Witchdoctor Motorsports Chapter 190 - December 2011
Our Final LeMons Race
It began just like it always does. Some emails
shooting across the etherworld; "Hey, are you doing the ECR race?",
"Looking for drivers?", "Hey, who else is
and can do ECR the weekend before Christmas?" Yes, with a few months to go
we had our merry band of drivers and I began to get the car ready. All the
drivers had Texas A&M Sports Car Club affiliation and it was an eclectic
group. Ron Miller would be returning for another Bic drive and so would I. Terry
Fair (Vorshlag) had done a crapcan previously but not in an Fbody (it was a bmw...go
figure). The last driver was wheel2wheel newcomer Cody Case. Bic thankfully
didn't need much after our Louisiana event. Some wiring cleanup, straighten some
fenders and replace the out-of-date harness. We had average grip with our
245.50.16 tires, average power with our low-compression worn-out small block and
phenomenal brakes. In an effort to give us another positive category, I scored
some 2" bolt on spacers from CraigsList and a set of 17x9.5 Corvette
Sawblades (125$ a set, all day long) and we upgraded to 265.40.17 Dunlop Star
Specs. I also scored some used circle track front springs that would about
triple our stock rate and I hoped that'd help in the corners. With some
carburetor work we hoped the power would be a little better too.
A few weeks prior to the race a real tragedy took place. James Evans' (another TAMSCCer) 3-1/2 year old son passed away. It was a complete shock and really gut wrenching. After the funeral Anna and I were talking about the race and decided that if James was okay with it, we'd theme the car 4Max, meaning our car number would change to #4 and then we'd put MAX on there too. James was onboard and we got to work. I had a spare set of black doors from a donor car and so we swapped them so the pink (Max's favorite color) numbers and accents would stand out.
We've got a lot of stories to tell, but we'll start with some pictures of the re-build-up and then the Friday practice and tech before diving into our first driver's tale!
Above: Old factory spring on left, new stiff spring on right! And new STAR SPECs!!!
Above: Rossi painting the mirrors PINK, and Cody and Fair on our work night, swapping doors and making the wheels/tires fit.
Below: Three third gens in the driveway and THEY ALL RUN!!!! (how scary is that....I mean srsly....)
Above and below: Ron and the office that would keep him busy for several hours (Friday pics), plus our mascot Mickey!
Above: Mike fiddling the carb on Friday, and then later on Friday us breezing through tech inspection.
Above: SPEEDY MONZALES!! 4.3v6/th350!
Above: (left) A Mustang II that actually made laps the whole weekend! (right) One of these is a crapcan...
Below: SATURDAY MORNING MANNA FROM THE HEAVENS!!!
Before we get too far I want to FOR SURE thank the crew. Countryman, Tye, Ryan (from Vorshlag), Amy Fair and (of course) my wife Anna all pitched in and did a wonderful job of keeping the four drivers where we needed to be at the right time and with a car that was as good as it could be. HUGE HUGE THANKS FOLKS!!!
* * * * ALSO: THANK YOU JAMES & VERONICA EVANS FOR ALLOWING US TO HONOR MAX FOR THIS RACE!! * * * *
So after years of autocrossing, HPDE events, and a few kart outings I finally decided (or was brainwashed??) to make the jump to real racing. Well maybe less of a jump and more of just a slight hop - as my first event would be the 24 Hours of Lemons at Eagles Canyon Raceway. Costas had a spare seat with he, Ron Miller, and Terry Fair in "Bic" - a 1986 Camaro that has finished a few other Lemons events dating back to 2008. With a 100% race finish rate, I at least liked our chances of not wrenching on the car constantly during the race.
So as not to task everyone with reading the rest of this, I'll say a huge THANK YOU up front to Mike Countryman, Tye Jackson, and Anna Costas for all the help and support over the weekend. We couldn't have done it without you. Also big thanks to Costas for turning all the wrenches on Bic, doing all the towing/strategy/logistics stuff, the great on-track accommodations, and for taping that "patience" sticker onto the inside of the windshield. I used it more than once.
Back to the story then. Hundreds of dollars worth of nomex garments later and I was "ready to race", much in the same way kids are "ready to drive" just because they're 15 and have a learner's permit. Now I haven't run ECR since 2008 so I watched about 5 laps on youtube the night before the race. Surely that's what the F1 guys do to prepare for a race, right? Who needs simulators? Costas has decided that I'll start the race on Saturday so I won't have much time to worry about little things like remembering which way the track goes. My previous long for seat time in a car is a 20 minute HPDE session, but Costas says we'll be running 2.5 hour stints. (Uhh...ok!) And Bic has manual steering - have I ever driven a car with that before? (No!) And had I ever driven a car with a carburetor before? (No!) Sure...sounds great, I'm sure I can handle that. On a normal day at work I can't even sit at my desk in a climate controlled office for 2.5 hours without having to take a leak, but I'm sure I can manage racing a car I've never driven before with manual steering against 50+ other cars while wearing head-to-toe nomex. And by "I'm sure" I really mean "why not?" This would prove to be my theme for the weekend.
Race day arrives. At the track before sunrise to get my gear tech'd and make sure I have time to get some water through me before I get in the car. I get suited up, put in my earphones, and Costas tells me I need to have my ears taped?! Ooookay...why not? So sporting some sweet green ear tape I get in the car while I wonder if I'm being hazed here. Either way, the race is starting so time to slide on the HANS, helmet, and plug in the radio. No turning back now!
Above: Cody checking harness lengths and then getting his earbuds taped in place. No...it wasn't hazing, it keeps those things from getting pulled/falling out!
Well, not quite. There were some technical difficulties with hooking up the ChaseCam recorder to the camera unit - where it was mounted made it nearly impossible to see how to plug the camera cable into the back of the recorder. This resulted in some broken s-video cable pins and also took up some of the double-yellow recon laps at the start of the race. So we ditched the camera idea for now and I got out for a recon lap or two. Track was mostly as I remembered, but wet in random spots. With the sun still rising it was tough for me to really tell where those spots were. The car feels like something I'm not so much in control of, but rather giving a long set of vague suggestions to about where I'd like it to go. No time to sweat it - the green flag drops and I'm racing. First pass was some 1965 Barracuda and it was nice to get that out of the way. Unfortunately on lap 2 or 3 I got a little enthusiastic on the throttle coming out of T8 in the wet and spun the car off driver's right into some mud. I kept it lit and proceeded cautiously back onto the track under my own power determined not to put another wheel wrong for the session.
My biggest concerns going into the weekend were not leaving the racing surface, my racecraft, and reliability. If I drove the next 2.35 hours with no mistakes I could still hit 2 out of my 3 goals...
Cody (in car), Costas (green jacket), Ron (orange hat), Fair (black hat) and Rossi (hood ornament).
Now as you might imagine with a car that costs $500, the engine had a bit of a stutter. If you leaned into the gas much more than 30-40% throttle, the engine would do this weird high-speed flutter thing that I've never really felt a car do before. But while it was doing that, the car wasn't accelerating, the shift light would blink fast, and I wasn't sure if the motor was killing itself, so I made every effort to not let that happen. Unfortunately for our team, this resulted in me getting passed by a lot more cars on track than I'd have liked along the straightaways. I felt bad about going so slow, however breaking the car before the other 3 guys had a chance to even drive it seemed like a worse option to me, so I played it safe and rode out my session. It was fun, but quite frustrating. The laps passed, I had a clean rest-of-the-session, and drove to our pit box when my stint was up. I hadn't posted good laptimes by any stretch, but at least we were still in the race.
Above and below: Cody pounding out laps! Can you spot Mickey?
During the pitstop I told Costas that the car was making some crazy on/off throttle clunking sounds - he said "yeah". Countryman tinkered with the carburetor in hopes that the stutter would go away. I think there were zip ties involved. Anyway, Terry hopped in after me, and then Ron finished Saturday out. They both figured out that if you "powered through" the weird high-speed flutter the motor would right itself and you could proceed down the straights with some decent power. Their laps were 6-8 seconds faster than mine and I totally should have tried that at least a few times...live and learn I suppose. We finished Saturday in 8th place out of 57 cars, which I consider to be pretty good considering the hole I put us in to start. And while tending to the car after Saturday's race was over, we found that the two drivers side transmission crossmember bolts had FALLEN OUT - hence the source of the on/off throttle clunk I reported. I have no idea how the transmission and rear suspension worked for 8 hours that day. Luckily Costas has used Chevy bolts like most people have used wrapping paper after Christmas, so we were back in business for Sunday in no time.
Sunday morning came around and Costas was first up in the car, followed by me, and then Terry as Ron had long-stinted Saturday afternoon and had to head back to Houston. Paul ran a clean stint, passed 2 cars (we were separated by laps now, not just seconds) and had us up into 6th place while running quick laptimes and putting down great fuel mileage. I was up next, and was determined not to go as slow as I had the day before. This time I was running the motor right up to the point where it would flutter and letting the revs climb in 3rd before shifting to 4th. It took me some laps to find a groove, but I was able to knock a good 5-7 seconds off of my previous days laptimes and started to feel mostly ahead of the car. I was able to maintain 6th place, had some battles with other cars, and really enjoyed myself. Having the discipline to back off from a pass when you know you're just too far out, or the aggressiveness to set someone up and pounce on the opening, or planning to knife through a group of slower cars while adjusting and hitting your braking, steering, and throttle marks - sometimes all on the same lap - was everything that is incredible about racing.
Cody pass 3 of these 4 on this straight, and got the winged wonder a few corners later.
So finally during the Sunday stint my laps were getting better, and I could sense less disdain in the tone of my spotters' voices :) I had good marks, a good rhythm, and I was getting a feeling for the car. Unfortunately my revised throttle input strategy was burning fuel fast and my session ended about 15 minutes early when the car started to fuel starve and eventually coasted to a stop just before T10. I was pretty bummed I wasn't able to get it back up the hill and into the pits, but the
safety truck pushed me back up the hill and I coasted quietly into the pits for more fuel and a driver change. Terry finished the session and we maintained 6th place throughout - we had enough laps on 7th that my fuel gaffe didn't cost us a spot. So overall it was a deep top 10 finish with the car still able to drive onto the trailer after taking the checker. Not bad!
There are a few things about my Sunday stint I'll document here for my own benefit - spending 3 laps dicing with a white Supra who had Bic beat in a straight line and whose driver was well versed at blocking/brake checking like a madman was good fun. Even better was seeing that Supra vanish quickly in my rearview once I got past his crazy brake checking antics. Maybe I'm just green but I've always thought corner-exit brake checks were cactus league moves. Another was entering the braking zone of T11 a bit behind a decently quick Miata - I knew I was too far back to make a high-percentage move, but I made sure I was filling up his mirrors and positioned Bic such that it looked like I might try to pass him on the inside, though I had no such intention unless he made a mistake. The result was him locking up the front tires and missing his turn-in, so as soon as I saw that tire smoke I knew my door had opened and drove right through. Great feeling to push someone like that!
But far and away the thing I'll remember most about Sunday was hearing my 3 year old daughter Claire's voice over the radio while I was driving. For this event Bic was themed for Max Evans, who by all accounts was an incredible little boy and who passed away unexpectedly just weeks before the race. I don't know his parents personally and I'll never be able to meet Max himself, but I hear he was into cars and I'm sure he would have loved to have been at the race playing with Claire & Ros and watching the cars too. When I heard Claire's voice, I heard the same incredible enthusiasm that I know Max had. I don't understand why my child was there to watch me race a car bearing Max's memory yet he was taken from his family so soon. I felt a heavy guilt and sadness for the circumstances of that moment, but I also felt an indescribable calming peace fall over me as well. Not an 'everything is okay' calm, but a 'you don't have to understand' calm. I only hope that Max and his family felt that someone was thinking about him.
Below: Cody's wife and Claire watch him zoom by on Sunday, and then Claire saying "GO DADDY GO DADDY" repeatedly!!
So Saturday finds us back at the track just past sunrise and some person has done something really odd. I am guessing that they are normally a very bad person, squarely on Santa's "NAUGHTY" list and this person felt that with an overwhelming gesture of kindness that perhaps, just perhaps, enough good would overcome the bad and lumps of coal would be absent from their stocking. There was a table, chock-full of goodies and it was free. FREE-NINETY-FREE! It was all I could do to only take one package of plain M&Ms, one package of peanut and some skittles. There were HoneyBuns, powdered donuts, starburst, you name it. Just like the previous day, it was cold and I had on several layers on top and bottom, yet the warmth of this strangers kindness was wonderful. (awwwww)
BACK TO RACING!
So to fill in the gaps, Anna/Rossi/I were at the track early Friday so Anna could work registration and I could do some shakedown of the car. Countryman and Ron showed up about noon and I had a few short sessions before then to check things out. There was a stumble in the carb right at full throttle, but 90% or so seemed fine and the car was pretty quick. The new grip the big tires offered was awesome, and the brakes were there usual phenomenal. Front springs limited the body roll, but the blown struts were painfully evident by the porpoising, but there was nothing I could do about that. Our 'residual' value from Louisiana (including fire and wall hit) was 400$ and struts were not in the budget after a used radiator, front springs and some wiring cleanup. I put Ron in the car and he quickly knocked the exhaust loose and came in dragging. Fixed, out again, broken, dragging, in again. Countryman rigged up two huge straps to the pinch welds that assured it was not coming off. We also pulled the top plate on the carb and while there were a few things he fixed, the stumble was still there. We decided to drive around it anyway and buttoned the car up for tech, which we passed with no issues. Sadly, the radio harness got slammed in the door at one point and so our normally-perfect radios ended up being one-way (spotter to driver) communication. We didn't realize this until Saturday after the 3 stints were done. Also, none of the drivers were used to the old-school latch-link harness. I had those in a street car ages ago and can do them blind, but the other three struggled to get everything lined up after driver swaps. Might upgrade to a camlok moving forward.
SATURDAY morning found us all there at oh-dark-thirty again, prepping for the race. Cody would start and then Fair and then Ron. We decided on a two-stopper for Saturday so Ron could get a long stint and then head home Sunday morning since he has a pregnant wife/kids/projects waiting at home. I'd drive on Sunday (praying for rain) and then Cody and then let Fair bring it home. Cody's stint went well and then it was time for Fair to put some laps in. We brought the car to our pit spot, gave it a 1-minute once over and then went to hotpits to fuel and swap drivers. It cost us a bit of time, but was the prudent thing after the first stint since we left Cody out there 2.5 hours. To be completely honest, Cody did an EXCELLENT JOB of starting the 57 car race in 19th and bringing it into our first stop in 10th!! That is a LOT of passing!! GREAT JOB CODY!!!
Fair did a complete writeup on the Vorshlag Forum and I'll grab parts for here. If you'd like to read his whole thing, then follow the link.
Above: CrapCan traffic and Fair prepping for his first stint. I'm getting Rossi prepped to stay in the chair as we execute the pitstop ballet!
Below: Ballet, perfectly choreographed and executed! It was SWEET!!
Above: Tye spotting for a stop and me installing radio gear in Ron's helmet.
Below: We had several projects to do each day. Cards for Mom, painting things, sidewalk chalk, etc
FAIR: (excerpted from the Vorshlag forum post)
First driver out was Cody Case, who was struggling with the
carburetor issues. It was doing the dreaded "QuadraBog!" with more
than 20% throttle, so he drove it by barely using the gas and staying out of the
secondaries, and short-sifting super early (well before the 4200 rpm shift
light). That made for better fuel mileage, even with a fubar carb. Lap times
were a bit slower driving this way, but he moved around the track well, drove
100% clean and made a 2+ hour stint without issue. The top 5 cars were all
running 2:15s or quicker by then, so with 2:20-2:30 laps we were losing time on
track and I think we were down by about 7 or 8 laps after his stint. I hopped in
next and we were in 11th, and after a handful of laps of getting passed on the
straights driving with the 20% throttle trick, I got passed by one too many
Hondas and Miatas under power. Some of these same cars I was re-passing in
the corners on the next lap. GRRR...
I was not happy with the few lap times they were calling out to me (2:22 and worse?!), having just made tons of laps at ECR the weekend before in my wife's street car (430rwhp street car on ASTs with ABS....Costas <grin>) in the 2:03 range - a car she drove to the track in her daily driving set-up, putting two tanks of fuel through it on track that day with 2 drivers beating on it, and drove it home. How could a lighter, V8 powered Camaro on almost identical sized and compound tires be almost 20 seconds a lap slower??? I was getting stuck behind the slowest of the slow LeMons cars, and losing crazy time in the corners because I couldn't get ahead of anything on the straights.
I admit it - I got more than a little pissed. I had no way to communicate my frustration to the team (we had 1-way radios only all weekend) so I tried some different throttle methods, and managed to get the back two barrels on the carb to finally open by flat footing the gas pedal SUPER EARLY in the turns. As soon as I got off the brakes I would MAT the throttle, way earlier than normal for ECR. The carb would stumble, the engine would almost die, but it was in the slowest part of the turn so it didn't matter. Then right when I'd normally be applying the throttle, driving any normal car at ECR, the carb would light up and all 150 horses would kick in! WEE!
Above: Fair running down traffic to pass on corner exit
Driving like that let the old V8 engine rev up to the lofty 4200
rpm redline (sarcasm), where I'd shift to 4th on the straights, and keep the
pedal on the flooorboard. I started pushing the braking zones and kept my
cornering speeds as high as before. Still drove the whole course in 3rd-4th
gear, as I was told to stay out of 2nd to preserve the trans. I'd just use as
much throttle as the car could take without stalling (about 80% once it got past
the initial HEAVY stumble at 20%). It worked, and my lap times dropped to
a best of 2:17, with a string of 2:18 and 2:19 laps. I started re-passing a lot
of cars that got around me early in my stint, and even hung with the top 5 cars
for several laps, and unlapped us from a couple of them. When i pulled in our
team was now in 7th place, from catching up a bit + the longer stints we made +
bad luck for other cars dropping back.
The brakes felt great for stock 10" front 3rd gen Camaro discs (good pads only), if it wasn't axle hopping out back (it was on bumpy corners, so I braked earlier in those). The struts and shocks were all completely blown out, so you felt every bump on track, and the front end bottomed out several times in each corner. The whole front of the car porpoised up and down about a foot traveling down the faster parts of the straights - I guess the brick-like aero front end coupled with the bumpy track, higher speeds, and blown struts all set-up perfectly for boing! boing! boing! I was told, "Hey - its a LeMons thing".
After I finished my stint I came into the pits and the crew was there to help with the fuel stop and driver change (thanks Mike and Ryan!), I got out and went over the wall for a second, to lift my visor because it was fogging up. I was getting warm in that car, despite the cool ambient temps. After the first fuel jug was in the tank I hopped back over the wall, handed them another jug, set-up the drip pan under the car (fuel spills are a big no-no!), and helped with the refuelling, then getting WDMS/Camaro LeMons veteran Ron Miller belted into the car and his earbuds connected to the on-board radio harness. Fishing the latch-style 5-point belts together is trickier than cam-locks and nearly impossible to do by the driver, blindly. With either the HANS or a neck donut brace on (either is acceptable for LeMons - I hate the neck turning limitations of a HANS) the driver cannot move his head down enough to see the latch part of the belts (that's the point of these head and neck restraints - to limit over-travel of the neck in a crash, and prevent tearing your spinal cord out from your brain), so it takes an outside helper to get the driver belted in once he's in the seat. With two helpers, one on each side of the car, it goes even faster and you can get the lower belts TIGHT first, then the shoulder belts last. Our stops were about 5 minutes on average - there were teams making both faster and slower pit stops out there.
Fair started his stint in 17th (it was the first stop and a bit long) and brought it home in 6th!! GREAT JOB!!
We'll get back to more of Fair's story, let's hear from Ron to finish out the first day of racing...
When Costas told me that he was planning to run another Lemons event (this time during the daylight) I was definitely in... This would be my third lemons event, and in addition to my 3 HPDE events at TWS, is all the experience I have. I have never run at Eagles Canyon, so I was excited to run on a new track. I had heard good things about it, and was excited to do some more wheel to wheel racing.
I am fortunate enough to have Fridays off, so the plan was to come up to the track Friday and get some track time in. Paul had made a couple of changes to the car setup since the race in Louisiana (very good changes in fact). I arrived at the track about 1pm. Paul was about to take the car out on track. Once he got back in, we checked everything, and I went out. Well, Paul does a great job with car prep, and we usually spend little time wrenching on the car during the race, but after about 3 or 4 (pretty slow) laps, I heard something dragging, and came into the pit. The exhaust had come loose, and the muffler was dragging. We did a quick repair, but after several more laps, it happened again. We were prepared for that, and while I went back out Mike rigged a fix up that lasted the rest of the weekend without a problem. I went back out after the second fix, and by then I knew the track pretty well, and there were several pretty wet places with water running across the track, and it is not a smooth surface, but the course is very fun, I love the hills. The car... what can I say... it felt really good. not perfect, but very good. It was pretty obvious that the large new tires on corvette sawblades were going to be very good. The brakes on the car were as good as any car out there from what I saw (and they stayed that way the whole weekend without any fade). The only real problem the car had was that when you got to 95% throttle, it kind of hesitated; when you backed it down to 90%, it was fine, no problem, it is only lemons, right?? I then stayed out there for about 20 more laps, and got a pretty good rhythm. The track was pretty empty, so I had plenty of room and no distractions. Came into pit, did a few more things to the car, and put everything away for the night. It was also beginning to get pretty cold out, and Paul informed me that he does not like cold weather, because it "makes him act like a little bitch" to this I replied: "you must be cold a lot, Paul" and said a little prayer for a heat wave. He got a kick out of that. One thing to note, If you ever give Paul, Anna, and Rossi a ride home, don't use the heater, and don't go on any curvy roads.
Ron bringing the car home in 6th place after his long stint on Saturday. We are well positioned for Sunday!!!
Next morning, we left Paul's house before 6am, and headed out to the track it was pretty chilly (27*). I let Paul drive the Challenger out to the track, because he needs to do some research for his next street car when he finally retires Miss B4C to weekend duty. Got out to the track, Cody was already waiting on us, and Fair and Tye arrived shortly after that. Got all the last minute stuff out of the way, and waited for the green flag. Cody went out first. Apparently, something we did to the carburetor in an attempt to fix it had changed it so that it now hesitated at less than half throttle. This was not good. We had no voice communications from Cody, so he couldn't tell us this until after he came in to change drivers with Fair, who went out next. Fair figured out that If you gave it gas past the hesitation, it would accelerate again after a few seconds of bucking. This was definitely good info to have, as I was to drive the last stint of the day to the checker. Cody was hesitant to push the car past the hesitation because he didn't want to damage the car so early in the race, but still managed to work the traffic pretty well. Fair put down some good lap times once he figured out to put the hammer down through the hesitation. I got in the car, and we decided (incorrectly) that we could get away with just putting 10 gallons in. The hesitation was pretty frustrating, because the car was fairly quick, but when you were trying to get some speed coming out of the turn, it would hesitate and as such, you would loose some passing opportunities. I played around with it, and finally found that if you used second gear, and started accelerating a little earlier than usual, by the time you were past the apex, the acceleration would kick in. The only problem with this, is it uses more gas. Aside from the hesitation, another problem I was having was some major axle hop on heavy braking on the rough braking zones (i.e. most of the braking zones) Fortunately, the brakes were so good, you could change your turn in point to a smoother area of the track and not loose too much time. The only other problem it has is the blown shocks/struts. On the back straight, I thought I was going to catch air several times, and had to not use all of the gas occasionally. Otherwise, the car was a blast to drive. The brakes were amazing, and most of my passes were done at the end of the straights, after everyone else started to brake, and I knew I could wait several more seconds, and still stop to make the turn. About that using more gas... I could hear them on the radio, updating how long until the checker. Well about the time they told me I had an hour remaining, the car was starting to cut out in right turns, and Costas had told us all earlier that the fuel pickup was on the right side of the tank, and warned us to watch for that. I had no way to let them know I was running out of fuel, so I attempted to signal in the front straight, but how could they possibly know what I meant? I kept it out there a little longer, and used 2nd gear a little less to conserve fuel. Finally, the car was beginning to cut out on left turns also, so rather than running out of gas on course, and wasting lots of time, I pitted. As soon as my spotter on the hill saw me pit, he told me to go directly to the fuel pumps if I was running out of gas (not sure who was on the radio, but very good guess). We quickly put 5 more gallons in, and I was back out without too much lost time. The rest of the race went pretty fast, and I really enjoyed driving the car despite the slight frustration with the hesitation. We were certainly not as fast as some of the cars out there (specifically the SHO's) but the car handled and braked with anyone, and still had more acceleration than most of the field. I am not sure what place I started in, and where we were when I took the checker, but I had a blast. When I got back to the pit, I told them to check the drivetrain for something loose, and it turns out that we lost some bolts off of the transmission crossmember. I guess it had been like that for most of the race, but the drivetrain hop definitely got worse throughout my stint. Fortunately, we did not suffer any damage, and Paul had some extra bolts (not surprisingly).
After the first day, we talked about the strategy for the next day. Paul had still not driven, and we had a chance to get into the top 5 if we again limited driver changes. I volunteered to not drive the next day so that we only had to stop twice. I have a pregnant wife and 2 little girls at home, and a 4 hour drive to get there. As much as I would have enjoyed driving on Sunday, I decided to get home and play with my little ones for a little while.
Overall, huge thanks to Costas and Anna for prepping a very reliable, fun car to drive (and providing a comfortable bed). Thanks also to Tye, Mike, and Ryan for helping minimize pit times. I am looking forward to the Chumpcar true 24 at TWS... getting a chance to race on the track I learned on is going to be awesome!!
Ron did his usual awesome clean driving, never put a wheel wrong and climbed the lap chart, starting his stint in 11th, having to make a quick stop for a splash of fuel and still brought it home in 6th!! AWESOME JOB!! I based my fuel calculations on (fuel saver) Cody and didn't realize Fair and Ron were using a LOT more fuel. At the second stop we just dumped in 10 gallons (Fair did a short stint and we were setting up Ron to go a bit over 2.5 hrs) when we should have taken the time to top off. It was my call and I blew it. In the end, I don't think it cost us anything, but it sure was frustrating. As for the throttle, at the end of the first day I had one driver saying he could only get 20% throttle, another saying 40% and another saying 80% and since I'd not driven the car I wasn't sure what to do!! I did know one thing, that carb is coming OFF and the donor car TBI system is going on!!! We had no black flags on Saturday and the only incident was Cody doing a quick 4 off. He did not get black flagged and they told us in the drivers meeting we got a freebie black flag each day so we were looking good! We saw countless cars get their first black flag, drive up to tech and get pointed back out with a 'dont do it again' warning with the driver never getting out or shutting down the engine.
Our first pitstop was awesome. Five folks all knew exactly what to do and we accomplished a TON in about 60 seconds and then the car went to the hotpits for fuel and a new driver. After the racing Saturday was done, it was time to put bolts back in the transmission crossmember (ECR is rough!!), check over the car completely, put it back in the trailer and go get some FOOD!
Above: Pitstop action and the dangling crossmember. Ron still says he hit every gear change clean!!
Below: Fair and Tye took turns with ChevyTool#1 (big hammer) to make room for the big meats flailing about with blown struts!!
Costas here. Day three of being at the track at oh-dark-thirty and the skies are extra dark. There is a good chance of rain and I'm really hoping it does. While the temperature is a good ten degrees warmer than Saturday, the air is heavy and damp and when the wind blows it is just chilling. I hate being cold. As for Ron remembering me saying it "makes me act like a little bitch", well I think I said "it makes me bitchy", but I was cold at the time so who knows! <grin> Sadly, the table with the free snacks is empty. After a quick pointless drivers meeting I suit up and slide into this total piece of crap and strap in. Bic fires up instantly and I go to grid. They are holding a long line of cars back, and letting the top 10 line up in correct starting order and then they'll let the field join in after us. Sadly, while we are doing the omg-are-we-going-around-again dozen pace laps they let late joiners come in wherever and the top 10 gets fragmented several times. Race Control = not so good at controlling a race. Shocking, I know.
So the green drops and off we go. It is light out, but dark clouds abound and the humidity is thick. There are three spots where the track is damp and it just won't dry out. My times are decent and I'm keeping up with the few cars right in front of me, but our times are not too good due to those ever-damp sections. After 20 minutes or so, full course black and we all sit in the hot pits for a while. I've been clicking the radio to respond (1 = yes, 2= no, 3 = ask more questions) and it has been working just fine. The plan is to keep me out for at least 2.5 hours and then split the rest with Cody and Fair. We go green again and I get to work. I can lateral grip with anyone and brake with anyone. I have as much or more power as 85% of the field and I'm working the car pretty hard, pushing through the stumble as Fair talked about. Oddly, after a few laps of this the water temps jump 20 degrees from 180 to 200. The oil pressure starts to go down from staying above 40 to in the mid 30s, then low 30s. So I quit pushing it through the stumble, shift a bit sooner and begin to use every bit of brakes and track/rumblestrips/2off that I can. The water temp quickly recovers to 180 and over the course of about a half hour the oil pressure climbs back up to the 40s. Whew. With about an hour left in my stint it grows ominously dark. Please please please rain I say. It never came. It blew over and with about 30 minutes to go the track was mostly dry and I put in several :19 laps never pushing past the bobble. Then two cars throw themselves off the track so completely in T1 that when I came by I had a tough time figuring out how bad they had to screw up to end up where they did. Several laps later it was green flag again but T1/2 was completely covered in gravel and my search for some fast laps was over. Stymied by damp track and then oil pressure and now by gravel and then fuel starve. Ug. For the first time in my LeMons career (6 races), I'd not post fastest lap for the team I was on (well, once a driver did post one single faster lap, but an entire chicane was down so I don't count that lap because otherwise I pwned his best times). Oh well, it happens! Lesson: Drive the stint with dry track!!
Above: Costas about to get in the car, and then working traffic. Those front springs and Dunlops were AWESOME!!!
So I keep making laps and the last 20 minutes or so it suffers from some fuel starve that gets a little worse, but still easily manageable and after 55 laps covering several full course yellows and a black-flag-all, encompassing two hours and 38 minutes, I bring Bic off the track and to the hotpits where a crew is waiting on me. A nice surprise was Anna helping me out of the car and holding fire bottle! The team tops Bic off, I yell to Cody to NOT push through the bobble and concentrate on the lateral grip, perfect lines and using ALL the brakes and to go kick some ass for a few hours! He nods vigorously, but we are both in full gear with earbuds in so who knows if he can actually hear me or not. Fueling done, he slides in, I get his straps on tight and yell GO. He heard that as the clutch came out and Bic rumbled out to the track with more hours of battle to do. As for my stint, I started in 7th and pitted from 5th. The springs and tires totally transformed the handling and while I was no stranger to passing miatas in the braking zones, I was now passing them IN the corners also!! The grip was awesome! I did have one miata driver stop by and ask what we had done to the brakes. Heh. The car was rock solid my whole stint and the throttle seemed to work till about 80-85% to me. Using that throttle the temps stayed nice and cool and the throttle response was very good. Overall, my stint went well! Wahoo!!
Above: Air-Rossi and taking food up to Tye who was spotting for Cody
Cody's second stint was memorable for several reasons. First off, he was not afraid of hurting the car and after maybe two laps of feeling out the 'state of the car', he dropped the hammer and got to work. He looked great out there pulling off some sweet passes and working traffic as good as anyone on track. Secondly, his wife and two kids arrived just after he got out there and they got to watch him and hang out with us. Cody passed the 'reindeer car' (pink 2nd gen Rx7) and Claire giggled like it was the funniest thing she had ever seen. She also got to talk to him on the radio which was pretty sweet. Cody worked hard for a little over 2 hours, starting in 6th and bringing it back into the pits in 6th!! Sweet!!
Above: Anna babysitting and the kiddos with the 'zip tie project'!!
So now we are 5/6ths of the way through the race. ONE more stop to put Fair in the car and let's bring this thing home. A top 5 is close, but we'll have to get there through attrition as we don't quite have the speed to catch the cars in front of us. Behind us are a few SHOs and Miatas that are fast enough, but they are stopping too frequently or are black-flag-magnets. We just need a clean stint to snag 6th, so the plan is to run consistent and stay clean.
For the final stint I hopped in and went out with Amy spotting on the radio. I could hear her and signal back with manual talk clicks only - we never had 2 way comms all weekend other than these crude 1/2/3 click responses from the driver. She was letting me know about flags, was reading me times from the Race Keeper app (MyLaps real time data), which I find hugely helpful. I ran mostly 2:20 laps, after being told to stay off the throttle to extend our driving stints and fuel windows. I had one more 2:17 in there, and a few other teens, but mostly 2:20-2:22 laps, short shifting a lot. About 10 laps into this stint there was an "incident...
So going into T1 there was some debris, from cars spinning
across the gravel and slinging it on track. It happens a lot. So The T1 corner
station had a debris flag out, like they had for 2 previous laps. You can pass -
its not a yellow - but one of the drivers thought otherwise. I was coming up on
this car, who was going slow and wide into 1, so I took the inside line. Needed
to get the pass done here in T1-T2 if possible, so as not to be stuck behind
them in the tighter T3-T4-T5 complex. I figured he saw this mess of a Camaro
gaining on him in the straights and was going wide to let me by. Well apparently
he didn't see me or thought it was a yellow and I would NOT pass there, and as
I'm about halfway inside him in T1 he cut across the front of me - I stab the
brakes but the LF fender of the Camaro just clipped their RR fender. His car
spun and stalled, and the Camaro came to a stop and then promptly died. I spent
a few seconds restarting the car, meanwhile Amy is chatting away about my
previous lap time (a 2:22), and Costas was chatting about something else, yadda
yadda yadda. All tying up the radio. I figured out they didn't see the
accident! I knew I'd get a black flag, but we had our "one free black
flag" unused so it could be a quick stop. Or not, if the random judging
became d1ck-ish like it sometimes does (and did again).
So I'm frantically sending out my "SOS" call of 3 clicks when the radio was quiet, between their random chatter that lap. Amy doesn't know what 3 clicks means, and asks somebody else on our channel in the trailer. They said... uh, start asking questions. So Amy started asking me what was wrong. She hadn't been here the day before to learn our crude click-click radio "language" protocol from the driver, so she asked if I was out of fuel, "no" (2 clicks), then if the car was OK, and I said...well I needed to come in so I replied "no" (2 clicks). She asked if I needed to come in, and I said "yes!!!" (1 click). By then I'd already passed start-finish and got the black flag I was expecting, so I acknowledged that to the starter and planned my in-lap. Amy is still asking questions and I'm trying to tell her by a freaging crude MORSE CODE that I have a black flag and HAD to come in!!! She asks if I can make another lap or two, and I said "no!" (as loudly as you can make two clicks!!!). Do you HAVE to come in this lap? "yes!" (1 click plus a stream of profanity to nobody that can hear me!) Somebody else finally cuts in and asks if I'm coming in for a flag problem, "Yes!" right as I'm coming off the track. Not having 2-way communication SUCKS in an endurance race, by the way. So some of the team meanders over to the tech shed as I come in, and the other car I tagged is already there (they came in on the first lap after). I'm trying NOT to get out of the car, as I know how freagin long it takes to re-do these damned belts, and I try to explain to the judges as calmly and politely as I can (you have to kiss their asses or you get massively delayed) that this guy "I hit" just ran over the front of my car after leaving the door WIDE open, and giving me what I thought was an obvious cue to pass him into T1. The other guy is now ranting about "there was a waving yellow at Start/Finish and T1!", which there wasn't, and I said "No, it was a debris flag, and you can pass under that." The judges didn't seem to know the actual flag situation, or to care, and told us to get out of the car and prepare to take judgement. This means - a huge delay.
Costas told them this was our first black flag, which it was,
and we were promised "one free black flag per day", which we'd seen
other cars get and quickly get back on track. But the LeMons head poo-bah Jay
says he doesn't care, starts giving him sh!t, and lies about an incident the day
before. Costas wisely extracted himself from that brewing situation and walked
away. The more I do LeMons events the LESS AND LESS I can stand the guy
that runs the series. I do not care for Jam Lamm and I will likely never do
another LeMons event because of him. There's more I could say, but I'll leave it
at that. (There is a lot more I could add, but I'll do the
same....regardless, no more lemons for WDMS!!.....Costas)
So we lost some more track time and laps while we had to do a lame punishment dance for the judges wearing their little gowns, then I finally got back into the car, got the belts re-done with massive help from someone that could thread the 5 pieces of harness into the latch I couldn't see, and somebody who had never touched the radio harnesses hooked up the cables to my helmet & earbuds, so then I had no more radio commutations in either direction for the last 2 hours of my drive. I got back out on course not knowing what place I was in (still 6th), how close we were to 5th (too far back now to matter), and how close 7th place was to me (turns out they were many laps down). So I kept trying to click-click the radio, waving frantically that I had no comms, but I got nothing. I unplugged and replugged everything I could see (which is about nothing with the head restraint on, so I had adjusted the mirrors so I could see the cables), then after too many laps not paying 100% attention to my driving I finally gave up on the radio.
Front and rear damage on the same incident. Bonus points for shrubbery stuck in the nose on the driver side!
No clock in the car, no comms at all, no pit board, and nobody
signaling me. Hmm, this is a pickle. So not being able to judge my time lost in
the pits and having lost track of my lap count, I was out there pretty much
flying blind. I knew I had to make it to the end of the race, but when was that?
A freagin sundial on the hood would have been helpful at that moment. I assumed
I was still safe in 6th place, but that was a wild guess, and I drove the
car gently to try to get it to the finish in that position I hoped we still
occupied. With a longer stint planned than the previous day and the fuel
situation precarious from the day before, I was told to short-shift and SLOW
DOWN my lap times from Day 1 to Day 2, and I did this more and and more each
lap. The sun was getting lower but I had no idea how close to the 4:30 pm end
time we were, and just kept pounding out laps and hoping for the best.
Eventually I pulled the radio out of its holster, unhooked all of the harnesses, and held it under my helmet and yelled "I've lost all comms!". I couldn't ear anything from the radio, with my earbuds still in and helmet on, so I didn't know if the radio itself was dead or what. Towards the end I did that a few more times and said "Car is OK but I cannot hear you!" Later they said they heard me loud and clear, so I should have thought about trying that right after I came out and maybe asked for a pit board update now and then. Hindsight.
Above: Rossi helping out in the penalty box and always game for a golf-cart ride!!
Without any radio traffic, clock or pit board signals this stint
seemed to carry on for days... I had wild visions of everyone on the team
leaving the track, going out for a nice warm dinner, and leaving me out there
for hours and hours. Crazy, I know, but I was dying to know what time it was
(lesson learned: I will never enter an endurance race car without a watch or
clock of some kind on me).
Towards the end of my stint (I figured that out later) the car started to fuel starve in right hand turns. Uh oh. I'm in real trouble here. So then I started using 5th gear on the straights, and shifting SUPER early, and using 10-15% throttle. Again, I had no idea if I had 5 more laps or 50, having lost all sense of time. I was panicking a little, trying the radio over and over, re-wiring all the radio cabling from the driver's seat while still driving as fast as I could, and my very real fear now was that I'd run out of fuel on track, nobody on the team would see me, and by the time I got towed-in they wouldn't have anyone suited up or any fuel jugs filled in the hot pits (the only place we could refuel) and it would compound our delay further. Amy was still up on the hill trying to talk to me on the radio the whole time, but I had no clue.
Then, after what seemed like 50 hours of driving, I saw the one thing I was looking for all day - the starter reaching down and holding up one finger. ONE. MORE. LAP. Halleluiah! So I knew then I had enough fuel for one more fast lap, and I was gong to re-pass some of the slower traffic that I had just let go by me, in case any of them had maybe jumped into 6th place. I had NO idea about anything at this point. But then I got caught behind 4 jackasses in SHO's driving FOUR ABREAST around the whole final lap as some sort of "parade lap". Oh boy. I was swerving, trying to pass this wall of crapcans, but the outside two cars kept swerving violently and trying to put me into the grass. They were driving super slow and determined to not let anyone past their wall of Tauruses. The racing going on behind them did not matter. Roll eyes...
Above: Yes it is a huge picture...but a very cool sun beginning to set and Fair bringing Bic back to our paddock spot
So after that interminable lap the checker finally flew, and it was over. I had enough fuel to make it back around to the pits, too. I got out, they took some pictures, I thanked the team, and Amy and I GTFO.
Fair brought it home in 6th. The car finished it's FOURTH lemons race. It has a 100% finishing ratio and I'd bet not many folks can say that. Sure, some folks go out and take the checker flag after sitting in the pits most of the time, but I don't think many folks would really call that 'finishing'. Everyone got good driving stints and yet again, the car drove itself into the trailer. Wahoo! As for the sanctioning body, I'll stay off my soapbox here, but WDMS will not be doing another lemons race. Catch me in person if you want to know the sordid details of how they operate. As for us, we'll make the jump to ChumpCar like so many have before us. We actually spoke to about a half-dozen teams at this event who brought up ChumpCar and we are very much looking forward to it.
Bic's history is pretty good for a 500$ race car:
1st race = 2nd place out of 75 cars with only the 17th fastest lap time. No black flags, no offs, no penalties, no unscheduled stops!
2nd race = Screwed by tech we struggled to 51st out of 95 entries. The car earns it's name here due to tech leaving a pen cap in our fuel cell which blocked the vent. Fastest lap way outside the top 20.
3rd race = Minor fire and a fog-induced wall hit, yet we managed 11th out of 48 entries with the 21st fastest lap time.
4th race = 6th place while getting screwed (again) by the organization, and doing it with only the 19th fastest lap time.
Above: (left) Happy Times, (right) BUH-BYE, SEE YOU AT THE NEXT TRACK!!!
Below: Climbing in to rescue Mickey....she held him the whole way home!!
Things overheard throughout the weekend:
Cody: (on Sunday while looking at a pic of Bic on track Saturday) "Ya know, in a nightmarish way, it's a good looking car."
Fair: (to Cody on the radio Sunday) "RUN HIM DOWN....but keep the car together..."
Ron: (about Fair having issues finding the right gear) "Well Fair needs more training on a stick, I didn't have trouble finding any gear."
Cody: (spotting for Ron on Saturday) "CMON YOU'RE FASTER THAN HE IS......I think...."
Fair: (spotting for Cody who is catching a gaggle of cars in a braking zone) "Now step out and pass the Rx7...yes....YES PASS ALL OF THEM, YES!"
Rossi: (holding a zip-tie chain that just used 30 zip ties) "I would like more zip ties please."