150 HP 50 MPG two cylinder engine

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

The late Smokey Yunick (1923-2001) was one of the greatest automotive engineering minds the world has known. Smokey was also notorious for cheating and being so full of BS in NASCAR that stories about him are legendary. One of Smokey’s most legendary engineering feats (and rule violations) was building a 7/8 scale Chevelle and racing it in a NASCAR race.

It’s no surprise then, that one of his most significant accomplishments has people who doubt it’s very existence. The adiabatic engine project by Smokey was an engine design that promised unreal feats from a carbureted gasoline engine. The claims of a 150 horsepower, 50 miles-per-gallon, two cylinder engine are enough to set the tin-foil hat brigade chattering about a possible government-big oil conspiracy to keep Smokey’s invention out of the hands of Joe Consumer.

After a few Google searches and a few days looking around to see what I could find, I didn’t come up with much beyond theory and anecdotal evidence. I did notice a few patents, with this one being most likely the one that sets everyone’s brain gears a-whirring. Here’s the only diagram of anything remotely related to an adiabatic engine:


It seems this guy probably did more research than just about anyone, but most of the links are broken now, and the site’s a bit hard to read due to a language barrier.

Nearly every Smokey Yunick historian remembers the adiabatic Fiero, but no one can find evidence of it’s existence or an actual guide to the technology it possessed.

After reading a few days about Smokey, it seems to me that he would have enjoyed the controversy.

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Race Track to Ban Drifting

Thursday, April 26th, 2007


I just read an email from a fellow 24 Hours of LeMons racer that spoke of a local race track, Altamont Raceway, which is under fire to ban drifting amongst other things. The sport of drifting which is hugely popular here in the Bay Area, and all over the country for that matter, is all about controlled slides and getting your car as sideways as possible. It only makes sense to me that drifting be kept off of public streets and on the race tracks where it is regulated and safe.

The excellent automotive blog site, Jalopnik, wrote a great piece on the entire controversy. Here is an excerpt from their article:

Before we launch into the coming rant about how completely and utterly inane this potential decision to uphold a proposed ban on drifting at a race track is, we must state that the few times we ever went to Altamont Speedway in Altamont, California was for the Pumpkin Smash 400. The track was watered and soaped down, pumpkins were strewn onto all four corners, and a collection of the most dented cars ever assembled turned it all into a soupy mess of smash-up mayhem for 400 laps. This race is a wildly popular event.

Let the Kids Drift
Drifter.jpgDrifting is also wildly popular. The key difference is at the drift events we’ve been to there are many more spectators buying coilovers, RC cars, and churros then there are swilling beer and falling over. We politely remind Karin Rivard, the woman in the video complaining about alleged post-race track activities, and who looks as if she may be constipated, that she moved in next to a race track. A motorsports facility. A place where people go to race machines. These people that come to race also occasionally stay overnight in the same RV they used to tow their race cars to the race track. Overnight camping is another activity which Karin, her Hubby, and their Lawyer also want banned.

Link to the article


I have to say I totally agree with the Jalopnik boys on this one. The Altamont track has been around for a long time, and the fact that people can move somewhere and then complain about what was existed before they got there seems crazy to me. The Altamont race track is in the middle of no where with few houses around it. If you are going to have a place for racing loud cars this is it. If you want to live some place quiet there are plenty of places within the same relative area that are out of earshot of this track. Hopefully this ban won’t pass, because if it does, the LeMons might be the next thing to get banned from Altamont.

Short Video Clip From the Local News


-Bill Mertz

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Senna Through Time

Friday, April 20th, 2007


I normally despise computer animated video, especially when it’s trying to duplicate live action racing. But I have to say, this Youtube find is an exception to the rule. This video depicts Ayrton Senna racing all the open wheel cars he’s ever set foot in starting with go karts and ending with a Williams F1 car.

Good sound, imagery and action give this video a somewhat realistic feel. And even though it is quite obvious that this video was a total computer project it doesn’t take away from how cool it is to see all of Senna’s cars out on the track with his signature striped yellow helmet in the cockpit. This video also serves as a history lesson of Senna’s career and an interesting peak into the rise of one of Formula One’s greatest talents.


-Bill Mertz

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Group B: Powerful, Fast and Deadly

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

Renault R5 Turbo

If you are a fan of the World Rally Championship (WRC) today, than you have undoubtedly heard of the notorious Group B class rally cars from the early 1980s. First introduced in 1982 Group B was a direct replacement for Group 4 and Group 5 modified grand touring and touring prototype cars. What made the group B class so special was the relatively open nature of the rules. Low homologation numbers (200 cars), low minimum weight, and the unlimited use of forced induction meant the group B cars were destined to be rockets, with some cars putting out over 600 horsepower in the final development of the series. As the series progressed this uncapped performance would show its downside in the form of serious wrecks several of which proved to be fatal. With both spectators and drivers getting killed Group B was unable to sustain itself, coming to an end in 1986.

Metro 6R4

One of the neatest aspects of Group B was how many manufacturers jumped into the fray to compete. Leading the way was Audi’s all wheel drive Sport Quattro S1; a vehicle which despite its all wheel drive traction advantage would quickly prove too heavy to dominate the sport. Lancia competed with both the cool looking and successful 037 Rally and the Delta S4. Peugot burst onto the scene with the all wheel drive 205 T16 which had plenty of traction without the weight of the Audi’s giving the car the competitive edge. Other notable cars include Ford’s RS200, the Austin (MG) Metro 6R4, the Renault 5 Turbo, and the Porsche 959. There were also several Japanese manufacturers who entered cars and although they enjoyed only moderate success overall, their race cars were damn cool: Mitsubishi ran an all wheel drive Starion, Nissan campaigned the 240RS, Mazda developed a 4×4 version of the RX-7 and Toyota competed in a modified all wheel drive Celica.

Now that you know a bit of the history, here is a great video with narration that can explain it further. But the best part of course is the on course action and the thrilling sounds of these Group B monsters.

If you want to read up on Group B some more check out this link: Group B

-Bill Mertz

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For All You BMW Fans

Monday, April 9th, 2007


I love rally videos. I could watch them for hours on end. I think this is partially because the cars look more like street cars than vehicles from other racing series and partially because they are racing on public roads. But the biggest allure for me is the incredible car control that professional rally driver’s are able to display. I can vividly remember the first time I saw Colin McRae negotiate an uphill hairpin turn in his Subaru Impreza, quite an amazing feat.

This weekend a friend of mine sent me a great rally video featuring one of the coolest sport sedans in recent history, the E30 M3. Even if you don’t like BMW’s you have to admit the E30 is an awesome ride. The rear drive sedan has powerful naturally aspirated (in stock spec) four cylinder engine, aggressive but not overdone fender flares, and unlike the modern M3 is still small enough to be easily tossed about on a rally course. I really enjoyed this clip of Patrick Snijers hammering away in the BMW and hope you guys like it as well.

Stay tuned for some group B rally action later this week.

-Bill Mertz

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Great Formula One Gallery: Race Cars Through the Ages

Friday, April 6th, 2007


One of the coolest things about Formula One is that the race cars are about the most advanced road going machines around. The amount of money that gets poured into the development and engineering of these stunning vehicles is phenomenal, and hardly a week passes without some sort of tweak or change being implemented to the cars. It is almost as if they were alive, growing and adapting to their ever competitive peers. However it is rare that you get a chance to see old F1 cars side by side with the modern stuff.

I recently stumbled across another Blog that featured a great gallery of F1 race cars that gives a real evolutionary perspective on the sport. Seeing how the cars changed shapes and how the aerodynamics shifted from year to year is not unlike looking at the time line that starts with an ape walking on all fours and ends with a sophisticated human.

The gallery isn’t totally up to date but covers a large span of F1 history, running from 1950-2003, and showing all the different teams and their distinctive liveries. This is worth a look if you’re an F1 fan.

-Bill Mertz

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Superleague Formula: Will Soccer and Motorsports Mix?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007


When I first read the press release headline about Superleague Formula, I was under the impression that someone was trying to create a hybrid sport that combined soccer (football for everyone outside the states) and open-wheel auto racing. Here’s the headline, “Two Great Sports, One Thrilling Championship, Today heralds the launch of a major new initiative that brings together two of the world’s most popular sports: football and motor racing.”
Even though that sounds like a pretty ridiculous idea, and by ridiculous I mean awesome, the headline was misleading. The proposed Superleague Formula will in fact be another open-wheel racing league where the teams cars are done up in paint schemes of famous football clubs from around the world, and presumably they will have a direct affiliation with that club.


While this isn’t as exciting as open-wheel polo, it is still an interesting idea. I’m all for new racing leagues and venues, and this new series actually sounds pretty decent. This is partially due to the V12 engines which will be powering the series. There’s not much that can compare to the howl of a race prepped V12, and with Formula One dropping to V10s then V8s, CART relying on turbocharged V8s and IRL using a naturally aspirated V8 as well, the sound of open wheel racing just hasn’t been the same.

The single-seater formula series has already got the nod from many of the leading football teams including AC Milan, PSV Eindhoven, FC Porto and Olympiacos, and are in negotiations with Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Valencia (Spain); Inter Milan (Italy), Olympique Lyonnais and Olympique de Marseille (France); Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04 (Germany); Basel (Switzerland); Galatasaray (Turkey); Anderlecht (Belgium), Goteborg (Sweden) Moscow Lokomotiv (Russia); Boca Juniors (Argentina); Flamengo (Brazil); Club America (Mexico); Shanghai Shenua (China) and Samsung Bluewings (Korea) to fill the grid. The goal is to have a field of 20 cars for the first race which is tentatively scheduled for August 2008.

Proposed AC Milan car

Alex Andreu, the Spaniard who is heading up this campaign has high hopes for the series, “Extensive research shows that our concept will be embraced by fans of both football and motorsport. We conducted focus group research sessions with season ticket holders at 10 of the top clubs throughout Europe”.

“We have developed a strong investment package which has attracted investors from throughout the world. Our revenues will be shared equally between the football clubs, the teams and a strong ROI for our investors.”

The cars themselves are single-seater open-wheel chassis’s constructed by Elan Motorsport Technologies in the US. As mentioned above they sport acoustically magnificent 750bhp 4.2-litre V12 engines designed from Menard Competition Technologies and the cars will be heavily regulated to provide an equal playing field with emphasis on driver skill and pit strategy. The prize for each round will be over a million euros making it a worthwhile effort if you reach the top of the podium.

A1 Grand Prix, Czech Team Car

I hope that this series gets going and has a successful season, but I’m a bit skeptical about the whole idea. A few years back a very similar open-wheel series was born called the A1 Grand Prix. Billed as the World Cup of motor racing, this series sported cool looking spec open-wheeled cars with country-specific teams and drivers. It was a great idea to pit countries directly against one another in a motorsports setting, and the addition of many former driving greats running in this series added to its promise. I even watched a couple races and the action was great. But after two full seasons the future of the A1 GP is up in the air. It seems likely that the same might happen for Superleague Formula. Of course if they get the right TV deal, the right sponsors and fun to watch competitive racing it could be a huge success.

-Bill Mertz

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NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow

Friday, March 30th, 2007


This past weekend I had the chance to take in my first full NASCAR Nextel Cup race of the season (in between NCAA basketball), and it just so happens it was also the debut of the much anticipated “Car of Tomorrow”. Hearing the name “Car of Tomorrow” I expected to see a futuristic looking race car with updated suspension and lots of technological breakthroughs, but instead what I saw was a car that looked slightly more stock than the old NASCAR and sported a pronounced rear wing and front chin spoiler/air splitter. From what I’ve heard and read the “Car of Tomorrow” is was mostly modified with safety in mind. The car is less aerodynamic but has more down force, meaning lower speeds and more grip. I believe it is also slightly larger with a more central driver’s location providing better protection. During the race one of the commentators (Darrell Waltrip I believe) said that the car would be better named “the Car of Yesterday” as it reminded him of the golden age of NASCAR when the cars were closer to street vehicles.


The legend, Darrell Waltrip

Ironically the online spoof newspaper The Onion wrote a piece in their latest edition about “the Car of Yesterday”, but I don’t think it is quite what Waltrip had in mind.

Here is an excerpt from the article:
CHARLOTTE, NC—Only days after its long-anticipated, much-criticized Car of Tomorrow debuted to overwhelmingly negative reviews at the Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR responded to the wishes of competitors and fans alike by introducing the stylishly retro, technologically retrograde NEXTEL Cup Car of Yesterday.
Enlarge Image NASCAR Introduces

“This is exactly what everyone from race teams to race fans wanted all along—a real American racecar,” said Robby Gordon, standing in front of the Jim Beam ‘77 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme he will drive for the rest of the season. “To hell with things like spoilers, adjustable suspensions, disc brakes, shoulder belts, all that junk. People want to see us racing the cars they drive every day, and anyone who’s seen the parking lot at a NASCAR race will tell you that’s what the Car of Yesterday gives them.”


Check out the rest of the article here: The Onion
While The Onion can occasionally be to smart-ass for their own good, this article gave me a good chuckle, and it is nice to see them commenting on motor sports for a change. As for the actual car of tomorrow, the first race made it seem like there will be less carnage on the track with this new race car, which is a bad thing for most NASCAR fans. But safety is always good, and the race was still hotly contested, so hopefully the rest of the season will remain a closely fought contest.

-Bill Mertz

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First Latina to Run the Indy 500

Friday, March 23rd, 2007


Recently I wrote a story about women in motorsports; more specifically it was about attractive women in motorsports. Today, it was announced that one of those women is heading to the Indy 500 for the first time. Milka Duno, the first woman in history to win a major international sportscar race in North America, announced that she will be competing in the 2007 IndyCar Series with SAMAX Motorsport and Citgo Racing. This means she will become the first Latina to compete in the famed Indianapolis 500, which is part of the ‘07 schedule.


Duno, who is a Florida native, has been extremely successful on the track running in the Rolex Grand Am series where she scored three wins, seven podium appearances, 10 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 finishes since her 2004 rookie season. Just this year she finished second at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona giving her the record for the highest finish ever by a female driver in the 45-year history of the race.

While the jump to open wheel racing won’t be simple, Duno has high hopes that her new team’s experience will help to smooth the transition. SAMAX Motorsport’s IndyCar crew members have a fair amount of first hand IndyCar know-how. Team manager John Cummiskey has three Indy 500 wins under his belt and was involved in a second place effort with lead engineer Steve Challis in 2002.


It will be interesting to see how she progresses in the series, especially competing against so many other budding stars.

-Bill Mertz

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Ode to the Pinto

Friday, March 9th, 2007


Before last month I knew very little about the Ford Pinto. I knew it was from the 70’s, rear drive, not attractive, and had a serious problem with bursting into flames when it caught fire. So why my sudden interest in a vehicle that has been universally condemned by society as one of the ultimate lemons? As it turns out my team for the 24 hours of LeMons is campaigning not one but three Pintos (sub-$500 dollar Pintos I should add) under the team name Squadra Pinto. It only made sense that if I was going to race and work on one of these cast aside Fords I better do a little homework to see what I was getting into.

When the pinto burst onto the scene in 1971 (similar to how it burst into flames) it was one of the first American built vehicles to enter the sub-compact category here in the US. Ford built the Pinto to compete with some of the smaller import cars like the VW Beetle and Toyota Corolla. The fact that those three cars would all be considered competitors is definitely a sign of the times. Eventually Chevy and AMC jumped into the ring with the Vega and Gremlin respectively, and while the Pinto often lost in the magazine shootouts it proved to be the most popular of these American models from a sales stand point.

Cruising Wagon!

The Pinto had a classic layout with a front longitudinally mounted four cylinder engine driving a live rear axle. The front suspension was double wishbones with coil springs while the rear was the tried and true (aka old and unsophisticated) leaf springs under the solid axle. With unibody construction, rack and pinion steering with optional power assist, optional power brakes and an available four speed stick, the Pinto was a pretty good starting point. In fact, on paper the car is pretty damn similar to my MGB (solid axle rear, independent front, 4 banger etc..) Add in the different body styles–two-door coupé with a conventional trunk, three-door hatchback called the Runabout, two-door station wagon, the Ford Pinto Cruising Wagon complete with rear round bubble window (Mad Max) and a top of the line Pinto Squire with fake wood paneling–and you have a car with some real selling points, well mediocre selling points… for the 1970s.


Unfortunately, as the story goes, Ford rushed the Pinto into production quite quickly. When they did their crash testing they found that the Pinto had a problem with gas tank related ruptures when it took a hit from the back. Tooling was already in place when the defect was discovered, so Ford officials decided to push ahead with production. In a great example of “what not to do” Ford did a cost benefit analysis on dealing with the faulty Pinto and decided to keep it in production until 1977 before making any major safety changes to the cars problem area. They figured it would be cheaper to settle claims than to recall the cars. As a result over 500 Pinto related burn deaths (some estimate it closer to 900) have been recorded. Eventually Ford was forced to recall all affected vehicles and ended up losing millions of dollars and tarnishing their name over a car that could have made them a tidy profit (they sold several million Pintos). It should also be mentioned that in 1991 Gary Schwartz refuted the number of Pinto burn victims claiming the actual number was more like 27. It should also be noted that Ford came very close to installing a bladder inside the gas tank which would have prevented most of the ruptures, but hindsight is 20/20.

Pinto Crash Test

So after hearing all of this you might ask why I would want to race one of these things. Well the car makes a good race car platform. It is relatively light weight, has sturdy construction, is rear wheel drive and has reliable and simple components. We plan on defusing the bomb by moving the gas tank location, and with a few other safety and go fast modifications we should have 3 good little Pinto race cars. Winning might not be in our destiny (although I sure as hell am going to try) but if we can finish, ok maybe finish in the top ten, I will be thrilled.


Vive Pinto!

-Bill Mertz

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Hottest Woman in Motorsports?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

The lovely Danica Patrick

In the last couple of years there have been several notable female drivers who have emerged onto the main stage of motor sports. In the male dominated realm of auto racing, names like Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher have become common place. However, these women aren’t always applauded for their talents; in fact many in the auto racing fraternity simply like to talk about them because they are attractive members of the opposite sex. Nothing wrong with that, so long as you give them credit for playing with the boys on a playing field that is probably tilted slightly in the man’s favor (unless you’re Robby Gordon, who complained about a woman having an unfair weight advantage). I for one am all for hearing about these women drivers in the media, whether it is in glamour magazines or sports news. I think diversity in motor sports is a wonderful thing, and the more attention it gets the better.

But there is one thing that bothers me (warning this is where I get a bit shallow); some of these girls get classified as “hot” just because they are female racers. And while I’m probably not the best person to make a judgment call on who is hot and who is not, I can’t help but think that there are other attractive women in the world of racing that are flying under the radar. Not to take anything away from Danica and Sarah, they are both talented racers and not unattractive, but I just don’t think they are as “hot” as they hype makes them out to be. In fact there are several other drivers who are at least in the same league in both looks and talent; Katherine Legge who drives in Champ Car, Milka Duno who is a rising star in the Rolex Sports Car Series and Erica Enders who runs a Pro Stock drag racer are a few of the more prominent examples. But there are two in particular who I feel rank above the rest.

Ashley Force

Today I was flipping through AutoWeek’s NASCAR fan guide when I discovered one of the drivers who gets my partial vote for hottest woman driver in motor sports, her name is Ashley Force. Now I have to admit that part of the reason she gets my vote is because she is the daughter of one of the greatest personalities in all of racing, John Force. It appears that Force, who is a legend in the drag racing world, has passed some of his talents on to his second eldest daughter Ashley. The 24 year old Ashley started out running dragsters in the Super Comp sportsman category, but she quickly graduated to bigger and badder things, namely Alcohol/Fuel dragsters capable of five second quarter mile times and 270-mph trap speeds. This year Ashley is continuing her climb up the drag racing ladder and will be join her father as part of a four-car team running an 8000 horsepower, nitro-burning Ford Mustang Funny Car. Oh and did I mention that she is hot. The Force family also has two daughters younger than Ashley who are both racing drag cars as well. I guess talent really does run in the family.


Leilani Munter

The other half of my vote goes to up and coming NASCAR driver Leilani Munter. Munter, who has done her fair share of stunt work in Hollywood, has been ascending the ranks in NASCAR feeder series’ lately. She’s also been featured in numerous magazines including FHM, Men’s Journal, and Corvette Quarterly (woooo hooo Corvettes man!). If she ever breaks into Nextel Cup tickets are going to be very hard to come by.


Vanina Ickx

I would also like to give an honorable mention to Vanina Ickx, daughter of the great Grand Prix driver Jackie Ickx. The beautiful Belgian native has had a strong career in sports car and endurance racing and has done her family name proud.

-Bill Mertz

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Senna laps an NSX

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007


A good friend of mine who is huge Ayrton Senna fan sent me a great Senna video today. Unfortunately I missed out on most of Senna’s racing days, I was only 11 years old or so and had yet to develop an appreciation for the great F1 drivers of the time. But thanks to online videos it is possible to relieve many of these driver’s greatest moments.

For all you non-F1 types, Ayrton Senna was a Brazilian born driver who raced for some of the top teams in Formula One (McLaren/Honda, Lotus and Williams). He was best known for his ability to throw down incredibly quick qualifying laps and for his uncanny ability to pilot an F1 car at high speeds in wet weather, the latter earning him the nickname “The Rain Master”. Senna’s brilliant career was cut short in 1994 when he was involved in a fatal accident during the San Marino Grand Prix at the Imola circuit in Italy. Prior to Senna’s accident fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello had been involved in a serious wreck in Friday qualifying. Then on Saturday Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger died in a fatal accident during practice. The following Sunday during the race Senna’s car broke traction and went off the track at Tamburello corner hitting an unprotected concrete barrier. Telemetry shows he left the track at 310 km/h (193 mph) and was able to slow the car down to 218 km/h (135 mph) in less than two seconds before hitting the wall. There is some controversy over the cause of the accident, whether it was a result of driver or mechanical failure. There is also some disagreement on the actual cause of death, but most people believe that he died at the track due to massive head trauma caused by a tire or piece of suspension debris from the car.


When Senna was driving for McLaren/Honda he developed a close relationship with the Honda engineers that built the power plants for his Formula 1 car. As a result he was asked to fine-tune the Honda NSX’s (Acura stateside) suspension setting during its final development stages. He tested the car at Suzuka Circuit with chief NSX engineer Shigeru Uehara on hand to listen to Senna’s input. Senna’s main critique was that the NSX lacked chassis stiffness, a problem which the engineers fixed with additional reinforcements before the car went into production.

Here is some footage of Senna putting the NSX through its paces at Suzuka. Note that he is driving in slip on loafers…. ahhh the lifestyle.

Bill Mertz

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Going Racing: Firesuits

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007


The second running of the 24 Hours of Lemons is coming up quickly and this year I hope to be driving as part of an all Pinto Team. Most of the details about the team are either fuzzy or top secret, however there have been some upgrades to the race that are crystal clear and they mostly have to do with safety.

After last years event everyone came away unscathed but there were a few incidents that raised some eyebrows and left people thinking “What if..?” One was a VW Golf that got put on its roof at low speed. As a result window nets and door bars have been added to the list of race car requirements along side the already mandatory safety harnesses and roll bars.

The other major incident that had people talking had to do with a Volvo wagon that was leaking gas out of its filler. The car was black flagged and came into the pits, the teammates disheartened that such a minor problem could take them out of the race. One generous minded mechanic who shall remain nameless came rushing over eager to help them get back into the fray even though he was on a different team. He grabbed a spare blue nitrile disposable glove and zip tied it over the filler neck to keep gas from splashing out onto the track. At the time it seemed like a good fix, in fact it worked pretty well for awhile until the glove started to fill up with the excess gas that sloshed out of the tank creating a potentially explosive and flammable hand that waved at everyone who passed on the right hand side. Inevitably the hand broke and the Volvo caught fire, circling the tiny track a few times before the race was temporarily stopped and the car was extinguished. This car fire prompted two new safety requirements. The first is that all filler necks have to be moved inside the car, away from impact points. The second requirement is that drivers have to wear SFI rated driver’s suits.


Being the cheapo that I am, the second requirement had me a little disheartened. Driving suits are expensive. Last year I simply wore mechanic’s overalls and some fire proof gloves that I borrowed from a firefighting friend of mine who had just been at a large Marijuana bust where they had to burn a large field of weed plants. That’s another story, but in short the gloves smelled potentially of the sticky icky. The out fit worked fine, and best of all it was free.

Knowing that I had to buy one of these suits I hit up Ebay to see if I could find one for a bargain. Ebay was flooded with drivers suits some as cheap as $50, but I quickly noticed that some of the SFI ratings of the various suits were different. They all started with “SFI 3.2A” but then they had different numbers after that. I was getting ready to bid on one particular suit that read “SFI 3.2A/5″ when it occurred to me that it might be important to find out what that “/5″ actually meant.

After a quick search I found the SFI website and read it over to see what exactly SFI was and how a suit with their rating would help me to survive a fire. According to their website the SFI Foundation, Inc. (SFI) is “a non-profit organization established to issue and administer standards for specialty/performance automotive and racing equipment.” They exist to help keep racing safe for people like me. Their rating system for fire suits is based on how long a person wearing the suit can be exposed to the heat of a fire before they get second degree burns or blistering.

Here is their official explanation:
“The driver suit spec 3.2A tests a garment’s fire retardant capabilities. The spec contains a rating system based on the garment’s capability to provide Thermal Protective Performance (TPP) in the presence of both direct flame and radiant heat. The purpose of the TPP is to measure the length of time the person wearing the garment can be exposed to a heat source before incurring a second degree, or skin blistering, burn.
The TPP rating is the product of exposure heat flux and exposure time. The TPP results can be converted to the time before a second degree burn occurs. The higher the garment rating, the more time before a second degree burn.”

The ratings go like this:
3.2A/1 gives 3 seconds until a second degree burn
3.2A/3 gives 7 seconds
3.2A/5 gives 10 seconds
3.2A/10 gives 19 seconds
3.2A/15 gives 30 seconds

The suits are also tested for their resistance to flames, how much heat zippers transfer and thread heat resistance.


After reading the various ratings I went back to the suit I was bidding on and looked at it with new appreciation. Most suits I had been looking at were only /1’s but this /5 would give me an additional 7 seconds to get out of the car. 10 seconds isn’t very long to get out of a burning race car, especially when you consider that you have a bulky helmet on, you’re strapped in with a harness, the windows have nets on them that need to be removed, the car has steel bars welded across the door entry, and the doors themselves may be welded shut. But ten seconds is a hell of a lot longer than 3 seconds. And with the addition of Nomex underwear you gain another 3 or 4 seconds. With that in mind I bid on the suit and won it at a very reasonable price. Hopefully no one will put their suits SFI ratings to the test come race day, but it is good to know that if something happens you have that added measure of safety on your side.

-Bill Mertz

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Legendary HKS Skyline R33 Drag Car to Be Retired

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007


If you are a fan of import car scene, drag racing, turbo chargers or the video game Gran Turismo, then you no doubt have encountered the HKS Skyline GT-R R33 drag car. The HKS Skyline is truly a legend in the drag racing world. With all wheel drive and a monster turbo the HKS sponsored and tuned vehicle was a monster at the strip. In fact the HKS GT-R Skyline has held the title of fastest all wheel drive drag car for almost 5 years with an amazing 7.671 second pass at Japan’s Sendai circuit in October 2001. Not only that but the HKS drag Skyline was also the fastest drag car in Gran Turismo 3 (or was it 2).

The R33 Nissan Skyline GT-R was quite a performer right off the showroom floor, but after it was handed over to the tuner company HKS the skyline became a screamer with over 1000 horsepower driving all four wheels. Now HKS has announced that it will be retiring the monster Nissan. The decision wasn’t an easy one, but the vehicle was in a state of disrepair. Along with a full motor overhaul, the Skyline needed many parts that were no longer available from Nissan and it had serious chassis woes due to the extreme torsional forces exerted upon it during racing. Without major surgery the GT-R would not be safe to run. The car will most likely become a static display now, but its prowess on the drag strip won’t be forgotten.

Here’s a clip of the HKS R33 in action:

-Bill Mertz

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Millen Wows the Crowd in a Toyota Tacoma

Monday, January 22nd, 2007


For those who don’t already know, Rod Millen isn’t just your run of the mill race car driver. Millen was born in New Zealand where he loved to surf and sail and occasionally pop around in a dune buggy. His love for cars, and particularly sliding them, grew into an obsession and quickly Rod Millen became involved in the New Zealand rally scene. After proving his worth in the southern hemisphere Millen came to California where he continued to show his rally prowess. He signed on with Toyota’s off road racing division and became a hero to thousands of little kids by dominating the Mickey Thompson Stadium Off-Road Racing series. But the real legend of Rod Millen involves a Colorado mountain called Pikes Peak.

This 14,110 ft. mountain is home to possibly the greatest hill climb in motor sports. With a massive change in altitude, 156 dangerous curves, slippery dirt and sometimes inclement weather the 12.42 mille Pikes Peak hill climb is not for the faint of heart. For Rod Millen this is simply another day at the office. Pikes Peak is Millen’s home turf and he has proven himself time and time again in a myriad of different vehicles and classes. In 1994 Millen charged is all wheel drive Toyota Celica turbo to the top of the mountain in a record time of 10:04.06, a record which still stands today. This is just one of many titles and records that Millen holds on what many call “Millen’s Mountain”.

In 1998 Millen and his company MillenWorks built a custom Toyota Tacoma race truck to bring to Pikes Peak. The low slung rally truck won the unlimited class at Pikes Peak two years in a row. Millen decided that it might be fun to bring some of his Pikes Peak vehicles out to another great hill climb, the Goodwood Festival of speed, so in 2002 he brought his record holding 850 horsepower Celica to the hill at Goodwood and put on quite a show. Not to be outdone by… himself he vowed to return the next year with something even faster. That of course would be the 900 horsepower turbocharged Toyota Tacoma, and again Millen wowed the crowd with an even faster run than the previous year.

A friend of mine alerted me to this great video of Millen’s Goodwood run from YouTube.

Running his Celica

Running his Tacoma

-Bill Mertz

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About Automotive Blogger

Some people use their automobiles only to get from Point A to Point B. You know there's more than that. You get mad when someone makes a remark about your car that's less than flattering. You get riled when a cool car is destroyed in a straight-to-video movie. You realize when a new car doesn't deserve it's name of a great car of the past. When you see someone driving a boring vehicle, you feel sorry for them. You know it's not the destination that counts - it's the journey. Welcome home gearheads. Welcome home, car freaks. Welcome to the site that fuels your automotive obsession -

Automotive Blogger Author(s)
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