The MGA With An Attitude
Conforming to RACING RULES - COMP-102

The answer is always, "Read the rule book first (then negotiate)".

At 06:05 PM 8/19/2008 -0600, Barry Lacy wrote:
>>"... regarding a run-in you had with the SCCA in the past."

Who, ME? I get on fine with SCCA, except that I have sort of been legislated out of the sport by some impossible wheel and tire restrictions (legal parts combinations not available for Stock Class).

>>I'm having a run-in with them now..... Long story short, I have a 5-speed gearbox in my midget, and someone protested, and now I have to run in XP class, with full race prepared cars, in my otherwise totally stock midget.

Yeah, that can happen. You are supposed to read the rule book before you make changes like that. If you do something as simple as installing a Fast Street Camshaft in the engine (or in your case a 5-speed) it dumps you directly into Prepared Class with the real race cars. Such mods are strictly verboten in Stock and Street Prepared Classes.

They do have a point, you know. If you were allowed to use any gearbox without restriction you could slip in a light weight three speed straight cut gearbox with no top gear (maybe no reverse gear), and any gear ratios to suit the daily track conditions. You might even go for a sequential gearbox with paddle shifters. There has to be a line drawn somewhere, and there is no time in the world to allow for judging each individual car with odd mods on it's own merits.

If you showed up in an otherwise bone stock Midget with a positraction unit in the rear end, or a downdraft Weber carburetor, or tubular headers, you would be bumped in to Street Prepared class. It only takes one infraction of the class rules to get you bumped up to the next class. If you like things like gear ratio changes, positraction, wider wheels, lowered suspension aftermarket carburetors and headers, then you can aim for Street Prepared class, which is only a few seconds faster than Stock Class. That allows gearing changes, but it still wouldn't allow a 5-speed in the Midget.

>>I'm wanting to know, what route you took getting your MGA to conform to later specs? ....

You're making a rather rash assumption there. While I was autocrossing regularly with SCCA my MGA was close enough to stock configuration that it seldom ever ran into a protest (in fact never). The form of "later specs" I was dealing with would be later issue factory parts that were still (mostly) MGA parts. I was never dealing with swapping an engine or gearbox to a non-factory assembly.

The only time I ever got bumped out of Stock class was on the basis of having a single 12-volt battery in place of the original two 6-volt batteries. The point was that this was a weight reduction and weight redistribution, which is indeed not allowed in Stock or Street Prepared class. As a coincidence I wasn't wanting for points that season anyway, because I took two months off in mid season for the Alaska trip, so I didn't make much of a fuss about this rare situation. They did the same thing to a couple of other cars that day, so it wasn't just to single me out.

When they told me I was being bumped into Prepared class, I asked to be switched instead into Modified class (the final step upward). When they asked why, I told them because if I had to run head to head against more capable cars I wanted to run against the Formula-V cars (serious race cars) rather than against vintage racers (mostly amateur types). The organizers shot it down, saying I might beat the Formula-V's (which was exactly the point). If I had insisted maybe they would have to allow it, as you can enter your car into any class where you are not violating the class rules.

They said I couldn't run in Modified class because my car doesn't have roll bar. But then it also can't run in Prepared class for the same reason. Their logic was that I had a Stock or Street Prepared class car with no roll bar, and reason for the bump up was a simple technical violation, while I was still driving essential a Stock type car, so it wasn't a safety issue. That logic doesn't wash though. If they think it is modified enough to be bumped beyond Street Prepared into Prepared class, then by definition the rule book says it has to have a roll bar or it can't run at all.

For both Stock and Street Prepared class, the rule book specifically says, "must have the original number of batteries of the original type in the original location". I asked for a rules interpretation on what "original type" meant. Specifically I asked if a pair of 5-pound 6-volt motorcycle batteries would meet the merit of the rule. I could pick those up locally and have then installed with an hour. The guy refused to comment on "an unlimited variety of theoretical issue(s) that did not currently exist". So I ran in Prepared class that day.

As another interesting coincidence, I took 2nd place out of 4 cars in D-Prepared that day, beating out a couple of real Prepared class race cars with my Stock class MGA. A couple days later the local club impeached the event organizer, and he was never seen again.

The usual conclusion among local clubs is that a 40 year old car has enough handicaps and doesn't have to be disqualified for such a minor equipment infraction. They will usually consider the single 12-volt battery to be a reasonable "closest substitution" (within the rules) for a part that is no longer available. 6-volt batteries are available, but the only reasonable use for them is concours show, as they are about 5 times more expensive to use for a daily driver car, and substantially less reliable. If they were to disqualify my car on that basis I would be gone from the club immediately.

My car is first a daily driver and touring car and would never be modified enough to compete in Street Prepared class. So I tread lightly on modifications, usually reading the book and asking the organizers what I have to do to stay legal in Stock class. I dearly want to stay in Stock class anyway, because Street Prepared class is so much faster that my old MG could never find enough power to compete there, no matter how many carburetors or exhaust headers I could hang on it.

One of my early problems came on the first day that I installed treaded road racing tires on the car (any DOT approved tire is legal in Stock class). The car was so quick around corners and so harsh in sudden steering transitions that I was often losing my grip on the thin plastic steering wheel and flying half across the cockpit (with only a lap belt to secure me). I asked about installing 4 or 5-point safety harness in the car and was told shoulder harness was not allowed in an open car (except factory issue) unless you installed a roll bar. Bugger! One of those very specifically stated points in the rule book, so it could not pass free as safety equipment. I had some perfected engineering plans to install a roll bar, but it would require cutting some holes in the steel body tonneau behind the seats, and I couldn't bring myself to cut the car up that much. There was a different approach. By the book, any steering wheel is allowed within 1-inch of the original diameter. I finally bought a thicker and stiffer steering wheel (1-inch smaller) with a padded leather rim that was easier to hold on to, and most of the seat belt issues went away.

The next issue came and went in a calm collected manner as a matter of following the rules. When I ran on the sticky race tires I was breaking stock steel wheels on a regular basis (stress cracks). Not that the wheels were particularly expensive, about $25 each plus the labor to clean and paint the things, but it was in the end an obvious safety issue, and I wanted to use stronger wheels. In fact anyone might have the right to protest my car on the basis of it being unsafe with the race tires on the weak stock steel wheels. Stock class allows wheels of any material as long as they retain original dimensions. The real problem was, no one makes an alloy wheel only 4-1/2" wide, and wider wheels would put the car in Street Prepared class.

The ultimate solution was straight forward but expensive. I ordered up a set of custom built modular wheels, 15"x4-1/2" with 1-1/2" offset, same dimensions as factory issue optional 60-spoke wire wheels (within 1/4"). They have two piece thin and light spin formed aluminum rims, mix and match to get whatever width and offset you need, plus a thick forged aluminum center piece. Drill the center to match the axle hub and bolt pattern, and screw it all together with (20) 5/16-inch carbide alloy screws. $1400 later I had alloy wheels suitable for running in Stock class. These are probably the only wheels in the world made to this specification. I have a jolly good time whenever someone asks me what car those wheels came from.

The next big issue came when I found a sweet deal I couldn't pass up and I bought two MGA 1600 engines for $100 each. Problem is, my car is a 1500 model. By the book, when similar models run in the same class (appear on the same line in the rule book class listing) you can update or backdate engines as a complete assembly, but it puts the car into Street Prepared class along with any other bolt on mods. The obvious solution was to convert the entire car to a 1600 model and run it in Stock class. The not so obvious part was, how much of the detailed conversion was going to be required to satisfy the local club that it would be a legitimate MGA 1600 model?

There was discussion of the extra tail lights on the back and one more wire in the harness to the back, a couple of pounds of added weight. But then I could throw out the turn signal relay and several wires up font, so the weight issue was a toss up, and the tail lights could be ignored. There were a few little trim bits, like a round nut to hold the side curtains in place of the wing nut, but those bits generally fell under the "fuzzy dice" rule, appearance accessories that do not materially affect the performance of the vehicle. I'm still waiting for someone to protest my car on the basis that the big walnut shift knob has a material affect on performance (which it really does). But no one wants to aggravate that issue, because it has such a cheap and simple solution (reinstall the original small knob).

The final kicker came when I told them if they really insisted I would have to install the front disc brakes in place of the original drum brakes to make it a 1600 model. Then they gave up and said, "Just enter it as an MGA 1600, and no one will protest the car for having drum brakes on a 1600 model". So now I may have the only SCCA approved 1958 MGA 1600 in the world (actually built in August 1957), and all I had to do was to drop in the 1600 engine.

The point of all this is to read the rule book first, and talk it over with the local club gendarmes to clear the air in advance. As long as they know what's going on up font, and it does not materially affect your odds of winning, it will likely be blessed in advance. For sure the overdrive 5th gear is not any concern, because your low-torque Midget will go faster in direct drive 4th gear. You would never use 5th gear for competition unless it also included a close ratio gearbox (no low gear) and a high ratio rear end to make 5th gear look a lot like original 4th gear.

One concern with your 5-speed might be a difference in weight, if it was lighter than the original gearbox (which it likely is not). Another concern is the advantage of having a synchronized 1st gear when it ever comes to downshifting into 1st on the fly, which may happen sometimes in autocross. It makes no difference to me, as I fairly often downshift into 1st with the stock non-synchro sliding gear parts (I just ham fist it quickly). It only means I may be replacing a chipped gear on occasion during a normal 80,000 mile overhaul. So I don't think they would toss me out for that reason.

The more significant concern with the 5-speed is the change of gear ratios in gears 1 through 3. You probably trade the stump puller 1st gear for something that goes faster before you have to catch 2nd gear. You also likely get a higher 2nd gear that may allow you run 50 mph in 2nd gear, negating the need to ever shift to or from 3rd gear for autocross. These things do indeed impart a significant performance advantage, so the gear ratio changes fall squarely in the domain of Street Prepared class. With enough money and the right parts you can get some similar gear ratio changes inside of the stock gearbox. But being honest about doing it puts you in Street Prepared class anyway (assuming these are not original factory issue optional gears).

One change I did do for my MGA was to change the original 4.300:1 final drive to a 3.909:1 ratio. This was done exactly for the reasons noted above, running faster in 1st and 2nd gears and not having to use 3rd gear for autocross. It does not particularly dog down a hot standing start, because the car is capable of spinning tires in 1st gear for a few seconds regardless (if you get the flywheel wound up tight enough before launch). Furthermore, the 3.909:1 gear ratio was a factory option for the MGA (rare option but available on a new car).

If your approach to an overdrive 5th gear was to hang a remote overdrive box on the back end of the stock gearbox just to have an overdrive ratio for highway cruising, there may be less adverse reaction to your car. An added on overdrive unit is obviously more weight, not less, and it does not affect the lower gear ratios. Just don't remind them that it may give you 6 or 7 forward speeds (2 or 3 extra in the lower speed range). Some die hard vintage racers like to use the overdrive unit for a quick single up or down shift without using the clutch or shift lever, very much like a sequential gearbox with paddle shifter.

Since you are already in an adverse position with the SCCA gang, it may be a little harder to work your way out of it, but still not impossible. You can show up for membership meetings regularly and bring the matter up for discussion over a beer or two before or after the meeting. Getting the discussion rolling has the effect of allowing the regulars to get to know you personally, and some of them may ultimately come to side with the disadvantaged little guy. Even more effective, it changes the discussion from kicking this guy when he's down to "what is actually reasonable in this situation"? It has the same effect as changing your attitude from "Man, I can't do that" to "How can I do that"? Then you can think in the right direction.

In the end you may have to make a tough choice. It could come down to putting the original gearbox back in the car, at least for a while, if only to convince the guys that you are not intentionally trying to circumvent the rules with illegal equipment. Maybe you don't actually have to change the gearbox, but offer to do it and then lead the discussion to perhaps changing gear ratios and running in Street Prepared class. The method of changing gear ratios might be to reinstall the 5-speed. With enough of this sort of discussion the local club might allow it to run in Street Prepared class on the basis of gear ratio changes, assuming it is not lighter that the original gearbox. If you are a familiar face and a regular contributor in a local club you are more likely to get along well like this.

Bottom line though is, if you show to run your 5-speed Midget in stock class and beat my MGA, I might file the protest too. No one complains when you're losing, but they can get pissed pretty quick if you beat them and take away their pride and trophy and points.

If you want a one shot swing at getting even with the guy who filed the last protest against you, file a protest against him on the basis that he does not have a factory workshop manual in his possession on the day of competition. That is an automatic loss for him if it is true, as it is one of those specific points clearly stated in the rule book, that you must have documentation of the original factory configuration of your car if anyone files a protest.

At an SCCA Solo-II event you are free to register your car in any class you deem suitable, as long as it will pass the safety inspection. The organizers have a right to suggest what class you may belong in, but they technically have no authority to deny your entry on the basis of misclassification. The way this class organization is "policed" is via formal protest from a competitor in your own competition class. If the fellows in your own class don't complain, you're off free. If someone in your class does file a protest, and you lose, the decision will stick indefinitely for your reclassification (until you do something different to negate the protested problem).

One of the "loopholes" in this system is the ability to invent or configure your own competition class, if you can get two or three like minded friends to cooperate. Suppose you show up with at least three "friendly" cars with some entirely unclassifiable combination of modifications. Start by looking to see if any other cars are registered in the Stock class you like. If so, then skip it and look at the next higher Stock class or the appropriate Street Prepared class. If those are occupied, then bump it up the scale another class in either Stock or Street Prepared. The object here is to find an empty class with no cars entered. Any class will do, except they may not let you register for a Prepared or Modified class without a roll bar.

Once you find an empty class, get all of your friends to register in this same class. Remember, you can jump up to any higher class you like without violating any class rules. Also remember that you only get protested if someone else in your own class files a protest. So if you and you friends agree to not protest each other's cars, you have just created your own protest free competition class. Whoever wins on scratch time bags a first in class trophy and you all get SCCA club points. The organizers should be happy with this arrangement, as it brought at least three more cars to the gig, and they only had to hand out one additional trophy to collect the entry fees.

One thing to watch out for though is not to create this new class just above a class that has a single entry. If that happens then the single car below may get bumped up into your class, and that car might kick your collective butts, or that driver might protest all of your cars for some minor irregularity (like your 5-speed or your buddy's Weber carb).

Here's a chuckle for you. If the guy who filed the last protest against you was in Stock class, and still is in Stock class, then for your next appearance you might register your car in Street Prepared class. The same guy will have no grounds to make another protest if he is not in the same competition class with you. If it turns out you are not beating the guys in Street Prepared class, maybe they won't complain either. Meanwhile you have some fun and get some seat time and experience to learn to drive better. If you're new to this game, and serious about long term prospects of becoming a top contender, then seat time is way more important than points or trophies. In that case it makes no difference what class you're in, as long as you get to drive.

When I started with SCCA they said I could run in Novice class for one full season or until I beat someone. Since I was commonly the only novice entry, they would give me a first in class trophy every weekend. That sucks, because it doesn't mean anything, and it wasn't helping me to get better. By the third race date I entered in the open Stock class and started getting my butt kicked regularly, but I was learning how it works and how to drive better. About 20 race dates later, half way through the second season, I finally beat a Toyota MR2 by half a second in an index class. I still wasn't much concerned about the trophy or points, but it was jolly good fun to watch the ribbing the other guy got from his friends about letting that 40 year old piece of British junk beat his new Toyota.

That was what had me hooked on SCCA autocross. I didn't see anything special about my car, not that it was an MG or even British. It was just an old sports car that was kicking ass with the best of the new ones (when properly classified). Since the competition classes are only about 0.4 second apart in a one minute lap, it doesn't take much to be slightly better than average, in which case you can win sometimes (maybe often).

After finessing my car around the course on street tires for three years I was consistently one second too slow to be average. Then I bought some race tires, and my lap times improved by 3 to 4 seconds. Ha! I was suddenly running almost even up with cars in Street Prepared class which should have been a few seconds faster than me, and I was beating scratch times of cars a couple of brackets higher in Stock class. What followed was a house full of trophies, including a number of index trophies and several annual championship points trophies.

Finally "the other shoe fell". The one factory in the world that was making race tires I could use on 4-1/2" wide wheels (195-60-15 squeezed real tight) retooled for a new model and didn't bother to make a molding die for that tire size. Since then the smallest race tire available for a 15" wheel is 205-50-15, and no way that would ever go onto a 4-1/2" wide wheel. Result is that other (generally newer) cars can run race tires in Stock class but I have to use street tires to stay in Stock class. If I get wider wheels to use the smallest race tires available I have to run in Street Prepared class. I am not going to modify my touring car enough to be competitive in Street Prepared class, so I have effectively been legislated out of the sport.

There is a rule allowing cars with wheels smaller than 13" diameter to run 13" wheels in Stock class. That was done many years earlier specifically to allow the small wheel cars to be competitive by running reasonable size tires (read that "race tires"). For a while I was trying to lobby SCCA for a similar rule to allow Stock class cars with very narrow stock wheels to run some wider spec wheel width for the same reason. For instance, narrow wheel cars might be allowed to use 13x5, 14x5-1/2, or 15x6 wheels, because that is what would be needed to accommodate the smallest competition tires available for those rim diameters. That is precisely what is required to keep the older cars in the sport.

Problem is apparently that there are so few older cars affected like this that there is no lobby power within SCCA to push such a rule through the committee process. Conclusion is that they would rather not be bothered by a handful of pokey little cars like vintage British stuff clogging up their run time schedule. When I got heavy into it in the early 90's the MG TD's were already no-show because there was no suitably slow class for them. My MGA was at the time in E-Stock, one step up from H-stock (4-door 4-cylinder econo-box sorts).

About 1996 or so they consolidated E and H into H-Stock with an index factor the same as the previous E-stock. In other words, the prior H-stock cars now had to run directly against the prior E-stock cars with no index difference. The very first day, after competition was done and I was putting the race tires in the trailer, a fellow walked up and asked. "Since when does my Volvo have to run against an MG"? Of course there was no good answer. The real reason was there were so few H-Stock cars showing up that they couldn't justify holding open a separate class for them. That guy had been a regular, but we never saw him again after that.

The only thing that kept me running, even in the slowest class, was the race tires that put me on fairly even ground with other cars in the same class. When the source of my race tires dried up in 1999, so did my chances for competition. I cut my competition schedule to the bare bones minimum, fewest number of events to qualify for the annual championship points, no practice, no fun runs, no second driver, etc. I managed to make my last set of race tires last for 10 events through the 2000 season (barely), and that was that last of real competition in SCCA. They came up with some screwy Vintage class, but it is more like Prepared class as a catch all for older race cars. And they invented a few Street Tire classes (for people who don't want to buy race tires), but those were all more like Street Prepared (with too many mods allowed), so no go there either. I finally didn't bother to renew my SCCA membership about 2001 or so. Like I said, legislated out of the sport.

If you think you're being stepped on by some narrow guidelines for equipment mods, you're not. It is your choice to prepare your car appropriately and enter into whatever competition class you like. SCCA already has 25 or 30 different classes for Solo-II, so don't expect them to invent a new class just to suit your specific car that may have been bastardized with such a weird combination of mods to make it non-competitive in your chosen class.

Apparently you have chosen a combination of options that allows your car to run in Prepared class with the fully prepared race cars. Maybe you're not very good at preparing a car to be competitive in that class. If you read the rule book you may find it much easier (and cheaper) to step back and prep the car for Street Prepared class. That way you can keep it street legal and not have to haul it around on a trailer. I suppose that would technically require you to put the original gearbox back in the car, but you might ultimately be able to talk your way out of that bit.

You do have one thing going for you. The '74 Midget had that wonderful little beast of a 1275 engine that can run circles around the later 1500 TR engines. The car is small and light with chrome trim strips on either end, and you can tweak the 1275 to put out enough power to scat like a bat. Even in Street Prepared form with no internal engine mods, a big carburetor set, headers, and free flow exhaust can allow that engine to scream well past the red line. You just need to repaint the red line on the tach at about 7000 or 7500 rpm.

I don't know if you can get David Lieb to allocate enough time to chat, but he could tell you all about prepping his 1275 Midget to go like hell on gumball tires. For a while he had a HUGH front sway bar, at least an inch, maybe bigger. That kept lifting a front tire high in the air in tight turns, which is a nasty faux pas in grip and handling. I was trying to get him to use a smaller front sway bar, but he was already past the point of Street Prepared class, so he installed a small rear sway bar to keep the front wheel down. That makes it grip and handle okay, but the whole car is stiff as a brick. Not to bother him, as he now runs slick race tires and often carries the car on a trailer to avoid the chore of changing tires twice a day. Bottom line there is, he now has a trailer queen Prepared class race car and may be looking for a different car for a daily driver.

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