Race Day, (Part III)

(the madness continues...)

 I have no idea who this guy is.  He certainly wasn't with us.  All I know is, the next morning, the track officials reminded us that there was a "no motorcycle/scooter" rule around the paddock area, and that _someone_ had been doing burnouts in the men's room.  Sure enough, when I went in for my morning ritual, there were black streaks on the floor in front of the sinks.  Well, this is LeMons _SOUTH_.  

He Haw.  It certainly is.  And despite awakening to a foggy, muggy stew of atmosphere surrounding the track and pits, our mood was chipper.  Unlike some teams, we were not up until 4:30 in the morning, generators hammering, wrenches pounding, air compressors giving off a periodic ratatatatatatatatatat, welders and spotlights waging war with the intended darkness.  Yeah, that team.  You know who you were.  Luckily, we were so bushed after the first day of racing, that what actually awakened us was the cessation of the above.  Silence?  Huh.  
It didn't matter.  We had been running so well the previous day and recovering as best we could from the false start.  By the time I took the checkered flag Saturday night and extricated myself from the Amazon, I was already yearning to go back out.  This picture, I think, adequately sums up the feelings of the whole team after Day 1:

Edit by Brian: I didn't feel this way.  The car was on the road for 1/2 the time and I did extremely poorly.  It was fun, though, and I was looking forward to the car kicking some surprised butt.  I just didn't know ,at this point, if I was going to kick any of it.

Racing Sunday commenced bright and early, with another, shorter drivers' meeting around 8 and a resumption of chaos around 9-ish.  During the meeting, Jay (the organizer) asked us if we wanted to re-grid up in the exact order we came off the track the night before, which would take some time, or just make a mad dash to the track, do a couple of parade laps, and get back to racing.  You can imagine what the unanimous vote went to.  

We sprinted back to our impromptu garage, lit up the 4 cylinders, shoved Matt into the driver's seat and wished him Godspeed.  We'd changed the front tires, as the first set were completely wasted, but the rears looked halfway decent.  We'd only brought 2 spare tires with us, other than the stock skinny-winnie tires we trailered the car in on.  And if we had to resort to _those_ things, well, we really would have been in dire straits.  

Day two of racing got off to a respectable start.  There was remarkably little drama getting out there, and despite the misty start, the clouds soon broke and the sun began to beam down upon the track.  Matt and Brian went out for the first two stints of the day, (edit by Brian, wrong! Rob went before me again) and each put in some good hours behind the wheel.  By the time Brian pulled into the pits for the 1 hour moment of silence, though, (this is the Bible Belt, and recall we were racing on The Lord's Day) the brakes were reportedly feeling "squishy".  The culprit?  The left side caliper was apparently discharging mass quantities of the DOT 5 fluid the previous owner had felt obliged to fill the brake system with.  
Edit by Brian: Again, for accuracy sake, the moment of silence break is just prior to my decision to assert myself over the darn Caprice I rambled about here.  The brakes were weird.  They felt soft, but stopped the car great.  It obviously wasn't brake fade.  The scary thing was, that if you got onto the brakes, occasionally the pedal would just go to the floor.  This is a bad thing on the street.  On the track it nearly put me into the grass several times.  Thankfully, even though I had set the fastest lap of the weekend during this stint, I was still very conservative on the brakes from a Michael Schumaker perspective, nd was able to pump up the brakes each time before going a little wide and moving on without too much drama.

Now, DOT 5 fluid was originally developed for racing, as it boils at a higher temperature than conventional, alcohol-based fluids.  However, because it is silicone-based, it does not absorb water.  And water does inevitably get into the brake system.  The solution, I now know, is to bleed the brakes EVERY DAY before racing, to get the water out.  We did not do this.  My hypothesis is that the brake fluid, which boils at around 500F, got hot enough to boil some errant water that had found its way into the system (probably during the rain of the previous day and the fog and dew of that night).  Since gasses like to expand over fluids, the steam rapidly expanded and blew out the caliper seal.  
We did not have a spare caliper. But back to that in a minute...
Brian, in his session prior to the imposed quiet hour, had been doing quite a piece of driving.  In fact, he ballsily tangoed with one of the big intimidating Caprices.  The end result was this:

No matter, we had sledgehammers, grinders, and a welder.  It wasn't pretty, but we did straighten it back out. Brian had apparently been getting NASCAR-style a few times, and was even black flagged at one point and made to sit out (with the car) for about 10 minutes.  A little sympathy on the part of the Judges (and some blatant bribing with Mason Jars full of Good Old Home-Distilled Apple Brandy) and he was back out racing again.   
Edit by Brian: great story about being black flagged.  I was racing hard with that quick blue Opel.  We were literally side by side going into a corner.  I had the preferred line and he had a quarter panel on me.  Two drivers simultaneously respecting each other and racing each other hard.  As luck would have it, the yellow flag flew before he could complete what would have been the inevitable pass a few turns later.  I looked at him, he looked over at me.  I shrugged, he shrugged.  He pointed and fell back, I waved and gave a thumbs up which was enthusiastically returned.  The yellow lasted until I got the corner where the lazy corner workers neglected to tell me about the green.  He and a few others got by, but by this time, this day, I was racing, and enjoying every bit of it.  I wasn't going to let those guys all sneak by.  I took the outside on a BMW and was outbraking him handily going into the sole left turn on the track.  That would put me in the preferred line  going into the following right turn and I thought I could get him there when out of nowhere comes a primer pink 'amino something from nowhere.  He is outside of me who is outside of this BMW.  This guy was crazy.  
Any NASCAR fans out there (not me) will note that three wide into a turn is usually bad or at least scary.  This is with professionally prepped teams and radically expoensive cars with drivers who were groomed for just that cause.  Also those tracks are hundreds of feet wide.  At CMP, this turn really isn't three cars wide, we are all idiots who have never touched a steering wheel before driving cars that sometimes turn left when you whip the wheel to the right, but we never bother because we'll probably figure it out in time.

Here I am, armed with the knowledge that my steely resolve (Read: my lips were not quivering) can intimidate a 4000 lb Caprice, faced with the decision of whether to let this jerk in, who was not in front of me, was not racing nicely, and had taken a line that I was literally in at the time.  No, I didn't move.  Neither would you.  Our two cars winced as the ill suited driver turned into my front quarter panel.  Our brake Volvo fought it off, maintained it's line and soldiered on, I felt proud.  Until the corner worked waved a stinkin black flag at ME!  And we were yellow again, but not for us.  I waved violently at all of the track workers, feeling surely that there was a mistake.  I didn't earn this, and I didn't want to see our car fall victim to the depths of Jay's scary mind.  My head raced, if they made my throw a dart it could mean anything.  It could mean a radiator grill ful of spikes, it could mean a handful of sand down each painfully reliable SU carb, what would I do?  How would I face the team?  I drove on, the team came running, expecting another mechanical malady.  I screamed "BLACK FLAG!! BLACK FLAG!!!" and drove on, watching the astonished faces of the team who undoubtedly feared, as I, that the car was finished once they did whatever deed that they deemed necessary to keep other cars from cutting me off.

I rushed over to the official after ensuring that indeed, I, driver of the innocent, clean driving Tunachuckers Volvo had gotten a real live mean black flag, and said, what did I do?  "Metal to metal contact and passing under yellow" was the only utterance I got out of the man.  "thirty minutes and you throw a dart, go see Jay".

I was literally shaking at this point.  I can't even remember if I bothered to remove any of the safety equipment.

I saw Jay, he looked at me quizzically.  "Jay, he waved me on, the Blue Opel, he did, right as the caution flag fell" I said, a bit enthusiastically.  He held up a finger, talked something out quickly, and came back to face me "Jay, we are the good guys, we're the Tunachuckers!".  With my team at my side, I heard the sweetest words ever spoken "Oh, it's you guys? Let me take a few quick pictures of your car and you can go".

I offered him moonshine (which Mike brought him), I offered him a few laps behind the wheel of the trusty Volvo, I offered him a hug in my thick sweaty firesuit.  I popped the hood, let him take some pictures, and drove off to a few more laps of my stint.

Now, one of the more interested facets of the 24 Hours of Lemons race is what is known as the People's Curse Award.  Every team gets one vote, to select the competitor they believe cheated, drove badly, forgot to shower, was a general ass, whatever.  Its sort of akin to being "voted off the island", except the team which garners the most number of votes has their car crushed by a sadist in a steamshovel.  And that sadist, it turns out, was also one of the drivers, so if the Cursed car happened to piss him off...

Oh, woe to this BMW!  Here they are, pre-vote, about to overtake our car:

And after the people have spoken:




I like this last picture, it appear as though the car is wetting itself.  One would think, with petrol going for about $5 per gallon, they would have drained the tank prior to this exhibition.  Furthermore, I'm altogether shocked that folks weren't running out there with funnels and jerry cans.  I almost did.  

After two minutes of playing around, the Beemer was assuredly _never_ going to go _anywhere_ under its own power, ever again.  There's lots of good videos of this, which I didn't bother to take, because I knew others would.  And I'm too lazy to go find any right now, so just go to YouTube and do a search for "Lemons South People's Curse".  Heck, I even made that an active link for you.

Back to racing.  Post BMW sacrifice (which I guess, if you think about it, was our own version of religion), Rob was next to drive, followed by Jamie.  Now, I had mentioned earlier the brake issue we were having.  We'd hoped that a little cooling-off would help matters:

But, alas, the brakes were just as miserable after the break as they were when Brian came in after his stint on the track.  Rob managed to get some decent laps in regardless (using, I'm sure, a lot of what we in the transit industry refer to as "dynamic braking" and what car guys call "engine braking") but by the time Jamie got to drive, the pedal was hopelessly soft.  At some point, Jamie also threw out his shoulder due to some enthusiastic steering, and had to come in after a much abbreviated session.
Edit by Brian: Again, Rob went in before me.  He warned me of some brake troubles.  They were not nearly as bad as Jamie's.

I was undeterred.  This car was going to finish the day.  We set up in the hot pits with brake fluid and gasoline.  I suited up and went driving, going very easy on the brakes.  Luckily, the 122 still handled pretty well, and other than the chicane set up near the pits, I could pretty much make an entire lap without touching the middle pedal.  I wasn't making those laps as fast as we were yesterday, but I could still pass some cars, and at least stay out of the way of those cars still circulating at full tilt.  I'd come in to the hot pits every 10 minutes or so, check the gasoline and top off the brake fluid, and go back out.  As the brakes warmed up, they actually seemed to get a little better; perhaps the expanding metal sealed a bit better?  At any rate, the IPD-sourced semi-metallic pads gripped strong, even when bathed in brake fluid, and the one set lasted the entire race.

I did have one small problem.  In the course of checking the calipers, we had pulled the left front wheel.  And, apparently the air compressor powering the impact gun was not plugged in, so the lug nuts were reattached using somewhat less than optimal torque.  After a few laps on the track, the steering began to get a little wobbly. I suspected a flat, but after crusing past the TunaChucker cheering session and seeing thumbs-ups and cheers from my crewmates, I pressed on.  Not 100 feet later, barely clear of the chicane, the left front wheel detached and went barreling down the front straight.  The car crashed down onto the rotor and began to slide.  It was surreal.  I knew I should get off the track, so I plowed through the cones at the end of the track and somehow guided the 3-legged cripple onto a nice, deserted stretch of asphalt.  
The tire.  Find it!  Some track worker in Gators circled and eventually retrieved the errant wheel (it had gone faster and further than the car!) and the tow truck driver flatbedded the car back to the pits.  The damage wasn't bad.  The rotor was missing a chunk at the edge, but the friction ring itself was intact.  We robbed 5 lug nuts from the car hauler, stuck the wheel back on (and TORQUED the nuts, this time, by hand!) and I was back out.

The gods of racing had one more little prank to play upon me.  Some time after the tire-separation incident, back on the track, I went to shift down into second and could not find the shift lever.  It had broken off!  Frantically, I reached around under the pedals and seat and found the rest of the lever, with the ball at the end.  I stabbed it back into the transmission (all the while still trying to race!) but the stupid thing was too loose.  I drove past the pits, waving the gear lever out the window, and pulled in.  I was about done with the car, so I clambered out, grabbed the welder, rejoined the shifter to the broken stub sticking out of the gearbox, and sent Matt out to wreak some havok.  And havok he did wreak.  Matt garnered our team's second black flag with some driving that I, personally, thought was fine but which apparently was deemed a little too aggressive.  *sigh*  Whatever.  15 minutes later, again, the mighty Chuckers were kicking ass and making laps!

Rob made his typically consistent and earnest efforts on the track, and with about a half-hour left before the checkered flag was set to fall, Jamie, shoulder feeling better, suited up for one last run.  I got partially suited up, in case his arm should bother him and we would need an emergency last-minute driver swap out, but as things turned out most of the final laps were made under a yellow caution flag for various problems.  One of the Caprices had a brake catch fire (yes, actual flames and smoke and debris on the track) and the Mercedes 300TD dropped a half-shaft.  Amazingly, it still somehow managed to circulate a few laps under its own power after that (probably due to some imaginary German forces urging it on) but, eventually, even the 4th Reich couldn't keep it together and they were towed from the track.  Other cars dropped out, too, due to various issues, many of them heat related- it had become quite warm by the middle of Sunday afternoon!  But eventually, and under green, the race culminated, Jamie brought her home safely, and we celebrated our 47th-place finish in style:

Oh, wait, where's Anthony?  Our Crew Chief!

That's better.

But that wasn't it.  There was still the Awards Ceremony.  Feeling giddy over finishing (hey, in this race, just finishing is kind-of winning!) we all piled onto (and yes, I do mean onto) the 122 and drove off to the Track Tower.  There's all sorts of fun awards.  There's awards for fastest Swedish Car, German Car, etc.  There's awards with ambulances on them, wrenches, medals, and other amusing bric-a-brack.  The top prize, $1500 in nickels, is paid to the car in each of four classes that made the most number of laps.  The four classes are somewhat unorthadox, but extremely self-explanatory:

  • NPF: No Prayer of Finishing
  • PF: Prayer of Finishing
  • NPW: No Prayer of Winning
  • PW: Prayer of Winning

We actually finished 3rd in our class, NPF (!).  The class winner, also Swedish (the red Saab) had left, so we grabbed their "Swingin' Swede" medals by default!  (Note: we have contacted these guys and will be sending their rightfully-earned medals back to them)  Another award with a cash prize is the People's Choice Award, which is given to the team that "exhibits spirit, is fun to hang out with, has a cool theme, practices exemplary personal hygiene, and in general is just a great group of people".  We were hoping for this prize, and were somewhat disappointed when it was awarded to the Corporate Cadillac.  But not too disappointed.  These guys deserved the award, as we had befriended them during the course of the prior days and found them to be everything the People's Choice Award stood for. 

"But wait there was a little more".  Jamie sums it up well in his video caption from the front page.  That "Little More" turned out to be the Index of Effluency, which I had completely forgotten about.  And, compared to the People's Choice $500 cash prize, it carried a reward of 20,000 bright, shiny, newly-minted and (thankfully!) rolled nickels!  Woo-Hoo!  Be sure to watch Jamie's video.  Its hilarious AND heartwarming.  

"Crap these are heavy!" (Note: I don't care; I've got the TROPHY!)

"Hmm, this box feels a little light, Jay.  You _sure_ there's 2000 nickels inside?"

 We get _how many_ boxes???

Flush with tiny coins bearing the silhouette of the great Thomas Jefferson, we pose for more snapshots of our glory:

"Oh yeah, I'm gonna drink out of this puppy later!"

"No, see, you're doing it all wrong.  You need to put the trophy on top of the boxes."

The Tunachuckers.  Left to right: Mike, Jamie, Matt, Anthony, Brian, and Rob.

That about sums it up for us.  We came, we fixed, we raced, we were declared Most Effluent, and then we had to head back to our paddock space, clean up 3 days worth of detrius and flotsam, and get our asses out of there by 7PM Sunday night.  By the time our rolling convoy of crapulence exodussed CMP around 6PM, there were but a handful of stragglers coaxing their steeds up onto trailers and closing up shop.  The once-bustling arena of sport had come to resemble a western silver mining town gone bust.  We bid farewell to each other, and headed on down the darkening highway.  But in that sadness that it was all over, in that reminiscing over the events of the weekend that we were all doing, in that pride over our win, there was something else, too. 

We were thinking about next year...