More Great Things from PRI 2016



The crowds are filled with people soaking up all the displays of new racing technology at PRI.  There is just so much to see.

The Cars

Amidst all the equipment and accessories to support racing are the many cars on display.













Both Ford and Chevy had their sideways cars on display to show off many of the optional components motorsports enthusiasts can modify their cars with.






On the left is Ford’s underbody air scoop to keep the transmission cool.  You just have to take it off to do oil changes, but what a great solution to keeping your transmission temperatures down.

The Technology

With over 750,000 square feet of display floor space and the crowds of enthusiasts at PRI it takes diligence and persistence to discover all the new supporting technology on display.

With the advent of computer control in motor vehicles a huge industry has sprung up to take advantage of OBD II as well as stand-a-lone tuning and engine management.






DSC has computerized the control of suspensions with their shock absorber system.



Randy Pobst was at their booth as well…


In depth suspension testing and analysis is critical for finding the edge in racing and this company has the tools to get you there.



Above is a scale model of their test machine.

How about new engine technology?  This prototype V-16 engine puts out over 4,500 horse power. 



Going fast with lots of power also means being able to count on the best technology in brake performance.  No brand epitomizes that than Brembo.



On the edge of these rotor are spots of paint that indicate when different temperature thresholds have been reached.  Key information for understanding the parameters a braking system must work under.

Pistons go up and down thousands of times a minute and must be reliably connected to the crankshaft.  Here are some interesting examples of connecting rods on display.

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Spark plugs ignite all that power in gasoline engines and the Champion spark plug company has been providing solutions since the beginning.


Here is a great example of one of their solutions for those pesky 3-valve Ford V8 engines:


The design is of a single piece that won’t break apart upon removal like the original plugs tend to do.

Part of getting the most out of your suspension is corner balancing.  That is where you use precision scales to ensure your road racing car handles the same regardless of whether you are taking a left or right hand turn.



Filtration is of paramount importance if you wish to keep your hard working engine alive.  Fram has been providing oil filtration products for decades.


Fuel filtration has often been overlooked in its importance, but not by FST Performance.  Their fuel filters go above and beyond what has ever been available to ensure fuel is clean and free from water and other contaminants.




The filter above is approved for use in NASCAR.


There was so much to see at PRI this year that this blog can never give you a complete view, but let me close with some shots of the racing personalities that make motorsports great.










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PRI 2016–Women in Motorsports

I was anxious to go to this seminar for many reasons including a desire to see just how far women have come in their interest in motorsports.  I had read Mad for Speed, the Racing Life of Joan Newton Cuneo, which covered her automobile racing career from 1905 to 1915.  A time period when women were definitely not welcome in the sport of car racing.

Today there are far more women in motorsports with far less obstacles to their participation, but they still are a minority. 


This seminar featured several women that have found out how to live their dream in the motorsports world.  Lyn St.James, former Indycar driver and the 1992 Indy 500 rookie of the year was there, along with Jessi Combs – a professional driver and well known fabricator and television personality.  Jennifer LaFever, RoushYates engines quality assurance manager, along with Jeanette DesJardins who founded Car Chix and Crank It Media.

Lyn spoke at length about her entrance into racing and how she stayed focused on what she had to accomplish rather than looking for obstacles.  I liked her attitude, realizing that nothing that is important to you is easy to achieve and that there is always a lot of learning along the way.


Jessi Combs also had an interesting comment saying that it took her a while to realize that she could be what she wanted to be in the motorsports world.  The implication being that she was inhibited by the fact she was a girl and maybe there was no path for her to reach her dreams.  She said that by the time she was seventeen she knew that she had to make her own path and has worked hard ever since to learn what she needed to support her career dreams.


Jennifer LaFever moved from California to North Carolina and found her spot in the racing industry with Roush Yates.  She studied hard and got the engineering training that opened the door for her.  She is very motivated as well as focused on her career and also understands the sacrifices that that kind of achievement requires.


Jeanette DesJardins had the foresight to buy the domain Car Chix even though, at the time, she wasn’t sure what she would do with it.  A few years went by before she leveraged the domain and created the premier motorsports organization for women. 


The attendees of this seminar were very interested in motorsports and were eager to hear the advice of the featured guests. 




In addition the audience contained other racing personalities.



The young girl above is Courtney Crone who has been racing motorcycles since she was 4 and has a decade of racing under her belt along with hundreds of wins.

It is not easy for women to get somewhere in racing and motorsports, but then again its never been easy for anyone.  Its nice to see more and more examples for women to follow.

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PRI 2016 off to Indianapolis

I didn’t expect to be the only flyer at the airport, but I was surprised to find a couple of flyers that had their own wings at the gate.



All went well and all my connecting flights were successfully achieved.  My hotel room was favorable and at dinner I met many other attendees of this years premier professional racing event.

The next morning we took a shuttle bus to the convention center and waited in line for the traditional opening breakfast. 


After a rendition of our national anthem and a few opening remarks we were treated to a Dave Despain interview with Jeff Gordon and Rick Mears.



The audience enjoyed the stories and the charm of the guests.



Dave and his guests could have kept us as an audience for an hour or two, but the big show had to go on and that was PRI itself.  With over 750,000 square feet of show floors fully occupied with the gamut of racing products and services the attendees were eager to see what this year’s show held for us.

While most of the exhibitors and vendors are from the US, this year many more came from outside of America.  There were companies from England, Italy and several from China.  In one booth I found a Japanese tire company that had tires made in China for full out race cars as well as DOT race tires for track day enthusiasts.  This business is really expanding.

One area of concern for racing enthusiasts is the recent interpretation of the Clean Air Act of 1970 by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) where they proposed a rule stating that it is illegal to convert a motor vehicle into a racecar if the vehicle’s emissions system no longer remains in its certified condition.  If this goes forward it would seriously impact racing in a very negative fashion.  Naturally this is a subject that has gained the attention of PRI attendees as well as racing enthusiasts in the US.

3D printing is getting far more sophisticated and is allowing for more durable prototypes as well as design creativity that is not possible with conventional casting and machining techniques.  We need to continue to watch this area for important changes in technology.

America has reentered Formula 1 racing for the first time in over 30 years and an example of HAAS racing’s entry was on hand for PRI.




Obviously this is an early prototype of the car used this past season, it is important to note that HAAS has achieved far more in its first year that some of the more seasoned F1 teams. 

Speed Demon racing had an example of their land speed racing car.




Racing personalities were not to be found just at the breakfast interview.  Many more were around the show floor.




It is a treat to have so many racing personalities available to talk to and get autographs from, but there are also thousands of racing products to be seen and evaluated.  The product representatives are very helpful and interested in what these racers are looking for and any new needs they might have.

Gforce had bolt-on IRS kits for Mustangs, Camaros, and Chrysler cars:




NEO Motorsports is producing billet aluminum calipers with titanium pistons for track and street use.


Anderson Composites had three examples of cars using their light weight body parts on display.




Grassroots Motorsports was there, too.


Race America displayed technology to make track racing safer and leverage electronics to keep racers, race control, and fans informed.



There were suppliers of composite drive shafts:


And of course there were many cars on display:





There is so much to see when you attend PRI and I have another day to find some more things of interest. 

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Cars (and Trucks) You Find on the Side of the Road

In our own town we can drive by them hundreds of times and not give them another thought, but when we spot them outside of our normal territory suddenly they become visible and interesting.  Well today I was in my town and I didn’t just drive by.  I stopped and looked and talked to the owners of vehicles that caught my eye.


First off was this fine example of the classic VW transporter.  If it had the small windows in the roof it would be called the micro-bus, but that doesn’t matter.  This is a classic VW van from 1967.  It even had the pop-out split windshield.


I talked to the owner, Matthew, who has owned it for at least a decade.  He has had plenty experience with the air-cooled era VW’s.  His one is a pip.


It is the last of these transporters with the all metal dash, and these babies have plenty of room.

The engines were not full of torque and this was the first year that VW converted from a six-volt system to a 12 volt.  The engine in this bus was not a 1967, but that doesn’t matter either.


It has the dual-port cylinder heads and sports an alternator instead of the earlier generator.  That would place this engine to be somewhere near a 1974 era motor.  A larger displacement than the 1300cc version that was originally bolted to the transaxle.

These air-cooled wonders still managed to move this large box although climbing a hill was often described as rowing since you were forced to downshift in order to get more torque from higher engine speeds.

The owner had this one painted a while back and chose a classic blue and white two-tone scheme.

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It could use a real restoration but that doesn’t take away from its practical capabilities.  He has used it to take his family to the beach and other road trips.  I am sure that it has produced memories galore for the owner and the family.  I hope Mathew will be able to invest in a thorough restoration in a few years so that it can continue to be what it is – a VW transporter.

Less than a mile away I spotted another vehicle of interest.


This is a very different type of truck.  This is a rat rod!  I talked to its owner and found out that he had acquired it just about a year ago.  He had been looking for a truck that he could convert into a rat rod and then discovered this one already done as well as for sale.

He did a few alterations, but it was essentially the truck he was looking for.


With rat rods the beauty is in the beholder and the details count.  So take a close look at some of the details:



Yes, its slammed and an air pump allows it to drive when its not parked.



No parking brake needed.



Did you notice the roof treatment yet?




Joe, the owner is having a ball with his rod, and I don’t blame him.

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A Day with John Lawson

We met for breakfast near my hotel as I was driving east and had stopped off near Indianapolis to visit with John.

We started off talking about racing and how it becomes a passion for so many of us.  But John corrected me.  He felt that it was an addiction.  He talked about how it could easily absorb all your focus in life and when you found that you had just devoted thirty years to it you also had to realize how that time might be time that was taken from your family.

I first met John last December at the PRI (Performance Racing Industry) show in Indianapolis.  There a car that he had spent seven years on as a project was on display.  It’s body harkened back to the Indy roadster days of the early 1960’s.  John had formed that body himself out of aluminum along with its frame. He had a Buick “nail head” V8 engine in the front that was waiting for a set of exhaust headers.  He caught my attention when he explained that he made his own wheels as well as the front disc brakes.

He also told me that he felt that it was going to be his last project, that he now wanted to focus on his family.  So I collected his contact information and told him that I hoped to get out to see his collection soon.  Soon ended up being five months later in Indiana.

Over breakfast our discussions continued and ranged from springs to alignments.  He has a wealth of knowledge in suspension set-ups for circle track and all of mine has been on road course set-ups.  Terms like caster, camber, and ackerman were traded across the table.  John had spent a lifetime studying springs and torsion bars.  He learned how the heat treating process would affect the properties beyond the basic spring rate.  He talked of how a batch of springs that went through the same heat treatment could and would have different rebound characteristics even though the spring rates, themselves, would be the same.

John tutored me in how camber, a huge factor in racing alignments along with caster, was a function of the change in tire construction from bias-belted to radial.  That with bias-belted tires the most camber you might use was half a degree negative, but with modern radial tires the flex of the sidewall meant three to six degrees of negative camber to prevent loss of grip as the sidewall rolled.

We talked about racing in general and how it has evolved into something that is so very different from its roots and now struggles  to engage with the fan base as well as it once did.

Breakfast concluded and John had me follow him to Jamestown to a shop where his project car that was displayed at PRI was being worked on. Steve’s Auto Fab was working to construct and TIG weld a beautiful and unique set of custom headers that would blend into external exhaust pipes.  Steve himself was working on the welding.




Notice that the V8 engine is a Buick “nail head”.


John custom formed the car’s aluminum body over bucks that he built himself out of wood.




Notice in the above photo that the radiator is actually a two-piece design so that there would be space for the torsion bar suspension that John designed and fabricated.



The tail light structures are works of art.


John designed, made the wooden patterns, and had the custom gas cap cast for this car.


The front suspension, brake rotors, calipers, and wheels were all designed by John.  He made the wooden patterns that the casting molds were made from.  He uses different local foundries depending on which one has the time and can do the best castings in the material that he needs the part cast in.  He then does the finishing machinery himself.


John is not fond of louvers to vent for cooling so he designed and formed beautifully smooth venting in the hood and air exhaust ducts along the bottom edge of the engine compartment.



He has been doing this kind of work for decades and his eye for detail is marvelous.



Above is one of the wheels that he designed and had cast.

John wasn’t happy with the nail head’s oil pump so he left the pickup in the sump (also his design) and will rout oil lines to an external pump driven off the engine’s front gears.




Above is the wooden pattern that John made for the cast oil sump. He also designed and made the patterns for these “lobster” calipers.  They are works of art.



Steve’s Auto Fab, as the name implies, does custom automotive fabrication.  Steve was nice enough to let me explore his shop and see some of the other cars there.  It was quite an experience, as these photos will attest.


That’s Mike working on the car above.




The car above is a roller at the moment and John thinks that it deserves a Cadillac engine rather than the typical small block Chevy, and I agree.



The J P Special, above, is a great example of the hot rodder’s art and had a unique feature applied to the flat-head’s exhaust header.


It is a front fork medallion from a Ben Hur bicycle that was once manufactured in Indianapolis.  It fit the exhaust pipe perfectly and added a wonderful touch.


Mike and Steve were great hosts that shared many interesting stories.

John wanted me to be sure to get a shot of this device:


It is what is called a “Gas Fluxer”.  As it was explained to me it is used in the process of making race car frames.  In England it was common to braze the frames together instead of welding.  This produced a more flexible frame that was less brittle and acted as part of the suspension.  Fascinating stuff.


Above is a shot of Mike sitting in A J Watson’s Indy roadster.  One of the six built by A J Watson that were race winners.

I could have stayed in that shop all day, but they had work to get done and John wanted to next take me to his own shop at his house.  A J Watson and John were good friends who spent a lot of time working together building and restoring Indy racing cars from the 1950’ and 1960’s.  John’s father worked with Mickey Thompson’s racers as well.


Here is a photo of A J Watson working in John’s shop.  It was A J’s first time using a pneumatic rivet gun.


John is reducing the number of his projects and is selling off many of his pieces of metal working machinery.




One of his favorites is a flat-belt driven drill press that A J Watson used to build his race cars with and gave to John.



John also has a collection of books and reference materials.  Here is a peek at a small part of his collection.




Here is reference materials that you find in no other place.  Priceless information that has often been discarded in favor of modern texts.

John also has some classic automotive testing machines that are in pristine condition.  Test equipment such as this Sun distributor machine.


John told me how it had never actually worked and sat unused until someone who new electronics opened up the back and found a wire that had never been connected when it was manufactured.  So this is now a virtually new machine ready to service a technology that you will only find in classic cars.

Another piece of Sun equipment is this Engine Performance Tester.  It may appear large and bulky compared to the laptops and scan tools used today, but it was technology to die for in its day.  With it you could set the cam timing perfectly just by watching the vacuum meter which was large enough to see while working on the engine.  It also has an oscilloscope to give you precise information on how ignition was taking place.


John has other priceless gems in his collection of car parts.  Here on a shelf is an intake manifold  made by Detroit Racing Equipment topped off with a pair of Rochester 4-barrel carburetors. Perhaps a couple of hundred were made and it is likely that there are only a handful still in existence, and here they are.



Shelves full of parts that defy a person to put a value on.




John also has a love of aircraft and fashioned these seats from ones that were in a B-17.


John still has a couple of cars in his personal shop.  This one is a moonshiner’s car from North Carolina.



This next photo is of a bullet hole in the rear inside wheel well.


John’s wife’s family were the Bakers of Clay County, Kentucky. They were the model for the movie Thunder Road, staring Robert Mitchum.  This car had been chased by revenuers who shot at it, hitting the trunk and the bullet passed through to put a hole in the wheel well.


Another in-process restoration project also sits in John’s shop.  It is a Pan-American race car that originally belonged to Joel Thorne.  Joel was heir to the Chase Manhattan Bank and Pullman Railroad fortunes (valued at $38 million).  Joel was what could be called a daredevil sportsman who spent his money on fast cars, motorcycles, hydroplanes, airplanes, and women.  Joel liked living the playboy life and after graduating from Rutgers University, he attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1933 and was hooked.  The next year he was a mechanic for Lou Moore and a couple of years later he tried to qualify for the race.  He had acquired a front-wheel-drive Shaw/Offy.  This was the first car to have an Offenhauser Engineering Co. badge on the engine.  Shaw had raced the car previously and came in second in the 1935 race.

In between hydroplane racing, stunt flying for the movies, and other playboy activities Joel continued his quest to be competitive in the Indy 500.  In 1938 he wanted to buy the Sparks “Big Six”, a six cylinder version of the successful Offenhauser 4-cylinder engine in a race car.  In 1939 Joel Thorne qualified to start 20th and finished in seventh place.  He continued to edge his way up over the next couple of years.

Thorne entered the big car in the 1951 Pikes Peak Hill Climb but after two practice runs he put the brute back on the trailer finding it too terrifying an experience.

Then he decided to use the car for the basis of an entry in the 1953 Carrera Pan America race, the Mexican Road Race.  He hired Sonny Bohman to build the car, which was essentially an oversized Indy roadster with two seats and a fifty gallon fuel tank.  The car was not ready and Joel never competed. The car was still unfinished when Joel was killed piloting an airplane in 1955.

And here is the car as it sits today.





The wells on either side of the fuel tank are for the spare wheels and tires.


John told me that the original frame was derived from a road car but was too far gone to save.  John fabricated a new frame from tubing and used many of the original gussets in its construction.

John has lost interest in the car and finds that he would rather work on cars that are his own design.  So he will find a buyer who is interested in taking the project to completion.

John and I spent over four hours exploring all the treasures and listening to his thoughts on the current state of racing, as well as his perspective on a life where he spent much of it focused on racing.  John, a master in metal, is just as comfortable in working with wood.  This skill has allowed him to create his own  patterns to mold custom parts with.  These patterns are works of art in and of themselves.  He has a wealth of knowledge and experience in this part of American racing, and his skills are unique and rare.  It could be said that he is a national treasure.

John does have regrets though.  He feels that he invested huge amounts of time into his passion (my word, John calls it an addiction) and consequently it was time he lost with his family.  He feels now that he is on track to bring his family into the foreground of his life and he doesn’t want to go back to the tunnel vision that his obsession with racing became.


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The Chick Magnet gets bigger brakes

In the past I’ve shared my adventures with my 1992 Toyota Pickup truck, a.k.a. the Chick Magnet.  I’ve had the truck for about sixteen years and it has been a journey of repair and improvements.  It got the Name “chick magnet” through its unfortunate habit of being rear-ended by women drivers.  After four times things have settled down and I have been enjoying it as my daily driver.

red pickup truck

Its been re-painted, re-upholstered, it has had its suspension rebuilt, and it has a wonderful engine built by the folks at LC Engineering in Arizona.  The only area that it seemed lacking in was brakes.  The stock brakes were essentially adequate, but as more power was added to the drivetrain they developed a bad habit of pulsing and feeling a bit weak.

I looked all over for “big brake” options.  There are some nice aftermarket solutions that use Willwood calipers and larger rotors.  My problem with that solution was that it required larger wheels, usually 17” rims.  I just didn’t want to make that investment all over again since I changed to XD122 Enduros in 15” and liked the look as it allowed me to keep a wide enough sidewall that it still looked like a truck.

So what to do?  I explored several forums and learned what other Pickup owners had done.  Most of them were 4WD trucks and mine is a 2WD.  Others had swapped out their 22RE for a Chevy LS engine.  Buried in all the information was a 1 ton version of my truck that had much larger calipers and bigger rotors that just might be a bolt-on swap. Would it really be a bolt-on?  I decided to locate the parts and give it a try.

Rockauto had some 1-ton PD66 type calipers and rotors for a very good price.  If I was going to gamble I would at least try there so my budget wouldn’t take a big hit if it was a mistake.

With larger calipers that had much larger pistons than my original calipers I knew that I would need to upgrade my brake master cylinder from the stock 7/8” piston to something larger so I found a Toyota one that had a 1 and 1/16” piston to replace it with.

Then came the weekend that I had time to put the package together.  My hope was that since everything was Toyota that it would not mean fabricating a new caliper bracket or drilling and tapping new mounting holes.


The above photo shows the 1-ton calipers on the left and the originals for my 1/4-ton on the right. The new ones are not only larger, they have a nice cadmium plating to help keep them looking good for a long time.

I removed the original sized rotors from the hub and bolted up the larger 1-ton rotors.  Everything fit like a glove and they even were not too large for the splash shields.


Above are the stock rotors and hub with the mounting bolts removed.


The new rotors bolted to the original hub just fine.


As you can see above, the big rotors still fit the factory splash shields even though they are a larger diameter.


Here you can see that the 1-ton rotors are a only bit larger in diameter than the stock, but that size differential makes a big difference.

The only thing that needed modification on the splash shields was the area where the larger caliper brackets needed to bolt up.  A little work with some tin snips and a ball-peen hammer and the brackets fit perfectly.


Then the new brackets were bolted up.


Followed by the pads and new calipers.



There was only one piece of fabricating required.  There is a flex hose brake line that connects the the hard line on the caliper to the hard line on the chassis.  The hard line on the caliper was kept in place on the old caliper by a metal bracket.


There was a different metal bracket to work with the 1-ton calipers, but Toyota no longer has them available and I was unlikely to find a 1-ton truck in a local recycling yard.  So I got new hard lines for the calipers, they were the same as the ones on the old calipers, and cleaned up the metal brackets.

What I needed was a piece to bridge the 1.75” gap between the small caliper bracket and the mounting hole on the new, big caliper.  So I fabricated the metal bridges.


I made a square hole in one end so that I could use a smooth headed carriage bolt on one end.  A regular bolt head would have interfered with the caliper bracket mounting bolt.


A nylock nut was used on the carriage bolt so there should be no danger of it vibrating loose in the future.


Above is another view of the caliper and the bracket bridge where you can see where it could have interfered with the caliper bracket mounting bolt.

All the bolts were checked for proper torque and the new master cylinder was swapped in place of the smaller stock unit.  All the hard brake lines matched up perfectly to the new master cylinder and the system was bled before a test drive.

So how are the new brakes?  Wonderful.  I get a lot more braking capacity and the pedal feel is even better with the larger bore master cylinder.

The guys at the shop joke about it being the first pickup truck that can do an “endo”.  Actually the performance is so good that the brakes are easier to modulate and the brakes are so heavy duty that I probably won’t need to replace the pads for another 100,000 miles.  They are easy to modulate and don’t grab and lock up. Instead they have plenty of reserve capacity and great pedal feel.

Posted in Automobiles, Car Stuff, Care and Feeding, Cars, Life and Cars, Modifying Cars | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

PRI 2015–more cars

In our last post there were celebrities of the human kind and many of the four-wheeled kind.  Plenty to view, but there were more, much more.

Here are some for the Chevy fans out there:


Putting cars on their sides to view has become very popular at these shows.


The perspective above shows off many of the performance suspension features of the new Corvette.


…and the Camaro


How about a classic Camaro?



With a modern twist…







The folks at Optima batteries had various race cars on display…


This truck had been at the VIR races earlier this year.


and this Chump car was at VIR, too


Ford was well represented.




Another car on its side.


Remember the Capri?




One of the big stars of the show was the new Ford GT.  I first saw the new Ford GT at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit early this year, but this is the LeMans race car in full race trim.  There will be changes before the 2016 Le Mans race, but this give you a good idea of some of the features on this amazing race car…









PRI 2015 was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, so the home of the Indy 500 showed off many examples of the race cars as well as the Borg Warner trophy.


Ed Carpenter’s team car…











Every year some company comes out with a new exotic track car and here is the one introduced at this year’s show:





So reach into your pocket for about $150,000 and get ready for an exciting track day.


I hope that you’ve enjoyed this view of the show.  Unlike SEMA it is only for racing industry folks so this is your exclusive peek. 🙂

Posted in Automobiles, Car Shows, Car Stuff, Cars, Racing, Rally Cars, Road Racing, Road Trips, Sports Cars | Tagged | 1 Comment