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Tales of Grassroots Racing 1: No Brakes

Welcome to my new group of posts I will be writing called "Tales of Grassroots Racing". I wanted to do something different, so with all of the silly shenanigans I have found myself in (and still do), I decided to write some of my best memories from races and events that fit the "grassroots" type bill. Whether it's long nights working on the ground underneath a car, sleeping in cars, or eating peanut butter sandwiches to save pennies, many of us have been there for the love of the sport.

The first story is from 2016 at The Mitty, a widely known vintage race at Road Atlanta. During this time I had my old VW Rabbit GTI (MK1 Golf for the rest of the world) and it was a riot. It had a 12:1 compression 1.8 race engine, Quaife LSD, huge rear sway bar, etc. With no ballast it weighed well below 2000lbs and made a decent amount of power. It was a proper handling FWD and was a blast during these vintage weekends.

Anyways, leading up to this event I was having some braking issues. It still utilized the rear drums as it didn't necessarily need more braking capability but the larger issue was they were no longer adjusting correctly and parts were increasingly hard to find. I had purchased a set of rear discs off of a Scirocco previously but had not installed them yet.

Leading up to the event, I went through the entire brake system replacing the booster, master cylinder, new lines, etc. We also installed a brake bias knob which meant we needed to re-route some lines. All in hopes of making the system work well again. I wanted to dump the OEM proportioning valve as I thought that may be the issue, especially in regards to the self-adjusting drum system.

First practice came and it had no brakes. Worst than ever. It could slow down but it wasn't the most confidence inspiring drive. If I had to really out brake someone or even do a panic brake it was not going to work. It was obvious that the rear brakes were doing practically nothing. No matter what bias setting, no matter how many times we adjusted it, nothing. You could manually set the shoes correctly and it would feel ok the first few times you used the brakes but then it would go back to no feel. We could even watch it happen in the paddock.

So, what do we do? Race or go home? My volunteer crew of two decided they had a better idea. Lets do a disc brake conversion in the middle of the night in the Road Atlanta paddock!

So, out came the grinder and other tools necessary. Thanks to Casey Carden Motorsports we at least had a generator to use and some tools to borrow. Otherwise it was all flashlights and laying on the ground.

Luckily, it's a fairly bolt-in affair once you grind down what was needed to fit it all together. Brake lines and everything were a direct fit. After some hours of work, the car was back on the ground, new brakes installed, and we would go grab a few hours of sleep before a 8:00AM practice.

Luckily, the brakes worked. I ran a fairly easy first few laps to feel them out and then started making a few bias adjustments. By the end of the session I was braking as normal with no issues. Problem resolved and now the car would be a lot easier in the future to do brake work on. Bye bye old drums.

So a few lessons learned here. First off, when racing and running your own car it never hurts to have spare parts or parts for future work you plan to do on hand. Secondly, having a solid group of friends to help can mean the world to your effort. Third, if you want to race, forget glamour and beauty sleep, do what is needed to get out there! Lastly, drum brakes, for the most part, suck.

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