Topic: Oh god, I just started typing and couldn't stop.
Wow, where do I even start? This weekend was an absolute blast for us, and topping it off with an IoE win was like, so much icing on the cake that it was practically another whole cake made completely out of icing. Here comes the overly verbose write-up of our race experience, for those who want to know the whole story. You can skip ahead if you only care about the race itself. Actually, you'll probably want to skip most of this crap anyway.
Let's start with the Dart. Our last race (at ECR in May) sucked because we clogged up our fuel system with a crappy and unnecessary tank liner product on a brand new gas tank. We fixed that with another new tank, and we also added a new stainless hard line for good measure. The only mechanical improvements we made were a new transmission kickdown linkage (rather than just wiring the valve open), fixing our transmission fluid leak (mostly), and adding some gauges (some of which didn't work). The short version is that we didn't have to do much, which was a good thing, since we volunteered like idiots to take the K car with a week and a half to spare.
The K car showed up at my house the week before the race with a blown engine in the back and a non-running junkyard engine installed. We spent the majority of the next week pulling the junkyard motor, disassembling and cleaning it, swapping on the heads from the original motor, and replacing the water pump, oil pump, timing belt, gaskets, and spark plugs. I also welded a crack in the junkyard oil pan, which was in far better condition than the pan which was used as a connecting rod escape route.. We finally put a new clutch on the engine Wednesday night before the race (I think), mated up the transmission, and installed them both in the car. Thursday night, we bolted up the K member while our friends at Tetanus arrived at the track early and staked out a shared paddock space big enough for all of us and our combined 6 cars.
We then began reconnecting everything: electrical connections, brake hoses, radiator and hoses. This lasted until sunrise on Friday, whereupon Fithi and I had to wait until 7 AM to go pick up some last minute parts to finish bleeding the brakes. Several hours of sleep later (I took Friday off work), I woke up and started thinking about packing. Various other teammates started to show up later in the afternoon. Bob was busy running around, picking up the rental generators, the margarita machine, delivering stuff to the track, etc. We tried to take the K for a test drive and quickly discovered that the clutch didn't work. It wouldn't disengage the transmission. We could only start in Neutral and then we couldn't shift. A suggestion from Bob and some internet research led us to believe the clutch plate may have been installed backwards. I called Greg and told him to bring the trailer.
We arrived at the track a little after midnight on Friday. Carrie (Bob's wife) and Jen (one of our other friends) had already set up most of the food and shelter situation. The rest of the night was spent setting up camp and pulling the K's transmission, which we were luckily able to remove by itself while only pulling one half-shaft. Which Bob did without thinking and spilled oil everywhere. In hindsight, I'm not even sure why we dropped the K member in my garage in the first place, but we were in a bit of a hurry all week and really didn't know what the hell we were doing most of the time. Anyway, we discovered that the clutch plate actually had been installed correctly, which left us scratching our heads again. Did we order the wrong clutch? The clutch plates sure looked the same. Except for these plastic clips on the new one. They look like they've been rubbing on something. Should we cut them off? No, we don't even know what they might be holding in. This went on for a bit.
Anton, for what was not going to be the last time, helped us out by noting that while the clutch plates looked the same, the pressure plates were different. The new one was slightly taller. Greg and Fithi reinstalled the new clutch using the old pressure plate. This may have been late Saturday morning after we all slept for 4 hours or so; the sequence of events has become muddled in my memory. Anyway, it totally worked. Then we kept having problems with the battery dying, and we spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how the hell the alternator was supposed to be wired up. We ended up not getting teched until after the race started, and even then didn't get out on track until Sunday.
Meanwhile, we finished up on the Dart. Bob installed the lights, I applied the last of the theme paint and hooked up the new kill switch, and then we tried to figure out why the hell we had an intermittent short that killed power to the whole car. Eventually everything started working again, so we decided not to question the capricious whims of the Mopar electrical demons and took the car to tech. Our relatively new brake switch had also stopped working, but that was a quick fix after Gaius (one of our new drivers) got back from the parts store. The Dart thankfully started the race on time and made slowish lap after slowish lap. We had three old and five new drivers on our team, but two of the new drivers had track experience, and two more at least had experience driving performance-oriented RWD cars. Apparently the car was handling like a dream, and the only real issue was a stumble coming out of hard corners at full throttle.
At some point on Saturday evening (I think), the mysterious Mopar gremlin showed back up and killed all power to the Dart while Greg was driving. Bob and I pulled out the tester and the laminated wiring diagram and started working our way down from the battery. (By the way, if you don't have a complete wiring diagram of your car, they are a fantastic investment. I got mine on eBay when I was still driving the car in high school.) Eventually, I found out that the positive wire going to the ammeter on the original dash had a loose connection. After causing some sparks by trying to tighten it without turning off the kill switch, we got it fixed and sent the car back out. That was the only technical problem the Dart had all weekend, aside from the fog lights mysteriously dying after a few hours. Don't know if we blew one of the relays or what, and I haven't checked yet.
In any case, we ran a pretty clean race until I got in the car around 9:00 PM.
Now, at this point the only experience I'd ever had at MSR was one 8 minute lap in the electric Datsun at the LeMons race last year. I'd certainly never driven the track at night, and I hadn't ever experienced the carousel exit. To be perfectly honest, I also had a little bit of the red mist from the get-go. I was seriously itching for a chance to find out what the old girl would do with the suspension improvements we made after the spring CMP race, and the disappointment of only getting about 3 hours of track time between 3 of us at ECR was really frustrating. That, of course, is no excuse for hooning a 50-year old car around at night on a racetrack that you've never really driven before, but that's what happened.
Anyway, I almost spun a few times and always managed to recover, didn't hit anybody, and generally had a blast when I wasn't scared shitless and didn't know where the next corner was. The carousel exit was particularly frightening the first time I came through. I took turn 12 (the left-hander just after the Launch) too hard several times and let the back end slip out, but always managed to recover. Similar stories abound at the Carousel exit, the Bus Stop, and particularly Diamond's Edge, where I made frequent use of the runout pavement and nearly came to a stop a couple times. I came back in after an hour for a scheduled driver change and was informed by Aaron, a friend of ours who volunteered to be the race controller, that the next driver was in the can and no one else was suited up. So out I went for another 30 minutes. Considering how tired I was at this point, I really should have dialed it back more than I did. The next time I took 12 too hard, I briefly went 4 off. I kept it pointing in the right direction and immediately re-entered the track with no one around me, and was rewarded with no black flags. A couple laps later, however, I spun out hard at the exact same spot and came to a stop. On my way to the track exit for my well-deserved penalty, I proceeded to drop at least 2 wheels off the track at the Bus Stop as well.
Phil was remarkably friendly under the circumstances, especially considering that the corner workers had noticed my first 4-off and had put me on the watch list. 3 definite offenses in as many (maybe fewer?) laps were enough to earn me a farm animal welded to the car, but I got off easy: I got to choose the animal and the location! Since we had to sit out for a half hour until the first session ended at 11 PM, I took the time to paint our new goat roof ornament with some of the leftover red glitter paint from the K car. When it dried, it came out looking very runny and a darker red than I expected. This was the inception of the Blood Goat. I came up with an entire legend about how the Nazi rocket engineers rescued by the USA after WW2 had made a deal with the devil to ensure a successful moon landing before 1970, and one of the conditions was the sacrifice of a goat on the pad before every space launch. Why do you think Challenger blew up? KGB spies put a hex on the goat to make it die of natural causes before it could be sacrificed. Columbia was probably a bureaucratic mix-up with the goat's tracking paperwork. Why do you think we're moving to private space launches now? If a different organization manages the launch, then they're not beholden to the original contract- no more goat sacrifices! Etc., etc. I also tried to make "Blood for the blood goat!" our team cheer, but for some reason it didn't go over very well.
So... where was I? Basically, the rest of our drivers cycled through overnight. Some got flagged for spins, some didn't. Greg was tagged on the right quarter at some point, but we didn't take much damage. That was already the car's ugly side, anyway. Sleep deprivation began to take its toll on everyone. Gaius told us the next day that he knew it was time to come in when he caught himself making racecar noises with his mouth during the turns. Bob was apparently talking to himself like Barry from Archer. Most of us eventually picked up a few hours of sleep here and there in one of the air-conditioned hexayurts. I'm glad it didn't rain until Sunday, because that thing turned into Lake Hexayurt after the storm.
While the track was still dry on Sunday morning, I was amazed at how much easier it was to drive when you can see the turns coming. I was also surprised at how well the Dart seemed to do in the Carousel. With a dry track, I was able to stick the rear end out and power all the way through it, and I could temporarily keep up with some much faster cars until we got to the pit straight. Definitely a good feeling compared to how hella-butt-slow we were at CMP in the spring. I had a great time trying to pass some cars that had more acceleration but less handling. I probably chased the Scubaru wagon for 3 laps, only to get by him when he appeared to slow down on the back straight. I don't know if he was having a problem or if he just wanted to let me by. I also had a lot of fun chasing the Macaroni Racing Mustang. I think I finally passed him around turn 12, and I was sad to see him spin out right behind me in the bus stop; I hope I didn't have a hand in that somehow. This was probably after the rain, when the track was still pretty wet. I also chased that orange Miata for a while, but he always stayed just out of reach.
The rainstorm, by the way, was really damn fun. I'm really glad the Dart still has windshield wipers. After I learned how slow I had to drive to avoid skidding across the track like a hockey puck, it was actually pretty relaxing because everyone else had slowed down, too. While the monsoon was in full effect, I actually don't remember getting passed once. For a lap or so, I was following the #171 Ford (RIP), and the driver appeared to be having a butt-clench of a time sliding around the turn at the end of the pit straight. I finally took a chance to pass him on the back straight, and then I immediately ate shit coming out of Diamond's Edge and spun off the inside of the exit. I don't know if I was flagged or not. When I came into the penalty box, Phil had nothing marked down for me, so he told me not to do it again and said "Get back out there and have fun!" Oddly enough, after another 20 minutes of wet driving in which I'm pretty sure I never did anything wrong, I finally saw my number (13) posted up at start/finish. I came in again, but Phil still had no record of a penalty. I guess race control had their hands full during the weather.
At some point on Sunday, everyone had given up on getting the K car to charge. I said to hell with it, we'll just drive it until the battery dies, then throw it on the charger like Hoonatic's electric car. While Greg was out in the Dart for the second time, I strapped myself in and lurched out onto the track. The clutch still activates pretty high on the pedal throw, by the way. Might want to adjust that. I made it around twice before Greg caught up in the Dart. He tailed me from the Launch until the back straight, then passed me. I went around the Diamond's Edge, downshifted, and then heard a pop and lost power. There was a little steam or smoke, but it cleared pretty quick. I coasted off the left side of the track and waited for the tow truck. Once we got back to the paddock, I took a look under the car and didn't see any obvious Shawshank escape tunnels, but- no, wait. That's a horrible metaphor. A thrown rod knocks a hole in less than a second; it doesn't dig one out over the course of 20 years while keeping it obscured by a poster of Rita Hayworth. I didn't see any obvious... Kool-Aid man holes? "Oh Yeah?" Whatever. This story has dragged on for way too long. Basically, I'm hoping it's just a head gasket, but it might be worse.
We watched the end of the race from the stands and were amused to see the Dart as the very last car across the finish line. We finished 3rd in Class C with something like 350 laps. When we got to the award ceremony, we honestly weren't expecting much. We figured we had too many black flags to be in IoE contention, and there were too many other insane projects going on for us to take home something like Organizer's Choice. I Got Screwed was even out of the question, considering the two cars that got totaled. Even so, when Phil got to the last award, I remember ticking off in my head every time he said something about the team who won: "Raced a car that definitely doesn't belong on a racetrack"- check, that's us, but it's also half the field at a race like this. Something else I can't remember- yup, still could be us, but now I'm just being hopeful. "Started out in a different region"- wait, what does that mean... okay, actually, that sounds like us... "Got quite a few black flags"- at this point Bob and I look at each other, confused. Holy shit, I think he's actually talking about us. When he called our names we went fucking nuts, as you probably remember if you were there.
So basically, thanks to everybody. My whole team for paying up, showing up, and driving well enough to keep the car on track and not broken. Carrie and Jen, for agreeing to manage food and habitation for us and Tetanus. The judges, for deciding we were awesome enough for the big prize even though we showed up at the penalty box a whole bunch. The other teams, for managing to not hit us when we were trying to drive our car like a racecar and not doing it very well. Tetanus Racing, for agreeing to team up with us in the paddock, saving space for us when we totally didn't show up until Friday at midnight, and putting up with us borrowing their tools and their Anton while trying in vain to make the K-car go. Anton, for figuring out the clutch issue and wracking his brain with us about the alternator. Doug, for the moral support. Frank, for trying to help us fix the drive system he donated. Scott, for running to pick up Frank and also for the awesome T-shirts.
We have big plans for the Dart now. Probably a rear end with a better gear ratio, probably a junkyard turbo solution of some kind... we're either going to win Class C or blow up trying. And if anyone had issues with the way we were driving, please let me know. I'd like to think I'm exaggerating a bit for comic effect, but if we actually did something remarkably stupid, I definitely would like to hear about it. We don't want to be those guys.
Holy mother of fuck, that's a lot of words.
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