What a race! The USA 500 proved to be epic in every way! I was driving for Desert Dingo in their class 11 bug. To the uninitiated, that is basically a stock 1969 VW bug. Sure there is a roll cage and the car has a bit more clearance, plus all the safety gear, but you are still running a standard 1600cc engine, drum brakes, and one shock at each corner. No bypass, no coil overs…nada. It’s the slowest class of off road cars and probably the roughest (although the class 9 cars are pretty bad too), but just because it’s slow doesn’t mean you can’t get into trouble. As I found out.
I was scheduled to drive the second lap of the day. Crusty, yes that’s what we call him, and Ryan were in the car first. They turned in a pretty good lap time. Crusty told me, “Course is great! Car is working! Go for it!” Newbie co-dawg Toby and I got in the car and well…we went for it.
We took off and the first thing I noticed was all the play in the steering wheel. It had been a year since I had driven 1107, and had forgotten about this trait. But I didn’t have time to think too much because oh my stars what is that up ahead? It was competition! 1142 was just a quarter mile away! What could be the best choice to make at this moment? Should I settle down and reacquaint myself with the car or should I try to pass?
I chose poorly.
Oh my. Look at that. On our side. We had been having radio troubles all day but were able to call and text back to pits for some help. Toby and I were there for a good 1.5 or 2 hours before truck 707 came by and yanked us right side again. By then the cavalry had arrived in the form of the boys from Project Baja, so they helped us check everything out and we were on our way.
For about 2 minutes. Because I rolled the car. Again. Listen, I can’t make this stuff up people. I was not able to compensate for the steering and I over-corrected. Fortunately our chase was still close by and they came back to give us a hand. I should have in car video of that soon.
I want to give you a little insight into the Project Baja boys. They are sarcastic. They like to dish it out. They loooove pushing your buttons. But every single one of them gave me encouraging words. They did not make fun and they did not laugh, and for that I am immensely grateful.
I’m sure that will last until they read this post. Then there will be no mercy.
Needless to say I slowed it way down. We got going and were doing fine. Not fast, but fine. And then we got to The Hill. Never in my life had I seen such a hill. And we never saw the top of it, but not for lack of trying. We climbed that thing 5 times and got to the same spot each time, just 10-12 feet from the top. Toby was out there moving rocks around, we got the carpets out for traction, nothing mattered. First we backed up from the hill a bit, then a toss, then by a lot, then by about 1/4 of a mile. I approached that thing flat out in 2nd gear, then downshifted into first and kept it pinned. Wasn’t going to happen. What the hell? We had to get up it! We had no radio communication so we were on our own. We backed up one last time. 1/3 of a mile, when we noticed a trail going off the the left. We hadn’t seen it before because we hadn’t ever backed up this far, and the course is the only thing marked on the GPS. Toby and I looked at each other. He said, “Should we take it?” I said, “Hell yeah!” It dumped us out on to a public grated dirt road for about 1/4 mile, until it crossed the track again. There was an official there who said it was okay we cut the course, that a lot of the class 11 and 9s had done it. And he warned us about the next hill. “It’s pretty bad but we’ll look for you. If we see that you don’t make it, Big Chad here will tow you up.” Big Chad nodded his agreement.
A mile later we saw it. I approached flat out in second, tried to downshift into first, and it was like slamming the gearshift into a brick wall. We had nothing. Well, we had reverse. Oh, and it wouldn’t turn over either. We backed down and waited for Big Chad. At this point our GoPro had run out of juice and it’s too bad because that Chevy pickup of his towed dead weight of 2200 pounds up this hill that was soft and at least a 10% grade.
At the top we bump started 1107 and were off. It was all flat or downhill from there into the next pits. And by downhill I mean sudden drop offs of, oh three stories or so. But all we had was second gear. So on a road that should have allowed for flat out, I was stuck at 35-40mph.
We limped into pits and after a going over by the guys at ProPits, car owner Jim decided it wasn’t worth fixing and we were done. Far be it from me to argue, since I had just rolled the car twice and burned the clutch up trying to get up that hill. Chase was called in from the other pit and I thought we done. Until Dave.
Dave came in from the other pit and gave what can only be called The Motivational Speech of the Century. He convinced Jim that we could still get the car back out there and earn some season points. We had plenty of people to make it happen and we all wanted to do it, and I can’t tell you how awesome it was to hear Jim say, “Okay go for it.” We descended on 1107 like flies. Crusty and the ProPit guys started pulling the motor. Dave started welding where the A pillar had broken, and Project Baja was on the lights. I helped where I could, handing tools, holding things in place, and flipping switches when asked. It’s very frustrating to me to not have the knowledge to help in these kinds of triage situations, but I am educating myself as much as I can.
Dave suited up to drive and Toby went with him. They took off…and went the wrong way. They missed the right turn out of pits to take the loop and instead headed towards the finish line. We were still having radio trouble so I immediately started texting Toby, “Come back! You missed the right hander!” Their lights disappeared over the hill and we all knew if they didn’t figure it out they would add 70 miles that we could not afford to add. But then…Lights cresting the hill! They figured it out! Hooray! They came back towards pits, took the turn and were off for real!
Now I can’t say for sure what happened while those two were out there. They told me at one point they lost all lights (but were able to get the HIDs back but one was pointed off to the side), they lost dash lights and the GPS, the weld broke on the A pillar and the metal sun visor came loose. They also lost the alternator for a bit, but got it back and crossed the finish line at 4:07am.
Unfortunately 1107 was DNF, as we only did 2 laps, instead of 3, but we were able to earn some points for the season. And I learned a few things: I need to keep my cool when I first get in the car. 2. Look for a work around when in class 11. and C: People will rally when you ask them to.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Crusty blew a tire while hauling 1107 home on his 1951 Chevy flatbed. He’s fine but the truck lost two tires and a fender and 1107 hit the median and busted the driver’s side trailing arm.
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.
Man, does it feel good being part of a winning team! After taking more than a few hours to get from Washington DC to Fallon NV and getting about 5 hours sleep, Dad and I arrived at 1107 pits around 6am on Saturday morning. There we joined Our Dear Leader, Jim Graham, Tut and Pepper Cote from Tut Tech Racing, Romy, and Paul. After a quick drivers’ meeting (where teams were reminded again to not nerf class 11) we were off to the proverbial races.
If you haven’t been following along, here’s a quick catch up: the 24 race consisted of 12 hours of racing a 41 mile track clockwise, a 12 hour intermission to wrench on the car, and then 12 hours of racing the same 41 miles, but in a counter clockwise direction. I was in a class 11, which for all intents and purposes is a stock 1969 VW bug. Sure we’ve got a roll cage, bigger tires, and a little bit better suspension, but it’s still a 1600cc engine with a stock transmission. To say it’s rough would be like saying Kevin Bacon’s nose is only slightly turned up. (seriously, have you seen his nose?)
After a few laps the front driver’s shock mount tore away from the body and punched a hole in the body of 1107 that looked like it came from a shotgun blast. Tut came to the rescue with a weld. Now, I don’t know much about welding, but even I could tell he was McGyvering the crap out of that thing. But hey, whatever works, right? We just wanted to get back into it.
After an hour, I got in to drive and Tut co-dawged it for me. He’d already taken two laps so he knew the course really well. 1107 was a little sloppy in the left hand turns, but she was doing okay and Tut was able to tell me how to deal with it, mostly by saying, “GET TO THE INSIDE AND SLOW DOWN!!!”
When we got to the hill section, I became quiet (which is a big deal). In front of me was quite possibly the biggest hill I’d ever seen. Seriously, it was like the Mt. Everest of the Nevada desert. There was a tiny hill at the bottom, so we used that as momentum and you know what? 1107 busted up that hill like it wasn’t no thang. We were greeted at the top by a very sharp right hand turn. Had we missed it we would have gone pretty much straight down the other side.
I got through what we called Death Valley just fine, even with the giant sink hole in the silt that swallowed the car whole. Death Valley was 6 or 7 miles of a box canyon with limited passing opportunities, rocks the size of Andre the Giant, with an uphill silt section at the end. Aside from 1055 nerfing me about half way up (really dude? I pulled over as much as I could!), this section was very technical and a lot of fun.
The rest of the day went great. We didn’t have any problems and we only had to put in a few hours to strengthen the weld on the shock mount. I was in bed by 10pm. In a hotel. And I took a shower.
Day 2 found us up early again. We were ahead of 1166 aka Skittles, and 1177 was out with a bad tranny. Our goal was to just….Cruise. VORRA decided on a land rush start where everyone had to change a tire and then go. It was really cool to watch everyone starting out on the lake bed. We started switching drivers after 1 lap to give people more chances to drive. Tut decided to stay co-driving, so he was with me on the second lap of the day. There was a delay at Checkpoint 1 for a few hours so Tut and I got to know each other by describing the perfect sandwich and how much we wanted one at that particular moment. Lesson learned: duct tape some granola bars to the roof next time.
We got a call on the radio that Skittles was in need of a tie rod and could we stop and help. At this point we were 4 laps ahead of them and since it takes a village to get a class 11 over the finish line, we stopped. Turned out the driver and co-driver did not know how to wrench. Tut put the tie rod on for them and they followed us into the pits. And that’s how I learned how to change a tie rod.
The rest of the day ran pretty smoothly until the last lap. We didn’t need to take it, as we had already won, but we wanted to push it a bit. Not only would an extra lap give Desert Dingo more season points, we still had an hour and a half left and we wanted bragging rights. So into the car go Pepper (yes, that’s her real name) and I. She’s driving, I’m co-dawg. As we were getting strapped in, the guys had the front open and were doing…something. We couldn’t tell. Pepper yelled, “Come on! What are you doing?” They yell back, “Just tying down your fuel filter.” Yeah, right. Turns out they were TAKING OFF THE PASSENGER SIDE SHOCK. Here’s what Tut had to say about it:
“Took off the shock? It broke off.. not my fault.. I almost freaked out when I saw it stuck into the fuel lines etc. and started to yell to get you girls out and we were done.. but I pulled on the shock and it pulled right out of the fuel lines and… no leaks.. So I un bolted it and dropped it onto the ground.. your dad helped me duck tape the regulator on… It was like having Wonder Woman and Super Girl in the car at the same time.. you two are amazing ”
We also learned later that we were down a torsion bar as well. And the light bar, did I mention we had no light bar? We finished at full dark, a mere 3 minutes before the cutoff time of 8pm. The last part we were driving pretty much blind, with me reading the GPS and telling Pepper hard right, easy left, etc.
A good time was had by all. Thanks to everyone who helped us out, the other class 11 teams, and Wes and the people at VORRA for putting on such an awesome race. You can read more words on the Desert Dingo website, and check out more pictures on my Facebook page. Desert Dingo has a full roster of drivers for the last race of the season, a short course at Prairie City over Halloween weekend. They probably won’t need me to drive for them until next season, assuming of course that Jim will ask me back. But as I tweeted a few days ago, “…the milk of human kindness flows through his veins.”
Lots of cool stuff happening, y’all, so grab a beverage and sit back for a nice long read. First of all, this weekend I’ll be racing with Desert Dingo in their Class 11 bug. When I say Class 11, I mean nearly stock VW bug. Sure, we’ve got a roll cage and some bigger suspension parts, but you can still only run one shock at each corner, and under the deck lid all you’ll find is a stock 1600cc engine with a 4 speed transmission. As I write this, 1107 is on her way to the Super Secret Hiding Place somewhere in Nevada, while Our Dear Leader, Jim, is at Burning Man.
The race this weekend will consist of 12 hours of racing on Saturday around a 41 mile lap course in a clockwise direction. Then we’ll get 12 hours to wrench on the car. Sunday finds us racing for another 12 hours same course but counter clockwise. The race director of VORRA has this to say about the course:
“We went out and placed course markers yesterday. There are some pretty deep washes across the road starting a 1/2 mile before Checkpoint 2 to about Mile Marker 38. And yes on Day 2 the 11′s are going to need jet packs.”
Um…wait. He’s talking about us. We need jet packs? Dingo leader Jim apparently thinks “jet packs” is code for “tow rope”, as he sent the team these encouraging words:
“We have a tow rope pre-tied to the front bumper so to get a tow, all you have to do is pop the hood, unspool the rope and hold up the end and hope for someone to pull over. I’ve gone on the VORRA discussion forum and asked the other teams to consider helping out us 11s if they can spare a couple of minutes.”
I’ll be tweeting as much as I can this weekend using #the24. If you’re not already following me on the Twitter, I’m @MMMotorsports.
And check out what’s going on with my third race team, Team Courage Gazelles. We are on the home page of Dirt Newz!
The next 18 miles were awesome! We were flat out until we got to Endo Alley. We’d come up blind over these hills, only to find a 2 story drop off on the other side! Not as much of a problem for a class 11…a stock VW can only go so fast. But those class 1 guys who can go upwards of 100mph have to be a bit more careful.
Then the course hooked left and it got a little rough for 8 miles or so. Bob and I had to pee so badly I can’t even tell you! Usually if you know you’re going to be in the car for a long time a guy can wear a catheter. Girls…um…yeah. Not so much. At any rate, we brought it into pit 2, where Richard got in and Paul, a rally driver from Canada, co-drove. They didn’t have any issues and Richard tore it up! Then Paul drove with Crusty co-driving and he lawn darted the car, sheering off the front bumper and skid plate, as well as the front passenger fender. They also blew a tire at some point, but they brought it back to pit 3, where Richard and I got in.
With a class 11, stock VW and 500 race miles, just finishing is an accomplishment. This was my first time in the car and it wasn’t mine, so after a 10 miles of going a bit hot and doing a couple dumb things, I settled down. We lost a fan belt but were able to change it quickly. My mantra was, “Just get it back to pit 2 to hand the car off. Pit 2, pit 2, pit 2″. After about 30 miles I changed it to, “Pit 1, pit 1…just get it to pit 1.” Baby steps and all.
About 20 miles into it, I got nerfed by a truck. Nerfing is when someone comes up behind you and gives you a little tap to say, “GTFO of my way!!!” The problem with nerfing a class 11 is that we run stock deck lids. So you nerf us, you run the risk of killing our alternator and we are out of the race. VORRA explicitly said at the driver’s meeting that there was no nerfing class 11, but this guy did it anyway. I knew he was there, but I couldn’t get over quickly enough I guess. When I did, I overestimated our clearance and high centered on a rock. Richard showed me how to use just the starter to get out of trouble, and we were off again!
I started my leg around 6pm or so, which meant I took the car through sun down and into the night. Driving at night is freaky. All you can see is what your HID headlights illuminate. In my case, it was a shit ton of suicidal bunnies! We had 18 miles of flat out speed, and I killed 11 bunnies. I’m sorry, baby Jesus, but they obviously wanted to die.
The last 10 miles of so of my leg were the absolute most challenging. I had run it earlier in the day with Bob, and it was rough but no too bad. By the time I got around to it, all the big guys had been through and we had 4 or 5 miles of silt. Powder fine silt. Deep silt. Crazy silt. Silt in the dark. Silt coming into the car. Silt coming into my helmet since our Parker pumper was broken and I had to keep my face shield cracked so it wouldn’t fog. Silt going into my eyes and up my nose.
Driving in silt requires high rpms and as much speed as you can carry. There was a hot second where I thought we were going to to get stuck, but 1107 pulled out of it and we finished the rest of the leg with silt covered face plates and limited visibility. BUT, I made my goal and passed it over to the next driver. I was focused and I didn’t dwell on my mistakes. I might have driven cautiously, but I am proud of my 107 miles.
Bob was the hero, taking the car about 150 miles, fixing the alternator pulley with JB weld in a silt bed at 3am, and bringing 1107 to the finish line at 5:10am on Sunday morning, a mere 20 minutes before the maximum allowable time.
I’ve got more pics of contingency and such up on Facebook and you can search Twitter for #USA500 to see people’s updates. Next race will be the 24 in September. We’ll see how many laps we can do in 24 hours. Big thanks to Desert Dingo Racing for letting me come race with them!
PS: I also got to interview Buddy Crisp, an awesome class 1 (among other things) racer who is working as a builder for Local Motors. We chatted about the Rally Fighter, but no in car footage due to time schedules. We’ll hopefully get some in September and put together a Roadfly review. I will say that the Rally Fighter is pretty sweet, and you have to love their business model…if you want a Rally Fighter, you help build your Rally Fighter.
And in the mother of all ironies, the Monkey Miata broke on the way back to Santa Cruz! Bad relay switch and there isn’t one within 200 miles of Truckee, so here I sit. Part will be overnighted and I should be on the road tomorrow by 9am tomorrow.
I leave tomorrow evening for VORRA’s inaugural Master Pull USA500 in Reno, Nevada. We’ll have a day of media, tech and contingency, and I’ll even sneak in a Roadfly review! Local Motors will be there with their Rally Fighter and if all goes well I’ll get some face time with their Chief Sales Officer and get to drive it around a bit.
I’ll be co-driving or driving about 120 miles total of the 500 mile course for Desert Dingo Racing. Jim has been an awesome mentor in PR and social media for me. I’m going to pay him back by showing him how to drive!
To be honest, I’m glad the Dingo is ahead in points for the season. It takes a little bit of pressure off. We will have six (!) drivers on this race and I want to kick ass. Just not *too* much ass. Class 11 is a much slower class than I am used to, and a big challenge for me, besides the usual stay focused mantra, will be to remember that I’m not in a class 5 unlimited. This race will be slower and rougher than anything I’ve done so far. Well…almost anything
You can follow along if you’re so inclined on the Twitter. I’m @MMMotorsports and I’ll be using the hashtag #USA500. I’ll post pics and video as much as I can.
And if you’ve ever wanted to see me in a dress driving what can only be described as one of the oddest production vehicles on the road these days….