I grew up in a racing family and spent the majority of my weekends at Laguna Seca and Sears Point, first getting behind the wheel on track in 1989 doing time trials. Since joining NASA, I’ve raced Datsuns, Mazdas, Nissans, a Ford Mustang and a few other cars along the way. Besides the stock car we built for ST3 last season, the NP01 is really the first “real” purpose-built car I’ve raced.
Q: I understand you bought an NP01 and chose to build it yourself. How’s that going?
A: The build has been going extremely well. I spent a fair amount of time checking out and taking pictures of the first NP01 serial number 000 at SEMA and the PRI shows. Elan has been very accommodating with its customers and allowed me to come visit the factory back in December and lend a hand with the final delivery of another customer’s car. Seeing the final details being put on the car just prior to being picked up was a huge help.
Unlike most guys and most of my projects, I sat down and reviewed the supplied documentation, which included the bill of materials, build instructions and assembly drawings. I think I spent a good 10 to 15 hours absorbing the documentation and looking at the boxes of parts before I ever picked up a single tool. It was very tempting to start grabbing parts and start assembling, but in the long run, I think I did myself right by being patient. The build instructions have 862 steps and they are laid out in logical order. Some things can be assembled out of order, but many steps should be done in order to prevent having to undo something that was done improperly.
I made a time lapse video of the build and can go back to figure out how much time I actually spent, but I started on January 27 and finished most of the build on Feb 27. For the most part, I spent about four or five hours a day working on the car and did the majority of work by myself. This was enough to get the car out on track and do some initial testing and shakedown. The remainder of the work left to do now is graphics and adding creature comforts like a cool suit box, fresh air blower and radio.
Q: What have been the most difficult aspects of building the NP01?
A: Do you mean besides being patient and not jumping in with wrenches, ratchets and screwdrivers the first day? All kidding aside, the hardest part so far has been the body work. I’ve never done a fiberglass body work project like this and it was a learning experience. Elan pre-drilled a lot of the holes but left several unmarked for final assembly with all the parts in place. Again back to having to be patient, I had to make sure everything was lined up just right where it needed to be before punching holes. Even with that, I made a few mistakes, but covering the extra hole or two isn’t the end of the world. Installing the CamLoc hardware is the only significant fabrication that needs to be done on the car but that is all limited to drilling lots of holes and pulling pop rivets.
Q: What surprised you during the construction of the NP01?
A: I was surprised by the limited number of “F-bombs” and other curses that came from my mouth. Those usually resulted when I drilled a hole in my finger or dropped small parts that bounced off to an unknown corner of the shop. The kit is phenomenal, well documented and quite easy to put together. If you plan to be the one to take care of your own car and work on it at the track, I think doing to kit build is the way to go.
You’ve been selected to race the hill climb at Pikes Peak. How did that come together?
The Hill Climb has always fascinated me and now that the road is paved all the way to the top, the event is something I can do with cars I own. Shortly after purchasing the NP01, it became clear to me that this would be the car I’d like to run. Being that this year’s event is the 100th anniversary, the field was limited to 100 entries. I understand there were well over 150 entries received and I was one of the very fortunate 100 to be accepted into this year’s field. I’d like to think it was my outstanding career and racing resume that resulted in this, but I know that the brand-new Elan NP01 was a huge reason why our entry was accepted. The car is something very special and unique and surely helped make the application float toward the top of the pile.
Q: How are your preparing for Pikes Peak?
A: This is an interesting question and it has several answers. First is the mental game and learning the road. There are plenty of videos to watch and prior competitors have graciously volunteered to drive up and down the hill with me and go over key points. Second is the physical preparation for myself. The Elan NP01 takes a bit more strength and endurance than cars that I am used to racing. It has no power steering or power assisted braking. The G forces experienced in the car are a lot more than what I have been used to. Fortunately, I’ve been working even harder on strength, endurance and cardio since test driving the car back in September.
Lastly is the actual car itself and what we might want to change. We are debating the best thing to do for the event and for the NASA Prototype program in general. Since there are no rules for the class we are contesting, we could add more aero, slicks and go forced induction to help get moving up the hill. On the other hand, we also see value in running the car in full legal NASA Prototype spec and seeing how well it fares against the competition. If we plan to go forced induction, we have several companies on board and lined up to help with the components and expertise we will need.