2011 PPIR Race Report
It’s been a week since we finished our first race. I am still tired. The garage still looks the same as it did last Sunday when everyone emptied the tools and containers from my truck, onto the garage floor. I am just now getting to writing this race report because on Monday, I had to get right back into work, and put a solid week of work in. This weekend, Lauren and I went camping, attended a block party, and celebrated Father’s Day at my parent’s house. We don’t really like to rest much.
24 hour endurance racing is no joke. You aren’t awake for just 24 hours. The morning of the race, we all woke up around 7:30am, scrambled to prep the pits, attend the drivers meeting, and begin racing at 11am. Then the actual 24 hours of racing began. After all of that we still had to pack up and head home. Most of us got to bed around 4pm on Sunday. So we spent over 32 hours awake. And not just sitting on the couch watching every Star Wars and Harry Potter movie. We were constantly busy with drivers changes, fueling, lap timing, pictures, etc. I don’t think anyone was relaxed. The experience was draining on everyone who helped out. And our first race was not without some speed bumps.
Thursday night, we finished packing up all the tools, equipment and car. Fuggi came by and added some stickers. It is amazing how much stickers can change the look of the car!! HUGE thanks to Fuggi for making them and coming down to help get them on the car!
Friday morning, the day before the race, I woke up early and began finalizing all of the packing. There really wasn’t much left to do since most of the hard work had been done the night before. Lauren and I got out of the house around 7:40am, and made our journey to the track. My parents had left earlier to secure the perfect spot. Later we found out that arriving so damn early was completely unnecessary. It would seem that most Chumps don’t plan that far ahead. Things started to get exciting when the rest of the team and drivers arrived around 2:30pm. Brian suggested that we spring for a garage space, which I wasn’t really concerned about at the time. But all the other teams were in the garage spaces talking and working on their cars, and I wanted us all to be a part of that, so we went ahead and got a space. And it was about this time that I started to get really nervous. The fear of tech inspection had kept me awake many nights. I did NOT want to fail tech. For me, the single biggest disappointment would have been to spend 10 months, and several thousand dollars on this car, only to be told that I had made a serious error, and we could not race. I was strung tight as a piano wire, and didn’t really relax until the entire registration process was complete. I could tell most of the team was giving me a little extra space. But I really did relax a lot after registration was over. It helped that the event organizers gave teams an opportunity to drive the track for 30 mins before it was closed for the evening. The team elected to let me drive, and I went out, smiling with my stomach in my throat. It was great to get the car out on the track and feel things out. I took just a few laps then came in, wanting to save the car and tires for when it mattered. Afterwards we attended the first-time driver’s school, then walked the course and talked about the racing line we thought would be best. It was cold and raining, but everyone was still smiling and laughing. With our awesome, well lit garage space and many other teams working on their cars, we all spent quite a bit of time tinkering with the car, and making last minute changes. Looking back on it, the midnight trip that Steele, Travis, Fuggi and I took to Wal-Mart for a dryer heater vent, had nothing to do with the car and everything to do with our need to keep busy. We didnt get the vent, but that trip did wear us out, and shortly after, we went our separate ways to get some sleep. And for the first time in a long time, I slept good.
Saturday and Sunday. The Race.
Saturday morning was exciting and nerve-racking. Now all my hard work on the car would be put to the test. Could I build a reliable “$500″ car? The team all worked hard to transfer fuel, the air compressor, tires, EZ-Ups, coolers, chairs and tools to our pit area. It was a great feeling to actually be setting up a pit area. I was nominated to be the first driver out on the track (thanks guys) and got lined up in the pits to begin the parade lap and transponder testing. It took everything I had to stay calm and collected. I was SO excited and nervous and anxious. So many emotions! Luckily, once the green flag dropped, I forgot about everything but the drive. I focused on every turn, braking point, and car that wanted to pass. Yes, everyone passed me. I really didn’t care though, I wanted to finish more than I wanted to be fast. My Dad was next in the car, and I could sense his emotions as I helped strap him in. He had invested many hours of labor into the car as well, and I knew how important this moment was for him too. And of course, he did great! It was so rewarding to watch him drive the car around the track, and to get to SEE the car in action. My brother, Travis was up next, and was equally entertaining to watch. Then Fuggi was up, followed by Steele and Brian. Each person came out of the car with a huge grin on their face, full of energy and excitement. It was finally happening, we were all getting to live our dream to become real race car drivers. Sure we were racing in $500 cars, but the competitive spirit was not at all diluted. Many teams were out there with hopes to win, and some were driving beyond the limits of their car, striving to gain important laps. Being immersed in that environment, it doesn’t matter if you are in a $500 car or a $500,000 car, it is still the real deal.
Things went great for quite a while, but at 9:15pm, Fuggi reported bad news over the radio. He couldn’t shift, and the clutch pedal was completely floppy. Strangely, I didn’t panic or get mad. This was part of the race, and I was going to fix it. As our team pushed the car into the garage, my mind was reeling with all of the possible issues, trying to find solutions. When I lifted the hood and checked the clutch fork, it was completely loose, and not making any contact with the clutch. My instinct told me the throw-out bearing had come loose somehow, or that the clutch fork was bent. Both would be simple fixes. We got the car lifted on jack stands, and Brian tried a few more things to try and isolate the problem, but it didn’t take us long for us to determine that there was no easy fix. We knew the transmission had to come out. Once the decision was made, we had the transmission completely out and on the floor in 30 minutes. And then my heart sank. I inpsected the clutch pack and found bits of clutch material jammed in the pressure plate springs and bell housing. I removed the pressure plate and watched as almost the entire friction surface fell onto the floor. I didn’t bring a spare clutch. This one was brand new when I installed it at the beginning of this project. This was NOT something I planned on. I got out from underneath the car and walked out of the garage to think. Then I broke down. I had maintained my composure for long enough, and the reality hit me that we would likely not get to finish the race, and I had let everyone down.
Luckily I was the only one that felt that way, the rest of my team immediately started searching for replacements, or contacting friends that might have a spare clutch. It hit me that Rob, whom I borrowed the trailer from, had constantly been telling me, “if you ever need spare parts, let me know, I probably have it.” So, I put him to the test. I called at 10:45pm and asked if he happened to have a spare clutch. And he did. He needed to remove it from his spare motor, but he had it. And because it was from a EJ25 motor, and I had an EJ18, he had to bring the flywheel, clutch plate, and pressure plate. When he arrived, the team went back into high gear to reinstall the replacement parts, get the transmission back in the car, and continue racing. It was not as easy to get back in, but by 1:30am, we were back on the track and racing!!
Now I hadn’t mentioned how well we were doing, because it hadn’t really mattered to any of us, until after the clutch issue. Before we lost the clutch, we had climed to 9th place. Some other teams had come in for repairs, and others had retired completely. With the clutch done, and our car back on the track, we had only dropped to 14th place. Everyone drove hard through the night and into morning, trying to make up lost time without risking a crash. And speaking of crashing, let me tell you how scary it is to drive on a track at night with NO track lights. We had the factory headlights, and two Hella driving lights. This was NOT enough light. We had dubbed one turn “the 90″ because it was a tight, decreasing radius left-hander, right after a straight away where we were regularly hitting 90 mph. The car’s brakes worked really well, allowing you to brake very late before turning in. It was easy enough in the day time, when the edges of the road and braking point were clearly visible. But at night, with decidedly pathetic headlights, that same turn was like a black hole. Nothing was the same, and suddenly 90 mph seemed way too fast. It scared the crap out of me, but at the same time, I loved it. I knew that nothing was really different about the turn, and I found that if I trusted myself and the car, I could still stay on the throttle really late, and brake at the outside edge of turn, far deeper than should have been possible. I loved it. That type of exhilaration is what I live for. What I didn’t like was hearing other cars around me on the track, and not knowing how far away they really were. It took a lot of effort to stay calm, stay on my line, and trust that they wouldn’t hit me. Still, there were several times I braced for an impact, but it never came. We all survived the night. I did manage to lay down for a while, sometime during dawn. When I got out of the trailer, I watched for our car, and got butterflies when I saw it still pulling strong around the track. I had really done it, I had built a car that could be competitive in a 24 hour race.
We managed to gain a place and move to 13th by the final hour, and my final stint. All of the drivers had been immensely respectful in driving the car with a good safety margin so that we could finish the race. When I strapped in for the last time, I was ready to take it easy. That is until Lauren gave me an update over the radio. The car ahead of us in 12th place was 47 laps ahead, and had just gone into the garage for repairs. I smiled. I took a deep breath, and drove the ever living shit out of that poor car. I red-lined in every gear, braked late and hard, ignored the screaming tires and turned in as fast as possible. On the oval section, I stretched the turn as wide as I could, coming within inches of the outside wall on every lap. The car, took it all in, communicated with me, and never let me down. I really connected with the car during that final hour. I could feel when I was on the limits of traction, and when the back end slid around the turns, it wasn’t a suprise. Small movements of the steering wheel and pedals always brought the car back in line. Damn I love Subarus! With 15 minutes left, I started to back off. The car had done fine up until then, I had my fun, and it was time to chill. I knew I had taken 12th, and that was good enough. But then, Lauren had more news on the radio. The car in 11th, was 11 laps ahead, and was in the garage. I did the math, and realized I could get 11 laps in 15 minutes if I drove hard. Poor car. Again, I drove the car as hard as I could, and harder. No matter what, the Suby stayed composed and took the punishment. I drove that way all the way to the checkered flag, and finished my first ChumpCar race. Me and the rest of my team had all worked very hard together, and accomplished what we set out to do. I couldn’t have been more happy. Or more tired! Holy shit I was tired! As icing on the cake, during the awards ceremony, our team was given a trophy for “Excellence in Mechanics.” This was given to us because of our quick clutch change, and I won’t lie, we deserved it!
The entire experience was incredible for all of us. Our team went out there with a great attitude, and many other teams saw that. It was really great to have so many people come up and acknowledge how great our team was, before, during, and after the race. The ChumpCar community is definitely a good one, and I can’t wait for the next race!! Oh, and I did get more than 11 laps in that last 15 minutes, but the 11th place team was able to limp back out on to the track and get 3 more laps. Just enough to hang on to 11th place. Good race guys!
And of course, there are some very important thank-yous that need to happen. First and foremost, my wife. She didn’t just stay awake for the entire race, provide radio communication with the rest of the team, and support all of the drivers during their stints. She also supported me from the beginning, foregoing lots of weekend plans so that I could work on my crazy car hobby, and distant dream of racing. My parents also worked very hard before and during the race. My Father spent many of those long weekends in the garage with me, and my Mom had to give up her husband quite often. She also fed everyone during the race, and I have received a lot of compliments on how good her cooking was. Everyone truly appreciated her hard work. Speaking of hard work, Alliene, Whitney, and Erin all worked very hard to make sure that the drivers always had what they needed. And then the drivers! Travis, my brother, put in a lot of hard work on the car as well, and did a GREAT job driving. I could see him getting faster every lap. Co-workers Brian, Steele and Fuggi, respected my request to drive easy, and made sure that we finished the race. They supported me, worked on the car with me, helped swap the clutch, listened to all of my rambling fears, and kept a good attitude through all of it. They are a good group of guys, and I am proud to have them on the team. And last but not least, Rob Umbaugh, who lent me his car hauler, and drove out to the track late at night, with blood on his arm, and the complete clutch in his trunk. Thanks man!!
So yea, we are doing it again. September to be exact. I have a few plans for the car prior to the race, so stay tuned!!!