Thursday, October 28, 2010
Rod Blagojevich Never-Say-Die 500: Friday
Several months ago, Alan and Eric endeavored to begin a 24 Hours of LeMons quest, a Ford Escort dream that at times closely resembled a nightmare. Despite stubborn engine and and suspension swaps, wiring fit for torture, and last-minute scrambling to meet safety requirements, we finally made it to the race and even had the car on the track for a bit over the three days of race events. Here is our story:
Friday began with an early start. Eric had been attending to some family matters all week, so Alan had spent most of the week scrambling to fulfill our car's theme and trying to create some kind of makeshift budget we could show the judges. We began packing up the garage (and freezer)1 around 8 a.m., throwing it into the rented RV, which quickly became the de facto storage locker the weekend. A fit of errand running then occurred, as Eric picked up team member (and driver) Dave at the train station in Woodstock and then snagged the Falken Azenis on loan to the team from team member Johnny.
After liberally filling Eric's Ford Focus full of tools and highly flammable chemicals, the two-vehicle caravan departed Woodstock around 10:15. The drive to Autobahn Country Club2 near Joliet took a solid and boring 2 hours, but we showed up at the gates around 12:30. While waiting to sign in, we noticed that the "Mutt Cutts" Dodge Neon was sitting in the parking lot. After an extended period of laughter, I think we all realized that we were in for an interesting weekend.
Our arrival was much later than most teams, we realized, as we were forced to take a paddock spot on the grass3, about 1/4 mile or so from the pit in/out and tech shed. We did however notice that we were parked two spots down from the only other Ford Escort team, which we quickly saw had its intake sticking out of a hole in the hood4. As we were unaware that anybody else had ever had this idea before, there were only three possible explanations:
(1) We had entered backwards bizarro world.
(2) Great (and thrifty) minds think alike.
(3) We are entirely in the right place.
Dave went and got us a number for tech inspection, which they would call over the track's short-range radio broadcasting system, so we unloaded the car, set up camp, and had a bite to eat. As our number approached being called, we threw our theme together and dressed up as Nixon volunteers. When our number was called, we piled in the Escort, cranked up "Hail to the Chief" on our makeshift radio, and plunked the bribe5 in the car's "trunk."
Our car drew a lot of attention from onlookers, and people everywhere in the pits stopped what they were doing to take pictures. We pulled into tech inspection immediately after the Nimitz-Class Cadillac sometime around 2:30. We nearly breezed through tech, but the inspectors didn't like our harness belts, which were mounted to the roll cage. We were told to attach them to the car's unibody instead and have the car reinspected. We also had a minor weld to fix.
Immediately after tech inspection, we pulled through the Tech shed for BS Inspection, where the LeMons Supreme Court goes over the car and the receipts to see how much you've spent over the $500 limit. We were expecting to get grilled, since all of our receipts had long since disappeared, and we expected a handful of penalty laps. But instead, the response from Chief Justice Phil of the LeMons Supreme Court went kind of like this:
Judge Phil: (Points at intake protruding through hood) "What the hell is this?" [Pauses, looks over entire car] "Oh my god! It's the Richard Nixon car!!!"
He proceeded to go over the car and team decorations (namely our Nixon mannequin, our Nixon volunteer patches, and assorted other small things on the car). Phil took a few dozen pictures of us, then did a brief walkaround. He leaned on the corners of the car to test the springs, then he and another judge looked under the hood. We overheard one judge say, "Well, I thought it was a swap, but now I'm not sure." Phil said something to the effect of "Whatever. Zero Laps. We'll give it, uh, Class B I guess. What kind of car is this anyway? A Tempo?"6
He then pointed at the Nixon mannequin held into the trunk by bungee cords.
Phil: "You're gonna run with that in the car, right?"
Alan: "We weren't really planning on it, since we'd like to be able to see behind us."
Phil: "No. I'm TELLING you that Nixon WILL be in the car or you won't be on the track."
He took a few more pictures and then showed us the "Nixon's the One!" button that's adorned his backpack for dozens of years before dismissing us. We later learned that he'd included a post about us and our excellent bribes on his blog.
We set to work on fixing our tech failures. Alan ran down some 3" washers with which to relocate the belt mountings, and our pit neighbors, the #10 Not Uranus Saturn, were kind of enough to fix the one weld on our cage. Dave and Eric ran to Menards in Joliet for Nixon-mounting materials and big washers so Alan could finish relocating the belt.
We worked past dark fixing the harness belt, mounting the transponder, and affixing Nixon to the car using tie-down straps. We should have tried to fix our temperature gauge, which was not working properly. But we intended to do that in the morning7.
As the night progressed, driver Kiko (Alan's dad) and crew member Pat showed up. We cracked open a few beers and traded brews and stories with the Racing 4 Nickels guys. Dave headed to a hotel for the night, and the remaining team members took a stroll through the pits, where we met a lot of great teams and traded more beer and more stories8.
We packed it in around 11:30 after a long day. Alan, awakened by Kiko's incessant snoring, spent the latter part of the night sleeping in his daily driver ZX2. It would be the car's last night intact.
1 Kudos to Amy Cesar for the food. It was all delicious.
2 This is a place where generally affluent people come to drive their race cars and/or extremely fast road cars. The fact that they allowed greaseballs like us LeMons racers to run at their facilities is kind of mind boggling.
3 We did not, at this point, know to what extent a grass pit space was a disadvantage. Have you ever tried to move an engine hoist with 400+ lbs. of weight on it through the grass?
4 This team would later ask us if we had a spare transmission, as theirs had suffered from the 3/4 shift fork breakage/wear that strikes most ZX2s at some point in their lives. We had a spare to offer, but they didn't end up taking it.
5 For the record, our bribe was: Homebrewed beer, courtesy of Dan Meyer: 1 6-pack and 2 22-oz. bottles; 1 thick biography of Nixon (with a HILARIOUS AND CRINGE-WORTHY DEDICATION), hollowed out to hold a small bottle Johnnie Walker; 1 poster of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley in the White House, with photocopies of a bizzare letter from Elvis to Nixon on the back.
6 It should be noted that none of the judges asked to see a single receipt or budgetary item. We know we lucked out, but I guess it pays to have a great theme and an even better bribe. Like Illinois politics! Ah, it comes full circle...
7 A word to the wise(r than us): If your temperature gauge is not working, GET IT FIXED. Because if it isn't working, then you won't know when a radiator hose breaks and dumps all of your coolant, causing your engine to severely overheat and then grenade itself into tiny pieces. Not that we'd know or anything...
8 Extra special thanks to Greg with the Morrows team (also the genius behind the Team Skid Steer Mercury Bobcat at the Omaha race) for sharing his award-winning chili, some A++ beer from the Boulevard brewery, and lots of awesome stories. Also, thanks to Jay from C.A.R.T. for BSing with us.