I did not catch myself on fire...and the unintentional escalation of dumb - December 14th, 2022
I did not catch myself on fire...and the unintentional escalation of dumb
I pulled the car to a stop and calmly but quickly shut down the engine, flipped the battery disconnect switch and hiked myself out of the cockpit (Cool Hand Luke here..).
With the other guys yelling in the background Tony had frantically flagged me into the parking lot making the "shut down" sign of drawing his hand across his throat repeatedly. At the time I didn't realize exactly how appropriate that could have been......
Over the summer, Gia and I trailered a 1996 Toyota World Sport Racer from Ohio back to California. I was looking for a counterpoint to our Nissan Tame Prototipo. The Toyota WSR seemed like the perfect ticket!
Using a spec limited 154HP 4AG, MR2 AW11 trans, brakes hubs and ball joints, it was designed as an economical full-bodied sports racer. From 1994 to 2000, about 105 of the cars were built. Although now a defunct series, you can often pick up the cars for $13K to $16K, ready to hit the track.
There is an enthusiastic group of people still playing with them in California and every once in a while, you might see 7 of them on the track at the same time. Most of the cars have been hopped up and make 200HP or more. Our WSR uses a 200HP Loyning built motor!
When I flew back to Cincinnati (a story all in itself) I had been led to believe the car was in "ready to race" condition. Instead, I found a car with 10-year-old fuel and brake lines, not even hooked up and car not running. Over the next couple of months, I spent evenings in the garage putting in a completely new fuel system, eliminating as much complexity as possible, switching to a returnless fuel rail setup and upgrading everything with Radium catch cans, surge tanks and Vibrant Performance fittings and lines.
I took my time, I did it right. I really thought I had every angle covered.
We brought the car into the shop to finish buttoning things up, final mods and for some future product development. Tony did a great job replacing all the oil lines, finishing the brakes, and pulling the engine to ditch the Tilton clutch and flywheel for a Toda and Exedy unit. We also modified the headers to get rid of the 1.5" restriction in the exhaust, Toda timing belt and a host of other mods.
As Brian and The Crew have improved efficiency at the shop, my personal utility has been difficult to nail down. Morale Boosting and Cheerleading is one of my current goals and what better way to raise Morale than a little Jackassery. As I walked by the WSR I decided it was time to take it for a spin around the block. Of course, the guys hear it fire up and it was like "Voltron Force Assemble".
Most of my life, I've managed to walk that line of doing dumb things...but limiting risk just enough to not get hurt. I figured this was one of those situations. The WSR had no racing harness installed but you sit way down in it, and the thing is very wide and only 1" off the ground. Brake proportioning has not been dialed in, but the car stops fine.
I was looking at the car as a big shifter kart. I've done plenty of dumb things in a kart and survived just fine. I knew the car was solid and buttoned up...mostly.
I must say, my first driving experience in the car was verrryyy nice. It just felt right. It was about as quick as I expected even without really getting on it. The throttle response was nearly perfect, even with the car not entirely warmed up. Handling was responsive, tight, and precise. Seeing as I was not wearing a helmet, fire suit or even sunglasses I kept the speed down to the Squint Limit (How fast you can go and still see while squinting into the wind). Super Jackass!
At one point, a U-Turn turned into a quite surprising donut as I didn't take into account the cold tires and exceptional throttle response. I do remember specifically being pleased by the amount of steering angle the car had...and maybe I leaned into the experience a little once I figured out what was happening :-)
Ripping back up the hill, Tony is frantically waving me in and yelling to shut down. I am not aware of any problems, but a required shut down can either mean expensive....or dangerous. I think I was actually hoping for danger as I am very fond of this 4AGE and REALLY don't want to pony up for another one built like this.
Jumping out of the car, I can see the engine is HOSED in 110 octane....
Race cars catch on fire occasionally, and I've always wondered how that could happen. My assumption was if a job was done right, all would be OK. If it caught on fire, I always assumed that someone didn't do the job right. Now I get to reevaluate my judgmental nature.
When I redesigned the fuel system, I put a small Radium fuel pressure gauge at the end of the fuel rail on a T fitting with an AN-3 line to the sender unit for the Stack Dash. I knew the engine would move a tiny bit and even put a nice loop in the AN-3 line so it would have plenty of free movement. I really could not foresee any issues with the layout.
That T-fitting snapped right off and turned the fuel rail into a 45 PSI 110 octane spray gun. The guys had seen a fire hose rainbow of fuel mist behind the car as I ripped by...ughh...Over the next 24 hours it really sunk in how a little jackassery could have turned into something really sucky. I was being marginally dumb, and it unintentionally escalated to something that could have been catastrophic.
I'm not sure what the general lesson is. Maybe not assuming doing our best will cover all eventualities. Go the extra step to try and ensure our safety from things we can't foresee? I can tell you from now on I'm going to be as fireproof as possible when being a jackass.
But did I die? Not this time! :-)