The F Mod Experience

by Paul Magee on June 9, 2009

It appears there’s a theme of change amongst the editors of rogues-racing.com. We have all collectively changed what classes we are competing in this year. As Scott is covering in his own series, he has taken the CRX that he and Mike co-drive from CSP to GP. I have chosen a slightly different route. For the past few years, I had been competing with a 1999 Fast Forward supercharged Miata in SM2 (now renamed SSM).

In the months leading into Nationals last year, I had a laundry list of tweaks and upgrades I had hoped to perform to try to keep me at least within respectable distance to the RX7s and other class monsters of SM2. Time eroded, and it became clear in the weeks before Topeka that I wasn’t going to be able to attack much of my list. As if karmically guided, my phone rang. Jeff Blumenthal had a dilemma. He hoped to participate in both the Solo Nationals and a road race at Watkins Glen one week later. In two different cars. Jeff only has a one-car trailer. Mine could probably carry the other car. The more we hammered through the details, the clearer it became what we should do. I left the Miata at home and drove F Modified as the first-driver for Jeff in his car.

That left us with two weeks and two local events to teach me the nuances of Jeff’s car. Things I’d never had to deal with before, like the cold-starting procedure, or how to adjust the seating position from driver to driver in a metal-lined cockpit. Or other little details, like how to drive a car that is nothing like any other car I have ever autocrossed.

It was horrible. You have to sacrifice a chicken to get it to start first thing in the morning. You sit directly on a sheet metal floor in a car with no springs or true dampers. The nearly 500cc two-stroke engine sounds as un-sexy as any internal-combustion engine possibly can. It pours more smoke out of the tailpipe than a Texas barbecue. It has a battleship-grade turning radius. Your eyes are at cone-level. Its certificate of origin is listed as Home Depot.

Our first conjoined FMod practice was with NWOR in Toledo. I think it took about 3 runs on the Toledo Express concrete before there was no turning back. I found myself asking questions that were more in line with car ownership than with co-driving for a few events. How much do tires cost for this thing? What’s the typical annual maintenance like on one of these? Know anybody that’s selling one? Jeff knew what he was doing. He was essentially peddling a legal narcotic.

The Miata engine block and rear diff I bought to build up for SM2 were waiting for me when I got home from Topeka, taunting me under a layer of plastic wrap. There are few sounds I love more than hearing that supercharger at full whine on that Miata. But the numbers in my head didn’t lie. Neither did my heart.

Fast forward to February of this year.  There I was, on the phone with Stuart Phipps. He was moving from FMod into another class, and was selling his car. If you’ve never had the pleasure to meet Stuart, I recommend you make time. He’s a great guy.

One week later, I found myself standing in Stuart’s garage in Southwest Ohio, poring over the car. He had taken meticulous care of it. Even though it isn’t the newest car out there, you wouldn’t know looking at the quality of care it had received. So as I listened to Stuart, I was there; at The Point of No Return. He described the way he had set it up, explaining his rationales and the learning process that took him there. Much of it made perfect sense. A lot of it didn’t. Stuart is very much an engineer. I am very much not. There may have been mentions of Johnson rods, Spritzer valves, angles of incidence. It was all a blur. What the hell had I gotten myself into? I asked Stuart, in simple terms, does it work? He answered, Yes. With that, suddenly I became the proud owner of a Kawasaki Green 1989 KBS Mark 4.

Since I largely blame Jeff Blumenthal for my introduction into this insanity, I let him know in no uncertain terms that his role in the process that is my “conversion” hadn’t ended. It just started. Jeff, being the great guy that he is, was happy to help.

The next week, I took the car up to Jeff’s. We disassembled all the body work and gave it a thorough going-over. As we suspected, coming from the capable hands of Stuart, there were no real surprises. The only items that we agreed should be addressed in the near term were replacing the clutch and adjusting the car’s driving position to better suit me. Oh, and being an Industrial Designer by trade, it was going to need some sort of quick and dirty aesthetic mod.

For those less familiar with FMod, they are essentially a cross between an oversized kart and a snowmobile. As I am becoming more immersed, I am learning that the F440 / 500 was originated for the purpose of getting people into road racing for a very low cost of entry and maintenance. It worked. And then of course a Solo class followed once there were enough of them to justify it.

I always told myself I would never own a car that was used for nothing BUT autocross. It just didn’t seem wise at my income level to have such a dedicated-purpose car. Even my Miata sees very regular street use when the weather permits. But FMod is different, really. Hell, I know people in Stock classes that have more in shocks than I have wrapped up in my entire FMod experience, money-wise.

Plus, if you’re the type that likes to wrench a little, but you don’t like all the accessibility issues that come with most fendered cars, these little things are great (I still shudder at the thought of accessing the lower manifold bolts when I was installing the cold side supercharger on the Miata)!

I’ve now got two local events, a test-and-tune, and a 2-day Divisional under my belt with my new FMod, and am about to enter into a gauntlet of even more large events. This past weekend was the Great Lakes Divisional at Peru. It was a pretty good weekend. I had the opportunity to gauge myself and the car against Scott Nardin , a 2-time FMod National Champion. Scott runs in a Formula Vee that is very well-prepared. That aside, Scott is a phenomenal driver and a great guy to learn from. On Saturday, he showed my why he is a 2-time National Champion. Sunday was my day, though, with a course that allowed my car to stretch it’s legs a little more. I was able to edge out Scott on Sunday, but couldn’t overcome the gap he had created over me on Saturday. I got the better end of the deal, though, because after my drubbing on Saturday, Scott shared some great stories with me over dinner.

The next tests for the angry FModare the Finger Lakes National Tour, then the Toledo Divisional, Back to Peru for a National Tour, then a small rest before the Toledo ProSolo.  This will be a true litmus test of the relationship with this new car and class, I’m sure!

In upcoming posts from me, I’ll share some of my experiences with the FMod, including what it’s like driving it, working on it, and the processes and learning curves. So far, I have performed three noteworthy changes to the FMod since buying it; I had two of the chassis bars cut and replaced with a different profile, I stripped and repainted the body work, and replaced the clutch. Oh, and had to perform one emergency surgery to the right-front upright and steering arm. But, more on that in my next post.

Hope to see some of you out there. If you see the 95/195 FMod, stop by and say hello!

To see images of the entire process, visit http://mageep.smugmug.com/Autocross%20and%20race%20stuff/744824

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Miniac June 10, 2009 at 10:27 AM

Great story Paul! The car looks awesome. Kick butt at the Finger Lakes!

Previous post:

Next post: