Murphy Strikes Thrice

As difficult as it is to believe, I’m looking at building yet another racecar. My wife is incredulous, too. I’m looking forward to the new build, my fourth. My wife, eh, not so much. I have to look forward to it because looking back feels far too dismal.

If you recall, and no one could fault you if you don’t, I sold my Spec Miata in 2018 to build a newer car. I finished it up about this time last year, and I was so happy with how it turned out, we did a story on it last April.

What you probably didn’t know is that by the time that story came out, the car had already been involved in a considerable crash in its first weekend out. It was the lowest of lows I’ve experienced in racing. Buy the ticket. Take the ride.

Entering Turn 1 at Willow Springs Raceway, the car in front of me got way out of shape and began to spin at turn-in, so I was focused on avoiding him as I came through after him, but my car also began to spin almost immediately upon turn-in. There was fluid on the track that wasn’t there the lap before, and I went around, had contact with two other cars on each quarter panel, one severe enough to push the sheet metal into the tread surface of the right rear tire.

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With smoke billowing off the back of my car, I nursed it back to the pits. Bent right rear frame rail and trunk pan. Both quarter panels mangled. Battery shattered, acid everywhere. No tail lamps. Rear fascia hanging off one side, and barely hanging on the other. Despondent doesn’t even come close to describing how I felt. What a waste.

When I took the car to a body shop that had repaired a previous racecar for me, the owner didn’t recoil in horror when he saw it, and said that he could fix it. It would need straightening on a frame machine, but he seemed confident he could make it right again. I dropped off the car and waited to hear back from him about parts he needed. The shop owner knew about the Mazda Motorsports’ program, so he didn’t have a problem with me supplying the parts.

Once he straightened the car on the frame machine and cut most of the rear of the car off, we ordered all new parts from Mazda. That’s when Murphy’s Law kicked in again. The most parts most critical to the repair, the frame rails and the trunk pan had been discontinued. Truth is I should have known better. I worked in OEM auto parts for 10 years. By the time a 20-year-old car needs frame rails and a trunk pan, insurance companies total it. As a result, the manufacturer discontinues the parts because they no longer sell well enough to bother stocking them.

So, we found a rear clip down in North Hollywood at a place called Monster Joe’s Truck & Tow. I dropped off the clip and waited for the phone to ring. When it didn’t, I called the shop asking how the car was coming along. Convinced he was slowly making progress, I hung up dreaming of taking my next green flag.

Days turned to weeks, which turned to months and lots of unreturned phone calls. I dropped the car off in May, and by mid-October, I was beyond suspicious, so I visited the shop, about a half hour away from my house. The car looked as though it had not been touched since I last saw it in June. The shop owner wasn’t in, so I called the next day to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with him.

“Larry, I need my car back. Can you fix it?” He said yes. “Good,” I said. “I need it back by November 15. I’ll be down to take some more photos of the progress next week,” and hung up the phone.

Well, I couldn’t get down there that week, but I did go down there the following week. Turns out Murphy wasn’t done yet.

When I arrived at the shop, all the doors were locked and there were three pieces of paper taped to the office door: an eviction notice from the sheriff’s department, a letter from the landlord’s attorney and a handwritten note that said, “Call Larry.”

Long story longer, it took a bunch of phone calls to the sheriff, the attorney and Larry, and eventually the landlord before I was able to retrieve my car and my parts. Now, the idea of showing up at someone else’s body shop with a rear clip and a racecar that someone else had straightened and cut up didn’t appeal to me in the least because if I owned a body shop, that’d be last job I’d want to take on. I needed to start over. Again.

In the only stroke of good luck in this story, I already had a good donor car in my garage. A friend and I had partnered up on flipping a street Miata we found with a blown engine for a decent price. I just had to buy him out so that I could swap everything possible from the old car to the new one.

So, that’s the plan for 2020. Wish me luck.bret

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