2012 “Midnight Madness” at PPIR – Race Report

by Andy

Not every race goes according to plan. And some times, what actually happens can leave you with memories, lessons, and experiences that no amount of planning could ever provide. That is exactly what happened at the 24-hours of “Midnight Madness” at Pike’s Peak International Raceway.

Track Testing

We arrived early to set up our garage space, and get some testing done on the track. A lot of work had been done since the last race, and the $150 testing fee seemed like a reasonable sum of money to work all the bugs out of the car. It went from a reasonable sum, to a invaluable sum when the car started to lose fuel in the turns. We were quickly able to narrow the issue down to a broken fuel pick-up line. With that fixed, the car was ready to go, and we all took it easy for the evening, and tried to get some good rest before the long 24 hours of endurance racing.

Race Day

It was a great morning with cooler temps, and the sun shining. Everyone was amped up and ready to race. I got behind the wheel, and spent a few laps getting the tires and brakes warmed up, then really went for it. My plan was to push myself and the car to the absolute limit and see just how fast we could be, then settle into a nice rhythm, and drive 80-90% for the rest of my stint. I was able to get a 1:13.768 within the first few laps. For reference, our fastest lap on this track last year was 1:26.xxx. So the car was 13 seconds quicker around the track…a huge improvement! By the end of my 1.5 hour stint, our team was in 4th place, and we all saw some real potential to be top contenders. Travis and Steele followed with some impressive times, and consistent driving performance. With the exception of a phantom oil leak on our car, called in by a track official, things were going well. Until Brian got in the car. Brian was the unlucky driver that had to be in the car when something went wrong. He was only able to really give it hell for a few laps, then suddenly, the water gauge temp went to zero, and the car started to run poorly. Then just like that, the cooling system was completely dry, and the car was in the garage. We slowly added more water to the cooling system until it was topped off again. I started the car, and immediately, a geyser of water erupted from the radiator fill port. This was NOT a good sign, a clear indication that the head gasket was blown. After a short discussion we decided to pull the motor, and replace the head gaskets. We didn’t have an engine hoist, so a few fellow teammates began searching the garage and the pits for a team that had what we needed. It wasn’t until we were ready to pull the motor that the track manager, rum and coke in hand, announced that he would provide a fork-lift for the duty. It was certainly amusing to see our motor get pulled from the car, strapped to a fork lift. With the engine out of the car, we pulled the heads and discovered that the heads themselves were badly warped. With no other option available, we slapped the new headgaskets in, rebuilt the motor, and called upon the forklift again (probably around 12:30am) to get the motor back in the car. With everything assembled, we filled the cooling system again, and started the motor. Once again, water spewed out from the radiator, proving that head gaskets alone would save us. Brian had the crazy idea to just keep tightening the head bolts until one of two things happened. Either we would snap a head bolt, or stop the leak. And after tightening down all the headbolts and additional 270 degrees of rotation, the leak had nearly stopped. Because my dad (Jack) had yet to race, our primary goal was to ensure that he had a chance to race. So I took the car out for a few test laps to see just how reliable the engine would be. Unfortunately, half way into the first lap, water temps spiked to 240deg. It was clear to us at this point that we would not be getting back into the race. The decision was made to pull the car back in, and call it a night. In the morning, my dad would get to drive the car until it exploded.

Checkered Flag

Jack took the driver’s seat at 9am, one hour before the finish of the race. Our lofty goal was to finish off the last hour and cross the finish line. However, we all knew that the motor would probably not last more than 5 laps. Other teams and race officials had heard our story, and were placing bets on how many laps we would get before the motor gave way completely. Before going out on the track,  Jack brought the car to the hot pits, where I dumped a few gallons of ice into the engine bay, and we sent him on his way. He completed one lap, and we cheered. Two laps, we cheered. Three laps, and we cheered some more. This continued until we hit 10 laps, and the car was going strong. Jack noted that engine temps wrtr above 240deg, and we all noticed the plumes of water vapor existing the tailpipe. “Any second now,” we thought. After almost 30 minutes of racing, the car was STILL on the track and going strong. I realized that with less than 5 gallons of gas in the tank, the car might run out of gas before it exploded. We flagged Jack down and got him into the pits. We put 5 gallons of gas in the tank, and 5 gallons of cold water on the searing hot engine. Back out on the track, he made it less than one lap before telling us over the radio that the water temp gauge was reading zero again. This meant that with about 30mins left to go in the race, the cooling system was nearly empty. Jack slowed down, and focused on just getting around the track, and for the remainder of the race, we kept our fingers crossed. We did end up making it to the end of the race, and pulled the car into the garage. I thought to check the engine block temp about 15 minutes after we had shut the motor off, and registered just over 300 degrees on the surface of the block.  It’s still a mystery how that engine stayed together to complete the race.

In a lot of ways, this race could be considered a complete failure. A lot of time and money was invested by everyone to get this car onto the track, and compete in a 24 hour endurance race. We didn’t even complete half that. But the excitement of rebuilding the motor with other teams cheering us on, and getting to see my Dad take the car across the finish line, was an extremely rewarding feeling. Auto racing isn’t just about driving the car. It’s also about having a good team, a good attitude, and never giving up. It’s about the entire experience. We certainly got the full experience during this race, and it was all worth it.

So big thanks to everyone on the team, and all of the other teams who cheered us on, supported us, helped us, and made our race worth it. We will see you again next year. And we are gonna kick some ass, so be ready.