Sometimes I am glad to be a meteorologist. This was one of those events. A whirlwind trip filled with little sleep. We flew in to Omaha, met my parents near the airport who thankfully saved us 3 hours of driving, and drove straight to Salem, MO. No sleep.
Once in Salem, we ran into fellow zombie Martin Asao of Ziptie rally team at Walmart. (Because thats where the cool zombies go.) We proceeded to break down and diagnose Bender. Headgasket, no. Turbo getting too much oil, possibly.
Martin & Chris proceeded to do what crews do, tell the driver to GTFO and work on the car. Of course, I never listen and I stuck around for the day. I love these guys. Be it Jay Storm & Marcus Congdon at Sno*Drift, or Martin Asao, Matt “Chux” Alexander & Kris Martison at 100AW.. combined with Chris Gervais its always fun. So all day Wednesday, while snow was battering down Nebraska and Kansas.. we worked on Bender at Park Street Tire in Salem, MO. Frank and the guys were once again, so awesome to lend us a bay for the week.
Thursday was something special. Krista and I met late at night as Kris Martison picked her up and brought her in from Salem after she caught a ride from the airport. We stayed at some cabins that were a little off the beaten path, about 25 minutes from Salem, and well out of Verizon cell service. With about 3 hours of sleep for Krista, and my first sleep in well over 48 hours, we drove off in my Ford F250 SD Turbo diesel with well-worn all-season tires off to face what could be called a convective sleetstorm. It was pretty amazing the amount of ice that collected on everything, and it started from stage 1 recce all the way through the day. Some competitors couldn’t make it uphill in their rental cars with all-season tires on it. We barely made it up some sections, to which I say thank you 4WD full-size heavy truck. GO zoidberg!!
We knew at that point.. it was going to be snows the entire event. It was sno*drift all over again. I was looking forward to flowing gravel roads but all of that went away with the 3-4 inches of sleet that fell on Thursday throughout the entire area. It was drifting sleet! [Yes sleet, not snow.] While this wasn’t horrible for grip in some sections, it was awful in others. I wish I had the proper ice tires to handle it like some of the other teams, but we made due with what we had.
Day 1. Friday. I worry the most about the suspension. We’ve done our full systems check, I know the car has been gone over as much as it could be.. but the suspension is the big unknown. My next unknown was my brakes. We disconnected the brake booster, and for the first event ever, I was running on full manual brakes. This meant my knees, which have always been in poor shape, were about to get the workout of their lives.
As far as the suspension was concerned, We had just gotten it back from AST, it had problems with locking at full extension before at sno*drift which caused us to remove it right after shakedown and then throw on a backup stock STI suspension. I didn’t want to do that again, as I know that cost me valuable time at sno*drift. We go through shakedown and everything appears to be ok.. a little ‘tight’, but still useable, still better than stock at that point. Stages 1 and 2 are ok, but then on stage 3, we lock at full extension prior to hitting a fast straight section, which then causes us to go sideways at 70 after hitting a very minor bump. Stage 4 we take it easy, and then go into service. “Swap the rears.. they are fully locked.” So we did. Much improved. I can’t say when they became fully locked for sure on stage, all I know is that I was fighting the car the entire way before first service, and it simply became unmanageable after that. Knowing that I had just spent over $1000 to re-valve and service them with AST just prior to this event, and knowing they didn’t even make it past 2 stages, I knew that we had at this point a major design flaw in them. Friday night, the fronts were swapped to be stock suspension as well, and the guys also worked to provide me with fogs. After we did Ollie’s Camel stage at night, and it was scrapped, we couldn’t tell the slick spots from the clear gravel (pure rock) spots with just our top lights (no fogs after 100AW ditch incident destroyed one fiberglass fog pod). There wasn’t a light low enough to detect the texture of the ground. You could brake, and it would be ice, or it would be dry, but you could never tell, and I wasn’t willing to risk it.
The brakes were good, but took a lot of getting used to. I did not have the strength to, however, engage them fully, or lock them, which required me to brake sooner, and longer.. basically doing a trail brake on every brake as I worked to physically adjust myself to the pressure difference. It was a great learning experience, but I know I need to adjust the fulcrum point before the next event to give myself more mechanical advantage on the pedal. This was an improvement over sno*drift, but at the same time I couldn’t brake late because I physically didn’t have the power to push on the pedal hard enough at this point. Its time to beef up my legs again to hold them against the pedal.
Day 2. Saturday. The guys left me a bit of a present when I arrived and looked at the car. The fog pod that I had destroyed at Sno*Drift had been fixed. Amazing! And in true ziptie fashion. I loved it.
We took off from downtown Salem, where I got to see fans from last year that remembered me (like Maya, who is one of my favorite fans), and just pure joy as I got to say hi, and what might be hi, for the last time. It was starting to sink in how I can’t afford to keep up on these trips with my salary at work, that if I crash the car that might be it, I don’t have the funds or the sponsors lined up that will make this a viable sport for me past this year. It is always in the back of my mind how no matter how hard I want to push it, I can only go at about 80-90% because one mistake, and that mistake is coming.. is going to be the end of my rally days for me. Until I can find a sponsor to at least help out with the $900 entry fees, and the travel expenses, I can’t afford to do it all on my own for much longer. All of my income is allocated. Its either going to this sport, or its going to bare necessities to live, and sometimes even then its all going on a credit card to cover the expenses. And people say well, hey, its not that expensive. Well its not the car that is the major expense at this point, its the logistics. Its the $500 in hotels. Its the $400 for brake pads, its the $900 for entry fee, the $1000 in gas… It all adds up.
I love this sport. I love to drive. I love the friends and people that I’ve met in rally. And while I wanted to cry inside I was still happy to be there, with a car, driving. So, day two began.
And the jump happened. The landing was a bit rough.. but it happened. And yes, I was saying “Oh Sh*t” because I got far more air than I expected to get as I was holding back a bit due to the suspension not being able to take that jump.
Alex Haugen did a great job of capturing the awful landing in photographs.. Here are some different views.
So we survived, which was all I could ask for after losing the suspension at this event, and having to learn manual brakes for the first time. Krista Skucas made for a great co-driver for the event, and it was truly a pleasure working with her. We learned valuable lessons for braking zones, and suspension setups. The car itself is a monster, its almost too fast for me at this point in my career, and that thanks all goes to Kinetic Motor Works and Garrett Turbochargers. What an absolute blast! Sometime I’ll be able to open it up, when I’m not on ice.. sometime. Hopefully at STPR, which is what is planned to be my next rally in Bender.