Archive for January, 2012

Correction… road racing is expensive! I’m not just talking expenses to build a car, or even the necessary safety equipment (which is a requirement in all automotive racing), but rather the sheer dollars it takes just to get your car on a track, let alone be competitive.

But I admit, with a background in drag racing, I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to the cost of participating in racing. As drag racers know, it can be as simple as a helmet and $35 bucks on any given night to get your car on the drag strip for a local test-n-tune! Want to step it up a notch? A pair of $300 drag radials or slicks goes a long way for improving times, and can last you many passes down the ¼ mile. When you’re ready to step up to sanctioned drag events… Hell, you don’t even have to pick a class! Bracket racing can give racers a chance to be competitive and win (cash/prizes) at any event/level.

 

 

The first Mustang I raced competitively, way back in 1998.

 

 

 

 

Stock 5.0 motor with a Vortech Supercharger, Tremec (3550) 5 speed, and a few bolt-ons. Good for consistent low 12’s.

 

 

The same car, many $$$ later. Built motor with 511 horsepower at the wheels. Good for Mid 10’s all day. (Ah, to be young and flush with disposable income again!) The supercharger whined so loud (and the huge cam shook the car so violently), old ladies would roll down their windows at traffic lights to tell me something was wrong with my car!

But road racing is different. Entry fees for NASA High Performance Driving Events (HDPE) and SCCA Performance Driving Events (PDX) start at the $200 to $300 range (not including insurance and other fees), and that’s just to get you seat time on the track.

Tires can run you $1000 or more, and depending on your driving skill/number of laps, can end up lasting less than one track event. And when you’re ready to step up to serious head to head racing – the rules and regulations for each class are so massive, in my opinion, you need a law degree to figure them out. (More on this in future posts.)

Sure, there are some racing classes that specify cars be worth $500 or less (not including safety equipment), such as the 24 hours of lemons, but the entry fees/expenses are still costly, and frankly, my car may look like it’s worth $500 bucks right now, but it won’t fit into that class.

If only I was a millionaire with an unlimited budget for this build, but sadly I’m not (sigh). So what’s an aspiring race driver to do? Build the Z as cost effectively as I can – which means used parts, and lots of them. (Sponsors are critical too, but that’s the topic of another post.)

I’ve been scouring places like Z forums, craigslist, and eBay (although the latter is mostly filled with knock off Chinese junk these days), looking for the best “used” parts my money can buy. And I’ve amassed a collection of parts at 30 to 50% off their retail value.

I recently answered an ad on twinturbo.net for a Z being parted out. The ad was sans specific, and mostly listed basic facts about the car. But it was close (only 2 hours away). Being a naturally aspirated 2+2, I wasn’t expecting to find much. I went down looking to grab a fender and good driver’s side headlight. To my surprise, I found this!

The car had a J-Spec bumper, Ground Control Coilovers, Stillen (Gen 2) Adjustable UCA’s, POP Air Filter, beautifully recovered manual seats (to save weight over my heavy power seat), and various other odds and ends I needed to repair my Z. Score!

To top it all off, the Z’s owner couldn’t have been a nicer guy. The car was his baby, but after the motor expired to that great big junkyard in the sky, the expense of fixing vs. cars value made it not worth repairing. I stripped the car clean.

 

I know cars are inanimate objects, but we can grow quite attached regardless of the fact. So in a weird way I felt bad, almost like a vulture picking apart a carcass, for that very reason. He just wanted the parts from his baby to go to a good home, and I agreed they would. I still email him with updates of the car’s progress.

 

 

Look out for future updates as I learn to weld, build the Z, introduce sponsors, and make the documentary! Stay tuned.

Jay

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Rebirth!

Posted: January 23, 2012 in 300ZX Build
Tags: ,

Is that a car, or some sort of lunar space craft?” That was the question posed by a passerby while loading the Z onto a tow truck after a trip to the local body shop.

The funny metal tube wrapped around the bumper support was my homemade intercooler bypass. The Z comes from the factory with two intercoolers (one for each turbo). Unfortunately, the driver’s side was destroyed in the accident, and the car won’t run properly without it. So I devised this temporary fix from some flexible exhaust pipe bought at the local auto parts store. She ain’t pretty, but gaining the ability to move the car under its own power was a real lifesaver.

There are limits to what I can do in my home garage, and although I plan to do much of the body work myself, straightening a unibody is beyond my ability. Special high dollar equipment is required (like a frame machine), and best left to professionals. 

Enter Eagle Valley Auto Body, a real old school “mom & pop” body shop. Today’s shops won’t touch a car like my Z – either they’re too busy doing collision repair for insurance companies (big $$), or they’re just plain not interested in taking on a project where the owner does the finishing work. I can’t say I blame them, there’s no money in it (as well as potential liability if an owner doesn’t fix the car properly and an accident occurs). But a good buddy of mine knew the owner of Eagle Valley, and he agreed to take on the job. Yes! We’re in business!

The Z’s lower rocker panel was also heavily damaged in the crash. But if you look closely, there’s a long strange crack visible in the center of the quarter panel, away from any accident damage. Remember my passing reference in the “My Fairlady” post wishing we brought a magnet along when looking to buy the car? Well here’s why…

 

 

The entire drivers side quarter panel was made of Bondo! As soon as they started pulling on the frame machine, it all cracked off. We’re talking Bondo as thick as 3/8″ or more. Someone had covered up some pretty serious accident damage. What a bunch of jerks!


Eagle Valley spent about a week pulling the rest of the unibody frame to within spec, and smoothing the existing metal (hammer & dolly style) as best they could. They really had their work cut out for them, especially since I specified NOT to order any new sheet metal if at all possible (to keep costs down).

Although the car’s still rough around the edges, and there’s lots of further metal massaging to be done, Eagle Valley got me to a good starting point.

In hindsight, I should have just stripped the car of everything good and found a clean shell to put it all in (and I may still go that route if a good one comes along). But I have to keep reminding myself that this will be a track car, and there’s a good chance it’ll get banged up out on the circuit anyways.

Jay

My Fairlady

Posted: January 21, 2012 in 300ZX Build
Tags: , ,

I still remember the day we picked her up. “She” was a 1990 300zx Twin Turbo with only 64K on the clock. My cousin Mike called and said, “I found a Z on eBay, come with me to Florida to pick her up!”

He wanted my help evaluating the car before laying down his hard earned cash (and a second driver behind the wheel for the 20 hour trip back). I had owned two Twin Turbo Z’s over the years, so I knew these cars a bit better than he did. We flew into Tampa and I checked the car over as best I could (without tools or a lift), and agreed it looked pretty clean (if only I had brought along a magnet… but more on that in future posts).

The car had a bunch of decent mods – Intake, Exhaust, Turbo Upgrades, some Suspension goodies… So Mike forked over the cash and we began the trip home.

Flash-forward about a year and the car was treating him well. Minor maintenance issues here and there, but overall mechanically sound. Until the unthinkable happened…

We live in the Northeast, which most car guys North of the Mason-Dixon can tell you, means storing your “baby” during the snowy winter months. But Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress!

After losing his storage space, Mike asked a friend to move the car over to a new garage he had just rented. Unaware of the power the Z produced (and unable to handle it), his friend got on the GO pedal a little to hard and ended up in a ditch, but not before taking out a telephone pole along the way!

Unfortunately with only liability coverage (he removed collision while in storage), and $7000 in estimated damages, Mike was unable to repair the car. So it sat for over two years.

At that time, I was fresh off the two-year restoration of a 69 Mustang I planned to road race – much to the dismay of my fiancée.

See, we first met while driving that Mustang. So for her, the car holds significant sentimental value. The thought of me abusing it on a racetrack was none too appealing.

Then my cousin came calling again.

Mike was moving out of state, and the thought of dragging the Z with him, like a 3600-pound weight on his back, wasn’t something he was interested in. He wanted to unload it, fast! We talked it over and I agreed to purchase the car, not really sure my plans for it.

Then it hit me, make the Z my race car! (Sparing the Mustang a life of track duty in the process.) The wheels started turning. I always wanted to learn to weld… and I did some bodywork back in high school… I can totally fix it myself!

And so the saga begins.

Jay

I lost my right hand at age 11, but never let that stop me from pursuing ambitions in life, especially my love for cars!

I’ve been building cars since 16 and am self-taught. I’m a pretty determined guy, and capable of doing almost anything despite the loss of my hand. If I run into issues because of it – I fabricate a tool, strap something to my arm… whatever it takes to make it work!

I’m in the early stages of building a Nissan 300ZX for track duty (road racing), the majority of which will be filmed for a documentary about amputees pursuing their dreams. But first a little background…

I was a drag racer for most of my life, and campaigned a self-built 10 sec. Mustang in the 90’s, as well as many other cars over the years. As I got older, I got the itch for road racing to really push my racing/driving skills and the limits of my disability. Out of this came the idea for the film.

I’m a Documentary Editor by trade – and worked on films for HBO, PBS, & ESPN to name a few.

In the beginning, I would have never thought of doing a film like this, as I don’t like to consider myself “handicapped” in any way – but when people would hear about me building cars in my garage on the weekends they would always say, “That would make a great documentary.”

So the idea for the film was born. The overall theme of the film is that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and that we (amputees) do this for the love of it like anyone else, not because we have anything to prove.

I hope to inspire fellow amputees (and able-bodied people alike) to make the most of life and follow their dreams despite limitations. The goal for the film is to produce a theatrical doc that would play the film festival circuit and possibly get picked up for broadcast (TV, theatrical, etc).

So please follow along and enjoy the ride!

Jason Schneider