APD Member Spotlight Blog (July): Nick Shepherd

 

July is my favorite month. 
In the Northwest part of the United States our weather is perfect. Our average temperature is 79 degrees and the sun comes up just before 5:30am and sets at just after 9:00pm. Long days and good temperatures mean a lot of racing.
For this months blog I’ll get you updated on the last 30 days of racing and share what seems to be working for me on the track.
Seat Time
What does seat time mean? Good racers all say seat time is crucial. Conceptually, you can’t become a better racer without actually racing. Makes sense, but what really happens with more seat time? I’ve got my personal observation to share this month.
Our annual calendar in the Northwest allows six months of racing opportunities and about six months off due to weather. Six months off is a long time from racing so some of your skills get rusty. In addition, last year I didn’t race nearly enough. Mostly, I was busy at work and so I only put about 130 runs on my car. That isn’t nearly enough.
I had been lacking seat time.
This year has been different. At this point I’ve already put about 150 runs on my car and I could easily see myself doubling that by seasons’ end.
I’ve also noticed an observation about my driving. In the first few blogs, April, May, June I could see myself improving.  I was remembering how to drive, what I was supposed to be doing, etc. Initially I was even making rookie mistakes like staging incorrectly. At this point in the season those trivial mistakes are almost absent. I’m more confident, and when I’m racing I’m handling the basic parts of driving subconsciously, which allows my brain to actively focus on my strategy execution to win the round.
It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. Essentially, almost my entire brain can focus on the most complex part of the driving. 
 
Consistency
All year I’ve talked about how I’ve been attempting to improve the consistency of my car. I’ve been having some success and I keep finding more information that is helping. For some reason the right answers keep finding me.
As a TIBR member, I previously would read about how good Luke’s Vega was and make excuses why my car couldn’t be as consistent. I’d say something silly like “he’s in a different part of the country where the weather doesn’t change much” or “that’s because those tracks are so well prepared”. 
Then I read about Eric Bowling’s success. If you don’t know, Eric wrote a blog for TIBR last year. He also posts frequently on the message board for www.raceone85.com and he has his own site www.ericbowling.com. For 2012 Eric is racing a S10 Blazer, he does it on a low budget and he’s really, really good.
Eric will frequently post how his car will move .009 over a series of 10 runs. After reading enough of those and deciding that an S10 Blazer can’t even be close to the “perfect weapon”, I finally decided that I’m missing something.
I was. As I’ve been blogging about this year I’ve been changing lots of stuff on my car.  Out of the 30 things I’ve tried I’ve changed about nine specific things this year that I think are really helping. I can say that my consistency is now worth bragging about in the 1/8th mile. At a recent race it ran within .010 over 9 runs in the 1/8th mile. Here are the nine things I’ve changed:
1)      E85. I did this before the season started and initially noticed some improvement, but not as much as I had hoped until I changed the remaining items below.
2)      I’ve learned that attempting to get a car to repeat is fruitless unless the 60’ repeats. Therefore, I spent all my efforts on the first 60’. My new policy is that if I have to focus on the first 60’ first, then concern myself with the rest of the track. I suppose that’s not a car change, it’s a brain change. 
3)      Weight in the trunk. My car is a pig in the trunk. A 12 gallon fuel cell (filled), 2 batteries, and 100lbs of extra weight. The batteries and weight are right on the bumper. Yes, it would go faster without all that stuff, but then again I’m also racing on a 9” tire with a consistent 1.45, 60’ time.
4)      I am ensuring that the trans temperature is at 150 degrees every round. This is totally new for me and it works better than I could have dreamed. The first thing I realized here is the temp sensor has to go in the pan. The big name transmission shop that sold me the trans told me to put the sensor in the return line. Don’t do this. It can be tricky getting it to 150 degrees every round, but it’s crucial.
5)      Engine coolant at 165 every round. I used to only warm it to 150. I’m running E85 so it has to be a little warmer than gas. Further, 165 is warm enough I need minimal cool down time. I also notice that a higher engine temperature seems to stabilize my oil pressure so it’s the same every time I stage.
6)       I set my Cal Tracs on the lower hole. I had always run them on the upper hole before. Lower hole is a softer hit.
7)      I retarded my timing to a modest 33 degrees to take out some of the initial hit. This is about 5 degrees less than before.
8)      I NEVER take the hood off. I had never even considered this before, but now I check everything before the race, put the hood on and don’t remove it. Removing the hood changes the engine temperatures, especially the intake manifold.
9)      I run it with about ½ to ¾ quart lower on oil. It was just a guess that I tried this, but it just seems to be a little more consistent with less oil in the motor. 
So let’s get to the results and I’ll share how well some of this is working.
Results
As I always do, here are my weekend results.
July 2nd – Woodburn Dragstrip - Points
After a rain delayed started and significant track drying effort, the track wanted to be safe so they chose to race 1/8 mile instead of ¼ mile.
I was elated. I knew how good my car was in the 1/8th mile, but I hadn’t had a chance to race any 1/8th mile events yet this year.
I had a fantastic day and won the event. I drove great averaging a .013 reaction time. In addition, the car was stellar….beyond stellar. It varied .01 the entire day and ran a 6.67 eight times in a row. The very first time run, it ran just .001 quicker and ran a 6.669. For nine runs it was within .01.
This also created a situation where I could rely on the car and be the dialer. Referring to Luke’s lessons, I figured I could dial the car within .007 and I didn’t believe that I could drive the stripe that closely when I hadn’t raced 1/8th mile all year. So I “dialed” the car numerous rounds.
The semi finals were also pretty cool because my racing partner Ryan Schaefer was there along with my friend Matt Kielman.
Ryan and I usually are pretty strategic with each other when we race. We might remove/add weight, dial unexpectedly, etc. Since we race together so often we know each other’s strategies. When we raced in the semis this day, Ryan knew my car had been repeating well and so I was decided to be bold and just tell him my strategy ahead of time. I said “I’m going to cut a great light and dial an honest 6.67 and let you figure it out” I did exactly as I said and executed a .014 package.
Ryan, Matt & myself in the semi's.
 
 
July 4th – Portland Raceway – National Dragster Challenge
So I headed out to our other local track for the first time this year. They race 1/8th mile and I figured with my recent 1/8th mile success I would have a good shot.
Unfortunately, Paul Comeau, last year’s Division 6 Pro Champion in his beautiful car “old Gold” ended my day early in the 1st round.
So I bought in to the “loser” bracket. First round of loser bracket I have a .013 light and I am intentionally running .006 under (executing my plan perfectly) only to find my competitor had a .002 package.
So after building lots of confidence the week before, I lost twice in the first round. Humbling.
I wasn’t going to let the day end on a bad note though and I needed some blog material.
As I was unloading the car at home, I decided that to cheer me up the car should have its maiden voyage on the street. Had my wife been home, she would have been sensible and talked me out of it. I figured if the old ’62 has to lose first round twice in one day the least it can do is get me some groceries.
So I drove it 1.5 miles to the local grocery store. It has current license plates and insurance although it does lack turn signals, brake lights, and doesn’t have one street legal tire.
 
 This isn’t Bracket Racing and this isn’t even a good idea, but at least the Nova redeemed itself by doing something useful this day.
 
July 7th - Seattle
So now the season is starting to roll. The weather is good and I feel like I’m driving well enough to start hitting up every race I can.
I drove to Seattle with my buddy Matt Kielman for their double header points race.
During second round of the first race of the day, I drive well and lose. Second round I know I can’t kill what I’m holding and spot drop to dead on. .023 total package for the loss. My competitor had a .018 package. Onto race two….
Race #2, I red light in the second round. A long, 3 hour drive home that night kicking myself.
There were two bright spots to the weekend. 
First, Dustin Ward promised us lunch.
Second, the old Dodge and Nova on the open trailer averaged 17.5mpg over 400 miles of towing this weekend. This is so exciting to me, but my friends just think I’m being cheap towing on an open trailer. Regardless, I don’t even miss my enclosed trailer with this mpg.
July 8th - Woodburn
After I got home at about 1am from Seattle the night before, it’s time to head to Woodburn for the Sunday points race.
I left this track a week ago feeling confident and have since been stuck in the second round for the last four events.
Fortunately, I have some redemption and win the event. 
 
July 11th- PIR
When I’m racing well, I like to keep up the momentum so I went back to PIR as they race Wednesday nights.
I managed to runner up to my friend Allen Bayless. Unfortunately, the final round was in total darkness and I’m not great at racing at night. I plan to continue to hone this.
July 14-15
Chose to sit a weekend out and went with my wife and I went to Silverwood Amusement Park in Couer d’Alene, Idaho. 
 
I can drive a race car, but evidently I was terrified of the roller coaster. My wife, April and I are in the middle. 
 
Mid-Season Goal Check In
This is about the midpoint of our blogs. In the first blog I mentioned my season goals and a check-up is in order.
1)      Do not ride in the trunk of anyone’s car**
Still good here.
2)      Win $10,000. This is a lofty goal on the west coast, especially in bottom bulb.
I’ve been taking home money frequently, but at $300/race it isn’t adding up that quickly. Fortunately, the big money races are coming up and a win at one of these will be necessary to meet this.
3)      Test my car extensively so I don’t have mechanical weaknesses when the season starts.
Our pre-season rained so this goal fell apart. Instead I’ve been testing it all year.
4)      Average at least a .017 reaction time.
I’m still in the low .020s. But just the presence of this goal I believe is making my lights better. It’s not uncommon for me to be low .00 and not change anything in the car.
5)      Never be afraid of an opponent.
Fortunately, my confidence is high at the moment so this isn’t a problem. 
6)      Win Woodburn Dragstrip points series.
I’m doing a pretty good job here. I’m in first place by about 19 rounds and we have three races left. The track will throw out our worst 2 events though and so there is still a mathematical chance I could blow this.
7)      Win Race of Champions. In NHRA Division 6 the Race of Champions winner goes to Pomona.
This is what I’m really focused on this year. It’s hard to put that much pressure on one race, but I am trying to put myself in the best position possible to win.
 
** At Boise’s Nightfire race last year my truck broke down on the way to the track with me and 2 friends. Jonathan Adams, then NHRA Division 6 director, stopped to give us a ride in his rented Chevy
 
Stats
Here are 2012 statistics to date:
WINS:

Bye
9
Opponent Broke Something
1
Opponent Red Light
14
Opponent Break Out
3
Opponent Too Slow
6
Better Light (more than .010)
21
Lucky
1
Good Race!
2
Other
 
TOTAL
57

 
LOSSES:

I Broke
0
I Red Lighted
4
I Had a Worse Light (at least .010)
4
Too Much Finish Line (>.015)
4
Gave Finish Line Back
1
Just Bad Luck (Good Race)
4
I Couldn’t Run My Dial
0
TOTAL
17

 
Round win percentage: 77% (Improved by 1% since last month)
Average green reaction time in elimination: .023 (my goal is .017)
 
Conclusions
I’m hoping that with my significant seat time this year and with my improved consistency the second half of the season can be as strong as the first. 
Within the next few weeks I’ll be participating in some of my favorite races, including two multi day, big buck, bracket races. Hopefully all goes well.
I hope that everyone has good luck racing. Feel free to email me at nick.m.shepherd@gmail.com with any feedback.
Nick
 

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