Posts tagged “Mojave Off Road Enthusiasts

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