SHOP TALK: There Are Still A Few Good People Left In The World
I pray that everyone is enjoying their summer. After all, it is the time of the year when we truly get to enjoy our passion for motorsports. This past June I was able to escape for a few days with a buddy and our families to attend a Harley rally in Lake George, NY. For those of you who have never heard of Lake George, it is known as the queen of all lakes and is located in the heart of the beautiful Adirondack mountains. The scenery is spectacular and was just what I needed to unwind.
My buddy Marty and I planned to take this trip nearly a year ago. We rented a house that is right on the lake that was perfect for both of our families. We agreed that since time off is so precious that we needed to do as much as possible while we were in Lake George. Marty generously agreed to bring his boat so we could not only enjoy the Harleys, but the lake as well. He dropped the boat off at my shop a week before we left so I could check it over and see if it survived the long winter’s nap it had.
I am not an outboard mechanic, but an engine is an engine right? I changed the spark plugs, fuel filter, gear oil, cleaned the carbs, greased all of the fittings, and even serviced the trailer. Marty took my advice and purchased a new set of trailer tires just be make sure we arrived safely. As luck would have it, the weather forecast looked miserable for the duration of our trip. We decided to take the bikes up in a trailer as well and be ready for anything mother nature threw at us.
I could write a complete story on the amazing time we had and the many fun things we did, but this is "Shop Talk" and not a travelers guide to the Adirondack mountains. Long story short, we were able to spend a beautiful day on the boat, take an amazing ride on our Harleys to the Olympic Village in Lake Placid, NY, spend a rainy day shopping at the many outlets, and I can't forget to mention the numerous trips to the best ice cream shop I have ever been to.
What does this have to do with the title of my story you may be asking by now? Over the years my faith in people has plummeted to an all-time low. I consider myself a giver and always put others before me. I also go out of my way to help everyone in need, whether it be financial, muscle, mechanical skills, or something as simple as prayer. Over the years I have been used and abused by the best of them, which is how I lost my faith in people and became a recluse.
Spending those few days with Marty and his wife reminded me there are still some good people left in this world. Our time together was too easy. There was no drama, no compromise, no hidden agenda, heck even our wives got along great. That trip was medicine for my soul and was just he beginning for what God had planned to show me in coming weeks.
A week later, I was at the drag strip giving my Pro Street Camaro "Big Red" an opportunity to show me if she liked the recent upgrades I gave her, and I ended up hurting her pretty bad. She obviously liked the upgrades and was giving me some of my best passes ever until dropping a cylinder mid track on my last pass. By the grace of God I was able to keep her running and get back to the pits under her own power. The girl I was racing (you can read about her and her car in our feature story) ran over with her boyfriend, Matt, to see if I needed any help. Matt helped me give everything a quick look over and even had some of his friends help push Big Red closer to my hauler so I could connect the winch to it. They were absolute strangers but by the end of the day I felt very close to them. They were both sweet and caring people, who went out of their way to help me.
At the same time all of this was happening a guy that was parked next to me in the pits came over to offer his help. I told him I lost fuel pressure and the engine seemed to have a "miss" in one of the cylinders. He quickly replied, "there's more going on than that!" He was at mid track and had heard my pass, he also heard me pull back into the pit area. He was all to eager to help me pull some plugs and the valve covers so we could take a closer look. I had never met this man before, and he was willing to help me despite racing his own car that day in the pro class. I thanked him and told him I would take it apart at home in my shop. He was willing to bet I had a valve train problem, and perhaps I hurt a piston as well.
I have learned over the years to NEVER doubt the advice of an old gearhead and his diagnosis was pretty accurate. At home in the solitude of my own shop, I pulled the plugs out and was happy to see they were all in one piece and looked good. I pulled the drivers side valve cover off next and at a quick glance everything looked normal. A closer inspection revealed that I broke a valve keeper on the cylinder 1 intake valve. The valve and spring were still in place but the rocker was riding on the retainer cap and not the valve. The old gearhead was spot on.
A week later I finally got an opportunity to re-connect with my old friend Shawn after texting each other for the past year. Shawn is not only a major gearhead but an engineer as well. He is in the process of building a blown Model T and has sent me numerous pictures of the progress he has made. We will definitely be featuring his car when it is completed. Back to the story.... Shawn comes over my house for the first time with his family to have a fun day riding the 4 wheelers on my farm. He is not two minutes in my shop and wants to pull the rocker off to see if there was any further damage. It is hard to stop that kind of thinking, so I became his nurse and handed him whatever tools he needed to complete the surgery. Upon removal, the keeper broke into 3 pieces, but thankfully they all stayed in place. This allowed the valve to drop ever so slightly and get stuck in the head. He was ready to pull the head off and see if the piston was hurt, but I declined his generous offer and took a rain check.
Since Shawn is an engineer, I asked him to take a look at Big Red and advise me on how he would pull the engine. I may need to remind some of you that Big Red is a 1994 Camaro with a 572 Merlin Big Block. And while she has a complete tubular front end including the k-member and control arms, the front coil-covers still make their home in the stock shock towers. There is simply no room at all! Changing the spark plugs is an absolutely ridiculous task that is best left for someone with very small hands and a lot of patience (both of which I don't have). After looking at the car for 30 minutes or so, Shawn agreed that the only way it was coming out was from the bottom. I was secretly hoping he was going to have another plan that would be less work. A few days later he sent me a very detailed spreadsheet that listed a step-by-step plan for getting the k-member out from under the car in a shop that does not have a lift. I was thoroughly impressed and knew at that moment I had met my gearhead soul mate. Shawn graciously offered to help me get the 572 out of Big Red and stopped the progress on his own car to help me.
I am happy to say that the two of us were able to get the engine, tranny, and k-member assembly out from Big Red using a 2 ton hydraulic jack, 4 jack stands, 2 wheel dollies, and a 2 ton engine hoist, all in a day. His selfless act of kindness and generosity was most welcome and was yet another reminder that all people aren't as bad as I remember.
I will document the entire process of how we dropped the k-member and the engine rebuilding process in an upcoming issue. There is yet one more person who God chose to not only help me with Big Red, but help sweep the cob webs from my heart and allow me to enjoy the company of my fellow humans. I am looking forward to sharing the rebuild process with all of you and documenting every step along the way. In addition to my friend Shawn, a genius fabricator/engineer, I will introduce you to another amazing gearhead and a few great companies who have joined forces with me and are committed to taking Big Red to the next level.
While the past ten years may have taken its toll on my faith in people and the ability to trust and have friends again, the past two months have opened my heart and reminded me there still may be a few good people left in the world.
Until next time, keep wrenching,