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.
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.
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.
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.
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.