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
This update is a little late. It’s been a little crazy what with preparing for Gazelles and completing projects at work. At any rate, we had a great time at Battle at Primm February 21-23. We decided to do qualifying trials this year, so I took off for Las Vegas Thursday night, happy to leave my heavy coat at home in DC!
Based on what we learned last year, we decided to lighten our load a bit by not running a spare and by running smaller tires in the rear. While we were getting ready to get in line to qualify, we asked Dad how much gas was in the car. He assured us we had 4 or 5 gallons, plenty to get us through the 2 1/2 mile qualifying run…or so we thought.
As we were in the infield about 20 cars back from starting, we ran out of gas! WE RAN OUT OF GAS, PEOPLE! Mark jumped out and pushed me out of the way, then took off running to where Dad could meet him with some fuel. Meanwhile Dad isn’t answering the radio so I’m calling him on my phone (luckily I had it on me) and yelling, “WE ARE OUT OF F***ING GAS!” So Dad comes tearing across staging, trailer still attached to the truck, spare tires bouncing about, Mark grabs a pail of fuel and jumped in the official SNORE UTV to make his way back to me waiting in the car.
We were able to get refueled and not lose our place in line. We later learned that Dad forgot he had traded 3 gallons of gas out of the car for the use of the smaller tires. This is what happens when bartering goes horribly wrong.
We took off for qualifying and she sputtered for the first 1/4 mile or so, but then came to life and was going great. This was the first time I’d driven with these tires and they were great! They made the car, already nimble to begin with, much easier to turn. It’s like the steering ratio improved by 25%. Wonderful!
I drove on Saturday and had a great race except for losing 6 minutes when I put the car on its side. I came into a corner pretty hot and started sliding on the hard packed clay, then we hit the loose dirt and BING! Over we went! Other than that, Saturday was great, but we ended up towards the end of the pack.
Mark took over on Sunday and we ended up in an epic battle with three other cars for 3 laps. We would keep up with them in the technical stuff but in the straights they would pull away from us. We were pinned but they just had more power. Fortunately there was enough of the rough stuff for us to catch up and we’d get back in the fight in the infield. In the end the leaders finished way head, but we finished in the middle of the pack with the other guys.
We think we have a few problems figured out. First of all, we were able to weigh the car at she’s WAAAAAY too fat. We have to lose 250 pounds at least. Second, the engine has 1000 race miles on it. If we had money we’d get a new one but we don’t, so she’s getting the top end worked on. Third, the tranny must have the wrong gearing. Other cars should not be pulling away from us like they do in the straights. So the transmission is apart already and in Ensenada, getting worked on.
Next for me is the Gazelle Rally in Morocco. We’ll have the 1600 out again hopefully in April or May.
I have some GoPro footage, but Dad somehow ended up with one of the SD cards, so I’m waiting for him to ship it to me. In the meantime, check out the highlight reel from Race-Dezert. I get an interview!
Even though I’ve been around air cooled Volkswagens for most of my life, I am still woefully under prepared to ever have to fix one out in the middle of the desert. I mean, I’ve been out there and watched guys replace a tie rod in a class 11, or adjust the jetting on our class 5 unlimited. I think the only two things I would trust myself to do in a pinch would be changing a tire and replacing a belt. And let me tell you, that ain’t right. I’ve got this new 2/1600 race car (see previous post) and I owe it to her and my team to build my skills.
I’ve looked at junior colleges and trade schools within commuting distance (read 100 miles) from DC and come up empty. There are plenty of places that teach automotive tech, but I haven’t found anything that focused specifically on air cooled VWs. So I started researching actual repair shops. I figured there has to be SOMEPLACE around DC that caters to, or least services old skool VWs. And finally, I found one. Metric Autohaus.