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April / May 1999


NOTE:  I've edited out some of the original material that is no longer relevant, but left the stuff I still liked.    Ric - 5/30/07

Welcome to issue #1 of the Big Wig Newsletter! This will be a trial experiment for a few months – until I either get tired of doing it or run out of things to write about – neither of which may take very long. We’ll see.

My plans at this time for this newsletter is to make it a fun and informational monthly piece that will have such areas as:

  • "Cool tool of the month"
  • do-it-yourself helpful hints for making aluminum panels for your own car
  • BWRC customer reports from the races
  • updates on projects
  • Q&A if I get any Q’s
  • Whatever other filler material I can come up with

If you have other ideas or want to contribute an article, helpful hint, interesting tidbit, or whatever, send it in!

In this issue:

- Updates on Customer Cars  deleted
- Phoenix (Spring 1999) Bug-O-Rama trip report
- Cool Tool of the Month
- Tips and Tricks for Making Alum Panels
- Big Wig Music Selections of the Month
- New Finds on the WWW  deleted
- Where to see the Big Wig Cars  deleted



Phoenix Bug-O-Rama Trip Report

Me, the wife, and the dog all made the trek to Phoenix for the April 10th Bug-O-Rama. I was really looking forward to this event, as the last time I’d been out there to see some PRA racing was many years ago. Back then, the R&R Machine pro-stocker was still around, RLR debuted the first P/S Notch, and a few of the S/S race cars that I recall were the Shawn McCarthy car, the Bugpack sedan, Andy Costello, Steve Timms, Gary Berg, and more I forget. Even the Pro-Turbo class was bigger back then, including Dave Perkins in the Dragonslayer car, Ron Townsend, Chris Bubetz, etc.

Back to the present day – this most recent Bug-O-Rama had only 4 Pro-Stocks and 1 Pro-Turbo in attendance. Somewhat disappointing. You probably all know by now that the Heads-Up Performance car driven by Dominic Lupino got out of shape and smacked the wall hard in a qualifying round. It stayed upright, but the impact was pretty intense and it appeared to have broken both the front and rear suspensions on the driver side of the car. What a gorgeous car that is. It looks even better in person than in the magazine article I’ve studied so many hundreds of times. It made me sick to see it torn up like that. One other Pro-Stock car also got intimate with the wall. In the finals, Rick Higa’s brand new (1st time out) Pro-Stock Bug build by RLR and driven by RLR’s Steve Yoder also got squirrelly at about track, crossed the center line, hit the wall and rolled over on it’s roof. Before it came to a stop, it righted itself, rolled again, and eventually landed on all fours. Both drivers were unhurt in the two unfortunate events – a testament to the safety built into the JCL and RLR chassis cars.

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Super Street had a pretty good turnout and managed a full field of 8 cars. Shawn Geers was the man of the day. His car is another that is stunning in person. I saw at least 4 SS cars sporting the JCL roof tunnels – that seems to be the trend. They apparently work well, as the two strongest running cars of the day, Perkins and Geers, both had tunnels.

Super Gas was once again dominated by Randy Bowen. Their car sports a new paint job and a new JCL wing/engine cover. It’s looking better than ever and running just as good as always. I hope to see them make it down to TX for some of the TxPRA races now that we’re trying to get a S/G class up and running. bowen_s.jpg (5334 bytes)

Pro-Eliminator was won by, who else, Muffler Mike Sheldon! I met Mike and his wife briefly in the pits. His car looks great with its new paint job. He was running Jim Hagethorne’s turbo motor again, as he had some minor difficulties with his alchy motor a week or so before the race. No monster wheelies from Mike this time though – still getting the new tires broken in?

I also had the opportunity to meet John Maher while walking through the pits. He was in from England for a bit of a vacation and to catch some good racing. It was good to talk to him face-to-face. He’s working on some very cool street cars over there. Check him out at

Money was being collected at the event for Dean Lowery, one of the founding fathers of VW high performance. Dean has been in the hospital recently, going through some trying times. I believe about $2500 was collected from various clubs, companies, and individuals, to give to Dean’s wife in order to help them out during this difficult time. It’s good to see the VW racing community come together to help one of their own.

A strong presence in some of the eliminator classes were the Competition Engineering sponsored cars. They had a bad ass looking Notchback that could have been a Pro-Stock. It had a perfect paint job on it from Deano’s Custom Painting. CEnotch_s.jpg (6391 bytes)

The manufacturers midway was big, compared to what I’m used to at the TX Bug-In’s. I left with more t-shirts than I needed, but that’s about all I bought. I never even made it to the swap meet. We ran out of time looking at the race cars, show cars, and drag racing.

The drive out there and back was pretty uneventful, just LONG, so I won’t bore you with that stuff. Looking forward to going back. Perhaps I’ll be in a position to pull a car out there one day and participate, rather than just be a spectator.


Big Wig Music Selections of the Month

Music from 1999....

A critical item in the shop has to be the stereo. If you’re like me, spending so much time in the shop you get tired of listening to the same stuff on the radio all the time. So, I occasionally listen to CD’s while I work, and here are my current favorites that you would find in the player if you came by the BWRC shop:

Brian Setzer Orchestra – The Dirty Boogie – killer upbeat swing music that will get you moving. Just don’t ding the car as you’re playing the air-guitar with a big metal ruler.

Gipsy Kings – The Best of the Gipsy Kings – I don’t understand a single word that comes out of those guys mouths, but you can't help but try to sing along when you’re in the shop by yourself.

Tips and Tricks for Making
Aluminum Panels

The Basics – materials

Q: What type of aluminum should I use?

A: I prefer 6061-T4 aluminum in .032 thickness for interior panels. It doesn’t warp and get out of shape as badly as some of the other grades when you start rolling the beads into it. For the rear wing and engine cover, I use .050 thickness, primarily 5052 H32. The .050 works great as long as you’ve got enough support from the box underneath  or if you have tall wing sides that attach to the body for support. If the box is shallow and the wing sides don’t provide support, you may wish to use some .063 thick material, and may also go to a stronger grade such as the 6061. The 5052 is what they gave me the first time I started buying aluminum and didn’t know what to ask for, and it’s worked fine, in most instances.

Q: How do I keep scratches and fingerprints off the aluminum while I’m making my panels?

A: Buy your sheets with plastic on both sides. It’s only about $5 more to have it applied. You can draw all over your panel with markers where you want to cut or roll beads, and once the panel is finished, just peel off the plastic and you’ve got perfect aluminum underneath.

Q:  What do I use to make my patterns?

A: I’m sure others with more experience than me might have better ideas, and I’d love to hear them, but I have always used posterboard for the interior stuff. It’s cheap, and since it’s thin, you get nice precise edges when you cut it with scissors, unlike cardboard. If you need something more sturdy in an area such as the wing or engine cover, that’s when the cardboard comes in handy.

Another quick note, don’t try to make a complicated pattern from one piece of posterboard. Many small pieces for different edges can be taped together to make one pattern. See the photo below for a perfect example of this. It’s got tape all over it and looks like total chaos, but the panel I cut from this pattern fit the first time with almost no additional trimming. Sometimes I’ll just get pretty close with the pattern and make notes on it with arrows and dimensions, like " 1/8 ", if it’s slightly out of alignment or something. Then when I trace it onto the aluminum, I just compensate where indicated by my notes.

Q: How do I fasten the panels to the car?

A:  I use countersunk DZUS buttons, springs, and tabs wherever possible. Tabs are available that can be welded onto your chassis or cage or car body. If your panels are overlapping and just need to fasten to each other, you can countersink the appropriate hole in the underlying panel and attach the spring to that.

Try to think like a minimalist when it comes to DZUS buttons. The less you can use and still get your panels to lay flat against each other, the better, in my opinion. That’s where experience pays off, and I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement there.

Pop rivets are another option, but they don’t look as professional as the DZUS stuff. Sometimes they’re the best option for joining smaller panels to each other when you can still DZUS the riveted assembly to the car and make it removable. Rivets are also the best way to attach doorpanels and quarterpanels in my opinion, since you’ll almost never need to remove those once they’re in.

Coming in future newsletters – tools and techniques to help with cutting panels and rolling beads.


Cool Tool(s) of the Month

Hopefully this will be of benefit to some of the beginners out there. Having done a fair amount of aluminum work over the last couple of years there are some tools that I’ve come to depend on very heavily. At first, I think I might feature a couple of tools a month, one basic and one more specialized (or in some cases, simply – inexpensive, and more expensive.) That way, I can cover more tools faster and you can get a feel for some of the tools I consider required and those which might be just "nice to have."

Basic: Clecos - Clecos are temporary panel holders that I believe come from the aircraft industry. The most popular ones are used in drilled holes to hold sheetmetal in place. Others are available that can grip the sides of panels. I use both kinds almost daily. The standard Clecos in the 1/8th inch size I use for holding interior panels that overlap each other in place before I come back along and put in the DZUS fasteners. I simply punch or drill a 1/8th inch hole in one of the two pieces, put them in the car, mark the location through the drilled hole onto the second piece, make a hole in the second piece, and install the Cleco to hold them together. The Cleco is spring loaded so that it pulls the two panels together just as if they had been riveted – but it’s temporary and completely removable, unlike a rivet.

Nearly all racecar supply shops sell Clecos and the Cleco pliers. I bought all mine from Aircraft Spruce and Specialty company (AS&S), as their prices are typically better than the race car shops and they will give volume discounts if you buy enough. The pliers are around $8.00 and you can get 50 Clecos for $20 from AS&S. clecos.jpg (3316 bytes)

Advanced: Kett K-200 Electric Shears
- Shears aren’t really what I’d consider advanced, but they are certainly more expensive than the set of Clecos above. I have not tried any other brands, as I saw the Kett brand mentioned in Ron Fournier’s book "Metal Fabricator’s Handbook", and searched for them specifically. They work beautifully, particularly on the .032 interior panels. They go through it like paper and leave a wonderful edge that needs no debur. They cut .050 aluminum also, however it does take noticeably more force to feed the shears along the .050 material.  I have not tried it on anything thicker than .050
yet. The waste material from the cut is about a 3/16th inch curl. Either of the upper two jaws provides a perfect alignment edge for whatever cut-mark you’re following on your panel. This is one of the tools I can’t believe I ever got along without. Expect to pay $150 or more for the Kett shears.


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