Road Atlanta The Fabulous Mitty!
Posted: Wed May 09, 2018 11:01 pm
41st Annual Mitty at Road Atlanta
The "Mitty" is named after literary character Walter Mitty, an average guy with big daydreams of heroic acts. Road Atlanta is where the Mitty happens, and hundreds of drivers, co-drivers, and crew live a daydream there of color, spectacle, brotherhood, roaring engines and speed.
RetroRacing fits into this with a road racing Karmann Ghia that is genuinely old school. No MSD antiignition, no electronic fuel rejection, no coilovers, just original right down to stock torsion bars front and rear, steel 15-inch 5.5" wheels, and VARGA-copies of the original ATE disk brakes all the way around. We did paint the calipers racy red, however, just putting on the Ritz.
So, what's not stock? We have a quick-steer pitman arm adapter on the TRW steering box and a short-shift kit on the otherwise standard shift lever. Prothane bushings everywhere, 19mm front swaybar, classic oil-filled Konis at each wheel, Hoosier Speedster (185mm 65 series) racing tires, 22mm "disk brake" master cylinder, 3-gallon dry sump tank & CB Performance dual-stack oil pump, twin 4psi Facet electric fuel pumps, and an 8-gallon ATL fuel cell. The oil cooler is in the front, just behind the airdam. The battery is in the Ghia's nose, where the horns used to be.
To save weight, the interior is stripped, the driver's seat is aluminum, all side glass is removed and even the window-winder mechanisms are gone. The rear window is thin Lexan. Aluminum blankers replace the headlights. We don't use backup or running lights, just brake lights. And we've only recently wired in a windshield wiper motor after years without one. All doors, hood and engine lid pin down. No hinges.
The dash is Fiberglas, dominated by a big 5-inch, 8-grand AutoMeter tach, flanked by VDO oil pressure and oil temperature gauges. The driver-to-car connection is a genuine VW logo racing wheel, only issued in the 1973 Sport Bug and '74 Sport Ghia. On a quick release hub, of course.
Driver safety is a six-point roll bar that stiffens the chassis considerably and is lighter than a full cage. Racing rules dictate lap, shoulder, and a submarine belt which we connect together with an old-fashioned lever-lock buckle.
The Ghia was born in full 1950's classic Italian style. Compare it to this 1962 Ferrari of the same era.
When you drop into the driver's seat, flip the switches, and press the starter button as the 50+ year old MG's, Triumphs, 356's, Alfas and Spitfires beside you are doing, time dissolves away to when launch control, anti-lock brakes, and stability management were only as good as the driver's skill.
Barret takes 2nd in the rain at the 40th Mitty against the fastest car in our VP5 class, a Spitfire.
We made a good showing at last year's Mitty, 3 out of 4 of us in VP5 class streaming under the checkered flag as a group, in the first race, and taking 2nd place in the rain in the second race. The 1.7 engine we ran allowed us to touch 130mph on the back straight. That's on stock CV joints and a 3.88 rear end. Still, it feels as if we need a 5th gear.
We've just recently began using a soft Kush-Loc clutch disk instead of our old reliable rock-hard feramic puck type with a Stage II pressure plate, and it works. Our clutch is still cable-operated, pulled by a "Big Foot" pedal assembly, and virtually break proof as the factory cable hook is replaced by a bolted, swiveling cable end. We have learned the hard way every speed tweek causes at least one seemingly unrelated part breakage somewhere else in the car.
The Ghia handles excellently, even without a rear sway bar. And the brakes, which most would consider small compared to our performance, are excellent. AP-30 R4 Porterfield pads help. Our front rotors are cross-drilled. Our rears are solid. We have no handbrake.
We arrived a day early (on purpose) 27 April, to beautiful early summer weather, set up a good camp in a lower grassy area we call "the swamp" and waltzed through tech with no more than a fuel pump fitting that needed tightening, and a brake light bulb contact that needed cleaning. We have a fresh engine after shattering a piston at Daytona in November of last year, and this trip, and we have 44 IDF's rather than the 40's we'd been running which we believed was restricting our top end. We expect to cut our last year's official 2:01 in-traffic lap time.
The new engine came right off the test stand and into the car.
The first foreshadowing of trouble was when Barret, our primary driver who was due to arrive Friday, called and said he was suddenly really sick with the flu and couldn't make it. This put the full responsibility on Jamie, our co-driver. He's carried the day before in vintage racing, so it isn't new, and he is a veteran LeMons driver. Jamie just doesn't want to hit, or be hit by, some rare and breathtakingly expensive collector's racer.
On our team is south Alabama shutterbug Jim Allen, disguised under a wide-brimmed hat, ZZ Top beard, and sunglasses in case the statue of limitations havn't expired for whatever actions someone might recall when Jim was an Atlanta resident. "Go ahead and do something crazy out there," Jim tells Jamie. "I've got telephoto and autofocus." Credit for most of the photos in this post go to Jim.
PRACTICE & QUALIFYING DAY (29Apr)
Friday morning dawns clear and cool. Our generator drones on as the coffee is made, and for a while as the racers awake and start to wander about, there is no sound but stirring spoons and sleepy wheezes. I try and guess our crews thoughts by their expressions. Jamie seems to be calculating how to get out of a lifetime of indentured servitude after crashing a Morgan or BMW Alpina. Jim is obviously pondering his old nemesis, the lensecap.
We set the Speedster tire pressures to 20psi front, 24psi rear. I jot my notes down as to weather, ignition settings, carb jetting, and Koni settings. Jamie swaps the baffled stinger we use for tech for an unbaffled stinger, suits up, and drives away to the grid for our first practice session. Jim hops on our golf cart so he can easily run to his favorite vantage points. I walk up the hill to the fence at Turn 1, to watch but be close to our camp in case Jamie has to come in.
And this is exactly what happens. I see him coming in after just a few laps. I see the problem as he passes me on the access road to the swamp. The stinger is facing downward, dragging, and sparking. Not the exhaust header, the stinger itself. The stinger tube is not welded to the 3-bolt flange in this product, and when the new, thick cardboard gasket burned away, the tube loosened, rotated, and we get black flagged in a shower of sparks.
The fix is easy. We neatly bob the damaged end of the stinger off with a grinder, and bolt it all back together without a gasket. While we're working, Jamie reports the engine power is great, better than last year. He measures it by comparing his RPM at a point on the back straight with Barret's. Last year, the Ghia was maxing out at approximately 6400 - 6600 RPM in 4th gear (conservativily 125 -130 mph.
I'm trying to be accurate here. Last year we were using a 10,000 rpm rice grinder tach and this year we have a much more readable 8000 rpm AutoMeter tach where you can see a 100 rpm measurement.
This year, Jamie passed 6600 rpm and was still climbing, when he backed off. Why did Jamie back off?
He said his tires were cold, the front pressure was too low, and he was understeering heavily, his oil was cold, and he was warming up the car to go faster.
Our next practice was after lunch. We spend the time talking with spectators who wander by, answering questions about the car, and eat off track at a nearby Cracker Barrel. Come midafternoon, Jamie is back on the grid, front tire pressures upped to 24psi.
Jamie quickly detects the understeer is corrected, and he begins weaving and dodging in traffic, there being Group 2 911's and Mustangs mixed in the field. The Ghia's oil temp begins rising toward operating range, the tires heat up and grip, and the race is on.
Then, slowly at first, the Ghia begins to steadily lose power. Jamie sees no low oil pressure warning, hears no mechanical noises He keeps the throttle at max, and as the car gets slower, the oil temp begins to rise. He's having to steer wide and off line to keep out of the other car's way.
At 260° F oil temp, he decides to drive the Ghia in rather than be towed in.
We find the problem. Jamie was running on two cylinders. The intake rockers on both heads for cylinder #1 and #3 are flopping against no resistance. The intake lobe that controls both those intake valves has been wiped smooth. The brand new SCAT C65 cam with less than an hour on it including break-in, is now just junk. A detail is the chromoly intake pushrod on cylinder #1 has been badly hammered on the lifter end, and the rod has started to mushroom.
With no spare engine, we're retired. And misery loves company. The Z-car paddocked beside us is also out. I listen to someone under their car looking up into the engine block, and saying: "Every bolt I see is broken."
We've been running on 20w40 Shell Rotella diesel oil with ZDDP additive. And this is the first cam lobe I've ever had flatten on me, ever. Some soul-searching memory forensics conclude that we forgot about the ZDDP altogether in the Ghia's oil tank refill while preparing for the Mitty.
And what about Jim? He discovered track tramps. We figure he'll make his way back to Birmingham eventually.