Saturday, May 30, 2009

good morning america?

Bizarrely, Good Morning America was filming at Reno-Fernley. They have an article posted here:
24 hours of lemons: The best of the worst

There's a video link from there, too.

Despite the mystery machine theme on the crush-ee in ABC's People's Curse footage, it's not actually us. :-) That's older footage from a previous event.

Here's the real People's Curse from Reno - Jay Lamm's VW bus.

I also gave what I suspect was an unusable interview for channel 8 news in Reno. (Made so by the prevalence of cursewords - oops.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

the longer story

So now we do the longer race post.


We towed up to Fernley on Thursday night, with the racing seat zip-tied into the van and a few remaining to-do items: cv boot, harness, roll cage padding, fix that broken wheel stud...

We went up in convoy, with Laz's ambulance towing Ling Ling, the mystery machine behind Jinnah's RV, and our ambulance bringing up the rear. We left pretty late, and rolled in outside the closed gates at Reno-Fernley at 4:30 in the morning.

CHP takes an interest in our convoy (and our 70mph towing speed):

Stopping for gas in Nevada:


Friday dawned bright and painfully early. Gates opened at 6:30am and by 7:30, we were prepping the van. After a bunch of frantic work we got it out on the track and discovered that it did, in fact, run.

Sadly, between getting thing finished and prepping for Tech inspection, we got about six total warmup laps on the track - one each for Jen and Jinnah, and maybe four for me. This increased Jinnah's total track experience prior to starting the race on Saturday morning to a total of one lap.

Ling Ling with her Teddy Bear ronal wheels:

The Biting Monkey car:

Jen in Velma costume:

When Tech inspection rolled around, the inspectors were (in retrospect, justifiably) aggrieved at our broken driver's front wheel stud. It was broken because it was hard to change (it's a pound-out stud, but you have to get the hub off to pound it out, which requires removing the steering knuckle and using a special MOPAR tool to push the hub off the knuckle). The far easier fix is to replace the whole knuckle, so JDH and Laz went to pick n pull, and that's exactly what, amid a raging dust storm, we did.

(Jinnah got his little girl to help out with the ratchet wrench on the caliper bracket bolts, which is approximately the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life.)

Our four and a half year old Scooby:

Scrappy loves to drive!


Saturday morning, we re-Teched, and went through bullshit inspection (in which our receipts are checked to make sure we've stayed within the $500 budget) with very little trouble, since the van is quite demonstrably an actual piece of shit. (It's listed in the carfax report as having been crushed twice, and honestly, we'd never driven for more than burnouts in the parking lot before we took it to Lemons, for fear the engine would explode the moment we tried to drive it.)

During inspection, all cars manufactured by formerly Chrysler-owned companies were given obligatory Fiat decals, to celebrate Chrysler's recent purchase. As the most prestigious member of the former Chrysler field, we were granted an enormous Italian flag, mounted on a plumbing pipe scaffolding, to fly from the roof of the Mystery Machine. (Another team had previously refused it, but we thought it was kind of jaunty. Their loss.)

Lining up to start the race:

Extra mirrors to improve the visibility problems:

(We'd replaced the windows with aluminium plates, mostly so we could paint over them, which reduced the normal visibility to laughable. We also added a truck mirror on the driver's side, which helped a lot.)

Jinnah getting ready to drive the first stint:

He promptly laid down our fastest lap of the day. Because the organizers loved our van, they decided to start timing the race when we crossed the checkered flag after the warmup laps, so for about two seconds, until the rest of the track started to whip past, Jinnah and the Mystery Machine were in first place.

I went out second, and eventually brought her back in early with a flat rear tire. I could feel it starting to vibrate suspiciously right before we had to stop for a red flag. Since I was sitting on the back side of the hill my radio wasn't working. I tried to contact the camp:

Me: (yelling to trigger the radio's vox mode) CAN YOU HEAR ME?
Radio: (silence)
Driver in the car behind me: YES! YES I CAN!
Driver behind me: HI! DO YOU KNOW YOUR TIRE IS FLAT?

When we took it off it wasn't visibly punctured - we later decided that we might have popped a bead from cornering pressure and let the magic air escape.

Later that evening, pretty much everyone we talked to was like, "Wow, every time I saw it go around a corner, that van was up on three wheels." I mostly credit Jinnah and Jen with this. Still, despite our fully expecting the van to end up on its roof, it never did.

The Mystery Machine itself was a huge hit. We got a lot of visitors, most of them thanking us for being predictable and easy to pass (my grandmother would be so proud.)

The Unsafe At Any Speed team:

They blew their engine shortly after starting the race, and despite desperate attempts to find another, could not replace it in time. Sadness.

We hung out with the sharks later that evening:

The Knights of the Round Track team, pitted across from us, unfortunately spun a bearing on the warmup day, and were out of the race for good:

The Knights of the Round Track team across from us spun a bearing (just like Ling Ling, only they couldn't find a replacement in time), Huey Newis and the Lose to our right blew both head gaskets on their 80's mustang, and the 280ZX team to our left blew a clutch.

Our Siamese twin team Pandamonium shocked everyone involved by finishing the day in tenth, after spending the entire Thunderhill race dogged by miserable electrical problems.

Walking around the pits we passed a half dozen teams pulling engine, clutch or transmission swaps late into the evening. The Unsafe At Any Speed team tried desperately to source a replacement engine, without luck, while the Squirrels of Fury swapped their Saab's 2.4L engine for an ancient 1.6L Audi donor.


When we rolled up to the driver's meeting on sunday morning in the mystery machine, spilling out of it like a clown car, we found this rather nice pic of the MM staring back at us from the rack outside the official photographers' van:

The Mystery Machine out on the track, flying her flag proudly:

The Huey Newis and the Lose guys wrenched through the night to replace both head gaskets on their 6-cyl mustang. They got her running again by Sunday afternoon, and managed a triumphant return to the track with about an hour left in the race.


The voted victim for People's Curse was the pink Swine Flew car, rebadged after solid showings at the Thunderhill lemons and the earlier 25 hours of Thunderhill NASA endurance race. But there was a lot of good will floating around all weekend, and apparently there were enough write-in votes asking for nobody to get crushed, that Jay volunteered his own VW bus for sacrificial crushing in place of the Swine Flew car.

Around 2pm, the Mystery Machine - which up until then had been running stunningly well - called in reports of smoke in the cabin. We checked her out, refilled the oil, and sent her back out on the track. But soon enough Jen brought her back in again, this time massively overheating, in a cloud of evil black oil smoke.

(Jen reports her life flashing before her eyes when she saw multiple teams running toward her with fire extinguishers.)

When we popped the hood the second time, there was oil splattered everywhere - hood, firewall, motor, grill - and black smoke everywhere. (Laz helpfully popped by to suggest pouring ice water on it to cool it down.)

We tried to identify the source, which appeared to be everywhere, and finally narrowed it down to the rear main seal, between the engine and the transmission. With an hour left in the race it was pretty clear we were not going to make it back on the track. (I'll admit: I sniffled like a little girl.)

Shortly after that the checkered flag came out, and all the cars came pouring back in. Ling Ling finished seventh overall, fifth in class.

The Mystery Machine drivers:

The Pandamonium drivers:

And a departing message from one of our neighboring teams, written in chalk on the asphalt:

Couldn't agree more.

Going home:

Coming home, we kept score:
# cars slowing to take pictures of the Mystery machine on Hwy 80: 17
# cars nearly crashing while taking pictures of the mystery machine: 2
# trailer tires damaged during the trip: 2
# ambulances which blew an alternator on the way home and drove home on battery power: 1

And lastly...
# race cars now parked in the storage lot at work, awaiting the next race: 2

Monday, May 25, 2009

Most from the least

So, I spoke too soon - with about an hour left in the day, we blew a rear main seal and sprayed oil all over the place, leaving the Mystery Machine up on jacks at the end of the race. Much sadness.

However! There's more than one kind of winning, and we took home the "Most from the least" award, which if you'd ever glanced at the engine on the mystery machine, is a wholly appropriate prize. (The oil spray everywhere from the blown rear main blends right in with the existing crust of dried oil and coolant. I'm not kidding when I say it's a miracle it made it onto the track at all.) Mostly, getting the van on the track feels like winning. We're incredibly proud to have been part of such an awesome racing event.

The Mystery Machine drivers, plus Scooby and Scrappy, our mascots:
From mystery machine

Drivers, Left to right: Jinnah, Jared, Jen, and Astrid. (The perfect two guys/two women split was accidental but fortunate. If it had worked out otherwise the guys would have been terrifying in skirts. Jared's got a lot of leg to show.)

We finished in 59th place overall. (We got as high as 42nd before the car blew.)

Thanks, guys. And to everyone who showed up and made the race awesome: you all rock. It was a blast.

(And to Rob and Laz, who put in a lot of late nights helping out on our van when they still had plenty of prep to do on their own car - no thanks are enough. I love you guys.)

PS - for anyone who was wondering, we took off the back gate while racing mostly for visibility. The van has pretty much zero side and rear visibility otherwise, and we wanted a good view of all the cars that were passing us. It was also a serious weight loss - the door is heavy.

Also, the Italian flag was a special Fiat prize awarded just to us, as a model member of the former Chrysler empire.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

a few photos, real quick. x-posted to both blogs.

race day

(x-posting to panda and mystery machine blogs)

Hello from Reno-Fernley. We're on the second day of racing at Goin for Broken, and shockingly, both the Mystery Machine and the Panda car have been running well so far. We had some excitement getting the minivan through tech inspection on Friday - suprisingly enough, the tech inspectors were less than thrilled with the broken wheel stud on the driver's side front wheel. The lug bolt is insanely difficult to replace, so Laz and Jinnah did a hero run to pick n pull in Sparks to get a whole new steering knuckle, which we fitted in gathering dark and howling dust.

Meanwhile, Laz successfully bribed his way through a very special bullshit inspection - he unwisely laid down some very fast laps in the practice session before going through inspection, so they pulled Ling Ling aside for special inspection as a "real race car". (The special judge they called in is a cheating expert; he took a quick look underneath and proclaimed her an *actual* piece of shit.) Laz smoothed things over with a super smooth bribe:

Judges: What, you aren't even going to try to bribe us?
Laz: We hadn't gotten to the hard sell yet. (Whips out the whiskey from the trunk) 
Judges: Oh, well then. This is good stuff. You guys are good to go, no penalties.

The Mystery Machine is a HUGE hit, which is a relief, because we're also the slowest thing on the track (surprisingly, there are actually a couple of cars slower, but we still hold the record for the slowest fastest lap of any team). For a while, Ling Ling and the Mystery Machine held the single fastest best lap and slowest best lap in the race.

They started timing the race when the Mystery Machine crossed the starting line, so for a full two seconds, Jinnah was leading the race. (Subsequent, we fell into our role as mobile chicane and had the whole race lap us repeatedly. Driving the minivan is like driving through a swarm of bees, with other cars whipping past constantly. We've taken the tack of being very polite about it, holding a steady outside line, which has garnered us a lot of good will. (Another team came up to thank us for being predictable while being passed, and gave us a hat as a token of gratitude. :-) )

Pandamonium has not yet seen a revisit of the electrical issues from last time, and is currently running around tenth overall. 

The Mystery Machine has done pretty well through simple consistency, and is currently around 46th place, much to our surprise. After the last-minute scramble to get her race prepped, just seeing her running around the track feels a lot like winning.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

guess the fluid

This was extracted from the minivan:

I particularly enjoy its light-absorbent qualities:

I bet it's about as chemically delicious as coke zero, too.

(It's brake fluid. Good thing we got around to bleeding them.)

towing out

Camping ambulance is loaded, hair is red, and the transmission fluid filter has ALL its gaskets now. We're getting ready to tow out tonight.

We should probably remember to put the wheels back on the van before we leave.

Shockingly, we're mostly done with prep - new belts are on, brakes are bled, and Rob spent most of last night welding a box bracket to mount the racing seat (while we drank beer and tried not to stare at the bright light - important work). Once the bracket's in we're pretty much ready to race (except for the blown cv boot and the broken wheel stud... details.)

We should be unmissable on the track. Look for the giant rolling blue chicane.

Tape remaining on ambulance:
- roll cage padding
- paint wheels
- seat
- harness
- load on trailer

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Last few days of countdown towards the race. We've been working pretty much flat out for the past week, getting the van ready.

To keep track of work items, we've been using the Laz Method of writing things on blue tape on the windshield. After a solid week of work, here was the list as of Sunday night:

Last week we fitted new front shocks, fixed some leaks, and... honestly, I don't remember. Stuff. We did stuff. The new shocks made the van not heave like a boat on heavy swell when you jump on the bumper, so that's a plus. We re-replaced a leaking hose, stripped some bolts, mostly wired in a new radiator fan, and tried to make the temp gauge work and generally finish some stuff up before Jdh left town on Thursday.

Over the weekend, it went kind of like this (from my email, Sunday night):

Things we actually got done are:
- transponder
- 3rd brake light
- tried and failed to get the bracket needed to mount all the brake
parts we have; ordered new brake pads instead. Rotors come off the
- tied up all the dash wiring
- promptly shorted out the headlight switch
- wrapped the headlight switch in electrical tape, replaced several
fuses, and re-zip-tied it (headlights work again)
- installed a front grill (pick n pull consolation prize)
- put a solid dent in the oil pan which you will never notice because
I am going to plaster it up with jb weld when we also seal the
dipstick tube

We now have parts for:
- wheel stud & cv boot (if we get time)
- brake pads

When we were tying up the dash wires we noticed that the coolant temp
gauge goes straight to hot when you turn on the headlights. I haven't
checked its behavior again since fixing the short.



...etc. Monday night:


Okay! Today was nearly an improvement. :-)

Taped tasks removed:
- oil change (my first! alas, the drain plug still seems to leak a
bit. also, I don't think those guys really changed the oil, it was kind
of cruddy.)
- coil
- jb weld filler tube and plate on the oil pan (I lied; you'll totally
notice. But laz spackled it with jb weld and hopefully made it a lot
- tires (tires and wheels now piled in front of van, falken ziex 912)
- spare wheels (jen got 2 spares from pick n pull for $5 each)
- brake pads (extra quiet! you would not want the pads on a racing
minivan to be noisy.)
- transmission fluid & filter

While we were cleaning up, laz was all like, "Hey Astrid, did you see
this?" and when I turned around he was waving a bit of rubber at me...
which was the inner gasket for the trans filter. Which I had not
realized existed until that moment. After I had already reassembled
and refilled the whole transmission pan with five quarts of shiny new
fluid and approximately one hundred small bolts.

Pieces of tape added:
- power steering belt (needs doing at the same time as the alternator
belt, something damaged the belt cover which has in turn chewed the
belts up good)
- coolant flush (optional but would also let us fix the leak in the
lower coolant line)
- transmission fluid & filter. D'oh.


This is a high-precision operation.

Score card currently stands at:
# times transmission fluid was changed: 2
# types of fluid dumped in Astrid's eyes: 2 (coolant and atf, for anyone who's counting)
# front brake pad changes: 4
# sets of pads accidentally or intentionally acquired for van: 5
# important bolts stripped: 2
# times we've replaced that hose that inexplicably sends coolant to the turbo: 2
# hours at pick n pull over the past four days: 8

We tow out on Thursday night. I should probably add a piece of tape for "put wheels back on van".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

the most important part of a race car is obviously its paint job

The turbo minivan's transformation from junkyard reject to Probably Quite Stoppable Racing Mystery Machine is now, mostly*, complete.

Here she is, in all her exterior high-gloss enamelled glory:

From mystery machine

*except for the seat. We'll probably need a seat.

Also we'll eventually need to attach the newly-created exhaust system with something other than zip ties.

It took all weekend to finish the paint job - green on saturday, orange on sunday. (It took me about five hours per side to lay down the initial coat on the lettering.) We originally had fancy plans of using a projector to get the initial shape, but I was too impatient to wait until it got dark, so I ended up free-handing most of it.

Rob doing the final outlining:
From mystery machine

Laz rollering a second coat with a sawed-off 1-inch roller:
From mystery machine

From mystery machine

From mystery machine

From mystery machine

Meanwhile, Rob worked on fabricating an exhaust system, the vehicle's original sawzalled-off-at-the-header exhaust system not really passing muster under the new Rule 3.24:
  • 3.24: Exhaust System: A professional-quality exhaust system is required. Exhaust outlets and tubing must be designed, routed, and maintained to avoid heating the fuel tank(s) and/or fuel-system components. Fuel heating is extremely dangerous and must be avoided at all times.
    • 3.24.1: Exhaust system may not dump ahead of the driver, and must not allow undue levels of exhaust to reach the driver's compartment.
After we installed a real exhaust with a muffler and everything, it no longer sounds nearly as bad-assed. However, it now LOOKS AWESOME, which is not something I ever thought I'd say.