Portland International Raceway

Portland, Oregon, USA
March 8 and 9

This weekend was the beginning of my first year with my new car. Elsewhere on the web site, I explain how I bought a well-sorted BMW 325is to race, replacing my previous car -- a Porsche 924S.

I had very high hopes for the BMW, but I ended up somewhat disappointed.

On Friday, I made the tow from home to Portland. I arrived in time to set up my pits but not with enough time to get through technical inspection. I slept for the night, then came to the track early in the morning. That's when I made my first mistake!

After setting up my pits, I leave much of my equipment out. The car cover is on, and the car is also under my pop-up tent. To prevent the tent from blowing away, I bungee the tent to the wheels of the car.

Well, I was in such a rush to get to tech that I forgot to unclip the bungees from one corner of the tent. When I took off, the bungee cords pulled the tent down and badly bent it! While the car had moved less than ten feet, the damage to the tent was so bad that another driver had to rescue me: the tent had crumbled and covered my door. I couldn't exit the car to unhook the tent.

How embarrassing!

But I passed technical inspection and went out for my practice session. I tip-toed around the track, since it was quite wet and the I wasn't very familiar with my new car. I was also planning on using the first race as something of a shakedown, listening carefully for noises and feelings that might indicate serious work was necessary.

During my session, I set a competent (but not at all fast!) time. The car felt pretty good, though I was experiencing a tremendous amount of push through turns five, six, and seven. I thought I could settle the issue with tire pressure. My rain tires for this race were Kumho Victoracers, which I don't know very well. I was completely in the dark about tire pressure settings.

For my qualifying session on Sunday, I went just a little faster. To adjust the tire pressure, I had to completely make a guess, since I had failed to record my hot tire pressure after my Saturday practice session. Even so, I managed to improve my time slightly and hold a spot in the middle of the grid.

At this race, there were only three other cars in my ITS class. My run group was dominated by Spec Miata cars; more than 18 cars! These cars will take over some day; they really are that popular.

I returned to the pits to find that the bolts holding the lower bushing of my rear shocks to the trailing arm of the suspension had fallen out. The bolts on both the left-hand and right-hand wheels were gone! My rear suspension still had its springs, but there was no dampening. As a result, at certain speeds (and with certain surface conditions), the wheels would start to hop violently. Upward force would simply be reflected by the spring; with no shock absorber to slow the bump or the rebound, I would at best get very irregular traction from the rear tires.

Miki had driven down to help me and found me returning to the pits just after I found out about the problem from a race worker; right at the scales. We poked around under the car and couldn't explain why the bolts were missing, but I knew that I would have to find replacements. We asked around in the pits, and nobody had any fasteners that would work, though a couple of drivers let me rummage through their part boxes.

We went to Home Depot and found they had nothing for metric hardware. The car parts store couldn't help us, either, though we found several bolts that we thought might fit. We came the closest at Hi-School Pharmacy, an oddly-named chain of small general stores in south-western Washington and north-eastern Oregon.

I tried buying bolts that looked like they would fit, but I simply couldn't make it work. The bolts thread into the trailing arm, so I needed bolts with the right thread pitch. The bolts were twelve millimeters in diameter, and between 60 and 70 millimeters long. But the thread pitch I needed was 1.50 millimeters per thread, which is apparently very odd. Hi-School Pharmacy had bolts with both 1.25 and 1.75 pitches, but not the bolts I needed.

When I returned to the track, one of the turn workers came forward with a bolt they had found in the area of the track where I had spun. I couldn't believe it! The bolt confirmed that I needed a 1.50mm thread. I had twisted one of the 1.25mm bolts into the left side, and used the stock bolt the worker found on the right side.

With only a few minutes to spare, I went out for my race. My head wasn't at all in the game; I was nervous about my car, afraid for my suspension, and simply distracted. I completely blew the start: we left turn 12, and started accelerating. Instead of using 3rd gear, I was in 5th! I caused a huge gap in the middle of the field, and the starter waived-off the lap.

I had my act together for the next lap, but I was already noticing that the rear wheels were bouncing again. Worse yet, the sky absolutely opened up when I entered turn 4! I couldn't see anything out the window, and couldn't get my defroster working!

Tentatively, I ran a couple of laps, but then pulled in when the car started making noise from the rear end. Sure enough, I found that a bolt on the right side had fallen out again. Interestingly, this was the bolt that came with the car; the bolt I had monkeyed into place was holding. My short racing career had already taught me that discretion is the better part of valor. So I parked it.

To my own surprise, I wasn't extremely disappointed in the weekend. I managed to learn several things (and would try to make them habits--managing tire pressure and taking notes, for instance). I felt pretty stupid for ruining my tent, but I knew replacement parts wouldn't be hard to find. And I knew the car would be easy and inexpensively repaired.

While I wish I had been able to finish my race, I felt great about the progress I made over the weekend.