Willow Springs Raceway

I frequent the AMC Forums and I’ve seen posts about track events at Willow Springs that had an AMX track car show up. Most recently, October of 2018, they had THREE AMC track cars attend. The group is called All Time Racing and they are a mopar group that does a spring and fall track day.
When they posted that their Spring Fling 2019 was coming up I decided that it might be good motivation for me to get the race Javelin put back together and get back on track. I’ve never been on track with another AMC. I’d also never been to Willow Springs. So I thought here was the perfect chance. I talked to Don about the track day and he said he’d meet me there and help out. So, a track day in the Javelin, Don there to help, and potentially 3 OTHER AMC track cars? I had to commit!

Well the car had been sitting for 3 years and needed a lot to get it back together. I had mostly fixed the sheared steering arm bolts situation (see my 2015 post from my last test day with the car). I managed to talk to a race engineer on the phone about the problem and his suggestion was to increase the size of the bolts from 7/16 to 1/2 and to get a stronger grade (what he spec’d he said was like grade 9) and to CHANGE the bolts on some interval (like every 6 events for example). So I bought new spindles, had them drilled and tapped for the larger bolts and bought the grade “9” bolts. I put it all back together but when I was re-installing the caliper mount on the side that sheared I noticed a thumbnail size chip was missing around one of the bolt holes. I wasn’t happy about this as I wondered if a crack could start there. So I bought a replacement mount. But I had never installed it.
The other thing was that I had removed the “nose” of the car (bumper brackets, bumper, spoiler, grill block off panel, etc) because I had intended to create a new 1 piece nose/air dam with splitter. I still plan to do this BUT I knew there was no way I would be able to do it before this event. So that meant my only reasonable option was to try to put all the OLD stuff back on. Luckily I had most of the pieces. I also needed to nut and bolt the car and prime the oil system before firing it up. Doyle came over to help and we pulled the valve covers so he could lash the valves (hadn’t been done in ages).
After talking about my list of MUST DO’s for the track day Don brought up tires. The tires I had were 4 years old. He quickly convinced me that driving 400 miles to run on 4 year old tires was not the best plan. So I decided to pull the trigger on an upgrade I’ve been planning for years. American Iron allows a max rim width of 9 1/2″. I had only ever run the car with 9″ rims. Also, American Iron allows EITHER Toyo RA1s OR Toyo RRs. I had always run the RA1s, which are harder. So, I changed rims to Enkei RPF1s in 17 x 9 1/2″ and bought 4 new RRs. The new wheel/tire package is about 5lbs lighter per corner and almost a half inch more contact patch per corner!
Besides the car, I also need to do some truck and trailer maintenance. For the trailer the tires were old and shot and one of them had a leak. I had been fine with airing it up for short local runs but for a 400 mile trip (each way) I decided I needed to get new tires. So I pulled the wheels and dropped them off at my local tire shop. The truck was filthy and mostly just needed to be cleaned inside and out. Also the rear shell hatch struts were shot and the hatch had started falling back down on my head whenever I opened it. So I ordered replacements and threw them on.
And finally, when I had been going to the track regularly I had all my “track boxes” loaded and ready to go. But in the last 3 years, since I haven’t been going anywhere I had gone the other way and had everything UNLOADED in the shop or shed. So I had to get a bunch of plastic totes and get all my spares and fluids and tools together. It’s pretty stressful because if the car runs well and I have no issues I need very little. BUT you never know what kind of problems you might encounter so you want to bring EVERYTHING…
I spent the weeks before the track day working through the to do list and got the car as ready as I could. I even went to Sonoma Raceway and got 10 gallons of 100 octane gas to put in the car. That way I’d start the day with a full thank of gas.
The night before I left I loaded the car on the trailer and got all the spares and supplies loaded up. That way the next morning I’d be able to just hop in the truck and go. Got on the road and started clicking away the miles. I stopped twice for bathroom breaks and the 2nd stop I gassed up the truck. There’s a couple of ways to get to Willow Springs and my GPS took me over the Grape Vine. Man I’m not a fan of that road… was really happy to be over/past it. After the Grape Vine the last leg was fine. I started around 9am and made it to the track around 4:30pm. So 7 1/2 hours to tow 400 miles with 2 stops (20 minutes total time stopped).
I quickly found Don who was already there and got the truck and trailer parked. Unloaded the car off the trailer and then started walking around with Don to check out some of the cars and meet some people. Tim Herren is the main guy for All Time Racing and he was doing a bbq for people that came the night before the track day. The first thing I noticed once I started looking around was an immaculate red ’69 Dodge Daytona… with a TOW HITCH pulling a trailer. And on the trailer was a… ’69 Dodge Daytona track car with giant slicks! Seriously?! that’s pretty wild right there. Don and I got some food and met some people and then we walked the track.
Once it started getting dark some of the guys were going to leave the track and go some place to hang out. But these were people that were leaving the track and not planning to come back until the morning. Don and I were camping at the track and we heard that getting back in to the track if we left could be challenging. We were both tired so we decided to stay and get to bed ealier. Don had pitched his tent at the side of the garages for protection from the wind. I had brought a tent but decided to go through the hassle of unloading the truck so I could sleep inside there. I’m really glad I did. The wind was INSANE. Don said he almost blew away in the night…
Not the best night sleep but I did get some. Woke up around 6:30am. It was cool but not freezing. By 7:30am it was time to warm up the motor. Got it fired and Don messed with the carb a bit. We let it get up to temp and everything seemed fine. Then shut it down and got breakfast at the grill. My first session wasn’t until 9am so we just wandered around until then. FInally it was time to get on track. I got suited up and in the car. Fired it back up and headed out on track. Pulling out of the hot pits in 1st and 2nd everything seemed fine. Then I put it in 3rd and started climbing the hill to turn 3. The car just had no power and wouldn’t rev. Just didn’t feel right. I put it in 2nd and it seemed better but when I put it back in 3rd, same thing. Just fell on it’s face. When I started going downhill to turn 5 it felt better but when the track leveled out again it wouldn’t rev. Made my way around and pulled into the pits. Don was there. I told him what was happening and he said maybe the car was still cold and I should get back out and try again. So I headed back out and it was the same thing. I made myself do 2 laps but I knew the car just wasn’t working so I pulled off and got back to my pit spot.
I told Don I was pretty sure the timing was off. I had pulled the distributor to prime the oil system the previous week. Doyle and I had re-timed the motor but I remember Doyle saying it was a little hard to tell where the marks were. I had my timing light with me at the track. It’s a dial type. When Don saw it he told me MSD says not to use dial lights with their boxes. We walked around and tried to find another light but nobody at the track had one.
So Don turned the dial to 0 and re-timed the motor. He said, best he could tell I only had 10 degrees of timing. He was able to adjust it to the low 30s. About 33 is what it should be. My session was done at that point so I had to wait around for a while. When I got back on track I could tell immediately that the timing had solved the problem. The car pulled fine in 3rd and 4th now. So I started trying to learn how to drive the track. It’s a very fast track and I was going very slow trying to find my way. After a while I realized the car was starting to run hot. I was seeing 230 degrees which may not be hot for some cars but this car never runs that hot. So I pulled into the pits. It puked some fluid and was definately hot. We had to wait for it to cool down and then I topped it off. It was definitely low. I had the car stored with no water for most of the 3 years it sat. I think when I put water in it I never really got all the air purged so I was low.
After that it was lunch time and there was a drag race down the main straight for cars that wanted to participate. I wasn’t planning to but Tim, the guy who organized the event, asked if I would. It was a double elimination setup. If you lost twice you were out. My first try I spun badly in 1st and 2nd and went nowhere. My next try I spun just a bit in 1st and then hooked up ok through 2nd but when I went to grab 3rd it wouldn’t go in. So that was my two loses and I headed back to the pits and grabbed lunch.
When I got back out for my next session the temps stayed fine so that was problem #2 solved… There were only 18 cars signed up and at times I was the only car on track. I finally started going a little faster and was making some progress when suddenly the car started popping really loudly on decel… I pulled into the pits and told Don I felt like I had a massive exhaust leak. I thought maybe an exhaust manifold gasket had blown out. He lifted the hood and looked around and very quickly found the problem. The drivers side header flange (at the collector) had completely sheared 360 degrees! I thought I was done but Don said it wouldn’t hurt anything and that I should keep running. I was concerned that the exhaust pipe might hang down too low now since it wasn’t attached to the header. So I got some safety wire and strung it up to the bar that goes from the dash bar to the shock tower. Getting out of the car and making that repair took a little time and once again I had to wait for another session.
When it was my groups turn I went out yet again and was trying to get back in a groove despite the loud explosions everytime I let off the gas. I hadn’t been out for very long when all of a sudden the car lost power. I wasn’t sure what had happened but then I saw the fuel pressure gauge was reading zero. I coasted for a bit and then I got pressure back on the gauge and the car fired up. I limped it back around and got off the track and back to the pits. Climbed out and checked the fuel cell and yep… I was out of gas. I had come to the track with a full tank and had filled it up again after the first couple of sessions. With all the problems I hadn’t thought that I had run enough to possibly run out of gas but I did. It was almost 4:30 and the track was closing at 5pm. I knew by the time I got the car gassed up and got back in and strapped in that I’d only have 10-15 minutes. So I called it a day right there.
Everybody packed up and high tailed it out of there and pretty soon it was just me and Don. The plan was for Don to leave as well and I was going to camp overnight and drive back Friday morning. It was 5pm and it was going to be a long, lonely night. But Don graciously said he hang out with me. So he put his tent back up and we climbed in the back of my pickup and ate the cold burgers we had bought/stashed before the grill closed and bench built cars until it was time for bed. Man, it was even WINDIER than the previous night. And I would have classified the prevous night as hurricane force winds! Holy Crap. It’s like being on mars. It was so NOISY and the wind would rock the truck. I couldn’t sleep. Finally it died down and I guess I got a few hours of sleep.
Friday morning we were up early. I packed up my sleeping pad/bag/etc. and got the truck all loaded. I had already gotten the car loaded and strapped on the trailer the night before. I had talked to Don about how much I hate the grape vine AND that I had realized my trialer brakes weren’t working. I wanted to avoid that route going back so he told me about the alternative of heading towards Bakersfiled. So that’s what I did. I thought I was just going to head towards Bakersfield for a bit and then cut over to I5 but my GPS took me on 99N. And then, I forget where, there was a massive backup and the GPS had me cut west and finally meet up with I5 at Patterson. It was almost 8 hours but I got home.
So, all in all a success. The main thing was that once I fixed the timing and got the cooling system full the car worked. Just the header breaking was the only “mechanical” problem I had. It was fun to finally see and drive Willow Springs, even though I never got anywhere near as fast as I should have. Of course, my luck, NO other AMCs cars showed up. It was a fun event and really nice people and cool cars. I really want another crack at it… at 400 miles away though it’s a pretty big haul so we’ll see.

1974 Javelin-road race, Track Events, video


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