Saturday, May 15, 2010

Photographic evidence

Jalopnik has a really nice photo of the mystery machine, pre-bunnied, in their 108 top cars of Thunderhill post:


The Mystery Machine, in all its lumbering blue and green glory, isn't the race car of the century, but it's fun as hell to drive. What with all the engine work, it was running so much better than last time that it was only a matter of time until we blew it up. And blow it up we did.

This is Goin' For Broken 2010, Thunderhill.


We towed up on Thursday night, and Friday got off to a pretty slow start, which is probably quickest explained with a picture:

But the Mystery Machine went through tech and BS inspection, and - apart from a couple of minor fixes, including securing the battery down a bit more firmly - we had no problems at all. The Mystery Machine's gigantic epically powerful 4-banger evokes mostly pity from the BS judges, who sent us away with 3 bonus laps and a cookie.


Saturday dawned bright and early, and the Mystery Machine rolled out onto the track - followed promptly by a long string of black flag penalties. There's a new rule that teams with more than 3 black flags on Saturday get sent home, and we... well, we tested it.

Flag #1 was JDH putting two wheels off in turn 11, three times in a row. (As it gets hotter, it gets harder and harder to stay focused. The pandamonium guys were having the same problem.)

Flag #2 was Josh. It was his first time on the track, except for a few laps on the practice day, and he blew past the track worker while entering the track. This earned us a lengthy parade lap of the pits, behind the adorable judges' microbus, with Josh saran-wrapped to the roof of the van. :-o

Josh getting in:
From lemons - goin for broken 10

After that we put Rob out, and begged him to drive carefully. He did - it helped that he overheated the van almost right away and lost most of its power - but an encounter with another car in turn 5 got him flagged too. A faster car tried to take an inside pass (it's not a good passing zone, even on the van), thought better of it, and clipped the Mystery Machine's back bumper while trying to disengage, causing both of us to get flagged for contact.

Black flag #3 required us to wire a Cone of Shame onto the roof (this is a regular traffic cone, spray-painted) to identify us as miscreants on the edge of expulsion. And after that was done, I went back out. There were about three and a half hours of racing left, and I did the best I could to keep it on the track, driving clean.

Two o'clock passes... three o'clock... four... as the sun gets lower I start to relax, and at 4:45, with fifteen minutes of racing left, I'm feeling like a superhero. Three and a half hours in the car, without a problem!

And then I passed another car under a yellow flag. SADNESS.

Long story short, we weren't ejected, though under the rules we should have been.

But then we ate some steaks of delicious peppery "hooray we made it, more or less!" goodness, and after all, that's racing.


Sunday wasn't so hot, which was a huge improvement. JDH turned a pile of blinding laps - relatively speaking. His 2:46, while not fast in any other car is pretty good for a minivan - or at least, for our minivan. (There was another minivan on the track, a Gen2 Dodge, very similar to ours, but much more nicely set up - for a start, they'd lowered the back as well as the front, and handled beautifully in the turns. It was also a 5-speed, and seemed able to lay down power a bit more easily - the Mystery Machine is a 3-speed auto, and you can shift it, but kicking down into 2 isn't quite like dropping into 2nd, and they were a solid 15sec faster than us.)

After JDH started, I went out next, and had a roaring good time - it was cooler than saturday, we weren't under penalty pressure any more, and the day 2 racetrack is always cleaner, more serious and less crowded than day 1. I'm always struck by the difference between the Lemons-of-the-paddock, which has a carnival atmosphere (what with the feats of strength, hot dogs and beer, and vast number of people in costumes) and the Lemons-of-the-track, which is a lot like real racing.

Josh went out after me. He remembered to stop for the track workers this time, but he didn't get in more than a couple of laps before coming in too hot to turn 5, and driving off track, earning our first (and only) black flag of the day. (Timing data later proved that the couple of laps he did drive, were damn fast. Josh, we're looking forward to getting you back out on the track next time!)

As a reward for this unfortunate event, we got the best punishment ever - a pair of humping bunnies welded to our roof!!

(I dearly wish I had a photo.)

So JDH went back out in the newly-bunnied van, and turned laps ever more scorching, until at last he managed to get the Mystery Machine up to its best speed ever through the whole back section - a steady 80mph through all of 6, 7, 8, coming in to 9. And then, in true K-car style, the engine blew.

With only an hour left in the race, the Mystery Machine came back in with the saddest goddamn knock you've ever heard. We're pretty sure we threw a rod.

RIP, engine #3.

Maybe next time we'll race a Shadow.

From lemons - goin for broken 10

My favorite part of a Lemons race is the end. After the checkered flag goes out, all the cars file in off the track, driving slow through the pits, and everyone who isn't hastily packing up all their stuff comes out to watch and clap for the cars as they come past. It's an amazing community feeling - the cars might be junk and the racing erratic, but everyone present put in a huge amount of time and energy to make it happen, and - winning or just driving (or nursing a crushed front end or a broken engine) - the end of the race is an achievement.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

how low is too low?

The race is this weekend. We leave tomorrow, to spend an exciting night in the RV line in front of the gates at Thunderhill, along with our Pandamonium comrades. (We're going to have to draw straws on who has to wear the panda suit.)

Since we got everything running well in advance of the race, we took advantage of having a whole leisurely weekend of van time to do a few extra things (which will almost certainly make it worse): added a "boost gauge" (a vacuum gauge plumbed through the firewall and jb-welded to a bracket on the roll cage), fixed the engine mount bolt that we stripped the previous weekend, etc. We also cut a couple of coils off the front springs.

Here's Rob, in state-of-the-art protective gear (it doubles as a welding helmet! so long as you keep your eyes closed.):
From Mystery machine rebuild

Now it's shorter:
From Mystery machine rebuild

Now the front is *really* low:
From Mystery machine rebuild

So low that when we lowered it off the jack stands, the oil pan bottomed out on the jack. Think that's too low? Never! We'll just have to be careful around speed bumps.