The Case for Timing (Lights)

I remember my first timing light, it wasn’t much to talk about and how accurate it was is something I will never know. It was a cheap tool and didn’t last very long but the Motors book I had said the Ford engine had to be set at the following:

Point gap = .015
Dwell = 27
Timing = 6 deg BTDC

Right, well I knew what a point gap was but what the heck was Drell? And 6 deg BTDC? All I knew for sure was that when I connected the timing light and pulled the trigger on it, a light flashed. You see here’s the problem, when I started out working on cars there was no YouTube or Internet, email wasn’t even a thought at the time. I had a Motors manual as a guide and that was about it. I finally talked with a neighbor that had some amount of automobile knowledge and he told me how to use the timing light. It was still a long time before I really understood what Dwell and BTDC meant but I actually thought I knew something about setting the timing on an engine at this point.

Then we move forward to today and most modern engines if not all of them now have their timing controlled by a microprocessor or in other words, a computer. In fact, it is programmed to change this timing figure based on input it receives from various sensors mounted to the engine. These can provide information from coolant temperature to the required fuel mixture depending on speed, fuel amount required and the quality of the fuel. In essence, it has for all intents eliminated the need to pull out the old timing light and do any checking. We change the spark plugs at 100,000 miles and simply call it good.

So my case for timing lights really comes down to using them for performance engines. I am constantly amazed at the number of racers at our local dragstrip that simply have no idea of how or why they perform a timing check, nor do they have much of an idea of the effect that changing the timing of an engine can have on its performance or lack thereof. But it is rather easy to get in the familiar process of setting an engine to a certain timing number and then just leaving it there. We say the engine seems to run it’s best at this number and we can find no reason that we should check it again and again but honestly it is something that we should look at far more often than we do. It can be an early warning of something going amiss in the valve timing or simply a part that is on the verge of failure. And if used properly, it can add a great deal of longevity to our racing engines. I know for a fact that someone, somewhere will ask someone this basic question this week – “the engine is a blah with blah-blah – how much timing should I put in it?”. Well, the answer is one that needs to be worked at and starting off with a baseline number is fine but finding out exactly what the engine wants on a given day at the track is a trial and error situation until you build historical data on that engine. So what you really should be doing is setting the timing to a baseline number, make a run and noting if there were any issues during the run, then increase the timing amount by 2-4 degrees and repeat the test process. To be very accurate about it, once the speed or elapsed time no longer improves, then you would want to back off the timing one degree for each test until you see another change in the test results. At that point, you increase the timing by 1 degree and should be at the optimal timing setting for the engine. Taking notes on weather, track and other settings of the vehicle will help you build the historical data that will allow you to readjust the timing quickly within the same conditions.

Timing is also an important factor in the typical hot rod engine used on the street. And when I say typical, I am talking about one that still uses an engine mounted distributor to move the spark energy to the spark plug. Most of the time, these engines are equipped with a carburetor and there are normally three elements of timing involved. Those are static timing, mechanical advance and vacuum advance. All three of these elements need to be fine-tuned to the engine combination and the vehicle in which it is used. Failure to miss on any of these elements can result in an engine that simply doesn’t start correctly and certainly, will not run very well. And just a note, unless an aftermarket engine balancer (harmonic balancer) was used during the build of the engine, you will need to install a timing tape so that you properly read the information that the engine is providing you. Next time around we will go through the proper procedure for a street style Chevrolet engine and we will do a review of the battery-powered timing light sold by Amazon.


Garage Antics, Mechanix Gloves and Road Trips

I have spent the last few days cleaning up my garage space, moving stuff around, trying to position Elvira and GT350 in workable locations, thrown out some junk but in the end, I am not sure I really gained anything at all. That could be the end of the story right there but one thing that I have found over the years is that when I “stall-out” on a project, one of the best things I can do is simply move it’s location. Something as simple as turning a car from nose to tail to tail to nose where it sits has been enough to relight my interest in the project. I have no idea why but I read that information in a car magazine ages ago and it works. So, in my case my space is wider than it is deep and while that’s fine for simply pulling in a normal sized vehicle, Elvira is a 235″ wheelbase dragster and it has never been able to fit in one of the garage stalls. I either have to move one end or the other to the side slightly to get the garage door to close. So to finish her up, I decided I was going to move it 90 degrees to the garage doors and this left me with plenty of space to move the GT350 alongside her. There is now enough space between each vehicle to work and I can create additional room just moving stuff outside temporarily. Admittedly it looks a bit funny right now but again for some reason it changes my perspective of the projects too.

I recently had the chance to attend several races with Doug and Phil, one of which I made a “live post” from. That was a lot of fun and in the future if I have the time and inclination, I think I will do it again. The app available for the iPhone worked rather well but typing on that little screen reminded me of Robin Williams in the movie “RV”. You could go blind if you had to do that a lot. One thing that I noticed during one of the races was younger racers trying to wear Mechanix type gloves as some type of fire protection. This is absolutely the wrong thing to be doing. Those gloves are mostly nylon and will simply melt and in a bad situation, they will melt and stay connected to your skin. Ask anyone in a burn unit that has seen something similar, I simply cannot imagine the pain involved with a doctor having to remove bits and pieces of melted nylon from your skin which is already severely damaged.  I certainly recommend that anyone racing, no matter the class, speed or elapsed time should wear safety gloves, but spend a little bit of money and buy the right gear. If you ever have need of it you will be glad that you have them on and that they can do their job to protect your hands, not add to your misery.

Each time I take the RV out on a road trip and the bulk of these have been to race tracks, I always have a mental list of items that either need repair or upgrading or just need something done about it. RVs are neat but they can also sound like a gypsy wagon going down the road with dishes, glassware and assorted other items banging around. Our RV is also about 10 years old now and while the mileage on it isn’t really anything to worry about, things just get loose over time and they need to be tightened up or mended in some fashion. On a nice smooth roadway, my RV is almost like one of those big Buicks my dad used to drive but just as soon as the pavement changes or there is any kind of pothole – look out, things can get a little bit exciting. Right now I am trying to quiet things down by taking some of the leftover indoor/outdoor carpet I have from the trailer project and use that to pad the wooden floors of the cabinets. I also had to replace the stereo system last year in the coach and need to put some Velcro on the feet of it to stop it from trying to march out of the entertainment cabinet. A new battery charger/convertor needs to replace the factory piece of junk that burns up the coach batteries and there is a new leak in the toilet valve that just showed up last weekend. A really good cleaning inside and out is also on the agenda. Plus it’s that time of year to climb on the roof and make sure everything is sealed and waterproof. And of course if I keep thinking about it the list is just going to get longer and longer. I do like having the RV at the race track especially on the multi-day events. We have in the past stayed in hotels, slept in the trailer or the truck, however being able to watch some racing, fix a meal, take a hot shower and bed down comfortably for the night without having to drive anywhere else has it’s advantages. And on that note, Debbie and I are going to take our first camping trip with the RV pretty soon. Should be some fun and I am looking forward to it.


Mid-Atlantic Championship

We are here at VMP for the Mid-Atlantic Championship. The race primarily consists of the top 20 in points in each racing class from local area dragstrips. Last night’s part of the event was lost to foul weather but today is at least dry but very heavily overcast. Phil is racing as an outlaw at this event as he missed the top twenty in points at Virgina Motorsports Park by one position. Doug is representing Richmond Dragway in the drag bike class having finished 8th in points. This is Doug’s second appearance in the finals with only two years of racing the bike.

Currently we are working our way through time trials and the runoffs between the different dragstrip’s class champions.

Our first time shot with the Camaro resulted in a minor bog at the launch so we made the decision to switch back to our larger carburetor. The first round of eliminations will start within the next hour and we will know if it was the right choice.

Just completed our first round of the gambler’s race. Ran a 6.01 on a 5.99 dial and took the win. Second round is probably a good 2 hours from now.

A little after 7:00p and we have now completed 2nd round with another win running 6.03 On a 6.00 dial. Humidity is high at 73% and that is killing a lot of power on our alcohol fueled engine. Doug took his round besting his opponent by a full bike length, running 6.02 on a 6.00 dial. Next round should be around 8:00p.

It is just after 9:00p and Doug just moved onto 3rd round with another victory. He dialed a 6.00 and ran a 5.99, however his opponent dialed at 6.10 left early turning on the red light. Next up after the drag bikes will be the 3rd round of Mofified racing.

Roughly 9:30p and 3rd round was our ending. A late tree that couldn’t be recovered from was the deciding factor. So the Camaro was put away for the evening. 3rd round for the drag bikes was also the end to Dougs running. A 5.80 on a 6.00 dial was just a bit too quick.

Tomorrow is the runoffs between the various tracks and that racing is scheduled to begin at 10:00a.

Day Two

It’s 11:00a and we are in the staging lanes ready for first round action. There is no re-entry or buy-backs for today. You either keep winning rounds or you go home.

And we win Round One with a 6.04 pass on a 6.03 dial. The pass would have have been a 6.03 but he killed some mph at the trap. Track is biting and the air is a touch dryer than last night, should be some fun, old style racing today.

Dougs first elimination run in drag bike comes at 1:30p but it ends his day as he breaks out running .002 too quickly and going red handing the win to his opponent.

Next up is the second round for Modified. The air has dried out considerably since the first round earlier and this normally translates to the Camaro running a bit quicker.

And we move on to third round having run a 6.02 on a 6.02 dial-in and our opponent leaving too early resulting in a red light.

Third round in Modified started just before 3:00p. Phil was the third set of cars to go down the track and once again dialed a 6.02. His opponent dialed at 8.31 red lighted giving the win to Phil and the Camaro. Phil ran the car out on what is basically a free time shot to a 6.01. The fourth round should start in about an hour.

It’s right at 4:00p now and we just finished the fourth round for us. Unfortunately Phil was a bit off on the tree and unable to catch his opponent. The Camaro ran a 6.01 on a 6.01 dial so we had the car figured out pretty good, just came up a little short this time.

I had a great time this weekend and enjoyed seeing a lot of my racing friends and even made some new friends. I am looking forward to the next event on our calendar, the Halloween Klash at Richmond Dragway.


Top 25 Motor Oils – October, 2017

Here is the top 25 motor oils available.

This quarter, there are not many changes to the list. For those of you living in the United States, it looks like the very best oils to use assuming that a 5W30 is your oil weight of choice should be Valvoline, Mobil 1 or Pennzoil.

Please remember that not all of these oils are available in all areas. Also any racing oils listed are not intended for long-term street use. Using race oils in street cars equipped with catalytic converters can damage them.

1. 0W40 Mobil 1 “FS” European Car Formula
2. 0W20 Quaker State Ultimate Durability
3. 5W30 Valvoline Full Synthetic High
4. 5W30 Pentosin Pento Super Performance III
5. 5W20 Quaker State Ultimate Durability
6. 5W30 Mobil 1, Advanced Full Synthetic
7. 10W30 Mobil 1, Advanced Full Synthetic
8. 5W30 Pennzoil Ultra
9. 5W20 Valvoline MaxLife High Mileage
10. 5W30 Mobil 1 ESP
11. 5W30 Quaker State Ultimate
12. 5W30 Pennzoil Euro “AV” European Formula
13. 5W30 Motul 300V Ester Core 4T Racing Oil
14. 5W30 Mag 1, FMX, European Formula
15. 5W30 Oil Extreme Motor Oil
16. 5W40 Mag 1, FMX, European Formula
17. 5W30 Valvoline MaxLife High Mileage
18. 5W30 Castrol Edge Professional
19. 10W30 Lucas Racing Only
20. CFS 0W30 NT Millers Nanodrive Racing Oil
21. 5W30 Mobil 1, Advanced Full Synthetic
22. 5W30 NAPA Full Synthetic
23. 0W30 Amsoil Signature Series 25,000 miles
24. 5W30 Joe Gibbs Driven LS30 Performance Motor Oil
25. 10W30 Valvoline NSL (Not Street Legal) Conventional Racing Oil

And if you are looking for a mileage improvement, consider Pennzoil Platinum 5W30 Pure Synthetic. Working with my wife’s Nissan Versa Coupe, we have been able to verify a 2 mpg increase with this oil. The oil is made from natural gas so the base stock is cleaner – there must be something to it.

Converters, Measurements and Dial Calipers – Oh My!

It’s a bit funny but I have probably explained the following procedure to a few friends a half-dozen times in the last few weeks. And honestly unless you too are a diehard drag racer using a GM style automatic transmission and converter setup, the information here is probably worthless. But then again, to a lot of those that do use that setup there seems to be a huge mystery to this procedure. Actually it’s all rather simple.

Why this might apply to some of the latest GM stuff, I am specifically talking about Powerglides, TH350s and TH400 transmissions. And this procedure should be used every time you have the transmission serviced or maintenance on the converter performed. You should also use it if you are changing the flexplate for the engine or the bell housing/transmission case.

First things first. The convertor has to seated properly in the transmission before anything else can happen. I like to call it the “3-step drop”. What needs to happen is that as you place the converter in the transmission, you need to make sure that the splines of the transmission are engaging the internal splines of the converter and that the converter hub properly seats within the drive tangs of the transmission fluid pump. It’s actually pretty easy although some converters can be a real bear getting them to make that final seating. What you will feel is that the converter “drops” or moves back further on the input shaft as you move the converter back and forth. The first drop is almost negligible and is simply the converter hub aligning itself with the outer portion of the transmission pump. The next drop is significant and typically moves the converter back about 1/2″, this indicates that those splines have now engaged each other. The last and final drop again is about 1/2″ and will be the hub engaging the fluid pump tangs. Now at this point, the converter is completely engaged in the transmission but if you were to run it this way, you would find that you will destroy your transmission pump in quick order. This brings up the procedure that needs to be used.

With the transmission installed in the car and bolted up properly to the engine, it is time to take a measurement. Depending on the combination of flexplate, the thickness of the converter mounting pads, the bell housing or transmission case and whether a rear engine plate is used, this measurement needs to end up being somewhere between .125 and .187. With the converter still pushed back into the transmission, we want to measure the distance between the flexplate and the mounting pads of the converter. The easiest way I have found to do this is to take a set of feeler gauges and insert a stack of them until the stack is just snug between the measurement points. One you have that measurement, you can then take a dial caliper and measure the thickness of the stack. This measurement will be the distance between the flexplate and the mounting pads of the converter. As an example, let us say the measurement is .234 – well that is a little bit too much as if we were to pull the converter forward and simply bolt it to the flexplate, we would run the risk of pulling the converter hub out of the drive tangs for the fluid pump and in turn we would have an inoperable transmission. What we need to do is a little bit of math. If our desired minimum clearance is .125, we deduct that from the measured distance, which in this case is .234. That leaves us with .109 as the excess distance. We now need to find some hardened washers or spacers to take up the extra clearance. Using the dial calipers again, we should be able to find washers that come close. Again as an example lets say we find 3 washers that are .090 in depth – three are required for the GM transmissions and we want to make sure that they are all the same. That still leaves us with .019 extra clearance but if we add that back to our desired .125, we come up with .144 which is well within the maximum amount of .187. We can now bolt the converter to the flexplate with the .090 washers between them and we have the proper clearance for the transmission to fully perform its job function.

Again, it takes longer to describe the process than it does to actually perform it. But making it a habit to do so when working on your transmission/converter setup is well worth the minor fuss. Not only are you insuring that you’re setup will be right, but if something else does happen to occur, at least you will know that the installation was performed correctly and that it is not part of the problem.





Ah, a little bit of downtime – thought I would try and get an update posted before the next bell rings and all hell breaks loose again.

I am currently sitting in a Micky D’s in a strange city – but they have free WiFi so what’s not to like? Before I left the nice comfy climate of home with it’s up and down weather patterns where one day you have two feet of snow and the next it’s 60-plus degrees I was able to accomplish a few things.

The Monza project has taken on a new life as we go from just replacing a few bits and pieces to very seriously rebuilding the car again. Honestly, I have most of the work I did last year on the car around this time completely tore apart. Of course the upside is that I know how it goes back together but I am not sure that really makes me feel that much better about it. The body is getting massaged and repaired as needed with the addition of new fiberglass doors, hood, scoop and rear hatch cover. All of these parts take a tremendous amount of time to sand, primer, sand, primer and so on to get them straight enough to shoot paint on. Oh yes, there is shooting paint too plus coming up with some new graphics to make the monotone paint job stand out. We have also elected to replace the 12 bolt GM rear in the car with a 9 bolt Ford piece, a little bit lower gear ratio, new front ladder bar adjustments, new rear disc brakes and I still have a set of headers to build for the new engine. And race day is less than a month from now – gonna be burning a lot of propane heat to get this done.


IMG_0764[1]IMG_0775[1] IMG_0771[1]







My dragster has patiently waited for the last 3 years to make it’s way back to the track and I am itching to get back in the driver’s seat myself. Most of the dragster is actually together – thank goodness – but it too needs a paint job along with a nice list of to-do’s just to button it up and get it going again. The last season I raced it, it was in grey primer – I vowed that I would not return looking like that again so I am really hopeful that once the Monza is all squared away, I can slide some body panels into the paint booth and get them done. I am also looking lighten up the front a little bit and the new power we have found should make for a fun ride.

The 350GT – yes I renamed it to the JDM model instead of the US designation is getting sanded down for paint. Of course just to throw me for a loop I moved the car to a different parking spot before the holidays and then went to move it in the garage a couple of weeks ago and it wouldn’t start. After a few minutes of “listening” and diagnosing the problem, I figured out that the original fuel pump had given up the ghost just sitting there. How that happened is well beyond me but there we go in 30 degree weather, snow on the ground and slush everywhere taking out the backseat and replacing the fuel pump with a new higher performance model. Oh and no one tells you that the new one doesn’t fit the freaking stock fuel pump holder! So it’s get the Dremel tool out and go to work making it a little bit larger so that it will fit the new, larger fuel pump. Aren’t performance parts just wonderful? And then me being me, I realize that while I have the rear seat out, hey I can pull those side interior pieces, re-glue the leather trim that is coming off and replace those lousy speakers with a new set of Alpines to match the rest of the car. And that’s how I end up with a GT350 that looks like it’s hiding from a wrecking yard with an interior that is in a million pieces. Maybe this summer we get red paint on it and the interior back together along with a new flywheel/clutch and a few other fun parts. Who knows- stranger things have happened.

And now you probably think I am going to talk about the Mustang or the ’55 – right? Nope, while those two projects are making some forward progress we will talk details about those two on the next post. What we have this time around is a Jeep project. This one belongs to my son-in-law John down in Florida. And what we are going to do, and I promised I would do this, is to document all of the steps we take to convert the Jeep from a straight 6 cylinder to a Small Block Chevy engine. We think there are some readers out there that might enjoy this series and it will also allow John to follow along as the work progresses. The swap is going to entail removing the current engine along with the radiator and attending support pieces for it. The Chevy engine will be connected to the current Torqueflite 404 transmission with an adapter kit, installed with custom motor mounts, a new radiator, headers/exhaust system and a few high performance pieces to make the engine perform and look better. Budget for this one is reasonable and one that most anyone could duplicate. One of the goals for the Jeep is to have something that fires right up, idles nice and performs nicely. We’re not building a drag car here or a mud-bogger, but something that will have some decent street manners and still be fun to drive. The old 6 cylinder has apparently been rebuilt in the past and is currently suffering a few maladies that while possibly fixable just don’t equal the fun value of adding the additional power and performance of a V-8 engine.

So that’s our update this time and darn it there goes the bell – gotta go but stay in touch!



I just finished watching a documentary on Steve McQueen and the making of his movie – LeMans. The name of this is Steve McQueen & LeMans.

As anyone who is familiar with the movie would know, I paraphrase one of the most moving lines in the movie as the tag line for my site ~

“racing is life, everything else is just waiting….”


During the documentary, Steve’s wife of the time Neile Adams makes a comment that during the making of the movie, Steve lost everything…..  maybe so. Steve never raced again, the desire to do so was gone and without that you endanger not only yourself but others around you, so I respect him greatly for that decision.

What he might have never known and I wish there was a way to tell him, was that he created a legion of men who understand, who understand that “When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.….”

I attended the movie “LeMans” the very first weekend it was shown in 1971, the movie and Steve changed the way I thought and felt about motor racing. My career, what there was of it, my family and friends, all the things that make me – me ~ all move to a little place somewhere else in my psyche when I step into my racing car. At that moment and until I step out, it is only man and machine. It always has been and it always will be like that for me.

Thank you Steve.