Monday, September 26, 2022

Bringing Home the Hardware

Photo Credit: Adam Babington Photography

This weekend wrapped up the six race endurance race series for the Bunch of Idiots in the Lucky Dog Racing League's Southern Endurance Cup. We duked it out at CMP in February to pull in points for a 4th and 3rd place finish. In May we battled through the intense heat in Atlanta at AMP to snag points for a 5th and 4th place finish. With three different classes and the season points based on cumulative points regardless of which of the three classes you compete, that left us in 3rd overall for the season!

The car, not realizing what is about to hit it Saturday morning.

Saturday morning someone leaked oil heavily on a few turns on the track and ended the qualifying/practice session early to clean it before we could go out. That left me to take the race start on completely cold tires and brakes. Cruising behind the pace car I noticed turn three still showed a visibly darker patch and I suspected some remaining oil. As the double file pack took the green flag and went full speed through one, then two, then three, I started to ease back waiting for cold tires to meet oil slick. Sure enough the BMW just feet in front of me hit the spot and went into a spin. I immediately was able to ditch into the grass on the right side of the track and avoided contact. A quick glance in the mirror before I rejoined the racing surface had a ballet of cars spinning and swerving behind. Whew. Survived the start. Head down and drive. 

Luke took over and cranked out hot lap after hot lap before bringing it in for a flawless pit stop to send Kyle out. Mid-way in Kyle's stint the clutch was starting to slip and we knew we had a real issue on our hands. A fortunate full course yellow allowed the clutch to cool and Kyle managed to get the car through his full hour and forty minutes and up into first in class. I continued to gently shift my way for the final hour and a half to take checker and take first place in class C! Our first win in the Miata!

Borrowing the tech shed's flat floor and lights, we got to work Saturday night.
Over dinner we searched for parts online and re-checked the championship points standings. Our win moved us into second overall for the season. If we could win Sunday and the overall leader finished 6th or lower we still had a shot to win it all. That was a super outside chance since the overall leaders are friends of ours in an early 90s Civic and are great racers. They kicked off the season with three consecutive wins. We knew we needed a good effort just to stay on the season podium. 

Saturday night we sent Luke to Columbia to buy a new clutch and flywheel and borrow a transmission jack from friend of the team, Phillip. While he was away, Kyle and I got the car on jack stands, swapped in new front brake pads and rotors and got the transmission out of the car. While we were removing the exhaust I noticed one of the two hangers had nearly ripped itself free of the welds. We got real lucky it didn't break on track. A quick call to the nearby race prep shop had us lined up to get it re-welded at 6:30 Sunday morning. 

The flywheel surface was glazed and causing the slipping.

We got Luke to bed so he'd be fresh for first stint Sunday while Kyle and I kept working into the night. By 2:00 we had everything back together and working. If there was a trophy for team working on their car the latest, we would have won it this weekend too. 

At 6:30 I was back up and took the exhaust to get welded up. When I got back to install it in the car, Luke already had it up on jack stands and he got to work with Kyle swapping the clutch hydraulic master and slave cylinders to make sure they didn't have any issues during the race. With five minutes until the driver meeting at 8:30, we had the clutch bled and ready to go and the exhaust back on the car. 

"Five minutes until driver meeting" 

With 3 minutes to go before the 9:00 start we had Luke strapped in and headed to grid. All credit to Luke for cranking away some great laps with a fresh clutch and brand new front brakes we didn't have time to bed in. We made it until the hour break at 11:00 without incident. Unfortunately for our friends in the Civic, they had serious motor issues and dropped out of the race after only a few laps that morning. 

Photo Credit: Adam Babington Photography

Inexplicably the season championship was swinging in our direction. The overall third place team was looking to handily win the race overall so if we didn't win our class, they would jump us. If we won, we'd still be able to take the overall W. We were sitting second in class at the break, but the first place car still needed to pit. The top four cars in class were all running similar times. The pressure was on. 

Kyle took over when the race resumed at noon and soon after radioed in that the exhaust bolts under the car had started to come loose. If they shook out we would risk a serious issue that would most likely end our race. We watched anxiously with tools on stand-by. Somehow Kyle held everything together to keep our scheduled pit stop when I would take over. 

Luke at the helm coming down the front straight.

Within the minimum 7 minute pit stop window we jacked up the car, I dove under in my driver suit and tightened up the bolts. I put my helmet on then refilled the car with fuel, strapped in and hauled ass out of pit lane. At this point I was taking over the first place in C class lead and just needed to maintain it. 

I initially struggled with pace with the warm afternoon track surface starting to get greasy. Kyle gave me the heads up on the radio that the second place Jetta who was closely followed by the third place Miata were closing in about half way into my stint. I started to push myself. I couldn't let us fall behind with the whole season on the line. The Jetta and Miata got me about five laps after the radio call but unfortunately for them I wasn't going to make life easy. For the next 30 minutes they couldn't keep me off of their bumper by more than a few car lengths. At one point I had re-passed them both as we chased nose to tail, feet from each others bumpers at full speed. 

Our pit strategy paid off as the Jetta had to drop out of the race for fuel followed by the Miata a couple laps later. I banked a few more hot laps before also coming in to hand the reins to Luke to take us home and maintain first. 

Primarily the #2 weld cracked wide open.
As Luke pulled out of the pits I was finally able to hear what had been making the other guys nervous for the last hour. In the car I had not noticed a significant exhaust leak coming from up near the engine. The Miata sounded like a tractor as Luke gunned it out of the pit lane. We had to just watch and listen for another hour and a half as the little purple car made laps. Each lap wondering, "did it sound worse this time?". The gap back to second and third was too small. We couldn't afford much more than a one minute check in pit lane if anything had to get fixed. This was it. 

One cute puppy trophy for first place on Sunday.
90 minutes slowly turned into 60, then 45, then time almost seemed to stand still for the last thirty minutes of the race. Would the car hold together? Luke had to baby the car, avoid the curbs to not jostle the exhaust any more than necessary. His consistent lap times eventually opened enough of a gap that he backed off the pace a little and had to take extra caution to avoid risks and bring the car home. Eventually the clock did strike five and the check flag was flying over the Bunch of Idiots in first place in C class! That did it, we took home the championship!

Final standings of the top 5 teams.
Hours of building the car, practice, wrenching long nights on the concrete at the track and we took home the hardware. This season saw two first place trophies, a third place trophy and the big first place in the championship trophy. It was our first attempt at doing a season of endurance racing and we took the top prize. And that exhaust leak we heard? The welds on the header had cracked and there were huge gaping holes in the exhaust right at the engine. Yikes.
Portion of a wine barrel as the season trophy. First place!

This season win goes out to all the friends and family who have helped out, loaned tools, come out to help crew, or just generally have been supportive and put up with our crazy hobby. We had a ton of fun and are really proud of what we've accomplished with the little 1.6 Miata. 

Left to Right: Me, Luke, Kyle. THE Bunch of Idiots. 

And now we can finally say; A whole lotta people lost to a Bunch of Idiots in a 1.6 Miata this season!

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