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!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

IRNY '08

I admit it. I was a Rally New York virgin. I’ve heard numerous stories of “Ivan” rallies, but had to come out and see for myself.

Eric Hansen, you see, is spoiled. We ran his first rallies in Maine last July and we won Prod in both events. So, naturally, he decided to engage me for IRNY. And we had our hands full. First, there would be a lot more competition here than at Maine in the 2WD Production class. And second, the car was feeling a little ‘

abused’ and developed some push back to show us before it would let us have any fun!

I flew into Newark on Wednesday and proceeded up to the Villa Roma resort in Calicoon to meet up with Eric and the AWD team of Scott Wilburn and Constantine Mantopoulos. We would be sharing crew this weekend. Scott’s bride Carrie was to co-drive for Fintan Seeley, but he was a no-show due to a sprained knee on his clutch leg. So Carrie would serve as the brains on the crew...and Super Woman.

First, we supposedly had multiple pass recce (not two pass or one pass or three pass, we just had x time on each stage and we could use it at our discretion). This turned out to be kind of a fantasy, as it was barely enough time to do two passes under ideal conditions, and the instructions for traversing between recce areas was pretty ridiculous. Short times, bad maps, etc. contributed to sharp navigators being VERY valuable. We made all the recce slots and got two pass on almost everything except the first ones (we were a half hour late getting started….make a note….leave a half hour EARLY next time), and we wanted to get some shakedown in before Eric and I had to be back in Calicoon for Bernie Obry’s novice seminar. All in all it was a total scramble 12 hour day from leaving at 7:00AM to parking in the Parc Exposé at 7:00 at night and hanging around for the ceremonial start.

Carrie and I both arrived at the same conclusion mid-day on Thursday that the crew would have to bring the car down to the end of recce so we would even have a chance to run shakedown….it’s SO nice to have a co-driver on the crew!!!!! They were driving the Neon down when it sprung a fuel leak in the feed line from the tank to the injection system. I’m not sure where they went to work on it, but Damien Treanor (Guido) apparently figured out how to fix it and in the confusion we were headed back to Calicoon to work on the car when it was headed down to shakedown. Ahhhhhhhh…coordination!

But that’s OK. We didn’t get any shakedown at Maine either….and that worked out just fine. Eric and I headed off for the Bernie Obry show and were about the only ones to attend even ‘tho there were supposed to be 4 teams there. I’m SO glad we busted our ass to get there. Well, Bernie was worth it, but shakedown probably would have been more valuable!

The car went into Parc Exposé and we sat there for about an hour with 100 of our best friends including Radio Robert!

Radio Robert is one of the best stories of 2008. It seems Robert Cella, AC2RC, read the article that Eric had written up in a local paper about his exploits at Maine in July and got in touch with him and offered to contribute some sponsorship to his entry at IRNY. Then he offered 3 more sponsorship deals to other struggling rallyists. In all he had four entries in the event, and all four finished!!!!! I’d take those odds at any casino…not very likely! But sponsorship breeds a strong desire to finish! THANKS ROBERT!!

Friday morning dawned WAY too early and we headed out to the stages. The first ones served as our ‘shakedown’ as they did at Maine. It’s a good thing to get the cobwebs worked out. We were careful and prudent and didn’t do anything rash. The afternoon stages, however reminded me of racing on washboards! These were extremely rough and potentially very fast. Although it took considerable skill to be both at the same time. Eric was doing a fantastic job when suddenly the poor abused rally car cried ‘uncle’ and just quit. Dead. Nada. No lights. No engine. No nuthin’. I expected some catastrophic but simple electrical failure, like a ground strap or a main B+ line, but in the dark we couldn’t find it and the sweep jeep towed us to the finish.

One of the HAM guys at the finish went looking for the problem in an obvious place (at the positive terminal of the battery) and discovered a loose ignition wire. A nut had vibrated off allowing this little bugger to fall off. So a little judicious wire moving and we were running again, albeit about 25 minutes late.

But 25 minutes is NOT 30 minutes (which is Maximum Permitted Lateness), so we raced down to the next start control and talked our way into a starting time. Since a sweep crew had already entered the stage we were asked to go ‘fast transit’ and not race the stage at speed…which we did.

Back in service we looked the situation over and declared the repairs made out in the field to be adequate and went back out to tackled the same stages again. This time, within 100 yards of the last incident, a clip fell off some tranny linkage which gave Eric a limp noodle for a shift lever. And we were dead in the water again. Jeep. Sweep. Back into service where we engineered a fix for the clip and called it a night. The Bermuda Triangle of Neons had done us in.

Friday night was Halloween. And the bar at the Villa Roma did not disappoint. It seem Super Woman showed up to kick some Co-Driver ass!

But for all the problems we had on Thursday and Friday (fuel leak, electrical, transmission linkage) Saturday would prove to be mostly the opposite. GOD I love those stages! We ran a 4 ½ mile road four times each way and it was the perfect training ground for a new driver. Yeah, we had a flat at a spectator point (that’s a thing with me. Bryan Short and I did that at Colorado, too, but this time we ran the remainder of the stage on the flat….all good lessons for new drivers). And we had to deal with another fuel feed leak (dropping ¼ tank in 20 miles!), but we really attacked these 8 stages.

In an underpowered Production 2WD car, it’s all about carrying speed, since if you lift off the throttle it takes forEVER to get that speed back. So Eric and I worked the whole day on COMMITMENT! Spectators at the ‘bridge’ on the last run of the day will attest to Eric’s commitment at that sweeping L4 flat out with the Neon’s ass hanging out. As a matter of fact we had the fastest 2WD time on BOTH the last two stages.

The hoopin’ and hollerin’ in the car as we blasted across the finish line on that last stage was some of the most jubilant I’ve experienced. I asked a lot from Eric to get him faster and faster this weekend and he met the challenge each and every time. It takes a lot for a driver of a low horsepower, relatively heavy car to take his co-driver’s word for it and not lift over blind crest after blind crest, but he did it and we won stages.

I guess we ended up 2nd Prod 2WD on the Saturday Rally and the USRC Rally in general (thanks to Super Rally rules). But I have no problems finishing second to the Marciniaks who drove a helluva rally, smooth and fast and stayed out of trouble….and won the USRC Prod 2WD Championship. Congrats!

General impressions of IRNY are positive. Roads are incredible (even the rough ones) and the workers are phenomenal. Ivan has limited roads to work with, but gains permission to use them for long periods of time. Which gives the situation I really enjoy...the ability to take multiple shots at roads and work with the driver (like Justin and I did at RWV two years ago). The recce schedule seemed to lack attention as it was almost impossible to make on schedule and the instructions and maps needed a little more attention. And then there was the scoring. Scoring took until well after midnight and was grievously erroneous when finally published. In this day whan we've been doing this for umpteen years, there's really no reason why we're still experimenting with scoring programs....especially at the USRC championship weekend. A disappointing end to an otherwise fantastic weekend. It'll get worked out. IRNY is on my list to play in next year.

OK…It’s the off-season. Dmitri and I had talked about doing Tall Pines, but I have a scheduling problem and he has no compression in the #3 cylinder, so it looks like I (and Dmitri) have wrapped up the season (unless I somehow end up at Paris over Thanksgiving).

Friday, October 24, 2008

L.S.P.R. (nee: P.O.R.)

I usually think of LSPR (which is the final round of the Rally-America National series) as the office Christmas party of rally. Everyone find new partners…if only for a night! And some slip off never to be seen!

Ringer’s out, Buffum’s in

Hurst is in, Hurst is out.

DeMotte’s out, Hanson’s in

Swann’s out, DeMotte’s in

Brady/Beavis/MacAlaster’s out, Dolan(?)’s in

Parps is on his umpteenth ride of the year

Wagner is chasing the G5/2WD dream with Dougie.

….and the 510’s out (sniff).

Andy’s out

Tanner’s out

Matthew’s out

Stephan’s out

Kenny’s out

Amy’s out

Christopher’s out

What a strange weekend.

But the weather was AWESOME!

Heath had borrowed Travis’s ECU for the successful run at Ojibwe, and since he’d missed a bunch of events decided we didn’t really have a record going for ’08 and returned the favor by inviting Travis to co-drive at LSPR for him.

After the fantasized Mike Hurst entry died (and that would have been a real adventure), and Piotr lined up the new guy, Dmitri emailed me that Mal Swann was not going to be available. Phew! I finally had an excuse to go!

Rolled into Houghton about 4:00 Thursday and since Dmitri wasn’t going to get in ‘til 8:00 or later, I headed out to the shakedown stage with the St. Louis crew (Joe, Curt, Rob, Ron, and Matt). That’s when I saw Derek hanging out in jeans and Buffum co-driving for Travis. I hear it was a Travis request. He just wanted to have John do the ride along, what with the Championship all sewed up and all. The thought was that he wanted to pick Johns brain some (as John had kicked his ass at the McRae Stages), but there simply wasn’t going to be any time

for that at Travis’s speeds!

Snagged a ride on the shakedown stage with Chris Greenhouse. Chris had driven over to Central Illinois from Ohio a couple of years back to rallycross this car, and it’s been fun watching him progress. It also got me a shot at some notes before I had to jump in with Dmitri. Aside from not penduluming a L2-, I thought Chris’s run was terrific. Thanks for the ride, Chris!

We were to team for crewing purposes with Jim Scray and Colin Vickman in my old Datsun 510 that I sold them in a basket about this time last year. But alas, it was not to be. At a final tuning before leaving Green Bay, the engine guy reported a timing chain guide let loose and piece of ‘stuff’ flew everywhere, rendering the powerplant useless. They brought the beautiful little girl down for Hurst to issue a logbook anyway, and it sat in the parking lot of the Franklin Square wondering why it wasn’t racing with all the other pretty cars. Sad.

So that left the Brothers Scray (Jim and ol’ one-eye, Curt…it was a kitten falling out of a tree…honest) and Colin (and Marissa and the incredible cookies and Modava…just so we had umbrella girls), oh yeah….and Dennis Martin who blew in with the wind Friday before Parc Exposé ended joined us as well. ‘Twas a fun crew!

Dmitri and I have a ton of fun….we’re on the same wavelength. Now to get the Mitsu on that wavelength, too! This is a very well (Murray Thomas) built Evo4. For some reason or other in residence at HavSpeed, it developed a miss that seemed to be attributable to some sensor somewhere (God knows there are enough of them!). But it all seemed worked out and the on again, off again Kishkarev/DeMotte entry was on again.

Friday morning was kinda laid back…..Dmitri ran off with the car to air up tires, we fueled and cleaned and adjusted belts and all that other nervous stuff until it was time to roll over to the Parc Exposé. When Dmitri fired up the Evo, the mis-fire was back with a vengeance. It was virtually impossible to create enough torque to drive the car. Pissing just about everybody on Shelden Street getting over to the Parc Exposé by stopping, starting, lurching, backfiring, etc., we even pulled away from the entrance and discussed not even entering (hey maybe we can get some money back). But the decision was to go ahead and enter and work on the problem.

With maybe 4 minutes to go before we had to pull out (another decision point, because I’d already negotiated with the organizers that if we didn’t clear the first MTC Out we were not officially starting), Scray, Scray and possibly Martin got the car running cleanly by cleaning every contact they could get to and zip-tying everything down tight. The car ran. We started.

Got through the first 1 ½ mile spectator stage in great shape. It occurred to me that the car had much more power than it did at Olympus or Oregon, and Dmitri was pretty aggressive. Maybe this was all going to be OK after all!

The first two honest stages were GODAWFUL fast! There was nothing in the notes for the first 3 ½ miles but 5’s and 6’s. Dmitri was a little less aggressive on these than the spectator stage (perhaps it was those trees whizzing by!), but still ran great respectable times. And then we transited the VERY LONG transit down to our first real service at Kenton (nice to have a town named after you, huh!).

It was in here we lost Piotr who deftly removed a corner’s worth of suspension and parked it for the night. The intrepid Piotr, however would muster up the resources to be back on the road Saturday night.

Service in Kenton went great. Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and the World’s Greatest Chocolate Chip Cookies greeted us and we went about all the standard business.

We left and ran Passmore (the stage that HATES Dennis). The Evo did sputter a little as we departed, but cleaned up and apparently ran fine for the next 2 stages. It was getting slippy for some reason. Far point seemed even more of a challenge. It was in here that ACP swapped sponsors from NOS Energy Drink to SON….at least that’s what it read on the back end of his car when I lat saw it off to the side on it’s roof. It seems he’d dropped a cylinder back on the 2nd or 3rd stage and was rallying on using only the 3 left. That meant carrying a LOT of speed into corners and not having any torque left to rescue a wrong slot. He didn’t rescue one of them and rolled the car onto it’s back in a truly submissive posture. Just Dents can fix the body it right up. The engine will still take some work, however.

It seemed like Dmitri was struggling a little to keep the car going fast and in a straight line on these two stages. The times showed it. But it was back in to Kenton for another short service and then back out to these last 2 stage for another run. This time the car sputtered a lot leaving the MTC….and never cleaned up. Dmitri drove on up the highway past the entrance to Passmore trying to get it to run right. No luck. We turned it around and on the way back it began to run on only 3 cylinders. When we pulled back into the service area and the guys pulled the plugs, the #3 cylinder was full of oil. Zero compression. We were done.

Another serious decision had to be made. It was a long way back to Houghton and the bars MIGHT be closing by the time we got back. There’s a bar right there on Main Street. So we and ACP’s crew co-mingled with the Sarah Palin hunting crowd at the pub in Kenton and then leisurely drove back to Houghton. The good news is that we decided we did NOT need to get up in time for the Parc Exposé in Calumet at 9:30!

Saturday was spectating day for us. Not my favorite thing to do, but the weather was beautiful, and we could get to 3 spots over the day and the service area in Copper Harbor. So off we went. The turn onto pavement on Burma was pretty cool. The best part of that was Dave Cizmas being towed at 50 mph around that corner and waving as his car was being whipped around! There’s already a youtube video of that!

Copper Harbor Service didn’t yield much new data, but then we discovered a way to get up on Brockway for the 2nd run and hiked on up. The R2> ½ mile in on the hillclimb is a complete BLAST to spectate. Then we schlepped back down and scooted over to the finish of Gratiot Lake. I’d worked this spectator marshal position in the past and was quite familiar with its topography. Fun place to watch.

That’s it for LSPR. I will be co-driving for Eric Hansen (of Maine fame in an earlier post) the weekend of October 31st, Nov. 1st), and have been asked to co-drive again for Dmitri at Tall Pines, but the car status is in question there.

Oh, Heath pretty much kicked ass with Travis. Travis has the distinction of being the only Rally-America license holder to finish in the top ten overall as both a driver AND a co-driver this year! After 120+ racing miles they were a little over a minute down on Pat Moro, but finished a strong 2nd in PGT and 7th O/A! CONGRATS!

Until my report from International Rally New York….keep the wheels down!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Four for four with first-timers

For the second time this year, I teamed up with a first time rallyist. Eric Hansen and I enjoyed a great time at Maine earlier this season and now I had a great weekend with Bryan Short from Ft. Collins at Rally Colorado. For the uninitiated reader (and I doubt there are many of them here…not sure if there are even readers, uninitiated or not), beginning rallyists are not allowed to use Jemba Inertial course notes on their first events. It’s a safety thing with Rally America. But there’s a loophole that says if the co-driver has enough experience, then course notes are allowed no matter how inexperienced the driver. So I was allowed to use them with Eric at Maine and now with Bryan at Colorado. R-A is really interested in how this goes, because there’s this ongoing debate on whether the use of notes is safer or not. My vote says it depends on the co-driver, so the idea that an experienced co-driver is the determining factor works for me. I think they need to do a better job of defining “experienced.” For the time being I would develop a named pool of co-drivers that would be allowed to do this. Coefficients is not the equivalent of “experience” when it comes to interpreting and delivering notes and managing a driver. OK. Off the soap box.

Bryan bought Cowboy Kenny’s PGT car from Jeff Moyle last November after LSPR (because Jeff acquired the Colin McRae X-Games car to run open with this season with Scott Putnam). On a sad side note, we’ve just learned that Jeff was killed this past weekend in a parasailing accident in Houghton, so the fraternity loses a plebe. Jeff was a fun guy with a smile on his face and just enough ‘attitude’ to be a great member of this group. He’ll be missed. OK…back on topic. Geeez I’m A.D.D. this morning!

Bryan has been using the ’02 WRX for hillclimbs in the Colorado Cup series around the state this year and since Rally Colorado was part of the series, he decided to enter. Where to find a co-driver. Special Stage. Since Heath was busy turning in a Senior project at MTU and unavailable for Colorado, it was looking like I was going to go out there and be a finish control captain….sigh. But I contacted Bryan who had no idea who I was (expecting a woman to answer the phone!...yeah….really!), and told him I was available and a deal was struck.

I caught the shuttle from DIA to Ft. Collins and Bryan picked me up and took me to the house where the Subie was mounted on the trailer and ready to go. Over to the shop and pick up parts, tires, parts, gas cans, parts, and more parts. Where was the crew? What crew? He hadn’t really needed a crew at hillclimbs, so really didn’t think it was going to be a big deal here. Hmmmmmm. Tires were about 6 pretty worn out Michelins, although they might have worked, they wouldn’t have been much fun and a worn out set of Silverstones (slightly better edges, but not enough of them). So, no crew, and 10 worn out tires and we’re ready to go!

This is where I LOVE this game and the people in it. I’d emailed Scott Crouch at Flatirons Tuning to ask if his people would “watch over” us in service. He was now aware we had no crew. Flatirons had gone through the car when Bryan got it, so they knew the car already. Now the tire situation began to look large on the horizon. I finally got a chance to talk to Buffum and Smith to see if we could work a deal for their shakedown takeoffs and they said sure! When I looked at them, ours were better! Ooops!

A short conversation with Scott again and voila! We had a set of Michelins they’d used at Oregon and shakedown that were clearly 60% better than the ones we had. I told you I love this crowd!

There’s a reason very experienced co-drivers should go with beginners. It takes every bit of concentration to put together a successful weekend for a first-timer. When I co-drive for Dennis or Heath or someone who’s been at this for awhile, the boundaries between responsibilities is fairly clear. There are three areas of responsibility usually clearly defined, between the driver, the co-driver and the crew chief. There are some things that require input from two and even sometimes all of these, but mostly the three can work independently. In the case of the first timer, none of these boundaries are clear and it falls on the shoulders on the experienced crew member to see that to the best of his or her abilities all the bases are covered….ALL the bases! So besides the normal co-driver duties of fuel allotment, logistics, note editing, computer knowledge, and general operating of the event, one can now assume that they will be involved in tire selection, educating both the rookie driver on the “operations” of a rally (where to go when) and the crew chief on setting priorities, that’s assuming one HAS a crew chief, or even a crew! This is why I claim that coefficients is not an adequate measure of experience to allow this situation.

Enough of the background. Bryan and I agreed we had three goals for the weekend.

A. Have fun

B. Finish

C. Improve throughout the event.

We nailed ‘em! We had a blast. Bryan got about three or four rallies of experience in one. He had crises and lived through them (changed a flat on Stokes Gulch in front of 500 spectators and drove 6 miles on a skid plate hanging on by one bolt and making horrendous noises). And took the Regional PGT wins for both Colorado Cog-1 and 2. Not bad for a first outing!

His car is a real handful for a rookie. It’s got full diffs which means that all wheels are driving all the time (not the situation in the stock WRX). So to get the car to go around sharp corners, it’s an absolute requirement that it be tossed in as the front wheels have a tendency to understeer you. Bryan has a lot of motocross experience, so tends to “drive” through corners, and dealt with the understeer on the exits of turns all weekend. Toward the end he was really getting into the swing of diving deeper into corners and tossing the car a little more, but the old finish line in view took some of that “fire” out so he could accomplish goal B. Our flat on Stokes Gulch was caused by an overzealous understeer problem that took us off the road substantially. He did a masterful job of downshifting and pointing the car (thus preventing the roll) and getting us back on the road. Too bad the cost was the right rear tire, because he deserved to get away with that one.

And we ruled out stopping with the noisy skid pan because it didn’t seem like it would cause much problem even if it let loose (which it didn’t). But boy, was it noisy! At the end of the stage, Bryan pulled past the control zone sign like a pro, jumped out and removed the lone bolt holding the skid pan with NEEDLE NOSED PLIERS (the only tool he had in the car…..another lesson). We left it with Mitch Williams at the control and took off only losing a minute getting into the final stage. We drove it gingerly as we were now without any protection underneath. But a finish is a finish and that was goal B. Goal A was a slam dunk! We pretty much giggled and scratched the whole weekend with the exception of my first “road points” in my seven years of co-driving since coming out of retirement back in 2000. But I’ll leave that to the next post. It’s a story unto itself.

Thanks, Bryan! Had a blast!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ojibwe '08

Ojibwe is good to us.

Two years ago Matthew Johnson and I took advantage of some late event mishaps from Tanner Foust to not only win Ojibwe in PGT, but stand on the podium as third overall with Travis Pastrana and Matt Iorio.

Last year Heath and his Mom won PGT here.

We were looking forward to some good luck for a change as 100AW hadn’t been kind to us and STPR sucked the life out of the engine after 3 stages. A new engine and a borrowed ECU from Travis Hanson gave us hope.

This year Heath drove a steady focused event overcoming no end of minor dramas to take his second PGT win here in as many years and land a respectable 6th overall.

The list of mini-crises looks like a Murphy’s Law who’s who.

There was:

  • a strut tower top hat that broke studs
  • power steering fluid that leaked and smelled up stuff
  • a watch that disappeared into the car somewhere for three stages
  • parts that just fell off the car
  • interior mirror
  • fuel filler door
  • right front fender liner
  • 1/2 of a rear bumper cover (later recovered and re-mounted)
  • jacks that didn't want to hold up the car
  • an intermittent Coralba
  • the “outhouse” intrusion
  • a flat discovered 3 minutes before entering ATC
  • an impact wrench that decided it wanted to run stage 15 until it ran out of juice
  • a big beautiful easy-up that blew away at the final service.
  • ...and this is only the stuff I heard about!

…and STILL the team held it together to win. Like the kid who came home with a black eye told his mom…..”you shoulda seen the other guy!” This was a rally of attrition.

Skipping the stuff mentioned above (which is really just in a day’s work on a rally team), our international rally Olympics (US vs. Poland) was a blast from the git go. Poland fielded a squad of 3 PGT cars any one of which stood a chance of winning Gold. Wild man Jaroslaw Sozanski, who is flamingly (albeit sometimes recklessly) fast was here to keep chalking up points. This has been a good year for Jaroslaw. He’s only dnf’d one event. Adam Markut in the older venerable DSM proved to be the real challenge for the weekend. He’s always fast, but we could usually count on him entering the Regionals and not bothering with the National points race….not so this weekend. He was in the big hunt. And Robert Borowicz is always fast and has beautiful, well-prepared equipment. This was going to be a challenge for the US.

A couple of early stage jitters Saturday afternoon and a set of uncut Hankooks put us at a small disadvantage for the first 4 stages. We sorta skated on top of the gravel and Heath was having to saw at the wheel to keep things going in a straight line. We remedied that at the first service by putting on some cut Hankook 202’s and promptly went out and set some 6th and 7th fastest times overall. We were definitely settling down.

Sunday morning dawned chilly and cloudy, but soon brightened up as things dried out and the dust started to hang.

In the motel parking lot Chris Lowe and John King, our venerable crew for this adventure was “going over” the car finding a little crack here and a little loose there. We had to locate another front strut top hat (thanks Rock Star!) and that issue was averted….then fuel and go over to the parc exposé at Northwest Tech. We had moved from 23rd on the road Saturday to 17th on Sunday, so that felt good. And our PGT competition was right in front of us. There was about a minute separating all three of us (Amy BeberVanzo had rolled Saturday, and Robert for some reason was not going fast and had fallen quite far behind). So Adam, Jaroslaw, Henry Krolikowski (running open and declared on the AMERICAN team) and us headed out to the woods.

On the first stage, Adam took us by 3 seconds and we took Sozanski by 2. This was gonna be a dog fight!!

About 2/3 of the way through the next stage, we rounded a corner to triangles out, a perfectly good live tree down across the road and a steaming WRX PGT car of Sozanski’s parked about 30 feet into the woods. This was going to take more than a Dent Wizard to fix! Scratch Sozanski. But Adam spanked us on this one by almost 30 seconds.

About ¾ of the way through the next stage there was Adam having slid off the road and it appeared centered with no traction. He apparently got out (an official “yank and spank” was allowed here), but had accumulated a ton of time getting out, so that left Borowicz and us to thrash it out. Robert was running his own race, as were we, apparently waiting for us to join the group of woodsmen who were communing with trees. But we were not going to give him that pleasure.

Despite having a PGT win solidly in hand, Heath didn’t change his modus operandi and kept driving exactly the way he’d been driving…even thrashing it on the short 3.7 mile stage with a dozen dry bottom water ditches. Markut, having been pulled out of his aforementioned situation, proceeded to drive like a madman and set some blistering stage times on the last three scored stages. I say scored stages, because shortly after we passed the Ken Block off on the last 22 mile monster stage, a damaged tree fell across the road blocking the stage and forcing organizers to cancel it and give everyone from us back the same time.

So that’s it. The race is not always to the swiftest, but it pays to be fast anyway. The old adage was never truer that to win you have to finish. Heath does amazingly well for a young man who only gets to run 3-4 times this year. Being off two months does not set you off on early stages with a lot of confidence. Then you look up when you start to get it together and you’re already 45 second down. But he was consistent and continued to get smoother and more confident as the rally progressed. You heard it here first. He’s the next MJ.

Oh. The outhouse incident? The short of it is we gave the spectators a really great show when I late called a L3 after a R5/CR at a spectator point. I understand we moved an abandoned DNR outhouse somewhat when we overshot the corner and that no one was in residence at that time. I’m told there is at least one set of sequential photos of it and I’m waiting to buy the negatives (wait…there aren’t any negatives any more….are there?). Look for somebody's video to show up on YouTube!

Bronze to Adam Markut (who exhibited incredible persistence). Silver to Robert Borowicz (who just drove an amazingly clean event). And Gold to Heath Nunnemacher (who deserved the win tiptoeing the line between too fast and too cautious). Raise the flag. Play the Star Spangled Banner!

Monday, July 14, 2008

You never forget your first.....(long)

I know I never will. Moonlight Monte, 1970. 1964 Corvair Fitch Sprint. DNF with a dozen stories I still tell.

About three weeks ago Andrew Havas from Havspeed texted me inquiring of my availability for the New England Forest Rally. I’ve always (not so) secretly wanted to tackle some nice smooth Cherokee – like roads (where I first heard, then saw the RX-7 at Cherokee in 2001) with Andrew. I checked with Heath (Nunnemacher) to make totally certain that our engine woes at STPR were going to preclude entry at NEFR and texted back to Andrew, “let’s talk."

He called and informed me that unfortunately he had little funds and less time for driving these days, but was finishing up some cage work on the ex-Brian Goss (the human version) now Eric Hansen (no, not the one from Team O’Neil) ’95 Neon and would I be willing to break in a newbie.

I had to think about that one a bit. All of my rides have had Rally or Racing experience, understood the game and most of its nuances, and had exhibited strong tendencies for self (and consequently MY) preservation! But a good chat with Eric convinced me that his short years on this planet was an unfair estimate of his reasonable maturity and a deal was struck.

Then it hit me. No notes! In Rally America events, drivers are not allowed to have high powered 4WD cars or race on organizer supplied Jemba notes. They’re supposed to putter through the courses without enough power to hurt themselves and not enough information to abandon driving what they see. It had been 2002 since I had co-driven a stage off the route book. What had I gotten myself into?

But like a good co-driver I checked the rules (and not in an area I’d normally be concerned with) and it would be LEGAL for us to use course notes since the co-driver (moi!) has at least 20 coefficients (oh, yeah…..at LEAST!!!).

Andrew advised Eric that this would be an incredible boost to his learning curve (since without these notes we would run with just the tulip instructions about every ½ mile or so). With one exception of an instructor at Team O’Neil (Wyatt I think) who already had great car handling ability, no R-A driver had begun his career using notes. This was going to be a great experiment.

I met up with Eric the first time Thursday morning (he’d arrived at the condo at Sunday River at some ridiculous hour of the night before that only twenty-somethings recognize) and we headed off for a cup of coffee and the recce route in Berlin, New Hampshire.

The plan was that Eric would drive my Dodge Journey rental and I would read the Jemba notes so he could put together the visual observation with the audible one and start to make a connection. As with any driver, I was editing on the fly mostly just explaining the direction and nature of each approaching driving action. He was a serious student and was going to get his money’s worth out of his investment. Within a couple of hours, he was beginning to make the connection. By the end of the day, we were both convinced he at least INTELLECTUALLY understood the link. What would happen the next day….at speed….on real stages….would be a different matter!

Eric is a rallycrosser, so the first Mickey Mouse stage behind our condo at Brookside was little more than a shot at one of his RallyX runs. In a disappointed tone he informed me he hadn’t heard a thing I said in the first 48 seconds of his rally career. But one thing was certain. This was gonna be fun! He wasn’t shy about throwing the Neon around.

We then transited over to Mexico rather silently. Eric’s an interesting dichotomy. As gregarious and schmoozy as he can be in a crowd, he’s totally opposite in the rally car. Focused and quiet. That’s a good sign. It was a silent ride to the Mexico Rec area while we both pondered what was ahead.

We did talk about how to handle the infamous jump at this well known and well attended Super Special. It’s notorious for suckering competitors into breaking their cars (and it did not disappoint this weekend….ask little Burke), and we decided potentially ending his seat time with under a mile of stage was not a good idea. With apologies to the crowd we pooched the jump on purpose. Reports from other spectators, however, are that the sweeping right up onto pavement at the finish looked terrific. And our time pretty well confirmed it. To my surprise this time he told me he not only heard everything I’d said, but he “felt” it all fit together.

We ran the three more real stages into the evening ending up on super fun Concord Pond. Again I wouldn’t let him fly the jumps (well, OK…we did get some air over the “Big Crest” drop off about a mile from the finish), and put the first Regional Rally in the books.

Back to the barn with his first rally under his belt and his first win. It’s not our fault there was only one Prod car entrant in the Regionals. A win’s a win and he drove well enough to deserve it.

I’m not sure Eric understood the Friday stages were just a warm-up, but he had a pretty stern look on his face when it finally sunk in that Saturday’s stages would be three times the mileage of Friday’s.

Feeling pretty cocky with his first place trophy rattling around in his head, he set out Saturday as if to challenge our Havspeed stable mates, the PGT entry of Scott Wilburn and Aaron Crescenti. Now these guys WON one of the Regionals at STPR outright!

Question. How many offs can you have in one 15 mile stage and still be running? At least 3! We’re calling this one Eric’s Red Mist Stage. The first one occurred in a sweeping left hander which had the whole car off (on my side, of course….he’s got that part right) and very lucky to be able to jostle the car back and forth and finally drive out. Well, thought I, that should be a lesson that would get his head in the game.

But critiquing on the fly just doesn’t work. The co-driver loses his place in the notes. The driver loses concentration. And someone’s feelings usually get hurt. So we were going to discuss what happened over the hour or so we had at the turn-around.

Not 4 miles later, I was calling him into an 80 L4/Cr>. About half way to the crest I got the unmistakable feeling that he was thinking this was about a 5+ and setting the car up under full throttle with my bellowing “this is a L4, 4, 4!"

In hindsight, that was pretty dumb of me. What right did I have thinking he would translate my urgent “4’s” as useful? My words should have been “Slow the hell down!!!!!” But I’m a co-driver and I was teaching a driver. You don’t immerse yourself in Hispanic culture to learn Spanish and then speak English, do you?

This time we landed hard. I thought at first we were going over, but he managed to keep it on the wheels and we were hung up on rocks and not moving. I grabbed the detestable symbol of defeat (the triangle) and headed back up the road to the crest. I was about to place the warning when a big ruckus down at the car informed me that the media types on the hill had swept down and helped the car off the rocks. I ran back down off the crest and jumped in the car suggesting we move to the inside of this little L4/Cr> so we wouldn’t get collected by Rick Spaulding who was behind us. We settled down a bit and took our time getting buckled in. Rick passed us and the car of Conor Malone and Glenna Chestnutt pulled up along side us. The rule says if you don’t see an “OK” sign or a “Red Cross” or a triangle, you ASSUME it to be a Red Cross situation which requires you to stop. They did exactly the right thing. I just had my head down trying to get the damned buckles to snap. It took us a while to convince Malone/Chestnutt we were OK and off we both went. It would behoove R-A to work out some procedure for what to do after a triangled incident while a team is buckling up getting ready to re-enter the course. I vote for flashers indicating everything’s OK, but who am I.

All buckled up and back on the road, I’m just CERTAIN he’s learned his lesson by now. How silly of me! Just to add insult to injury (and balance the damage on both sides of the car) we took a quick ditch visit on the outside of a R3 (said ditch being full of melon sized boulders) ripping the left rear tire off the rim with about 4 miles to go. It’s a rear, so we drove it to the finish, but it wasn’t pretty. I’d had this type of experience up here with Matthew Johnson two years ago and it cost us the win in PGT.

In 15 miles we’d probably done $1500 worth of damage. I hate to think what percentage of the purchase price that represents!

Question 2. Did you ever have one of those incidents like maybe playing baseball at lunch and sliding into home in school and you tore your pants? Then you had to parade into your next class with your pink plaid boxer shorts hanging out? That’s how we felt after the finish control driving past all the earlier cars who were turned around waiting to run the stage in reverse. Destroyed tire carcass. Rim all bent up and busted. Fender lining hanging out and dragging and noisy. You don’t sneak around with car in this condition! Eric was a tad dejected to say the least.

Then Travis Pastrana saw us and gave us a big grin and a thumbs up…then Chris….and Matthew and others. You’re in the fraternity now, Eric!

Tire changed (and another spare borrowed from Alan Moody in another ’95 Neon) and we set out on that same treacherous stage backwards.

To say that Eric had been humbled would be an understatement. My right foot kept mashing down that imaginary gas peal all us co-drivers have on our side of the car! He came back out on that road about 6/10 the pace he went in on. He’d learned a lesson. That’s what he was here for. It was going to be a long day.

Back in Berlin, our service crew had a lot of “stuff” to deal with in 30 minutes from our multiple excursions, and ended up doing triage figuring some things weren’t going to get done in time. We had bent spindles and arms, a huge poke in the gas tank which put the pickup so high in the tank that we only had the effective use of about 5 gallons (even thought the tank was full). We had a small gas tank leak (not terminal) and a dragging skip plate.

To make along story loud, we drove the 54 mile transit, the 17 ½ mile stage and the other 9 mile transit to the next service dragging the skip plate. Mostly it sounded like a snow plow on dry pavement. We did finally realize that it was aerodynamic, because over 60 mph it actually picked up off the pavement and gave us a break! This was REALLY going to be a long day!

In the middle of the 54 mile transit we were watching the fuel gauge start to drop precipitously. We’d been following ACP’s monster service crew trucks at speeds so slow it was jeopardizing our ability to get to the start control on time….and we were running out of effective usable fuel. We made the decision to stop at a gas station (allowed at this event as “emergency fuel”) and top off the tank. We put almost two gallons in. Yeah…I know….late to a control for two gallons. But better a couple of minutes late than dead in the water with a faulty pickup that won’t yield more than 5 gallons.

Fuel maximized we set out to try to make the start control with minimal time penalties. This is an obsession with me. It actually got Heath and I kicked out of the 100AW for trying to get to an MTC on time and speeding to do so. I HATE road points. I REFUSE to allow road points to enter my score card. Rallies are lost by co-drivers who get their teams road points. And this trip took some creative driving, although we were never more than 5 mph over the allowed speed (that’s the margin before an official will start awarding penalties). And we got some strange looks as this white Neon snow plow snarled past slower vehicles, but we made the ATC with about 1-1/2 minutes in hand. The South Mountain stage was long and noisy, but otherwise uneventful…..oh…except my intercom microphone finally failed and I had to yell over the car noise and the skid plate noise to give Eric the notes. It came back a bit for us on the next stage, but failed by the end. For the last stage we swapped helmets. Drivers don’t have anything useful to say at speed. They’re supposed to be concentrating! I offered to swap seats, and Eric actually offered, but that’s not what I was here for.

So the kid won the first two rallies he entered. He’s now a rock star! He’s already developed a nice flair with the Sharpies on adoring fan’s posters. He’s on a first name basis with Travis and Ken and Matthew and Andy. He does the post rally bar scene like a pro!

Do I think notes with a novice works? I’ll answer with a qualified ‘yes.’ Qualified because the current rule calls for 20 coefficients in the right seat. That’s not enough for the job I did this past weekend. Minimally that would be the Regionals associated with 4 National rallies…possibly less than a half a season.

Doing this with a beginner is 50% more difficult than jumping in with an experienced driver. With the experienced driver each can count on some basic understanding of each other’s roles…or at least have the language to sort them out. With the total novice (even a talented one like Eric and they all won’t be that competent off the shelf), the experienced co-driver takes the responsibility for the whole enchilada….like not using Jemba language to save the 2nd off…..my bad.

Actually the thought of a part-time co-driver with 20 coefficients doing what I did last weekend scares the hell out of me. I’ve got a lot of years in this game (and many other forms of rally) and I didn’t get it all correct this weekend by a long shot. I’m sure there are others who would make better teachers. But they’re a Marc Goldfarb, or a Jimmy Brandt (oh, I'll pay for that one), or a Martin Headland, or a Doug Woods, or a Cindy Krolikowski, or a Keith Morison, or a Rob Bohm,..….not a sophomore with 20 coefficients.

Eric will recognize the full impact of his Red Mist Stage as he invests in band-aids and transplants to bring his Neon back up to fighting trim. But that won’t deter him. He’s hooked. You never forget your first.