Off to the Races

I’m a good kid. I don’t speed. I don’t hot rod my car. I don’t street race. Such is anathema to me. Punk driving breaks cars, and my VW requires enough repair work as is. Furthermore, a fifty-three horsepower engine doesn’t lend itself to spectacular burnouts. I could sooner tow a water skier behind a row boat than burn rubber with my Type III.

Naturally, I never dreamed that restoring my car would have anything to do with races. A 23-second 0-60 makes for a poor start. Top speeds in the mid 70s further reduce likelihood of winning anything but embarrassment.

But my latest foray into greasy depths saw me emerge victorious over four races. A severely bent wheel bearing led me to learn about a new kind of race. The brake rotors of my front wheels glide on two sets of roller-bearings. No surprise there; I’d even repacked wheel bearings before. I didn’t know, however, that a special metal ring – a race – hides beneath all that grease. In theory, races provide a smooth, even surface for the wheel bearings to glide along. My unorthodox races had broken from tradition, though, and flouted the idea that races should be smooth and even. So I threw out the infidels and brought in good, law abiding races.

Reading repair manuals, loathsome as it is, often proves inescapable, and I have become quite familiar with chapters 10 and 11 which discuss “electrical” and “steering and suspension.” Most notable in these chapters is the phrase “removing and renewing.” It crops up when I’ve completed a repair and plan to re-assemble my car. Just when I plan to move forward, I find a need to remove and renew another component buried below what I’ve just fixed. No different with my wheel bearings. I thought new bearings would do the trick – but when a guy at napa asked if I needed races with my new bearings… I sighed and affirmed the need. As always, the upcoming task of “removing and renewing” freaked me out a little bit – until I read some forms on theSamba. Other airheads were full of advice. Some suggested freezing races to shrink them before installation. Others said pounding a race in with a 38mm socket worked best. One fellow set his old race upside down atop the new one and removed it once the new race was seated.

The inner surface of the race must remain perfectly smooth, unmarred so that the bearings spin with minimal friction. Races must also be driven in evenly, so they are not crooked or bent. Since the hole is a tight fit, races are installed using a hammer or press. Precision and hammers simply don’t jive. I don’t have a press. Freezing the races causes them to contract ever so slightly, removing a trace of difficult when installing them.

In the end, I chickened out. Rather than freeze the races, I paid a visit to a friend with a press. A few pumps on the handle of the press, and the job was over. Now I’m done racing my car. Forever.

With the races pressed, I packed the bearings with grease and screwed down the lock nut holding the brake rotors. Type III brake rotors cannot be cranked down tight – this will eat the new bearings and races in no time. Reading the repair manual again, I found axial play specifications of 0.001-0.005 inches. That was way too many zeros for me to measure down to. The bright side was, I got to borrow a rather cool measuring device.

My races pressed, bearings packed and rotors adjusted, I put the wheels on. Now I had a rolling pan. The next step would be putting the body on. Hopefully I wouldn’t bump into much more “removing and renewing” before that step became reality. For the time being, though, I was happy to have a car with four wheels.

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