Jeff Jefferson, left, and...
Jeff Jefferson, left, and Chuck Carruthers check right-front spring compression to see how close the suspension is to coil bind. Jerry F. Boone
Second In A SeriesChuck Carruthers tries to run his finger between the top of the tire and the underside of the right front fender of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Then he slides beneath the car and measures the gap between the spring's coils, using a feeler gauge.
"Down a bit more," he calls out from beneath the car. From the far side of the lift, an electric motor begins spinning a hydraulic pump and almost magically the chassis drops down another fraction of an inch.
He measures the distance between the compressed coils again.
"This is how we test today," says the veteran car builder, who is crewchief for MJ2 Racing's two-car, freshman-season entry into the NASCAR Camping World Series on the West Coast.
On this wintry morning, with snow still packed around the team's shop in rural Washington State, the up and down movement of the Chevy is as close as the crew will get to finding out how the chassis will perform on a track.
Jeff Jefferson eases the Chevrolet...
Jeff Jefferson eases the Chevrolet down onto a test platform as the MJ2 racing team does pre-testing suspension analysis. The controls for the MJ2-designed pull-down system are contained on a bank of valves that can delicately regulate pressure on hydraulic rams to simulate cornering and aerodynamic loads on a racecar chassis.
The crewchief has been working the phones for weeks, trying to find a track-within budget and towing distance-warm enough and dry enough to get his cars and drivers dialed in.
"It was supposed to rain at Irwindale last weekend," complains Carruthers.
So much for the endless summers of sunny California.
An atypical winter with record rain, high winds and mountain snowfall has turned most West Coast tracks into quagmires, leaving teams to test where and how they can. For MJ2, that means in the shop.
"I'm concerned," he says. "I was hoping to be on the track two or three times already. We've got new cars, a new driver, new tracks and a new series. There is so much to learn and we aren't getting the opportunity. Each day we fall a little farther behind teams that have been able to turn laps."
Carruthers isn't the only one worried.
"I haven't been to one of the tracks we'll race at this season," says Jim Warn, who is moving up to the touring series after two seasons at South Sound Speedway near Seattle. "These cars are so different from what I've driven before, that I'd be lying if I said that didn't make me uncomfortable.
"Because whatever testing we do will be so close to the first race of the year, it is going to put a lot of pressure on the team to get the cars to a track, back to the shop and out to a track again. We just aren't going to have much time in between, and all the tracks are a long tow from the shop."
The MJ2 operation is built around a half dozen 105-inch wheelbase, former Busch Series cars purchased from Kevin Harvick at the end of last season. They've had to be converted to the Camping World series configuration, which includes items such as a spec engine and ignition system. Two of them are ready to hot-lap the track.
"All dressed up and no place to go," laments Jeff Jefferson, the senior driver and designated team test pilot.
Jefferson has three consecutive championships in the defunct NASCAR Northwest Tour Series and about 20 starts and a win in the late Winston West, the forerunner of the current NASCAR West Series sponsored by Camping World.
Hydraulic rams are bolted...
Hydraulic rams are bolted to a steel plate in the floor and then attached to the chassis using special plates that bolt to the framerails. June Boone
The driver grew up around cars. His father, George Jefferson, is a legendary car owner on the West Coast, having had drivers such as Tim Richmond, David Pearson, Hershel McGriff, Kyle Petty, Chad Little and Derrike Cope in his cars.
George Jefferson teamed with his brother Harry and moved into what was to become the Busch (Nationwide) Series, where in 1972 they led the nation, winning a record 27 of 35 starts, including 17 in a row.
The older Jefferson still shows up at the track or the shop from time to time.
"The cars are really different from his day," says his son, "but sometimes he doesn't see it that way. He just figures racecars are racecars."
Jeff contends that decades of working with his dad and on his own cars have made him a better driver.