There is always a sense of nervousness when debuting a new vehicle, regardless of the discipline. Maybe it is just the jitters wearing off from a series of long nights fueled by energy drinks, or perhaps it is the constant wondering if every bolt is tight and each hose is properly routed. Jason Scherer also had to deal with the added pressure from the very public construction of his new Ultra4 race car, dubbed The Gavel. Anonymity wasn’t an option for Jason and the Rage 4th team when The Gavel came off the trailer at the Ultra4 MetalCloak Stampede in Prairie City near Sacramento, California – in fact, the Rubicon Express tent was packed full of spectators wanting to see the car first hand.
Spoiler alert: Jason did not repeat his MetalCloak Stampede win this year. What he did earn though was possibly even more valuable, and that is a huge boost in confidence. We’re getting ahead of ourselves though….Before Jason could make it to the Stampede he and his team of fabricators and gearheads had to complete the car. If you didn’t already catch the full build thread here on DrivingLine, catch up with Pt 1, Pt 2, Pt 3, & Pt 4.
Putting The Gavel together wasn’t just a matter of following the directions like some piece of Ikea furniture, they were forging entirely new ground. One setback in the lead up to the race was the lack of legroom in the chassis. “We moved some components around so I would have enough room,” Jason explains, “but I did not update the chassis plans and a sort of domino effect resulted.” The Spidertrax rear axle uses a center section that is greatly offset - putting the differential as close to the 40-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers as possible to limit the potential of getting hung up in the rocks. As a byproduct of the increased legroom, the upper link for the rear axle contacted the driveline at full compression. “We had enough misalignment in the chassis side rod end, so we just put a bend in the link for clearance and Ben Bower machined some pucks to prevent it from flopping side to side,” Jason reveals. This was a straightforward fix, but a new link still had to be fabricated from heavier tubing (to account for the bend) and then sent off to be heat treated. This consumed time, a commodity that was becoming more valuable by the day.
Another example of a last minute glitch was the radio. Communication out on course is critical, and the team uses Rugged Radios to stay connected. While testing out their radios a few nights before the race, something went wrong. Calling Rugged the following morning they got anything but normal tech hotline help – Nick from Rugged Radio jumped in his truck and made the four hour trip to Scherer’s shop. After making a custom length of dual shield coax cables, Nick cured the interference issue and then stayed to tune all pit radios – ensuring perfect communication come race day. This is just one instance of many where companies and individuals have gone the extra mile to help forge The Gavel.
After overcoming myriad obstacles through an equal myriad of late nights, the car was completed and loaded on the trailer for the race. The Gavel’s Nittos touched dirt for the first time arriving for the Stampede. The race format consisted of several heats, with the fastest finishers qualifying for the main event. “Heat” took on another meaning for Scherer though, as the gauge read 250 degrees while the car was idling in the triple digit temperatures before taking the track. Suspecting that the radiator being mounted so low was causing an air bubble in the system, they looked for a way to fill it. Fortunately the Gomez Brothers, fellow racers, had a vacuum siphon and an entire extra gallon was added to the cooling system! After that the car ran at 210 for the rest of the weekend, but a larger CBR radiator is planned for future short course races, with the current, lighter configuration deemed sufficient for King of The Hammers.
“Overall it works exceptionally,” Scherer reports, “The car corners flatter than anything else I have ever driven, it just hooks up. And the time and effort we put into building such a safe chassis was well spent. There are tire marks all over the side panels, but I was never in a situation that distracted my attention from racing.”
In the main event at the Stampede, Scherer started at the back of the pack but was able to move up past the competition rather quickly. By the end of the race he was leading Loren Healy and solidly in first place. “This made all of the long nights worthwhile, and I cannot say enough good things about all of the talented guys we had working together.” That said, Jason does confess that there is still room for improvement, “The devil is in the detail, and details are something that our team has always been known for. It needs a larger sway bar, different rev limiter, higher spring rates, different air pressure… all of the little fine tuning that makes you faster than the guy that didn’t put in the time and effort.”
One detail that is already paying dividends is the packaging of the divorced Atlas transfer case and Reid SuperHydra 400. When an errant snap ring caused a chain reaction that pushed the seal out the back of the transmission, it completely emptied the tranny of fluid. Jason loaded the car up and made the two hour trip home to disassemble the transfer case, identify and correct the issue.
Another payoff of the new rig is how they set it up to be easy to service. Getting out the transmission and other parts was only a 45-minute job, freeing up time to make needed changes or modifications for increased performance. In this case, all the transmission ended up requiring was a fresh supply of Redline fluid – it was put back into service the following day when the team returned for the main event and were in contention for the victory on the final lap.
So what happened? “I screwed up,” Jason admits, “I am still getting comfortable with the layout in the car and I accidently hit the kill switch and it wouldn’t refire. A dozen cars got past me before it would restart. We learned the hard way that the tune not only puts the engine into limp mode when the temperature reaches 250 degrees, but won’t refire unless the engine is under 193 degrees. Normally I’d be really upset giving away a win by making a silly mistake, but knowing that the car is so incredibly fast both in the turns and rocks has kept a grin on my face and that of the entire team.”
The next Ultra4 race for Scherer and The Gavel is the 4Wheel Parts Glen Helen Grand Prix on July 11th. Look for Scherer at the starting line with a tank full of high octane confidence.
Photos: Kyle Wells | Words: Harry Wagner
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