The Midwestern Council of Sports Car Clubs (MC) was started in 1958 as an expansion of the Midwestern Center of the MG Car Club. Its purpose was to provide a uniform set of regulations and promote sports car racing and other activities all over the Midwest. Today, the Midwestern Council is comprised of nine separate clubs and runs autocross and wheel-to-wheel competition on 10 to 14 race weekends. When I started Project Race Ready Golf last year, one of my goals was to run races with as many clubs and organizations as I could. For many years, the major road racing sanctioning body in the United States was the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), which remains a major force in amateur racing. But others, like the National Auto Sport Association (NASA), which started in California and moved east, have grown to national prominence. I ran a NASA event last year (Mid Ohio) with my Golf and enjoyed the laid-back yet professional attitude. This is in contrast to the uptight seriousness that I found in the three SCCA events at which I raced. Unfortunately, the engine woes in my VW racecar prevented me from sampling the Midwestern Council's fare. So when a one-day MC race was scheduled for a Sunday in early April, I decided to make the journey to Blackhawk Farms raceway and see what the group had to offer.
South Central Imports
As mentioned last time, after unsuccessfully racing a junkyard motor in my Golf for two races, I entrusted my car to Chad Erickson at South Central Imports (SCI) in Minneapolis, Minn. He pulled the engine and transmission and then stripped the block before sending it off to his local machine shop. There the block was pressure cleaned, the cylinders were bored and honed, the connecting rods were reconditioned to accept ARP rod bolts and the crankshaft was polished. The engine internals were reassembled with new intermediate shaft bearings, new pistons and ARP bolts for the main bearings. Some of this work might have been overkill (VW rod bolts are known to be very strong for example), but the object was to build an engine that was bulletproof.
Erickson rebuilt my transmission with new bearings and synchronizers and sent the cylinder head off to be inspected. When everything returned, he set about building the rest of the engine. He used undercut ARP cylinder head bolts and all-new water and oil pumps, along with his years of performance Volkswagen experience, to carefully put together an engine that wouldn't leak and that would hold up to the stresses of racing. The somewhat haphazard underhood environment of my racer also apparently offended his sense of aesthetics. When he reinstalled the engine, Erickson rerouted the wiring and cooling system hoses, making new brackets where needed to keep everything neat and orderly. South Central Imports doesn't do very many racecars; their usual work is VW service as well as building hot rod watercooled VWs, but the same level of preparation is apparent in all of the cars that leave the shop. In a previous life, Erickson used to help build and service rally cars, and his dedication to doing the job right really shows when you look at the neat arrangement under the hood of my car.
Off to the races
I had intended to redo some of the graphics on Project Race Ready Golf, partly in an attempt to exorcise some of last year's demons, but in typical racecar fashion I ran out of time before the Midwestern Council's Blackhawk Farms race was upon me. The Midwestern Council has gone to on-line registration and the process couldn't have been easier to let them know that I was planning on coming. They even e-mailed me a couple of days before leaving to tell me that my number, 94, was already assigned and I would have to run number 194. I made up some number 1's from black duct tape and attached them to the car. They didn't look bad from 30 feet away, but up close they were pretty ugly. This can happen to you when you go racing with a variety of different race groups and it pays to have a few extra numbers made up at a sign shop before-hand so that you won't get caught making numbers out of tape with scissors. With the car on the trailer and the promise of a sunny weekend, I hit the road for the five-hour drive to Blackhawk Farms, located on the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
I arrived at the track early on Sunday morning. I needed to get through registration and get my car inspected before my first session at 9:30 a.m. When I got there a few minutes before registration was due to open at 7:00, I was amazed to see that there was no line and that registration was already up and running. Not only that, it was quick and efficient (thanks in part to online registration) and minutes later I was inside the track and unloading my car from the trailer. Because Blackhawk doesn't allow racing engines to run before 8 a.m., I pushed my car over to the technical inspection (with the help of another friendly racer) and in no time my car was under scrutiny. It passed without problems and was even given an annual inspection and a Midwestern Council logbook. Everyone was friendly and polite and seemed genuinely happy to be there early on a Sunday morning, quite a contrast with some of the other organizations with which I had raced. I pushed the car to one side and waited for the hour to approach, at which time I could start it and drive back to my paddock spot.
Power is a good thing. Just leaving the pits on my first lap with Project Race Ready Golf, I could already tell the engine was stronger than it had been last year. It pulled with authority and felt strong as I accelerated through the gears. I had set the rev limiter to 6000 rpm for this first session, as I wanted to let the engine have a chance to break in a bit before really hammering on it. It ran fine, although for the first couple laps, my brand-new Avon Tech-R tires from The Tire Rack seemed a bit squirrelly, especially under braking, where the rears were prone to lock-up. I had intended to fit the new Satisfied racing brake pads (also available from Tire Rack), but they were too thick to fit the stock calipers on my Golf, so the braking system was unchanged from last season. Still, the session went well, the engine felt strong and I ran 8 or 9 laps, happy with the car. After the session, I noted that only a little oil was apparent in the catch tank, so the new piston rings were seating well. I changed the oil and filter to get rid of any debris from break-in that might have accumulated and lowered the tire pressure, especially at the rear, in an effort to improve braking.
The second session on the track was my qualifying session. The morning was warming up nicely and I tried a bit harder than I had on my first session. I bumped the rev limiter up to 6200 rpm and I was rewarded with third in my class (Improved Touring B), behind a class-leading BMW 2002 and a surprising Pontiac Fiero. More importantly, the lowered pressure in my tires made the car feel better, although it was still prone to rear-wheel lockup under hard braking. I had unfortunately filled the gas tank before leaving home, and the extra weight probably didn't help my times. The tire pressures still were high and I readjusted them again, to about 39 psi-hot in the front and about 37 psi-hot in the rear, hoping this might help the brakes at the rear. Not that it mattered; I was solid in the field, the change to racing oil improved the engine's hot oil pressure to about 40 psi, and I was ready for the afternoon's race.
Third on the ITB grid put me about mid-pack in the field, among a group of Mazda Miatas (Improved Touring Class A), and ahead of a pretty first-generation Rabbit GTI. I had a terrible start; as the field funneled into turn 1 I was passed on the inside by a Miata and the other VW as the outside line of cars got bunched up. By the end of the first lap we had sorted ourselves out, with the Rabbit leading two Miatas, closely followed by me in my Golf.
The next laps were exciting. The Rabbit driver was desperate to stay ahead of the Miatas, and the Miatas were desperate to get ahead of the Rabbit. I was desperate to pass the Miatas so I could battle with the Rabbit (which was in my class). Every time one Miata would get into position to pass, the other Mazda would dive inside of him, trying to take away the position. Every time I managed to pass one of the Miatas and set up to pass the second one, the other would re-pass me. It was fun. The locking of my rear brakes meant I couldn't brake deep into the corners, and the light weight and superior brakes of the pair of two-seat sports cars meant that I had to wait for the Miata drivers to make a small mistake before I could pass them. Suddenly, the VW Rabbit driver touched a curb and spun in front of us and I was left with the two Mazdas. I felt some relief, as I had been watching another car in my class, the BMW 2002, slowly catching our little group as we were running about a second per lap slower than my qualifying time, thanks to the constant racing battle.
The two Miatas now set off at a slightly faster pace and I hung with them, less desperate to pass, but still pouncing on them whenever an opening presented itself. My fastest lap of the race, about a second faster than my qualifying time, occurred chasing the two Mazdas as I got a good draft in their slipstream while hurtling down the main straight. Then, on the final corner of the final lap, the leading Miata spun, letting the second Miata and me through. My class leaders were off in the distance. I had finished third, but I had driven well. I had a good time and came back with the car in one piece. Best of all, nothing in my new engine had broken, and if anything it felt stronger at the end of the race than it had at the beginning.
When I started this project I wanted to have a chance to try out different VW-oriented products and make some comparisons between them. It didn't happen last year because of problems with which any racer will be familiar. Although I didn't get to compare any hardware on this race weekend, I did get a chance to experience the Midwestern Council of Sports Car Clubs. I came a way more than a little impressed. The MC ran a tight ship, was concerned with safety, but also had a good sense of fun. Best of all, I had the feeling that everyone, workers, officials and racers, were happy to be there. Although my goal remains to experiment with different setups and organizations, I would be happy to run with these folks again.
At a Glance
ARP Rod Bolt Set
ARP Main Bearing Bolt Set
ARP Head Bolt Set
Rod Bearing Set
Main Bearing Set
Intermediate shaft bearings
Head Gasket (16V)
Assorted radiator hoses
Oil dipstick and funnel
Distributor rotor and cap
Spark plugs and wires
Transmission bearings and synchronizer rings
Oil and filters