Racing in the Rain: The Freedom 250 Report
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.