Saturday, November 26th, 2016- Track Car Build Guide for the Track Day Noobie

For most car enthusiasts, there's a good chance that you spent a large amount of your early years playing with toy cars on a carpet with a generic city map printed on it. Sofas and other furniture made for interesting race courses as you raced your little brother's or sister's toy car. As we get older, our toys get bigger. You have a bone stock Miata sitting in your driveway and you want to re-live the glory days of racing your sibling around "45 Boulevard St Motorsports Park". This blog is aimed as a guide on how to build the perfect track car for someone who has never driven a car in a high performance driving environment. This guide also applies to most cars, not just Miatas.

Brake Pads

Most OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or equivalent brake pads are intended to work best at lower temperatures that you see during regular daily driving. They are also designed to last tens of thousands of miles of continuous stopping that you do on a daily basis. If you were to expose any brake pad to the hard repeated braking cycles that you see on a race track, you will see high brake temperatures that you will never reach on the street. OEM like brake pads are usually not able to cope with the increased temperatures and begin to loose braking power. It isn't fun when you're flying down the back straightaway of your local track, start to brake for an upcoming corner, and you realize your brakes are cooked... especially when it is your first track day. Lighter and less powerful cars like Miatas and CRXs might be able to get away with OEM pads on the racetrack... BUT there are a lot of variables. Vehicle power to weight ratio, elevation changes, straight away length, and racetrack layouts are all factors that can lead to your brakes getting hotter. Talk to people who have driven that track before and get their advice on whether or not you need to switch to a more durable track duty brake pad. Although I would highly recommend upgrading for safety's sake.

Photo by Deep Gill

Brake Fluid

If you were to do only one modification to your car before a track day, high temperature DOT 4 brake fluid is what I would recommend. OEM like DOT 3 fluids usually cannot cope with the extra heat that racetrack abuse creates. You can tell if your brake fluid is going sour at the track if your brake pedal starts to feel mushy. If your brake pedal starts to get mushy, do a cool down lap or two and go back into the pits to let the brakes cool. Never park at the track with the emergency brake. Use wheel chocks or put your car in gear or else you might weld your hot brake pads to the rotor. Yes it does happen!

Do your own research to see which brake fluids work best in your car. Every car has different needs, different materials in the braking system, which reacts differently to different fluids. You don't want to choose the wrong fluid only to find out the new brake fluid is eating away at your rubber hoses! I personally use ATE Type 200 brake fluid in my turbocharged Miata track car.

Brake lines

Stainless steel braided brake lines are a widely accepted upgrade over OEM rubber lines. The rubber lines are reinforced, but stainless lines expand less and heck they look prettier. One disadvantage of Stainless steel lines is that it can be tough to foresee when they are reaching the end of their life. Rubber lines tend to bulge when the materials inside start dying but stainless steel lines don't bulge at all. So it would be wise to replace them after a few years of use as preventative maintenance. 

Anything Safety Related

As cool as it would sound to live by the race car and die by the race car, no one really wants to see you perish. Safety related mods like a roll bar, fire extinguisher, helmet, and "properly mounted" harnesses are all good ideas for a beginner or a seasoned veteran. It would be unreasonable for you to put a full fire suppression system in your stock Miata, but do whatever you can to make sure your day at the track goes smoothly. That also includes preventative tasks like having a pre-race day inspection list to make sure there isn't any failing or unsafe parts that would ruin your day. There are plenty of other guides online that can shed light on what to check on your car before you hit the track.

**There are endless amounts of safety concerns to take into consideration when driving your vehicle on the track. Every car is different, it would be best to consult with people familiar with your particular chassis.**

The Most Important Modifications

Okay enough boring safety stuff, let's cut to the chase. I will reveal the secret formula on how to be the fastest beginner driver at your local race track! Ready?

Picture by Howard Shek.

Drive! You don't need any more modifications! As long as your car is safe, you can go out to the racetrack or autocross course and learn how to drive fast! Many people do not realize this but it isn't the modifications that make the car fast, it's how the driver controls the car. You can have the most extensive build sheet in the county, but if you don't have the guts or skill to drive your car at the limit "smoothly", you will not be fast. Also there is no point in dishing out large amounts of dough on mods when experience and seat time is what really make you faster.

The more of a beast you make your car, the harder it will be for an inexperienced driver to control it. A new driver will be bound to make more mistakes driving a modified car at its limits compared to a stock car. Even if you do make mistakes in a stock car, everything usually happens at a much slower and more predictable rate. It will be easier to control, and you will more likely have a better learning curve if you are starting from scratch.

Stock Miata doing its thing! Picture by Howard Shek.

Don't get me wrong, modifications make cars faster. We produce and sell modifications and we stand by our products. But the driver has to be able to make use of those modifications. An ideal build would be to start out with a clean slate, and upgrade the car as you progress as a driver and max out different aspects of the car. You don't upgrade your shoe size whenever you feel like it. You upgrade your shoe size when you outgrow your old ones. It's the same with your car.

When my Miata was out of commission, I took my bone stock TDI station wagon autocrossing! Picture by Deep Gil

So when Spring of 2017 comes around, I don't want to hear anyone say they can't go to the track or autocross event because their car is slow and stock. Just drive! After all going to autocross or track events isn't about coming in first. It's all about having fun and going home with the biggest, cheesiest grin on your face.

Liked this blog entry? Agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments section! 

 

NA Miata LED Bulbs in H4 Housings *Review*

That was a long title... almost as long as the amount of time I spent trying to find information and reviews of other people who have tried using LED H4 style Bulbs in their NA Miata. My H4 halogens were starting to die and proper lighting is very important to me. When you're in a car as small as a Miata, it's vital for other cars to know of your presence. And when you and your pals are tearing up a twisty mountain road while delivering tofu for your dad's tofu shop, you need to see what's ahead of you without blinding other drivers. With limited information about other Miata driver's experiences with LED headlight bulbs, I decided to try them out first hand.

Purchasing the Headlights

Not all LED headlight bulbs are created equally. They come in many different brightness levels, LED patterns, with or without a cooling fan, etc. It's worth noting that most LED headlights are near the 6000k color range, which produces a very white light.

I chose these Atshark LED headlight bulbs because they were rated at 3600 Lumens/bulb (7200 Lumens combined). Also the LED chips are positioned so they let light out evenly around the bulb, which is similar to a halogen bulb. I opted for a bulb that came with cooling fans. Some LED bulbs come with only heat sinks, and some reviews complained about the rear portion of the bulb getting very warm.

This bulb was also rated highly and had great customer reviews. Although this product did not have the highest amount of stars, it received detailed reviews with evidence and insight, which I took into consideration when choosing this bulb.

*Notes on Fitment*

  • Make sure you have H4 headlight housings before purchasing LED bulbs for your Miata.
  • Ensure the bulbs you are purchasing are H4 style bulbs.
  • Every H4 housing will be a little different from brand to brand. The housings used in this review are Hella's 7" Diameter E Code housings.

Installation

*This is meant to serve as a write up on my installation experience. Every LED Headlight bulb is somewhat different. Attempt at your own risk.*

Installation is exactly replacing bulbs with regular halogen bulbs, but with a few extra (but simple) steps. If you know how to use a screw driver and are able to plug and unplug something from an electric socket, you are capable of changing headlight bulbs in a Miata. There are many DIY threads on how to replace NA Miata headlight bulbs so I won't cover that; I will go through the extra steps that have to be taken when installing LED bulbs.

The LED bulbs I chose came with a big fan assembly to cool the back of the bulb. The H4 bulb retaining clips will fit around the fan.

1) The LED bulbs also came with its own wiring harness and a module built into the wiring harness. First plug the wiring harness from the new bulbs into the OEM headlight harness. I thoroughly wrapped the three connections on my headlights with electrical tape. This was done to prevent excessive water from going on the connections and corroding them.

I ended up tightly wrapping the three connections in electrical tape afterwards. 

2) Since new bulbs add length to the wiring harness, you can fish the excessive wiring back into the engine bay. Leave some slack in the wire because you have to keep in mind that the headlights need to open and close.

3) I didn't want the new headlight's wiring module to be flopping around, so luckily there's a pre-existing hole in the module that allowed me to bolt it to a pre-drilled hole in the headlight frame.

Wiring module is bolted to the side of the headlight assembly using a pre-existing hole and an M6 bolt and nut.

4) Plug everything else back in and clean up the lengthy wiring harness. I know this isn't a 240sx, but I used zip ties to neatly tuck and secure the wiring off to the side. Remember to keep enough slack so the headlights can open and close without snagging the wires.

 

testing out the new lights

Right off the bat, the LED bulbs are much brighter. Before driving, I aimed the headlights downward to prevent blinding oncoming drivers. I ended up aiming them back up and had lots of people flashing their high beams at me as a complaint of my super bright lights. I don't blame them; the LED's were even illuminating the trees over the road!

After aiming them back down again, I went for a casual drive on a local twisty road. This twisty road was my baseline because I vividly remember driving this road on a regular basis with my halogen bulbs. My biggest complaint I had of my halogen bulbs in H4 housings was that the side vision wasn't the greatest. The LED bulbs provided much better side vision and it was easier to see farther around each corner. I should add that I only adjusted the up and down aim of the lights, not the side to side aim.

Sides of the road are better illuminated with the new LED bulbs.

The lights provided better side aim probably due to the fact that the light scatters in different directions in a greater amount compared to halogen bulbs. This fact remains true with the light that shines directly in front of your car. The LED light does scatter and doesn't aim well. Like I said earlier, with the lights aimed too high up I was blinding people and illuminating the trees above the road. I brought the headlights back down to compensate but then I couldn't see as far down the road as before. 

Driving down a road with low beams. (Note how far the light aims after bringing them to a less blinding height.)

Same headlight adjustment with high beams. Don't focus on the yellow sign, the car was moving very slow between both pictures.

final thoughts

The LED's definitely perform better than the old halogen bulbs. My only complaint is that finding the right aim setting is like a balancing act just because the lights are so much brighter and more prone to blinding oncoming drivers. I was able to find a happy median adjustment where I could see down the road without blinding oncoming drivers. Although if you plan on getting LED headlight bulbs for your H4 housings, I would recommend doing a projector retrofit or purchasing housings with real projectors already built in. With projectors, you'll have an easier time aiming the bulbs and get the most performance out of your LED headlights. This is due to the fact that good quality projectors have a much better cut off compared to conventional halogen housings. 

Yes they are that bright.

July 9th, 2016- Speed Academy BADASS 2000 Custom Battery Tie Down

Wow March was the last time I updated the blog? I've been spending too much time on our Facebook page! Anyways... if you've been following along, you might remember that R Theory Motorsports was working with Speed Academy to make a new custom battery tie down bracket for their BADASS 2000 project car. Well, that project is complete and it's now on the car. Check out the video in the link below!

https://youtu.be/5w_XWcRA_oo?t=5m27s

 

March 20th, 2016- Miata Dashboard Refinishing Tips and Tricks

Hey Guys and Gals,

Just wanted to let you know one of my friend's, Jeff, made some great instructional videos on miata dashboards. In the video's he shows you how to remove, refinish, and reinstall an NA Miata dashboard. He did the video's on his NA Eunos Roadster (It's what miata's were called in Japan), but it is essentially the same process as any NA Miata.

If you are planning on removing your dashboard, check out the video since it's a great guide on this process!

 

Video 1- Removing the Dash

Video 2- Refinishing the Dash

Video 3- Reinstalling the Dash

February 29, 2016- Making the BADASS2000 Battery Tie Downs

If you have been following our Facebook page, Instagram, or Email Subscription, you might have heard that R Theory Motorsports took on a project to help contribute to Speed Academy's BADASS2000 build. Long story short, I talked to Dave from Speed Academy and I designed a cool looking battery tie down for his S2000, He loved the design, so it was up to me to bring that design into a reality. I took lots of pictures along the way to give you a behind the scenes look at how parts are machined; specifically this BADASS battery tie down!

3D Model of what I dreamed up in Solidworks.

First I started out with a raw block of aluminum, a little bit bigger than the bracket in all 3 dimensions. I didn't take any pictures of the raw aluminum, but it pretty much looks like this.

Photo from: http://beatty-robotics.com/wp-content/uploads/Metalbot_Stock.png

The block of aluminum is put in a vise that I set up in the CNC  3 Axis mill, then it's quickly roughed into shape. It isn't cut to the exact sizes yet.

It is roughly similar to the finished product. Needs a bit more work.

After being roughed out, the sloped ends of the bracket were milled.

Starting to look close to the finished product!

If you look closely at the last two images, you can see a raised section of aluminum in the middle of the bracket. This is where the BADASS2000 characters will start to appear with some more machining. A very small tool starts to slowly cut away material to reveal the coolest feature of the part.

After all that magic happens, the two holes on each end are drilled and the part is taken out of the machine and flipped over to mill the backside.

When milling a part, ideally you program the machine to remove all sharp edges and burrs to create a nice looking part and minimizing time deburring a part by hand. But sometimes unusual geometry doesn't allow you to use your CNC tools to deburr the part. So on this part, most of the edges were deburred with files and sand paper. Then put into the sandblaster to give it a nice uniform look.

Check out those nasty burrs!

The part at the top is almost fresh out of the machine, very minor deburring was done. As you go further down the chain, more deburring was done, and eventually the last step which is sand blasting.

This is what they look like after sand blasting. After this step, they're off for black powdercoat at Stripping Technologies Inc.

After powder coat the entire part is covered in a beautiful semi gloss black powder coat, including the top of the letters. This is not what we want, so I'll show you what I did to fix that. I put the brackets back into the mill, and used a tool with very sharp cutting edges to skim the top of the letters. This exposed a very beautiful aluminum face making each character glimmer in the light.

Before and after skimming the top of the letters.

And that folks is a behind the scenes look at how these parts were made. If you thought it was interesting, I would love to get more media in the future like video on how parts are made.