THE GREAT RACE
or How I Learned to Love The Smell of Transmission Fluid
By Chuck Graf
Have you ever worked with a group of people who self-organize into a team so coherent and adaptive that they simply develop solutions simultaneously, immediately, without discussion or a plan? It is freaking weird, is what it is.
Sometimes when you make a decision it is not clear how rational thought led you there, or even how you could consider it rational in the first place. Somehow, when I read the email asking if anyone was working on the development of a car for the 24 Hours of LeMons race I typed a response without even thinking, offering to lead, follow, or get out of the way; whatever was needed.
You see, I have some very small experience in auto racing, but have always wanted to do some more. The most fun that I ever had with my zipper up was running in the Time Trials at Bridgehampton. That was an old Can-Am track at the wrong end of Long Island, which, as its name implies, is too long to host a racetrack at the far end. It went bust many times, and has now become a housing development, but at the time of my visits it was 2.25 miles of turned and twisted pavement, with 400 feet of elevation changes, that you could drive a car on as fast as you wanted. It was FUN, but I was married, broke, and had to drive the car to work in the morning, so I gave it up and moved to Texas.
The Makerspace Motorsports Team first order of priority was to have a meeting and talk about what kind of car we wanted. All sorts of people showed up for this meeting. There was even a guy who had been a Technical Inspector for a Lemons Race (as this fiasco is affectionately called). This is not where the self-organizing part came in. This is where the everyone-has-two-things-and-one-of-them-is-an-opinion-part started.
You see, the Race we were supposed to be preparing for has some very, ummmm, unique rules. The first basic rule is that crazy is good, and second is that spending more than $500, on a car that you are going to drive at 100 miles an hour straight at a turn, is BAD. Now, you can spend all you want on safety items for the car and yourself. They are not THAT crazy. But things like engine repairs, fixing rust holes, dealing with fire damage, etc. all count toward the $500 limit. They actually inspect the car, and you have to convince them that you have not spent more than $500 on it, and have receipts to prove it. This inspection is immediately after the Technical Inspection (named for the fact that it is to check the car for technically meeting the safety requirements) and it is called the BS Inspection (because it is to determine the level of Bull Shit you are willing to throw at the inspector to convince him that you did not go over the $500 limit).
Obviously this Rule is subject to allot of cheating. There was a full race Corvette in the space next to us that I would have given several thousand for, but it passed BS Inspection. There are two reasons for this.
One is that, if you spend more than $500, you can agree to be bumped up a class (made to compete against cars with bigger engines), and/or be assessed penalty laps (like a reverse handicap in golf; you start the race with a negative number of laps that you have to make up before you start scoring anything).
The other reason is that you can bribe the BS Inspector. Yes, this is true. There was a table in the Tech building, laden with bottles of liquor, baskets of food, envelopes, and some things that I could not immediately identify without obvious staring. We elected to not go this route, and since we did not have receipts for everything, we got bumped up to Class A (so we were running against that Corvette, some Cameros, and some full-race SCCA cars). More about the receipts later.
Back to how this started. We met with a bunch of Makers, and decided … well no idea what we decided. There are no notes for that meeting, but we talked about what could be bought for $500 (nothing you wanted to go 100 MPH in), what could NOT be bought for $500 (anything that would DO 100 MPH), and what other possibilities were out there. We DID agree on a Theme. One of the major sources of crazy at this race is that, to get accepted into the race, you have to come up with a theme that is unique. This race has been run enough times that the obvious things have been done to death. The guys next to us had a car covered in beer bottle caps and beer labels, with a working beer tap sticking out of the trunk lid. One car had a tipped-over barrel of toxic waste on the roof, with a person in race attire dissolving in the pool of green waste on the trunk lid. You get the idea? We agreed that we would be the team sponsored by the NSA (National Security Agency), to raise awareness of the great criminal, Edward Snowden, who is famous as the guy who stole their (our) secrets and put them on the Internet. Somehow this was accepted by the Race Organizers as sufficiently nuts, and we got assigned a spot. Our car number was 301, the area code for the NSA in Washington.
We parted, agreeing to meet every week on Tuesdays until this thing happened.
Someone came up with the name of a couple who had a car that we might want. Might want was an understatement. The make and model were perfect. A 1995 Nissan 240SX. This is a small car with a large four cylinder engine, excellent suspension, and a history of racing. Not that this particular car was a racer. This MODEL has been raced, so parts are available for it. This car had been parked for 8+ years without running. It had allegedly stopped starting one day, and the Owners left it, hoping to resurrect it some day. It was worth more than $500; allot more in just parts, but it looked like a great deal for us.
A car with an engine that as been running, but has now failed to run, is just about ideal. No matter what is wrong with it, it is just a matter of replacing pieces until it runs again. Even if we had to replace the engine, this is still a good deal. Remember the thing about cheating? Replacement engines would count against the $500, but how can they tell you have replaced the engine?
This thinking will come to haunt me later.
The car was paid for by Ben, recovered by Mike with a borrowed tow truck (amazing tow truck work, getting it into the Shop), and we set to work on it. First thing is to get it running. We found that it would crank, but not start (Duh). A few tests and it was apparent that the fuel system was failing to deliver. The fuel pump was getting power, so it was pulled (it lives inside the fuel tank) and found to be a solid mass of muck from the bottom of the tank. A new pump was installed, the tank pumped out, and she started right up. Had kind of a funny rattle sometimes (more ghosts to haunt us), but she ran nice and smooth right from the start.
We now set about stripping the car like she was parked under a freeway overpass downtown. One of the corollaries of Rule 1 (the $500 limit) is that parts of the car that are sold allow you to buy new parts without going over the limit. So if we get $100 for the windows (who needs windows in a race car? We will find the answer to that question later), that $100 can be spent on race parts. So we removed everything that was not necessary to go 100MPH on a race track. Someone volunteered to sell these, and we did well enough to have a positive balance at one point. Unfortunately, we never got the receipts for these transactions, so we failed the BS Inspection and got bumped up a Class.
One of the most vexing problems with this whole enterprise was how to build the roll cage. This is the structure that is added to the car so that when it rolls over at 100MPH, the driver is not crushed. This is felt by the Race Organizer Gods to be so important that there is a 14 page document on how to build a cage that will pass Tech Inspection (since it is a Safety Item, it does not count in the $500 limit). We had dreams of using a manual tubing bender (on 1 ¾, heavy-wall tubing) and the MS welders to build this, but after some discussion on Tuesdays, it was decided to find a shop that specialized in such things, and pay them to do it. We now introduce a leading character in this drama: Darryll. We called around to a few chassis builders (as such people are known), and got quotes from $1,800 to $600, sight unseen, for a “Lemons” roll cage. We also got allot of skepticism about having it ready in time for the race, since the racing season was now rapidly approaching, and they were all busy. Darryll was the low price guy, and said he could meet the deadline. He has a shop somewhere in or near Fort Worth. He moves around allot, a fact that we discovered when another business answered the phone at the number we were given, and they directed us to his new place, once they determined that we were NEW customers. I imagine he has moved again by now. He better have. We might go see him.
We moved the car to Destroyer Chassis (Darryll's shop: prophetic name; I am not making this stuff up) with only 6 weeks to go before the race. He immediately started squirming around when I tried to confirm that he would do the whole job for $600. Mention of a written estimate met with complete, stunned silence. Apparently these things are done on a handshake, as reputations are at stake. We went ahead with the deal, but we visited Darryll a few times, just to make sure that progress was being made.
In about a week we got the call: The car was ready! According to Darryll “We did have a small fire when we welded the base plate on the right side. You did not tell me that there was a gas tank in the car....”. Darrell, Dude, you drove the car into the shop. Where did you think the gas was coming from? You would think that “avoiding-the-gas-tank-while-welding” would be one of the first lessons in chassis builder school, and failure to follow this rule would weed out the Darrells, but such is not the case, apparently.
Anyway, the visible damage was minor (more later on this), just some melted plastic and scorched wires. He gave us a real racing steering wheel, so we called it good. We got the car back to the Space, and set to work on all the other stuff that was necessary to make the car competitive and to pass Tech.
Wheels came off, the steering wheel was made removable, a racing seat was installed, communications radios were installed, a kill switch was wired to the battery, springs were changed (to lower the car), and a thousand other details were attended to. Then Brandon noticed something (I do not know what), so he pulled the gas tank out of the car. This is more involved than it sounds. The entire rear suspension has to be removed to get the tank out. When it is sitting on the floor the tank looks just like the liver from a three-toed sloth. Can't visualize it? Think of a blob, with various other blobs protruding from it, with some undulations and extensions to make it a thoroughly asymmetrical blob. This particular blob had a hole in it. A square foot of plastic was burned away. Burned away to within inches of the surface of the gasoline in the tank. Oh Darryll. What god do you prey to that protected you, and incidentally your shop and our car and your other customers cars, from the certain death of a massive gasoline explosion? How did you do this and live to tell us about how “You didn't tell me it had a gas tank in it”?
So we need a gas tank. We had the option of using a real racing “fuel cell”, which is a box with a rubber bladder in it filled with absorbent foam. Such a device is very safe, big, heavy, available by special order only, and god-awful expensive. We opted for a used tank, and found one in Waco on Ebay. A quick $400 credit card transaction later, and we almost had a new tank. The seller even agreed that we could pick it up (good for us as we were running out of time, and good for him since no shipping service will ship a used fuel tank). I drove to Waco, but the phone number he gave me was wrong and I could not get directions to his place. I returned to Dallas, cursing his name, where he called me to inquire as to my whereabouts, and tell me that he noticed that the number that he gave me was wrong. A few choice words later and he had agreed to meet me in Waxahachie (half way between us), the next day. So I met him in the Walmart parking lot and collected our tank. The last time I saw him he was face down in a dumpster at a rest stop half way between Dallas and Waxahachie, if anyone cares to look for him.
When we first took the old tank out we discovered that the rubber bushings that hold the rear end onto the car were utterly destroyed by age. This was deemed a bad thing, so Brandon obtained some new ones, and after much struggle we were able to reassemble the tank and suspension. At which point it was found that the new tank leaked. So it all had to come back out again. The tank was repaired, I went back to that dumpster and urinated on the corpse, and all was now well in the gas tank department, except that the fuel gauge no longer worked. The car was starting to look like a real race car. At the last minute we noticed that there was no paint or any graphics on the car, so Ben and others quickly applied Plasti-dip to the body. Plasti-dip is a spray-on PVC coating, originally made for coating the handles of tools, but it makes a really nice smooth coat of flat black when applied to a car. It can be peeled off like a bad sunburn if you want to change colors. It also comes off if rubbed, or if it gets dripped on by gasoline, WD-40, or sweat. Pearce and others made the Vinyl graphics, including a large picture of Edward and his description, to adorn the hood. We even made up a wanted poster for Ed, with shoot-to-kill admonishments. Hopefully everyone understood that this was tongue-in-cheek (we like Ed), but when we got to the race no one seemed too put out by it. The week before the race we had a visit from the Maker who had been an inspector on an earlier Lemons race. Bad news. Two of the bars in the roll cage were too short and Darryll (remember Darryll?) had made up for it by using big, ugly welds. This is a no-no at Tech Inspection, and was a certain fail. Moving the car to Darryll's and waiting for him to fix it was out of the question. There was too much still to do that would not happen if the car was in Fort Worth. We found, and lost three, three people who could weld in new bars, until Reece volunteered to try it. Reece worked all day, and late into the night cutting out and grinding flat the old welds, and cutting and welding the new bars into place. This was a major game saver, as these welds were thoroughly checked during Tech, and passed with flying colors. Unfortunately, this was not the last of Darryll's skill-failures to haunt us.
To do the cutting and welding allot of stuff had to be removed, so there was a flurry of work to re-install the roll cage padding, kill switch, radios, etc. A second seat mount had to be made, as not all the drivers have the same physique. The new springs had to be installed. All new brakes (a safety item, that does not count toward the Limit) were installed, with stainless steel flex hoses and racing pads. A fire extinguisher had to be found and mounted.
Finally the car was ready to drive, the day before it had to be in Decatur. It was rolled out and driven for the first time in race trim. It worked well, though the clutch/transmission had developed some peculiarities. This was dismissed as the possible result of changing the type of transmission oil (all the fluids were replaced with high performance synthetics). The radiator was drained and flushed of all traces of anti-freeze. This is a requirement of the rules, as the track workers do not want to have to deal with toxic, slippery antifreeze in the event of car-to-car or car-to-obstruction contact. That very night the car went on a U-Haul trailer and was towed to Eagles Canyon Raceway, arriving at 3AM.
Friday dawned cool but clear. There was to be a practice session on the track from 9:30 until 5PM. A meeting for the Drivers was held at 8:30AM to go over the flag system, and the rules for practice. Tech Inspection was to start a 1PM, and go until 5PM. Each car would drive into the Tech Barn, and the inspectors would go over it carefully, including testing the kill switch. This switch has to stop the engine and kill all power in the car when pulled by the belted-in Driver or by a course worker outside the car.
Brandon suited up (full fireproof gear, FIA race helmet, fireproof shoes, socks, underwear, and gloves), connected the radios, and installed the quick-release steering wheel. Switches on, he started the car and roared off at 10 MPH (pit speed limit) toward the track. We all stood and watched him roar out of the pits, down the access road (10 MPH), and out toward the track. And we waited. The radio crackled. Words came over it. Bad words. The car had died before the first turn. Dead. Nada. Crap.
The little Nissan did not even need a tow truck. It was towed back to the pits behind a golf cart. How demeaning.
The clutch had problems, but the engine would not start either, and the starter sounded funny. A quick inspection under the car revealed that there was something wrong inside the clutch. Adjusting it did nothing. Shit. There is nothing we can do to fix it, since that would require that we pull the transmission out of the car.
Now lets visualize this. The transmission is under the car. It is four feet long, weighs 200 pounds, and is full of high-sulfur transmission oil. We can raise the car only about 14 inches. We are working on old blacktop pavement, out in the weather. We have no transmission jack to lower and lift the beast. What can we do?
To a man the team just set to work removing the transmission. No discussion. No whining. Not a hard word was spoken. Every single man dove in and started doing what had to be done. Remember that self-organizing team thing? This was it, now.
We pulled out the support frame, removed the shifter, disconnected the drive shaft, unbolted the starter, and removed the 200 bolts that hold the transmission to the bell housing. It was then slid back 4 inches, and man-handled out from under the car as stinking oil poured out. The extent of the disaster was now made clear in no uncertain terms. The flywheel came out with the transmission. The flywheel is part of the engine, and should be firmly bolted thereto. Flywheels do not come off. They have six special, grade 8 bolts of special form, to hold the flywheel on at 6,000 RPM. Breaking off is bad; very bad.
One bolt was broken off in the crankshaft. The rest were destroyed by working around loose in their holes. The holes in the flywheel are no longer round, but oval. The locating pin is sheared off. The threaded holes in the crankshaft are damaged badly. The clutch plate has a piece broken out of it. This is a disaster of Titanic proportions.
There was a silence. There was the sound of thought. A word or two of inquiry and discussion. Someone went and got on the phone to find a flywheel and new bolts. Someone else started calling around to find a clutch. Someone else started working on the logistics of getting the parts from Dallas to the track. Someone else got the Tech Officials to come down and do a preliminary inspection of the car so that we would not miss getting certified to race, since the car could not be moved to the Tech barn. Someone else set out to get some parts and special tools from the local parts house.
That is all that happened.
Mention must be made of Allen Wan's part in all this. Allen volunteered to be a registered part of the crew, but remained in Dallas just in case we needed parts or tools in an emergency. The track is over an hour from Makerspace, but when the clutch, flywheel and bolts were located there was another hour of running around Dallas to collect them. We would never have the parts in time if Allen had not been in-place, ready to go when the time came. He went to the various places that had what we needed, bought the stuff, and got it to the track in time to get the transmission back in the car Friday night. Woot Allen.
Now, we had a new flywheel, clutch, and bolts on the way but there was no way to replace the crankshaft. The bolt holes were wallered out badly, the threads in the holes were damaged, the locating pin was broken off, and one bolt was broken off in the hole. A threading tap of the correct size was obtained locally to repair the threads, and an attempt was made to remove the broken bolt, but in the end extreme measures were required to re-mount the flywheel. Extreme measures means only one thing here.........JB Weld. That is right. The flywheel was re-attached with five bolts in damaged holes, a piece of drill bit for a locating pin, and all held in place with the epoxy-with-iron-filings-in-it known as JB Weld. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Held great, too. Won't ever rust either.
So now all we had to do is lift that baby back into the belly of the car, align the 1” shaft with the 1.005” hole (neither of which we can see) while supporting the transmission over head, with transmission fluid dripping in our faces, push it into place, and bolt it up. James lay under it and literally bench pressed it the whole time. This took over an hour, and took four people heaving and shoving in a 14” crevice that stank of sulfurous fluid. Hell would be pleasant compared to this.
When we finally got it in place, we stood up, dripping oil and blood, our hair matted, reeking, when someone held up the baffle plate that goes between the transmission and the engine. It has to be in place before the transmission goes in. We forgot to put it in before installing the transmission.
Now some men would have cursed and some men would have cried, at the prospect of taking the transmission out again. These men? They all, simultaneously, with one voice, in harmony, shouted “CUT THE DAMN PLATE IN HALF AND SLIDE IT IN”. So that is what we did. Job done.
We missed all of practice on Friday. We had to have the car running at Tech Inspection Saturday morning first thing, or we would be disqualified. It was agreed that, if we tried to start it Friday night, and the JB Weld failed, we would never know if it failed just because we did not wait long enough, or if it was just a hopeless fix, so we agreed to wait until Saturday morning to start her up. We went to bed hoping that we had a working car in the morning. Saturday dawned, cold and with thick fog. We convened around the car at 7AM. Fingers were crossed. Chants were said. Sacred talismans were shaken over the transmission. Brandon climbed into her. Switches on. Starter engages. The exhaust barks, rumbles to a steady rhythm. She lives. Not a word is said. We have to get oil into the transmission to replace what was lost. We dive under her and try pumping it in but the lube is too cold and thick. We button her up and get her on the ground to get into Tech before it is too late. A disaster has been averted.
We drive her into the Tech barn. There are a few cars that failed Tech yesterday that are back to show that they have made the corrections required, and are being certified ready to race. The Tech guy is friendly, cheerful. We demonstrate that the kill switch works (all that we think is required, after the Tech inspection yesterday). He goes over the entire car again. All looks good. Then he slides his hand up between the roll cage and the roof, to feel a weld that is entirely invisible. Uh oh. Frown. More feeling around. “This weld is not complete. There is a hole in the top. You will have to weld up the hole before I can sign off on the car”. Crap. That weld is under three layers of steel roof, inaccessible to normal men. What to do? We take her back to the pits. Someone goes and locates a welding unit that we can borrow. Someone starts cutting a 4” square hole in the roof with an angle grinder. Someone else organizes a drill to cut through the last layer, which is inaccessible to the grinder. A hammer and screwdriver are used to break out the last piece of roof, leaving a 3” square to work through. The weld is now visible. The weld bead does not quite meet at the top of the tube. That weld was by Darryll. Remember Darryll? Destroyer Chassis Darryll? This is a critical weld. In a roll over this weld is all that keeps the front loop of the cage from collapsing. Good going, Darryll. We are going to see you again. Count on it.
Using the borrowed welder we fill the hole, and take her back to Tech. One of the Officials comes over and looks at it, condemning the new weld as imperfect, but it is not his call to make. We have to wait an agonizing 20 minutes until the original Inspector is available to look at it. He is casual, OKs the weld, and would sign off if he had a pen. He goes inside to get a pen, walks past the other, more negative official. Nothing is said, he locates his pen, signs off, and we have a race to get to!!
Brandon goes first as driver. He heads out, queuing up for the access road, finally getting to roar down the track. Instantly, he disappears into the fog. Remember the fog? It was so thick you could not see one turn from the last. We waited for him to reappear, eyes riveted to the far rise where he would first show.......... and there he is! The car is running great, following a big ugly car around the track.
And that is all Brandon could do for now. Because of the fog the race was running under a yellow flag. That means no passing. You can go as fast as the guy in front of you. There were 59 cars on the track. It looked like Stemmons Freeway at rush hour, if you have recently dropped a tab of acid (remember, these are all “art cars” with all kinds of silly things attached). The fog just makes it that much stranger.
After an hour Brandon came in and James went out for a spin. He scored a black flag for going off the course, but we are allowed a few of those, so no big deal. After the mandatory beating was administered by the Officials in the Tech barn James got back on the track. He dropped out of sight over the first rise, and we waited. And waited. No James. The radio reports that the car died, but that it restarted and he was running again. This happened several more times.
James came in for fuel. Fueling at the track is an elaborate process that involves parking in a special lane on the access road, placing a drip pan under the gas cap, and pouring gas from a can into the car. Because of the flap under the cap, a funnel had to be used to minimize spillage. All this must be done by two people, dressed in full drivers gear, with one pouring while the other stands with a fire extinguisher at the ready. This process took at least half an hour, all the time we are falling further behind.
Brett went out next. The car died a couple of times. The problem was clearly the fuel pump either losing power or failing in some new way. Then Ed went out for a try, and it died and had to be towed in. Then this happened to Brandon a couple of times. Each time the car was towed in we changed something, but it just died again. While we were working on it the Track Officials came over and told us that if we had to be towed in again we were out of the race. Now the car would not even start in the pits. We bypassed everything electrically that could be causing the fuel pump to stop, but it still did not work reliably (we drove around the pit area to test it, fortunately it died UP-hill from where we were).
So we bit the bullet and pulled the fuel pump out of the gas tank (not easy; again, no complaining, whining or other BS). It was surprisingly rusted, considering that it was new just a few weeks before. We believe that it was eaten up by the combination of the fire suppressant that Darryll used to save his shop (remember Darryll?) and the water that was in the “new” tank that we bought from our friend in Waco (who is now in the dumpster). The pump tested good outside the car, but when re-installed it failed to pump gas again. I set off to buy a new pump from the parts place in Decatur.
While I was gone Ed took the old pump apart and found that there was a small piece of plastic floating around inside the pump. Sometimes this would block the inlet, and sometimes it would allow fuel to pass. It was part of the fuel inlet screen that was meant to keep trash out of the pump, but age, and maybe fire-suppressant and water, had caused the plastic to become brittle, and this fragment got loose.
By the time the new pump had been installed and the car tested, racing was over for the day. We got in about 39 laps, and we were still in the running for not-last-place. So the day ended with the car running better than ever, with great hopes for the morrow.
Then we looked at the weather forecast. It said freezing temperatures in the morning, with the possibility of precipitation. It had become markedly colder as we worked on the car, but all we could do was park her, eat something before bed, and hope for the best. James set up a projector and showed video highlights of the days racing pn the trailer next to us, which drew a crowd.
On the drive up from Dallas on Sunday morning it was freaking freezing cold. At the track it was 27 degrees, and falling fast. There had been some tents in the lower paddock area the day before but when I came into the track I noticed that were gone. They either went home during the night, or the grounds keepers had simply rolled up the tents and their frozen contents and carted them off.
The Drivers Meeting was scheduled for 8:30, but we went up to the clubhouse early because it is heated, and has coffee and hot food. There was a guy sleeping on the floor of the meeting room under a pile of blankets. We agreed that he was sleeping. He never moved the whole time we were there. Yes, I am sure he was just sleeping. Not frozen dead; sleeping.
Just before the meeting the Canadian Racing Team showed up, wearing just their shorts. Apparently 25 degrees is considered balmy in Canada. I consider Canadians balmy anyway. We also freaked out some racers when we speculated about whether all those radiators were frozen, since anti-freeze is not allowed. I guess it was not cold enough long enough to be a problem, since no one over heated.
The meeting was short. The Organizers were going to wait until 9:30 to make a go/no-go decision on racing that day. The track had some ice on it, and if it broke up enough when they drove over it at 20 MPH we would be allowed to race on it at 100MPH. Nice guys. Way to look out for us racer-types.
At 9:30 we all reconvened at the meeting room. The guy “sleeping” on the floor had been removed. The organizers said that we could try racing, but it could be stopped at any moment. If there was any precipitation, or the ice got worse and not better, they would throw up the checkered flag and it would be over. Anyone who did not leave the track immediately would be shot. We were to return to the cars and get on the track ASAP. First come, first on the track.
This turned into a true Le Mons start. Years ago, at the real 24 hours race at Le Mons, France, a Le Mons start was where the cars were backed into angle-in spaces along the inside track wall. The drivers lined up on the opposite track wall. At the sound of a gun the drivers sprinted to the cars, belted in (if they were pussies and wore a belt at all) and took off down the track. Every year some drivers were run over, or got into fights when someone got into the wrong car, or crashed into the back of another car. This kind of start is illegal now........except in Decatur, Texas.
Everyone sprinted out of the drivers meeting. There was utter pandemonium as cars started up and tried not to race out of the pits (there is guy with a radar gun watching your speed. You get black flagged for speeding in the pits).
Brandon was fully dressed (including helmet and gloves) in the Drivers Meeting, so all he had to do was jump in the car, do the radio thing, mount the steering wheel, and hit the starter. Way to go, Brandon. He was going to be our only driver for the day, and we told him to stay out as long as he wanted. Off he goes. I 20 degree weather, With no windows. Remember: we sold the windows. He would have to lower them on the track, but they might have kept him warm waiting on the grid.
The car ran beautifully. Brandon drove brilliantly. He was passing other cars on every lap. He chased, and caught, the Border Patrol car (yes, I know, this was a Chevy Blazer, but it has a V8 and was lowered).
He ran for a good hour, and then came in for additional gloves and hand warmers. Back out on the track he was as fast as anyone. Only the Corvette and Camero could catch him and then only on the long straights, where their superior power was overwhelming.
About 11:45 the weather report started talking about icing conditions on the highways south of us. Ed and James were worried about getting the RV back to Dallas, and we were all concerned about towing the race car back, in ice and snow. We decided that when Brandon came in again we would pack it in, and call it a race. The Organizers apparently decided the same thing, because right after Brandon came in for the last time, they waved the checkered flag, and it was all over.
All except for the trip back to Dallas. We loaded the car onto the trailer without too much drama (except that the starter finally quit, so we pushed started it). We tied it down, and took off, with Ben driving the tow car and me following. We stopped in Decatur before getting on 380 to fix a chain that had come loose. It started seriously raining ice then. By the time we got east of Decatur there was as much as 3” of snow on the road. A dually pick-up with a goose neck cattle trailer went sideways through an intersection in front of us, but did not wreck.
We turned south toward Dallas, and it got a little better, but it was still very icy in patches. The tow car and trailer got sideways going over some ice on the GWB Tollway overpass, but Ben got it straightened out and we made it back to the Space without further incident. At the Space we had to chip 2” of ice off the front of the trailer to get at the hold-downs. We rolled the car off and, with the help of other Makers, got her pushed into the Space. We dropped off the trailer at U-Haul, and I went home to sleep for 12 hours.