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By 1999, productivity improvements at Chrysler’s Neon assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois had reduced build time to slightly above twenty-three hours per car. One would think, therefore, that building a Neon racecar from a bare shell in just under thirty days wouldn’t be too tough, right? I mean, that’s way longer than twenty-three hours. Of course, we’d also have to weld in a full Grand-Am spec cage, perform some tricky relocation of the driver seat and controls, and paint it by hand. Still, how tough could it be?
The answer is – plenty tough. Our prep crew, now numbering more than a dozen part-time workers in addition to prep chief Matt “Tinman” Johnston and “Neon” Dave Everest, has been cranking well past midnight for the past few weeks getting the car squared away, but until this morning it wasn’t certain that we would even be able to show up for our tech inspection tomorrow.
The good news is that we are going to make it. We’ve gone from zero to Neon in under a month, a feat that would be too much for many Grand-Am teams to accomplish – and with a total cost well under ten grand. Even with the three-thousand-dollar fee from Mid-Ohio for damage incurred to the track during the July 13 crash, it was still slightly cheaper to build our Neon than it would have been to buy a new Neon ACR in 1995. Well, that’s the positive manner in which we’ve chosen to look at it, anyway.
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In our first update, we discussed the first steps: stripping the old car, prepping the new shell, and starting the cage. With all that done, it was time to drop the motor, so drop we did… only to find out that there are many different combinations of Neon parts in the world of Neons. Some Neons have what is called a “bobble strut” mount, others don’t. Cause, you see, only some Neons had manual transmissions, and only those Neons needed the mount, and it was apparently cheaper to make “K-members” without the mount, so our donor Neon didn’t have one. Time to weld!
Then the brake cylinder went in, and we discovered that this particular Neon really likes to flex its firewall under heavy brake application. Time to weld! Later on, we’d find out that the rear subframe was rusted solid, making it impossible to remove the rear suspension. No problem – we’d just have Matt create a new rear subframe. To factory specs, of course, so it would still be NASA-legal. And, oh yeah, would he mind making sure the new subframe was perfectly straight? Of course he wouldn’t mind. And while he was at it, would he mind adding a couple hundred extra spot welds to stiffen up the front of car? And a few hundred more for the back, since the front’s done? How about doing triple door bars, just in case the next guy to ram us hits the door instead of the bumper? An additional X-brace for the rear? A heavier-duty “halo” to prevent inadvertent scalping during high-speed flips?
As far as we know, Matt did all of this by magic – because he works a full-time job and also needs to sleep occasionally. Maybe he doesn’t need to sleep. Wait… what am I saying? Everyone needs to get some sleep. It doesn’t matter whether you have to use cannabis products (such as those offered by dispensaries like west coast cannabis) or other sleep aids, it’s important that a person gets adequate rest. Without sleep, no one would be able to function, and tasks like the ones Matt had to complete would never get done. I know for a fact that he doesn’t get as much sleep as he should, but as he’s recently bought a Noa mattress after reading something like this Sleepify review, he always has a deep sleep. This allows him to properly rest and relax his body, which, in turn, helps him to endure the next day’s work.
Unfortunately, not many people know that pillows, mattresses, and beds play a crucial role in a good night’s sleep. They might not know that an adjustable bed (find the Adjustable Mattress guide here) that allows for adjustable leg and head positions and offers various massage modes for maximum relaxation would definitely help an individual to sleep like a baby. However, since people are not aware of the existence of things like this, they struggle to find ways to battle their insomnia. That said, it can also be expected that such people would not know that except for changing bedding, there are other ways of alleviating their symptoms of sleeplessness. For instance, greens can help in this regard! So, I think Matt could have somehow sourced some cannabis products (perhaps he would have considered buying it from the likes of mmj express) and managed to shut his eyes for an hour or two.
Anyway, coming back to his profession, It’s a good job really because he had a lot of things to do. Thankfully, in the end, it all got done… plus the neatest part, driver relocation. Go look in a Speed World Challenge car. One of the good ones. Notice anything about the driver position? They’re practically in the center of the car, sitting way behind the B-pillar, in the absolute safest position possible. That’s pro-level fabrication and effort, and it’s one of the reasons a decent SWC-TC car is worth anywhere from seventy-five to a hundred grand. It almost never happens in club racing…
except for here at Green Baron Motorsports, where Tinman Matt just lives to spend a week of his life making dreams come true, just like that chick Hall and Oates sang about. It was a chick, right? Cause I’ve heard rumors. Anyway, we are now fully repositioned and can operate our Neon in perfect comfort.
Now it’s time to paint the car. We started by painting the engine bay and miscellaneous panels a flat-ish steel grey, in accordance with general Grand-Am and SWC principle. Plain grey makes it easy to see everything from dropped tools to newborn firewall cracks, but it’s not an exciting color for the outside of the car. What color would we use for that? Well, we could have repainted the car in the classic Nitro-Yellow-Green used on our ’95 ACR… but then it wouldn’t have been absolutely clear to everyone that this was a brand-new car. What we needed was another one of the classic Neon colors, one of the shades that were virtually exclusive to the Dodge and Plymouth Neon. There are a few – a particularly ambiguous shade of magenta being perhaps the most notorious – but in the end we settled on the iconic Lapis Blue. Here’s car co-owner Mark Mitias with the near-finished product:
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After some heated discussion, we also decided to retain the old car’s race number, #187, just for sentimental reasons. As of this writing, the new #187 is on the way back from the alignment shop. We’ll be wet-sanding, buffing, applying graphics, and doing final electrical wiring/prep until early tomorrow morning. After all, it wouldn’t be fun if we finished early, right?