If things have been a bit slow this week and last, it’s because Der UberBird and LeMons were in full control of all available free time. In case you missed it, last weekend was The 24 Hours of LeMons Arse-Freeze-apalooza at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, in scenic Buttonwillow, CA, about 2.5 hours north of Hooniverse HQ.
In typical fashion, we scrambled to get get out the door, had semi-major breakage in Friday’s practice session, abandoned sleep to get it fixed, kept it going all weekend, but retired a little earlier than we’d hoped. As always, a mind-blowingly great time was had by all. Jump for the story.
Thursday was a scramble to finish a host of procrastination-generated to-dos, including swapping in a set front brake pads that were supposed to arrive in the mail, but didn’t. With shops approaching closing time, we raced 20 mintues down the road to Ireland Engineering, a BMW shop that former roommate and all-around old BMW guy Aaron had a connection with to get some decent Hawk Blue pads. That taken care of, we emptied my garage into the truck and trailer and retired around midnight. Bleary eyed and saggy tailed, we hit the road around 7:30 Friday morning and were at the track by 10:00.
We cleared tech and BS with minimal complications, as the craptasticness of the Uberbird is well known. With no major fixes, we were actually able to get some decent practice time in. SoCal residents should be aware: Buttonwillow runs “Test and Tune” open track days most Fridays for a remarkably low price. Things went great in practice until the last couple of laps of our last driver, when he came in complaining of lost power and extra noise coming from the top end.
Turns out we broke a rocker arm, then thing between the cam and the valve. The hardened steel foot that rests on the cam was busted off and the rest of the light aluminum rocker was far worse for it. We didn’t have any spares and none of the other racers did either. Out of nowhere some guy (“Mark”, I think…) asks us what we’re doing, then tells us he’s got a friend with a shop at the track that works on BMWs and that he’s definitely got one. How cool is that? New rocker procured, we were off to work swapping it.
The details of swapping a rocker on an M30 are manifold and tedious (for starters, the rocker shafts are press-fit in the head and keyed by the head bolts), but needless to say the job is involved. In the middle of us struggling through it, a crew of revelers equipped with beers and flashlights asks what we’re up to. Turns out one of them is a master BMW tech, determined not to let another bimmer fail to race. He lent a hand and gave us a few tricks. Unfortunately, a combination of a couple beers too many and a bit of overconfidence had him trying to do something the quick way, which resulted in breaking a bushing that locates the rocker along the rocker shaft. Such is the nature of unsolicited help.
Of course, we had no spare. It’s now 8:40 and there’s a Home depot 30 minutes away that might have something we can kludge to work. Thanks to some hot-shoe driving from Mad_Science_Sr in the Mini Cooper S, we got there just in time to run in the exit. We were looking for a way to fashion a clamp-like thing that’d clamp on the rocker shaft and hold the rocker in place against the spring that pushes on it. After picking up a cornucopia of miscellaneous plumbing and electrical clamp-like fittings, we dashed out the door as they were turning off the lights.
Back at the track, a combination of lack of sleep and dropping temperatures had things going pretty slow, but eventually we managed to use an electrical ground strap clamp like a collet to hold the rocker in place on the rocker shaft. It took some Dremel-ing, but it fit right in there with just enough room between the cam and valve spring. Seriously. We buttoned everything up, just in time to scramble to put all the tools back in the trailer when it started raining at about 2:15 am.
Saturday morning, we were taking bets as to if or how long this would hold. I was of the opinion it would either fail pretty quickly or not at all. Turns out it was the latter. With no issues in the (motor’s) head, the only problem we had on Saturday was a self-unbolting throttle cable bracket, resulting in a tow. That took all of 30 seconds to fix. Other than that, no issues. We finished Saturday in the mid-40s (of 160 cars doing laps) and climbing. After-hours we learned that the screws on our super awesome Home Depot fix had loosened up, but hadn’t come off all the way. After some Lock-Tite-ing, re-torquing and an oil change we were ready for day two.
Photo Credit: Murilee Martin’s on-car camera
Sunday we were determined to run as best we could. We planned in-pit fueling and quick driver’s changes. Turns out once you get into the 30s place-wise, things get really competitive. Our couple of black flags really hurt. We were running with a very speedy Crown Vic (#76), a couple of Alfas, and the #430 Petty Cash Jeep Cherokee Superbird wannabe. We were breakage and complication-free all day, so it was really getting down to one and two lap spreads between us and the Group B competition. We had a minor hiccup on our last driver change (had to race the WRX over to the on-track shop to get transmission fluid to top off our leaky automatic), but after that we had our fastest driver in the seat for the last shift of the day.
Despite a black-flag (semi) false alarm, the shift was going great. Ryan was picking people off left and right, and we had climbed as high as 31st. Then, with about 90 minutes to go, the rain started coming down. Rain on a track that’s had over 100 crapcans dripping oil on it all weekend makes for quite the calamitous scene. Cars were spinning and going off left and right. We were very very glad to have former NASA/SCCA racer Ryan behind the wheel at that point. Unfortunately, with about 60 minutes left, the rain caught up with him, too. A spin in the “bus stop” turn was one black flag too many and we were done.
Not doing laps will cost you, and we dropped back a ways from our hopes of a top-30 finish. In a way it was almost better, though. The Uberbird’s final place? #43
Be sure to check out Jeff’s pictures on his flickr set
Here’s a gallery courtesy of Murilee Martin: