Project CRX 2011: The SJR Finally Gets its Act Together

This project car update was originally published August 22, 2011.

When last we left Project CRX, I was twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the South Jersey Region of the SCCA to get their collective act together and find a place to host events this year. With no encouraging signs forthcoming (and since the weather was nice) I decided it would be a good time to do a tune-up.

The car had other ideas.

I finished most of the basic stuff without issue, but when I went to take the valve cover off to adjust the valves, the top of one of the studs came with it. The best that I could determine was that the guy who did the last tune-up over-tightened it and stretched the threads. I decided not to take any chances and replaced all of the studs. Not one to lose an opportunity, I also decided to repaint the valve cover while I waited for the parts to come in.

By the time I had finally gotten everything cleaned, adjusted and put back together, we were in to the late May heatwave that had all of South Jersey (and most of the East Coast) grumbling about air conditioning and electric bills. Apparently the car found the conditions to be especially disagreeable because the first time I drove it, I got home and the radiator burst.

While my face was under the hood.

I was starting to wonder if the CRX had developed a vindictive streak — I couldn’t get it out on course, so it was finding other ways to amuse itself. Expensive ways.

After another week of waiting for parts followed by several hours of work on a free night everything was running again. While it was all apart I also decided to remove the air conditioning that never worked to begin with. The car felt great on the first test drive and everything held together without issue. I was ready to go again and so was the CRX; we just needed a place.

That was early June. Cue the “time passes” music.

It wasn’t until mid-July that the SJR finally announced they had found a site gracious enough to host us. The first event was planned for the 31st.

The new venue for the SJR is Bader Field, just outside of Atlantic City. Once an active airfield, Bader Field hasn’t been a commercial airport since the early ’90s and has been completely closed since 2006. The adjoining baseball stadium is similarly disused, since the Atlantic City Surf minor league team went defunct. The site has since been the focus of numerous development ideas, though none has ever come to fruition. One thing a disused airfield is good for? Motorsports. Although the pavement is not what one would call “fresh,” it is still pretty even and in good shape overall.

It also gives us more space to work with than this region has seen in a very long time — if at all.

The first event had a pretty decent turnout, with 50 cars showing up, including my rival for H-stock supremacy in the blue Civic Si. It took some time for me to settle down and get used to driving in anger again. The morning session wasn’t very good, although I was still laying down competitive times. I was having trouble putting everything together and keeping the car straight. The CRX felt great, though, and I had confidence that once I could get focused and remember what I learned back at the driving school in April I would lay down some seriously quick times.

My confidence was not misplaced, as it turned out. The layout of the course was ideal for carrying speed in a small, light car and the CRX ran like a squirrel with its tail on fire. Of my fast lap of the day (my second of the afternoon session), one of the course workers commented after, “Man, you were flyin’!”

When the dust settled, I had bested the blue Si by 0.875 seconds. Although my raw time put me 23rd of 50, it was good enough for 7th in PAX (the system of handicapping times by class).

I was pleased, to say the least.

The next event, two weeks later, was hampered by rain. Only 32 people made it out, although we did get a full day in, most of it dry. There was one other person running in H-stock, but he was not laying down competitive times. Since I was going to win the class either way (sorry if I sound cocky, but it was the truth), I decided it would be a good time to do some experimenting with setup.

Up to that point, I had been running the Hoosiers at around 45 psi, even all around. At the suggestion of one of the instructors, I dropped that to 38psi. As long as the sidewalls weren’t rolling over, he reasoned, the lower pressures might result in better grip, especially through the slaloms. Since almost the entire course was slaloms of varying design and orientation, I thought this was worth a try.

It definitely made a difference in the way the car handled, although I am not sure I like it better. The car just didn’t feel as predictable to me. My last lap of the day, though, was a full second better that the previous two. I think I would like to play with it some more in warm, dry conditions before I draw any conclusions. The next step will be to experiment with varying the pressures from front to back.

In the end, I wasn’t happy with my times, but I had no trouble winning the class. Since there were so few competitors there, my raw time was good enough for 7th in PAX again, too. Since auto-x is all about learning consistency, I certainly can’t complain.

Much to my dismay, though, the CRX may be in need of even more work to finish out the season. With another four races on the horizon, I am starting to worry about the longevity of the Hoosiers. The warm weather and very rough tarmac have been especially hard on them and I have noticed a good deal of wear. I am hoping they last the rest of the season. In addition, the car has been reluctant to start on several occasions over the last couple of months. I suspect that the relay that sits under the dash by the hood release (the one that powers the fuel pump) may be the culprit. They are notorious for it. More on that to come.

In the mean time, though, both the car and I are savoring the moment. For the first time, I am comfortably in first place in points in my class. Feels pretty good. I am eager to see what the rest of the season holds.

About Chris Nelson

Chris is a writer and communicator with backgrounds in public relations, communication, political science and automotive technology. He holds an M.A. from Rowan University and a B.A. from Susquehanna University in addition to a certificate in Auto Tech from Lincoln Technical Institute.

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