Dispatch from my living room couch: I impatiently email my mechanic: “Is the engine back on the airplane yet or is it still on the crane?”
The reply doesn’t come until the next day: “It is still on the crane as we mount sensors and things on the firewall.”
Clearly, I won’t be flying — much less racing — any time soon. It’s now been 48 days, 11 hours, 27 minutes, and six seconds since I last flew Race 53.
Not that I’m counting.
What racers do when they aren’t racing… or at least what this racer does
I’m at loose ends. To get my racing fix, I re-watch “Air Racer: Chasing the Dream” on DVD. Twice. Plus “Air Racers” and Disney’s “Planes.”I even resort to buying a used copy of the poorly-regarded “Thunder Over Reno” on eBay, despite the fact that the acting is supposedly so bad that one reviewer called it “porn with out sex.”
But all the TV in the world is no substitute for the family of air racers, and the whine and growl of engines shattering the sky above the tarmac.
To get my aviation fix without resorting to renting another airplane, I watch every single episode of “Ice Pilots NTW,” plus the special features at the end of each DVD, which I never do.
Then I go down to our empty hangar and hang out, soaking in the vibe, and read a book about flying. But it’s no substitute for being behind the controls of a plane you know and love well.
To keep a healthy adrenaline balance, I rent a V-8 Hemi Challenger and burn up some empty country roads with my son, Rio.
But still, I’m at loose ends.
Oh, I almost forgot. About every two weeks I write yet another check with waaaaay too many zeros.
A series of tough choices
The most stressful thing I can imagine would be building a custom house. From a blank piece of paper you’d need to choose everything from how big the kitchen is to what the cabinet pulls in the master bath look like.
My choices for dealing with the major overhaul of our engine weren’t quite that unlimited, but the stress was close.
Should I go with a local shop? Or a famous shop?
With someone who has all the latest gadgets, or an old-timer who’s been rebuilding engines since I was in diapers?
Can anyone meet my deadline to get me back in the races before the season is lost?
Which brand of cylinders should I buy?
With the fake altimeter clock from Sporty’s ticking away on my desk, I read everything I can, and email everyone in sight for advice.
In the end I select a nearby old-time “master builder.” To save time, I buy a second engine case so the rebuild can get underway before our engine is pulled.
I choose a Supplemental Type Certificate that allows the case to be filled with parts from a newer, more powerful model, making it a “stroker” engine — appropriate for a race plane.
Killing more time
I’m keeping an eye on the Sport Air Racing League website, “watching” the races I’ve missed. I study the times and speeds of planes I’m familiar with, trying to figure out what the winds on the course must have been like, and wondering how I would have placed if I’d been there.
And I’m watching Charles Cluck’s league points grow and grow…while mine stay stagnant.
Because I’m in a holding pattern.
The engine is actually done in record time. But it’s sitting on a crane in front of Race 53 weeks after it was delivered because I shot myself in the foot with another decision I made…
Flashback: During the replacement of my oil-gushing, shattered-ring cylinder earlier this season, the mechanics in Springfield noticed that the insides of my engine showed some signs of heat damage. Actually, I think the word they used was “cooked.”
Then at the Big Muddy Air Race, one of my colleagues didn’t like the color of one of my cylinders. To his experienced eye, it looked like it had overheated.
I’ve never let my engine overheat.
Of course, my engine gauges only look at 25% of my engine, as they monitor only one of the four cylinders. If something bad were happening inside one of the others, I’d never know it.
So I decided that, as I was spending nearly as much money on the engine rebuild as the airplane cost in the first place, I should protect my investment with a modern digital engine monitoring system that could keep watch over all four cylinders.
The decisions on the rebuild itself settled, the process starts all over again in choosing a monitor. I read specs. I read reviews. I watch YouTube videos. In the end I choose a monitor whose graphics make sense to my brain.
But it’s taking longer to build and program the damn monitor than it took to rebuild the stupid engine itself, which is why it’s still hanging on a crane.
But given the costs of everything, and the season-killing timing, I’m sticking to my guns — only regretting it a tiny bit when I find the factory reps at AirVenture unaccountably rude on my visit to their booth. Still, I know it’s the right monitor for me.
But I’m tired of waiting. And boy, do I ever miss racing.
I’m still at loose ends. Hmm…I wonder if I would like ballroom dancing? Nah. I have no rhythm, music doesn’t move from my brain to my feet the way words dance from my mind to my fingers when I write.
Bungee jumping? I’d probably pee my pants. Too bad I can’t afford that online weather forecasting certificate from Penn State. What about hang-gliding? Or parachuting?
I impatiently email my mechanic: “Is the engine back on the plane yet?”
My League Points: Still stuck at 840.
My League Standing: A distant second place behind Charles Cluck of Race 35 who, with 1,040 points, now leads me by a thoroughly depressing amount.