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!