In vintage racing – perhaps all racing — sometimes things go well and sometimes they just don’t. Last September at Road America’s Ariens Art on Wheels weekend was one of the latter. Throughout the weekend, I watched the water temperatures rise each track session. Thinking it a head gasket failure, we installed a new Cometic gasket and hoped for the best. No luck. By Saturday the temperature gauge was in the danger zone and copious quantities of water was being pushed. My weekend was done.
When I got home, I pulled the motor and found a cylinder-long crack in No. 2. This block had become nothing more than the proverbial boat anchor.
All of our race motors are bored out to some degree. This particular one had gone beyond what could be tolerated. I had made the mistake of not checking to see how thick the cylinder walls were before the machining took place. I vowed that that was not going to occur again. So, with new stock block secured from the P and B Motorsports Parts Department (aka, the barn) I searched for a local source for accurate sonic testing. After one false start with a company that came up with wall thickness measurements that were found to be wildly off by virtue of a caliper, I found some kindred souls who took an interest in what I was doing at Great Lakes Testing in Neenah, WI.
With confidence that the Great Lakes results showed my replacement block could be safely bored, it went to Competition Specialists Race Engines for machining. Fortunately, the internals from the previous block, including crankshaft and rods, were intact and reusable. Unfortunately, the heat had caused the rings on one of the pistons to seize. Deciding to be conservative, I ordered new custom pistons from Ross. Additionally, Duane Matejka (R Sport Engineering) sent a head plate to ensure the very most accurate boring process.
We spend our winters from January until early May in southern Arizona. Periodically throughout the course of that sojourn I checked in with the good guys at Competition Specialists, who told me the motor would be ready upon my return in May, and it was. Much of that month then was devoted to reinstalling what is now designated as Motor E, but it also included an extremely thorough cleaning of all the oil lines, the Accusump, the oil cooler and anything else that September’s failure might have impacted.
Remarkably, two days before the Blackhawk Classic, I was ready to go!
All the effort paid off.
This year’s VSCDA Blackhawk Classic was devoted in part to the memory of our good friend and Volvo racer Ray Freiwald, who passed away suddenly in October 2022. Ray had been my mentor, I dare say a hero, and that of a number of other Volvo drivers over his four-decade racing career. Ray’s friends decided that it would be a fitting to create a plaque for the obelisk in the heart of the paddock at Blackhawk Farms Raceway, where Ray was lead instructor for their track days. Saturday’s noon break was devoted to dedicating the plaque with Ray’s family present.
In addition, VSCDA decided to name the Group 2 Feature Race in his honor, not only for 2023, but forever. Any event is special, but this one was more special for me and the others whose were touched by Ray’s life. Perhaps that was an additional incentive for me to make sure that everything was prepared as well as possible.
Other than my shop 20-minute break-in, the first practice session was the initial run for Motor E. It proved prophetic for what the weekend would bring. The first qualifying session was run under ideal conditions. I was able to turn a lap second only to John Salisbury, off his mark by 0.148 seconds. It put me on the outside of the first row for the Saturday morning Sprint Race. As the green flag dropped, I was able to get just enough distance between the two of us to take the lead and hold it throughout the course of the race. A win!
That win allowed me to select my starting position for the Heat Race. I chose the traditional inside pole. John’s P2 had him on the outside. Roles were reversed, and this time John beat me to Turn 1, taking the lead. Throughout the first lap I was thinking “Be content to stay with him.” But as we rounded Turn 7 I saw a puff from his tailpipe and I was back in the lead and once again was able to hold off the competitors behind me. A second win!
We’ve won our class many times, but two overall wins in any weekend was the first for me and One Red. And now I was poised to be on the pole for Sunday’s Ray Freiwald Group 2 Memorial Feature.
All of this was not lost on many people, based upon the comments about the possibility of a Volvo winning this Memorial Feature. Now, I am not a religious person, but if I were, I would swear that Ray was looking down on me and our Volvo.
This time Matt Goettzinger in his Porsche 356 was beside me as we came around Turn 7 of the Pace Lap. Matt and I are no strangers to one another; we have raced closely a number of times at a number of tracks. As the pace car pulled off I was in second gear with my eyes riveted to the Starter on the bridge. I had thought about the mythical story of drag racers of old watching for the Starter’s muscles twitching in advance of waving the green. I can’t claim I saw that, but the second I saw the green, the pedal was to the floor. As I shifted to third just before going under the bridge, a quick glance at the mirror revealed I was half a car length ahead of Matt. We went into Turn 1 like that, and I was able to use the advantage to pull up front. But I have been there before. Could I hold it through the entire race? Matt was on my tail and never let the pressure off until we hit traffic in last lap. Coming out of Turn 7 I knew we had pulled it off.
The hat trick. The trifecta. We had won the Ray Freiwald Memorial! And what’s more, Ray’s sons and daughter were on the bridge waving that checkered flag. I’m not a religious person, but I was talking to Ray that last lap.
Here’s a short (5 minute) video of the Feature Race. (Special thanks Tom Ocahl of TwoPics Photography for providing the trackside portion.)
Ray Freiwald Group 2 Feature Race Podium (Joy Perry photo)