Well, it took a while but our Gazelle Rally videos have published. Roadshow broke them down into three totally amazeball episodes. Check it out!
The MORE Freedom 250 is traditionally a night race, and in the past I have raced the first half and then turned 1617 over to clean up driver Mark to take her through the night.
This past weekend I decided to push myself outside my comfort zone and take a stab at night driving. The plan was for me to drive the first 4 laps, and let Mark take the last 2.
But I didn’t count on the rain.
Or the mud.
Or the havoc the rain would wreck on the electronics of the car.
But let me back up a bit. You all may know that my car is part of the Martha Lee Motorsports program. They find teenagers in Barstow who want to learn about race cars, and give them access to 1617, and Martha’s (Martee’s) car, 1602. Under adult supervision they help to prep the cars, learning about CVs, brakes, torsion bars, electronics, and basic VW engine maintenance. The kids must maintain a C average in school, commit to twice a week shop nights, and are expected to be there every night the week before a race. They are just now getting to the point where they have earned co-driver seats in the two cars.
While we were at tech we ran into the fine folks at Sierra LED Lighting. They thought the program sounded awesome and sponsored both cars on the spot! We were able to take the old HIDs off of 1617 and add an amber/white LED bar to the front, plus three LED square lights to the top. Hallelujah! These new light bars did a lot to stave off the nervousness I was feeling towards my first night race.
Race day dawned with a thunderstorm and it hardly let up all day long.
Our first problem was with the radio. My radio wasn’t working at all. Journee could hear me, but couldn’t talk to me. Sometimes she could call/receive pits, but mostly we were incommunicado.
We started at the rear of our group of 18 class 1600 cars. The course was muddy, but at least I knew this first section and it was still daylight. Still, I had to keep wiping my visor, which only smeared mud across it, hindering my vision. I tried to keep my adrenaline and speed in check, as it’s easy to overdrive on the first lap. I was doing great until suddenly at race mile 9 we lost power.
The pit guys had warned us that if water got under the distributor the car would die. We got out, took off the distributor cap, sprayed it with WD40, and she was golden.
We continued on, passing a few cars, until a flat derailed us around race mile 15. It happened right at this crazy negative camber right hand turn uphill, and it was all I could do to keep the thing moving in the right direction.
Our tire change took a while as the ground was so muddy the car fell off the jack and it got wedged between this buried rock and the rear torsion housing. By digging around the rock and loosening it, then literally picking up the back of the car, we finally got the jack unstuck. We got the tire changed and zipped out.
The rest of the lap was clean and awesome. Lots of fast sections, a few crazy tight, technical sections…a lot of fun. We came in to main pits to swap the spare for a new rear Yokohama Super Digger and we were off.Around race mile 14 Journee heard over the static on the radio, “1617 your oil cap is missing. Get off course right now.”
What? How did they know that? Did someone radio it back? The engine was running great, the oil light wasn’t on…what are they talking about.
Sure enough, Journee crawled out and that damn cap was gone. We decided to duct tape it and zip tie the duct tape (Pro Tip: All race cars are held together with duct tape and zip ties.), figuring we would at least keep dirt out of it. We got all buckled in, I hit the starter button…and nothing.
Well, not exactly nothing. It was turning over, but not firing. And the more I tried to start it, the slower the starter got. What the what? Why is my battery dying? Is my alternator dying? AGAIN??
Two MORE volunteers came by and called MORE recovery. We couldn’t bump start it since I was facing uphill and if you know VW transmissions you know you don’t ever want to even think about putting it in reverse, let alone bump start it in reverse. So the recovery guys gave us a jump and we were off once again.
…for five miles. Then the damn thing died again. But THIS time she died right in the middle of the track.
I have never been so scared in my entire life. I knew I needed to get out of the car, but all I could picture was some truck coming up just as I unbuckled and throwing me 500 feet in the air. Fortunately nobody was behind us and we got out safely. We put our beacon on the back, left our amber light on, and took the flashlight down the track a bit to slow cars down.
At this point I thought it was the alternator. I mean, it had crapped out three times and I was sure we were done. Fortunately I had cell service and was able to get in touch with pits so they could call recovery to get us off the course. It took them a while to get there and by then it was full dark. Full, desert dark.
And here is where I learned something. Something I thought I knew but apparently not because I never even thought to look at the coil. If I had I would have seen one wire had popped off. I felt like an idiot as MORE recovery just swapped the wires to the extra coil and voila…all the power you could possibly want. **
“Okay, Hall. Brush it off. You’ve got a lap to finish.”
Now we were in the thick of it. More rain, more mud, and full dark. I found one tiny little spot on my visor that maybe wasn’t as smeared as the rest of it, and just tried to look through that. I’m not going to lie, it was terrifying. I could only see 100 feet in front of me and while I knew there were fast sections, I didn’t know how long they were. I was afraid I would miss a transition and barrel into a rough section too fast. At that point all I was trying to do was get the car around the track. We planned to give the car over to Mark and one of the kids to get a lap in, and it was the longest 25 miles in my life.
Mark had a clean lap, although he did hit rather hard once and smacked both his head and the front beam. Still, he brought it around and they gave him a checkered flag. We completed 3 out of 6 laps, which earned us 13th place.
Martee in 1602 got 4 laps total and earned 11th place.
I try to come away from each race only with positives. I’m glad I pushed myself to race at night, and I’m willing to try it one more time, withOUT the rain and mud, before I make a final judgment on how I feel about racing in the dark. I also will be damn sure to check the coil the next time the car just dies.
1617 needs some fairly serious work on the rear. Both arms are cracked and were just welded to get us though this race. The frame is also twisted a bit back there, and now we have to find a new front beam, so I’m not sure when the next race will be. Regardless, you’ll read all about it here when it happens!
**It is worth noting that while Journee and I were stuck in the middle of the track, our chase, which happened to be our boyfriends, was trying to get to us. They came across three cars that were really in trouble, so Steve stopped to help them, sending Scott out to run across the full dark desert to help us. Apparently he was within 15 feet when we got the car started and zoomed off.
But it’s nice to know he’ll run across the desert for me.
Last minute fundraising plan! The MORE Toys for Tots 200 is this weekend, December 6th. I’ve decided to drive the whole race and not do a driver swap. Total miles for my class will be 168 miles. Thus far the longest I’ve been in the car is 140 miles, so this will be an attainable jump for me, but I’ll have a back-up driver just in case. I mean, this is Barstow, y’all. It’s rough out there. We’ve done a lot of work on the car lately thanks to Martha Lee Motorsports, and she’s floating over whoops like never before, still…this will be a challenge. They don’t call it Gnarstow for nothing!
So, what better way to keep me motivated than to have a JFF* Race-a-Thon?! Simply select the amount you’re willing to pledge for each mile I drive. Half of everything will go to Cedars Sinai Breast Cancer Research Center, and half will go to help get my team, The Indiana Joans, to the Gazelle Rally in Morocco in 2016.
Race day came on like a bonfire. Scorching sun, baking sand, and a hot breeze. Who wants to put on a race suit and helmet and drive on a day like today?
Dad and I had spent the previous day with Andy from Major Performance Engines, doing a last minute wiring job on the coil. It looks like we have a mess of bad wires from the coil to the distributor, but the clock was ticking so we just direct wired it and called it done. Well…Andy recommended making it a little more secure, but we just didn’t have time. The car was starting that was good enough for us.
Race morning was spent rustling up a new antenna, changing out the old Super Diggers for a new set with beadlocks (this will figure prominently in this report), affixing our new Radflo jack (again, this is important), zip tying down everything that needed to be zip tied down, and generally tending to all the last minute crap that comes up on race day. When Martee and I got in the car at 3:30 for a 4:00pm start, we were all feeling good.
The worst part of a race for me is waiting to start. I don’t mind seeing the competition all lined up, since we race to JFF* anyway. No, what kills me is the anticipation. All I can think about is how much I have to go to the bathroom, how I can’t move/see/breathe, how I may possibly die in the next few hours. But then the green flag drops and all that goes away. Suddenly I am just concentrating on the road ahead.
And I was concentrating so hard that I didn’t notice we had gotten a flat tire! Well, that’s not exactly true. This was our first race with the new beadlock wheels. For those not in the know, these kinds of wheels lock your tire on to the wheel, so you can drive on a flat. Previously we had regular wheels. You could baby it for a bit on a flat, but not drive.
With a regular wheel, it is very obvious when you have a flat. The car gets out of sorts right away. Not so with a beadlock. The car handles just fine. You can drive on a flat but the engine will bog down because you’re basically dragging one whole side of the car, right?
So Martee and I weren’t sure if we had a flat or if we had a motor problem. We kept going because frankly it was faster to drive to Pit A than for us to get out and change it. New team members Chris and Art Saenz and Chad Krieger had come from their jobs in Vegas and literally were pulling in to Pit A at the same time we were. Thankfully my pal Alvin Dimalanta was there with a helping hand. They changed the tire and we were on our way.
For about 5 miles.
Something was wrong with the same tire! We got off the track and Martee climbed out, only to find our new hydraulic jack had come out of its “secure location” and was wedged between the frame and the ground. Oh Lordy. Well that was a nice $400 out the window. I’d already killed $700 and we weren’t even half way around the course yet!
Martee got the jack out and left it on the side of the track to be retrieved later and we were off again. Off to some of the roughest terrain I have ever experienced. How rough? The radio came out of its “secure location” and Martee had to hold it for 6 miles.
We pulled in to Pit B where Josh Leon and Chris and Ashley Ives pulled the radio from the dash in one minute flat. Martee and I were now incommunicado with the rest of our team.
College Hill loomed above us. If you’re not familiar, this is a section of the course with huge whoops over 4 or 5 twising camelback hills. There is no good line through it, only lines that won’t kill you as quickly. At this point, Martee and I were vocalizing our discomfort. Each whoop was met with an, “Ooof,” or “Ugh,” or “I’m going to kill whoever set this course.”
Coming down from College Hill you can almost see Main Pits. We thought we were home free but NO! The course snaked around for another 5 or 6 miles. Those sneaky guys at MORE just wanted to torture us!
With all the problems we had, our first lap was two hours. Our goal was one and a half hours, so we had our work cut out for us. Tony and Chad G. did some welding on the caliper in Main Pit and we were out within 10 or 12 minutes. Our second lap, thankfully, was clean and we turned in a time of 1:42, which included our pit stop.
Getting out of the car is always bittersweet. I want to keep going because it’s fun but at the same time I’m just knackered, especially on this course. Martee had it worse though. Co-driving is tough on your body. Martee got out and got some water and the next thing I knew, she was throwing up. Yes, I made her throw up.
Mark and new co-driver Dustin got in the car and got a flat in no time. Pit A fixed them up but later they had fuel delivery problems. While under load it just wasn’t performing well. He got her around in about two hours and the crew in Main went to work. The distributor was checked, coil was checked, everything looked fine.
Off they went. Oh wait, no…here they come back. What?
The car had stalled and wouldn’t start. BUT WE SHALL NOT GIVE UP!
Tony pulled the fuel filter and therein found the problem. The foam in the gas tank had chosen this exact moment to disintegrate. We switched out the filter, cleared the fuel line and the jet in the carburator, but what else can you do? We couldn’t very well start pulling the foam out, so we sent them on their way and prayed they could make it around so we could finish.
Alas, it was not to be. The race ended at midnight and at 11:30 Mark and Dustin still had about 30 miles to go. They came back on the road so as not to stress the car or themselves.
It’s always sad to time out, but she was still moving and even with all our problems we ended up 5th out of 9 entries. We averaged 33.9mph and 4th place averaged 33.6mph. We were keeping up with him just fine.
The winner spanked everyone with average lap times around 44mph. In addition to being a more experienced driver, they obviously had no problems and probably didn’t do a driver swap.
Our goal is always to JFF*. While we didn’t succeed, we had a great time and I certainly did learn a lot. I now know how to wire the coil directly to the distributor, how to clear the fuel line, and what a flat feels like on a beadlock.
Race day ended at 1:30am, with most of the team enjoying a beverage and swapping stories of the race, under the moonlit sky of the beautiful Mojave desert.
It was a good day.
* Just Fucking Finish
July 11, 2014 – Ladies who race, start prepping your professional photos for the 2015 Women of Off Road Racing Calendar! Emme Hall, driver of the Mega Monkey Motorsports 2/1600 is calling for submissions for the third annual fundraising calendar.
Hall makes it clear; this is not your average pinup calendar.
“All my female friends that drive are incredible women, who can do so much more than just wear a bikini and pose. They drive, they wrench, the co-drive…they are badasses! I knew I could do something cool to feature them, their rides, and their partners without relying on their sexuality.”
The Women of Off Road Racing calendar features the ladies in hero card style poses with their cars.
“It’s a calendar that you can give to your young daughter as inspiration, or to your grandmother to hang in her living room,” says Hall.
Professional headshots are required to enter. Photos are due August 13th to firstname.lastname@example.org, with voting to begin Hall’s Facebook fan page on August 15th. The calendar will be ready in time for the MORE Ladies Race for the Cure on October 25th. Proceeds will go to the Cedars Sinai Breast Cancer Research Center and to help Hall’s team reach the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles in Morocco.
“The past two years I have accepted non-professional snapshots, but I really want to up the ante this year. Professional photos will place the ladies in their best light. I hope that in the future I can provide these headshots for free, but for now I recommend Dezert Wife Photography or Phil Kaos Photography. Both businesses have been very supportive of the calendar and they produce great photos.”
Hall is currently organizing a group photo session. Contact her at email@example.com for details or to submit. Women of all ages, shapes, and sizes are encouraged to submit. All classes of cars, UTVs, and motorcycles are eligible. All-female teams are welcome to submit as well. Women can be drivers of record, secondary drivers, or regular co-drivers.
About the Cedars Sinai Breast Center
At the Breast Center, patients receive comprehensive care from a team of experts. Our physicians are highly experienced at treating common as well as rare and complex cases of breast cancer. During weekly multidisciplinary Case Review meetings, patient cases are discussed from multiple perspectives so that patients are provided with a wide range of treatment options. This review facilitates ongoing communication among your physicians and specialists to track your progress and help lead to a successful recovery. Our specialists also work on clinical trials to develop new treatment options for addressing breast cancer and many of our patients take part in clinical trials that test new options for diagnosis and treatment. More information can be found at http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Programs-and-Services/Breast-Center/
About the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles
Now in its 25th year, the Gazelle Rally is the toughest all female motorsports event on the planet. Women battle the grueling Moroccan desert for 9 days using only a compass and a map. No GPS, no cell phones, no chase crews. Points are awarded for shortest distance between checkpoints, not fastest time. Whether in a 4×4, a crossover, a quad, or a motorcycle, the two-woman teams must work together to drive the fewest kilometers possible, using their outdated maps to pick a route. More information can be found at www.gazellerally.com
About Emme Hall
Driver, review, rabble rouser, Emme is the principle driver for the trophy winning Mega Monkey Motorsports 2/1600. She has also been on the podium in class 11, 5u, and ultra-4. She is one of only 17 American women to participate in the Rally Aicha des Gazelles and was the driver for the top North American team in 2014. She is a video host for TFL Car, reviewing everything from compact economy sedans to trucks to muscle cars. She is the proud driver of a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata and she autocrosses with the SCCA whenever she can. More information can be found at www.emmehall.com