Although they had left the...
Although they had left the shop only the previous day, both cars were given a complete check-and a rearend change-before being fired up.
"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." -Henry Ford
Lake Havasu 95 Speedway is a rough, old, sunburnt bullring. The pavement's about worn out. The surface is bumpy and a bit cracked. Turn Four is as much a funnel as a corner and the banking is...well, a bit different.
The quarter-mile oval, part of a city park and recreation complex, was dormant for nearly a decade before a couple of racers and investors decided to rejuvenate it. Call it a work in progress.
But if you can get a car to handle well here, there's a good chance you can get it dialed in anywhere.
That made the Arizona desert and its nearly-deserted speedway as good a place as any for MJ2 Racing's first date with its new NASCAR West Series cars.
Jefferson talks to Jim Warn...
Jefferson talks to Jim Warn about what the rookie might expect when he and Jefferson swap positions.
Stock Car Racing is following the two-car team from the Pacific Northwest during its freshman year in NASCAR's top amateur division, the 13-race, West Coast version of the Camping World Series.
The twin Monte Carlos slowly rolled from the team hauler into the Arizona sun, their crimson bodies a sharp contrast from the beige sand and the layers of bleached, rugged hills that dominated the horizon. Even the occasional thermal-riding turkey vulture glided by for a closer look, and then wandered off in apparent search for something more its size.
Chuck Carruthers, MJ2's crew chief, had already put in hundreds of hours converting the Kevin Harvick former Busch Series cars for battle in the West Series, and then pre-testing them on a chassis pull-down rig he designed and fabricated at his shop in the high desert of Eastern Washington.
Now it was time to find out if what works on paper works on pavement.
The intensity of testing shows...
The intensity of testing shows in Jeff Jefferson's eyes. The initial laps indicated problems with brakes and with springs that were too stiff.
Original plans were to test at Irwindale Speedway in Southern California, but the cars were rerouted in transit to Lake Havasu when the Irwindale session was rained out.
The change meant that even before the engines were fired up, the cars had to go up on stands so the crew could switch rearend gears from intermediate to short track ratios.
Most of the team members have worked together before, and many of them have multiple seasons with one another, but this is their first year in the NASCAR West touring series, or working on this type of car.
"When Mike Warn (owner of MJ2) and I first began considering this, one of the first things we did was talk to the crew we had in the Late Model series to determine how many of them would-or could-commit to this program," says Carruthers. "Without them behind us, there was no way we could attempt this. We knew they had to come on board or it just wasn't going to be possible."
With the exception of a trio of team members who work at Carruthers' shop, the entire crew is made up of volunteer enthusiasts.
Jefferson, a three-time champion...
Jefferson, a three-time champion in the Northwest Tour, does the initial shakedown on his teammate's Chevy.
For some of the crew, their jobs-timing laps and recording chassis changes-haven't changed much with the new cars. For others the switch from Late Model cars with coil-over suspensions to the bigger, heavier chassis with light springs and big anti-roll bars requires changing the way they work and think.
The difference was apparent the first time Jeff Jefferson took to the track as the team's senior driver and designated tester. Springs that worked on the chassis rig didn't work the same on the tight oval.
"We just can't get the nose down in the corners," Carruthers explains as he calls for a lighter right-front spring. It became a mantra for the first hours on track.
Each change to the chassis was documented at all four corners, and every time the car came in some crewmembers climbed under it to measure ride height while others checked tire temperature and stagger gain, or confirmed shock absorber travel. Everything was written down, along with what difference the change made in lap time and handling characteristics.
As the notebook began to bulge with data, Carruthers admits, "It can be dull, mind-numbing work. It is a test of a crewmember's tolerance for boredom."