race report

Racing in the Rain: The Freedom 250 Report

2015 Freedom 250

2015 Freedom 250

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.

2015 Freedom 250

 

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.

2015 Freedom 250

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.

2015 Freedom 250

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.

 

What else is missing in this photo?

What else is missing in this photo?

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.

2015 Freedom 250

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!

2015 Freedom 250

 

**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. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


We Had a Jack….Whoops We Lost It

Ready for action!
Ready for action!

Ready for action!

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?

Um…we do!

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.

Getting into my office to do some werk!

Getting into my office to do some werk!

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?

That's fixable...right?

That’s fixable…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 always retrieve anything we leave in the desert...even if it's ruined!

We always retrieve anything we leave in the desert…even if it’s ruined!

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.

Martee and I looking good after our stint in the car.

Martee and I looking good after our stint in the car.

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.

Co-dawg Dustin had only been in trucks prior to this race. Glad we could be your first, Dustin!!

Co-dawg Dustin had only been in trucks prior to this race. Glad we could be your first, Dustin!!

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

 


Battling at Primm

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Web credit Phil Kaos

Photo: Phil Kaos

 

This update is a little late.  It’s been a little crazy what with preparing for Gazelles and completing projects at work. At any rate, we had a great time at Battle at Primm February 21-23. We decided to do qualifying trials this year, so I took off for Las Vegas Thursday night, happy to leave my heavy coat at home in DC!

Based on what we learned last year, we decided to lighten our load a bit by not running a spare and by running smaller tires in the rear. While we were getting ready to get in line to qualify, we asked Dad how much gas was in the car. He assured us we had 4 or 5 gallons, plenty to get us through the 2 1/2 mile qualifying run…or so we thought.

As we were in the infield about 20 cars back from starting, we ran out of gas! WE RAN OUT OF GAS, PEOPLE! Mark jumped out and pushed me out of the way, then took off running to where Dad could meet him with some fuel. Meanwhile Dad isn’t answering the radio so I’m calling him on my phone (luckily I had it on me) and yelling, “WE ARE OUT OF F***ING GAS!” So Dad comes tearing across staging, trailer still attached to the truck, spare tires bouncing about, Mark grabs a pail of fuel and jumped in the official SNORE UTV to make his way back to me waiting in the car.

We were able to get refueled and not lose our place in line. We later learned that Dad forgot he had traded 3 gallons of gas out of the car for the use of the smaller tires. This is what happens when bartering goes horribly wrong.

We took off for qualifying and she sputtered for the first 1/4 mile or so, but then came to life and was going great. This was the first time I’d driven with these tires and they were great! They made the car, already nimble to begin with, much easier to turn. It’s like the steering ratio improved by 25%.  Wonderful!

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I drove on Saturday and had a great race except for losing 6 minutes when I put the car on its side. I came into a corner pretty hot and started sliding on the hard packed clay, then we hit the loose dirt and BING! Over we went! Other than that, Saturday was great, but we ended up towards the end of the pack.

roll-over-screen-shot

Mark took over on Sunday and we ended up in an epic battle with three other cars for 3 laps. We would keep up with them in the technical stuff but in the straights they would pull away from us. We were pinned but they just had more power. Fortunately there was enough of the rough stuff for us to catch up and we’d get back in the fight in the infield. In the end the leaders finished way head, but we finished in the middle of the pack with the other guys.

We think we have a few problems figured out. First of all, we were able to weigh the car at she’s WAAAAAY too fat. We have to lose 250 pounds at least. Second, the engine has 1000 race miles on it. If we had money we’d get a new one but we don’t, so she’s getting the top end worked on. Third, the tranny must have the wrong gearing. Other cars should not be pulling away from us like they do in the straights. So the transmission is apart already and in Ensenada, getting worked on.

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Photo: Phil Kaos

Next for me is the Gazelle Rally in Morocco. We’ll have the 1600 out again hopefully in April or May.

I have some GoPro footage, but Dad somehow ended up with one of the SD cards, so I’m waiting for him to ship it to me. In the meantime, check out the highlight reel from Race-Dezert.  I get an interview!

 

 


All Jacked Up at the Freedom 250

Coming through pit row.

What’s worse than one flat tire during a race?  How about three?  Or how about three flat tires AND NO JACK?!  That is what happened to us this weekend at the MORE Freedom 250.

I arrived Barstow late Friday night (side note: sometimes I feel a bit like Robby Gordon…I just fly in/fly out for races.  Good thing the team is on it!) and fell into instant sleep.  The next morning we got out to main pits, did a quick tech, grabbed our gas from F & L, and set off on a quick pre-run.  I have a bit of an advantage as my clean up driver, Mark, usually helps MORE lay out the course.  He also knows every inch of that desert like the back of his hand.  It’s kind of awesome.

Sammy the Bull from Dezert Outlaw Motorsports was pitting right next to us and wanted to pre-run the 29 mile loop with us in his class 1450 truck.  We stayed together until the Mile of Danger, which is really more like Three Miles of Danger, when Sammy had to slow down.  We stopped and waited, radio-ed back to make sure he was okay, and continued on when we heard all was good.  Mark guided me through the course.  We did a few turns twice as they were a little tricky, and got back to pits in about an hour.

An hour after that, Sammy still was not back.  Here’s why:

Yep, broke the whole damn spindle off the truck.  Needless to say, he didn’t race (or did he?) and the Lady Bri is still out there waiting for her knight in shining armor to come rescue her.  If anyone has a winch, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with The Bull.

Russin and I getting ready to do werk.

I was off the line at 4pm with the Russian in the co-dawg seat for the first time.  We picked off a competitor before race mile 2 and had the leader in our around race mile 16 or so.  We chased him for a bit until BAM!!  Flat driver’s rear tire.  We pulled over, Russian got out, and…no jack.  What the WHAT?  All I can think of is we lost it in the Mile of Danger somewhere.  It’s never really fit all that well in the car and that section was really rough.

So….what to do?  No jack, big flat tire.  Russian lifted the back end a bit and I stacked some rocks.  Then we dug under the tire but it was so rocky there we couldn’t dig deep enough.  As luck would have it (for us, anyway), Nick Tonelli picked that moment to have electrical issues (I think) about 100 yards from us.  We limped over, borrowed his jack, shared a tool, and were on our way.  All told though we lost about 20 minutes.

Lap two was clean.  Unofficial time was 48 minutes, which is an average speed of 36 mph, with a quick pit.  The good family team of Bradley Racing was there to guide us safely into pits and lend a hand.  Lap three brought another flat, again lucky for us near a chase vehicle.  Not OUR chase vehicle, mind you, just A chase vehicle.  Big thanks to team 1280 chase who jumped out of their truck, impact wrench in hand, and changed the tire for us.

Lap 4 was clean, but at this point, I was toast.  I was not feeling well.  In fact, I was pretty sure I was going to barf.  I had wanted to try to stay in the car the whole time, moving over to co-dawg for Mark for laps 5-8, but I knew I was spent.  I radio-ed back to see if  back up co-dawg Pepper, whom I knew was coming late from work, was there yet.  The answer came back negative.

I came in just before 8pm and look who was all suited up and ready to co-drive?!  None other than Sammy the Bull.  I literally fell out of the car and stumbled over to a chair, willing myself not to throw up.  Martee is always on hand with a cold bottle of water and this time was no different.  I eventually laid down on the trailer until my body stopped humming.  It took about an hour for me to feel back to normal.

pleasedontbarfpleasedontbarfpleasedontbarf

Mark and Sammy had a bit of trouble with a loose distributer cap on lap 5, but he had a fast 46 minute lap 6.  Alas, the Mile of Danger took it’s toll on lap 7, with another flat.  This time there were no strangers on whom to rely on their kindness.  Chase was called out, but by the time they got to them, we had timed out.

Official results aren’t posted yet and I’m not sure if we’ll get a DNF or just a low ranking.  I do feel very proud of myself for the clean laps I drove.  A former Gazelle told me that after going to Morocco I would be a better driver, and she was right.  I was definitely more comfortable and relaxed.  I was better at picking lines and fixing mistakes when I made them.  Was I perfect?  Oh hell no!  I picked the same damn wrong line every lap in this one section!  But, overall I felt very good.  We were on the pipe quite a lot in 4th gear and I felt very much in control of the car.  There are still times when I am cautious; downhill and sharp turns being the worst.  Much of that is seat time.  Practice practice practice!

Mark, me, and The Bull

So what’s next?  Well, I need many new tires, the transmission could be re-geared a bit, the motor has a bit less than 1000 race miles on it, and I noticed one of our limiter straps is wearing.  Plus we need new bushings, the shocks always need work, and goddamn it I want a new race suit!  I wanted to run the Chili Cook Off in September but I don’t think we’ll have the coin.  We may just squeak through Powder Puff in October and then do a complete tear down in November/December.  We’ll just have to see where the $$$ is.

Thanks to everyone who showed up to help, including Dawn and Andrew, Pepper, Jesse, Chris, Steve, Russian, Mark,  Dad, Martee, Dale, Gary, and new pals Bradley Racing, Big Sam, Pirate Hooker (I swear that’s her name!), Carly, and some guy named Rut with a great red flashy light.

And PS to all my female racers:  Check out how you can be in the 2014 Women of Off Road Racing calendar!

 


Lesson Number 1 From the Gazelle Rally

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been back from Morocco, and I’m still trying to process everything.  Most of me is really proud that we did it and finished and kept our ranking through the whole thing.  We finished in the top half of the First Participants Challenge and in the top ten of the Isuzu Media Challenge.  All in all we had an awesome time.

And yet….

There is a part of me that won’t shut up about the mistakes I made.   One of my goals was to take care of the truck and if you followed us at all you know that on Day 2 it all went to a bit of hell.  I came up out of a wash, hit a deep trough of some sort, and put a nice dent in the frame of our truck.  As a result we had to sign a waiver that said we understood the risks of continuing with a bent frame and that we wouldn’t drive faster than 50 km/hr.  They put an alert on our Iritrak system so that if we did it would sound an alarm back at the bivouac.

50km/hr is 30mph by the way.

I’m not sure how much this contributed to our finishing position, but I can’t help but thinking that if we could have gone faster between checkpoints we would have, well, made it to more checkpoints.

But shoulda coulda woulda, right?  The lesson to come out of this (besides the given Don’t Break the Truck) is Patience.  We were stuck with what we had.  We couldn’t go any faster, and I just had to deal with it.  This is how I did it:


JFF at BAP

 

We had such an awesome time at Battle at Primm this past weekend!  SNORE Racing put on such a well organized and safe event.  They had over 200 cars there but everything ran smoothly and on time, with plenty of volunteers and an awesome staff.

There were 26 cars in our class, and AAAALLLLL the big dawgs came out to play.  Many of them had their single seat 1600 cars, which probably weigh about 10 pounds over the minimum.  They all had their win faces on too.  I knew this was a place to sit back, learn, and JFF.

As we pulled into staging on Saturday, I was shaking and my stomach was in knots.  Just seeing all 26 starters there and knowing I’d be out with them on those short 13 mile loops was enough to get me super nervous.  I needn’t have worried though.  Since we were unable to attend qualifying we started in the back and I am not kidding when I tell you I saw only two cars that first day.  What I thought was going to be some kind of epic wheel to wheel experience was more like any other desert race where you often find yourself out there alone for long stretches of time.  I’m sure the guys in the front didn’t have that same experience, but for me I was rollin’ solo.

After the first day, it became obvious that the leaders had me in just flat out speed, to say nothing of drive experience.  BAP is all about fast straightaways and dangerous turns.  I’m sure I lost some time in the turns as my entrances were pretty timid (there is a limit to the whole slow in/fast out theory after all) but I was pinned in all the straights and the highest Mark saw for me on the GPS was 72 mph.  Mostly we ran those sections in the high 60s.  I am sure the other guys had at least 5-7mph on me in those straights.  It’s a combination of gearing, weight, and let’s face it, money.  I can’t afford a new engine or a complete tear down every race.  So I guess we will continue on our quest to JFF and know that we are doing the best we can with the resources and talent we have got.

Mark took over driving duties on Sunday.  Everyone turned in slightly slower lap times since the course was chewed up a bit from the day before.  The fast speed I saw for him was 75mph, but there was a wicked wind and we may have been pushed a bit! At one point on the dike jump we could both feel the wind push us as we were flying through the air…not a good feeling!

We ended up 14th out of 26 overall so that isn’t too bad. I learned about the car, I got a lot of practice in dangerous turns, and hell we even got to drift a bit in the stadium section of the course!  Next up for me is the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles in Morocco March 19-28th.  In a week or so I’ll have info about how you can follow my team as we navigate our way through the dunes using only a compass and an old map.

OMG I ALMOST FORGOT ALMOST THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED OVER THE WEEKEND! Fellow Gazelle Julie and her hubby Ben drove out from Vegas to say hi…IN A RALLY FIGHTER!!!  I was so not expecting them to show up in a freaking Rally Fighter!!!  And get this….BEN LET ME DRIVE IT!!!!!!!!  It’s way bigger than I thought it would be and feels quite ponderous.  The hydraulic steering is a bit twitchy but nice and heavy and the torque is just clean and available through a wide power band.  I drove it on the highway and off road and while I was nervous because, hello it’s not my Rally Fighter, I did go fast enough to feel confident in saying that this car is a beast!  AND Ben is hooking us up with a set of pink MaxTrax for the Gazelle Rally.  Thanks, Ben!!!

 

 

 


We Take Second at Toys For Tots

What a great way to end the season!  I got to go out to Los Angeles for 5 fun filled days of cars, complete with the LA Auto Show and a spin in the new VW Beetle Convertible.  Then I capped it off with the MORE race, where each participant brought some toys to donate to Toys For Tots.

We saw some great cars at the LA Auto Show.  My faves were the new Abarth cabrio, although to be honest I’m not sure how much of a true convertible it really is.  I adore that car and really wish it were offered in AWD and a true drop top, but if you’re down with FWD and want some fun, definitely check it out.

Interior of the 2013 Abarth Cabrio

I also got to say hi to the head of SRT, Ralph Gilles.  We talked Challenger and Viper and all things SRT.  I really like how they have brought back some great designs, but never lost the original feel.  Design evolution as opposed to revolution if you will.

I can't decide who is the best looking: Ralph, me, or the Viper.

And though I will probably never ever buy one, I was pleased to see the redesigned Honda Civic.  Everyone pretty much trashed the 2012 Civic as being, well…boring.  Honda responded quickly with a 2013 refresh that I think is quite successful, at least from the rear.

It looks good, no?

Friday I found myself driving the new Beetle Convertible. They had many different engines/transmissions to try and I got behind the wheel of the TDI manual and the turbo manual.  Both are fantastic, with the TDI offering excellent mpg and torque.

Those headlights...so Boxster-y

Along the way they had some vintage VWs for us to drive.  Honestly I was more excited about this 1979 bug than anything!  Funny but it drove just like a class 11!!

Air Cooled Love

A highlight for me was watching some journalists try to get the Beetle out of the soft sand.  They were so cute!  I was tempted to tell them to lower their tire pressure, but decided it was more fun to just sit back and watch.

ROTFLMFAO!!!

That night I hightailed it out of Los Angeles and made my way up to Barstow for the MORE Toys For Tots race.  It honestly felt a little odd; like I was just kind of dropped at the race with little prep time, which I guess is not far from the truth.  Mark and Dad had been out with the Mr. Myagi of Shocks the week before and had the car dialed in as much as they could.  The engine had been gone through down in Mexico and everything was good to go.  They had even bought gas.  It just feels odd not participating in any of the pre-race stuff.  I never pack up the truck or do any of the leg work…I really want to get back to CA.  Being this far away from everyone is killing me.  I’m just so lucky that I have good people helping me.  Very very lucky.

At tech, making sure I have all my safety equipment and that it's up to date.

At any rate, we ran a pretty smooth race.  I dropped to fourth after the first lap (hey, I didn’t pre-run…gotta take that first lap slowly) but came back to second by the end of the second lap and held it the rest of the race, thanks to co-driver Pepper keeping me at a good pace and boosting my confidence with phrases like, “That was so much better than on the last lap!!!” The format of the race was pretty cool.  We ran 6 laps of 19 miles, then 6 laps of 13 miles.  Sometime on lap two I separated the tire from the rim a bit and had a flat.  Best flat to have if you ask me, as the guys just popped it back on the wheel and it holds air just fine.  We stopped again at the end of lap 3 for one minute as the guys had missed a lug nut during the tire change.

Talent running out in 3...2....1 (don't worry. we saved it)

When I gave the car over to Mark, we were 6 minutes behind the leader and 4 minutes in front of third.  Martee hopped in as co-driver but we had a bit of a fuel spill while she was getting buckled in.  I’d like to say that making sure this won’t happen again is Priority Number One for next season.  A fuel spill is absolutely not to be tolerated.  It’s unsafe and we won’t have that.

Mark and Martee took off and put down two great laps, but the spill took it’s toll on Martee.  She was smart enough to take herself out of the car so she could get out of her suit and clean up a bit.  I was  the only one still suited up, so guess who went into the car for another 50 miles?  Yours truly. I was happy to do so, honestly, as I got to ride with Mark who has more 1600 seat time than I do.  He kept a steady pace and took us the last 4 laps and on to the podium.

Congratulating the winning team by giving them a tiny little bit of shit. Kidding! First in class Chris Fogle in #1620 could not have been nicer.

The guy who won said his team were sweating us a bit.  They found our radio channel and modified their pit schedule when they heard our chatter.  It’s nice to know I made someone worry a bit.

The whole in-car team made the local paper

So now it’s all about Morocco and raising the money to get to the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles.  It’s nine days, off road in Morocco with no GPS.  Points are awarded for shortest distance, not fastest time, making this a rally that is won by navigation and decision making rather than speed.  We need about $18,000 just to register.  You can donate via the link at the top of the sidebar.  Anything raised above and beyond our entry and rental fees will be donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

And of course, don’t forget about our awesome Women of Off Road Racing 2013 calendar.  We are on our second printing so be sure to get yours NOW.  www.teamcouragegazelles.com/calendar

 


WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!

I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome it was to place first in class after all the bad luck and poor driving decisions I’ve made the past few months.  But it was a whirlwind weekend, let me tell you.

It started off with me not going to sleep at all on Thursday night, and getting on a 6am flight from DC to LAX.  It was just easier to not sleep.  I was lucky enough to secure a Dodge Charger SRT8 through my RoadflyTV contacts, so I had some wheels while I was out there.  Good thing too because I had to hightail it out to CBS to do a quick interview on KCAL 9, and then bust a move for tech up at Barstow.

This was a race I did as a part of Courage Girl Motorsports.  The MORE Powder Puff Race for the Cure features all female drivers and co-drivers, with all proceeds going to Cedar Sinai Breast Cancer Research Center.  Each year the race raises over $100K through team donations, a raffle, and our entry fees.  It’s one of the best races of the season and it was great to be doing it with my Courage Girls Michele, Martee, and Pepper.  You can read more about us at www.teamcourageracing.com

While at tech we talked to people, handed out calendar pre-orders (have you ordered yours?  you should), took some photos, and did a few interviews for a DVD coming out about the Powder Puff.  But really all we wanted to do was go to bed so we could get up and RACE!

The next morning Martee and Michele took off in Grace for the morning race.  Grace is emblazoned with over 400 names of breast cancer survivors, fighters, angels, and previvors.  Such a sight to see her racing across the Barstow desert.  She finished 3rd in class with an average speed of 24.7mph.

My co-dawg Pepper and I got in the car, now named Christine because she sucks you dry and tries to kill you, for the afternoon race around 11:45.  It’s always so nerve wracking to be sitting there in staging, waiting to start.  All I can think about is how much I have to pee, how my helmet is too heavy, how much I’m already sweating.  And then magically…we start and there is nothing but the road ahead and the wheel in my hands.

Pepper was fantastic in the car, calling corners and cautions, encouraging me to throttle down and pass (Trophy Trucks!  We passed Trophy Trucks and Class 1 cars!), and telling me patience when Christine’s rear end started kicking out.  And the end result?  First in class and the car was still running.  Holy crap!  And I was so close to getting a 40mph average but alas 39.5mph was all that was to be had.

So what is next?  I need to take stock of money and schedules and see if we can squeeze in one more race.  We are really focusing on raising money for the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, a 9 day all female rally in Morocco with no GPS.  You can buy a calendar or donate at www.rally.org/teamcouragegazelles


The Hilights of the KC HiLites Race

What a great time we had this past weekend out at Lucerne Valley.  This was the first time we had the car out for a race since we got it earlier this year.  Yes we had the car out for the Mint 400, but honestly I never felt like we were truly prepared for that race (at since we only made it 36 miles, I think it’s fairly obvious that we weren’t).  This time, the car was in good shape, we had excellent pit, chase, and driver/co-driver crews, and I had a TON of moral support since all four of us from Courage Girl Motorsports were together.

Courage Girl Motorsports

Westy had also brought out some fabulous people, 2 of whom were out chasing and I didn’t even meet until after the race was done!  Keith Stewart of Pit Works and his pal Adam, Kenny the Russian, Dale the Welder, Bill and Gail, Shelly and Ryan, and awesome driver/co-dawg Mark and co-dawg Brent…everyone came out to help me get in the car and I will be forever grateful.  Dad and Dale had been working on the car everyday for weeks and basically all I had to do was show up.  I don’t know how I got so lucky!

The weekend started a little rough though.  Dad and I were holding down the pits, waiting for Dale and Westy.  Their truck wouldn’t start!  It took them a few hours to diagnose and fix the problem, and as a result we had a really late tech over at the Slash X.  But it gave Michele and I a chance to catch up with pals, so neither of us really minded.

Michele and I with Art, probably the most awesome person in desert racing.

Since this was a night race, we had until 3:30pm or so to get all the last minute stuff on the car done.  Mark and I took her out and we both thought the back end was too soft, and it was tracking right a bit.  We checked the shock pressures, looked at the tire pressures, clicked the rear torsions a few times.  It was really all we could do at that point.  It wasn’t running badly, but the back end was getting away a bit.  Had my goal been a win I would have really flipped out.  But my goal was to just get her around and not do anything stupid, as I usually am wont to do.

I had 2 really solid laps.  Not too fast, not too slow.  I met my goal for average mph.  I passed a few people.  I was passed by more.  I was focused.  I was consistent.

I was pleased.

Quick pit stop...and another click on the torsions.

I gave the car over to Mark who busted out a great 40 miles until the alternator took a huge crap.  No GPS, no radio (well we didn’t really have a radio to begin with if I’m being truthful), no lights, no power.  No go.  They were able to get another car to radio back their position, but it took chase a while to find them.  At that point they were able to switch out to a new battery to get the car to the road where Dad was waiting with the trailer.

And that was the end of the race for us.

So it sucked that we didn’t finish, but for me personally it was a victory.  It gave me more confidence behind the wheel and 146 miles of seat time in some very rough terrain.

Next will be the MORE Powder Puff on October 6th, benefiting Cedars Sinai Breast Cancer Research Center.  It’s one of the most fun races of the year, with over 200 entries and nearly 20,000 people out in the desert.  Last year the race raised over $100,000 and I hope we can raise more than that this year.  Hope to see you at tech!

Awesome livery!

 

Radio central.

 

Driver Change

 

"And then we flew through the air for like, 50 feet!!"

 

PS  On the way home Dad had a flat on the trailer, but Slime saved the day.

 


But Seriously…

So, in public I’ve been having a lot of fun with this USA 500 experience.  I seem pretty happy in my walk around video of the first rollover, and I edited this second roll over video below to allow for what I think is optimum hilarity.  Most of my conversations this past week have gone something like,  ME:  “Yeah…I totally rolled the car!  TWICE!  It was epic!”   PALS:  “No way!  That’s so bad ass!”

Except, it’s not.

In fact, it’s the opposite of bad ass.  It’s really kind of pathetic.  A driver with more skill would have been able to get in the car, which I would like to remind everyone is not mine, assess the quirks, and compensate for them.  Hell a skilled driver could even USE them to an advantage, but at the very least figure them out after the first time s/he dumped the car on its side.  This video proves that I was not able to do that.

I probably cost Desert Dingo their season, not to mention the time and effort that will have to go into getting 1107 back on her wheels again.  “I’m sorry” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I’ve also lost a friend and I’m heartbroken.

But here are a few lessons I’ve gleaned from this spectacular failure:

  • If you can’t put the car EXACTLY where you want it to go, within an inch, then you’re going too fast.
  • If you have someone in your sights, then you’ve caught them.  It’s okay to hang back for a minute and pass when you’re comfortable, instead of trying to pass while you’re still all hopped up on the adrenaline of the first five miles.
  • Know every single piece of equipment in the car and think like McGyver, or at least have a co-driver who does.
  • A knife.  Have one.
  • Always be on the lookout for work around, especially when you see The Biggest, Steepest Hill That You Will Never Succeed At Summiting, Even If You Try Five Times (note:  Desert Dingo always posts a link to fly the course in Google maps.  Included are elevation changes.  Since we rarely get a chance to prerun, I think a good idea would be to fly the course and look for any crazy elevation changes, then look for work arounds.  It’s not perfect but it’s something.)
  • Decisions should be made cleanly and without hesitation.
  • Just thinking but would it be possible to get an iPhone just for the car and mount it to the dash?  We had some radio issues.  I know you wouldn’t be able to text back to pits, but we seemed to be in text range more than radio range.  At least that way you could read incoming texts.  Just thinking out loud.

Of course, it’s very easy to write a blog post and say, “Well I learned x, y, and z.  I’m good!”  It’s much more difficult to actually put it into practice.  Well be at the KC HiLites MORE/SNORE combo race in September, where I am hoping to just finish without making too many stupid mistakes.  Middle of the pack would be nice, but I’ll take a just a finish.

 


Keep Them Dingo’s Rollin’!!!

What a race!  The USA 500 proved to be epic in every way!  I was driving for Desert Dingo in their class 11 bug.  To the uninitiated, that is basically a stock 1969 VW bug.  Sure there is a roll cage and the car has a bit more clearance, plus all the safety gear, but you are still running a standard 1600cc engine, drum brakes, and one shock at each corner.  No bypass, no coil overs…nada.  It’s the slowest class of off road cars and probably the roughest (although the class 9 cars are pretty bad too), but just because it’s slow doesn’t mean you can’t get into trouble.  As I found out.

I was scheduled to drive the second lap of the day.  Crusty, yes that’s what we call him, and Ryan were in the car first.  They turned in a pretty good lap time.  Crusty told me, “Course is great!  Car is working!  Go for it!”  Newbie co-dawg Toby and I got in the car and well…we went for it.

Crusty before the race. Photo by Josh McGuckin

We took off and the first thing I noticed was all the play in the steering wheel.  It had been a year since I had driven 1107, and had forgotten about this trait.  But I didn’t have time to think too much because oh my stars what is that up ahead?  It was competition!  1142 was just a quarter mile away!  What could be the best choice to make at this moment?  Should I settle down and reacquaint myself with the car or should I try to pass?

I chose poorly.

Oh my.  Look at that.  On our side.  We had been having radio troubles all day but were able to call and text back to pits for some help.  Toby and I were there for a good 1.5 or 2 hours before truck 707 came by and yanked us right side again.  By then the cavalry had arrived in the form of the boys from Project Baja, so they helped us check everything out and we were on our way.

Co-Driver Toby scouting out the scene.

For about 2 minutes.  Because I rolled the car.  Again.  Listen, I can’t make this stuff up people.  I was not able to compensate for the steering and I over-corrected.  Fortunately our chase was still close by and they came back to give us a hand.  I should have in car video of that soon.

I want to give you a little insight into the Project Baja boys.  They are sarcastic.  They like to dish it out.  They loooove pushing your buttons.  But every single one of them gave me encouraging words.  They did not make fun and they did not laugh, and for that I am immensely grateful.

I’m sure that will last until they read this post.  Then there will be  no mercy.

Needless to say I slowed it way down.  We got going and were doing fine.  Not fast, but fine.  And then we got to The Hill.  Never in my life had I seen such a hill.  And we never saw the top of it, but not for lack of trying.  We climbed that thing 5 times and got to the same spot each time, just 10-12 feet from the top.  Toby was out there moving rocks around, we got the carpets out for traction, nothing mattered.  First we backed up from the hill a bit, then a toss, then by a lot, then by about 1/4 of a mile.  I approached that thing flat out in 2nd gear, then downshifted into first and kept it pinned.  Wasn’t going to happen.  What the hell?  We had to get up it!  We had no radio  communication so we were on our own.  We backed up one last time.  1/3 of a mile, when we noticed a trail going off the the left.  We hadn’t seen it before because we hadn’t ever backed up this far, and the course is the only thing marked on the GPS.  Toby and I looked at each other.  He said, “Should we take it?”  I said, “Hell yeah!”  It dumped us out on to a public grated dirt road for about 1/4 mile, until it crossed the track again.  There was an official there who said it was okay we cut the course, that a lot of the class 11 and 9s had done it.  And he warned us about the next hill.  “It’s pretty bad but we’ll look for you.  If we see that you don’t make it, Big Chad here will tow you up.”  Big Chad nodded his agreement.

A mile later we saw it.  I approached flat out in second, tried to downshift into first, and it was like slamming the gearshift into a brick wall.  We had nothing.  Well, we had reverse.  Oh, and it wouldn’t turn over either.  We backed down and waited for Big Chad.  At this point our GoPro had run out of juice and it’s too bad because that Chevy pickup of his towed dead weight of 2200 pounds up this hill that was soft and at least a 10% grade.

At the top we bump started 1107 and were off.  It was all flat or downhill from there into the next pits.  And by downhill I mean sudden drop offs of, oh three stories or so.  But all we had was second gear.  So on a road that should have allowed for flat out, I was stuck at 35-40mph.

We limped into pits and after a going over by the guys at ProPits, car owner Jim decided it wasn’t worth fixing and we were done.  Far be it from me to argue, since I had just rolled the car twice and burned the clutch up trying to get up that hill.  Chase was called in from the other pit and I thought we done.  Until Dave.

Crusty and Dave. Photo by Josh McGuckin

Dave came in from the other pit and gave what can only be called The Motivational Speech of the Century.  He convinced Jim that we could still get the car back out there and earn some season points.  We had plenty of people to make it happen and we all wanted to do it, and I can’t tell you how awesome it was to hear Jim say, “Okay go for it.”  We descended on 1107 like flies.  Crusty and the ProPit guys started pulling the motor.  Dave started welding where the A pillar had broken, and Project Baja was on the lights.  I helped where I could, handing tools, holding things in place, and flipping switches when asked.  It’s very frustrating to me to not have the knowledge to help in these kinds of triage situations, but I am educating myself as much as I can.

Dave suited up to drive and Toby went with him.  They took off…and went the wrong way.  They missed the right turn out of pits to take the loop and instead headed towards the finish line.  We were still having radio trouble so I immediately started texting Toby, “Come back!  You missed the right hander!”  Their lights disappeared over the hill and we all knew if they didn’t figure it out they would add 70 miles that we could not afford to add.  But then…Lights cresting the hill!  They figured it out!  Hooray!  They came back towards pits, took the turn and were off for real!

Now I can’t say for sure what happened while those two were out there.  They told me at one point they lost all lights (but were able to get the HIDs back but one was pointed off to the side), they lost dash lights and the GPS, the weld broke on the A pillar and the metal sun visor came loose.  They also lost the alternator for a bit, but got it back and crossed the finish line at 4:07am.

This made for quite the rattle-y ride, I'm sure.

Unfortunately 1107 was DNF, as we only did 2 laps, instead of 3, but we were able to earn some points for the season.  And I learned a few things:  I need to keep my cool when I first get in the car.  2.  Look for a work around when in class 11.  and C:  People will rally when you ask them to.

The story doesn’t end there, though.  Crusty blew a tire while hauling 1107 home on his 1951 Chevy flatbed.  He’s fine but the truck lost two tires and a fender and 1107 hit the median and busted the driver’s side trailing arm.

We call it the Rat Rod.


This is a Test of the Emergency Wheel Travel System

Well, okay not really, but a week or so ago I met Dad up in the high desert for a little bit of seat time in the car that may just turn out to be known as MA’AM (Mean Ass Angry Monkey.  Either that or Rooster.  What do you think?)  Up until this point I’d had a total of 7 minutes drive time in her, and 36 miles of co-driving.

Thursday started off toasty and windy!  We settled in at Stoddard Valley and found a few other people out testing as well, most notably COPS Racing.  I wish I could have gotten a picture but their damn Trophy Truck went by so fast I was lucky I had enough time to jump behind a bush so as not to get *totally* dusted out.

We were finally able to break out our care package from Slime.  They sent us a healthy supply of tire sealant, tire pressure gauges, a few plug kits, and a much needed portable tire inflator that connects right to the battery.  Our old one was…well…old.  This one by Slime is super fast and much quieter.

Dad using the new 2x Tire Inflator from Slime

I spent the first day just getting a feel for the car.  It’s similar in width to the baja, but the wheel base is much longer, so it’s a totally different ride.  It has a puck clutch, which is either engaged or not (read: it’s kind of easy to stall).  The transmission, however, shifts much smoother than the baja, which I always had to force into 2nd gear a bit.  The front end behaves differently and  there are bypass shocks and a little bit more travel all the way around.  The baja runs a 2180cc motor whereas MA’AM sports the stock 1600cc.  However, she’s much lighter.   How much lighter I’m not sure since she hasn’t been on the scale, but I can definitely feel it.  I keep telling people that any co-driver will have to be 170 pounds or less so we can keep total passenger weight down to 300 pounds or less.  I’m not really joking.

Play car vs Race car

Unfortunately, something was keeping my baby down.  She was sputtering like Tom Cruise does when reporters ask him if he’s gay.  It was most pronounced at the lower rpm range, like when starting out or turning around, but sometimes when going uphill, even if the revs were still high.  Hmmmm….a carburetor issue of some sort.  We were meeting fellow Courage Girl Motorsports team members Pepper and Martee that night for dinner, so Pep stopped off at Mohr Performance and picked up a fuel filter, new jet,  and a carb rebuild kit.

You know how if you live in a small town you run into people at the best and/or worst times?  That night at dinner was one of the best times.  Martee was telling me about her secret weapon when it comes to shock tuning, the Mr. Miyagi of Shocks, if you will.  Well we walked into Chili’s and who is having a beer at the bar?  Monsieur Miyagi!  It was agreed upon by all parties present that we should meet the next morning for a little go around.  Of course, that night we still had to address the carb issues.  I changed the fuel filter and helped the guys take off the carb.  They went to work rebuilding it while Pep, Martee, and I ran out for supplies…namely zip ties and beer.

Next morning bright and early we were at it again.  But still with the sputtering!  The carb was totally clean, we had a new jet, new fuel filter.  We decided it was the float.  I can’t tell you yet if we were right, but the engine is currently at Major Performance getting a going through.  But I digress.  Mr. Miyagi (I would like to note that Mr. Miyagi is neither a karate master nor is he Japanese.  I just like calling him that because he is a miracle worker and the Annie Sullivan of Shocks doesn’t sounds as good.) met us out in Stoddard Valley and the testing began.

We got in the car and he told me, “When I tell you to get on the pipe, you get on the pipe!”  Uh..sir, yessir!  Most of the session was him and I in the car for a run, him yelling at me, “ON IT! ON IT! ON IT!  NO LIFTING!” and me thinking, “This guy is going to kill me today.”  Then he’d be out of the car, adjusting things which I don’t even pretend to understand, then back in for another run.  And I could tell with each run that something was different.  And holy crap I could go faster!  A lot faster!  Now he’s telling me to stand on the throttle and I have all kinds of confidence!  Taking the whoops in the baja at those speeds would mean my back end would get away from me.  Now MA’AM leads with her nose BAM BAM BAM right over the whoops and the back end just follows, easy peasy.  Of course, we didn’t get a super accurate tuning since the engine was not running at full potential, but it was a good start.  Once we get the car back together we’ll go out again and fine tune.


So what is next?  We will be running the MORE/SNORE combined KC-Hilites race in September, where I hope to have a fundraiser for Gazelles.  We are also running the Powder Puff in October of course.  That race will mean a lot as it raises money for Cedar Sinai Breast Cancer Research Center, and it will also be the Revenge Race for Grace, the official truck of Courage Girl Motorsports.  Her front driver’s wheel has fallen off two years in a row and we are really hoping that doesn’t happen again.  Pepper and Martee will be in Grace, and I will be in MA’AM for that one.  I’m also working on an awesome calendar of bad ass female off road drivers.  More info on that as it becomes available!

Next week I’ll be part of the drive team for Desert Dingo in their class 11 at  the VORRA USA 500 out near Reno.  Tech is on Friday July 14th, so come on down and say hi if you’re in the neighborhood.  If not I’ll be tweeting as much as I can @MMMotorsports and using #USA500.

This is what 1107 looked like after the USA 500 last year.

 

 

 


Mint 400…Well More Like Mint 36

Oh those three little letters.  You know the ones:  D.  N.  F.  They stand for the most hated, vilified words in off road racing:  Did.  Not.  Finish.   But that is what we were.  Let me go back to the very beginning.  It’s a very good place to start, don’t you think?

I arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday morning.  Sammy Navarro, my partner for the race, picked me up at the airport and we were off like a shot!  Thursday was spent going up to main pits to grab our spot.  The good people at Best in the Desert had a pit reservation system in place and every place was marked out and numbered, which was really nice.  It helped mitigate people arguing over space and it was definitely less stressful to do it this way.  We also stickered up the car a bit, found a place to park (and with a truck and trailer in downtown Las Vegas its not always easy!), met up with some friends and just had a relaxing time.  The next day would be full of work…

We were up early to discuss driver rotation and to make work assignments.  We still needed to get the course on to the GPS, buy gas, talk to BFG pits, register, and of course, get the car through tech.  Sammy had brought Cortney on as another co-driver, so the three of us headed to registration, where we got SWAG!

Meanwhile, Dad was bringing the car around to the load off area so we could join the tech parade down Fremont Street.  We got our IRC tracker sorted out (small world, the ex-wife of a childhood friend now works for IRC…I was even in their wedding!) and then it was time to push the car down Fremont Street.

If you haven’t ever been to Fremont Street, its part of downtown Vegas that used to be super duper seedy.  The city turned it into a pedestrian zone, covered it with a canopy of lights, and revitalized the whole area.  And we got to take our cars down this open street!  People were all around taking pictures, asking about the cars, pointing at the cars…it was an attention whore’s dream!  But honestly it was going by so fast, if Dad hadn’t reminded us to take pictures, I would have totally forgotten!

We passed tech with flying colors, and I headed the line of cars following the police escort through the city streets to the on load area a few blocks away.  When a light turned green, I stalled the car.  Now before you start laughing I would like to remind you that I have very little time in this car and it has a racing puck clutch.  A puck clutch is either in or out.  It doesn’t slip like the kind of clutch you have in your street car.  So cut me some slack.

At any rate, I pressed the starter and nothing.  Again.  Nothing.  It would crank, but not turn over.  The guy behind me gave me a push and I dropped the clutch (oh by the way Mr. Police Officer who asked me if I knew how to do that..yes I do…jerk) and made it the on load area.  As soon as I got there I turned off the motor and turned it back on again with no problems, but it would come back to haunt us at the start line.

The rest of the day was spent on last minute work on the car and some team marketing.  I was able to get a great interview in with Speed Freaks and did an autograph session with one of my partners, Off Road Vixens.  Then driver’s meeting, and to bed early since we were up at 3am to get out to Jean and staging by 5am.  Yes.  5am staging for a 6am start time.  We decided that Sammy, having helped us out with entry fee and logistics, would take the first driver shift with me as co-dawg.  We lined up and as we were told to move to the start line, the damn car stalled.  And it wouldn’t start.  And it wouldn’t start.  And it wouldn’t start.

The other cars in our class started to go around us and she finally turned over.  We were racing already!  We got up to the side by side start and didnt really have time to think about anything before the light turned green and we were off.  In the dark.  And directly into silt.  What the hell?  Silt at the starting line?  Oh yeah.  So with 2 cars starting every 30 seconds in the silt that meant dust.  A lot of it.  We spent at least 50% of our race in the dust.  And I’m not talking a few specks here and there.  I’m talking can’t see 2 feet in front of you dust.  Most of the time we were just following the amber light of the car in front of us, watching it move up and down and adjusting our speed accordingly.

But there was so much for me to do as the co-driver that I didn’t really have time to be scared.  Co-driving is more than just going along for the ride.  You have to call corners, watch for danger signs, call mile markers back to pits, read the GPS, and most importantly, warn the driver of any cars coming up behind you.  It’s all easier said than done as you are strapped in so tightly you can’t really move, your helmet obscures your visibility, and you’re bouncing around like a ping pong ball in a wind tunnel.  I couldn’t get the GPS to track up, even though I had checked it before we left.  Instead of the cursor remaining still and the map moving below it, ensuring that a left on the GPS equaled a call of “left turn 100 feet,” the map stayed still and the cursor was moving.  So among all this I had to think, “Is this a left or right hand turn coming up?”  and that is a difficult thing to do while moving at 45 mph through rocks and silt.

We made it to pit 1 at race mile 36 and made the mandatory stop.  Sammy shifted into first and the tranny made the most horrible noise.  It sounded exactly like it did when we first picked up the car in February.  We had fixed the problem, we thought, with the new throwout bearing.  Not so, it seems.  We found our pits and we really only had a single truck there, as full pit crews are for teams that have, um, money.  Fortunately people out in the desert are always willing to help and as soon as we pulled in the car was surrounded.  In fact, at first we went ahead with the driver change as planned and as I settled into the seat there were suddenly 2 sets of hands helping me get my harness on, attaching my radio, and otherwise making sure I was safe to race.

Alas it was not to be.  We had some help from the Riot Racing guys and one guy who’s tshirt I don’t remember.  They pulled the motor and it seemed the input shaft was more moveable than it should have been, the clutch disc had seen better days, and the needle bearings were toast.  Now I don’t know if that was really the problem or if there is more to found inside the tranny itself.  I will say that we didn’t lose a gear and the noise was only heard with the clutch pushed in.  Could it be the pressure plate?  I’m not qualified to say.

We spent the rest of the day at pit 1 watching everyone come through and shooting the b.s. with everyone.  For dinner dad and I grabbed a buffet and were both asleep by 9pm, and I was in the air the next afternoon.  It’s frustrating to have spent all that time and money and then not even get to drive, but as they say…that’s racing.  The desert won this time, but I’ll win next time.  If we can get the car turned around in time I’d like to run the Mexican 1000 with NORRA.  It would give me some awesome seat time and its a really fun time as well.  Four days from Mexicali to Cabo!  It’s very expensive though and some unexpected bills have come up.  At any rate, that’s all for now.  Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the dirt!


Quick Clarification

I would like to clear up a possible misunderstanding regarding my attitude in the Powder Puff race report.  Yes, it is true I called back over the radio, “I have money.  You get to McKenzie’s or KarTek right now and get me a torsion bar!” 

However, when I said “I have money”  I did not mean, “I am totally loaded and therefore you all should do what I say.” 

What I meant was, “I have money from canceling my cable, scrimping on my electricity use, not buying any of the massively cute clothes from the Boden catalog, and even taking on a room mate to help with the mortgage payment, and I would prefer not to give up on this race right now.”

Because really…if I had any money DO YOU HONESTLY THINK I WOULD BE RUNNING A TORSION BAR IN THE FIRST PLACE???

I’m glad we could clear this up.


…And That’s How I Learned to Change a Torsion Bar

Well, we had an awesome, albeit unsuccessful, weekend at Powder Puff.  No, let me take that back.  We raised just over $2000 for Cedars-Sinai Breast Cancer Research Center, so we were successful in that regard.  I hate to say it, but car 549 did not even get past race mile 4.  Let me elaborate.

It was a bright and breezy Friday afternoon when I arrived at the Hall Ass Racing pits just outside Barstow.  Dad had the baja there and she was looking good.  The motor had been fixed since our debacle at the Mexican 1000 and she now sports a single carburetor.  The transmission was in good working order, shocks were dialed in and looking good.  Gail and I went out for a pre-run and were  happy to find that there was a new section to the course…a fast section!  It took you on a little trail that was flat and curvy, then dumped you out on to the familiar dry lake bed around a fun corner to where you had your choice of lines before it got really rocky and technical again.  Even just cruising we did the 30 miles in about 50 minutes, putting our average speed at about 36mph.

But alas, I was never to get past the first road crossing on race day.  We lined up behind the car to beat, 5011.  Wendy Belk was at the wheel and she is FAST.  That car has a lot of money in it so with a good driver behind the wheel, I knew I had my driving cut out for me.

The car to beat, 5011, at tech.

I took off about 20 seconds behind her and we were looking good.  Gail, my co-driver, was feelin’ it, I was feelin’ it…we could see Wendy’s dust not too far up.  I’m not saying I would have caught her on the ridge, but I might have caught her on the ridge.  And oh, how pride goeth before the fall.

We didn’t hit hard.  At least, I didn’t think so.  We just hit a regular old whoop and suddenly I was having a hard time controlling the car.  And it was making a funny noise.  And it smelled weird.  I got off the course and radioed back, “Car 549 race to base…something’s wrong.”  Eric Cox was out there in his truck and he came over to help.  Jay and the Russian sped out to us in their chase vehicle, and the diagnosis began.

The rear driver’s side was completely collapsed.  Shocks looked good so we knew it had to be the torsion bar.  We radioed back to base to see if we had another.  The answer came back negative.  And this is where I got a wee bit bitchy.  I called back, “I have money.  You get to McKenzie’s or KarTek right now and get me one!”

 


MacGyver would be proud.  Come to think of it…maybe we should have just raced on this!

So they did.  Jay and the Russian towed us back to the pits and they started breaking it down.  At this point, we knew we were just going to be racing for fun.  You only have 3 hours to do as many miles as you can, and if we couldn’t get it fixed by 10:30 there was no point in even getting out there at all.  They did get the torsion bar changed, but were just guessing at the angle index, so 549 just sank back on her haunches.

But here’s the thing:  that’s racing.  It’s not the first time I’ve DNF-ed and it certainly won’t be the last.  We had a good time, our pals at Tut Tech Racing did really well, I met some great people, and shot the shit with some old friends.  Half the fun of racing is the social aspect, and I’m glad I got to pal around a bit.  Am I disappointed?  Sure.  But I had a few good races with Desert Dingo and I have Gazelles to look forward to.


The guys at Tut Tech Racing become Tutu Tech Racing  for Powder Puff..

And….I won the logo contest!  Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who voted for me.  Considering I got over 1000 votes, I’m pretty sure I don’t know most of the people who voted, so THANK YOU for supporting a small time off roader like me.  There was a bit of a kerfluffle with the server at Studio Rhoad and in the interest of fairness, they are designing logos for ALL of us, which you have to admit is a classy thing to do.  I’ll post it up here for sure when it’s finished!

Finally, we are looking for a new car.  2 seater 1600 or class 10 or 12.  Chassis and suspension only is okay.  I hate to move away from my beloved air cooled, but if we go class 10 or 12, we’re thinking ecotec.

Here is video of the most exciting four miles you will ever see in racing:

PS:  After the race Pepper and I went out for a joy ride in her car, Kitt.  We got a flat tire.  At race mile 4.  I swear I can’t make this stuff up.


1107 Takes First in Class at the 24


1107 is super speedy.

Man, does it feel good being part of a winning team!  After taking more than a few hours to get from Washington DC to Fallon NV and getting about 5 hours sleep, Dad and I arrived at 1107 pits around 6am on Saturday morning.  There we joined Our Dear Leader, Jim Graham, Tut and Pepper Cote from Tut Tech Racing, Romy, and Paul.  After a quick drivers’ meeting (where teams were reminded again to not nerf class 11) we were off to the proverbial races.

If you haven’t been following along, here’s a quick catch up:  the 24 race consisted of 12 hours of racing a 41 mile track clockwise, a 12 hour intermission to wrench on the car, and then 12 hours of racing the same 41 miles, but in a counter clockwise direction.  I was in a class 11, which for all intents and purposes is a stock 1969 VW bug.  Sure we’ve got a roll cage, bigger tires, and a little bit better suspension, but it’s still a 1600cc engine with a stock transmission.  To say it’s rough would be like saying Kevin Bacon’s nose is only slightly turned up. (seriously, have you seen his nose?)

After a few laps the front driver’s shock mount tore away from the body and punched a hole in the body of 1107 that looked like it came from a shotgun blast.  Tut came to the rescue with a weld.  Now, I don’t know much about welding, but even I could tell he was McGyvering the crap out of that thing.  But hey, whatever works, right?  We just wanted to get back into it.

                                                
Shotgun blast-like hole in the body of 1107.

 

After an hour, I got in to drive and Tut co-dawged it for me.  He’d already taken two laps so he knew the course really well.  1107 was a little sloppy in the left hand turns, but she was doing okay and Tut was able to tell me how to deal with it, mostly by saying, “GET TO THE INSIDE AND SLOW DOWN!!!”

When we got to the hill section, I became quiet (which is a big deal).  In front of me was quite possibly the biggest hill I’d ever seen.  Seriously, it was like the Mt. Everest of the Nevada desert.  There was a tiny hill at the bottom, so we used that as momentum and you know what?  1107 busted up that hill like it wasn’t no thang.  We were greeted at the top by a very sharp right hand turn.  Had we missed it we would have gone pretty much straight down the other side.

I got through what we called Death Valley just fine, even with the giant sink hole in the silt that swallowed the car whole.  Death Valley was 6 or 7 miles of a box canyon with limited passing opportunities, rocks the size of Andre the Giant, with an uphill silt section at the end.  Aside from 1055 nerfing me about half way up (really dude?  I pulled over as much as I could!), this section was very technical and a lot of fun.

The rest of the day went great.  We didn’t have any problems and we only had to put in a few hours to strengthen the weld on the shock mount.  I was in bed by 10pm.  In a hotel.  And I took a shower.


Dad with a freshly cleaned Parker pumper air filter.

Day 2 found us up early again.  We were ahead of 1166 aka Skittles, and 1177 was out with a bad tranny.  Our goal was to just….Cruise.  VORRA decided on  a land rush start where everyone had to change a tire and then go.  It was really cool to watch everyone starting out on the lake bed.  We started switching drivers after 1 lap to give people more chances to drive.  Tut decided to stay co-driving, so he was with me on the second lap of the day.  There was a delay at Checkpoint 1 for a few hours so Tut and I got to know each other by describing the perfect sandwich and how much we wanted one at that particular moment.  Lesson learned:  duct tape some granola bars to the roof next time.

We got a call on the radio that Skittles was in need of a tie rod and could we stop and help.  At this point we were 4 laps ahead of them and since it takes a village to get a class 11 over the finish line, we stopped.  Turned out the driver and co-driver did not know how to wrench.  Tut put the tie rod on for them and they followed us into the pits.  And that’s how I learned how to change a tie rod.

The rest of the day ran pretty smoothly until the last lap.  We didn’t need to take it, as we had already won, but we wanted to push it a bit.  Not only would an extra lap give Desert Dingo more season points, we still had an hour and a half left and we wanted bragging rights.  So into the car go Pepper (yes, that’s her real name) and I.  She’s driving, I’m co-dawg.  As we were getting strapped in, the guys had the front open and were doing…something.  We couldn’t tell.  Pepper yelled, “Come on!  What are you doing?”  They yell back, “Just tying down your fuel filter.”  Yeah, right.  Turns out they were TAKING OFF THE PASSENGER SIDE SHOCK.  Here’s what Tut had to say about it:

“Took off the shock? It broke off.. not my fault.. I almost freaked out when I saw it stuck into the fuel lines etc. and started to yell to get you girls out and we were done.. but I pulled on the shock and it pulled right out of the fuel lines and… no leaks.. So I un bolted it and dropped it onto the ground.. your dad helped me duck tape the regulator on… It was like having Wonder Woman and Super Girl in the car at the same time.. you two are amazing :)


Romy with the sneakily removed front passenger shock.

We also learned later that we were down a torsion bar as well.  And the light bar, did I mention we had no light bar?  We finished at full dark, a mere 3 minutes before the cutoff time of 8pm.  The last part we were driving pretty much blind, with me reading the GPS and telling Pepper hard right, easy left, etc.


Pepper, Jim, and I throwing the C for Cruising; our race strategy.

A good time was had by all.  Thanks to everyone who helped us out, the other class 11 teams, and Wes and the people at VORRA for putting on such an awesome race.  You can read more words on the Desert Dingo website, and check out more pictures on my Facebook page.  Desert Dingo has a full roster of drivers for the last race of the season, a short course at Prairie City over Halloween weekend.  They probably won’t need me to drive for them until next season, assuming of course that Jim will ask me back.  But as I tweeted a few days ago, “…the milk of human kindness flows through his veins.”