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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.