Dan Fletcher is back with a 2023 racing update and mid-season review!
Oh hey PEAK nation, Dan Fletcher Racing here with a 2023 update and mid-season review. It’s a steamy one down here in the Carolinas, but I know the heat is intense all across the country. I hope and pray that most everyone has air conditioning in the house and the car. Proper maintenance on both is super important, especially when you have a bunch of older equipment like I do. You sure don’t want it to quit when it’s 90 and humid!
My bride works part time for the post office as a Rural Carrier Assistant, which is just a fancy way of saying she delivers the mail. Well down here in the country most of the RCAs have to have their own vehicle for their routes and it seems as though the weapon of choice is a Dodge mini-van. Being the thrifty sort, I picked up a shining example of Mopar’s finest on FB Marketplace a couple of years ago for around $2000. I had to put the pedal assembly in on the passenger side and thoroughly delouse it, but otherwise it was pretty solid in regards to the mechanics.
Well let me tell you, do these routes beat this thing! I can’t get 10,000 miles out of a set of front pads, no joke. I put new tires on the thing a few months ago but her incessant skidding to a stop at mail boxes has resulted in five, count ‘em five, plugs in the right front. I’m not AAA, and I’ve about had enough of being called to come rescue her on the side of some country road. It’s time for this woman to get sent off with the plug kit and an air tank, lol.
One problem that I’m afraid is going to eventually be a bigger problem is that it does use some coolant. I’m hesitant to pour stop leak in it, as I don’t want to be putting a radiator in it, but I really don’t need to be putting a head gasket on it either. With four race cars, two motor homes, and a few assorted trailers, something is always wrong with something, and there’s only so many hours in the day. So for now, I’ll just keep pouring in that PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant every so often and call it good!
Well now for some racing talk. Of the four race cars, one is a 1969 Camaro with a 350 cid LS motor that runs in NHRA Super Stock Eliminator. It’s really the car that I’ve made my name with in the sport. The class has lots of pretty specific rules, and the car has had a myriad of engine combinations in it over the years. I switched to the LS with fuel injection a few years ago, but frankly haven’t really gotten this combination right. It makes power way high, and I had been trying to run it with a two speed powerglide transmission when it really needed a three speed to keep it in its power band. Additionally, as it was configured, the valve train was pretty unhappy. Granted, it shifts at 8500 and crosses the finish line at 9000, but the valve spring bill was going to put me out of business.
So for this season we changed a lot of things, but one of the most important changes was more valve spring; it simply didn’t have enough seat pressure. Before the opening NHRA race at Gainesville, I tested locally. The car ran well, and I was very happy with things until the last run I made when it laid over and vibrated a little before the stripe. Well, for those that aren’t motor heads, oil travels up through the push rod to get to the rocker arm. The cam pushes the push rod up, which levers the rocker arm to push the valve open. When the lobe of the cam ramps down, the valve spring then pulls the valve closed and levers the rocker arm to make the push rod follow.
Well, when one adds a bunch more valve spring pressure, one creates a bunch more friction. When one apparently doesn’t have enough oil getting up through the push rod to the rocker arm, one creates heat. Excessive heat. And when one creates enough heat that it melts the push rod, one’s valve lash opens up and the cylinder doesn’t function correctly and then one perceives a lack of acceleration. Lubrication is quite important in a race motor. While certainly not the start to the year I was looking for, I guess there are some advantages to having multiple race cars. A call went out to the bullpen; send in the lefty. Well, the lefty made it to the final round of Super Street eliminator at the Gator Nationals, where I was denied career win number 107 by a mere .002 of a second. While obviously disappointing, it was also clearly a pretty decent start to the actual racing part of the season.
Team DFR’s second national of the year was Charlotte, and by that time I had the Super Stock engine putting oil in all the right places. Unfortunately, I took an early round loss, but at the same time I was very pleased with the performance of the car and feel I have a tool capable of winning with. As I race two cars at most NHRA events, I had another chance and logged a semi-final round finish in Stock Eliminator. While some would classify this as a good outing, I think the semi-finals suck. You put all the runs on the equipment yet make virtually nothing. And while I do this for the love of the sport, I also do this for the love of paying the rent.
Next up was the Bristol national, and we’re starting to hit a recurring theme. My son Timbo drove the stocker and drove it great, but the guy in the other lane was just a little bit better. That’s the problem with this sport, at least in my classes. It’s like your taking a test and so is your opponent. Sometimes, you get an 80, but the other guy got a 75, so you win. And sometimes you get a 90, even a 95, but the other guy scores just one point higher. You might make a run that would win every other round except yours and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it other than try again next time.
Now to recurring theme part. The Super Stock car ran great and I drove decent, but just couldn’t finish the deal. Runner up again. That’s now two runner ups and a semi-final out of three NHRA nationals. I could easily have three event wins so far and I have none. Three trophies, three good feels, and a substantial amount of payola. Instead all I have is a substantial amount on my line of credit at the bank. Ugh…
In between NHRA events, Team DFR really enjoys bracket racing with the ATI Nova and the Micro Strategies Chevelle wagon. The wagon is super fun to drive, and a weight reduction program for this season made it even funner. No, not me silly, the car. I changed out the factory bucket for a lightweight racing seat, swapped the steel radiator for aluminum, and ditched the gigantic steel hood and accessories for a 4” cowl of the fiberglass persuasion. Basically took 125-150 pounds off the nose of the car. Can you say “Wheeeeeeee?” In good air it rides the wheelie for a hundred feet, no joke.
As I’ve said before, here in NC we have lots of tracks within a few hours, but sometimes with NHRA you have to travel greater distances. This was the case a few weeks ago and a reminder of why I like to stay closer to home these days. The bride and I traveled to an NHRA divisional event in Pennsylvania, then to the motor home place in Indiana for some scheduled maintenance, and then to another NHRA divisional event in Ohio before heading home. I just wanted a minute or two alone with my wife, away from the kids and life at home, and to race my cars. Legit didn’t care if I won or lost, just wanted to enjoy the races and not have any problems. Ha, I say…
Pennsylvania was OK and the motor home place was OK, but that was the end of the OKs. I broke the transmission in the Super Stock car and wasn’t able to repair it in time for eliminations. That sucks, but you have a second car, right? Well, not for long, as I red lighted by .002 in round number two with that one. Well, that sucks, but life is full of disappointment, pack your junk up and head to the house. Have I mentioned before that the “on the road” part is harder than the “at the track” part? I think I have, but if not, let me put that out there right now.
Have you ever been toddling down the freeway in 82.5’ of motor home and trailer and someone pulls up next to you and starts pointing back to the trailer? I have. More than once. And it’s rather disheartening I might add. This time it came with audio; “your trailer is smoking”. Well, I guess I’ll put down the turkey sandwich I was just issued and get to the side of the road.
I carry bearings, springs, U bolts, complete hub assemblies, etc. I try to be prepared. But I don’t carry an axel, and when the inner bearing is completely welded to the spindle, you’re kind of just screwed. At that point you’re left with no other real option then to roll on slowly with five out of six tires and hope for the best. Fortunately, we were “only” like four hours from the house and we made it there with no further incident.
The best decision I made was pulling out of the motor home place when we went to pull onto interstate 80. The same weekend as the smaller event in Ohio we attended was the last ever NHRA race at Bandimere Speedway in Denver, Colorado. I’ve had tremendous success there over the years, and we really love everything about the place. It was west to Denver, east to Columbus. Thank God I didn’t head west young man, I would have made it about half way and then really been in a pickle.
Changing the transmission in the Camaro is nothing, but the axel on the trailer is kind of a pain. I had done the wheel bearings last year, again, I try to be on top of things, but obviously they’re all going to get done again now. If you’re bored next weekend, stop by, I’ll buy the pizza and beer…