Wednesday, December 31, 2008

race weekend

Race weekend dawns bright and early, and we... well, I wouldn't know. I was stuck on a plane in Canada. Laz, Andy and Weaver rolled in to Thunderhill on Friday morning, follwed by the rest of us slackers around sunset.

The good

Ling Ling passed tech & bullshit inspection on Friday without major problems. Despite high levels of e30 fatigue on the part of the judges, our stack of receipts backing up the budget was so high that it had to be weighted down with a bottle of Macallan 12yr single-malt.

Also, the whole crew made it: Laz, Andy, Rob, Weaver, JDH, and me - plus families, spouses, friends, and kids. Grassroots motorsport is good for the whole family! It's a good thing the kids were too young to figure out what the Slow Santas CRX inflatable santa hand gesture was all about.

Here's the panda car, all ready to race:
From lemons thill dec08

Saturday morning, we applied some last-minute pandas:
From lemons thill dec08

(In that shot, the panda epoxy is being dried by Mr Heater.)

The bad

Laz's sprained ankle got worse after walking on it for all of Saturday. We begged ice from Frankenmiata's beer keg on Sunday. We're pretty sure he'll walk again.

The ugly

Despite a solid shakedown on Friday, Ling Ling developed electrical problems on race day that we were never able to shake. Shortly after the start of the race, Laz radioed in to report that the car was stalling randomly. She'd die in the middle of a turn. For a while, no problem - he'd restart her and be on his way. But eventually she couldn't be started, and Laz returned under tow.

This became a theme.

In fact, if they gave a prize for "most frequently towed from the track," we probably would have won it.

We tried:
- replacing the coil with one borrowed from the always-classy Porcubimmer team.
- swapping the fuel pressure regulator
- checking for proper fuel pressure
- plugging and unplugging random things
- playing with and taping random wires under the dash

Each time, we'd have her in the pits for a little while, do a driver change, and send her back out. Meanwhile, the rest of the field was pulling their own jerk maneuvers, spinning, flipping, shoving and stalling their way through many hours of yellow-flag parade racing. At one point we watched our friends in Team Unsafe At Any Speed stall on the hill going into 5 and actually roll backwards into several cars behind them.

We got a pretty solid Day 1 of racing - a couple of hours of full Laz speed coming into our first date with the tow truck, then a couple of hours of Rob, mostly under yellow flag. During one of the brief yellow-green-yellow changes, he passed a couple of cars and got flagged for passing under a yellow. (The circumstances were doubtful enough that we were released without penalty, requiring only a driver change.) Andy finished out most of the day, but Ling Ling was getting increasingly temperamental - he came back to the pits once under his own power, and twice under tow.

By evening we'd unplugged the idle controller entirely, swapped out the fuel pressure regulator, and comfortably decided that the gremlins were beaten back. She didn't run too well in the paddock, but well, we'd pulled the idle control, so that was to be expected.

Next morning, Matt went out. Running cold, Ling Ling is a pliable and temperate lady, and for Matt she ran a little roughly, but was not unmanageable. By now the track had heated up, and Matt got a front-seat view of a series of full-contact incidents. Eventually, though, he too got hit with the electrical gremlin, and brought Ling Ling back in to the pits. The problems seemed heat-related, so we removed the hood.

From lemons thill dec08

From lemons thill dec08

But that wasn't enough, either. After the next tow we ran a full set of fuel system electronic diagnostics. Everything checked out. We hopefully disconnected the kill switch, in case that was the problem. (Shh...) We checked the fuses and swapped out some of the relays. While fiddling in an auxiliary relay panel, we discovered that replacing several relays didn't help, but the act of plugging and unplugging them did. Suspicious.

(Meanwhile, a few of us went to watch the People's Curse "winner", Blues Brothers Racing, get crushed. Jay liked them, so they got off with only a cosmetic dismemberment - but any crushing is a spectacular crushing. 4-yr-old mini-JDH was a big fan, happily yelling "More crush!" until the backhoe operator further munched a door to oblige her.)

From lemons thill dec08

From lemons thill dec08

The next trip back in to the pits was Rob, under his own power, but clearly mad as hell. The corvair team had lost it on turn 2 and spun in front of him, snapping back around from an oversteer correction to slam into the front of our panda car at about eighty miles an hour.

Happily, both cars straightened up and drove away. But the panda car was now overheating, and Rob was black-flagged. (He was subsequently released without penalty, since he'd done nothing to cause the incident.) Back in the pits, we surveyed the damage... more dents in the front corner which had already been dented, and a pinched radiator hose. Really? That's it?

Team Unsafe at Any Speed earns their name from Adam Lazur on Vimeo.

Angry Rob took a sledgehammer to the damage, straightening the front corner with so much force that it... ended up straighter than it was before. Huh.

No real radiator or wheel damage, either. Lucky us.

Next up was Andy. Andy once again ended a pretty smoking run with a ride behind a friendly tow truck as our electrical gremlins once more took hold.

This time we narrowed it down to a spark problem - as in, there frequently wasn't any. We checked cap, rotor and plugs. Cap and rotor were tarnished, but not *that* badly. ("It's supposed to be shiny," Laz instructs, from his luxury handicapped accomodations inside one of the RVs. "Define 'shiny'," JDH responds.) Cleaning them up doesn't help. Electronic diagnostics don't help. We go back to that mystery relay, trying to figure out what it does. It's not in the Bentley book pictures. Eventually, we find a description, right around the time one of the Porcubimmer guys wanders by. "Oh, the white one is the main relay," he offers, helpfully.


(Meanwhile, we send Rob out one more time: he kicks ass! Hooray! But then he stalls. And is towed. We should have tipped the tow truck operators.)

Hardwiring the relay doesn't help. Plugging and unplugging it does. JDH suspects heat saturation in the wiring harness, which travels across the exhaust manifold. Competing theories are possible grounding or shorting issues, or maybe cpu problems. But by now, we're running out of time - there's only about an hour of racing left. Ling Ling fires up, so we bind up Laz's sprained ankle with duct tape, and send him out on the track.

All of us filed out to the track to watch the last few triumphant laps. Laz put down one hell of a hot lap, with all of us cheering as he came down the front straight. Around 1 and over the back of the hill into 2, and we waited to see him come out into 3... and waited, and waited. He eventually showed up behind a tow truck. And for us, at least, that was the race.


From lemons thill dec08

So, what are we doing tomorrow night? Same thing we do every night, Pinky: TRY TO WIN LEMONS.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Xmas

Ho ho ho. The race weekend begins tomorrow morning.

Packed the car up today. I plan for an early morning departure tomorrow to get tech out of the way, and put a few more shakedown laps on the car with the rest of the team.

Some quick pics:

Jumping the spec e30's dead battery with the LeMons car's not dead battery

on the trailer, ready to go

and for a little contrast, a pic of the car when I first towed it home

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ling Ling accessorises

The rules:
3.17: Car Numbers: Car numbers must be at least 12 inches tall and clearly readable. Numbers must be white on black background or black on white background. Any other combination must be approved in advance by the organizers.
Luckily, we have nothing but black and white to work with. Due to unforeseen procrastination (that's always the way it works), we were down to the wire on getting numbers and other vinyl done. We got a ridiculous quote from a vinyl sign place in San Jose. I won't lie, part of the ridiculousness was our order, but still, who can spend $1k on vinyl for a $500 car?

So, I emailed John from Wolf Vinyl. I had seen his work on some of the prettier spec E30's, so if his vinyl is good enough for the guys who detail their car in the paddock before a race, then it's good enough for Ling Ling. John got back to me quickly, offered a little advice on sizing, and a this morning I met John halfway between my location and his. He gets bonus points for delivering on time and within budget (okay, okay, I paired down the vinyl order to the bare essentials, which helped).

So without further ado, here's some vinyl panda porn:

More (of the same) pics can be found in this gallery.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ling Ling gets a new pair of shoes

I've been waiting til I got some pics to post to plug

The owner of is a racer. Knowing this, it wasn't too hard to guilt him into sponsoring us for the race.

In true big wheels style, we ordered a set of 24" chrome wheels for Ling Ling. No, not spinners. Those are cheezy. Our bling must be done tastefully. Back to the 24's. Sure, they weigh 50lbs each. Yes, mounting will require substantial amounts of fabrication. Yeah, each tire will cost more than our entire car. But it'll all be worth it when you see these rims.

Then we heard about the Alamo City Rollers from LeMons Texas. They had big wheels too:

It's been done.

Order cancelled. Back to the drawing board.

Boring as it is, for the race we opted to just get tires and run the cheap wheels we have. 1 set of bottlecaps and some less boring (and almost as cheap, thanks Ramon!) basketweaves as our 2nd set. We picked Falken Azenis RT-615s in 195/60/14 due to their relatively high grip and relative low cost.

So we ordered our tires from BigWheels and used that set for the shakedown days. Prior to the first shakedown, I showed up at BigWheels with an assortment of 7 bottlecap wheels with tires. Of the 7 wheels, 4 were straight (2 of which came with Ling Ling). Of the 7 tires, 3 were keepers. Of course, they were all mixed up. I rattled off some complicated instructions about what to keep, and was pleased when I returned and everything was done right.

And today I picked up the 2nd set of tires for the race. They go on the bottlecaps:

The wheels weren't black originally, but that was easily fixed with some of our favorite appliance enamel in a can. I'm thinking about buying stock in Rust Oleum. In today's tough economic times, appliance enamel can make a difference.

Ah, and while I'm posting, here's another shot of the car with the nose and grills in, plus a nice garden edging front spoiler:

I wish I could roll the clock forward 3 days, the race can't come soon enough.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

we call her Ling Ling

We're at six days to the race and counting. All the major mechanical work is done, we've shaken her down a couple of times (and we emphasize the "shake" - all the relevant parts have been duly zip-tied back on), leaving us with one final mission: pandafication paint job.

There was plenty to be done, so we planned to start bright and early at 9am Saturday morning. Around 10:30 we arrived to find the soon-to-be-panda car swathed in temporary plastic spraybooth, with taping fully in progress. (Taping? Why yes, we're very nearly professionals! We masked stuff and everything!) Laz and Matt covered the back, leaving me with the awesome responsbility of outlining the hood graphics. (I made matt do the cutting. Who wants to face that kind of pressure alone?)

From pandamonium

From pandamonium

We used only the best spray can paint from Sears (black appliance enamel), and chose Laz as the designated inhaler, because his head is the easiest to wipe clean. (He even wore eye protection this time, which is a measure of how seriously we take this.)

Laz did a pretty slick freehand spray can job, despite being encased in a solid bubble full of paint vapor. About forty minutes later, here we go:

From pandamonium

From pandamonium

From pandamonium

Matt and Laz admire their handiwork:

From pandamonium

Tiny panda mascot:

From pandamonium

After an action-packed morning of car painting, we moved on to foam-pouring. We have a diversity of driver sizes, from 6-something Laz, to 5-something Rob and Matt. With careful seat positioning and a large stack of Style magazines tucked into the base of the seat (stolen from Laz's wife) we reached a fairly workable compromise, in which Laz drives with his knees tucked into his armpits, and Rob can almost depress the clutch. To smooth out the differences, we planned to pack Rob in a custom-fitted cradle of spray foam.

Rather than spray cans, we used a 2-part chemical mix. (You can order anything on the internet.)

From the supplier website:
Everything must be disposable except for the car, the driver, and helpers.

So we covered Rob in a stylish garbage bag wrap, and got pouring.

The foam sets up much quicker than you expect, and once it bulks up, it pours like cottage cheese. The first batch came out too small, and lumpy as hell. The second time around, we decided we needed more. How much more?

"I think all of it," Rob suggested. So we figured, go big or go home, and went all in.

Just a note, if you should ever find yourself tempted to try this: it expands more than you think. We found ourselves battling a rising tide of violently sticky spray foam, filling the garbage bag casing, bulging out the sides, and threatening to rise up and swallow Rob.

After about thirty seconds of quality panic, in which we struggled to prevent the surging foam from pouring down the back of Rob's neck, the foam started to set (it's an exothermic reaction, getting very warm as it hardens). Unfortunately, in all the excitement, it set in exactly the form we molded into it - a pretty solid "driver hunched forward to escape giant invasive sticky blob".

Anyway, it was a good theory. We'll see if it makes it into practice on race day. We might just pack Rob in with some more Style magazines.

After the excitement of the spray foam incident, we called it a day (and a pretty solid three months), and retired to celebrate by deep-frying some turkeys. Nothing says "job well done" like a vat of boiling oil. (In actuality, it was the traditional christmas turkey deep-frying at Casa Laz, which just happened to have been scheduled for car-painting day. But as we gathered around the fryer, drinking beer and experimenting with deep-frying various food items, the warm glow was only partly from the boiling oil, and mostly from a vast sense of satisfaction in a job fairly well done.)

If the car should happen to get crushed in any sort of race-day incident, we are all going to cry like little girls. Just so you know.

Sunday night, we finished up the last few things: fire extinguisher, important sticker positioning design choices, welded a few loose nuts on nice and tight, and wired in the kill switch. (It worked well right away: stopped the car dead cold, and required a fair amount of poking before she could be restarted.) Laz points out that as the kill switch causes current to backfeed into the alternator, that it is strictly NOT to be used as a toy. (Disappointing, I know.)

And there you have her.

From pandamonium

From pandamonium

Yes, the back is a little lop-sided.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

developing the aero package

We raised enough scratch to buy the ugliest, cheapest, universal wing on ebay (Did you mean: bomb wing?). Here's a shot of the wing after install:

Yes, that's 2 layers of awesome wing that you see. $50 of china's finest heaviest aluminum. It must be the latest high tech aluminum and lead alloy, because the wing really does weigh at least 10lbs.

So with the new wing installed I towed the LeMon up to ThunderHill for a Friday with TEAM Racing. I was instructing, so I got a white wristband: my ticket to drive like an ass exemplary instructor in any session. The plan was to drive as much as possible and break anything on the car that was going to break.

And break it did.

First session of the day, lap #2 as we're entering the front straight (just after pit exit), I felt some moisture on my cheek. Then I looked at the temp gauge and saw it in the middle of a seizure. I pulled the car into the paddock, popped the hood using the BMW special hood opening tool, and spotted the belt that drives the alternator and water pump dangling from the engine compartment. It was a bit mangled, and clearly was not where it was supposed to be. Luckily I had the belt we took off the car when we replaced it with a brand new one. Yeah, that belt should be just right here back at home in a box. Luckily, another Spec E30 racer was there, and he supplied me with his spare alternator belt. I put a new belt on the car, and fired up the motor. Mike S, another Spec E30 racer, noticed the crank pulley wobbling like mad. I took it all apart again, couldn't figure it out, so I put it back together and drove it, wobbles and all.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Next up I noticed horrible understeer into turn 1 and turn 8 at Thunderhill. Both turns are taken at 80mph+ To my surprise, the wing was actually being effective and creating downforce on the rear of the car!

That's great, but without any aero on the front of the car all it did was produce understeer. Ridiculous "slide the car into high speed turns" understeer. I managed to trail brake to get the car to turn in a little better, but it got hairier and hairier as I pushed harder. After one session, a driver who followed me through turn 8 found me in the paddock and remarked "wow, your car was all balled up and twisted with a front wheel up in the air"

That convinced me that it was time to stop driving around the problem and to try to remedy it. So I pulled off the top wing. Less surface area has to have less downforce, right?

It worked, and the car went back to a more normal level of understeer. Hopefully in the actual 24Hrs of LeMons race, due to the track configuration, we'll be going a little slower and the wing won't need further tuning. If not, at that point, we'll be tuning using another special tool.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful.

There are some pics from the day up at Check out that suspension compression! Used KYB shocks and Vogtland springs are about the lamest E30 suspension kit on the market, but it's the cheapest ... so here we are.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The first ever lemons junkyard scavenger hunt

Over the weekend, we participated in the First ever lemons junkyard scavenger hunt (jalopnik link) -- in which we competed against other crews of losers to raid the Hayward Pick Your Part junkyard for a number of specified items, which were worth points. Winners were up for a "get out of jail free" card, which gets a team immediately released from a driver penalty on Lemons race day.

Needless to say, we took this challenge very seriously. No matter how much Laz claims that he plans to drive like a gentleman, we all also know that he's not above giving his fellow racers the occasional love tap when they fail to get out of his way, and while we're busily engaged in a psychological warfare re-education campaign to create a nicer, gentler Laz in time for the race (a panda is nothing if not a good citizen, after all!), we figured the extra insurance couldn't hurt.

Amongst the targets of the scavenger hunt:
- cutlery (5pts)
- hose clamps (2pts)
- badges from makes of cars no longer sold in the US (40pts) or anywhere (80pts)
- porn (30pts)
- heavy metal mix tapes
- disco 8-tracks
- valid insurance cards
- working analog dash clocks (30pts)
- 12-cylinder intake manifold (100pts)
- 5-cylinder carburetor
- 100 points to the team with the most christmas tree air fresheners
...and so on.

Some observations from this experience:
- porn is more common than heavy metal mix tapes (we found 2 dvds - one demonstrably porn, the other a home-burned affair marked "hooker bitches", which we decided was either porn, or possibly a heavy metal mix cd - 30-40 points either way!)
- working analog dash clocks are quite *un*common, much to our sadness.
- hose clamps are orders of magnitude more common, not to mention easier to collect, than v12 intake manifolds. (One team got most of the way through pulling said manifold from a 5-series BMW, but the last few bolts escaped them.)

Our haul:
From pandamonium

There was special consideration for unusual finds. We had a pretty good one - a certified birth certificate, for a dude born on December 7, 1957 - making him exactly 51 years old on the day we found it. (Since I found it along with a bunch of other papers in a totalled convertible, I really hope he lived...)

From pandamonium

Unfortunately for us, this was clearly the second-best thing found during the course of the hunt - the clear winner being a citation for a DUI, including resisting arrest, on Christmas eve of last year. Ouch. This went to Team Huey Newis and the Lose, who were the day's winners, due also to having collected about a million hose clamps (we were a close second in the hose clamp total, with 95 to their 155). For their troubles they got both their Gerald Ford Presidential Pardon (get out of penalty free) certificate, and also the I Love Pole award, which grants them the dubious benefit of starting from pole position on the day of the race. Lucky bastards.

(We came in 4th overall, with 302 points, plus a nebulous special credit award for our awesome birth certificate. Jay liked it, so we're under instructions to bring it along on the day of the race, on the off-chance it turns out to have special get-out-of-jail-free-type powers.)

This was a great opportunity to meet the enemy our fellow competitors, and we got t-shirts and stuff for our trouble. Other winning teams were Can't Am racing and our fellow BMW entrants, the awesome Porcubimmer.

For best results, spray directly towards eyes

1. The most important thing of all: we have t-shirts! And other junk.

Pandamonium cafepress store.

2. Our car has a shiny new rollcage, courtesy of the awesome guys at TC Design.

TC's cages are this good:

The driver was unhurt. The cage was certified intact following the crash, and this car went on to qualify, compete in, and finish a 25Hr endurance race.

Sunday afternoon we painted the cage (and Laz) appliance-enamel white. A few painting tips:
  • for best results, always paint in the dark.
  • for good coverage on the backs of the bars, spray paint directly towards face.
  • acetone removes appliance enamel buildup from the eyelids, at least enough to allow you to reopen your eyes
  • eye protection is for losers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sponsorship: BimmerWorld steps up

Apparently it's a numbers game, but if I spam enough people someone is eventually going to give in.

According to the 24Hrs of LeMons rules, sponsorship in the form of parts still counts towards the $500 total. But there's a loophole, the budget for safety equipment is unlimited. So I went on a quest looking for sponsorship in the "safety equipment" area.

Enter James Clay, owner of BimmerWorld and really nice guy. About 2 months ago I received an email from James offering some BimmerWorld/BMWCCA Club Racing gear as a perk from going to the BMWCCA Club Racing School. I must admit that I was initially a little starstruck: James drives a car in the Speed World Challenge Touring Car series. I intentionally don't look at the results of those races until I've recorded them on my Tivo. Then I watch James and crew on TV and hope that he does well. And he just emailed me, a mild mannered middle pack racer.

Once my excitement wore off, I got my schwag, and more importantly: now I had James' email address.

2 months later, when brainstorming about who could sponsor us in exchange for our plush sponsor package, James came to mind so I fired off an email. To my surprise, James emailed back that they'd be happy to help out with brake pads.

Performance Friction PF06's seemed to be the hot ticket, from the Bimmerworld site:

06 Compound - NEW!
This new compound represents the cutting edge of brake pad technology. Extremely long life, but with torque similar to 01, this pad will be the leading choice for endurance racing and a trackday pad. In our 2008 win at the 13 Hour at VIR, we used approximately 40% of the front pad and 25% of the rear - that
is incredible wear for a capable, full-race pad.

So we ordered 2 sets, subsidized by our new sponsor. Here's what arrived in the mail a few days later:

That's right, stickers! Well, and some brake pads. We put the pads on the car for the ThunderHill shakedown weekend and were very pleased with the performance. They feel like the PF01's, and hopefully the wear characteristics will be better.

So for the race the car will feature Bimmerworld stickers, Performance Friction PF06 pads, and we'll be diving deeper into the braking zones than all of our competition. Thanks James and Bimmerworld!

Friday, December 5, 2008

fire retardant faux fur

The Google can't find me an online store where I can click my way to a few yards of black flame retardant faux fur. It did tell me that it might exist. Modacrylic is flame retardant, and they make faux fur out of it. But finding "modacrylic faux fur" amidst a sea of coats, vests, rugs, and PETA web pages is surprisingly hard. To further muddy the waters, there are acrylic/modacrylic blends too, and acrylic is the opposite of flame retardant.

So at 1am last night I clicked through a few web contact forms, and sent a coupla ebay sellers some messages.

Wait a minute, why am I here? What the hell am I talking about? Isn't this blog about a race car? faux fur?! Really?!

Here at Pandamonium Racing, we're foolish enough to think that we've made it through most of the mechanical challenges. Now we've got to deliver on making the car's theme tangible. The goal is that the car should say "panda" when someone sees it. Sure, we could spray paint "P A N D A" on the side, zip tie a stuffed panda to the grill, and that would probably achieve the objective. But we've got 3 weeks. If we count that in panda years, that's still only 3 weeks but it sounds way cooler. 3 weeks means there's no call for half assed solutions. No hurry. All the time in the world. May as well spend all day drinking beer and drawing our car with crayons.

So back to fur. Pandas have fur. Maybe our car should too? Good idea! But this is a race car, humble beginnings aside. As a rule, when a race car is on fire anything added to the car should not make the situation appreciably worse. Acrylic fur flying off the car in liquid fireballs of death does not meet this qualification. Modacrylic fur that just smolders a little almost certainly does.

So that's how I got here: sending inquiries on the internet about faux fur to anyone who would listen.

Back to the story.

This morning I woke up to a few responses, ranging from "no, go away" to "I didn't know if my fur was fire retardant, so I took a swatch and lit it in on fire. It doesn't get gooey, and it mats down kind of like burning real hair. Is that flame retardant?" The latter was from an ebay seller. She offered to send me a swatch to do my own independent testing, and she even signed the email "Warmest". I don't know if the pun was intentional, but that's the kind of thing that is hilarious to me when I'm half asleep.

So, now I know more about faux fur than I ever wanted to. Did you know you can buy a wall mount faux fur faux panda head? and even a wall mount faux panda ass? If you don't already know Andrew Davidson, you wouldn't be surprised to find out that he likes faux fur so much that he has put up a web page devoted to it, which is conveniently the only useful collection of faux fur links on the entire internet. Did you know that barbie rocks faux fur while she watches seals get clubbed?

I'm straying off topic.

I came up with 2 options:
  1. ebay lady who burnt the fur and it's not that bad sounding. She offered to send me a swatch to do my own testing. $10/yard, black fur.
  2. Big 4 Fabrics has "a few" black faux furs that are flame retardant, the guy asked if I wanted short of long hair, I responded "cheap". The cheapest comes in at $7/yard, I know nothing else about it.
This vital information has been forwarded to the Pandamonium Racing Council of Elders. No decision yet, but we'll almost certainly make one soon.

That's all for now.

What faux fur will we pick? Will the genetic experiment to infuse Matt with panda DNA succeed? Will the car make it to ThunderHill in 3 weeks, or will the ambulance refuse to start? Are we going to sell enough crap spare parts to put a gigantic wing on the car? So many unknowns! Tune in to this blog for more exciting panda episodes.