In Praise of Tinkering



My most recent post told of less than optimum gear making under extreme conditions. It reminded me of the incident that got me involved with auto racing in a hands-on way. I was already a fan and tinkered with my own car in the driveway. Our neighborhood friends shared a love for motorsports, and one of them took the plunge and bought a 25-year-old midget race car.

For the uninitiated, a “midget” is a traditional type of oval track race car that first came to prominence in 1933. Our Aussie and Kiwi friends know them as “speed cars.” The midget name was applied to them because they were smaller than the similar appearing “big cars” that ran at Indianapolis, and the one-mile fairgrounds ovals. “Sprint” cars, or in those days three-quarter cars, were n between the other two classes. The formula has changed a bit over the years, but we still have midgets with 72-inch wheelbases, sprint cars with 84-inch wheelbases, and big cars with 96-in wheelbases.

As you might expect, a 25-year-old race car has a few problems. This one broke ring and pinion set the second time our friend raced it. Since I worked at a gear company, my brother figured that I would know how to fix it.

Fix it? — We needed a day to just get it out of the car. None of us knew that open u-joints were a recent innovation and that enclosed drivelines were once standard. After the axle was out we saw that the pinion was missing a few teeth and the ring gear bolts were safety wired to the open tube tapered axle. How hard could a few bolts be to remove?

Several hours, a trip to Sears to replace the shattered ratchet handle, and a few band aides later, we had the axle ready for its new gear. Does a four-foot length of pipe as a helper constitute tool abuse? Fortunately we had called a few experienced racers for advice by now and had learned that the gears were from a Model A Ford.

As the aluminum housing had been shattered, we needed an entire Model A “pumpkin.” One was located at a fair price and we proceeded to take it apart. More band aides and another trip to Sears later, reassembly started. Progress was slowed when we discovered the Model A side plates weren’t the same bore as our seals. Fortunately the Chicago Rawhide catalog in my office yielded some part numbers that would work and the bearing headquarters counterman didn’t scare us off.

Next came making some seal retainers out of aluminum siding scraps, resetting a 45 year old set of spiral bevels, and installing the axle in the car. The operation was a complete success, with the cobbled up rear axle lasting almost two more racing seasons.

The lessons learned on perseverance, networking, and finding solutions within your skill-set were important then and are still used today. Modern “midget” axles are still based on Model A Ford geometry.

About Charles D. Schultz 634 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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