We pack Wednesday night and leave early Thursday. Ed, Daryl, Steve Brown and Steve Wendt leave from Waite Park. Bob and Greg leave from the Twin Cities accompanied by Roy Seppanen. Joe and Mark will fly in and rent a car in Salt Lake City. We meet near Sioux Falls, SD at lunchtime. Roy hot-foots it to the salt. We take the more leisurely pace dictated by the car trailer. The plan to stay in Chadron, NB falls through due to Sturgis traffic but a chance meeting at dinner hooks us up with a nearby place to stay.
An uneventful day of travel. We arrive in Wendover around 10:00PM. Mark and Joe arrived earlier in the day. We get our rooms and crash.
Out to the flats. We put up in the pits next to The Avanti Kid and Pantera Kid. Dave, Al, and Kurt Bloomberg and the people that crew for them have been really great friends. They reserved a spot next to theirs the last two years and even helped us out with rooms for this year.
After setting up camp we spent a couple of hours prepping the car which involved some tuning and finally draining out the gas we had left in the tank. Next we rolled the car over to the tech line which was, mercifully, very short. They went over the car again with a fine-toothed comb and made some minor requests on the routing of the fuel cell breather and adjustment of the seats and harnesses. Greg passed the 'bailout check' which demonstrates that the design of the car allows for quick exit in the event of an emergency and that the driver is capable of executing the bailout.
Inspector: Ok, you're going 200 miles per hour and you hear a bang. What do you do?
Us: Call my mom on the cell phone! We never thought this heap could go THAT fast!
Seriously, though, the test is a little unnerving. Eventually we all took and passed the test which is recorded in the log and certifies every team member to drive the car.
While the other guys were at Tech, Bob and Mark went back to Wendover to pick up Mark's son Phillip and a buddy of his, Chris or Jeff or something, who came down from Wyoming to watch.
Right after the car was teched we went to the driver's meeting where it was announced that the salt was in really rough shape. Everyone was asked to drive the course so that they understood the conditions and also to help pack it down. We attended the rookie meeting at the end of the short course then went back to the pits to correct the issues found in tech. And they weren't kidding about the salt. The first car to run was a spin-out. We got the car reinspected then gassed up but by now it was getting late so we left the car in the pits to wait for the next morning.
We arrived early and rolled into pre-staging. We got our first run in around 2 PM. Ed suited up. His run went well except for one small glitch. We tightened his arm restraints a little too much and he couldn't reach far enough to get into third gear! After missing it twice he went straight into fourth. The engine lugged a little but pulled and he recorded the 123.334 MPH measured mile. His 2-1/4 mile speed was 116.834 which meant he was still picking up speed through the measured mile and must have been going quite a bit faster than his average at the end. The engine wound out well in both 1st and 2nd so we were encouraged. Although this qualified for a record, we thought we might be able to run it again (and alot faster if we used 3rd gear) so rather than go to impound. We weren't monitoring the radio while in line but we noticed that racing stopped for an hour and the buzz along the line was that there had been a serious accident. We later found out that John Beckett, driving a Crosly competition coupe, had rolled over in excess of 200 mph and died of his injuries shortly after the accident. Although racing resumed for the day we were stuck in pre-staging for the night.
We arrived early to save our spot in prestaging and avoid the situation from last year where about 20 people pulled in front of us. We made our second run about 8:30 with Ed driving again. This time we had him hold the lever in 3rd and tightened his straps to there. The results were similar in gears 1 and 2 with the car pulling strongly. The same in 3rd! In 4th, however, the car still bogged down. Ed reported winding it up to about 4000 in 3rd before going into 4th. The results were much better as he turned a 129.480 earning his D license. We felt that if we ran up to 5000 in 3rd that we could really take off in 4th.
But there was a problem. At the end of the run, water came pouring out of the hood. The upper radiator hose had blown off. We didn't think much of it at the time and got right back in line to run again but as we started the car up to advance the ignition a hair we saw the one thing we dreaded... water coming out of the exhaust pipe! We pulled out of pre-staging and headed back to the pits. What we found was very depressing: cylinders 3 and 4 were pumping water. We pulled the head to find water everywhere. It didn't take close inspection to see the cracks from the cylinder to the exhaust ports.
The head survived but showed evidence of head gasket failure. No surprise when you get water in there. The old gasket showed the same thing.
Around this time Ed and Cindy Gaven came by to watch. Faithful readers of Bob's adventures in the 2002 Baja 1000 (Part 1 and Part 2) and the 2003 La Carrera will remember Ed (and his son Randy).
Digger Dave, Greg, and Mark worked themselves to death pulling the head and ascertaining the severity of the problem (
3). They reassembled the motor using a new head gasket and 4 tubes of Alumaseal (those guys should sponsor us!). This seemed to keep the water out of the exhaust, but now strange noises were coming from the water pump. Greg popped that out for a look and we discovered that the motor was dead. The magnets were cracked and loose. Maybe the bracket squeezed the pump too tight. This lead to the theory that the pump failed during the previous run causing the engine to overheat and fail at its weakest point -- the repairs made from last year. The crack that had been pinned on cylinder 4 had opened up, and the sleeve on cylinder 3 had pulled away. Well, we installed a new pump and while everything seemed to be water-tight, compression was so low in cylinders 3 and 4 (65 lbs on 3 & 4 vs 105 lbs to 110 lbs on the others) that we decided we were done.
We came out to the salt with a plan decided on the night before. If the day was to be rained out we'd pack and leave. If it looked nice, we'd spectate and leave the next day. Well plans are made to be changed. Rain the night before had closed the long course. What the hell, we'd run anyway. We pushed the car into pre-staging and waitded for our chance. It ran pretty good with the two bad cylinders firing well at high RPM. No water was coming out of the exhaust. Joe would drive. Mark did some last minute tuning and we suited Joe up. Here's Joe receiving instructions on the starting line. Waiting.... Waiting..., and he gets the signal from Bill Taylor and he's off!
The car pulled strongly through gears 1, 2 and 3. Around the first mile marker Joe shifted into 4th then BANG! This time we WERE done. We left pieces of clutch and bell-housing all over the course. Here's the long-range shot of the guys hooking up the car to tow it off the salt.
But our ordeal was far from over. Storm clouds were almost on top of us as we got the car back to the pits. This is what you DON'T want to see on the salt flats ( 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). The rain first came from the south then quickly switched to the north. It came down sideways. 60 MPH winds picked up the salt like it was sand and pelted us coating everything in sight with brine. We took down our tents then helped Al and Kurt Bloomberg. It was chaos. Just throw everything in the trailer and shut the door before it gets blown away to Oz! We huddled in the lee of the wind, which meant 6 of us standing on the tongue of the trailer! After about an hour we'd had enough. The rain wasn't going to stop. So soaked to the skin we changed the tires on the car and loaded it into the trailer. We were about the last people off the salt. What happened to the spectators and everyone at the line? We don't know. But this is what it looked like as we drove off ( 1, 2, 3).
After a good night's sleep we headed for home. And a good thing, too. Mother Nature was too much. The rest of the event was cancelled. We drove up to Custer, SD and found a place to stay. Sturgis was over and the towns were emptying out.
We arrive home, unload the car, and examine the carnage. Lots of parts made their way to ground during the ride home. We could see a little of what happened inside the scatter shield but a full report will reqiure a teardown ( 1, 2, 3). The leading theories are A) that the motor hydro-locked or B) that the high torque of the motor sheared the bolts in the clutch on the last shift.
Hey, I'm still working on this!