Ron Cherry: An animal with 1,000 adjustments
One thing Jon Hari has learned is that Mario Andretti was right. A racing car is an animal with a thousand adjustments. It’s not something you just buy, hop into and win every race. There is always something to be done to improve performance or handling just a bit. Or a lot.
It all started back in 1986 when a friend of Jon’s got him to run his Pantera against his friend’s Porsche 944 on the track. “The Pantera was a touring car,” he said. “Not a race car.” On hard corners, the Pantera’s oiling system did not do well and Jon lost an engine, but gained a passion. He realized that, although the Pantera topped the Porsche in raw horsepower, there was more to racing than that. “He had years of racing under his belt and I was green. He beat me,” he said with a grin, “and that’s why I bought a Porsche.”
After that, Jon bought a Porsche Turbo 944 to race as well as drive on the street. But when another friend totaled his new Porsche 944 on the track, he changed his strategy. “This is stupid,” he recalled thinking, because running a car at any trophy event is not covered by auto insurance. So Jon took the next step in racing in 1995, buying a car only for racing, in this case a highly modified Porsche 914.
Jon’s new Porsche came with two spare engines, two spare transmissions, a car trailer and a driver’s suit. It had a tube-frame chassis to meet Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) specs for a 914 Porsche. Its suspension was coil-over-shock with adjustable shocks to handle different track conditions. It was running a 2.8 L four-cylinder engine with a 915 gearbox transaxle using a side shifter. The body was a lightweight Sheridan 914 with a custom roll cage for racing and a Fabcar wing in the back. It had one rare feature for amateur racers of the time, a computer system with seven sensors that could be downloaded after a run to evaluate handling.
The previous owner could not get the 914 to handle right with radial tires and that required an adjustment. Jon had Raetech Motorsports turn the trailing arms ½ of a degree and it performed well for half a season. However, Jon wanted more power and he swapped it for a normally aspirated, six-cylinder 3.4 L with twin plugs (two spark plugs per cylinder). It had a Motec electronic engine management system and a dry sump oiling system. In a detuned state it put out 329 HP and 244 ft. lbs of torque at 7200 RPM. It was a killer engine. A killer engine that should have been the perfect adjustment. Should have been. On the dyno, it performed flawlessly. On the track, it misfired at high RPM’s. “We replaced everything electrical,” Jon said, “but it didn’t help. A guy at RAE said, ‘It’ll probably be a lousy 25 cent part,’ but it was actually due to lousy work.” It was an improperly installed battery cable that had a bad connection and finally fell out of its clamp. “I looked under that car and saw the cable on the ground. After thousands of dollars of engine work and dynoing, that was it.” A major adjustment in changing the engine and a minor adjustment to repair a battery cable.
With the engine performing well, Jon only had a couple of races before he went off the track during one and damaged the body. But he decided not to repair the angular 914 body, making a major adjustment. “I needed a more aerodynamic one and decided to put on a Boxer body,” Jon said. He chose noted builder and winning team, Ruman Racing from the Midwest. They built a fiberglass Boxer body with aluminum doors and installed it on the 914 chassis, which took nine months. Next came a paint job in BMW metallic charcoal. After that, Jon had the wing replaced with a better one from Fabcar with an “overbuilt” mounting structure by Ruman, that was built to handle the downforce of a 300 MPH John Force dragster. Since then, however, the car has not been on the track and that is a problem.
Jon’s car is not street legal, having no headlights (an omission by a worker at Ruman). But it was never meant to be so. Jon has lost his passion for racing after 13 years, something he says often happens. “Many amateur racers lose interest, “ he said. “You spend all that time working on the car for a weekend of racing, then work on it all the next week. If you win, you get a $5 trophy for a $50,000 to $100,000 investment.” But that figure is only the cost of building the car, not including the ongoing costs. “The engine is a 25 hour engine before overhaul,” he said. “And you start the season with two sets of tires. A set is only good for qualifying and one race before being used for practice.” But for Jon, the final straw was age. “My reaction times today are not nearly those of a 28 year old,” he noted. Although he considered converting his Porsche into a street machine, the time and cost were prohibitive. Instead, he is thinking of selling it, another major adjustment.
Ron Cherry’s four books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His next book, a mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills, will be out by Christmas.
Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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