Bowers' 2000 Road America

SAAC Open Track Experience

(subtitle: "how blown head gaskets can put a damper on an otherwise fun weekend...")

Back to...   Bowers' Place | 1982-1993 Mustang GT Registry | Mustang Club of Central Iowa

The Northwoods Shelby Club held its 25th annual open track event September 8 - 10, 2000 at Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.  Although we had been regulars at this event from 1991-1995, life's responsibilities (family obligations, job changes, etc.) and lack of "play money" had prevented us from attending in recent years (we did attend the SAAC nationals at RA in 1998, but it wasn't quite as much fun as the Northwoods events).

This year, we decided that it was high time we made it back to Road America in 2000 no matter what.  Reservations were made, track time was paid for, new Kuhmo's were acquired... it looked like everything was set for a good time at the track.  David was especially eager for Saturday's timed runs to see how he could improve upon his best autocross lap time so far of 2:55 (set at the '95 RA event with a *badly slipping* AOD transmission!).  (Click on the photo at right to see a video of the run).  He knew he could run a better time now that the AOD had been replaced with a 5-speed.  For more information on our '91 Mustang GT (including a list of modifications), click here.

There was only one problem to be faced... our "Road America Curse".  You see, we have run open track events at many places including Hallett and Charlotte Motor Speedway and participated in many, many autocrosses and drag racing events with absolutely no problems at all.  However, it seems that every time we go to Road America, we experience some sort of mechanical problem.  Up to now, the problems have ranged from typical open track annoyances like corded tires and warped/cracked brake rotors to a melted gas line leaking gas onto a hot exhaust (luckily there was no fire!) to, finally, a toasted AOD tranny back in 1995 (since replaced by a 5-speed).  Well, guess what... the "Road America Curse" got us again this year...

Click the picture above to see a 5.43MB mpeg of David's 2:55 run from RA 1995(if you listen closely, you can hear the AOD slipping in a few places!)

(BTW, sorry for the large file size & grainy quality - it's the best we could do with the non-digital recording and the long length).

And now the story...
(click on any photo below to get a larger view)
Here's our '91 GT in the paddock bright and early Friday AM, ready for a fun weekend of open track on Road America's 4 miles of twisty asphalt. Little did we know that our fun would soon be coming to an end.  BTW, the numbers and most of the decals you see on the car are magnetic - the big one on the door is our sponsor and David's employer, Dewey Ford.  The one above the front wheel is a little free advertising for the registry we run, the 1982-1993 Mustang GT Registry.
(photo credit - Edmund Lacis)
Midway through the first session on Friday - so far, so good... here we're heading for the apex of turn 5.  Kathy is driving, David is riding (look closely and you can probably see the look of fear on David's face - LOL!).  This is a sharp left hander coming off a long, high speed, downhill section of the track (basically, a place where you quickly find out if your brakes are up to the task). 

Note the absence of the magnetic decal on the nose of the car (as seen in the photo above)... it flew off at 110+ mph halfway between the start/finish line and turn 1 on the first lap.  It is VERY alarming to see things flying off your car at that speed (especially if you've forgotten about the magnetic decal on the car's nose and it takes a few seconds to figure out what exactly it was you saw flying off).

(photo credit - Edmund Lacis)
Session 2, Friday AM - the beginning of the end.  We're heading into turn 14 (the last turn prior to going up the huge hill before the start/finish line) with David driving and Kathy riding.  The car was still running strong at this point, but not for long...
The fun comes to an end...

Sometime after the above photo was taken (at the very end of session 2), it became obvious something was not right with the car.  David noticed some white smoke in the rearview mirror between turns 3 and 5 and, by turn 6, the car was running rough, the temp gauge was climbing rapidly and antifreeze was starting to blow out from under the hood (the car got squirrelly going through turn 5 due to the antifreeze dumping out of the overflow bottle).  In the meantime, Kathy had also noticed the white smoke in the rearview mirror and started noticing that everytime they passed a corner worker, they were all staring intently at the underside and back of the car and talking on their radios... not a good sign. 

After the temp gauge hit 240, David shut if off and we coasted to a stop safely off the track right at the beginning of the carousel.  A quick underhood assessment by the corner workers determined that we were going to need a "flat tow" back to the paddock (our first ever).  Lucky for us, we had our handy-dandy digital video camera running in the car and got the whole chain of events recorded for posterity. 

Click on either of the two photos to the right to see the 3.93 MB mpeg of events described above.  The video starts as we're going into turn 5 and ends with the start of our tow back to the paddock.

3.93MB video
On the trailer - Friday PM.  The red arrows on the left are pointing to the trail of water that poured out of the driver's side exhaust when we drove it onto the car trailer (there was so much water coming out of the exhaust, it literally looked like someone had turned on a faucet).  The red arrow on the right is pointing to the black stuff that was coming out of the passenger side exhaust. 

Rather than tear into the car at the track, attempt to fix the head gaskets and risk any more unforseen problems, we decided to sell our Saturday and Sunday track times, park the car on the trailer for the remainder of the event and wait until we got home to fully assess the damage.

The aftermath...    Upon arrival at home late afternoon on Monday, teardown began.  The extent of the head gasket damage became apparent when David drained the oil and it seemed that more water than oil drained out of the oil pan!  Upon seeing the huge amount of water in the oil, concern quickly turned to the bearings and the possibility of a cracked block or heads.  Below are the photos of what we found upon removal of the heads from the block.
Driver's side head gasket. The arrows are pointing to all the damage around cylinder #7.  Red arrow - LARGE chunk of head gasket missing (see a couple of photos below to find out where it went).  Green arrow - small leak between #6 & #7 cylinders.  Blue arrow - arched / distorted area of gasket - this is apparently where all the coolant was leaking into the combusion chamber.  Purple arrow - oblonged area below the hole shows how much the gasket had moved.
Driver's side engine block. Blue arrows - correspond to the blue arrow in the photo above of the head gasket.  The rusty area indicates the arched and distorted area where the head gasket moved and coolant was apparently leaking into the combustion chamber.  Red arrows - show the leaks between cylinders #6 & #7 and #7 & #8.
Driver's side engine block closeup. A better view of the area in the photo above.  The blue arrow to the right is pointing to the area where the head gasket moved and allowed coolant from the water passage to enter the #7 cylinder.
Driver's side head.  Red arrows - point out the marks from leaks between cylinders #6 & #7 and #7 & #8.  And remember that missing piece of head gasket?  The blue arrow shows where it ended up - stuck into the #8 cylinder exhaust valve.  Ouch!  Hmmm, I guess THAT would explain why all that water was pouring out of the driver's side exhaust!
Driver's side head closeup. Another view of the gasket stuck in the valve (red arrow) and the leak between #7 and #8 (blue arrow).
Driver's side head - looking through cylinder #8 exhaust port. Not the greatest photo, but it shows the other end of the missing piece of gasket poking up into the exhaust valve (red arrow).
Passenger side head gasket. Yes, not only did we pop the driver's side head gasket, we also blew the passenger side, as well.  Red arrows - leaking areas between cylinders #1 & #2 and #2 & #3.  Purple arrows - oblonged area below the holes shows how much the gasket had moved.
Passenger side engine block. Red arrows indicate the marks on the block from the leaks between cylinders.  The passenger side gasket did not move around as much when it blew and did not allow coolant to leak into the cylinders - hence no water out the exhaust on this side of the motor.
Passenger side head. Red arrows are pointing to the marks on the head from the leaks between cylinders #1 & #2 and #2 and #3.  Notice the black residue and discoloration in cylinder #2.  The spark plug from this cylinder was also extremely black.  Strangely enough, all the other spark plugs appeared to be normal (except of course for the ones on the driver's side that had some wetness around the threads).
So, what's next?   A cursory visual inspection of the heads, block and pistons showed no obvious damage or cracks.  Plans are to take the heads (GT-40 "Y" aluminum) to a local machine shop to be checked over for warps and other possible damage (i.e. due to the gasket stuck in the valve, etc.).  We're still trying to figure out the reason why this happened.  We're suspecting that we were running a little too much timing (we increased it slightly back in July) and apparently the high speeds at Road America prevented us from hearing whatever high rpm detonation must have been happening.  We're not running a power adder so timing seems to be the likely culprit.

Since the end of the season is nearly here, we've decided to park the car in the corner of the garage for the winter while we ponder what to do with the engine (we definitely will be replacing the bearings at the very least).  Hmmm, maybe this is fate telling us it's time to put in that stroker kit or get a blower or a 351 or ...  :-)  Good thing we've got all winter to think about that...


NEW!!!  SPRING 2001 UPDATE!!!!   Click here to see our recent progress on the car!!


The moral of the story?  Well, when you do this kind of stuff with your car, you've got to expect breakage at some point sooner or later.  Overall, the car has been *extremely* trouble-free for the amount of hard use it gets.  The GT-40 aluminum heads and intake were installed back in early 1995 and we have not experienced any engine-related troubles up until now.  Most of the miles put on it since then have been high rpm runs either at an autocross, on a road course or at the drag strip.  Let's see, how does that saying go?  "If you want to play, you've got to pay..." (or something like that). 

Copyright 2000 by David & Kathy Bowers - images and text (except where noted).
All Rights Reserved.
Duplication in any form strictly prohibited!
Page design by Kathy Bowers
Last update:  9/16/00