The following is a letter from Carl Goodwin, a longtime member of Neohio and club racing driver.
I was waiting for the start of the Nelson Ledges race of early July. It was Saturday, July 9th. That was the one memorializing Bob Nick, the one Brenda Nick had so eloquently called “Big Dog’s Last Bark.” A writer like that ought to be in advertising, but how could I wish that on anyone? Anyway, the field followed the pace car, the green flag was thrown, and the race was on.
When I came in from it and awards were given, I was pleasantly surprised to get a second place in my class. Just before the race ended I blew a head gasket but I didn’t know it at the time, although bystanders said it sounded like it was running on three cylinders. It was hard to detect unlike the time I lost a head gasket in my Formula Ford at Road America and it looked like a speedboat exhaust. Neither I nor my pit crew Ed Merhar noticed it. Some of you may know Ed – he owned and raced the Chuck Stoddard Alfa Giulietta for 13 years and went to the Runoffs for 3 years. When we took off the hood we saw that the overflow tank was completely full and the radiator was very low. There was concern that there was no water in the cylinder head.
We thought this was due to the thermostat – if there was one (there wasn’t) – or the seal of the radiator cap. Right after the race, we went to the Autozone in Newton Falls and got a cap and a selection of three different temperature thermostats. But later, in a conversation with racers back at the motel, we started to zero in on the head gasket. Luckily I had several of these. They were all at home in Novelty, Ohio! The idea that we would need them at the track never entered my mind. Once we settled in on that as the problem, I got in the tow car and headed home and then back to Nelson’s.
Before I left, Ed and I had already completed the job of removing the intake and exhaust manifolds and taking the cylinder head off the engine. Once I got back we replaced these – along with the tricky carburetor linkage – put the rocker arm assembly back on and torqued down all the head bolts in sequence.
It looked like we were in the home stretch to make the Sunday afternoon race. That’s when Ed said “You want to make that race?” I said “Sure.” He replied “Get your driving suit on and I’ll finish the car.” I put on my monkey suit and then topped up the fuel cell. We were ready to start the engine. It sounded rough but so what. Ed helped me get the helmet, Hans and arm restraints on. He didn’t want me buckling things up in the pits– they might change their minds!
I drove up to a group of pit marshals and said to a lady “We just finished putting in a head gasket – can I go out?” “Yes,” She replied enthusiastically “Get out there!” I was already in gear so I let out the clutch. I checked my mirrors for traffic at the pit-out and accelerated to the first worker station. All of this happened before the start of the second lap.
A feeling of great happiness overcame me. We had made the race. The car was much faster than before. More compression. More power. I drove like a maniac. And if you ever wondered what your car would sound like without adjusting the valve clearances, it’s like taking a stack of pots and pans and kicking them down the basement stairs. Especially noisy was the downshift going into the turn before the front straight.
There’s a nice song that the kids in Colorado sing at the bars. The main line is “I hope you have the time of your life.” That’s what I had.
After we came in off the track, I wanted to go over to the pit marshals and thank them in person. I found the lady who had sent me out on the track and thanked her. She and a group of other workers – we all spoke of what a nice event it had been. I hope you had a good one too.
In fact, I hope you had the time of your life.
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