March 21

And now Spring is here.

I want to post some video of the race but I there is still so much to wrap up that I won’t have a chance to do it until later in the week.

We crossed the finish line at 3:30PM and had the car on the trailer and ready to roll out by 4:30 or so.  Since Hal & I stayed at a hotel and had kept most of our supplies within easy reach of our truck, we were the first of the team on the road.  I felt bad for not staying to fully pack up their campsite and convoying north together, but the packing was thankfully well in hand before we made our departure.

Life in Willcox Arizona moves at a slower pace, but everyone was friendly and we were able to relax and enjoy the small town life for just a few days.  It’s just about a 3 hour drive back home and even though the altitude difference is only about 2000 feet, I could feel the difference in temperature when we rolled down out of the hills and back into the mesa heat.  The drive is fairly uneventful, but I find the scenery absolutely beautiful.

March 20 marks the beginning of spring and by all indications thus far, 2016 in Phoenix metro is going to feel like living on the surface of Mars.  My face is fairly harshly sun burnt and I could feel the sting while I worked around the back yard today cleaning the truck and unpacking and re-organizing the tools.

IMG_1157Hal has been pulling the engine stats and checking over the brakes, fluids, plugs, wires, and various other components.  Since we have officially participated in a sanctioned competitive road racing event, we qualify for performance part discounts from Mazda Motorsports.  Of course we have much to do before it can go back to the track, but when she goes back out she will be sporting a new suspension kit and will behave like an entirely different animal.

So Spring is here and I am in love with Arizona and motorsports.

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March 19

This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient, but I do love Fig Newtons.

I tore ass down the straight and hit upward of 85mph before having to brake down to 60 for a right hander in third gear, brought it back up to 70 through the chicane before hard on the brakes for the right handed spoon.  I had consistent lap times in the 1:30 range and we are currently at 40th out of 57 over all.

IMG_1154This is one of the best days of my life and one which I will never forget.  I am nearly exhausted after just three 30 minute stints, a total of 1.5 hours of driving out of eight hours of racing.  We have another 6 hours to race tomorrow.

The car is running flawlessly.  We haven’t had a single mechanical issue, and have only experienced the previously mentioned issues with our tires.  Lots of chunking from the center lugs, impressive amounts of tread scrubbing, and a greasy-floaty feel on hard cornering.  Because most of the high speed turns are right-handers, the front driver rubber is taking most of the punishment.  We have directional tires so we swapped the port side front with the starboard side rear and I took her back out for another 30 minutes without any real issues.

We have to work on our pit/driver swap times because we’re averaging about 18 minutes per.  This facility doesn’t have a proper hot pit lane, so we can’t actually do any of this on what you would normally call pit-lane.  We actually have to roll all the way back to the paddock at 10mph to swap drivers unless we’re refueling at the same time.  We’re only permitted to re-fuel on the hot pit lane and it’s a pretty short drive back to the paddock, but in-and-out it just isn’t.

Still we can do better, but we’re all just really jazzed to be here and are taking our time to make sure we have all the safety gear on properly, are strapped in good and tight with radio checked before we start rolling again.  I saw a lot of cars black flagged, spun out, off the track, broken down, and some sure to be marked DNF when it’s all said & done tomorrow afternoon.  I don’t care if we come in dead last as long as we’re still in this for the checkered flag tomorrow.

We have a laundry list of things to do for the next race and just about all of them are pretty spendy.  I haven’t done the math yet to know if I can do any of them before the Colorado race but I know I’m going to have to prioritize needs vs wants.  I don’t know if I should do better tires or just more tires.  Bigger rims and wider rubber?  Two sets?  Or three?  I could make up for handling changes due to wheel changes with a fully adjustable suspension but that’s a whole different cost structure.

Funny note for the day was when Lawrence gave his cell phone to Cope before going out on track.  Cope put the phone down someplace and promptly lost track of it.  For the next several hours between driver swaps and dozens upon dozens of laps various members of the team looked for the phone and came up empty handed.  After the checkered flag a bunch of the drivers went out on track walking around picking up debris and found the phone at the end of the back straight.

Apparently Cope had put the phone on the deck lid of the car while strapping Lawrence into the driver seat and left it there.  Nobody noticed as he drove out of the paddock and it stayed on the back of the car all the way down the straight.  I guess it flew off after he cut speed for the right-hand sweep at the end of the straight, and it’s just lucky that someone happened upon it after the race.  The screen is cracked a bit but it still works!  A great souvenir for our first day on the track.

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March 18

We made it.

This far.

We had tech inspection this morning at 11AM and flew through with only one recommended change.  The kill-switch needed to be relocated so that it would be within reach of the driver while belted in with arm restraints intact.  This required moving the switch about 2 feet from its original position and fabricating an entirely new mount for it.

There was also a mandatory track/facility driver meeting today at 12:30pm to go over basic rules and directions and then the track was opened at 1pm for pre-race testing.

We elected to get the kill-switch modification out of the way before we took the out for testing so we didn’t really get to drive until about 2:30pm.  The team moved like greased lighting with Cope & Lawrence leading the charge to get the wiring modified while AJ fabricated a new mounting bracket.

The team insisted I be the first driver so I took her out for the first four laps, marking my first time on an unrestricted track in a modified vehicle in full safety kit.  I have to confess that I was not prepared for the rolling nature of the car under heavy cornering and the first couple of laps really rustled my jimmies.  I was absolutely the slowest vehicle on the track and was overtaken by at least ten different cars while trying to make my way around the first couple of times.

By the time I’d gotten through with lap three my heart was racing so much I had to bring it in and do a driver swap.  Chris was ready to go so I let him take over and drank some water to settle my nerves.  The car handled beautifully except for the tendency to lean dramatically in the turns.

The poor handling is caused by the nearly OEM suspension from 1996 on the car having covered more than 170,000 road miles with nothing more than shock replacement.  We did the shocks in prep for this event but didn’t touch the springs or sway bars which is something I regret now.  We sailed through tech and BS inspection without any question or investigation of our suspension.  I could have installed a VMAXX kit on here without issue and nobody would have suggested I was over cost limits.  Lesson learned.  For Colorado or Button Willow, we will have a fully modified suspension setup.

My next five laps went much better.  I was able to push her hard through the turns and take it just to where I was sure traction was going to break loose.  When she steps out, she remains very controllable and rolling off the throttle a little bit will bring her right back in line.  I definitely didn’t set any speed records but I certainly felt much better by the time I rolled her back to the paddock for another driver swap.

So the highlight of the day is that every driver got a turn of at least four laps on the track and we didn’t spin out, leave the pavement, get shunted off, or otherwise experience rapid unscheduled disassembly of the vehicle.

Tomorrow is the real thing.  There are not less than 55 teams participating in the event and we will have a very crowded track.  Instead of going for a target number of laps, we’re going to break it out into 30-45 minute stints depending upon driver fatigue and vehicle handling characteristics.

The first hour is all about survival and I’m slated to take the first 30 minute stint.  Wish me luck.  :)

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March 10

Ay, chihuahua.

This is the last major work weekend before we have to hit the road and we should be able to wrap it all up by Saturday night.  We’ve pored over the pre-race safety checklist and done our best to follow the rules.  Tomorrow we get her off for new tires & an alignment.  I’m just as excited as I am nervous because we still don’t have all the gear on-site and a couple of critical and exceptionally expensive pieces of equipment are still in transit.  Even if everything arrives on time and we don’t have any issues getting to the track & getting set up, the car could still fail tech inspection & be black flagged from the track.


Still, we’re optimistic.  Already looking ahead to Button Willow in October and trying to budget some suspension upgrades & better tires.  Any type of corporate sponsorship would be welcomed of course but there won’t be any big money even if we win.  The best we could hope for is some extra cash or free gear to offset the costs of fielding a car.



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March 7

Carrying on

At some point we have to accept life on its own terms and recognize that there doesn’t have to be a reason behind anything that we experience.

“And this, this is like my little window to the world, and every minute’s a different show. Now I may not understand it. I may not even necessarily agree with it. But I’ll tell you what, I accept it and just sort of glide along. You want to keep things on an even keel, I guess is what I’m saying. You want to go with the flow. The sea refuses no river. The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving. It saves on introductions and goodbyes. The ride does not require an explanation – just occupants.”

  • boat car guy, “Waking Life” 2001

Hal & I have been soldering on with the race car work while struggling with the loss of our friend, but the work has been good for us and we’ve made enormous amounts of progress.  After Eric got the seat mounted & harnesses attached we discovered a problem with the roll cage which is going to require some retrofitting, but it is probably going to be salvageable in time for us to get the car to Wilcox.  That leaves tires, instrument cluster, and door handles to be done in a week and I think we’re going to be okay.

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I will always remember Susan as the woman who taught me how to make the perfect pizza crust in my very own kitchen.  So on a more positive note and a completely different subject at that….

For many years I’ve avoided cooking steaks because I’ve historically had no talent at it.  Every time I’ve tried to follow a recipe and cook a steak, the meal has ended in disappointment and some sort of delivery service.  But to be fair to myself it’s not as if I’ve had decent instruction yet still lack the skills or anything.  Nobody in my family ever taught me how to cook a steak.

Well, that’s no longer the case!  I’ve finally learned how to decently prepare and cook a piece of bovine carcass which doesn’t turn out resembling a piece of old boot leather.  All praise shall belong to his majesty Gordon Ramsay and this little video of his :

I do like my steaks a bit more done than he does so I left them in the pan about another two minutes.  They came out tasting absolutely superb, though  I will add just a bit more fresh pepper next time.  I do have to get my timing coordinated just a bit better so I can have everything ready at the same time but Hal & I were both quite happy with how it turned out.  Next time I’ll even take photos.

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