In the mid-Eighties, in the United States, there was a series of races known as ‘Showroom-Stock’; and TRDC-Member Ted Schumacher was in the thick of it racing both TR7s and TR8s. The series was initially sponsored by Playboy, a top-shelf publication well-known to all, and - in 1986 - by Escort Radar Detectors. This month we start with ‘A Hole in the Darkness’, reference to what can be seen eighteen hours into a 24-hour endurance race…. Editor
A Hole in the Darkness - Ted Schumacher
Its 3:00 am, 1200 miles driven and I’m feeling a bit sleepy. One problem - I’m in a race car and driving in a 24 hour race. Plus there’s an hour left in my shift! Its goal setting time - I need to focus on the pair of tail-lights in front of me. The goal is to catch - and pass - that set of lights, then repeat the maneuver for the next set of lights. This forces you to concentrate, but you have to catch and pass without putting any unnecessary stain on the car. There are still nine hours to go! Endurance racing requires running the car at 95%+ lap times and a ‘save the car’ mind set. What can be done to save the brakes [pit-crew members hate changing hot brakes], get one, two or even five more laps from this fuel load, and lessen the strain on the driveline? How can we eliminate one pit stop, make a stop faster [the drivers change on every stop] and reduce the time it takes to do a driver change? All these - and a thousand other questions - need to be successfully answered.
Now how do we answer these questions? The answer is, you can’t, but still you do everything in your power to try! You start with basic preparation. All bolts, shocks, bushings, cooling and fuel systems are tested and replaced if needed [yes, it does hurt to throw away a 32-row oil-cooler that cost $300, but it’s cheaper than a multi-thousand dollar engine]. Suspension components are crack-tested. The engine, transmission and the differential are rebuilt and modified for power and longevity. This completes the basic package. Now it’s off to the track for testing of the race package. We’re very fortunate to have Goodyear on board as a sponsor, and they provided tires, technical support - and even rented race tracks - for us to use for testing. We would spend a day at a track looking for what combinations would, or would not, work. Every lap was recorded using in-car cameras and lap times. Temperatures, tire pressure and fuel consumption were also recorded. We’d also go out and do ‘segment’ times, where we’d run a certain corner repeatedly. Entry and exit times would be recorded, changes would be made and then the whole process would be done over again. When we found a combination that worked well, we knew that faster lap times were possible. Normal procedure was to run five or six laps to get everything warmed up and all the parts speaking to each other. Then we’d bring the car into the pits and up in the air on stands. The wheels would be pulled off and a thorough overall examination made - wheel bearings, bolts, any wear mark on a suspension component, brake lines or anything else remotely suspicious. Next we’d pump the tank dry. With absolutely no fuel in car we’d fill it with a known amount of fuel , normally five US gallons. The car is then sent out and run at race speeds, with every lap meticulously recorded. We run the car until it runs out of fuel. As we enter the ‘window’ for running out, the crew and driver are in constant radio communication. As soon as the car gives any indication of running out - the engine stumbles exiting a turn, there’s a hesitation where there had been no hesitation the lap before - the crew chief is immediately notified. The position of the car on the track is noted and car continues. Every stumble, however small, is radioed in and when the car finally runs dry, we know exactly how many laps are available after the initial indication of low fuel. We also try to weave the car back-and-forth to see if any additional fuel slopping around in the bottom of the tank can be picked up. This information lets the crew-chief decide, during a race, when to call the car in for a fuel stop. If we know that we can go three laps after the first indication, this gives the crew a heads-up. The crew-chief will radio the driver that we will pit in two laps and then counts down the laps. In this example, we have a three-lap cushion and we don’t take chances. Since the team is already aware of how many laps per tank the car will run, this really helps with the planning of the overall pit strategy. The crew comes out and tows the car back to the pits. So what did we learn? At this track, with this temperature, and with known weather conditions, we can go ‘X’ many laps on a fuel load and knowing this data makes sure we can maximize on track time, and limit time spent in the pits.
Because of our deal with Goodyear, tyre cost was not an issue. At most tracks we could scrub off speed by turning into a corner, and turning back out, several times before making the actual turn - this would scrub off speed without having to use the brakes. The car would be two or three seconds a lap below the track record but you could get by using the brakes only two or three times a lap. Since we changed tyres every stop, the extra wear was not an issue . Speaking of Goodyear, we had our own tyre engineer for both test days and races, he was a highly valuable asset. Every time the car came into the pits Andy [our tyre engineer] was there to measure tyre temperature, wear, pressure as well as several other items. On race week-ends Andy would evaluate air temperature, track temperature, humidity, track surface and the tyre compound. Based on this information, he’d tell us what lap to use for qualifying. You need to qualify on the 3rd lap. So, out I go. Make sure the traffic is such that we can get a clean lap and go for it on the 3rd lap.
Let me explain the qualifying procedure. All cars were on the course for thirty minutes. Because of the amount of traffic - and the fact that Andy said the 3rd lap - we wait patiently in the pits until the traffic has sorted out a bit. Then out we go. There may be only ten minutes left in the session but we need a clean lap. Lap One warms up the car - fluids, tyres, and driver! Lap Two and the car is up to speed, and Lap Three is GO FOR IT! If we cannot get a clean run its back to the pits, mount four new tyres and do it all over again. If Lap Three was good, we’d run another couple laps for insurance. Even though everything was the same, the succeeding laps were always fractionally slower than Lap Three - the tyres were starting to lose just a little of their edge.
The name of the game is trying to maximize the amount of time spent on track, and minimizing the time spent in the pits. Let’s continue on with some of the other things we found. The longer the car stays out during a race the fewer pit stops are needed, and the main item needed to keep the car out longer is fuel. We found that if we raised the right-hand side of the car during refueling, we could crowd in an extra half -gallon of fuel. By tilting the car fuel would go up into the filler neck, which on the TR8 is both fairly large in diameter and relatively long. An additional half-gallon per pit stop added up to making one less stop during a 24-hour race.
Another thing we did to speed up the pit stops involved the driver change - we’d change drivers on every stop, using three drivers for a 24-hour race and two drivers for a 12-hour race. Having more than three drivers meant that someone was out of the car for several hours while the other drivers cycled through, and this got you too far removed from the flow of the race. You needed to go out and spend time getting acclimated if you’d been out of the car for any extended period of time. To speed up driver changes we fastened each strap of the shoulder harness to its corresponding side of the seat belt. This way when the out-going driver exited and the new driver entered, no time was lost looking for the seat belt/shoulder harness. For those of you not familiar with a racing restraint system there’s a lap-belt - three inches wide - and two shoulder harness as well as an ‘anti-submarine’ belt that was attached to the floor. This -belt came up between your legs and attached to the main seat belt. The purpose of this belt was, in case on an accident, to keep the driver from sliding out under the seat belts/shoulder harness. You had to get all these belts gathered up and correctly fastened - anything that reduced this time was a big plus.
Under the series rules the cars were not allowed to have racing seats. However, nothing was said about not being able to repair a damaged seat so off to the upholstery shop we go. Once there we had the driver’s seat taken apart. New foam, something much firmer than the original, was installed. The upholstery shop also took the opportunity to beef-up the side bolsters, making them much firmer as well! This kept you in a better driving position, and a good racing seat is worth anything up to a second a lap. If you are hanging on in a corner, trying to stay behind the wheel, you’re not as fast. Concentration should be dedicated to driving, without the distraction of trying to hold yourself in place!
Some seemingly minor mechanical items could also make the difference between time spent on track and time wasted in the pits. We always started with a slightly used set of belts for both the power steering and water pump/alternator. New belts always stretch, so we would ‘run in’ a new set during a test session. These would then be set aside and mounted for the race. Speaking of belts, we always had a spare set ready. The car had a brace between the strut towers; commonly known as a strut-brace. A spare, pre-stretched power steering belt was cable-tied to the left-hand side, and a water pump/alternator belt was cable-tied to the right-hand side. Another precious second saved - the belts were fastened to the brace on the side where they would be needed. All the flexible lines were made extra-long - brake, clutch and fuel. This way there was less chance of stressing the line in case of an ‘incident’. The battery was mounted on a pad that soaked up vibration. Both the starter and the alternator wiring harnesses were attached using quick-disconnect fittings, and to speed replacement the new component, should it be needed, already had a matching harness installed. So it became a case of just unplugging the old unit and installing a new one that was already wired and pre-prepared. Yes, these units were also test run before packing!
Testing also showed that the power-steering pump wanted to blow out fluid during hard cornering. We eventually solved this problem by installing a vented cap with a hose going to a catch bottle. Another testing -discovered ‘fix’ was using the hand brake to adjust the rear brakes. Since the TR7\TR8 had a disc \ drum-brake set-up, we could get through a 24-hour race using only one set of brake shoes. However, as the shoes wore down the pedal travel would increase. Experimenting with the hand brake handle during testing, we found we could ‘adjust’ the rear shoes by pulling on a click or two - much better than adjusting the brakes on a pit stop, and it was controllable! You could back-off the rear brakes by just releasing the hand brake! Depending on the track we’d use a harder compound brake pad on the outside of the caliper. Since the outside of the caliper doesn’t get as much cooling as the inside - the outside is covered by the wheel - we could even-out brake wear and hopefully eliminate pit stop for brakes.
Now that you’ve had an idea of what’s involved in endurance racing, it’s time to see what happens on a typical Race Day!
What do thirty people, packing thousands of dollars-worth of equipment - sometimes primitive conditions - and three days-worth of high intensity have in common? That’s what happens when you go Endurance Racing. As promised in the June Issue, let’s go racing! But first, we have to get all the equipment - and the personnel - to the event.
A typical race-week starts on the Monday of the event. All the equipment - the cars, the necessary pit equipment and essential spares - have already been checked, rebuilt, and packed; and are ready to load. Let’s talk for a moment about equipment and spares. The term ‘Equipment’ encompasses things like floor jacks, roller chest tool boxes, and enough spare parts to rebuild everything apart from a complete body tub. It also includes generators, pit-lights, multiple radios, hoists, portable power, nitrogen bottles and much more. Why nitrogen bottles, you ask? We use nitrogen to run the various air-tools and to inflate the tyres. Not only does Nitrogen give a more accurate tyre inflation, but the pressure remains consistent. A tyre inflated with air will increase in pressure as it gets hot from running. Nitrogen decreases the amount of pressure gain. We carry three big nitrogen bottles - one for tyres, a second for the air wrenches and one for back up. The air wrench bottle has two ‘T’ fittings that will run up to four air tools at one time. There are two half-inch impact wrenches for tyre changes on one ‘T’ fitting. The other ‘T’ fitting was used to mount a three-eighth impact and an air-chisel. A lot of air hoses to keep straight - but it’s so much better to be safe than sorry!
A typical pit set-up is usually no more than a framework that extends illumination out over the pit-stall for night servicing. Two roller tool chests sit at the back of the pit area, tucked way behind the pit wall where they are not in the way but provide immediate access. Nothing is allowed to be placed - or stacked - in front of the tool boxes. Tyres - those for dry conditions, intermediate rain and rain - are stacked at one end of the pit space. These are all inflated to the correct pressure and are ready for immediate use. Fuel is stored at the back of the space and only brought forward when the car is preparing to come in for a fuel-stop. The car is refueled on every stop, regardless of whether it’s a scheduled stop or not. All the equipment is arranged to make the best use of the available space and to provide economy of motion. Outside the pit space is a table containing hot and cold beverages, Gatorade and water, as well as a variety of high energy snacks. Since we’re on the subject of food, let’s wander over to the ‘catering area’.
My wife and two other people had a complete food service set up well behind the pit area. Chili, sandwiches, and even breakfast was available for thirty-six hours. The kitchen would open on the Saturday morning of the race, closing on the following day. Hot and cold food - and drinks - were available for the drivers and crew. No matter what time of the day or night, the people responsible for running the car were fed. When we ran two cars, we normally had a staff of between twenty-five and thirty to cater for – there were three drivers for each car, three timing and scoring personnel, two full shifts of crew [six per crew, each with their own team chief], a crew chief and the food staff. On race day the crew chief’s job was to park himself in a chair with a radio headset and supervise the overall operation. Unless he HAD to perform a job [read this as a major car problem], he stayed in his chair for 24 hours!
As well as the comprehensive list of spares mentioned earlier, there’s an engine for each car. Each engine is complete with a starter, an alternator, distributor, carburetors, clutch and transmission. In a nutshell, its ready to drop straight in and all the connections on the race car - electrical, fuel and water - are set up with quick -disconnect fittings. There’s also a complete front and rear suspension kit, again pre-fitted with brakes, calipers, and springs. Spare drive shafts, differentials, brake hoses, fuel lines, axles [and hubs with bearings installed] are amongst the major components available, should they be needed.
Its arrival time at the track. Registration first, then technical and pit assignments are carried out. The car is unloaded. Pit equipment is moved to the pit area and set-up. The radio antenna is raised and anchored, and the pit lights are erected and wired. Finally, the cars are moved into the pit lane and its practice time. Nothing major here. Tyre pressures are checked, then we go out and look for any changes to the track surface since we were last here. Or - in the case of a new venue - we go learn the race track.
Let’s go for a quick tour of my ‘office’. There is a high-back competition seat [later in the series the rules were changed to allow race seats] with shoulder harness, a three-inch wide lap belt and a two-inch wide ‘anti -submarine’ belt. This bolts to the floor, the strap passes between your legs and attaches to the main lap belt. No, I don’t want to test it! There are two radio ‘push to talk’ buttons - one is mounted to the steering wheel and the second is mounted on the shift lever. That way you have instant radio communication no matter what happens, or what you are doing. And, it provides a useful back-up should one decide to be a distant Lucas descendant. A full set of gauges, and a battery of switches for all the electrics, including the side marker lights that are used to identify the car at night. With the driving lights on all the cars look somewhat the same as they approach either the pits or the timing area, and by using a unique light - or a combination of lights - on the side of the car it makes for much easier identification. A roll cage surrounds the cockpit perimeter, and a drinking bottle tube is attached to the right hand shoulder belt.
Time for a practice session. Tyre pressures are checked [again], the car is warmed up and out we go for three or four gentle laps to warm everything up. There follows a couple quick laps, then it’s back into the pits where everything is checked before the next driver goes out to re-acquaint himself with the car and track. This goes on for the entire session. There follows a quick driver debriefing, and a meeting with the crew chief at the end of the session completes the first practice. Anything that needs to be changed will be changed. Tyre pressures were monitored during the ‘in’ and ‘out’ sequence of the first session. Earlier we said that only three drivers were used for a 24-hour race. Why only three? Any more than three makes for a too longer a time period between the driving sessions - a long wait, and the driver can go stale with all the hanging around pit-side and not be at their sharpest; although some teams actually used five drivers! If you get a session lasting for between sixty and ninety minutes on a full fuel load, with five drivers taking turns they are out of the car for around five hours. That’s far too long - they lose the flow of the track, the intimacy of the car and the necessary awareness of what is going on around them. Finally it’s time to race….
The important questions of feeding our team and passing the scrutinizing process has been sorted. Our car is deemed legal to race. We’ve also qualified, and now we need to carefully study the cars around us on the starting grid and made a decision on how we propose to do the start. For example, let’s assume that Chrysler have fielded a group of turbo Shelby cars. If the pace lap was slow, the Shelby cars would be slow at the start because they weren’t in the boost rpm range of the turbo. In this case we’d try to jump several cars at the start. However, if the start was quicker then you just back-off and let everything sort itself out. Usually the first three rows were filled with factory-backed Corvette ZR1’s. The next spots were usually factory cars from the likes of Chrysler, Mitsubishi - and then our TR8. The green flag drops, and even though you saw it, the crew chief is on the radio shouting ‘Green, Green, Green. The idea at the start is not to do anything dumb. It was amazing the number of people that thought you could win a 24-hour race on the first lap, going into the first turn. Fortunately, we were never involved in any of the numerous mishaps that accompanied that particular mind -set. The first few laps were run at a much harder pace than you wanted to. Adrenalin rush - and just getting the field sorted out. Once a few laps were in the bag the race settled down to a ‘pace’ that was capable of winning whilst mechanically stressing the car the least. This pace was unique for each track - at one track you might use 40 laps per hour whilst another track would demand a different target. Rain? Rain would change that completely. In the rain you drove neatly, with no sudden moves, and you needed to be as gentle as possible, both on acceleration and braking. After the first twenty to thirty minutes the crew would start getting reports from timing and scoring on how the ‘race pace’ was working. Did we need to speed up, back off, or just maintain? If the ‘race pace’ was quicker than the original target, the driver would inform the crew of how it was going. If the pace wasn’t straining the car we’d keep the faster pace. Remember, it was inevitable that precious time was going to be lost at every pit stop. Tyres, refueling and the driver change took between one and two laps of track time. The car burbled or stumbled - this was the first indication we were running out of fuel. The driver radios the pits - the pit comes back asking for a confirmation of this. The next time it happens, the pits radio the driver a count-down to pit stop. ‘You will be stopping in three laps’. Each time the car goes past the pits, a new lap is given - stopping in two laps, etc. When it’s time, the driver radios the pits as he’s entering the pit road. He also unfastens the harness and loosens the belts and harness for the next driver. As the new driver gets into the car, the exiting driver helps him fasten the belts. Whilst he’s doing this, the exiting driver also briefs his replacement on anything that’s happening on the track - say a pot hole is developing on the exit of Turn Three for example. The new driver already knows the condition of the car - he’s been listening to the radio messages for several laps before the stop. When the jack-man gets to the passenger side of the car, he not only lifts the car but is also responsible for putting a new drinking bottle into the passenger side bottle-mount. The crew completes the service - tyres, fuel and a good visual check, then the car is sent back out and it starts all over again. The new driver normally needs around two or three laps to get into the flow of things, then he settles into the same routine and on it goes.
One advantage of running two cars was the ability of the drivers to make each other aware of something that may have happened on another portion of the track. The driver always started his communication to the pit with ‘Pit 8 , this is Car 8’ - that way the crew knew exactly who was in the car, what car, etc. If there’s a yellow flag in Turn Three, the first team car on the scene would radio ‘Car 7 - this is Car 8 - yellow flag with debris on course at Turn Three. Looks like it will be a while for clean-up’ or ‘car off course driver’s left’. The crew would be monitoring this conversation as well, so everybody knew exactly what was going on out on the track. If the incident turned into a full course yellow, a pace car is sent out. The pace car gathers up the field and takes a spot in front of the lead car. No passing is allowed. If the pace car looks like it will be out for more than two laps, we bring the cars in for more fuel. If the car’s been out for more than two-thirds of its normal time per fuel load, we will also do a driver change. The full course yellow is run at a much slower pace so we get a stop with the luxury of not being quite as hurried. There’s more time to check over the car. Since the cars are normally at a different position on the track, the pit-crew bring the cars in one lap apart, in the position the cars are in on-track. This would vary only if one of the cars had a full fuel load whilst the second was near its fuel window, then the car that needed fuel was the first to be brought in.
Endurance racing is minutes of sheer boredom followed by seconds of controlled panic. The pit-crew need to have everything ready for the next stop. We had one person in charge of the tyres. He had to make sure the tyres just removed were taken to the Goodyear truck. He then waited for the old tyres to be dismounted and new ones mounted. New tyres were brought back and put in the appropriate stack - remember, Normal, Damp and Rain. His only job - for the entire week-end - was to make sure the tyres were ready and filled to the correct pressure, that there was an adequate supply and to have the correct tyres on the pit wall ready for the up-coming pit stop.
I mentioned rain tyres - but what are they? Rain tyres come in two major categories, intermediate and full rain. Rain tyres are normally narrower than a dry pavement tire; this allows the tyre to cut through the water and get to the tarmac rather than riding up, or hydroplaning, on the wet surface. Rain tyres have a deep tread pattern that allows rainwater to be channeled off to the sides - and out from under the tyre - to reduce hydroplaning. Intermediate rain tyres have the same tread characteristics but are not as deep - this allows the tyre to have more surface contact as the course dries out. One of the toughest decisions we need to make is which tyre to use If it’s dry this is a no-brainer, but if it’s been raining and the track is starting to dry do you go with dry, intermediate or full rain tyres? More than once we’ve gone to the starting grid with two different compound tyres on the car; the left side with dry tires and right side with intermediates. This allows a last-minute decision - you only have to change two tyres!
Let’s fast forward to dusk. We didn’t mount our driving lights until the pit-stop at dusk. We’ve three driving lights mounted on a ‘light bar’ and these are set up with a quick connect harness. There’s a center light that points straight ahead flanked by a pair of lights that are angled outwards slightly, to illuminate the entry to a turn. By not mounting the light bar on the vehicle until dusk there was less chance of the lights being damaged in an early race incident. The start of what could be called ‘true darkness’ was always an interesting time - things look differently at night. Lights in the rear-view mirror are distracting and the high-output driving lights are actually blinding - we’d put strips of tape horizontally across the rear window to cut down the amount of light hitting the mirror. Side mirrors were readjusted - and sometimes even turned upwards to eliminate the constant glare. No matter what the track - Daytona, Sebring, Mid-Ohio - the lights at night are a real problem. This brings me back to the title for this Series - ‘A Hole in the Darkness’ . At night you’d sometimes come upon a car that’d been damaged or had a light failure. It had, for whatever reason, NO TAILLIGHTS! After a while you’d figure out there was subtly different look to the road in front. You’d see other taillights, but once in a while there would be an area that somehow looked ‘different’, and it emerged that it was the back of a car with no taillights - it really did leave what could only be described as a hole in the darkness. The worst time were the hours between 3:00am and 5:00am. You were tired, often times cold and for some reason a bit lonely. It was always nice to hear from the pits just to know that there was someone there! No matter what the race - 24-Hours of Daytona, LeMans or wherever - bad things usually happened late at night. At the first early morning daytime stop, off came the lights and then it was back to full tilt to the finish. If you were on target for a win, you stayed at the same pace. If the pace needed to be picked up, now was the time. Night driving was usually a bit slower than in the daylight - we were always able to turn consistently quick laps at night but you had to really work at this. By 6:00am you knew where you were in relation to your competition, and this dictated how the rest of the race would be run. One race we attended we were so far ahead of the field that unless the car physically blew up, it was impossible for us to be caught. At this point in time the ego kicked in and we actually washed the car during the last pit-stop so it looked good for the finish line photos!
There you have it. The race is over, but there is still work to do. The pits need to be dis-assembled - only now everyone is exhausted. You need to get it loaded, load the cars onto the trailers and head for home, where everything is taken apart and rebuilt. Two weeks later you do it all again…..