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

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