Tuesday, April 17, 2012

From build to track ready... for Formula Drift Long Beach Round 1: Part 2 of 2

Finally my first official drivers meeting as a pro FD driver!! Everything was starting to sink in, but the fact that my car still needed work was really bugging me. After the driver's meeting I needed to take a head shot for the FD website and man was that line long!! I had no choice, I wanted my picture on the website so I waited. After that was done, I still had to get my registration packet from will call, clear across on the other side. As I was walking over the bridge leading to the entrance/will call I see part of my practice group heading out to line up for practice. At that moment my stress level shot through the roof! My car was no where near drive-able. So as soon as we got what we needed, my team and I literally ran back to the car!

First thing we did when we got to the car was unload it from the trailer, put it on jack stands and then my pit crew went to mount the new Falken 615K's on the rims. Meanwhile they did that I started doing the front end alignment. I had to re-center the rack and eyeball the rest of the adjustments. That took a little longer then expected, and before I knew it my crew was back with the tires. They quickly started helping me with the alignment, and in the background all I could hear was the roaring of engines passing by during practice and I couldn't help but become even more nervous. The thought of missing valuable practice time was beginning to mess with my head since I had never driven the car with the new 26 setup before. 

With the front alignment done I decided to just tighten up all of the rear adjustable arms and leave them the way they were considering I had no more time. I quickly added power steering fluid and bled the brakes. As soon as I was getting out from under the car I see my practice group pulling back in to the pits! Practice time was officially over and as hard as I tried to make it...I had missed it!! In order to get some practice time in I asked if I could run in practice group B, but was denied. So with no other practice opportunities I had to face the fact that my first time driving the car would be during my qualifying runs. Since I had an hour before qualifying I decided to switch out my alternator that had all of a sudden stopped charging my battery. (refer back to part 1)

At this point it was a good time to sit down with my team and strategize our plan of action. I decided I was gonna go balls out and just try not to wreck my car. Sounded like a good idea to me! Staging time arrived in the blink of an eye and I was in the car ready to head out! It felt amazing being in the drivers seat and on track once again. My team took their place as I headed to the starting line. The first couple of cars went and I got news that one of them had crashed and that raised my nerves a bit. Next I got news that I was up after Daigo Saito, a tough act to follow but I was as ready as I was gonna be. I started doing some doughnuts to heat up my tires and fell back into position ready to go. I got the flag to go and took off on first gear. The power felt amazing but at the same time I had zero grip. I was grip-less in first, second and third gear. I initiated before turn 9 of the track, transitioned into 10 and heard a loud clunk and I immediately spun. I drove the car slowly through the rest of the track while all I heard was clunk, clunk, clunk. I pulled into the pits and looked under the car and realized I had broken my passenger side axle. At this point I had one of two decisions to make, I could 1.) replace the axle and try to make it for my second qualifying run or 2.) call it a day and face the fact that Long Beach had gotten the best of me.

After some consideration I opted for option 2. As much as I didn't want to give up, I felt as if it was one of the smartest decisions I had made. One of the main reasons why I thought the axle broke was because the alignment was so far off, the wheel was literally on positive camber. I was scared that if I was to drive it again and it happened to break in mid drift close to a wall that it would send me directly into it and possibly put the rest of the season in jeopardy. So with that decision made I left the car in the pits and made my way to the stands to cheer on my fellow team mates.

While I was in the stands I got a phone call from one of my sponsors Scott at Fontana Nissan. He informed me they were gonna have a booth on display Saturday and wanted to know if they could use my car. I didn't think twice and said yes. So with that I enjoyed the show. Midway through I saw Yukio from Turbo by Garrett and flagged him down to talk and explain to him what happened. Fortunately he understood and wasn't at all mad with my performance.

After qualifying was done we all headed to the pits and were about to load up, when Nick (assistant technical manager for FD) came by in the golf cart and gathered all the drivers and proceeded to take us to the autograph signing session. Luckily I had hero cards all set and ready to go, provided by CX Racing. It was a very special experience, one that I will definitely never forget. It was the excitement on children's faces when they would ask for an autograph that will always stick with me. I didn't think that anyone would want or ask for my autograph, but to my amazement I went through a majority of my hero cards.

The following day I had to be at the track before 8am to get my car situated at the Fontana Nissan booth. I got there with only a few minutes to spare and barely made it out of the pits. I was excited to have my car on display since I knew it would get a lot of media and publicity for the days event. As I drove up to the booth I was greeted by Scott, Karryann, Yukio and the guys from DaYUUM http://www.facebook.com/Hot.DaYUUM?ref=ts and http://dayuum.com/. We chatted for a bit and I explained the fiasco that had all happened the day before and started prepping for what we were sure was gonna be a long busy day. FD Long Beach was completely sold out and was standing room only.

I did some last minute sticker touch ups and prepped the car for viewing. Throughout the day I was talking to fans, answering questions, and posing for pictures. It was an amazing and eye opening experience. I had gotten a sense of accomplishment even though I didn't make it to the big show.

Overall, even though the weekend didn't go as I had hoped, it worked itself out and was successful in the long run. I couldn't have done it with out all of my sponsors: Fontana Nissan, NissanRaceShop.com, Turbo by Garrett, Raw Brokerage, CX Racing, Turbosmart USA, Whiteline Flat Out, Falken Tire, OSR Dyno Shop, ViS Racing, Clutch Masters, BC, Import Performance Shop, Bill Reep Fire Systems, Borracho Racing.

 I also need to give a big thank you to my team for all the support as well: Brady Melin, Tony Cisneros and my amazing girlfriend Erica Chavez. They were there when I needed them the most and of course with the support of my family I made it to my first FD event as a pro. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

From build to track ready... for Formula Drift Long Beach Round 1: Part 1 of 2

Hold on to your seat, its going to be one crazy true story you are about to read!

As I was behind schedule 2 weeks before Long Beach, I had finally got the motor running and was able to focus on other small details that had to be done. I started the motor at about 1 am, let it idle for a few minutes then proceeded to give it some throttle. When all of a sudden I realized a knock coming form the top of the cylinder head that didn't sound normal to me. Very quickly millions of ideas started running through my mind of what it could be. Unfortunately it seemed like it was no easy fix. Considering the time of day I couldn't do much. So I decided to try and get some rest for what was to come. 

Early in the morning I decided to call the machine shop that built my cylinder head with all of my performance parts (from BC Brian Crower) only to be told to take the car down there so they could hear it. So there I go, I load up the car, drive 20 minutes away and was told that the head seemed fine and it surely must be something on the bottom end. With that I took the car home and quickly started disassembling the front sub-frame to drop the oil pan while the engine was still inside the car. I pulled rod bearings number 2 and 3 out just to realize that they still looked perfectly brand new from when I installed them. So I re-assembled the whole thing back together and decided to do a leak down test which came back with perfect results. I also decided to do a compression test which also passed with flying colors. I then decided to pull off the exhaust manifold just to make sure there was nothing inside of the collectors. I then realized there was oil on 4 of the 6 exhaust ports of the cylinder head, I immediately called the machine shop once again and told them my findings. They still assured me that it wasn't the head but said if I wanted to I could take the car over there so they could see it again. At this point I was beginning to lose my mind and starting to get a bit frustrated to say the least. Giving them the benefit of the doubt I took it down there AGAIN! After seeing the head they denied  any possibilities if it being the head. I told them I was going to take the whole motor out and start from scratch and told them I would take them the head once it was off so they could double check their work. This was on a Saturday afternoon the weekend before Formula Drift. 

So I went home and started taking everything apart. I took the whole motor out of the car put the engine on the engine stand and started taking apart the motor. It was 8 pm at night when there was only a block hanging on the engine stand. At this point I was contemplating whether or not to take the head back to the machine shop that did the work the first time. My friend Uriel saw a post of my frustration on Facebook and called to inform me of a machine shop that does really good work, Torres Performance Shop. So having faith in his recommendation I decided to take the head first thing Monday morning to Torres Performance Shop.

When I got there I spoke to Tony and explained to him my situation and that I HAD to be at FD Long Beach Rd 1 in 4 days with a running car. He agreed and told me he would do anything in his power to get it done. That Monday afternoon he gave me a call and informed me that the valve lash was way off. We were at 34 thousands when we should have been anywhere between 10 and 16 thousands, and 1 valve was completely missing a shim. So he asked me to find the shim and take it to him while he began to adjust and calibrate the intake side. Later that day about 4:45pm I received another phone call from Torres Performance with some more bad news. Due to the old adjustment my exhaust valves were cut too short and he could no longer use them to get the adjustment he needed and I would require new exhaust valves. I quickly started looking for new exhaust valves. I called my sponsor BC asking for replacement valves which are 1mm over sized, only to be told all they had in stock were .5mm and the ones I needed were back order for 2 weeks...great just what I needed! I called around and no one had what I needed locally except for one place, FRSprort. Of course there was a catch and it couldn't be so easy, they were almost $500. Being a privateer that was a big hit. 

First thing Tuesday morning I drove down to Fontana Nissan to pick up a shim then to FRSport in Irvine for the valves, then shot straight to Murrieta to drop off the parts at Torres Performance. I was told it might be done that night or for sure first thing in the morning. I watched as the clock struck 5 and still no phone call. I had to impatiently wait till morning before I could get my head. At this point I was a sitting duck and couldn't do much with out my head. 

Wednesday morning I received a call from Torres Performance with shockingly some more bad news...my exhaust cam was cracked and now broken! So now I needed a rare hard to find RB26 exhaust cam. At this point I was beginning to lose hope of making it to my first pro FD event. I was beginning to think of all my disappointed sponsors. I didn't want to let them and most importantly myself down. Once again I frantically called every place imaginable to try and locate an exhaust cam. To my disappointment the closest ones available were in Kentucky and Florida. I had hit my lowest point when luckily one of my sponsors Scott from Fontana Nissan/Nissanraceshop.com gave me a call and informed me he knew of an exhaust cam. My fellow Fontana Nissan/Turbo by Garrett/Turbosmart/Whiteline Flat Out teammate and also Scott's Girlfriend Kerryann De La Cruz (http://www.facebook.com/KerryannDeLaCruzRacing) owns and drives an R32 which is currently under construction and she would let me borrow the exhaust cam off of her car. I just had to pick it up in Irvine, 5 minutes away from where I had picked up the valves less then a day ago. So I drive out there yet again got the cam and headed straight to Murrieta. I had a glimmer of hope and decided to wait at Torres Performance for the head to be done. 3 hours and $700 later I was driving home, wasn't too sure if I was happy or sad that my head was done. So as soon as I got home I started re assembling my engine and thanks to my dad, my little 13 year old brother and friend Mogly the engine was running by 4 am Thursday morning. Now it was really crunch time as I had to be in Long Beach for re-tech and weigh in by 7pm. 

Needless to say I wasn't able to sleep and continued working on the car. By 1pm Thursday I was loaded and headed to Gavilla Automotive where my best friend Hilario was ready to finish my exhaust. I got there and at that point realized my alternator was no good and had to jump start my car to drive it onto the lift. By 3:30pm I was headed to OSR Dyno where my good friend Reggie was waiting to dyno tune the car, something that should have been done weeks ago. Better late then never right?! While he was dyno tuning and setting up the Haltech I was installing the rear Lexan window and passenger Sparco seat. At the same time my spotter and good friend Tony did a tire run for me to Falken headquarters in Fontana to pick up the new rubber for round 1. Time was not on my side, it was now 5:30pm. I needed to get on the road for Long Beach ASAP. I asked Reggie if I could take the car and bring it back to finish dyno tuning after re tech roughly about 11 pm. To no surprise and his support he agreed and said to just give him a call on the way back and he would open up the shop for me. So we unstrapped the car from the dyno loaded up and headed to Long Beach. We got to Long Beach exactly at 7pm rolled the car off the trailer and straight into tech. We weighed in at the 275 class and had to change a couple of things but fortunately we were granted to drive round 1 and passed tech. So once again we load up the car and head back to Fontana to make our way to OSR Dyno. We stopped and got some Panda Express as it was basically my breakfast. After eating I grabbed a fortune cookie, cracked it open, read my fortune and really felt as if it was a sign for me. 

We arrived an hour off our guesstimation time, it was now 12am Friday the day of FD. So we strapped down the car on the dyno as Reggie and Mario worked their magic. I was a bit anxious to say the least, I kept anticipating another road block. To my surprise everything went pretty smooth and at 2 am the final dyno run was made. 

Let me tell you...at that moment I wanted to cry. I was so proud of all that was accomplished and what I was able to build in my garage with my very own hands. 

So we loaded up and finally headed home but not to sleep but to keep working on the car. I had to be in Long Beach by 8:30am for a mandatory drivers meeting. So I get my to do list and give myself til 6:30 am at the latest to leave the house. 6:30am quickly came by and passed and we still hadn't finished up or loaded the car. So we stopped the work, loaded up the car and hoped to finish the car before practice. We got to Long Beach at 8:15am, I suited up and barely made it to the drivers meeting... since they decided to start it early! 

Part 2 coming soon! Too much to write for 1 entry, and hold on to your hat kids the story only gets bumpier from here!