Topic: Taking my first crack at The Cure For Gingervitis.
So this was my first actual Lemons race as an Actual Real Racer. I was with Marc, Tsoggy, and Spank in the #616 Terribly Awesome Hyundai Excel. I drove up from my place in Virginia on Thursday and upon arriving at the track was immediately handed a beer by the Dustbuster crew and offered food. They also let me sleep in their (somewhat) heated trailer, saving me from my original plan of sleeping in a blanket fort in the back of my car, so much thanks to them for that.
We didn't do the Friday test day (it's an '86 Excel, why would we?), so I spent the day roaming the paddock meeting people and talking to people. I got to see the Milk-Bone race suit in person, which was probably one of the best things I've ever seen in my life. I got to experience Race Bacon for the first time and meet a lot of great people. Not to knock my experience as a spectator at NHMS back in October, but I felt that the atmosphere in the paddock here was a lot more relaxed and welcoming. I didn't feel like I was in the way of everything, and actually getting to participate in the Friday night paddock roam (to the team with the red RX-7, thanks for the Jäger!) made the experience a whole lot better. As for the car, it was a little sluggish starting. We replaced the starter (amazingly, AutoZone in South Haven had one in stock!) and one or two other minor things that I forget, and we got it running.
Saturday, Marc takes the car out first. About 30 seconds after the green flag, Tsoggy and I are watching the start by Turn 1 and we see the Excel turn off into the grass and stop. First car to break down after the green flag! We come in on the hook to find the alternator belt had come off. That also drives the water pump, which then spat out all our water. We also discovered that our valve cover gasket was in pieces. Fix all that, and the car runs great. Now it's my turn. I have never in my entire life driven on a race track. I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. I haven't even driven a stick shift in years, that whole being a Buick enthusiast thing and all. But I'm in a car that can barely get out of its own way, much less get me into any trouble, so what can possibly go wrong? Yes, I was Terrible, with a capital T. I kept hearing Steve McDaniel's voice in my head, "Just find a side of the track you're comfortable on and stay there", and "THERE IS NO LINE IN Lemons", so that's what I did. I apologize for being in anyone's way. I came back in after about 20 minutes, slightly terrified, slightly exhilarated, but overall I was pretty calm. All I wanted to do was get the car back in one piece with no flags, and that's exactly what I did.
When my turn at the wheel came up again, I was still terrible, but a lot less terrible. I started feeling a little more confident, now that I knew how the track went and how the traffic was going, and I was able to start having fun. Still needing to stay out of everyone else's way, I was just racing myself, pushing myself a little bit farther each time. I even got to take "the line" through 5 and 6 once when there was no traffic! I probably didn't do it right but it felt amazing. I came back in after about an hour and 15 minutes, still with no incidents or flags under my belt. We convinced Spank, who had been appropriated by the Lemons Supreme Court, to take a stint, just in time for the red flag and all-black after the rollover. Spank went back out, then Marc went back out, and it was my turn yet again. The plan had been for me to finish out the day, but thanks to all the water and Gatorade I had been drinking all day (because a forecast of cloudy and 50s turned into sunny and 70s), and even though I had just emptied it, after a few laps my bladder began jamming my brain with signals that it needed to be emptied. There was no clock in the car, I had no idea what time it was or how much time was left until the checkered. All I knew is that every time I braked or took a left-hand corner, the flood gates wavered under the pressure. I wasn't about to pee in Marc's car, and I wanted to continue my streak of no flags, so I came in. My words to Marc were, "You're gonna hate me." So I ran to the porta-potty, and he finished out the day. We ended up about 60th place at the end of Saturday, 9th in Class C.
I didn't participate in the Saturday night festivities. I started to get a bit of a headache, from overhydration, or underhydration, something, which the blazing sun directly in my face every time I looked west didn't help. I laid down in Tsoggy's parents' RV, with the promise that I would just nap until the sun went down. When I woke up, it was 3:00 AM. Whoops. Then I didn't wake up until about 8 or 9 Sunday. Whoops. Spank and I went out into town for coffee and to pick up a couple things for the car, namely a giant clock to ziptie to the dash so we would know what time it was. We had a talk about my Lemons hopes and dreams. I really appreciated his advice and encouragement, definitely a big confidence booster as I work to set up my own car and team in the future. 12:00 noon and Tsoggy is strapped in to start us off. We offered one of the guys from the Focus team, who were now carless after the rollover that caused the red flag yesterday, a seat in the Excel. This meant that I was now last to go out. Wandering the paddock, I saw the Excel by the penalty box, hood open and steam pouring out of it. The temperature gauge was almost pegged. Once the water stopped flashing to steam as soon as it was poured in, it was instead pouring out from around the water pump. That's not good. Back to our pit space, change the pump. There's nothing left of the gasket, just a bit of sealant on one side. Check compression, there's virtually nothing in 2 or 3. Time to hit the head bolts. The gasket is blown between 2 and 3. As Marc is prepping the head for the new gasket, Spank wanders over and notices a crack in the water jacket there. That's not good either. We decided to throw it all back together with all the RTV in the county, hoping that it will stay together long enough to take the checkered flag. I suit up while Marc and Tsoggy work to get everything back together. We got the engine about 92 percent back together, then I lean in to look at the clock. 5:22. Marc decided to call it and we took the DNF.
I wasn't even disappointed. I couldn't have asked for a better first race. Thanks once again to Marc for the opportunity to race, and thanks to everyone for an amazing weekend. I will be back, many, many times.