Tom’s Corner – Taming Road America!

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Welcome to Road America in Elkhart Lake Wisconsin where I will take you through this 4.0-mile road racing course in a 1965 vintage 700 hp Corvette! I have driven this track many times over the years in different race cars and still to this day learn something new on the racing surface. All the information in this article is for dry track conditions only. If the track is wet, all bets are off! Imagine that you are driving this car and not me. You will be going faster on the straights but maybe a little slower in the corners. If all goes well, we should be able to do a complete circuit in this race car at 2 minutes 40 seconds!

When our session starts, we will depart the ‘false grid’ and into the hot pit lane and from there onto the race track. As you are going through the hit pit lane to the race track, hopefully you will notice a STOP and GO light on the fence at the end of the hot pit lane. If the light is RED…STOP! ~ If the light is GREEN, Go, BUT…please stay to the right until you are past the apex of turn one. Now do a parade lap around the race course and after turn 14, coming up the hill to the starter please stay on the left and let cars that may pass you pass on your right. You should be approaching 170 mph at this point and from turn 14 to turn one, you have covered 4405 feet. I would suggest going to the brake pedal at the #4 brake marker. Turn #1 is a right hander approaching downhill and is faster that it initially appears and many race drivers have ‘lost it’ there and gone into the gravel pit. Leaving turn #1 and going downhill on the left, and passing the flag station on your right, you will be approaching turn #3. This is 1561 feet from turn #1. Come down to this turn on the left side as you prepare for the right hand corner entrance and set up your apex accordingly. It should be a ‘late apex’ well past the middle of the bump strip on your right. This will lead you to the second fastest part of the track Coming out of turn #3, keep to the right of this slowly descending 3888 feet leading down to turn #5. You are going about 186 mph through this section. Watch for your brake markers here. This is the sharpest left hand turn on the race track. You should ‘late apex’ this turn as you head up to turn #6, which is a blind off camber left turn. Stay to the right side of the track when coming up the hill here. This section is 960 feet in length and you will use second and third gears to get to turn #6. Turn #7 is 788 feet going downhill with a slight kink to a section called ‘hurry downs’. Elevation change and 1322 feet to turn #8, you must stay to the right and very hard on the brakes in this 90 degree turn. You will be going about 90 mph approaching this turn.

The infamous ‘Carousel’ is 3383 feet in a slightly increasing radius and you will pick up speed considerably here as you approach ‘the ‘Kink’. Do not take ‘the Kink’ flat out! It has caused many crashes by driver who over-drive this portion of the track. From ‘the Kink’ to turn #12 is 2736 feet long and you will approach ‘Canada Corner’ at a very high rate of speed, about 190 mph! Watch your braking points here as you will need to down shift to first or second to get through this corner. Again, stay to the right side of the track and apex slightly sooner to get through properly. From turn #12 to turn #13, its uphill for 1140 feet and stay to the left. This section is called ‘Thunder Valley’. At corner #13 start your line to the right side as you approach turn #14 which is 1009 Feet. From here, you will start going back up hill to the start-finish line which is 1380 feet and wide open on the throttle! There are many elevation changes to this race course and that is what makes a favorite of race drivers. There are of course signs indicating braking points and rumble strips at the inside or outside of the apex’s and as you learn the course as I have, each time you drive here it will be a very memorable experience. To be able to tour this track at 2 minutes 40 seconds in my cousin’s vintage Corvette is just one of the highlights in all of my driving life.

Just think…172 mph…700 hp…arm restraints…ear plugs…safety harnesses… driving suit… helmet… roll bars…racing fuel…loud…hot and fast!!! This is what it’s all about!

There are many opportunities throughout the year to attend driving events at Road America,  for more information check out http://www.roadamerica.com/

I drove this Corvette road race car to 172 mph in 2005... Very loud,hot and fast !

I drove this Corvette road race car to 172 mph in 2005… Very loud,hot and fast !

 

Tom’s Corners – The Festivals of Speed

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Last year I received a letter from Joe Sabatini, founder and president of ‘Festivals of Speed’ to enter and display my Fiero (The Rattler) at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Lakes resort on Orlando Florida to benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. To me, this was absolutely unprecedented for my Fiero to be considered or included for that matter with such exotic automobiles, motorcycles, aircraft and watercraft for this event. The week-end started with a registration of all participants, then a fabulous cocktail party and sumptuous themed food displays, strolling musicians, luxury brand displays, live and silent auctions, prize drawings and more! Since I have not entered a formal concourse before, this would be a very unique way to learn and associate with people who have very exotic boats, cars, etc. The cars on display included: Bugatti, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Porsche, Maserati and some very fast race cars. Also on Saturday, there were ‘ride and drive’ events for qualified drivers, a wine connoisseur’s dinner at the internationally known Primo restaurant, which was closed to all but the ‘Festivals of Speed’ guests. Sunday was the grand finale with a collection of all the exotic vehicles on display with exciting culinary offerings, fine wines, fashion shows, and awards presentations. The ability to enjoy all of this while strolling in the gardens of the Ritz-Carlton is a once in a life time experience. There were class and special entry winners who received beautiful crystal trophies and gifts from Tiffany and Company. All participants who displayed their vehicles in the VIP registration received a duffle bag with sponsor gifts, two tickets to the Friday evening reception, and two tickets to the ‘Festivals of Speed’ event on Sunday as well as credentials and a unique dash plaque and a special entry to the program guide. Now… to get the Fiero down to Orlando…I would have to drive down in changing weather or have an exotic car transporter take it down, then fly down and back after the event. Obviously this would entail a considerable expense along with the hotel, food, gas, insurance, waivers and other expenses. The weather is always an important factor in doing these events. The inner workings of an event of this magnitude are worth writing about to give you an idea of what it is like to do a major concourse show, not to mention all the very intense pressure in detailing the car for the show. Again, it was an honor and privilege for my Fiero (The Rattler) to be invited to this event !

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Tom’s Corner – Racing Schools

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In previous articles, I told you about the racing school that Skip Barber puts on. Since I have graduated from it, I can tell you first hand it is well worth every cent and then some!

We arrived at Road America in Elkhart Lake Wisconsin an hour earlier than we needed to. The weather was threatening and we wanted to avoid the rush hour traffic going through downtown Milwaukee that morning. We met people from all around the USA who flew in for this school. The first thing on the agenda was a 45 minute lecture on the laws of physics and handling characteristics of racing cars especially open wheel ones which we would be driving. Then it was time to get suited up and get in the race car. To get in you have to stand on the racing seat and wiggle your way down to the pedals. The quarters are very tight once you are strapped in and about the only thing you can move are your feet and arms. Once your helmet and neck restraint are in place and your gloves are on, you move on to the starting grid with the rest of the members of your session.

In this school, you must follow a pace car to get acclimated to the course and gradually build up speed. These Barber Dodge cars are tricky in that there is no synchromesh transmission and you must use the ‘heel and toe’ procedure to shift gears correctly. This was explained in detail in the lecture in the class room. Steering in these formula cars is very precise and it takes some getting used to get it right. You learn your braking points and entrance to the corners as well as the exit of the apex’s and as the speed picks up, these cars are capable of going from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds and the braking is astounding. Each student must follow the other for a lap and switch places with the lead race car so the instructor can determine how well they are doing. After about 5 laps on a course which is 2 and 1/2 miles in length, the group is brought in and the instructor goes to each driver and tells him/her how they can improve their driving techniques such as the right entrance with corner acceleration out of it and drafting techniques. This is very serious stuff! On one occasion, the driver in front of me was approaching a very sharp 90 degree turn to the right when he mis-judged his braking point and spun directly in front of me and ended up in the gravel trap backwards! When I looked for an instant in my mirror, all I could see was dust and debris. You cannot take your eyes off the racing surface in front of you because of the speed you are traveling…one slight distraction and you are in trouble. Concentration is the key to doing well at this racing school and as the session ended about two hours later, we were brought in for a final critique of our driving abilities in an open wheel race car.

The instructor gave me an A+ for my efforts and the diploma I received was worth all the time and money spent to attend this racing school. I heartily recommend to anyone who has the desire to drive an open wheel formula race car to give this some consideration. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have on this subject. You can reach me at: tom165mph@yahoo.com

Tom’s Corner – Castor Oil in Racing

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Those of you who have followed the #52 Fiero may have noticed a distinctive exhaust smell coming from those four big megaphones. This is the result of burnt castor oil which I add to the premium gas and an octane booster (to achieve 100 octane) in the summer months. I use ½ oz. to a gallon of premium gas for the desired result. This may sound like an exotic fuel blend and it is and I get very good mileage with this mixture. At this point I will attempt to explain why I do this. I first noticed this ‘fragrance’ at Elkhart Lake’s Road America sports car course in 1958 while watching sports cars such as Ferrari and Maserati on the track. Flash forward…in 1972 I attended a pro outboard race in Depue Illinois and asked where I could obtain this oil as it was the same fragrance I remember from the Road America days. I could use it in my unlimited outboard hydroplane and was told that Blendzall made a very high quality de-gummed castor oil for cars and boats so I bought a case of it and have been using it ever since.

Now I will digress for a moment and give you a little history on this amazing product. Castor oil is made from the castor bean plant and has been used medicinally for about 4000 years and was given to children to ‘keep their systems clear’. In the medicine field, it is strongly laxative and purgative. It has a myriad of uses in industry and here is where it comes into motor racing. Ever since the internal combustion engine was invented there was a need to properly lubricate it. In February 1899, Charles Cheers Wakefield resigned from the Vacuum Oil Company and the firm he started would go on to become the Wakefield Oil Company. In 1909 the company began production of a new automotive lubricant named ‘Castrol’ a contraction of castor oil from which it is made. The original 3 grades were CW for cars for motorcycles, and R for aircraft and racing engines…the castor oil being responsible for the noticeable odor of early race cars. Castor oil maintains its viscosity from -30 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and is extremely clean burning. It bonds to metal surfaces, prevents rust, lubricates upper valve guides and upper cylinders and goes where the source of heat is. De-gummed castor oil has been used in engines whose revs can go as high as 21,500 RPM’s! There are several manufacturers of racing castor oil. To name a few are: Castrol ‘R’, Blendzall 460, Klotz BeNol-B-175, Maxima 927, VP RC-3, Burris LC-003. Castrol has sponsorship in all forms of motorsport such as Formula One, World Rally Championship, Sports car racing, NASCAR, and NHRA drag racing and power boat racing, karting, motorcycle racing and airplane racing. Even in the 1950’s there were other racing castor oils such as Pratts Castor, Essolube 60 Racer, Notwen Castor, BP Energol Racing, and Vigzol Golden Race. But the fact is when racing sounds and scents are recalled, all castor oils are thought of as the famous Castrol ‘R’. Today you can achieve this scent of burnt castor oil by using it as I have prescribed at the beginning of this article.

Castro oil is not cheap and you can only purchase it at race shops that carry a specific castor oil brand. Or you can order it on-line using Google to find your preference…My experience with using Blendzall Racing Castor in the #52 car has given me very satisfying results. I also used it in my hydroplane in 1974 for the first time and the boat was clocked at 101.664 MPH in Canada. I can be reached at my e-mail address ( tom165mph@yahoo.com) On a much lighter note, wouldn’t it be really neat for someone to make a man’s cologne with this fragrance? I would make someone very wealthy!!

Tom’s Corner – The Technology Behind Smokey Yunick’s Hot Vapor Fiero

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After having presented an article on Smokey Yunick’s ‘ hot vapor engine’, I will attempt to explain how this technology works. Normally different parts of a standard non=homogeneous air/fuel mixture burns at different rates within the same cylinder creating turbulence and colliding flame fronts. Under normal running conditions, cooling the intake charge to create higher mixture density is beneficial to keep some of the fuel molecules from undergoing spontaneous combustion or denotation.

Smokey installed a heat exchanger under the carburetor that used hot engine coolant exiting the motor to warm that mixture to around 200 degrees. Then the air/fuel mixture flowed through a second stage generator, an exhaust driven turbine wrapped in exhaust gas ducting. He called this devise a ‘homogenizer’, but it was really a turbocharger underneath that fancy ducting ! Not only did this devise generate boost, it also served as a one way check valve to keep the expanded hot gas from back flowing out of the carburetor. Then from the turbine the mixture flowed through an intake manifold also wrapped by exhaust ducting to reach its final super-hot temperature. Smokey’s engine had all the usual hot rod items of the period such as trick rings, forged pistons, Carillo connecting rods and so forth. One of the key secrets is the exact tune-up or technique used to get the engine past the detonation threshold to the super-hot, super-lean running condition. In short, an engine makes its most power running on the verge of denotation.

The key seems to be getting safely past 2250 degrees so not only is the tune-up critical…some special cam shaft timing is involved as well. Typical small block GM engines run very reliably at 1750 degrees F stabilized exhaust temperature. At 2250 degrees you are definitely in trouble from engine destroying denotation.So if you can get it to 2600 degrees or beyond you can control the burn rate of the hydrogen molecule in the fuel which is the major radical in the gas which causes denotation, you will make more power without denotation. Since the fuel economy standards are to be raised in the next 10 years, the auto makers are getting heavily involved in ‘heat vapor’ technology. Smokey was way ahead of his time and experimenting on a Fiero is another reason why this car is considered a true time capsule by the automotive industry ! I hope you enjoyed this small part of Fiero trivia.

Editors Note: Sorry for the delay in part two of Tom’s series on Smokey Yunik’s Fiero. Entirely my fault as I was busy looking for a new day job. There was lots of debate regarding the Smokey Yunik Fiero when the Tony Allers re-creation was re-discovered. You can read some of that debate at http://www.fiero.nl/forum/Archives/Archive-000001/HTML/20090219-2-070301.html . The car even made an appearance at one of Ed Parks open houses at The Fiero Factory. — Jeff Jones, Editor

Tom’s Corner – Smokey Yunick’s Hot Vapor Fiero

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Every year, someone asks about the fate of a potential break through engine technology developed by legendary racing engine builder and high performance tuner, Henry ‘Smokey’ Yunick, with his long time partner, Ralph Johnson. In the June 1984 issue of Hot Rod magazine, there was a report on a ‘hot vapor’ motor that Smokey developed using a 2.5 litre ‘Iron Duke’ 4 cylinder Fiero engine that met all the ‘80’s emission standards, made 250 horsepower and 250 Lbs/foot of torque and went from 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds and got as high as 51 MPG using premium gas!

The ‘hot vapor’ engine did all of this running unheard of high temperatures at an extremely lean air/fuel fixture ratio, which was seemingly in violation of accepted internal combustion engine physics. Traditional theory was to get rid of or manage heat. Smokey was channeling heat for improved performance, the exact opposite of conventional engineering science. Here is how Smokey did this : A standard four cycle internal combustion engine utilizes only about 25% of its potential energy to make power. The remaining 75% is lost out the exhaust or transferred as heat into the cooling system and radiator. Heat vapor technology attempts to recapture this heat energy using it to super heat the incoming air/fuel mixture to more than 400 degrees F going into the cylinder, thereby achieving a perfectly vaporized condition that it said to prevent denotation while ensuring complete combustion. Smokey was channeling heat from the water in the engine’s cooling system plus exhaust heat to progressively warm the system’s induction flow to the required temperature. He and Ralph Johnson were actually fooling around with this concept for more than 3 decades. Smokey did take out patents on the basic ‘hot vapor’ technology but took much of the knowledge with him to the grave.

As for the fate of the original ‘hot vapor’ engines, his daughter Trish still retains 4 different prototypes in long term storage, one is also in the Smithsonian Institute. A friend of Smokey’s, (Tony Allers) has the only good running engine. He built a Fiero that is identical to the original car, using the original drive train salvaged from the original Hot Rod Fiero by Smokey before Smokey returned it ti Pontiac for crushing. Allers drove his car for 2 and ½ years before donating it to the Don Garlits Museum where it is currently on display. This Fiero can smoke the tires at 60 MPH and passes all Tennesee emission tests. ‘Hot Vapor’ technology will not die. The time will come when engines will be fully adapted as a heat pump.

(editors note: This is the first of a 2 part series on Smokey Yunick’s Hot Vapor Fiero. The next Tom’s Corner will look more into the Hot Vapor technology and some of the debate about the effectiveness)

Tom’s Corner – Cruising

tomscornerA few years ago, our Fiero club (The Fiero Fanatics ) did a car show in Manitowoc Wisconsin and we stayed at a motel on the Saturday before the show. It was a lovely evening so we decided to take a cruise into town to a local drive-in for something to eat. This place turned out to be a local hang-out for the local car clubs to congregate every week-end and we were very surprised to find a huge selection of hot rods, custom cars and sports cars in attendance. I enjoyed this experience very much and it got me to think…why not do this more often ?

As you probably know, there are a myriad of drive-ins around our area in which to do this all summer long. Usually when we do a car show, we get flyers from other car clubs for up-coming events, but lately cruise-in flyers are becoming more prevalent as well. You can go on line to check out an event you may want to do if your time permits and the weather cooperates. All summer, there are cruises planned for other cities and towns in our area. Sometimes, it’s just a spur of the moment decision to hop in your Fiero and go out to eat and see the other cars at these cruise-ins. This can be a wonderful way to break up a week night.

Our Fiero club combined with the GTO club to cruise out to a car show in Madison recently and take the back roads. You should have seen the people look at all our cars as we traveled through the small towns to get to the show. This is another facet of our car that is overlooked and perhaps we can cruise together this summer if time permits to a drive-in near-by and enjoy each other’s company and check out all the other cars that assemble for a night of fun !

Check with your local club and see when their next cruise is, or organize one!

Below: Fieros stop by Sonic during NIFE’s Fierorama weekend.