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I have been experiencing some odd behavior when starting my Renix Cherokee lately. While the starter sounded like it was spinning fine, the engine would not fire up. Often it would fire just as I let go of the key.
I have been running an old Optima battery that I got back when ChumpCar was giving them away as part of their sponsorship, The battery read over twelve volts and the starter sounded fine. However, I noticed that the REM was shutting off and the voltage was dropping while trying to start.
Troubleshooting a no start condition on my 944 Race Car
After the race at Indy, the car has made a few short trips in and out of the trailer but that is it. In preparation for the next race, I pulled it into the shop. When I later went to move it onto the lift, it would not start.
I first swapped the DME relay. No start. I then replaced the DME with a jumper. No start.
They say if you don;t use something in year you should get rid of it. Well I don’t take that advice on tools. I can;t remember how many years its been since I last used this tool but today it was really handy to have.
The adventure began with the seven hour tow to Virginia. VIR is located like most race tracks in the middle of nowhere. But VIR is different in that you can’t get there from here. You have to go somewhere else first them go to VIR. If you are in Virginia there is no road to take to the track that does not go through North Carolina on the way.
I looked at several options before choosing the fastest route according to Google maps. What I failed to notice in my route planning was the 9 mile long 9.5% down grade after getting off the interstate.
Normally this would not have been too bad however just as I was stopping for fuel earlier I had noticed a warning on my brake controller. There was a short somewhere. When I got on the twisty section I had made a quick attempt at diagnosis and found that if I switched off the front brakes, the fault would clear and I had at least one axle of trailer brakes. Normally this is plenty but for the long steep down hill run not quite so much.
I made my way carefully down the hill alternating between braking and cooling and lots of compression braking. I was very happy to get to the bottom after about twenty minutes of pucker.
Tom met up with me in Danville to get fuel. But we decided it was too far to haul the fuel to the cabin and back so we fueled only the race car for the Holiday Laps session on Friday. While fueling we noticed there was still a lot of heat coming off the trailer tires.
Evan booked us a nice cabin on the lake close to the track since there are no hotels nearby. The narrow driveway looked a lot like a Jeep trail but I found a place to park the trailer only a short walk from the cabin. It was dark and cold so I grabbed my gear and hopped in Tom’s car.
The next morning at dawn, I went to look at what it was going to take to get turned around. As I was scouting the path out, I noticed something odd about the trailer.
The right front trailer wheel hub and brake assembly was missing. In its place were a couple of worn bearing races. I have no idea when it left. I decided there was nothing left to do but drive on three wheels to the track and deal with it later.
I had no idea how poplar the Holiday laps program is at VIR. My GPS said I was still a mile from the gate when I stopped at the back of the line. And I thought we had gotten there early. Anyway, we paid our entry and then found a place to park where we could unload the car and work on the trailer.
We sent Evan out first and he got in a few paced laps. However when he came back the car was making a noise and the dash warning light was on. Popping the hood showed the alternator mounting bolt had backed out letting the belt slip. Unfortunately access to the adjuster requires removing our brake cooling duct. Not a bad job on the lift but a little awkward on jack stands in the parking lot.
With her belt back tight we sent Tom out to get in line. The line was now about 500 cars long. Evan and I realized he was going to be in line a while so we took Tom’s car to tractor supply and found a hub and a wheel and tire.
I also bought a chisel thinking I would hit the race and it would break off. The chisel was not near as hard as the bearing race and soon I just had a flat metal bar. Evan was able to find a grinder and cut off wheel with one of the better equipped teams. He also found a place to plug it in near where Chumpcar had tech set up.
The cut off wheel made short work of the bearing races. I had the new hub and wheel on while Tom was still waiting in line. He decided to let me take is stint so I waited a bit more and then took some paced laps of the full course. It is a very nice track with interesting elevation changes and different types of turns. However compared to COTA it is a bit narrow. All the run off areas are grass.
Tom got to wait in line again before he took his stint near the end of the day. We then bolted the brake ducts back in place and used the car to scoop a well-placed paddock spot before the trailers were allowed in.
Afterwards we took the trailer out to get 110 gallons of fuel. But in the excitement, we forgot to buy a couple of gallon jugs of water like we normally do.
We woke to a very cold morning on Saturday. We normally like to have our pits set up the night before but the track did not allow this. In fact it was almost time for the driver’s meeting before they allowed us in. We felt a bit rushed getting everything set up and somewhat organized.
Evan took the first stint and turned some very respectable times. The car seemed to be running well and handling well once the new Hankook tires warmed up a bit.
I took over for the second stint. I went slower being intimidated by the number of cars on the narrow track. I eventually got in the groove and had a good run. The only glitch being my radio microphone was not working. I could hear but not talk.
We made a quick driver swap to Tom. However in just a few laps he was back in with the engine hot. This is when I realized we never bought water. I used water bottles from the cooler while Evan went in search of more water. I was able to burp the system and get Tom going again. Evan ended up buying a fuel jug from the pro shop to hold water for future stops.
We put Evan in again in the afternoon. He was really mixing it up and turning fast laps when he got tagged by Neon in a critical spot. The impact sent him off into the grass and then hard into the tire wall. He then spun around and impacted the guard rail. In car video shows the violence of the crash. He was able to move slightly but had to get assistance back to the pit. The car still ran but would not move.
I quickly diagnosed the problem as a broken half shaft. And I had bought a spare just in case.
I crawled under the car and began removing the bolts. Thankfully none of them stripped out. We might have made it back on track on Saturday but the new in the box shaft had a problem that required it to be disassembled and reassembled to get the balls in place.
I had Phil the chief inspector come take a look at the car and give his blessing before we took it back out on track. He also took a look at our in car video to see who had hit Evan to push him off. We had to tape up the broken rear hatch and straighten the frame a bit to get it to latch.
Amanda said it felt like we were back in Harlan as we all worked together to get the car ready to race on Sunday. The other 944 teams stopped by to offer support and offered to loan us parts or tools as needed.
On Sunday morning I took the car out to rejoin the race. I was tentative at first but I picked up sped as I realized the car handled just fine. The tape on the rear window blocked my view a bit and the missing door mirror caused more problems. But I was able to run my full stint and turn the car over to Tom.
I did take the car to the paddock to torque the half shaft bolts. It was a good thing I did too since some had not seated well in the cold the night before. However in the process I suffered my least favorite moment of the weekend. Somehow I got my pinky finger pinched between the wrench and the wheel as someone outside the car tried to move the wheel so I could access the next set of bolts. The worst part was having to bring it back across the pinch point to get my hand out.
Jenny cleaned my injury and bandaged me up. Tom took over the car and headed back out on track. He was able to improve slightly on his previous lap times.
We made a quick swap to Evan. He was turning really good laps when he called saying he had alternator issues. Remembering the Friday experience, we checked the belt tension but it was fine this time. We took it to the paddock for further diagnosis.
My voltmeter was showing 14 volts at the battery but the dash meter was showing ten volts. Since the car was running fine I sent him back out assuming it was a wring glitch.
I took over for my last stint of the weekend. I was finally getting comfortable with the close proximity of other cars and learning my way around the track. Then I noticed a stumble in the car in a few corners. I saw the voltage was steadily dropping on the digital meter in the car.
I ran as long as I could but the stumble got worse and the engine began to cut out at times. I put it behind the wall and checked the system again. I still could not figure out why the battery read a higher voltage than the rest of the car. We reluctantly made the call to load it on the trailer rather than changing the alternator. I discovered after I got home that the battery was low in my voltmeter which made it give incorrect readings.
Overall it was quite an adventure. I was reminded of Neal’s comment: “racin’ is ‘spensive.” I do kinda wish I had changed the alternator and taken the car back out for what remained of the race. Just to say we didn’t quit. But we did gain a lot of new friends and respect among our fellow racers that we were able to get the car back on the track during the overnight stop. It was a long drive home in the rain but I made it home safely taking a different route that avoided the 9 mile 9.5% grade.
We ended up in 42nd place. I think we turned more laps than two of the other 944s. Visceral Racing’s 944 ended up in 38th place. All the 944s had issues both days.
Our plan is to have the car ready to race by the February event at Road Atlanta.
One of the reasons I started ChumpCar racing was to get to run on some of the more famous tracks. That way when I watch a race on TV I can say; “Hmm I don’t take that corner like that.”
So, when ChumpCar posted COTA on the schedule, that became a must do event. We sent our entry fee in right away.
The 1005 mile tow out there was just the first of many obstacles. We decided to give Bertha (our 1500 Suburban) a rest and use Evan’s turbo Diesel RAM pickup. While this gave us less room to pack stuff, it made for a much quicker trip across the country. Evan dropped the truck off with us a couple weeks early and then flew into Austin to meet us.
We broke up the trip out with an overnight stop just past Houston. This stop allowed us to roll into the track early and refreshed on Thursday morning.
With this being a Formula 1 track the garage layout is different from NASCAR tracks and the road courses we have run before. The garages are where pit stops are made on F1 so they are on pit road.
We paid the steep price and rented a garage space and were glad we did. By arriving when we did, we were also able to reserve the pit stall right in front of our garage. This logistics made the weekend much more pleasant. We did not have to keep all our gear and chairs under a 10 x 10 ez up. We kept most things neatly arranged in the garage and only the items actually needed for fueling out by the wall.
Speaking of the wall, F1 normally does not use one. But ChumpCar arranged to have some concrete barriers placed so we had the kind of wall we were accustomed to working with during pit stops.
We were having a nice time feeling relaxed and well prepared for the race. We spent time catching up with ChumpCar officials and getting to know our garage mates. We had all our gear organized in the shared space. We were looking for a place to fuel the car safely and decided it would be easiest to just drive it to the gas station. This would get Evan some seat time before the race.
We were all relaxing when I got the call that after fueling the car would not start. We ended up taking the trailer and pushing the car on. It was obvious to me that the ECU was not getting power. But why was not so apparent. We checked all the fuses and grounds that had been disconnected during the recent engine swap. We swapped DME relays. We even swapped DME units. Still no tach bounce at start.
I remembered a similar failure in our Sentra race car and began the process of pulling the center mounted kill switch out of the dash. We never use this one – it is only there because the rules require it. The last time it was used was at annual tech in February. Once it was out of the dash, the ohm meter told the story. The aux contacts were not working. Once found that was an easy fix and we were much relieved when the car started right up.
As annoying as that was, we were all glad it happened before the race and not during. We were able to get it repaired without losing race time.
On Friday morning at the start of the race we were all a bit nervous since our last two trips to the track had ended in catastrophic engine failures. (One in the Porsche one in the Celica) The price list for cleaning the track at COTA added to the nervous feeling.
Tom took the car out first and we were very happy to see the car not only holding together but keeping pace with the other race cars. We had all agreed to take it easy on the car during the first stints.
Learning 20 turns on the huge track was a challenge at first. But due to the wide track and flowing nature, Tom settled in quickly. We ran short stints and fueled every other stop to equal out the driving time for each of us.
Evan took over next and other than a couple spins had a good run. He kept us up in the mid pack standings. I took over after fuelling and tried not to lose too much ground as I learned my way around the track.
In Evan’s second stint we had relaxed and were sitting the garage cooling off and chatting. There had not been any radio chatter so we were not really paying attention. Suddenly we saw our orange car enter the garage. The Push to Talk button had come loose on the radio and Evan could not tell us the car had stalled on course and had to be towed in.
As soon as we popped the hood the cause was obvious. The air pipe from the air speed sensor to the intake had come loose. A flat blade screwdriver fixed that right away and he was back racing after losing several laps.
The car was running great when I took over for the final stint. However with about 45 minutes left in the race I felt something come loose in the front suspension. I heard parts come loose but the problem was intermittent. Most of the time the car handled fine but occasionally it would make at thunk sound and dart around. It was particularly bad in left had turns. Since COTA is a counter clockwise course, there are a lot of those.
I decided not to take continue the risk and brought the car in for inspection. It took quite a while but I finally found the problem. The bottom of the ball joint socket had come out of the control arm. This part is normally held in by a clip and with epoxy. But somehow ours escaped.
We polled the other 944 teams but no one had a spare control arm that would fit our car.
We really did not want to pack up and miss the second race so I started working on a way to make what we had work. I still had the nylon bearing surface so all I needed was something to hold it in place. I found some washers and was able to modify them to support the bearing. I just needed some way to hold it all together.
An internet search said O’Reilly’s sold C clips so we followed google maps to the nearest one.
The look on the face of the counter guy was what you would expect if you have ever tried to get special parts at a chain parts store. He directed us to the Help isle. Nothing there was anywhere close to large enough. He kept insisting there was nothing he could sell us that would work.
I then asked him if he stocked ball joints for Jeeps. I knew they came with a clip that never gets used. He very reluctantly brought one out and let us buy the ball joint. Worst case I would have a spare for the Jeep. We also picked up some JB weld epoxy.
Tom used his Dremel to cut down the snap ring until we could work it into the groove on the bottom of the control arm. Then we used vise grips, clamps and a hammer to force it in place. We then filled the cavity with JB weld and headed to dinner for it to set up.
The Epoxy was still soft when we got back, but we covered it with metal tape and reinstalled the control arm anyway. We hoped it would be cured by morning. We got to the hotel much later than planned.
I decided to take the first stint to see how the ball joint would hold up. I was very tentative for the first few laps but quickly gained confidence. I still avoided the rumble strips as much as possible.
The car ran great all day. We managed to finish 34th overall out of over 100 entries. I was very happy to finish a race again with no technical difficulties. Our homemade cool shirt system was not quite up to the 100 degree heat but really did help a lot.
We got good at changing the cool shirt ice and checking the oil on each pit stop. I felt like we were much more organized on our stops than some of the teams around us. We even remembered to keep our visors down during the fuel stops.
The other 944s entered in the race had problems so we ended up the highest finishing 944 even though we were not the fastest. The Cone Crusher team had been running in second place overall when they blew their engine on Friday. They swapped engines over night and were running well on Saturday when they lost a ball joint. They got towed in but it failed completely while loading the car in their trailer damaging the fender.
The Burningham 944 had oil cooling issues and then eventually had transmission problems that took them out on Saturday. The #195 Turbo 944 had a scary brake failure and lost a lot of laps being extracted from the gravel pit. Luckily there was no major damage from his off course excursion. The track design played a large role in his ability to get the car stopped before hitting anything solid. The Porshalump 944 was on the entry list but was sadly a no show for the event.
We made the trip home in 15 hours with Evan Driving Big Momma Diesel. Now to get our sweaty race suits cleaned and the car inspected to be ready to race VIR in the December.
I will add more pictures and Video – check back for updates.