PRE-INTERSTATE ROAD RACING, Pt. III
© 2014 Chuck Klein
Preface: This is part three of at least six parts about racing on public streets and highways – narrow roads that were void of white edge lines and reflective warning signs - the days just prior to the Interstate expressway system. The cars, during this era (1958-1961), were sans radial tires, disk brakes or power steering.
THE DIRT TRACK
At 50 +/- MPH, it had to appear that we were hurtling straight for the telephone pole...then at what must have seemed like the absolute last possible moment - as the tires chirped on the hard dirt in a full panic-stop - she was thrown forward, her knuckles white against the black chicken-bar. Suddenly realizing we weren't going to hit the pole, the pony-tailed blonde surely believed we were going to roll. One hand came free as she was slammed against the passenger door, the open roadster making a very hard left while the rear end swung out and the engine revved tight. Surviving all that, and as we headed into the straight-a-way, the 16 year-old was now pinned to the seatback - a prisoner of acceleration.
After three times around, I pulled into the infield and grinned at my passenger, a teen-age honey. She was wide-eyed and as white as my Ermine White Vette. "I, I, I...was never so scared. I thought we were going to hit that pole...and roll over...let’s do it again," she stammered. Stop watches in hand, my buddy and the 5/8 mile dirt track owner were striding over excitedly proclaiming that I had broken the track record.
The track was wide enough to allow the technic of the four-wheel- drift – described below. Before ever trying this in my expensive and fast Corvette, I had become somewhat proficient at this technique by practicing in my Almquist bodied Crosley Sports car I had built during my 16th year and on snow covered parking lots in a 1957 Ford.
1960 Corvette with some of the trophies
This was early summer, 1960, and I was just getting the feel of my combination 18th birthday gift and high school graduation present, a new 230 HP, 3-speed (close-ratio) Corvette with options of AM Push-Button radio, White-wall tires and heater. The cost was $3433.01. The track, laid out in some farmer's field, was near Middletown, about an hour north of Cincinnati. It was the only place around that permitted anyone with a driver's license to race. Passengers were also allowed - this in the days long before the proliferation of lawyers that got into everything. I loved road racing, but being only 18 years old SCCA was out of the question for three more years.
Post-graduation, and against my parent's wishes, I took a job instead of going to college. I needed money to build my Vette - I mean what's more important, playing Joe College with a stocker or having a fast machine?
During the rest of the summer, as funds permitted, I added: Marchal headlamps, quick steering adapter, HD shocks, metallic brake linings, 4-speed transmission, HD clutch, three two-barrel carburetors on an Offenhauser manifold, Duntov 098 cam with solid lifters, dual points and a Mallory 50K volt coil. The last item was one of the most significant improvements - in relation to other hi-performance 283 Chevys. When I first installed the coil, the engine developed a miss, but it seemed to run great at speed. I figured the coil was bad, but before taking it back, for some reason, I thought to turn the lights out in the garage and watch the engine run with the hood up. There were sparks all over the place.
Though I had replaced the factory graphite spark plug wires with stranded type wires, voltage was leaking everywhere. I took some neoprene fuel hose, slit pieces to match each plug wire and then sealed the wires in the neoprene with electrician's tape. Now, there was no leakage and performance was significantly enhanced.
Sure, this stuff was expensive and it took every dime I earned, but I was living at home and had a pal whose father owned a garage. He had given me the garage's vender’s number thus allowing me to purchase all Chevrolet parts at a 40% discount.
1 Four speed transmission $254.56
1 Heavy duty clutch $30.21
4 Heavy duty shocks $29.40
4 Sets, metallic brake linings $35.21
1 Quick steering adapter $11.33
1 Dual point distributor $40.40
1 Duntov 098 Camshaft $22.43
1 Set solid lifters $21.17
1 Set of gaskets $12.18
3 Two barrel Rochester carbs $54.88
1 Edelbrock intake manifold $53.20
1 Fuel block and fittings $28.49
1 50M volt coil $30.00
2 Marchal head lamps $14.20
By late summer, I discovered three problems:
1) Hot days and/or racing produced vapor lock;
2) Hard cornering sometimes caused loss of power due to the carburetor float remaining closed because gas was jamming it in the up position;
3) Progressive linkage was not conducive to road racing.
The solution to the last problem was easy. With some scrap steel and the use of the lathe in the machine shop of my father’s factory, I rigged straight linkage and set it up to idle on the center carb only. The fix for the other issues came to me in an inspiration. I bought an extra fuel pump (electric) and fuel block. Then I drilled and tapped a hole into the base of each float bowl where I threaded in a ball-check valve and a flow valve. I ran a fuel line back to the fuel tank from the new pump. Now, I had one pump pumping gas into the carbs in the normal fashion, while another pump sucked gas out of the carbs - though restricted by the flow-valve. It took some experimenting with float levels and flow-valve settings, but after I got it worked out I never had vapor lock or "ran out of gas" in a corner again.
The metallic brake linings for the drum brake era were a significant factor. To test them, I found an open stretch of highway in the pre-dawn hours and ran from zero to 100 back to zero – at a full panic-stop - three times in a row without any brake fade. It took brute force to push this very hard non-power or vacuum assist pedal, but these racing brakes really worked. The heavy duty mechanical clutch also required significant leg muscles - I couldn’t hold it in at a stop light for more than 15-20 seconds before my leg would begin to shake. Likewise, power steering was not an option and though the quick ratio alternative was better than standard; it still required more turns lock-to-lock than modern everyday sedans.
Continued on next page...
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