk yard motor that we found that night and finished the race, but we were now a little suspicious of our old friend the 242 straight six.
Cut to 2011. We knew the Jeep was capable of some pretty decent finishes, and I’d been bitten by the racing bug. 2011 was going to be our year, an all out assault on some serious results. I broke out my Sponsorship Knee Pads and went to work: We got a set of massive brakes from Savvy Off-Road loaded with Black Magic pads. We added 2 degrees of negative camber on each front ball joint. Perhaps the biggest improvement was the selection of new 17″ Raceline Wheels wrapped in the new Falken Azenis RT-615Ks in lieu of the 340 TW Mud & Snow rated garbage we had . Disc brakes, limited slip differential and shorter gears in back courtesy of a Ford Explorer rounded out the package. It was a different car.
We went back to Sears Point with high hopes; now we would have the handling to match the reliability and relative speed we’d been enjoying for the last year. And blew a motor 3 hours in, just like last time. It’s almost like there’s something about this track…like a specific corner that robs the motor of oil pressure. Like maybe the long, downhill, off-camber sweeper called the Carousel. Hmmm.
Luckily, by this time we were wise to the 4.0s proclivity to eat it’s own bottom end (insert joke here) and brought a spare.
We took the checkered flag for that race, but it was a not one of our more fun events. Lots of time spent in the pits, not much time actually on track. I swore that we would not return until we had solved our engine issues. Post race video shows our oil pressure dropping dramatically through The Carousel. You can hear the motor getting worse and worse in this video:
Clue #1. Maybe our increased grip and higher lateral Gs due to our upgrades have made oil slosh in the pan the problem. But that can’t be! I’ve run 4-liters their sides’ for minutes at a time in off-roading with nary a problem.
But then it struck me…I was idling at those angles, not running an engine designed with a 5000 RPM redline at 4600. So what to do? I put out a plea on our Facebook page and was flooded with suggestions: “Run 2-stroke oil!” “Add saw dust!” “Put no oil in at all!” “Make your roll cage part of the oiling system!” “90 Weight gear oil!” Out of all these terrible ideas, a couple floated their way to the surface. First, add baffles to the oil pan to keep oil from sloshing around under high load corners. Some CAD (Cardboard Aided Design) later, and we had a partial solution:
Another idea that some old dirt track guys suggested was an Accusump. Basically, it’s a reserve tank of oil that is forced into the engine when it senses low oil pressure. These are surprisingly cheap, and we found a used one in the 2-qt flavor on Craigslist for $85: Insurance plan #2.
We also added a mechanical oil pressure gauge and an oil temp gauge so we could keep better track of what was going on under the hood, hopefully before parts tear an inspection port in the side of the block.
While the motor was apart, we tossed in a new set of rod bearings to further bolster our chances of making it through our next race, appropriately enough at Sears Point. Thanks to Eastside Auto Care for helping us out on the parts.
Perhaps the most contentious question ever asked is “What kind of oil should we be using?” We got another onslaught of suggestions: “The thinner the better!” The Heavier the better!” “Distilled baby seal fat is the only way to go!” “Make sure you over fill it by 2 quarts!” Whatever you do, don’t over fill it! You’ll blow up!” We got 81 answers on our Facebook page in an hour. It was pandemonium. One person stood out of the crowd, however, and offered up some very constructive and well thought-out ideas. Turns out the guy, Dirk Werning, is not only a Jeep Cherokee geek, he also runs 4x4Oil.com, an AmsOil dealer. It turns out the Mobil 1 Synthetic we’d been running really wasn’t the right solution for us.
Apparently motors with flat tappet valvetrains need something called ZDDP (Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate), basically a zinc additive to keep the engine from chewing itself up. Dirk advised us that with the high miles our crappy motors had, something a little heavier would be the way to go and shipped us a case (along with a couple AmsOil filters) of AmsOil 20/50 Synthetic Z-Rod. You can read more about ZDDP on their site. Interesting stuff.
So, with seemingly all our bases covered, we loaded up for our next race at Sears Point.
Success! We finished a race at Sears Point without having to do a motor swap! I can already hear you saying it: “One race? That’s hardly conclusive.” Agreed; we decided to put the AmsOil to the ultimate test. A normal LeMons race weekend is about 15 hours of racing broken up over 2 days for a total of about 800 miles. Once a year, however, they do a true 24 hour enduro, straight through the night. You may remember that we won last year’s event in Reno. This year’s full 24 was going to be at Buttonwillow, near Bakersfield, California. Temps were predicted to be above 100 degrees. Perfect torture test.
Even with engine coolant temps soaring into the 250+ range and over heating, oil temps never got higher than 280 and we never once saw low oil pressure. That’s on the same oil and filter from the previous race, for a total of 2300 race miles. Okay, we’re officially drinking the cool-aid.
On the 5th of February the Petty Cash/Team NAXJA Jeep Cherokee lined up at the start line for the inaugural SmittyBilt Every Man Challenge leading up to the Griffin King of the Hammers. And we sat there while the rest of the field took off in an angry rush for position. In fact we sat there while our crew raced back to our pits and scavenged an alternator off an innocent Cherokee and installed it in the race car. In 13 minutes. It was that kind of week, full of New Car Blues, a term often muttered in the pits on Means Dry Lakebed where the event is held.
Between parts shipments being delayed to family crises, every step of the way forward was after taking two back. As you learned in our last blog entry, we weren’t sure if the car would even make it to the start line. Through the hard work and perseverance of several key players, sponsors and scores of volunteers, somehow we made it.