Racing Beat

Rotten Apple Meets...


RA: Justin Hughes and Scott Britton are very accomplished Miata drivers and pretty competent DIY mechanics. Their stories just goes to show it can happen to anyone. :)


Justin related:

"On October 22, my co-driver and I participated in a BMW club driving school at New Hampshire International Speedway. Between the two of us, plus two additional sessions with an instructor friend of ours at the wheel, the Miata held up admirably - at least, until one of my later track sessions. I overcooked my entry to turn 11, started sliding, and managed to recover from the slide and drive the car straight off the track, into the grass. Chalk up my first ever off-track excursion.

I pitted in for the required chit-chat with the event chair. Everything was OK - I knew exactly what my mistake was, and the car looked OK to him after a quick check, so I went back out and finished the session. At the end, as I stopped in the pits to drop my instructor off, the front brakes were grinding fiercely, metal-on-metal. I jacked up the car, checked the brakes, and the pads were completely gone. They were stock pads, and I hadn't anticipated that I'd go through them so quickly. But two drivers plus a couple of instructor sessions did quite a job on them.

I had no extra pads with me. There were a number of other Miata drivers at the event (in fact, I was chasing one of them when I overcooked turn 11), but they all either had 1.8s, with the bigger brakes, or 1.6 that they had converted to 1.8 brakes. Needless to say, I sat out my final track session. We managed to limp the car home, trailer and all, by driving it like the classic British roadsters that inspired the Miata - in other words, using the clutch, transmission, and engine braking to slow the car rather than the brakes. The next day, I put a new set of stock pads on, and the car was good to go. We resolved to never do another track day without track pads.

The following Sunday, October 28, was the final event of the local BMW club autocross series. I had already won second place for the season with Mass Miata, and was in a tight points battle for second in my non-BMW class. Morning runs went great - my closest competitor, both for this event and for the season, were neck-and-neck. Then, during my first afternoon run, the engine started tapping. At first I thought it was the usual valve tap that all Miatas do when driven hard. But this was louder, more metallic, and very persistent. After my run, someone from the timing tent ran over to me to warn me about it, since many of the course workers had radioed in their concern.

I popped the hood and checked everything out. I checked the oil. The dipstick was dry! Though I'd topped it off at the beginning of the track day earlier in the week, my concern about the brakes made me completely forget about the simple things like checking the oil. This basic step has traditionally been a part of my pre-autocross routine in past cars, which consumed oil, but since the Miata never drank a drop of oil since I've had it, it just slipped my mind. And now, the engine was knocking as a result.

I sat out the rest of the afternoon runs. This handed the class win over to my competitor, who also beat me in season points, depriving me of a season trophy. Talk about adding insult to injury!

My co-driver and I managed to limp the car down to Apex Automotive Engineering. Les checked out the engine. All of the easy stuff - valves, lifters, etc. looked fine. Although a 1990, the crank was intact. Les' suspicion was a rod bearing, and in any event a full teardown would be required to determine the problem for sure. Rather than do that, we decided to bite the bullet and replace the engine. We found one out of a 92 (long crank) with a mere 51k miles on it, compared to 105k on the original one.

Although a rotten apple story, the blame for this failure lies entirely on the owner/driver rather than the car. To run for a week, and then for eight autocross runs (four morning runs for two drivers) on dangerously low oil on a 105k mile engine, it's utterly amazing it lasted that long!"

RA: You got that one right, partner but you're not the first and won't be the last!


Scott Britton had a different experience but a real head-slapper:

Here is my story of being an idiot in diagnosing an engine that will not start.

My situation started only a month after I purchased my Miata from the car's second owner. The previous owner had done quite a few modifications, some good such as adjustable Konis, lowering springs, sway bars a roll bar and a fuel pump cutoff switch among others, these were explained to me when I agreed to purchase the car. Of course there are some bad ones such as removal of the headrest speakers by cutting the wires at the carpet and other ones that I have come across and I cannot for the life of me figure out why it was done and of course these were not entirely explained to me. Anyway back to my story.

I was pulling in the driveway after a long day of work, and I drive up the slope nearly to the door. I take out the garage door opener from my glove box, open the door, toss it back into the glove box and slap the glove box closed. I proceeded to let of the clutch to pull into the garage and the car stalls. I though that's weird I have never yet stalled this car. So, I turn the key and the engine just doesn't want to turn over; I was ready to cry. I let the car roll back onto the street and park it in front of the house. It was already getting dark and I had to be out of town for the weekend. This was the longest weekend I can remember I couldn't stop thinking about what could possibly be wrong.

Well, I get home early on Sunday and I try starting the car again thinking maybe I flooded the car the previous Friday. Eventually, I could tell the battery was running low so I took a break and charged up the battery. I went inside and looked in the enthusiast manual and the shop manual to try to figure out other options. I decided that I should go get new plugs and wires to test out that theory. So I drive to the nearest auto part store a half hour away. I get back and proceed to change out the wires. I finish and try to start her up and no dice. I now change the plugs very carefully (I once striped the threads on an old Honda and couldn't bear to have anything else happen). I hop back into the car thinking this is it and try to start it up an again, nothing.

I am now sitting in the car looking at the manuals going through the phases of grief; angry, sad, denial, and finally acceptance of the fact I may have to take my shinny new car to a garage. Then hits me, I reach into the glove box and flip the fuel pump cutoff switch and the car fires up. I felt like a complete idiot for not realizing that when I closed the glove box I knocked the garage door opener into the cutoff switch. I let out a couple hoots for joy and I ponder how much difficulty a garage would have in diagnosing my problem. I switch the plug wires back to the NKG's and went off for a drive problem solved.


Congratulations to Justin and Scott for sharing their Rotten Apple stories with us. We are pleased to send them gift certificates from Moss Motors and Serious Auto Accessories as a special thank you for sharing!

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