By February 2016, we completed the build and were ready to race. Our first race was scheduled for the South course race at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in March. This was a 12hr race. We only made it through about 1.5 hours of racing before we had a “Money shift” that took us out of the race. The clutch had completely exploded sending shrapnel throughout the engine compartment, luckily no one was injured. We brought the car back to the garage, pulled the motor, and had to replace several parts that were damaged. Then we had to get it back together to be able to race in July at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
We repaired the car and were ready for the 14 hour race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The temperatures were hot and the track was very unforgiving. The attrition was extremely high for this race; 46 cars started the race and only 17 finished. We had several small issues with the car throughout the day. A fuel injector had to be replaced and electrical issues had the car in the pits more than we hoped for but we pushed ourselves and persevered to the end. We ended the race with a 9th place overall finish and got 1st in “B” class.
Our next race was at Virginia International Raceway for the North Course 2016 race. It was a Double 8’s race with 8 hours on Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday. We started the race with high hopes since our last race gave us a class win. Unfortunately, it did not end well for us. We were 6 hours into the race, running in a “top 20” position and gaining on the field, when we had a loss in oil pressure and locked the motor up. This took us out of the race and sent us home knowing we were going to have to pull the motor and completely rebuild it.
We spent the next several weeks working late into the night to get the motor rebuilt and back in the car so that we could be ready for the South Course race at VIR in March 2017.
We had the car back together with less than a week to spare. We took the car to a track day to make sure it was race ready. At the track day we were experiencing electrical issues with the alternator. Over the course of the next week, we tried to isolate the electrical problem, but to no avail, we couldn’t get it figured out before the race.
The race began with frigid cold temperatures and a dark cloud looming over us because we knew that we were still having electrical issues that would give us problems throughout the race. We had several unscheduled pit stops to try to fix the problem and ended up replacing the alternator during a driver change. Even with all the extra time in the pits we still ended the race with a 14th place finish overall.
Between March and August we added a new driver to our roster. Longtime friend and fellow race enthusiast Dan Koehler. Dan has been racing in the Go-Kart world his entire life. He wanted to make the move to auto racing so we were more than happy to have him join our team. Cliff and Dan started racing go-karts together at the age of 10.
As the race began, we knew that we still had not properly diagnosed the electrical issues that have plagued us throughout the previous race. Knowing that, we did not go into the race with high hopes of finishing this race. Our first issue was with a rear caliper lock up which we repaired quickly. Shortly after that, we soon realized that our new driver, who wasn’t used to racing cars with a clutch, had inadvertently burned out the brand new clutch in the car. Honestly, none of us had ever seen such carnage as to what we saw when we removed the clutch from the engine. After we got it replaced and got the car back on track, we still were having electrical issues with the alternator charging the battery. Ultimately, we ended up burning through three alternators before having to call it quits on the race. We couldn’t race anymore without an alternator, so we charged both batteries overnight and got the car back on track the following day to give our drivers some seat time. As the race ended and we pulled the car into the paddock, we heard a strange noise coming from the engine. We soon realized that the timing was off, so we packed up and headed home.
At home, we pulled the engine from the car and soon found out that the timing chain had started to disintegrate within the engine. We ordered all the necessary OEM parts and got the engine back together. We also dug deep into the “Rabbit Hole” of known electrical issues with Nissan 240’s and finally figured out what our problem was with the alternator. With all our issues straightened out, we looked ahead to our next race to make sure we were prepared for the North Course race at VIR.
December 2017 - VIR North
Now that we had our electrical issues figured out, we were very optimistic about the outcome of this upcoming race. We knew that if we ran a flawless race, and didn’t have any mechanical issues, than there was no reason that we couldn’t get a podium finish. This race was going to be different than all of our previous races. Since one of our drivers could not make it to Saturday’s race, we decided to split each day with only two drivers in the car on Saturday and the other two would drive on Sunday. This strategy also worked to our advantage because it allowed the driver that wasn’t racing on Saturday to focus on pit strategy, while the other two focused on driving the car. On Sunday, the two drivers that raced on Saturday would then focus on what was going on in the pits and not have to worry about driving that day.
The race started that Saturday morning. With the drop of the green flag, we were gunning for the front of the pack. We started in 34th position and quickly made our way through the field, and by the time we were finishing up our 2nd stint, we were had made our way into 4th position. Unfortunately, our luck had run out and we began seeing high temps on our water temperature gauge. We bought the car into the pits, popped the hood, and quickly realized that our alternator bolt had come loose causing the belt on the engine to loosen up. We tightened everything up and sent the car back on track, but the damage was already done. When the belt loosened, it meant the water pump wasn’t working properly and it caused us to blow a head gasket on the engine. With the head gasket now blown, it was a losing battle to keep our engine temperatures down. We had to bring the car into the pits numerous times to add more water to it throughout Saturday’s race. We finished the race with an 11th place finish. Not bad considering how many times we had to make unscheduled pit stops to add water to the car. That evening, we spent a lot of time figuring out what we could do to get the car ready for Sunday’s race. We sent two drivers to the local auto parts store. They returned with Blue Devil “stop leak” to put in the engine to hopefully seal the blown head gasket. With everything back together, we drove the car around the paddock to get engine temps up and it seemed that we had put a temporary fix on the engine for Sunday’s race……or so we thought.
With the start of Sunday’s race, we were in 10th place due to the reversing order from Saturday’s race. That 10th place position did not last long because we quickly learned that our “temporary fix” did not hold and we had high engine temperatures once again. The only thing we could do at this point was bring the car in for unscheduled pit stops to fill up with water. Each of our two drivers got a little less than two hours in the car before we called it quits and went home once again without finishing the race.
Since the December race, we pulled the 2.4 liter 4 cylinder engine and replaced it with a 3.0 liter V6 engine from a 97’ Nissan Maxima. Over the course of the last year, we have been deciding between putting a turbo on the 4 cylinder, or doing a V6 engine swap. Due to the recent change in the engine swap rules (points wise), it made more sense to do the engine swap instead of a turbo.
We will see what the future holds, but were optimistic that, with the increased horsepower, we can get that elusive podium finish that we’ve been striving for over the course of the last two years.
We started this race having no idea if the car would last even a stint let alone the entire 12-hour race. This would be the debut of our new 3.0 liter V6 engine swap that we have been working hard to finish before this race. We didn't even have time for a test day to shake the car down, so this race would be a test to our ability to build a new drivetrain that would last the rigors of a 12-hour endurance race.
The race began with us starting near the tail end of a 60+ race car field. By the end of the first 2 hour stint we were in the top ten and looking at a realistic top 5 finish. Unfortunately, on the last lap before the driver came in for the pit stop, the car ran out of fuel on the backside of the track. That brought out the “full course yellow” for the race as we were towed into the pits. Since we were in a rush to get the engine swap finished in time for the race, we had no realtime data on the car to know how long we could go on a tank of fuel. We also did not have time to install a fuel gauge on the new surge tank. So with our driver change and refueling complete, the car was back on track in 25th place. We spent the next 10 hours logging laps and setting new personnel bests for all our drivers. As the race was coming to a close, we had moved ourselves into 5th place and closing in on 4th. We finished the race in 5th place and only seconds behind 4th place. It was our best overall finish in the 3 years since we began racing and we couldn’t be more excited. We celebrated that night and began to prepare for next race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in April.
Charlotte Motor Speedway:
Over the last year, we have become friends with another Hickory based team called “The Wannabe Newmans”. They wanted to race at Charlotte, but they only had 2 of the 4 drivers that were able to race. So two of us ( Cory Brown and Corey Danley ) decided to help them out and rent seat time in their 1987 Nissan 300zx. We were both very excited to not only drive our car, but also drive in another Nissan during the same race. We also knew that we would possibly both be on the track at the same time racing against each other. Turns out, both times we were in the cars, we were racing against one another.
As the race began, we started yet again near the back of the field due to the random drawing for the start of the race. We quickly moved our way up the field and were in 4th place by the end of the first stint. As we were preparing for our pit stop and the driver was making his way around for his final lap he ran out of gas on the back straight. We had to be towed in which brought out the Full Course Yellow. We started our driver change/fueling of the car. We soon realized that the tank was not empty, since it did not take the full allotment of fuel. Turns out, we had a bad fuel pump in the tank. We pulled the car off the pits and did a quick change on the fuel pump. With the fuel pump replaced, we were back on track twenty minutes later. As the race went on, we continued to make our way back the the front of the field. A short time later, we once again were back in the pits due to an exhaust leak on the header manifold, which had to be repaired. With about four hours left in the race we had to call it quits when the transmission got stuck in fourth gear. With our car out of the race, we turned our attention to our other team, Wannabe Newmans. By this point, they were in a top ten position and were moving up into a possible top five. With only 2 1/2 hours left in the race, their car experienced an electrical issue which fried most of the electrical components in the car. At this point, both cars were out of the race and we packed up and headed home.
VIR Full Course:
With our exhaust manifolds replaced and the transmission repaired, we set off to Virginia International Raceway for the “Lifeline 24hr Classic”. Yet again, this race would be a test of our cars ability and the crews determination to make it to the checkered flag.
We started this race at about mid pack of a 100+ field of cars. Towards the end of the first stint, we had made our way up to 16th place. A red flag came out and the driver pulled the car off track and shut off the engine. At this point, our driver only had a couple more laps left in his stint before a refuel and driver change. Once the red flag was cleared and it went to a full course yellow, our driver started the car, and noticed that the fuel pressure gauge was at 12psi. Normally the car runs at anywhere between 38-42psi. The driver knew there was an issue with a fuel pump so he brought the car into the pits and we diagnosed that it was, in fact, a fuel pump that had failed once again. We got it replaced and got the new driver back on track. By this point, we were now in 82nd position. This was a 24hr race so we knew we had plenty of time to make it back to the front of the field. Over the next 21 hours we pushed the car to its limits, and we crossed the finish line in 16th place.
The North Course race at VIR would be our final race for the 2018 season. The forecast showed rain for the whole weekend so this would be the first time our drivers would have to race in the rain. Most of us were looking forward to this race because racing in the rain is a great equalizer between cars and a test to the drivers ability to adapt to the ever changing conditions on the track.
We used a split driver strategy for this race once again, since it was an 8hr race on Saturday, and a 7hr race on Sunday. Saturdays race did not have much rain but there were still lots of wet areas on the track. We finished Saturdays race in 6th place. Sundays race had lots of rain with standing water on track. We were having difficulty keeping pace with the other cars, so our crew chief brought the car into the pits to disconnect the front sway bar in the middle of the drivers stint. That showed immediate results and took 10 seconds off the drivers lap times. We finished that race in 11th place.
This would be the start of our 2019 season at the famous Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. None of our drivers had ever raced here before, so a lot preparation went into this race. We all studied numerous videos from the likes of Randy Propst and several others. We also purchased a racing simulator, so that our drivers could get some experience with the track without having to be there.
The simulator proved to be a huge help in being familiar with the track even though none of us had ever driven there before.
The Friday before the race was a test day. This allowed our drivers, that had practiced on the simulator, to get some real world experience on the track and be able to adapt what they had learned in the simulator to the rigorous of actually being on the track. Halfway through the test day, one of our drivers noticed a dramatic loss in horsepower, and brought the car in before his session was over. We spent the next 12 hours replacing every sensor and component that we could trying to figure out what was wrong. In the end, we finally figured out that we had a collapsed pipe on the exhaust. With that all figured out, we got all our race prep done and ready for the morning. We finally went to sleep around 2am, and were back up at 5:30am to finish getting the car ready for the race. We also had to find a welder from one of the other teams so we could put the exhaust back together. Our Crew Chief was busy welding up the exhaust while the rest of the drivers were in the drivers meeting, so it was down to the wire to get the car on track for the start of the race.
From the drop of the green flag, our drivers were ready to race. With most of the other drivers on the track taking their time at the beginning, our drivers knew exactly what to expect and were in the zone immediately. We raced this track with more confidence then any other track we’ve raced at before. We quickly moved up to a top five position, and held there until about 9 hours into the 14 hour race. That’s when our brand new clutch failed on us. The driver tried to continue to race with the bad clutch, but his lap times were dropping off with every lap. We finally called it quits and brought the car in for the final time.
Even though we didn’t finish that race, we all had a great time. We persevered throughout the night to get the car on the track and raced our butts off the entire race.
After replacing the clutch, and completely replacing the exhaust from the manifold back, we were off the Charlotte Motor Speedway. We came into this race hoping a good finish, since we weren’t able to finish this race last year. Yet again, our drivers spent hours upon hours, on the simulator, to prepare for this race. We knew that if we had no mechanical issues, there was no reason to not have a top five finish.
This race was the 2018 Championship race. We started the race in 25th place. The race lineup had Jeremy Boyce starting us out for this race, and he did great! It was his best race yet, and we were all very proud of how well he was driving. By the end of his stint, he had made his way from 25th to 4th place. We did our driver change/refueling, and had the car back out in 13th place. Our driver was doing his best to get us back into a top 5 position when he made a critical error in judgement and put the car into the wall at 70mph. At this point we were out of the race. Several other cars hit the wall in the same spot, most of them were totaled. When we got the car back home and torn apart, we realized that the car wasn’t totaled. With a little frame tweaking, it could be fixed.
Over the course of three months, we got the frame of the car straightened out and all other parts replaced to get the car ready for the “Lifeline 24hr Classic” at Virginia International Raceway.
With the car at the frame shop for six weeks, that left us with only 5 weeks to basically repair or replace everything from the firewall to the front bumper. Fast forward to the much needed test day. The car was doing great, but developed a fuel system venting issue that plagued us all day. In four years of racing, we’ve never had this issue.We finally got it sorted out near the end of practice.
Just prior to the race start, One of our drivers went to timing and scoring to verify our transponder was working properly. Fifteen minutes into the race, we started dropping laps. Apparently our transponder decided its wiring wasn't up to the task. Multiple sprints up and down pit road to speak with timing and scoring, we just rented another transponder. We made an unscheduled pitstop to mount it up. We pressed on, moving us into a top 5 position .
We made it thru the darkness still running a solid 5th place position, with the pace to maybe work our way up to 3rd or 4th place. During our 8-10am stint, our driver noticed a high rpm surging down the straights. We carried on until it got worse. It forced us to stop multiple times for diagnosis. We initially thought it was a contaminated crank position sensor from a slowly worsening oil leak. The car would die randomly, then fire back up. We pitted one last time to change the oil, thinking we had overfilled it compensating for the oil leak. Went back out, and the car felt faster than ever. We thought we had the problem solved, but we were wrong. The car came out of Oak Tree and she died for the final time. By the time the tow truck got the car back to the paddock, and got it cooled off, the engine wouldn't even turn over. The race was over for us, just before the 10am mark.
We suspect we had some unknown internal issue from our Charlotte crash that ultimately took out the engine. We ended up in 22nd position out of over 100 cars. Everybody got in plenty of drive time, and we had a lot of fun.
From August to December, we replaced the engine with our spare motor in hopes of being able to race the North Course race at VIR. Unfortunately, during our test day that was only three weeks from the race, our spare engine experienced mechanical failure and only made it around the track for two laps. Luckily, this was only a test day, so we brought the car home and tore it down once again. We replaced the bearings on our original engine from the August race and had it back together with only days to spare before the race.
We started this race on “pole position” due to the random drawing that Champcar does to see who starts the race. This would be the first time we were starting a race within the top 5 position, let alone from 1st place. The car seemed to be working good but was slightly down on horsepower which caused us to drop back to 5th place shortly after the start of the race. About an 1 1/2 hours into the race, our driver come over the radio and said “the engine is done.” The new bearings we put in did not hold up, and the engine was no good. We packed everything up and watched the rest of the race.
NLS Racing Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta race report:
Now its 2020, new season, new aspirations. We're not giving up. Ordered a JDM engine in hopes of it being lower mileage. Cracked it open and inside looked great. Prepped, installed, and onto the dyno to verify we got a keeper. Dyno day went great. Brought her home for a quick oil change and final race prep only to find the oil full of metal again. Now less than 2 weeks until Rd. ATL, no spare, no good anything. What do we do now? Luckily, we found an engine 15 mins down the road that had just arrived 2 days prior. The engine was still in the car, so we had to wait 2 more days for them to get it out. Lets try this one more time. Out with the old and in with the new. Only this time we replaced the oil cooler which we suspect was the cause of all our problems. Yes, we cleaned it out very thoroughly but the passages are so small, there's no way we got it all out. Needless to say we found the culprit, as we actually finished the race. Sorry for the long intro, I just wanted to give a little back story on our trials and tribulations. Now onto to our actual race report.
Our weekend began much like the rest of the teams. Loading up and driving thru the rain storms. 10 mins into our voyage, the RV we were using decide to crap out. Luckily, right down the road from the house. Reloaded everything into another vehicle and headed out. Straight down I-85, down the middle of the RED part of that storm. We missed a tornado by what had to be minutes. Trees snapped off everywhere. Never was I so glad to see Road Atlanta. We made it in one piece.
Got to tech early and passed w/ no issues. Practice went flawlessly, engine ran great, everybody got 2 short stints, barely had to turn a wrench all day. Off to bed early for what was supposed to be a good day of racing. We began race day a man down. Our crew chief was feeling ill and had to retreat to the hotel room for the day. Started the race around 32nd and were inside the top 20 by lap 3 or 4. Clawed our way up to 6th before some of the leaders began pitting. Also about that time the snow began falling. This is where things got interesting. Drove around slowly under green and FCY conditions. Somewhere during this, the grill became packed with snow and engine temp spiked past 250* very quickly. Limped it to pit road to cut out the grill and top off the water. We estimate we lost 5-6 laps because of this. Back out for 15 mins and then the red flag. I had to stop at the bottom of the hill to get a run up hoping i'd make it. Just barely over the crest and now have to navigate super slick pit road w/ no ABS. Parked her and thought we were done for the day. No way were gonna get back out there. We applaud Champcar for not giving up and getting us back on track. They did what they could with the cards they were dealt. Our goal now was to just log laps until the end and keep it on the track. That's exactly what we did. Green flag at 3pm, we were 40th position, checkers at 8pm, 11th place. We flirted w/ the idea of a driver only change due to the reduced fuel consumption. Decided against at the last second due to another FCY. It would have worked too, if the race went until 10. But Champcar made the right call to stop it early.
After not finishing a single race last year, we're all pretty stoked with an 11th place finish. If not for the overheating in the snow, who'da thunk it, we'd probably be in impound. But we're not dwelling on the "what if", we're are counting our blessings to get out of there relatively unscathed. We say it every time but we really really mean it this time, THANK YOU to all the safety crew, corners workers, Champcar staff, volunteers, and our fellow racers for putting on a race we'll never forget. And a special thanks to all our wives, family members, and friends that make all this possible. Team NLS is shooting for a quick turnaround and making our way to VIR South 2020 in 4 weeks.
NLS Racing VIR South Race Report - 3/7/20
The VIR South course race was kind of a last-minute decision for us to attend. It was between this and Charlotte, but after our bad crash into the wall last year at Charlotte, we decided to run South course instead. We started the race right in the middle at 24th and progressed forward throughout the first 2 hours. We had to make a quick stop about an hour in to remove some tape from the grill due to running a little hot. We pitted from the lead at the 2-hour mark but was more like 7th due to others pitting earlier than us.
Our second driver strapped in and was right up to speed. We were about 1.5 laps down to Glazed and Confused at the time and by the end of his stint, we had the lead with a 30-sec cushion. This is where things got interesting. 3rd stint began with us comfortably in 2nd position. Unfortunately, as most of you are aware by now we had an incident with the Bimmerline car that resulted in a flipped car. We're not going to comment on it, other than we are extremely happy that the driver of the Bimmerline car was unharmed. VIR safety crew was there in a hurry. We applaud them for the quick action to the scene. A quick pit stop ensued to replace a broken wheel and check over the car. Returned to the track in 3rd and had the orange Pinkies Out car in our sights. Knowing these guys are so damn tough to beat, we had to keep pressing forward. And that's just what we did. Pitted again from the lead at the 6-hour mark and back out in 2nd with only Huggy in front of us. Knowing they were just a little short on fuel, we were feeling pretty good about our chances for our first race win.
Unfortunately, the racing Gods had other plans for us. Just after 7 hours in, one of the connecting rods decided it had enough and escaped thru the side of the block. We had noticed low oil psi in the corners for most of the day but hoped it would hang on to finish the race. All those short drops in pressure took their toll and ended our best shot yet at a podium finish.
We're going to have to address our engine woes over the next few months as we prepare for the VIR 24. Complete car teardown to come, dash bar installed, new engine...again, fix rear damage from Rd. Atlanta and a complete rewire of the car.
Congratulations to Chris and all the Pinkies Out guys on another win. We also appreciated the show of respect from Chris as he came by after we retired the car to let us know we had him pushing hard to stay out in front of us, knowing he had an extra fuel stop to make. We had a blast this weekend with all things considered. All of our drivers were within 1 sec of each other's fast lap and 3 of our 4 drivers got to lead our first laps which was pretty cool.
Special thanks to the safety crew who keep us all safe out there. No place we'd rather be than ChampCar, thanks for allowing us to do what we love.
We'll be back in July for the Racing Radios 14-hour race at Charlotte Motor Speedway!!