Wednesday, May 28, 2014
NORRA Mexican 1000--Part 1
Boy oh boy...as you might have noticed I didn't post much while I was away for this event and even once back it has taken me 4 or 5 days to catch up on everything at home to feel like I could dedicate any time to writing about it. I'll divide the tale up into three parts. Getting to the race, the race itself and getting home.
In truth each part was more challenging than I ever anticipated. The whole adventure taught me more than I thought I could learn and humbled me like few things ever have.
Part One: We (in this case myself, Tim Meunier and Matthew Stryker) left my home in Windham, NH on a late Monday afternoon. Towing the Nissan Frontier behind a 270,000 mile, 1999 Ford E350 van was perhaps one of my first errors in judgement. While I had provided brand new tires all around for the van and two new tires for the two axle trailer, I neglected to consider the fact that the van or trailer itself might not be in the best of operating conditions having assumed that as they were used to transport a separate team's racing efforts they would be fully examined and prepared.
Early miles fly by and we are determined to make great headway and arrive in San Diego early. Unfortunately early in the afternoon on Tuesday the van develops an awful popping noise from the engine. Pulling over we discover that the 10th cylinder of the engine has a chronically dislodged spark plug that due to its aluminum heads and 4 threads worth of seating grip is impossible to install without a complete job on the heads and/or helicoil work. So we stuff the 10th plug in the best we can, eliminate the noise resign ourselves to operating on only nine cylinders and carry on, inhaling the gaseous fumes that go unburned and continue to pass by the 10th cylinder every time one would step on the gas.
Having driven straight through the first night and on into Tuesday afternoon we reached St. Louis in the early evening. I make a wrong turn in directing the van and exit the highway almost right at the St. Louis baseball stadium. No big deal we think as we can just turn around and be back on our way again--except when I attempt to slow the van at the first light we encounter my foot goes straight to the floor. No brakes. We pull into a McDonald's parking lot and discover that the rear brake lines are shot...rusted through and spilling their guts on the ground. No stopgap repair would suffice with so much mileage to go so we bed down in St. Louis for the night hoping for a swift brakeline replacement in the AM.
Come morning at a St. Louis auto repair facility (we turned down the offer of our hotel desk clerk to have her brother in law come over and fix the brake line in the hotel parking lot!) we are told that the entire brake line system lines from front to rear had to be replaced as it was rusted through in a number of spots with smaller, piecemeal repairs not feasible. So off we wander around downtown St. Louis, a quiet and attractive downtown area, taking a tour of the famous Gateway Arch. Upon return to the garage we are told that yes, the brake lines are replaced but in doing so they have discovered that the brake master cylinder and its seals are completely shot as well and needs to be replaced. No having or not having confidence in your brakes is simply not an option for a trip of this magnitude and so we have that replaced as well.
By 5 PM we are finally on our way again and proceed to rip off another 24+ hour driving shift. This time we reach Yuma, Arizona (now Thursday) and bed down on the border knowing that we only have a few hours left the next day to reach San Diego where we plan to pick up our other two drivers.
We drive on to Lemon Grove, CA in the morning where we pick up at the local post office a new alternator and our IRC satellite tracking unit, both of which had been sent General Delivery to this location. We also stopped by Offroad Warehouse which was practically next door in order to grab some more suitable gas cans. While we pick these quick fill jugs we meet Jeremy Johnson of Weldtec Designs who has some welcome but critical words for our effort. A former Class 1 pilot and top notch fabricator Jeremy sees our unsupported suspension crossmembers and lack of front limit straps as being particularly concerning for as long and as rough a race we are about to endure. Quickly I decide that I need to do everything I can to stay in the race as long as we can and enlist Jeremy and his shop to install some limit straps for the front and create some additional bracing. His quick work is excellent in form and function and we are out the door in time to grab Paul Hartl from the San Diego airport. Our fourth driver will not show up until after midnight (this is now Friday afternoon) as he missed his initial flight from Chicago due to multiple flats on his way to the airport.
We install the new alternator in the race truck (original alternator was diagnosed as going bad the day we loaded the truck on the trailer to leave) in the parking lot of our hotel, grab some food, hit up Home Depot and Wal Mart for some last minute supplies (water, air mattress, loctite, etc.), send Matt to pick up Elliott Sherwood while we slept and prepared for our entry into Mexico the next day.
Leaving Matt in California to wander around on his motorcycle while we are away the four of us (myself, Tim Meunier, Paul Hartl and Elliott Sherwood). Entering Mexico was a breeze. A quick glance at our passports, a quick look at our registrations for van and trailer and we are in. Tijuana is a shanty-town and truly worthy of third world status. Luckily we fly through there in short order and are heading toward Ensenada that Saturday morning. We arrive at contingency/tech in the late morning and queue up in line while checking into our hotel which was quite nice, as nice as almost any hotel I've stayed at here in the States. We have lots to do--installing satellite tracker, grabbing cash, fueling vehicles, obtaining GPS files (some of which tasks are easier than others)--which keeps us from attending the opening night party (we already missed the pre-event party at the Horsepower Ranch but not arriving in Mexico until Saturday vs. the Friday arrival we had planned on, due to Elliott's late flight in) and we are working well into the dark to feel ready for the first day of racing. Our spirits are upbeat however as afterall....we're in Mexico about to begin a 1000 mile race!!