Thursday, February 25, 2016

Team Strategy = Going Pro

To up the competitive edge for 2016, NMS South is taking on co-driver, Jason for the Miata.  To help this partnership and sharing information and developing the car together this year, I've decided to run in the "pro" class with SCR-SCCA. This will let Jason and I run the car in the same run groups to better share data, tools, and driving tips to give ourselves the maxium competitive edge. The trick with Pro class is that, like the national championship only the first 3 runs count.

The first SCR-SCCA event of the year was off to a rough start with Jason recovering from the flu and the Miata still under the weather as well.  The good thing about Pro class is you can run a different car in a different class every event if you wanted and you can still earn points toward the season championship towards a single class.  I took the Fiesta out to see if I could bank a few points and sure enough came home with a mid-pack 6th place out of 12 drivers, good for 3 season points.
New gasket versus old. You can see they don't quite line up.
With Jason's assitance, we ran through a checklist of possible issues with the Miata yesterday and tracked down what we believe is the reason it hasn't been running correctly.  A $10 gasket for the earlier 1.8L engines made it's way into the kit for my newer 1.8L engine and we failed to realize it didn't fit correctly at 1am when we were wrapping up the engine build. A new one is on the way and we are hopeful for a showing at Hutchinson Island on Sunday, February 28th for the Miata's first test run of 2016!
You can see how this incorrect gasket both blocks air flow and also lets some escape around the one side of it instead of completely sealing it in.  The holes for the bolts/studs still line up despite the incorrect alignment with the oval ports.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Motoring Magazine Madness!

Today was one of my favorite days of the month, besides payday anyway! Three of my favorite car magazines arrived in the mail, and despite the influence of the digital media age in video, web sites, and the availability of so much info on the Internet with a capital I, I still like reading ye olden printed car magazines! At least the ones with lots of photos! Let's take a quick look at what looks interesting!

In this first photo....Oops, sorry, not a magazine, just a bottle of Elijah Craig bourbon with my custom "old number 77" label stuck on it. Never mind. Just don't drink and drive!

Automobile has a special issue, their 30th Anniversary issue, so it's chock full of some special articles looking back at the best and worst of the last three decades of automobiles since 1986. One nice article features the NMS-South favorite Mazda Miata and the VW Golf GTI, two cars that continue to be pace setters if you're looking for a classic two-seater or a hot hatchback AND are looking for a car that normal people can afford! This highlights one of my on-going criticisms of most car magazines that seem to focus a LOT on cars that most people can not afford. We all appreciate the rich and glitzy sex appeal of a $200,000 car, or the awesome power of a $100,000 car, but unless a rainbow made of prancing unicorns that shoots thousand dollar bills out of it's horn lands on my house there is just no way that many of the coolest cars in these magazines will be parking in my driveway.

Motor Trend  has a typical cover photo featuring three very fast cars that I'll never be able to afford, although I'm sure that a new Dodge Viper ACR, Corvette Z06, or a Porsche GT3 RS would be GREAT stocking stuffers if you're looking for a little gift for your favorite car bloggers!
If you need a huge stocking large enough for one of these four wheeled beasts, I'm sure we can make arrangements! Also a story on the upcoming Chevy Bolt all electric car that we saw at the DC Auto Show last month, claiming a 200 mile range and a price tag under $30,000.

Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car (OK, they spell it with an Ampersand and not the word "and", so sue me) has a few unusual cover stories featuring the Mercedes SL, a Morgan Plus 4, and a 1947 Tatra, one of the few auto brands to come from the Czech Republic!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

NMS Announces The Return of Number 77!

At Little Creek Naval Base in 2015
Nixon Motor Sports today announced that the 2013 FIAT 500 Abarth would again be wearing number 77 in autocross events with the Tidewater Sports Car Club in 2016. As the defending G Street class champion, the Abarth will be going for the double and another class win for the season. The TSCC allows drivers to register for the entire season in advance, which also is at a discounted price, so we're a big fan of anything that saves money! So, that means we're all signed up for nine events from March thru November, we have our helmet and driving shoes ready to go, and will be adding some new tires some time next month too.

Pungo Virginia, 2015

For a list of all the drivers with reserved car numbers so far, check out this link: TSCC Numbers

Objects in Mirror are Losing

By coincidence, over in Formula 1 the Williams team driver Valtteri Bottas from Finland also drives a car with number 77, so we'll be cheering for him too!

Tech Inspection

Friday, February 19, 2016

American Hot Rod: Billy Gibbons

Screen Shot from Rockin' Roadsters

Whether or not you are a fan of the little ol' band from Texas ZZ Top, you probably recognize the name of their guitar player Billy Gibbons. Well, Mr. G. is about to appear on your television set in a new endeavor that features his non-musical interest in American hot rods! On Monday February 29th (what better way to spend the bonus Leap Day this year!), the Discovery Channel will air this fine little program, and just maybe it will turn into a regular series.

Mr. Gibbons is the idea guy in modding these cars, and his go-to car guy is Jimmy Shine. The two of these guys have done several cool hot rod builds over the years. In this pilot episode, the two car guys hit the road and try to find an old car to rebuild. Once they find a suitable project, then the team goes to work to try and finish up their project in just a couple of weeks, often using odd ball parts that Billy has collected over the years. For more info on Jimmy Shine, check out his bio on his website at this link: Jimmy Shine Bio

So,  make it the best Leap Day ever, tune in to the Discovery Channel at 10PM Eastern and 10PM Pacific. If you live in the Central and Mountain time zones you are on your own, because the Discovery Channel didn't put that info on their publicity release!


Book Cover

If you are REALLY a big fan of Billy Gibbons, ZZ Top, and hot rods, you might also want to check out his book "Rock and Roll Gearhead", which features his music, and a lot of the cars that he's customized in the past. The book is available at Amazon, and like a cool car or guitar, you can buy it new or get a cheaper copy used!  Amazon R&R Gearhead LINK

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Miata Engine Build - Day 3

Friday night, the NMS South team made a heroic push until 2am Saturday to completely assemble the engine and transmission.  It was a long night but it felt great to have it all in one piece and ready to load back into the car (again).
Mmmm. Four quarts of tasty Amsoil engine break-in oil. It's even red to match.
Monday morning we attacked the project and got the whole assmebly into the car fairly quickly but unfortunately spent 12 hours troubleshooting when the engine failed to fire up right away.
Despite use of the largest pry bar in town, Jason still couldn't figure out why it wasn't working right.

In the end we were again defeated by the engine and need to plan another day and find more items to troubleshoot.  The engine is getting power, making oil pressure, and at one point would fire up and would rev, but would not idle.  Now it's not even wanting to turn over, so we've got research to do.  

All dressed up, somewhere to go, but refuses to move.
It's looking grim for making a return to autocross for the first SCR-SCCA event on Sunday, February 21st, but we'll keep pushing. The main goal is to be ready for the SCCA Dixie Tour on March 18th, so stay tuned as we figure this one out.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Kart Week 4 Report

Pre Race View From the Rear!

The Eagles sang about "Life in the Fast Lane", so at first I was going to title this post "Life in the Slow Lane"as a tribute to their late member Glen Frey, but, whatever, never mind.

Week four saw a smaller turnout of only five drivers in the Tidewater Sports Car Club Winter Kart Series on February 16th, so while that's less folks having fun, it also means more points for me in last place! If you want to endure the entire eight minute race video, check it out at this link on Facebook, and make sure you're watching in HD:  Kart Race 4

Safety: Helmet and Neck Pad for Karts

Look for updated points totals on the results page soon!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Old Dominion Region SCCA Autocross 2016 Schedule!

Pungo Pavement Patiently Pauses
NMS-North located in Virginia Beach is happy to see that NMS-South is into the final stages of rebuilding the Miata motor in South Carolina. Up north here, we have two announcements to make.

1-For the FIAT fans out there, I'm happy to say that I'm now an on-line moderator for the FIAT 500 USA Forum at FIAT500 FORUM LINK. This is not an official FIAT website, just a bunch of fans talking about our favorite Italian cars. If you are interested in the current FIAT cars or older classic FIATs, check it out.

2-The Old Dominion Region of the Sports Car Club of America has posted their 2016 autocross schedule on their website (see the ODR link on the right of this page). As one of two clubs that hold monthly events, it's great to be living here by the Atlantic on the Chesapeake Bay and having plenty of chances to autocross locally!

Miatas Mostly Motor Merrily

The ODR folks have a regular schedule of running their events on the first Sunday of the month, so for those of us that are usually in the area on holidays, well, what better way to have fun around the 4th of July or Labor Day than to include some driving?

Karts Keep Kangaroos Corralled 

ODR events are  held at the former Pungo airfield, located in friendly Pungo Virginia, basically just in the country on the edge of Virginia Beach. Remember that it's a bit hard to find if you've never been there, so if you can find Pungo Pizza, then you're really close, because access to the site is about a hundred yards north, just look for the gate on a dirt road in a break in the trees!

All Abarths Are Awesome!

Last year I ran in three of their events, so in 2016 I hope to be able to do more! Here's the schedule so far:

Timing Takes Tiny Thousandths Tirelessly
April 3
May 1

June 5

July 3

August 7

September 4

October 2

November 6

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Miata Engine Build - Day 2

Moving on, Jason was able to get the cylinder head and oil pan on the motor. In the next post I'll be working with Kyle on getting the remaining accessories (intake manifold, timing belt/pulleys, clutch/flywheel assembly) attached and see how soon we can get the transmission bolted back up and ready to load into the car this weekend.
Just a few more things to bolt on before we fire it up.
 While I didn't do any hands on building today, I did spend a lot of time with the parts washer and bead blaster to clean almost 18 years of dirty, oily gunk off of the remaining parts.  Below are the water neck that houses the thermostat and a support brace for the intake manifold after their cleaning.
These aluminum pieces look pretty spiffy and new when they're clean.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Miata Engine Build - Day 1

I need to preface all this and future engine build posts by saying that this project would not be possible with all the help and input from Chuck, Kyle, and Jason. I'm enjoying learning all this cool stuff, but their time and experience make it all possible.

First we need to measure the clearances on the crank

Plastigage flattens out

Measure the Plastigage

Cool oil squirters to cool the bottom of the piston

Oil squirters installed, can see the main bearings

Assembly lube

Install crank

 Piston assembly

Now with rings, ready to go in the motor

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

99 Miata - Total Class Prep

The Miata competes in an extremely competitive class (E Street) and even do pretty well with zero modifications.  The car already has most of the major modifications allowed (adjustable shocks, stiffer front sway bar, sticky summer tires) but when you are looking to compete against the best of the best, how do you overcome the competition?  Enter the sport package.
Rear shock/strut on the Miata is the yellow Koni unit, around that is the spring which has been upgraded, and to the left of and parallel to the shock assembly is the little sway bar that curves over to the left and will be soon upgraded.

For my year of the Miata, Mazda offered the Sport package, which upgraded the springs, rear sway bar, and added a front strut tower brace and a couple of cosmetic trim bits. My car is an LS trim level, which has a bunch of convenience and some performance upgrades over a base model, but not all of the performance upgrades possible that were offered with the Sport.
The little trim piece at the bottom of the front end may not add any performance but is key to upgrading the real performance parts for SCCA Street class. Thanks to this blue car, we will soon have one.

Unfortunately the SCCA won't let you just slap on the upgrade parts without converting the car to the full factory package (since this is supposed to be a stock class running cars mostly as they would have come from the factory). This means we not only need to add springs and a sway bar, but also a front strut tower brace, rear wing, and front lip spoiler....oh but not just any parts, specifically the ones that would have been offered on the car in 98/99 (since Mazda and the aftermarket have offered many different variations on these add-ons).
This blue salvage car is also donating it's strut tower brace. The black metal piece that spans over the engine and connects the struts/shocks on each side of the car to (supposedly) stiffen the chassis for better handling.
Major friend of the team, Big Kyle already had donated the springs so we were on the hunt for all the other goodies.  Since 1999 all these parts have only become harder to find with many being out of production.  As luck would have it, within days all the parts were found and are now tracking en route to the NMS South facility from all over the country.

Up next we're on a quest to pick up some ultra-light weight wheels.  Other than lots of seat-time, we think that will be the final biggest performance upgrade on the car to give us the edge in Lincoln later this year.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

2016 Superbowl Car Ads: Winners and Losers!

Congratulations to the Denver Broncos for winning Superbowl L, I mean fifty! Besides the football game, of course the main attraction was the halftime and pregame shows! For halftime with Coldplay, Beyonce, and Bruno Mars, it was very slickly produced and choreographed, so whether or not you liked it probably just comes down to whether or not you like those artists. Pre-game, Lady Gaga on the Anthem and my military friends doing a patriotic number were very good, so that leaves just one more thing to discuss...

OK, on to the commercials!


The first car/truck ad was from Hyundai. It started with a baby with a tiny little engine beating on his chest, and we followed this kid as he grew up and went through things in life, always with an engine pumping away on the outside of his chest. I guess the theme was something about engines that drive us, and it was rather OK in a serious yet lighthearted but not funny way. I found it totally forgettable, and grade it:   C

Hyundai followed that up with a Genesis commercial featuring comedian Kevin Hart. Kevin's daughter was going out on a date, and Kevin suggested to the boyfriend to take his car. Pretty soon we realize that Kevin is following them, seeing where they are going like any overly protective dad would do, to include spying on the date from a helicopter. Anyway, it was funny, and the point was that the Genesis has some kind of technology that lets you track it. Also, I believe Hyundai is now using Genesis as a stand alone brand, so we'll be seeing more models of Genesis cars. For the humor, I have to say this one rates:     A

1st Quarter

Hyundai came at us again in the 1st quarter with a cute ad showing a couple being chased by bears in the woods. The guy tells his car to start remotely, so they manage to escape the bears. It turns out the bears just wanted to be friendly, so we get the point that the car has remote start. Not totally hilarious, but pretty good, let's say a:     B

Next up came quite an amazing commercial. We saw one of the Apollo astronauts at home, now he's and elderly guy, and apparently he's not eating or taking an interest in anything. I'll assume it's his son that shows up and ends up taking him out, so that the astronaut can drive the awesome Audi R8. This is a V-10 motor that does over 200 mph, so the guy is now driving and his face lights up, and the imagery is connecting driving this mega-Audi to being on a rocket. As a bonus, it uses the song "Starman" from the recently passed on David Bowie, and then the ad has a message of something like "chasing the moon brings out the best in us". It was a bit unusual with the depressing start of the commercial, unusual in using a lesser known old Bowie tune, but let's say:  B+

To change the mood, before the end of the 1st quarter we saw a new Buick convertible just a bit in a funny commercial where after a wedding the bride throws the flowers, and a couple of ladies go for the catch like NFL receivers. After making a diving catch, several folks comment "totally Odell'd it". They mentioned the name of the car only once, and hardly showed it, so I think the big news is that Buick is making a convertible again!:   A-

Into the second quarter, and we got an ad that has some cranked up old Van  Halen music, but oddly some of it is the isolated vocal tracks of David Lee Roth from "Running With the Devil", a lot of his trademark "whoooo"   "yeahhhhhhhh" type of high pitched singing. Following Davids "Whooo" exclamations, the screen says "What he said", in reference to the new Acura NSX. Well, I like super cars like the NSX, and Van Halen is good for plain old hard rockin' to introduce a cool car, so for me I'm giving them a big fat:   A

We saw a Hyundai Elantra ad featuring two ladies driving through a neighborhood where every person was Ryan Reynolds. Since they almost run over the Ryan that is walking some dogs, the ad then points out that the Elantra comes with automatic braking and passenger detection as safety features. Funny ad, let's say;     B+

Not a car ad, but car related, the Weather Tech folks showed us an ad to let us know they make car floor mats and other products, all here in the USA. Hey, close enough for jazz, a straight ahead tug at the ol' USA heartstrings from a car related product, so here's your:   B+

The TV announcers reminded us that the Jeep Halftime Report was coming up, so get ready for some Jeep commercials later.

Prius 4 is a new model, and of course the Prius is the top selling Hybrid. Anyway, this commercial started to be pretty good, showing some bank robbers leaving the bank, but their old hoopty was being towed away. They look around and jump in a Prius to escape, and leave a bag of money there for the owner! Somewhere in this ad the police are chasing the Prius but can't keep up, and the radio dispatcher says something like "how hard is it to catch a Prius", so I'll assume the new Prius is peppier and has more horsepower or torque. At this point I thought it was pretty good, but then it dragged on and on (must have been a full minute but seemed longer) showing them being chased, and then a series of popular culture references to them outrunning the police and other short bits where they avoided the police. I think this one would have been more effective as a shorter commercial, so: B


I saw an ad at halftime that was terrible, showing some car dealer and the website that then wrapped up referring to the new Taco Bell Quesalupa, so right now I don't know if it was a fake car ad from Taco Bell, or a combo ad from a car company with Taco Bell meant to be like your local cheesy commercials. Confused:  F

Jeep finally aired an ad after their Halftime Report, which showed a lot of black and white photos of faces, related a bit of Jeep history dating back to WWII, and then concluded with "We don't make Jeeps, you do, 75 years", so I guess this was their somber look at 75 years of Jeeps:  C

Toyota ran a very basic B-flat ad for the Rav4 small SUV, and it was very well done, plain, simple, said that it was the most trusted brand and that 90% of all the Rav4s sold in the last 10 years are still on the road. In other words, a very average commercial from 10 years ago, and just about the most basic commercial of this year's Superbowl:  C-

3rd Quarter

Ooh, a funky Mini Cooper Clubman ad had Serena Williams and a bunch of celebrities all saying "this is a chick car", "this is a guy car", etc. I liked it because it was not just funny or weird, it just had it's own character, which probably describes the Mini:    B+

OK, a truck ad, this one for Honda Ridgeline. A truck drives away from a herd of sheep out in the country, and the sheep start singing the Queen song "Somebody to Love". Apparently the point of this ad was that the truck has audio in the bed, so the sheep were singing along with the radio when the truck drove away and came back. Also funny was the dog talking at the end to narrate something about the truck:  A

Our local station had a couple of ads from local car dealerships, nothing to write home about, they both get:     C

Jeep came back with a pretty cool commercial, again to highlight 75 years of Jeep. This ad showed a lot of outdoor activities, off roading, hang gliding, etc, and ended with "4x4ever":    B

4th Quarter

A commercial with some guy picking out socks in his bedroom came on. His wife tells him to find some in the closet, so he walks into the closet, and sitting there is Christopher Walken. Walken tells the guy not to wear boring beige socks, to do something more, such as (snaps fingers, wall opens up to reveal a car), drive a Kia Optima! Walken makes this a funny commercial, and then at the end he's in the passenger seat still encouraging the guy, "Punch it Richard, come on, punch it!":   A+

Not a car ad, but car related, we were treated to seeing Helen Mirren sitting in a restaurant, and basically in a very British way tells us not to drink and drive, and in a very descriptive manner tells us what she thinks of people that do! Sponsored by Budweiser, this was probably the best "don't drink and drive" ad, speech, class, I've every seen!   A

Well, that's all the car/truck and automotive related ads I saw until the game ended (to be followed by the Toyota Post Game Show), so if there was an awesome Toyota or other ad after that, well, I didn't see it.

Let's review the top graded spots:

A    Genesis
A-   Buick Convertible
A    Acura NSX
A    Honda Ridgeline
A+  Kia Optima

So for me, the Kia Optima, thanks to Christopher Walken takes top prize. I was sorry there wasn't any new FIAT "blue pill" type funny commercials, but sometimes that's the way it goes. Overall even the other commercials didn't seem to be as funny and creative as usual, although Doritos and Heinz had funny spots. Honorable mention to Budweiser for their Don't Drink and Drive ad too, thank you Helen Mirren!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

99 Miata - We'll Call Him "Murphy"

"Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" - Murphy's Law

A pile of parts anxiously awaits.
Nothing seems to describe the 99 Miata project any better right now. This weekend I arranged to have lots of help converge on the car and finally assemble all the parts that have been amassing here at NMS South. Saturday things quickly turned for the worse when we discovered I had accidentally ordered some very cheap and defective engine internal parts.  When building an engine, tolerances and dimensions are measured in thousandths of an inch so even tiny imperfections could be disastrous. 
Engine mounted on the stand and ready for building. 

New connecting rod and main bearings as well as piston rings will be on order soon and we'll try it later this week.  On the bright side, with massive help from Kyle D. and Jason, the car now is riding on the stiffer sport package springs and on it's way to a full sport package upgrade that will let us upgrade the car to the absolute fullest extent of the rules for our SCCA class.
The very bottom of the motor, the oil pan holds all the oil and gets pretty nasty over time. Chuck did an awesome job cleaning this one up and made it look brand new.

Trying to build on the positives from another delay, I returned this morning to spend some time painting the engine block and valve cover.  Painting the engine block will help prevent rusting, let us more easily detect the location of oil leaks, and just generally keep everything looking nicer under the hood. The valve cover, is the fastest color so why not. 
After thoroughly masking off the internal areas of the engine block, it was coated with several layers of paint designed to resist high temperatures for these types of applications.

Another massive thank you to the whole crew that came out to support and work on the car as well as Chuck for so generously letting me use his incredible garage space and tools.  There's no way the car would be possible without everyone's hard work. 
The valve cover gets a few coats of more high temp paint after a thorough cleaning.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Slowest Kart in the East!

Kart in Action
Week 2 of the Tidewater Sports Car Club's TSCC LINK winter karting league is now in the books, and once again I'm holding steady in last place! Yes sir, nothing like consistency to tell you you're, uh, consistent! Way back in Week 1, I was up in 6th place, thanks to there only being 6 drivers, but this week I've taken last place down to 10th, so let's make that a positive and say TOP TEN BABY!

Race time! I drove #86, like the NMS Miata!

OK, at least I did manage to lower my fastest lap time from a 28.005 in Week 1 to a 27.715 in Week 2, so that at least makes me feel a little better! Overall I managed to get into the 27 second lap time a total of 6 times, so I'll take that as a another positive. For the two weeks combined, I'm around 7th place.

Baby Needs New Shoes

I'd like to blame the random selection of karts in every race as the reason that I'm so slow, but my hunch is those other guys are really fast drivers! This week I added a new pair of racing shoes to my wardrobe for kart night, so maybe that's why I was faster! Next time I'll have to find some other faster piece of gear, like lighter socks or get a haircut to lose weight and go faster!

Here's a link to the race video: Kart Race 2

Helmet Mounted Video Capture Guy = Dork!

Monday, February 1, 2016

NMS South - Coming Back Strong for 2016

I last wrote back in November about the 99 Miata getting a low mile replacement motor for the paperweight I had created back in June with the Tidewater Sports Car Club in Virginia Beach. Well, we hit a major snag in the most unfortunate series of horrifying discoveries that ended with a conclusion that the "new" motor was worse than the original.  After a pretty stressful off-season and several trips to the machine shop, the old motor is now anxiously awaiting re-assembly this coming weekend when the team makes a final push to get the car ready for the first SCR-SCCA autocross on February 21st.
Although the Miata looks like it's jacked up about 6 inches and ready for some off-roading, this is actually how the car sits without a few hundred pounds of engine and transmission.
In future posts, we'll bring everyone up to speed on the Miata's progress, but in the mean time the Buccaneer Region SCCA had their first autocross yesterday and it was time to shake the rear wheel drive cobwebs loose.  Fellow SCR SCCA driver and newly-formed LeMons race team co-driver, Jason offered me a co-drive in his 07 Nissan 350Z and I was happy to take the wheel.  After 6 attempts, Jason came out ahead with a final time good for 3rd overall and I was 1.3 second back and in 10th overall PAX position out of about 76 drivers.  We had a ton of fun and are fully re-energized to get the little red car back on it's feet.
Just a few of the awesome SCR SCCA folks I get to race with and who have helped make the Miata come together and push me to be a faster driver.  I again found myself driving an orange car.
Coming up in 2016, NMS South is looking to fine tune the 99 Miata and take it all the way to Lincoln, Nebraska for the annual SCCA autocross championship in competition with top drivers from across the country.  I'll also share more information on the development on the 24 Hours of LeMons race team and our 1972 Dodge Coronet race car and see what other low-buck car fun we can find.