Back in July, I heard a strange noise coming from the engine during the final lap of my last race at the 2020 WeatherTech International Challenge with Brian Redman. I decided to take the XKE down to R&R Motorsport in Benton, Illinois, to get a professional diagnosis. This race shop is owned by Ray Bonthrone, Bill Terry’s son in law. Ray has done all the dyno fine tuning on the XKE for the last five years. Ray called me with good news, that somehow a bolt had vibrated out of one the Weber carburetors, causing a sleeve to shift, which resulted in no fuel going to cylinder #5. Since I wasn’t facing any major engine repairs and because my racing skills had greatly improved, I decided to not race in August. Instead, I will have R&R do a couple of upgrades on the XKE.
Well, as they say in racing, “Nothing goes faster than the money!” What started out as merely swapping out the 45mm DCOE Webers for 50mm DCO/SP Webers became much more. We had to order a new manifold. Then the manifold needed to be ported out for the new carburetors, which needed different fuel lines and a new line for the oil dry sump. This went well until I got another phone call from Ray. The motor mount which holds up the transmission and engine was broken, the u-joint half shafts were badly worn, and my old rear 250 lb. springs and Koni shocks had seen better days. So … weld up the engine mount, order 400 lb. hypercoil springs with double adjustable AFCO shocks, and might as well change the transmission fluid. Also, the new manifold required new water and oil temp gauges. And let’s throw in a new racing shifter boot and of course you have to put the XKE back on the dyno to tune the new Webers. Remember, IN RACING, NOTHING GOES FASTER THAN THE MONEY!
With an improved Jaguar in the trailer, Taxman Group Racing Team (Terry Zerr, Flo Joe Allyn, and me) headed off to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for our third racing event of the season. What a great season we’ve had in this pandemic year! We started at Blackhawk Farms and had great success. This was followed by a big step up when we went to the Weathertech Challenge. With great confidence and an improved race car, we were ready to take on the great Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival at Road America. The theme this year was East vs. West, Japanese vs. American cars.
There were over 300 cars registered for the weekend. My racing group was comprised of all Group 8 and 3C cars: 76 cars in my group! That’s a lot of cars on the track at one time: Porsche 911/914-6/944, Datsun 240/260/510, Triumph GT6+, Alfa Romeo Spider/GTV/GTA, BMW 2002/M3, Lotus Europa/23/Elan, Sunbeam Tiger, Chevrolet Corvette, Jensen Healey, Chevron B8, Saab Sonett, Audi S4, and Eagle 1 Low Drag XKE. I was in Class 8C, which had 28 cars. It was quite an eclectic and interesting group of vintage race cars and a whole lot of competition!
We set up right next to the pit area. This would allow us to watch the race cars come down the main straight as well as check tire pressure when we came off the track. We finished setting up our pit area, then headed into the town of Sheboygan for a fine meal at our favorite English Pub and Restaurant, The Duke of Devon. Great food!
The Friday schedule called for two practice sessions. The weather was spectacular and the Jaguar ran really well. The first two laps were really crowded with all those cars. By the third lap there was some separation which allowed for some faster times. The changes made to the XKE were fabulous! Much stiffer in the turns and I could now stay in 2nd and 3rd much longer as I was still building power up to 7100 RPMs. Previously, it was 5,250 RPMs. My first practices are usually pretty slow, but not this time, finishing 10th in Class with a fast lap of 2:49.484, my fastest lap time ever at Road America. Practice #2 was even better, as I finished 13th overall and 9th in Class with a fast lap time of 2:49.325. I was down shifting and using 2nd gear like never before. What a difference it made at Turns 5 and 8 and in the carousel. Friday evening, they had a welcome party for drivers and crew. It was very nice to spend time with all the other drivers and enjoy some wonderful chili and salads.
The Saturday schedule called for two qualifying races. I got to the grid a bit late and was way in the back at the start. It took me quite a while to reach the faster cars. I ran a fast lap of 2:49.963 which earned me the grid spot 35 for the next race. I ran my Hoosier 205/60/15 tires first. We were trying to keep the race time equal on both sets, so we changed these for our 225/60/15 Hoosiers for the rest of the weekend. The second qualifying run only went six laps and wasn’t fast due to three wrecks and two breakdowns. About a third of the track had yellow flags and when a Porsche 911 crashed into the wall, the race was black flagged. This scenario hurt my chances for a better grid spot in Saturday’s feature race. After racing completed, we went into the town of Elkhart Lake for the Vintage Festival at the Osthoff Resort. They put on a car show on the resort grounds. This was followed by the VSCDA banquet dinner. We ate really well and were treated to hearing race stories from the guest speaker, David Hobbs. Hobbs was a well-respected race car driver and of course a great TV race commentator for many years. What most don’t know is that he was the #1 test driver for the XK13. Norman Dewis served as his back up and for nonhigh-speed testing.
On Sunday, I had two races: my group feature race and the Sheldon Cup Race. I was gridded 45th for the group race. I was really running well and with a lot of confidence. I ended up 34th overall and 12th in Class. The good news was that I was now running consistent laps under 2:50 and had my fastest lap ever at Road America, 2:47.665. It was a thrilling race for me, real nose to nose racing. The last race of the weekend was the Sheldon Cup Race. This race is for all closed wheel cars with best lap times between 2:44 and 3:00. My improved time in the group race placed me at 30th on the grid with 80 cars total. This time I got off to a great start and passed three cars at Turn 1 and another three cars on the Moraine Straight. I was reeling in cars and passing a couple on the Road America Straight. I was really in the groove and on Lap 3, heading into the long straight, the yellow flags came out. We slowed down and the pace car came back out. A Datsun 240z had spun out halfway down the straight and hit two walls. He must have hit several cars as well, as there was a lot of debris on the track and two other cars waiting for emergency assistance. So, our last race only went three laps, but in that short time I had moved up to 14th place overall and 3rd in Class. It was a great racing weekend!
I’m registered for the Lake Garnett Revival Race in October. This sounds like a low-key event that should be a ton of fun racing with the boys from HVR. I can’t thank Floyd Allyn and Terry Zerr enough for their hard work, companionship, and encouragement that they provided this season. Sharing the weekend with them is a delight and I’m very appreciative.