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!
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.
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!”
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.
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.
Quick note again, as we need to get over to El Borracho for the breakfast provided by Cam of Lucky Sperm Racing. Dad and I got off to a great first day. We started near the end of the pack, before all the stock bugs but after all the big Broncos. We immediately passed all those guys since the first part of the course was pretty rough. I thought I read the name Parnelli Jones on the side of the big Ollie truck, but I could have been wrong. So there is a tweet out there about my passing Parnelli Jones that might be a lie. Ooops! We got off course a little bit…added quite a few miles to our first stage. We had GPS but usually you can parallel a course with no problem. Not so here. We were paralleling the race course and the next thing we knew we were WAAAAAy right of the course. Dad somehow lost his radio in his helmet, so we had no communication between the two of us, which was frustrating. At any rate, we saw 4 other cars who had deviated from the course as well, so at least there were other idiots out there. I think we were on an old Mexican (ie NOT SCORE) race course, and we knew it would lead us back to where we needed to be. Eventually we got back on the dry lake and were kicking ass when I noticed I was losing power in 4th gear. Uh oh. So I downshifted to third, brought the revs back up, back to 4th and again, losing power. Then we started to hear it popping. The engine sounded like it was making microwave popcorn. We were able to get through the time station and on to the transit road. Our chase was nowhere to be seen as we weren’t planning on meeting up with them until after Coco’s Corner on the highway. We doinked around with the engine on the side of the road and diagnosed a blown cylinder and carburation issues. Oh boy. We limped into San Felipe, about 100km down the road and took the baja into our good buddy Juan’s place. He confirmed our suspicions. We did what we could but it wasnt enough. Oh, wait….while we were limping into San Felipe on the highway…WE RAN OUT OF GAS!!! First time that has EVER happened to me in baja! And who should drive by about 30 seconds later? The McMillin chase truck! These guys had given me shit at contingency (good naturedly) about changing my tire, and now I actually need them to help? And we were THISCLOSE to the first Pemex station outside El Dorado. But I digress…
We knew if we got the baja to Bay of LA that our chase guys could fix the car, but San Felipe to Bay of LA is a long way to go on 3 cylinders, wasting a ton of gas. So, as much as it pains me to say it, we went back to Dad’s house, put the old Hot Tamale in the garage, threw our shit in the truck and joined chase. We didn’t pull into Bay of LA until 10:15 at night, so we violated TWO cardinal rules of baja in one day: Don’t Drive at Night and Don’t Run Out of Gas.
It’s been fun chasing our pals, Ron and Steve. They are in a NORRA class 4 Meyers Manx with a V6 Subaru engine. It’s pretty sweet and they are doing really well. They are car 40.
I’m pretty disappointed, to say the least. I know that bigger and better racers have had to drop out of races, and the baja doesn’t give a shit if you’ve been planning a trip for a year or flew out from DC to drive. Baja is what it is, and all you can do is go with it. So far now, this is Mega Monkey Chase, live from Loreto, on my way to get a breakfast burrito.