Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Please note that we've moved the blog permanently and won't be updating it here anymore.

The new and improved TARP Blog is, appropriately enough, hosted at See you there!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tuesday Night Tune-Up Club

I picked up the new distributor cap on the way back from dropping my folks off at D/FW on Monday afternoon. Also got a very important accessory for Blue: a blue "new car smell" air freshener for the rear-view mirror. This car just doesn't feel right without a magic tree hanging from the mirror.

Dave and I got together on the phone and agreed that we'd get together on Tuesday to finish with the plug wires and try to start 'er up. The first thing on the agenda was to remove the old distributor and rotor and replace them with the new ones. Here's Dave working on getting the old distributor cap off the engine. What's taking so long, Dave?

Removing the distributor cap was easier said than done, as the engine had at some point gotten so hot that the cap was melted and partially fused to the engine block. Off the top of our heads, we can't figure out how that would have happened; would the fumes from hot oil falling on the exhaust manifold be so hot as to melt the distributor cap? There's no evidence that this car was in a fire, as none of the other components under the hood are melted. So this is strange. But that is certainly one melted distributor cap. I put it next to the new one for the photo to make the melted parts stand out more, as I couldn't get a really good shot of the melted parts while they were still on the car:

It wasn't just the cap that was melted, the rotor was melted in place too. Not good:

But Dave got it pulled off and cleaned up the mating surfaces, put on the new rotor and cap, and then we got all the plug wires put in place and connected the ignition coil. The only things left to do were to fill up the gas tank, top off the oil and coolant, attach the battery, and see if she would fire.

All of which we did, in almost that same order. Unfortunately, she would not fire. Fortunately, she did turn over, and Dave said that he saw puffs of black smoke emerge from the exhaust a couple of times, but they were just puffs. He could see, however, the accessory belt turning and, when we pulled back the timing belt cover, he could see the timing belt moving when I cranked the engine. The fuel pump sounded like it was working, and we confirmed that the overall electrics still work, as the car turned over and all the lights (including the headlights) worked.

Our suspicion at this point is that either the fuel filter is clogged (depriving the engine of fuel) or that the engine isn't getting spark. Our plan is to pull the fuel filter and replace that and pull the ignition coil and have that tested to see if it's working right. I think I'll double-check the spark plug leads to make sure that we've got them all plugged into the right places. We're off to the internet to check a couple of other things; despite not starting like we'd hoped, we took it as a positive sign that the engine turned over on the first try and didn't make ugly noises

"What Would Smokey Do?"

Jalopnik and it's nonstop coverage of all things LeMons is easily one of my favorite blogs. They share my reverence for Smokey Yunick, about which little more need be said, other than the man was a mechanical genius and wrote an autobiography that is simultaneously both a tremendous work of art and the best argument for the need for authors to have editors. Which I'm sure my writing affirms.

Regardless, among many Jalopnik posts that should be useful to our race team is this one entitled "What Would Smokey Do? 24 Hours of LeMons Cheating Tips." Check it out.

While on that topic, the real question may be why cheat in the first place? Why do we even care? One entrant who went on to be a BS judge at the LeMons South race this year provides us with a pithy answer:

"You may be asking yourself why they bother. Why put so much time and effort into cheating when even founder Jay Lamm describes the race as a "waste of time." Sure racing is cheating, but LeMons isn't really racing. It's Burning Man gone retarded, a beer-soaked monument to high school shop class. And this is where you're wrong. Obviously, the nickels provide little motivation. But every other puzzle piece is present. Problem solving, driver skill, team work, metal-crunching surprises, wheel-to-wheel action — it's all there, in multicolored spades. To quote Willie Sutton, who, when he was asked why he robbed banks, said, "because that's where the money is." LeMons my friends, is racing in its purest form. And racing is cheating."

Monday, December 1, 2008

LeMons Times

Just saw that the august NYTimes reported on LeMons back in September. Here's the article. I guess they actually run overnight at some tracks? Kind of a shame that we can't do that. Oh well, better to pop our cherry the "easy" way. As if there were going to be anything easy about this race in this car...

Let's Have a Look-See at this Engine Thingy

So on Sunday afternoon, Dave came over to review our mighty steed, the blue MR2. My dad had helped me to clean out the garage enough on Saturday night so that we could roll Blue into the garage to facilitate nighttime work and, since it's getting about as cold as it gets here in Dallas, it's a little warmer inside. We knew that the engine was a mess; our plan was to pull the old spark plugs, put in fresh plugs, top off the oil and coolant, install the new battery, and try to start Blue. I pulled off the trunk lid and engine cover to make some room to work:

We started by removing the old spark plug wires. A couple of them practically disintegrated in our hands. The insulating boot on two of them stayed behind way deep down in the plug wells. Fortunately, not so deep that they couldn't be retrieved by hand once we removed the cover on top of the plug wells:

As you can see, the wells were filthy with oil. We probably went through a hundred q-tips just trying to soak all of that oil out of the wells before removing the plugs. No wonder this car was blowing blue exhaust; something caused oil to be all over the top of that engine. Was it the oil cap getting left off after an oil change (as the previous owner said) or is it bad valve cover gaskets? Who knows. What we do know is that the top end of this engine was filthy with oil. Check out what the spark plugs looked like:

After removing the plugs and putting in new ones (with plenty of anti-seize on the threads), we decided to run to the auto parts store to get a new cap and rotor, since the contacts on the distributor were filled with what looked like copper-patina pixie dust. The two stores nearby that were open late on a Sunday afternoon had the rotor, but not the cap, so that was about it for the day. But we were encouraged by the fact that the car had oil in the crankcase. We decided that I would stop by a different store on Monday to get the distributor cap and to re-convene on Tuesday.