And then there are the times when you just want to scream

Having prepared the kart earlier in the week, I wasn’t really planning to spend much more time on it before we take it to the track on Saturday. I needed to drill a small hole in the nassau that could be used to secure the ActionPro but the rest of it was done but with the hot weather almost guaranteeing grip I decided to lower the chassis. This is a bit of a pain as my sprocket carrier *really* likes my axle – you could say they are pretty much inseparable based on the only time I have removed the axle. I wasn’t looking forward to this and rightly so as it turned out – it took over an hour of hammer ‘tapping’, rotating and lubricating to get the sprocket carrier off (it wasn’t helping that the sprocket guard was cushioning my efforts). It was getting dark when I was putting the back end back together and it was only when the wheels were back on and I went to fit the chainguard that I realised that I had not fitted the chainguard mount brackets…

So tonight, when I should just have been nipping out to get some super unleaded, part-loading the car, relaxing before having an early night I’ll be irritating the neighbours with an hour of constant banging whilst cursing silently and continuously.

This highs and lows, eh?

Farewell first set of nearly-new slicks!

They have been on the kart since we bought it and subsequently done 408 laps (or 241 miles!) but the time has come to bid farewell to our first set of nearly new slicks. Ironically Junior set his PB around Clay in his final session using them but there is no time for sentiment 😉 I have replaced them with another set of nearly new slicks that I bought for £30 from one of the forums 🙂 Removing the tyres from their rims was a smoother process than putting the new ones on – especially the rears. I think I could claim credit for maybe 1.75 of the 4 tyres so definitely more practice required. Not sure my office fingers are up to the job!

Whilst I was doing ‘kart stuff’, I completed the addition of the weight to the seat so we are almost good to go on Saturday (I have some good friends offering to help me with the push starting if the toe is problematic). I am really looking forward to seeing how Junior fares in the kart at his racing weight. Not so much looking forward to lifting the kart onto the trolley with him – he really struggled before we added 7kg…

Warning: motorsports can be dangerous!

Sorry for not having posted recently – as you’ll soon see things have ‘interesting’ of late :S I’d been spending quite a bit of time on the kart: I needed to put the engine back on following it’s rebuild and, whilst the engine was off, I had wanted to give the back end a good clean but had trouble removing the sprocket carrier so I was keen to put that right.

I spent three successive evenings working on the kart last week (when it comes to kart maintenance one thing invariably leads to another), firstly tackling the sprocket carrier: it was a little awkward as the sprocket protector was still in place on the brake side of the carrier but tap by tap, I managed to knock it with a hammer (lubing, hitting each arm of the sprocket carrier in turn and repeating until free – all whilst I had a pair of screwdrivers carefully tapped into the slots on the carrier to help free it from the axle. I got there in the end!

Whilst cleaning the back end, I noticed that the chassis was running at it’s lowest setting:

Tonykart chassis height

This is how you would set up a kart in hot weather, where you had too much rear end grip (you would typically raise the axle in the wet when you want to raise the centre of gravity) but this was not how I wanted the kart set up whilst Junior is still learning to drive so I removed the axle and set it to the standard (middle) height. And of course, I took the opportunity to clean the chassis around the bearings whilst I had the chance 😉

I then decided to adjust the seat as my measurements were some way from the Tonykart recommendations. With hindsight this might not have been a great idea: it took a long time, Junior got hacked off holding the seat in place and I don’t think I ended up much more ‘optimal’ than I had started out. And I forgot about the weights when putting the seat back on.

Ah, the weights… the highlight(?) of last week!!! Having weighed Junior at Llandow I reckoned we needed 7kg of lead and the black restrictor to put us at the correct race weight. I already had 3kg that came with the kart and I bought a 4kg lump for £15 from the forums, it just needed fitting – 3kg went on the side of the seat (low on the brake side to offset the engine weight). After hammering the lead weights flat so as to fit flush to the seat, it was pretty straightforward. The 4kg weight had other ideas – I hit it flat and held it in position to mark the drill holes. My marking pencil had disappeared so I went off to fetch it, holding the lead in place against the seat in one hand. As I went back outside the lead slipped and I instinctively (and stupidly) put my foot out to break the fall!!!!!!!! Painful was an understatement.

I got back from hospital just before 2am with very swollen, very sorry looking broken toe. Funnily enough, I haven’t done anything on the kart since! I have a injured toe photo that I took in A&E that was very popular with my Facebook friends but I’ve decided not to post it here 😉 I am hoping to be fit enough to run Junior at Clay on Saturday but push starting is an obvious concern. Fingers crossed…

Cost of an especially damaging 4kg lead weight: £15

Total spent so far: £2,925

Engine rebuild

I’d been considering getting the engine rebuilt for some time; I bought the engine with ~3 hours on it prior to our test/purchase day (onto which I added a couple of hours just in case) and we had put 6 hours on it following the ARKS test. Given the recommended rebuild time of 8-10 hours I thought it best to err on the side of caution and book a rebuild.

The big question was who to use? The previous owner had had both his race and this practice engine (I bought the latter) rebuilt by Dave Litchfield – one of the best know engine builders in the country but I didn’t think I was really in a position to justify the additional cost of posting the engine for it to be rebuilt by the man lots of race teams use (not to mention I think I might have been a little out of my depth in any service discussion!). Looking at the numerous local options, I had heard good things about all three of the builders I was considering. I assumed that the quality of rebuild would be pretty much the same given the limited amount that can be done with a TKM engine so in the end it came down to convenience: I’d just finished a day at Clay and it was easy for me to leave it with Lee Rennison, the ARKS examiner at Clay (no conflict of interest here I hasten to add – I didn’t mention the rebuild until *after* the test!). He offers a rebuild service and I figured it would a) save me cleaning the engine when I got home, b) save me having to take or send it anywhere and c) potentially offer some local support if I ran into any engine issues at the track. And he’s a really nice bloke too!

The rebuild took a week and I picked it up today. The engine was in really good shape so I could probably have gotten another couple of hours in. Had I not lost the receipt at the track I could have told you exactly what I had done but it included new top and bottom-end kits, gaskets, bearings, a piston and three carb rebuilds for a [relatively] palatable £230. I am sure Junior will enjoy running it in later this month!

Whilst we were there I attempted to make Junior watch the drivers practising ahead of tomorrow’s race fixture and make some mental notes of the race lines. He never seems to listen to me, nor anybody else for that matter but I really hope watching a constant stream of drivers taking a decent chunk of kerb through The Esses might sink in. We’ll see…

Cost of engine rebuild: £230

Total spent so far: £2,910 (starting to regret keeping a running total now…)

Practice 6: ARKS test

Thursday night was a bit of a rush, it being the first dry evening since the kart got soaked on Monday – I had dried the kart as best I could (given the constraints of working on a kart sat on a camping trailer inside a single garage) but there was still a fair amount of moisture around the engine mount so I chose to remove it and make sure everything was clean and dry. Not the best time for a first solo removal of the engine and exhaust perhaps but it needed doing. I also had to reset the front width after widening it at Llandow and I got as much ready for the day as possible: changed the sprocket, mixed some new fuel and slightly overinflated the tyres so that I could tweak them in the morning.

We got to Clay Pigeon Raceway about 20 mins before the track opened, signed in and were told to have a few runs and the ARKS examiner would come and get us when the time was right. I had been a bit worried on the drive down about the possibility of a repeat of the starting difficulty we had last time so I was relieved when it started first time. I ran my normal wheel, hub and chassis bolt checks and, unusually, we were out for the first session 🙂 We had a stuttering start though – Junior came in eight laps reporting the back end felt loose. I wondered if this was a tyre pressure issue so I dropped them down a notch. Second time out he complained it felt even worse! With his hesitancy from Llandow in mind, I assured him that nothing was loose so there was no safety issue and sent him back out to give the tyres a good warm up and see if the handling improved. I widened the back end by 5mm on each side when he came back and, from then on, he was happy with the handling and was soon pushing it. It was only during the fourth session that I realised the ARKS instructor was marshalling so that he could watch Junior, who by this time had beaten his previously best lap time from our February session. The instructor was more than happy with his speed and it was at that point I stupidly commented on it being nice to have the kart running without issue. No more than two minutes later, the kart is parked up on the exit of Billies and Junior is inspecting the back end. I made for the trolley park.

This was an interesting one: not only had the chain had come off but the sprocket was hanging on by a single bolt and one part of the sprocket protector was sitting on the axle, next to the chain. I had lost two of the three bolts from the sprocket carrier although one was bent and wedged in the back of composite chainguard. There were no nuts, including those that separated the sprocket from the sprocket protector (on which the fixing holes were now very worn to the point of being largely useless). I had lost parts on track yet again… 🙁 This was and still is something that I am desperate to see the end of – this particular problem was a new occurence and I can only assume that the nuts on the outside of the plastic sprocket protector had come loose. Just like the exhaust screws, it seems that once one goes it’s only a matter of time and the sprocket nuts were not nylocs, nor was I checking them between sessions. I removed all the relevant parts – there was composite chainguard ‘dust’ all over the engine, chain and chassis. The chainguard itself was cut up and the sprocket had worn on side of the teeth. I disposed of the sprocket, patched up the back of the chainguard with tank tape, bought six new sprocket carrier bolts (we – and every other kart I have ever looked at – had only three bolts in place before now) and cleaned everything up. We missed two sessions but at least it gave us some time to have some lunch.

As we were ready to head out again, Junior was called for his ARKS driving results and theory test – the only comment was that he needed to use the kerbs in the Esses and he got all his questions right in the test, meaning he passed his test 🙂

We made the most of the remaining four sessions, running until we were kicked off at 5pm. Junior had some fun racing with a couple of his friends he knew from Teamsport Bristol – one a Senior Max, the other in a Mini Max which made for a surprisingly entertaining spectacle and he was chuffed to post a new fastest lap of 36.92s, especially as his tyres were probably making a farewell appearance (they were used when we got the kart and he’s since done over 400 laps on them!). All in all, a good day – ARKS test passed, 157 laps ‘bum-in-seat’ time and a new fastest lap, only tainted by the sprocket bolt problem although I am now running six bolts (three of the holes on the sprocket and sprocket protectors are now badly worn) and checking them after each session (they do need tightening up every time, even with nylocs – I wonder if it is the plastic sprocket protector that doesn’t really allow for a firm tightening of the nuts).

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £7 petrol for 5l super unleaded for the kart, £85 ARKS test fee (including track practice), £1.50 for 6 sprocket carrier bolts

Total spent so far: £2,680

Replacing the brake fluid

This weekend was one of those where my plans to make the most of some kart-free time didn’t quite pan out as expected. I made it to Sunday afternoon before a friend (who is quickly becoming KartingDad’s Dad!) offered to help me replace the brake fluid with friend. The brake fluid levels were getting a little low and the fluid itself was looking pretty dirty. My lad hadn’t expressed any issues with the brakes but it was something I wanted to sort out as well as get some exposure to the last part of the kart that I had yet to experience maintenance on.

The first issue was what brake fluid did I need? There is a fair amount of conflicting advice to be found on the web. I went with the recommendation of Dot 5, which was not what was being used in my brake system. This Kosmic Setup Guide from Australian outfit Remo Racing has some useful information on the type of brake fluid (it’s also a pretty decent tuning guide for novices) for which type of OTK brake: typically it would appear most recent (post-2006) OTK kart will use the BS6 brake caliper which requires Dot 5 brake fluid. I placed my order for EBC brake fluid (cheaper than OTK or Putoline) as well as a couple of brake caliper seals and four master cylinder seals.

I had intended to try to document this process but it would be fair to say this wasn’t the most straightforward of maintenance procedures! Cleaning out the old brake fluid from the system was simple enough, as was replacing the seals but I wouldn’t like to have had to re-assemble the system and bleed the new fluid through on my own. It’s definitely something I’d need some baby sitting on next time as well although I don’t expect to have to do this again anytime soon. The brake certainly seems nice and hard but I’ll ensure Junior takes his opening laps fairly gently next time out!

Cost of parts: £26 (2x  brake caliper seals £3.71ea, 4x master cylinder seals £2.64ea, EBC Dot 5  silicone brake fluid £8.28)

Total spent so far: £2,468

The karting time sink

For the first time in ages, I had no plans for the weekend – no karting, no football, no work, just me, the family and some gardening. Then I was offered the chance to take the kart to one of the other Dad’s garage to check out the engine mount issue and get some kart maintenance tips. At this stage of my kart mechanic ‘career’ it was too good an offer to pass up on so the kart-free weekend went out of the window and on Sunday afternoon I took the kart off for some TLC.

We started off looking at the engine mount – the threads on the mount are very worn and there were standard nuts on the engine clamp bolts instead of nylocs. The conclusion we came to was that the engine vibration was causing the nut on the front clamp to loosen and the lack of thread on the mount was enabling the bolt to drop out. I can’t overstate how much I really hope that this problem is now a thing of the past!!!

Whilst the engine was off, I saw how much better petrol is for cleaning engines than my household degreaser – I’m still not a big fan of using petrol as a cleaning agent but I can now see it’s usefulness. I also found that my exhaust flex was in a pretty poor state, with several cracks so we replaced that with a new piece of flex – 65mm appears to be the consensus for Clay Pigeon.

With a nice, clean engine and an engine mount that hopefully won’t be shifting mid-session any more, we moved onto the mechanics lessons. Lesson #1 – rear axle removal. Attempting to spin the axle (with the spark plug removed, of course) showed that things weren’t exactly rolling smoothly (it rolls even less smoothly with the spark plug fitted!). I’d shied away from removing the axle until now and the it took some removing with the crud that had built up around the brake disc carrier and bearings. It was pretty clear that this was something that I should really be incorporating into my post-race cleaning procedure – not only does the axle spin much more freely now, it also gives you the opportunity to clean the chassis much more thoroughly. Another issue was the wear on the hub bolts – they were showing a fair amount of wear so I need to get into the habit of chucking bolts that have reached the point of no return.

We looked at the front and rear setups – measuring the rear width, to which I hadn’t really paid much attention previously and I came to understand the importance of axle keys, one of which seems to have been lost during the last outing. It was also nice to confirm that my axle was straight – the same could not be said for my spare, unfortunately. Moving onto the front end, we checked the toe and adjusted the Ackermann (moving down to the lower set of holes on the steering column).

Four hours later and with my wife calling to find out when I was coming home for dinner, we were just about done. I still need to learn how to clean out and adjust the brake system and also adjust the throttle cable (this should be pretty straightforward but I am reluctant to just play around) but it was invaluable to be able to do/watch (there was a fair amount of watching) this with expert guidance – cheers, Mark 🙂

I have also come to appreciate the value of the ‘bits and pieces’ box that was included with the kart package – if you are buying a retirement package and get the chance to include something like this, do it!

IMG_0032IMG_0037 IMG_0036 IMG_0034 IMG_0035 IMG_0038 IMG_0039

Time to weld that crack

It’s been a while since my last post; a week preparing for a vacation followed by a less-than-relaxing but very enjoyable two week family holiday. Now it’s back to business! We are planning to practice this Saturday and I need to get the crack welded beforehand as we are hopefully approaching the stage where a) I can keep the kart running without it losing wheels :S and b) Junior will start to push the kart and attack the track a little. I had a huge list of things to do in the garden at the weekend with only an hour or two pencilled in to get the front end of the kart stripped in preparation for welding – after all it is only a case of undoing a few nuts to remove the nassau, bumper and floor tray, right?

It was quite straightforward until I got to the bumper bar! First problems came when I found that two bolts were threaded – the first was the lower of the nose centre clamp bolts, the second on the lower nassau support bracket. A new 4mm metal drill bit was the answer to those particular challenges. The biggest issue came when the lower front bumper bar refused to move on the one side. I was aware that the kart had been involved in an accident prior to buying it and thought that the crack was the only issue resulting from that but it appears the bumper bar has been ever-so-slightly bent also – sufficiently enough cause it to have become wedged on one side of the chassis. In the end I needed the help of another noob Dad (thanks, Nick!) and his portable blow torch that enabled us to heat the bar and knock the hitherto fixed bumper bar free.

With most of the afternoon gone, I decided to make the most of the lack of floor tray and clean the underside of the chassis that is not normally accessible. My tip of the day is Elbow Grease General Purpose Degreaser – it was recommended by a former kart man and I cannot fault it, especially if you can find it in Poundland for a quid!!!

Still a little annoyed I didn’t see this before handing over the readies:

Chassis crack :(

My nice, clean chassis complete with top-of-the-range carb/engine cover:

Clean chassis :)

Practice 2: one to forget

Our second practice session took place on Saturday. It was in doubt throughout the week; primarily because the weather forecast looked downright miserable. In the end, we decided to go for it and hope it didn’t rain the whole day. This was our first truly solo session – no friendly experts on hand, nor other noob Dads for moral support. We left late (again) but this time there were no stops for trailer adjustments; I had my cargo net in place to keep the cover on the kart and a couple of removable bits of ply wood to support the full width of the rear tyres with no overhang. So far, so good but then it started to go a little ‘pear shaped‘.

First, whilst the cargo net had kept the kart cover on the kart, it hadn’t stopped the front of the cover from coming loose and flapping around. Consequently, the kart cover had split and frayed in at least four places (does anyone make covers suitable to cover karts on top of trailers?). Then, during the pre-flight checks, I fired up the engine with the remote starter and Junior gave it a bit of throttle which duly stuck open – cue very loud, revving engine and lots of looks as Dad frantically tried stopping the engine. The brakes didn’t do it initially although what seemed like minutes was probably only 5 seconds. I don’t really know why this was – removing the airbox, I could see that the carb butterfly was open more than it should have been but only a little. The throttle was opening and closing ok although I subsequently realised that the throttle cable swivel assembly was upside down, so whether or not this played a part I am uncertain. Anyway, one carb change and successful remote start later we were ready to go. Pleasingly (and one of the few good things to have happened over the day) was the kart bump starting very easily once again – no waved yellows needed! Disappointingly, the kart decided it was going to head straight into the pits at the end of the out lap as the rear hub and wheel came off at the top bend and veered into the pit entrance. This was a little embarrassing given we’d had a wheel come off during our first practice day because I had negated to check the nuts between sessions. I put the wheel back on the axle and pushed the kart back on the trolley as discretely as possible. Junior pulled the wheel off as we were passing a couple of Dads in the car park but I scolded him and quickly put it back – I don’t think anyone one noticed 😉 Luckily the kart was undamaged and I added hub checks to my list of post-session checks… I cannot and will not let this happen again!

Then the real problems started – the kart stopped on track during our next outing with what had sounded like the chain coming off. It had but we’d also lost an engine mount clamp. I had been suspicious of the engine mounts during our first practice day as the chain was looser after every run and sometimes the engine would be flush against the engine restraining bolt when I had left a gap of a few millimetres prior to a run. I had a replacement bracket and bolt amongst the spares and fitted the engine once again, making sure the bracket was tight. Junior made it back to the pits complaining something felt wrong and when I looked, the chain had came off again. Getting a little bit annoyed, I started to wonder whether the front sprocket was worn but, as this was one spare part that didn’t come with the kart (and if I’m honest, I am not sure how the front sprocket is fitted), I changed the rear sprocket (it was getting colder/wetter again so I was planning this anyway) and fitted a longer chain before sending the kart out again. By this point, Junior had lost all trust in the kart; driving very hesitantly and a few laps in, he stops on the exit of Billies Blind once again. I find that the engine is once again mounted on a single clamp which this time has worked loose, leaving the engine rather precariously fitted to the chassis. I’ve now had it too!!! I pushed the kart straight to the shop to get an expert opinion from Mike, the shop owner. Mike took the engine off and checked everything over – bolt and engine threads, chain, sprocket – the latter is worn but still ok, as is the chain which has a tight spot but wouldn’t have caused the problem. We decided to fit some OTK engine mount clamps, which look much bigger/stronger and put everything back together. Mike had some contrasting views on the chain (tighter than I’d been running before) and the engine restraining bolt (flush against he engine – I understood this would put stress on the chassis but I was happy to try anything at this point and I’ll research this again later) and we went off for another go. Finally!!! We had arrived at 10:00, participated in only six of the twelve 20 minute sessions but at 15:40 we managed a full session with no dramas. It was nice to see Junior attacking things a little without actually looking fully committed (understandably so I guess).

And with that, it was time to go – there was a birthday party waiting at home! Unfortunately there was still time for one more hiccup – the trailer jockey wheel worked loose on the way home, dropped down and got wedged beneath the trailer. I could have swore *a lot* but I am very good in front of the kids; the last time I swore in front of one of them was when Nicholas Bendtner spurned a late chance to put Arsenal through against Barcelona at which point I jumped up and shouted in disgust “That was sh*t, Bendtner” in the direction of the TV although, to be fair, it was complete and utter sh*t! All he had to do was bring the ball under control and stick it past the ‘keeper, instead he demonstrated what is known on the terraces as ‘the touch of a rapist’. But I digress… 😉 the trailer wasn’t budging, my son had friends waiting for us at home and I had to call the AA. Then the hail came down, so we sat it out in the car whilst the kart was buried in ice. When the storm passed I managed to lift the trailer, free the wheel and cancel the AA call out although it was scant consolation by that point!

I never did think it was going to be easy…

Cost of day: £12 petrol to get there, £15 petrol for the kart (only 3l out of 10l used!!!), £35 practice fee, £30 engine mount clamps and bolts

Total spent so far: £2278

The Three Big Questions #2: Is this for me?

Probably the biggest barrier to buying a kart was concern over whether the Dad/Mechanic role was really for me. Walking around the paddock area and watching the Dads busily tinkering between every session really made me doubt whether I would a) be able to do it and b) enjoy doing it. I’ve never been mechanically minded; I didn’t really know how an engine worked; what a piston did, or a carb, crankshaft – you get the idea. I spent a lot of hours reading forums such as those found on the karting1.co.uk and karting.co.uk, as well as collecting strange looks from my other half as I watched YouTube videos such as ‘How A Carburetor Works‘! In the end I concluded that, whilst kart maintenance was something definitely out of my comfort zone, I was going to go with it – hopefully I’ll pick enough of it up to get by in the first few months.

As it turned out, there was a second part to this role I had not foreseen – transporting the kart!!! I own a Clio and changing cars was definitely not something I was prepared to do. Obviously if you have a van or a nice 4×4 then this might not be an issue for you but I *really* did not fancy the idea of towing. I looked around for lightweight options and quickly realised that trailers like this weren’t going to be in the running and it was only when someone recommended the camping trailer and board approach that I became more open to the possibility of towing. It still feared me with dread – what with the kerb weights, towing weights, noseweights (there’s a great resource to be found on the National Trailer & Towing Association web site if you want to find out more).

I wasn’t overly convinced about maintenance or towing and my clearance of this hurdle was more of a slump over than a jump but never mind – onto the last question…