Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The long hiatus / STPR '09

Wow! It’s been since November that I posted to this blog….gotta do better than that! But then I gotta run more events!!!!!

Quick re-cap: December and January are the “off months”…..then January kicks off with Sno*Drift in Atlanta Michigan and the surrounding towns. I went up there and worked radio net for them one day and start/finish controls one day and had a great time as I always do….but I’d rather be competing.

100 Acre Wood was next and yet again I failed to secure a ride….so I served as “Trouble-shooter” for Tom vonHatten the chairman. That meant I ran around in front of the course opening cars handling political situations or manpower situations as needed. Good thing, too as I had to squire a school bus backward through Pigeon Roost between the running of the 00 car and the 0 car. 100 Acre as most of you may have seen was a weather anomaly. At the end of Saturday’s competition, the competitors were racing and great gravel roads. They left Viburnum and traveled 15 miles southwest to race in 10 inches of new snow! The final stage was mercifully canceled, as most of the workers couldn’t get through. I spent that stage at a spectator point with the new Dent County Sheriff who is now our new biggest fan. Seems he got a ride with Andy Mancin on the shakedown stage and is still grinning.

Olympus came and went…..no ride….it’s the economy!

Dmitri was going to run Oregon so I grabbed a cheap ticket….but then the car wasn’t ready….so I went out and fortuitously landed the role of 0 car co-driver with Lee Sorenson. What a great weekend!!!!! The whole Fugawi course opening team was a blast. These guys do this at a lot of events, but somehow a medical emergency took Lee’s normal co-driver (I always think that term is an oxymoron…how could a co-driver be normal?) out for the weekend…VOILA. I’m available and qualified!

Went out to Portland and spent some time with Lew and Debbie Bailen who are old 100AW committee people that moved to the Portland area three years ago), then went and did my Oregon Trail Rally thing…then Margaret flew out and we became turistas for a week….what a GREAT IDEA! Paddle wheel up the Columbia River Gorge. 100 year old Hotel in the port city of Astoria (town started by John Jacob Astor….hence Astoria!) then two fabulous nights at a B&B overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Newport. Great Micro-brews…wonderful seafood….fantastic wines…..and 7 pounds I need to get rid of. But worth it.

Dmitri assured me we’d be running STPR….but alas…..car not good. Eric Hansen (of Maine and RNY ’08 fame) to the rescue!!!! As you’ve read below a lot of my recent rides have been with Eric….but this time Eric had spent four days at Team O’Neil…..HOT DAMN!!!!

The saga ensues as Joe Anthes and I pull out of St. Louis at 1:00 Wednesday afternoon…and rocket 800 miles across the Eastern US to pull into our 50’s era roach haven motel in beautiful Galeton, PA….about 25 miles West of Wellsboro where the 2009 Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally was actually HQ’d. So logistics were…..interesting!

Crawled into bed about 3:45AM only to have Eric pull my toe at 6:00 to get ready to drive to Wellsboro and leave for recce which started at 7:00….grabbed a bagel and coffee and off we went. Recce was uneventful and Eric is not up to actually creating his own notes, so I read the notes and Eric drove….re-acquainted himself with how notes and the approaching landscape looked. We actually wrapped up early making very few changes to the notes short of hacking out great quantities of SmCr’s, and adding “FL” (my abbreviation for “Flat Over”) to a lot of the remaining ones. STPR is a FAST event!

Our trusty steed for this event is the very veteran ex- Brian Goss (the human Brian Goss….the canine one has departed…RIP) 1995 Dodge Neon. This car had served us well at NEFR last year as well as Rally New York last Fall….Eric also competed at Team O’Neil in New Hampshire in January…so he’s getting used to the car.

At Maine last year Eric’s performance won him some seat time at Team O’Neil which he took advantage of before this year’s STPR….and he then proceeded to give it extra practice in some unspecified gravel pit. We had great expectations!

The first two stages of STPR were repeats of last years Waste Management property stages. 9 miles of trash heap at racing speed! Segments of this stage were open and fast….but very few. The rest were either serpentine 25 mph switchbacks (R2->L1….flat out!!!) or bone crushing bedrock….with some metal fragments occasionally sprouting up through the dirt. Waste Management is a primary sponsor of STPR, and actually these stages do add an element of diversity to the standard STPR racing surface….so money and new roads….who can find anything wrong with that?

To put it succinctly, we beat the snot out of the Neon on this 9 mile stage. At the end of the stage where we waited to turn around and run it backwards, Eric saw brake fluid dripping from the left rear brake area and found we’d fractured a brake line….so he deftly pinched it off…..brakes on all four wheels is highly overrated! The trip out was faster and rougher at the same time, but we got stuck behind another competitor dead in the water in a ravine (through which passing was not possible) and waited for him to roll back down the hill so we could slip by knocking down rally signage as we went (sorry STPR organizers!). And we still did the rougher version (rougher because 45 cars had already been over it once) 12 seconds faster than the previous run….and that included losing 25-30 seconds to the blockage. This was going to be a fun rally and Eric was going to make it that way!

Then we transited back to the Tioga County Fairgrounds where we ran the Subaru Super Special Stage….8/10 of a mile of tractor pull track and mowed field with several thousand spectators watching!!!! With all those spectators, we sorta blew the stage getting stuck once and having to back up once, but it was still fun.

Joe and I met and left the Hansen crew (Mom, Dad, Aunt Uncle, Sister, Cousin and 3-4 of Eric’s guys) to figure out how to get the Neon ready for the next days 10 stages. We met up with Martin Headland at Time Remembered….a regular stop on the STPR weekend for some great Italian Food and Yuengling beer (the oldest brewery in the US!). Great food. Great beer. Great stories.

Then there was the saga of the room key. Remember the motel room (sleeping 5 of us) was 25 miles west of town? Well Joe and I rolled out there, but we didn’t have THE key. One of Eric’s crew guys did and he’d driven off somewhere….so Joe and I settled down to sleep in the front seats of his Dodge truck for an hour and a half ‘til the crew showed up with the appropriate entry mechanism…..off to bed about 12:30…alarm set for 6:00AM

Saturday dawned beautiful, and we gathered around the square in downtown Wellsboro for a 90 minute Parc Exposé. The Neon was as ready as she could be for the nine real stages we would run today and one last trip around the Subaru Super Special at the fairgrounds. I’ve got to say STPR is not known for wimpy stages….9 stages averaging almost 12 miles in length filled the afternoon before the circus at the Fairgrounds. Eric’s Team O’Neil training shined. He spent the whole weekend with braking on only three corners (could never engineer the full repair of the brake line injured on stage #1).

We had two “incidents”. The first was coming across Evan Cline's Subie upside down in the middle of the road with Chris Greenhouse trying to figure out what to do. At first wefelt it was a red cross situation, but we canceled that idea since there were really no injuries. The only option left is something we rallyists call Force Majeur. It’s French, so naturally confusing. What it means is literally “shit happens”. It is then the rallyists duty to get around the blockage an d continue racing…the clock is still running. Well we didn’t have enough manpower to shove Evan’s car out of the way until we had about 7 cars of manpower. When we got it aside we all transited to the finish control feeling the organizers would “adjust” the times on the stage for our common sense. Nope! It was Force Majeur. Brian Deegan (in an AWD Subie) had jumped the bank to the left and successfully passed the blockage, so it was obviously possible….since we chose not to we would most likely be penalized. Back up the road a few miles, Dillon von Way had gone off the road and shown the OK sign and we thought nothing about it. But late arriving cars at the Cline incident were telling us the red cross sign was out at the vanWay car. We dodged a bullet on this one, because the stewards, based on a technicality ruled to throw out the Force Majeur rule (which would have added about 1-13 minutes to our time on that stage) and accepted the Red Cross rule from the van Way incident and neutralized all our times from the wreck back in the pack.

Incident #2 involved the PR Pride of this event, Motorcycle Super Star Brian Deegan. Deegan and his co-driver Chrissie Beavis (who normally runs with Tanner Foust, but Foust had a Drifting conflict this weekend and so was not in attendance), had spun out in a R4> and slammed hard into a bank on the outside of this blind turn. So here we come about 3 minutes later and yours truly is a “tad” late on the call (I admit it…happens occasionally…I’m sure I’m the ONLY co-driver who does it!) and Eric abandons some of his recent training and, seeing the Deegan/Beavis car on the outside of a curve he was going too fast to make, slammed on the brakes. Bad combination of errors! We jump through the ditch, up the bank and nose into Deegans co-driver door.

Fortunately Chrissie is out holding a tow rope hoping to get snatched off the mountain and not sitting in that seat!

So here we all are with the Neon partially impaled in the Subie. I send Eric back up the road to warn oncoming cars and place appropriate reflective triangles. Chrissie and I try to get a passing competitor to stop and pull the Deegan car off the bank. Finally Gary Wiggin (co-driven by Chris Duplessis who appears elsewhere in this blog stream) stops and we get him hooked to the Deegan Subie…and shortly Deegan is facing the right way with the engine fired. I don’t think the wheels were properly aligned, but at least the car would move. I suggested to Ms. Beavis that she get back in the car with the R-A PR Prince and I would wrap up the tow strap so they can get moving quickly. Chrissie, to her total class credit answers that they’re not leaving ‘til the Neon is off the bank. We hook up the Subie to the light bar of the Neon (the tow hook is buried in the dirt too far to hook to) and they pull the gallant steed down the bank almost tipping it on the co-drivers door, but ultimately back on the road. Without that, we would most certainly have joined the growing list of dnfs. I LOVE THIS GAME!!!! Thanks Chrissie….I owe you some serious beer!

Anyway, we’re all home and tucked in. Eric managed the second best 2WD speed factor for the weekend, a win in the first Divisional (but mostly 5th overall!). The second event with our excursion doesn’t show much of a record, but he maximized seat time and got faster and faster as the weekend progressed.

A quick 12 hours starting at 7:00AM (and hero driver crawled in at 5:45….I heard the roaches crunching, Eric!!!) and those 800 miles just melted away. Home by 6:00-ish. Thanks, Joe for the transportation, camaraderie, and the Single Malt! Thanks Eric for a great safe ride. You've come a long way!

Now to NEFR where I’ll be mentoring another newcomer, none other than our rescuer at STPR, Gary Wiggin!