Tuesday, June 17, 2014

NORRA Mexican 1000--Part 2(c)

Ahh...so we are off to our third day of racing.  The good news is that with the prior days success and 175 stage miles under the tires of the race truck we know that a full tank of gas will get us through any stage without pitting.  The lack of any mechanical issues during the events longest stage gave us great confidence as to its ability to operate in this environment.  With a night's sleep in A/C, a clean and modern hotel and some decent breakfast in our stomachs, things were looking up...

Of course an hour or so of an improving mood was too much and we are back between the grindstones in short order.  While our General Tire A/Ts looked almost brand new we noticed a large screw in the tread of a rear tire and knew we needed to make a change.  So off comes the bad tire and a front tire to swap to the rear.  The spare that was being placed on the front was mounted on a different wheel than what was on the rest of the vehicle--no biggie...except that the difference in offset and wheelspacer on the spare wheel/tires require open lugs in order to seat against the wheel...and....I didn't pack any open lugs so we can't put the wheel on truck and we are left with the option of trying to run on a tire with a giant screw in it or try and track down some open lugs.

Elliott I can tell is about at the end of his rope with my and my nonchalant planning/preparedness and wanders off, likely to keep himself from throwing a punch at me.  Tim retreats to the inside of the van to leave the disaster to me to handle and Paul remains his usual upbeat self, not letting anything shake him.  Me?  I am in period of self loathing, asking how I could be so stupid and feeling like I had let everyone down.

Fortunately Elliott and Paul track down a local auto supply store a few blocks away and run off to grab a few sets of open lugs (the front bolt thread pitch is different from the rear so having a couple sets of proper open lugs is best) and I try and prepare the truck to quickly swap the tires upon their return.  Paul and Elliott return with the lugs and we get the proper wheels/tires on and Elliott and Tim take off in the race truck to find the start of the second of the day's stages (again, due to the late arrival and last minute obstacles we have decided to only try and run the later of the day's stages).

Paul and I take the "screwed" tire to a local shop and get it plugged so that we keep our # of spares sufficient.  We head out of town shortly after looking to meet the race truck at a road crossing about 1/2 way through the stage.  We have a loooong day of driving ahead of us just to reach the road crossing...we're talking like 6+ hours just to get to the half way point of the second stage.  The day is again filled with lengthy road construction resulting in near brownout conditions from the dust and seemingly endless straightaways.  We do however reach the aforementioned road crossing in fair shape and sit down to await our drivers with some burritos from the roadside family shack located here.  We watch other vehicles cross and wait...and wait...

Then we begin making inquiries as to if anyone knows what has occurred to our team hoping someone has had radio contact with them.  "Hey" says a course worker, "I think I took some photos of that truck when it crossed the road a while ago!"  Sure enough, looking through his digital files our drivers had actually passed the road crossing BEFORE we even arrived!  Here we are sitting here eating our burritos and relaxing while our guys went through the area an hour or more ago and were out there racing.

Well, Paul and I take this as good news...the race truck must be running well if it made it here that quick and just kept on going.  We hop in the van and begin sprinting down the road hoping that we can catch our guys as they come out on the other end some hour or more down the road.  By the time we reach the other end of the stage the sun is about to set and none of the course workers here have seen our truck.  Then we begin hearing radio transmissions from race controllers that there are up to a dozen or more vehicles stuck in a series of silt beds shortly after the road crossing we had just left.  We wait, and wait and then find out that our truck had stopped in that silt bed area and ceased any movement.  Oh, boy...with a giant van with only 2WD and a trailer we have absolutely zero way to get to them, let alone retrieve them.  Remember...this is Mexico and Baja racing...driving out onto a hot race course is perfectly fine here.  No need to wait till the course is deemed "clear", afterall these are public roads that are never shut.

So we are faced with a dilemma, we are a tad low on gas and the nearest gas station is over an hour away, in the opposite direction from the road crossing we hope to get back to.  Do we spend more than two hours just getting gas before we even begin looking for our guys or do we risk running out of gas in the middle of nowhere (there are NO gas stations for multiple hours in the direction the road crossing requires) but begin looking for our boys right away.  Paul and I decide to take the risk and figure it out as we go and head after Elliott and Tim.  It takes us about an hour to get back to the general area of the road crossing where we hope to pick up the race course and get as close to them as possible and discover what has happened.  We find a couple of roadside stores/houses/shacks that have their lights on and we pop our heads in with Paul using his Spanish to inquire as to the particular road the course is located on.  We grab some additional water and supplies and ask if there is any gas around (as we are running very low now).  We are directed to a local farmer down the road who is known to have some gas in containers for his personal use.  Upon arriving at his house Paul inquires as to the availability of gas and the farmer agrees to supply us with some at a somewhat inflated price.  Gas siphoned into van by blowing into the top of a large container of gas held higher than the gas tank and now tube running to it, we are just about back on the road when a truck with some gringo faces hanging out the windows pulls up.

Come to find out, these NORRA workers had been told to look out for a big Ford van as it might be a couple guys looking for their race truck and drivers.  They had passed us while we were fueling up roadside with the farmer, noticed the van and swung back on the off chance they could talk to us.  Turns out they had left Tim and Elliott just a little while ago a little further up the road where they were located with the race truck!  Paul and I speed off down the highway, our hopes rising now knowing we won't have to search the desert in the dark for our compatriots, nor have to worry about somehow recovering the race truck.

We arrive on scene to find Elliott and Tim waiting and smiling--thank god.  The hood of the truck is off and obviously not running.  We greet and embrace looking to hear just what had happened.  Yes, they had been running well, crossed the road and kept going as they had plenty of gas.  The roads had been beautiful and fast, stage rally type roads that they had made great time on.  Things went downhill quickly however when they hit the silt beds.  Running down a small incline and into the silt a huge wave of the fine powder crests over the hood and windshield of the truck, blotting out all visibility and rapidly pulling the truck to a halt.  In the process of the rapid deceleration the Nissan's engine somehow throws its serpentine belt which rapidly becomes chewed to pieces in the fan.  Without a spare and deep in the silt things looked fairly hopeless--that is, until "luck" takes over and located at this spot (obviously aware of the likely result of numerous vehicles trying to run through the silt) is an individual with a tractor.  Words are exchanged between Elliott and the tractor owner and the tractor pulls the truck out.  Without a serpentine belt the engine isn't going to be doing much of anything.  Some redneck engineering places a series of shoestrings in place of the shredded belt and gets the truck a short distance before that fails as well.  I am a tad fuzzy on the remaining details on Tim and Elliott's remaining trip back to the main road but I believe another competitor's crew or similar flat towed the race truck back to where we now found it.

I may not have supplied the race truck with a spare serpentine belt itself but we did carry one in the van so we conduct some quick field repairs and in short order the truck is back running just fine.  We joke that they can go back and try the silt again and finish the stage but we know that this day too is over for us from a racing perspective.  Driving on the highway with the race truck behind us we travel a few more hours, getting into La Paz quite late again...11??  Midnight??  Later???  We park our vehicles and again crash into our hotel room.


DragonX said...

Dan, you are a serious inspiration to me! I am currently building an Xterra very close to yours and would love to talk to you when you get back! I also own a Nissan off road company and would love to help out in any way i can! contact me when you brush the dust out! -Danny

Tim said...

Here's what happened in the desert. We got towed out, drove maybe a half a mile without the serpentine belt until the temp got too high. We tried to put the remaining shred of belt back on to see if we could limp out, but we couldn't figure out the routing of the belt. We were told by the guys with the tractor that there was a checkpoint a 1/4 mile up the road in Sante Fe. We decided to walk it to see if they were right, even though on the NORRA "map" (like the back of a McDonald's placemat type of map) it should have been much further. Sure enough MAG7 was there packing up. We asked for a tow, they said there was a road straight out to the main road so try to get as far as possible and they'd pick us up on their way out. Using the shoelace (you really need leather for this, cotton stretches too much, as it turns out) we drove the truck to the MAG7 checkpoint then continued down the road out were we threw the shoelace and stopped before overheating. MAG7 came by just as darkness was falling and towed us the 7 or so km to the main road where we waited for rescue.