The Joy of Tinkering

If you drive your car in NASA events, odds are good that you are a tinkerer, who can’t leave well enough alone, who spends a significant amount of time devising creative solutions to strange automotive problems. You puzzle, you dream, you tune, and you test, all in search of that demon tweak that will give you just the right feel as you bomb through that high-speed sweeper at the end of the straight.

Just before I sat down to write this column, I was prowling the aisles at my local Ace Hardware, looking for just the right part to replace some “unobtanium” fasteners that help to hold up the sunroof in an older Porsche I routinely attempt to fix. This is not a tweak that is going to result in any better speed or an appreciable improvement in handling, but it will let me close my sunroof and keep me from getting sunburn on my scalp and bird droppings on the seats. The easy way would have been to just buck up and try to order the proper Teutonic parts online (#90002500302), but I think my 18 cents worth of star washers are going to be a big improvement over the original ones I lost in the depths of my garage. Saving five dollars or so is not the point. Outwitting the factory is much more satisfying and makes me feel like a real disciple of Bruce McLaren, Mark Donahue and Junior Johnson, who all found ingenious ways to fix problems and could find speed where others could not.

My point is to encourage you to think outside the box when you run into a problem on track or in the garage. I have seen some amazing things over my years as a tech inspector and scrutineer, where necessity was truly the gnarly mother of invention. Walk the pit stalls at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill and you will see setups ranging from spaces that look like a tailgate party in a stadium parking lot and others that appear to have been lifted straight from mission control at the Johnson Space Center.

I also have done my share of MacGyvering over the years, using PVC gutter fittings for air ducting, yard edging for a cheap and disposable spoiler, and a painful amount of zip ties and 200-mph tape to hold things in place. Just because a part didn’t come from a box with all sorts of racy stickers does not mean it won’t work just as well as the latest super-trick, CNC-machined gotta-have-it part.

In this issue you will find another installment of Rob Krider’s Toolshed Engineer, and a story on brake ducts that might provide inspiration for tinkering of your own. NASA has always been about helping the grassroots racer enjoy the sport, and hopefully the tech articles we feature in Speed News will help you solve a problem or give you that “aha” moment that will lead you to a creative solution different from the ones we give you.

Don’t mind the strange looks from folks at the local hardware store when you spend an hour staring at random things in the plumbing and fastener aisle and talking to yourself with a glazed look in your eyes. It’s all part of being a gear head, so tinker away and let us know if you find an amazing solution. We would love to pass it on to your fellow drivers and wrenches.

Now, where did I put those darn washers?

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