Technobabble – The Garden Sprayer That Won 2 Championships
By Dave Coleman
Ten years ago, I moved into a hundred-year-old Victorian house in Orange, California. Splitting rent four ways, virtually the entire staff of Sport Compact Car moved in and started living the dream. Although the driveway was big enough for our fleet, the garage was a joke. Tiny, and littered with the landlord's crap, it was destined to be nothing but storage.
Among the landlord's crap, though, was a RoundUp garden sprayer, and that would turn out to be worth the sacrifice.
Fast forward to March, 2003. I was on assignment, shadowing the pit crew of Pete Cunningham’s Sentra SE-R World Challenge car. The team turned out to have their shit together, so it was largely a thumb twiddling assignment for me. I spent a lot of time chatting with the crew about the differences between their SE-R, and the half-assed SE-R rally car I was campaigning.
In December that year, the head gasket of my SE-R had started acting badly at the clumsily named Ramada Express Hotel and Casino International Rally in Laughlin, Nevada (which was actually run on the Hualipai indian reservation on the edge of the Grand Canyon, 100 miles away in Arizona). This once-great event was a perfect balance of marathon and sprint, with lots of miles to cover, but enough competition to keep everyone pushing hard for the whole distance. We had been running strong through day 1, leading the 2WD field, but the temperature gauge was starting to warn of impending disaster. Checking the coolant bottle between stages revealed that it was empty, and the explosion of coolant when I fired it up with the radiator cap off revealed the unfortunate connection between combustion pressure and the cooling system. Thankfully, I crashed the car before I had chance to terminally overheat it.
If only there was a way to re-fill the coolant without having to wait for the engine to cool and the cooling system to de-pressurize… Talking over the leaky headgasket problem with one of the crew, we cooked up an idea to use a pressure bottle and air tool fittings to fill the system without dropping the pressure.
That garden sprayer in the garage was about to make itself very useful.
(that's a link, by the way…. You can click on it)
What the sprayer did for my next season of rally was nothing short of amazing. With the bottle strapped in the trunk, the SE-R, running a bone-stock cooling system with a leaky head gasket, managed to race through the full set of grueling Southern California summer rallies (unseasonable rain and cold weather helped). The poor engine drank nearly a gallon of water at the end of every stage, but it never got hot enough to self-destruct, and the coolant consumption rate never got worse. By the end of the season, we had won the California Rally Series 2WD championship, having run the entire season with a blown head gasket.