Chumpcar Fall 2011

GI SHO Racing attended the ChumpCar World Series event at Portland International Raceway on October 29th & 30th. The event was aptly named the “Ghosts, Ghouls, Goblins & Grease” race.

This was the 3rd year ChumpCar has returned to Portland on Halloween weekend since the inaugural race in 2009, which was the first and likely the last ever 24 race at PIR. ChumpCar always makes a big deal out of this race each year because it is attended by a higher percentage of spectators than any other race in the series, and they love coming to Portland. Off track activities included a pumpkin carving contest on Saturday and a Halloween costume contest on Sunday, as well as trick-or-treating in the pits.

This year, the GI SHO crew SHO’ed up with 4 drivers and a small support staff of mostly friends and family, and members of the local NW SHO Club. Tech & Registration was held on Friday in the muddy field just outside the main gate. We passed through tech without any issues and got the OK to proceed to the paddock which was going to be a crowded place for the next 3 days. 84 teams made it to the track and that is a new ChumpCar record for attendance. Team GI SHO is proud to be part of that crowd.

We set up our pit stall and headed out for a team meeting and dinner with friends, family and crew. After a good nights rest we all gathered back at the track at 7 AM Saturday to set up for the race and get ready for the driver’s meeting. It was wet and foggy when the green flag dropped at 9 AM, but hey, this is Portland right?

Lester Soman was our first driver on track. Les is a conference racer in a Gen 1 SHO and this is his 2nd appearance as a driver for our team. He’s very competitive and a very talented racer. Les drove the car into the top 10, then the top 5. We were looking very good coming into the 1st driver change at the 2 hour mark. The SHO drove great, but Les didn’t like how it had a tendency to push through the corners and recommended we disconnect the front sway bar. We put it to a vote and decided to leave it and continue as that would be a major change to the car and not something we wanted to re-learn during a race weekend.

After a near perfect pit-stop, Duane Barker headed out for his first 2-hour stint behind the wheel. Duane is now a veteran team member and this is his 4th appearance on the driver’s roster. Duane held on to our position and narrowly avoided a pretty nasty crash on the back straight when a very fast Mustang hit the inside wall and skid across the track and collided with the outside wall. Video footage is here: The driver was OK.

Another great pit-stop and Daryl Dyer buckled in at 4-hours into the race. Daryl took over the team captain position 2 years ago and has 4 years experience behind the wheel of our beloved GI SHO. Daryl headed out on a dry track and quickly put in some fast laps. About 40 minutes later, the car developed a vibration that quickly got worse and Daryl radioed in that he was coming in with a problem. The transmission temp would not come down and there was smoke coming from the left front. He took it behind the wall for diagnosis. The verdict was a blown left front wheel bearing which is something we’ve had issues with ever since the Spokane race in July.

The fluid pump for the tranny cooler was also not working and there was fluid all over the transmission case. Luckily we had come prepared and within 45 minutes a replacement spindle with a new bearing was installed and the cooler pump was changed. Since we were now out of contention, we made the call to go ahead and disconnect the front sway bar as Les had suggested earlier. Daryl headed back out again and the vibration was gone, but for some reason the clutch was now slipping and full power was not available without over revving the clutch.

The disconnected sway bar eliminated the push issue and the car stuck to the line much better, but it also leaned a LOT in the corners and the rear end felt very light. It was a good change, but went a bit too far past ideal.

Saturday was a 12 hour endurance race, and our car would unfortunately not last until the checker. The decision was made to keep the car on track and change out all the drivers so they could get used to the car with the sway bar disconnected. Meanwhile Mike Stimson and Lester took off on a parts run for a replacement clutch, smaller front sway bar and all the tools we would need to pull the subframe and transmission.

While waiting for the guys to return with parts and tools, we all took turns in the car to get used to it without the sway bar. Duane and Daryl liked the change but our 4th driver Kurt Gutzka did not. Kurt is team co-captain and one of the original members of the team. He’s the only one of us who’s driven the car in every race so far. Daryl was in the car when the call went out to say Mike & Les would be back with parts and tools in 30 minutes. We took the car behind the wall to let it cool down. An important note here is that the clutch was slowly coming back, and by the time we pulled in the pit it was back to normal.

The team put the car on jack stands and we all contemplated the HUGE job of removing the subframe and transmission with the engine supported on a crossbeam. With all of us working together, we figured we could have it done in about 5 hours if we didn’t run into any other issues. We discussed it and decided that the clutch must have been oiled due to the tranny being just a tad too over-full to compensate for the cooler, pump and hoses. Fluid had been leaking past the input shaft and got on the clutch disc. We were looking at a long nights work for something that may not really be necessary.

Since the clutch appeared to have come back, we decided to bleed some of the excess fluid and reverse the pump so it was pulling fluid from the bottom of the tranny. We changed the brake rotors and decided to get the car back on track for a trial run to make sure it would work OK for Sunday’s race.

By this time it was dark and about 1/3 of the teams that started the race were no longer out there. Some had blown engines, others had collision damage, electrical issues or other mechanical failures. The pitts were a very busy place. Duane drew the short straw, put his gear on and hit the track to see if the car would be OK. This was about 7PM and there was only 2 hours left in the race. He radioed in that the car felt good and the clutch was fine. We all started to breathe a little easier and decided to let Duane finish out the race.

During the final 2 hours, Duane killed a raccoon that tried to cross the track at the end of the back straight. Luckily the car was not damaged. There was also a nasty wreck on the front straight which resulted in a 15 minute red-flag while they towed the damaged cars and cleaned up the mess. No one was seriously hurt. At least 3 cars were involved, 2 of them damaged beyond repair.

Duane finished the race without further incident and we parked the car for the night. We didn’t even look to see where we finished.

Meanwhile, the Jack-o-lantern contest was tough competition. The GI SHO ladies brought 3 excellent carvings which were on display in our paddock throughout the day. Their hard work paid off and we won to contest which gives us a discount on our next race entry.

We prepped the car for Sunday. Brakes were bled and fluids topped off. Sunday’s forecast was wet so we decided to re-connect the front sway bar to help keep the rear end more stable on the wet pavement. It was late and we all headed out for some sleep.

We were all back at to a very wet track by 7:30 Sunday morning. We uncovered the car and warmed it up. Duane set out to claim the tail from the raccoon he had killed the evening before but he never got it because the driver’s meeting was called ½ hour earlier than expected.

Sunday’s race would only be a 6 hour fun run. No prize money. Just a trophy for 1st place. Only about ½ the teams made it to the start on day two. ChumpCar doesn’t start a race like you would see on NASCAR. They circulate all the cars under full-course yellow to make sure everyone’s transponder is working. The race starts after they pick a car at random and wave the green flag when it passes the start/finish.

Daryl took the first shift and the green flag waved for a car about 20 seconds behind. This effectively put us nearly an entire lap down at the start of the race. The track was wet and super slick. Good thing we decided to hook up the sway bar. Daryl pushed the SHO to the limit and before long had turned the fastest lap in the race. Cars were sliding off track and loosing traction around every corner. At one point the race was red flagged to repair the tire wall at the end of the run-off for turn 11. Daryl did a great job and had us in 1st place at the 2 hour mark.

The team re-fueled, checked the car and Les was buckled in and ready to roll in less than 5 minutes. This was one of our best pit stops ever! Les went out and held on to 1st place. His lead was almost 2 laps by the end of his shift. The clock was winding down for Les and just before time was up, the course was full yellow, then red.

Les was stopped on the red flag just before the pitt entrance. A bad radio call was made to have Les pull the car in since he was so close to the pitt entrance. We should have left him out there because we were held for 2 extra minutes after the driver change to Kurt.

When Kurt was released to the track, our comfortable 1st place cushion had dwindled to about ½ a lap. Kurt is a great driver, but not as experienced on a wet surface as some of the other drivers. Visibility wasn’t great and unfortunately Kurt passed another car under a yellow flag and had to come in for another 2 minute penalty. Our win was slipping away fast. Kurt got back out and settled in as the 2nd place car with 3rd closing in fast. Eventually the faster car got past and we were in solid 3rd place with the next closest car 1.5 laps behind. Kurt held on though he almost had to bring it in because the wipers started to rubber up the windshield and he was having trouble seeing.

The car came back in one piece and we did finish 3rd on Sunday. Great job to drivers and crew! Special thanks to Mike Stimson from and Dave Stenner (former driver) for the huge help in the pitts. We could not have done it without you!

We would also like to recognize and thank our Sponsors for helping to keep us racing:

SHO Source: The best place to go for SHO parts and service

Kadel’s Auto Body: 16 Northwest locations for all your auto collision needs

Thread2head: Custom headwear and promotional apparel

Alloy Wheel Repair Specialists: Repair or replace your damaged alloy wheels for a fraction of the OEM replacement cost

Affordable Auto Wrecking: Located in Portland Oregon

ChumpCar: ChumpCar is North America’s home for $500 race cars and 24 hour endurance road racing.