Overcoming Obstacles

My current writing location just happens to be my hotel room in Las Vegas, which will be my home for the next five days until Muscle Cars At The Strip has concluded. This is an event that I have been waiting for since the end of the 2015 event. It is one of most colorful, fun and eventful races of the year. Not only are there three classes that the Magnum can compete in, there are Hellcat and Viper thrill rides, a huge car show, and most of all, Mopars as far as the eye can see. And this year, not only will we be competing in the Modern Muscle category, but our engine builder, Arrington Performance is also the title sponsor for this particular class. This class is specifically tailored to suit late model HEMI cars, and Maggie is the epitome of a fast late model HEMI.

Everything that we’ve been doing over the last 3 months has been to get ready for the MATS event this weekend. To call it stressful is a bit of an understatement. However, the journey to get here has been quite enlightening, and has definitely taught me a lesson or two about overcoming obstacles.

The goal from the very beginning was to get to Las Vegas Motor Speedway the weekend before MATS to test at an NHRA Summit race. Thankfully, with help from a whole hell of a lot of people, the truck, trailer and car were all together in the parking lot on Thursday night before a Friday test and tune. There were a few small details we needed to tie up on the car before getting on track on Friday morning, and we weren’t anticipating that any of them would take very long.

First and foremost, we needed to make sure that the automatic air shifter would actually work on track. We tested the physical functioning while we were at Arrington, but could never test if the real RPM of the engine would trigger the controller to send the signal to shift. To our surprise, even setting the RPM to the minimum and driving around the parking lot at LVMS, the shifter didn’t budge from 1st to 2nd gear when the target RPM was reached. Well, that’s a problem. We were planning on having an automatically shifting car on track for the races.

After some diagnosis to ensure that all the wiring remained intact and there were no misplaced grounds, we determined that no one was to blame for the shifter not working properly. It turns out that this car is even more unique than we thought it was. The world of late model Mopar drag racers is already small, and those that are running a TH400 narrows the field even more. The kicker is that unlike the Drag Paks or other late model cars from the factory, we are still running the factory computer module. The somewhat antiquated PCM of the Magnum cannot send an RPM signal to another device and the magnetic pickup that we were using on one of the coil wires was not sending a strong enough signal for the Biondo shift controller to read the RPM. As far as it knew, the RPM was zero, so it never shifted.

This is where we started to reroute from one path to another. At this point, we were wondering who to call about this specific issue. We decided on Les from FigSpeed in Henderson, Nevada. He told us about a tach adaptor that amplifies the signal from the car’s factory computer and broadcasts it in a way that the shift controller can understand. Okay great, that sounds like that will work. So at this point we decided that rushing to get on track for a Friday test and tune wasn’t going to happen. We would have to settle for getting the test and tune on Saturday afternoon only.

Then another roadblock arose. Turns out, the tach adapter we needed was a specific one for late model cars and was not in stock because hardly anyone ever orders it. The soonest it would come was the following week, so we were going to have to go to plan B. When I woke up that morning, I was confident that we were going to get the auto shift function working before going on track. I never imagined that due to a few inconveniences, if we were going to be racing at all that day, the shifting would have to be up to me. Under any other circumstances, I would have wanted more time to prepare myself for this task, since shamefully, I admit that I had never shifted a drag car before. It had been on my list of things to do and practice, but it was never convenient to do so. But on this day, after waiting so long, I was so eager to get on track that I simply put my trepidation about shifting aside. I would learn this skill in a few minutes the best I could, as long as we were getting a timeslip! So instead of coming home with a tach adapter, we came home with a shift light.