It’s Always the Little Things

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This post was supposed to be a race report for round 9 of the 2016 CCR SCCA autocross season, but instead it’s the story about the importance of the little things. I arrived at zMax Dragway on September 24th with a suction cup mount for my GoPro and a lapel microphone in addition to my regular gear. I was excited! I was going to attempt to record my first video recap of the race, but that came to a ticking, squeaking halt in the McDonald’s drive through in Concord, NC.

I was registered, tech’d and course walked. I still needed breakfast so I headed for the closest drive through, so I could walk the course once more before the drivers’ meeting. The car felt great! Everything was ship shape… until I slowed to a stop in line. A noise like the sound of a baseball card in a kid’s bicycle wheel was coming from my right rear wheel! I checked in the wheel in the parking lot, but there was nothing to be seen from the outside. On the drive back to the track the clicking turned into a high pitch squeal, and I was all but certain that my day was already over. Was it a wheel bearing or CV joint? Perhaps a malfunction with the park brake? Everything seemed in order when I pulled the wheels off at the track. Nothing was hot, nothing seemed damaged. Unable to ascertain the problem, I admitted defeat. On the way home the noise became quieter and more intermittent. At home the sound was almost gone! Clearly it wasn’t a big problem because I had completed the 30 minute drive home without issue, but what was going on?

The telltale heart lay in the shiny, slight nicks on the edges of the rotor slots of the right rear wheel.

Since nothing was extra hot and the sound all but disappeared, it was certainly not a wheel bearing or CV. The parking brake was perfect under inspection at the track, so that left one thing: the brakes. At the track the calipers seemed fine; The pads were retracted and easily fit over the rotors without dragging. It seemed like there couldn’t be a problem until I realized that the clicking could only have come from something contacting the slots on my rotors as the wheel turned. Sure enough, the culprit was only an extra step away from my inquisitive eyes. The guide clips, on which the brake pads translate in the calipers, had moved slightly and contacted the brake rotor. The clicking was the retainer tangs on the clips contacting the edges of the rotor slots. The clicking stopped when the tang on one clip shattered. The squeaking went away as the opposing tang wore down and dragged less and less. All of my strife and consternation was over a simple part that had shifted slightly, likely because I didn’t bend the outer retaining tangs down to prevent that movement from happening.

The broken edge of the clip can be seen here. The clip the opposing pad was also touching the rotor, but much less so.

It’s these kinds of issues that can throw off any racer from SCCA Solo to NASCAR Sprint Cup. Had I kept a cooler head at the track, I may have noticed the very slight nicks on the rotor slots, which would have clued me into looking more closely at the calipers. Instead, I jumped to the worst conclusions and packed it in. I’d always rather be safe than sorry, but now I have to wait till October 15 for my next autocross and am entirely out of contention for rookie of the year honors. The good news is that I still learned from this experience. While it’s always important to be mindful of the worst cases, it’s equally important to keep you eyes on the small stuff. If the difference between winning and losing can be the blink of an eye, so too can the smallest of components be the end of your day.

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