Topic: K, Buttonwillow
I finally got around to doing the write-up on the TX-CA trip back in June that Phil has been asking me for ever since... I know, I've been busy.
I think most anyone who cares has heard most of the story, but here it is.
Texas to Cali in the K, Buttonterrible 2013
My original plan was to leave College Station on Wednesday after work. Of course K wasn’t quite ready to roll out then, so I worked on the car until 4am, then slept a few hours and got back at it early Thursday. By around noon I was loaded up and ready to roll. It took about exactly 10 seconds for the trouble to begin, couldn’t get it in to reverse, no biggy, the shifter was a bit vague to say the least, so I figured it was just something minor and I didn’t really need reverse anyway, Cali wasn’t behind me. So, down the road I go, 1st gear, 2nd gear, 3rd, fourth…… no 5th. Ok, it might have been a little more serious than I thought… Then, no 1st, no 2nd, I had 3rd and 4th only. Now I have a problem. I Stopped at a gas station and discovered I had lost the keeper for the left/right shifter cable.
On the way out of the house that morning I had noticed 4 random nuts lying on the dresser that I had carried home in my pocket at some point during the last few weeks. As I had not really packed any extra fasteners of any kind I figured they may come in handy. That time came much sooner than I had expected. 1 random nut from my pocket, 2 zipties and a nice strip of Gorilla tape and I had all gears again.
It was 105 degrees when I pulled out of college station. The K was loud as hell at highway speeds. Within an hour I began to wonder if I could actually make it 1600 mile in these conditions, I had only just begun. 2 and a half latter I stopped just west of Austin for fuel, a cold drink and to stretch my legs a bit. If you ever consider driving a race car long distance, for many hours, think seriously about the seat. I wish I had thought and done more in the comfort department and I was paying the price for my slackness already.
Hours and miles go by, no issues. I was feeling a bit better about my chances of making it. K was doing great, 80 mph, sounded good, felt good. Finally the sun started getting lower in the sky and the temp started dropping a bit. I was definitely looking forward to rolling through the night in some cooler weather.
A few hours after sunset and some mile east of El Paso, I started noticing a rather ominous clunking noise from the left rear when I would hit a pothole or a big bump on the road. So when I stopped for fuel around midnight I took a good look around and discovered I had lost the nut off the top of the of the driver’s side rear shock. Now picking up those randoms from the dresser was really starting to pay off. The best I had was not quite the correct thread, but it went on. Cross threads be damned!
Back on the road, through the night, sleep deprived, half deaf, numb from the waist down. I rolled through Phoenix just as the sky was starting to turn to day. I decided at this point that I HAD to get a few hours sleep. I had been sleep-driving for a couple hours already and not even the early rush hour traffic through Phoenix was waking me up. So I stopped at a truck stop on the west side of town and crawled into the back of the K. Lying on top of tool boxes, luggage, and coolers, with a jack handle poking my in the ribs, I attempted to sleep. I got 2 hours +/- of sleep in these conditions and woke up with the sun beating down on the K, sweating my ass off. Time to go.
I-10 across west Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona was the most direct route and given my time constraints, the only logical way to go. I have spent a lot of time in the Mojave/Sonoran desert areas and I knew it would be hot. I wasn’t really counting on record breaking heat. By 10am it was 110, by noon 115. By the time I was approaching the AZ/California border it was 118 degrees in the shade, IF you could find some. Record highs were falling all throughout the area and I was driving through the hottest place on the planet. But The K was running great and I was getting closer to California. I knew once I got through Palm Springs and over the San Bernardino Mountains things would cool off. It was only a soothing 97 degrees in L.A…. I had the hammer down. Then a few miles from the California border and the little desert town of Blythe…. K just stopped. 80mph, then spit, sputter, cough, dead. On the side of I-10, 20 miles from anything, which was the border check point outside Blythe, she was dead. Wouldn’t start, nothing. I spent about 30 minutes under the hood trying to diagnose the problem, very hard to do when you can’t reach the key from under the hood and nobody is there to help. Eventually I managed to get it started, and spitting and sputtering limped her down the shoulder, through the border checkpoint and into Blythe.
What followed was probably the worst five hours of my life. It was 120 degrees outside and there was not a single patch of shade to be found it that whole damn town. After a lot of head scratching, sweating, talking on the phone and consultations with fellow LeMonites, it was suggested that it may be the O2 sensor. Luckily the local auto parts store had 1 in stock. It worked. So on the edge of a heat stroke and my very last nerve, I was on the road again.
A few more hours across the desert, over the mountains, and into the L.A. basin. Where I was much relieved to find the temperature falling steadily into the mid 90s as I drove through the ever present L.A. traffic. I was pushing well passed the speed limit and the contents of the fuel tank as I approached the south side of the Grapevine. As I exited highway 5 for a much needed fuel stop, I ran out. Coasting down a small gradient, into a gas station and up to the pump….. that was close.
All fueled up, over the grapevine, car running fine. Pulled into the track just as the sun was setting. Roughly 33 hours and 1600 miles of pure hell, but tomorrow we race! And I had high hopes that the K was gonna dominate, we were gonna haul ass, show them what a K car could do, and bring home the glory (and the I.O.E.)….
Of course the K had other plans. Chris Champion, of Team Tetanus, was first out. He had never ran at Buttonwillow, nor driven the K in its new, more powerful state, so we thought it would be good for him to get in on the parade laps to at least get a look at the track before it went green. All was fine for about 45 minutes, and then the mystery problem began. It was very much like the O2 sensor symptoms, except it wasn’t. It was getting fuel. It had good spark. On and on, all day we worked on it. Try this, try that, sometimes it would run great for a bit. Out on to the track, back on the tow truck…. Day 1, done.
Overnight we pulled the fuel tank, replaced the pump, filter, swapped computers, sensors, relays…. all in vain. By around noon on Sunday, my will, patience, and energy were gone. I mopped around the paddock and penalty box looking for some comfort or someone to feel sorry for me until the race was over. No one did of course, no pity for self-inflicted wounds I guess.
When it came time to load the K on Chris O’s trailer, it fired right up and ran like a champ….. WTF??
As far as I know the problem was never really identified. But, true to her nature, K continues to come up with new and interesting ways of torturing those who attempt to race her…. DAMN YOU LEE IACOCCA!!