By late February, the mid March deadline looked like it would come and go with the car still incomplete. Sponsors who are watching the progress are starting to question whether or not we can make the race in July, much less the mid-March deadline. A few drop out citing the current economic environment. I spend a few sleepless nights debating, with myself, whether or not to continue. I decide that the project must be completed and start using more of my own money on the project. With a new baby now home, and my employer going through another round of layoffs, people start to consider whether or not I’ve lost my mind for continuing. It would have been easy to quit at this point. Most of my financial help is gone, and most people supporting the project, including family (everyone except my wife, Jenifer, that is), are encouraging me to reconsider this years race, and maybe just try for 2010. But something was telling me to keep going. I couldn’t leave it alone. I had to get this car done and make it to the Summit on race day.
June is here already and work continues. My credit cards are hitting their limit, one by one, and I am starting to have doubts. I keep working anyway, hoping things will work out. My ATV engine builder, John Stallworth of JSR performance, hears that I am having trouble and calls me up to see how he can help. I tell him how close I am and that even if the car gets done I still don’t have my safety gear or a place to stay race week. He comes through for me and hooks me up with a new Bell helmet, and a driving suit. He also offers me a motel room for race week at the place he was staying. I was blown away by his generosity.
My stepdad, Steve Davis (the Fatman) has been helping throughout the process. He has been making custom parts in the Fatman Racing shop, and coming up on occasional weekends to help with the fabrication and final assembly.During the last few weeks, he brings along family friend Don Carty. Without them this car never would have gotten finished.They were both there in the final weeks of the build, putting in 18 hour days to see it get completed.
With the car rolling, but not completely finished, we drag it over to PTP’s new shop in Ft. Worth. The trip was not without incident. Steve calls and tells me that a tire has blown and that he’ll be a little late (foreshadowing). Forrest, Kyle and their new employee Mark get started on setting up the suspension and a few final details needed to fire the engine for the first time. It didn’t go as smooth as we had hoped, but because of their experience, the guys at PTP we were able to run down a few issues and got the car fired.
Finally, the car was alive. It was a pretty thrilling moment. We were only two weeks away from leaving for Pikes Peak and the motor had just fired for the first time. Now we were really up against it. If the car hadn’t fired, it would have been over. Go home and try again for next year. But because it started and ran, we had to keep moving forward. We now had just a few days to solve a few minor issues and get it to Alamo Autosport to have it tuned.
Monday. Time is getting short now. Just five days before I leave for the race and we are at Alamo Autosport. Brice Yingling will be tuning the car and expects that I have brought it to him ready to be put on the dyno. In fact, it still needs fuel (E85), and still needs the cooling system filled and purged. As Brice is closing up his shop for the day I am filling the fuel cell and radiator. Brice comes out and plugs his laptop into our AEM ECU and hits the starter. It cranks, but won’t start. Brice is a real professional and immediately starts looking at the initial map we had loaded the night we first fired the car. We originally started the car on premium, not E85, so the fuel settings were way off. Brice makes a few adjustments and the car fires right up.The water temp immediately jumps to 200 degrees. We start purging the system, thinking there is just a huge air bubble in the system. We fire the car again, and the temp goes straight back to 200 and is on its way to 220. Brice takes a look at the cooling hoses and asks me what all I removed from the factory system. We run it all down, with help from the FSM, and find that I have removed two hoses from the system that are needed to circulate hot water to the back of the thermostat. The back of the thermostat wasn’t seeing any hot water and wasn’t opening. I’m an idiot. We won’t be doing the tune tonight. I’m embarrassed that I have wasted so much of Brice’s time. I drag the car home and have a good look at the FSM to see what I need to do to correct the problem. I need a TIG welder to fix a fitting that had been modified on the factory intake.
First thing Tuesday morning I drag the car down to the Fatman shop so we can get the cooling issue resolved and the car back over to Alamo. I have already rented (and paid for) Mineral Wells for Thursday so I can do a shakedown on the car, so I need to get this done quickly. There is a big hill at the back of the Fatman shop and it’s easier to unload at the bottom of the hill and drive into the shop at the top of the hill. The car runs and drives, so I unload the car and fire it up, back off the trailer. Just as I start to slip the clutch and head up the hill, BANG. The spider gear on the driver’s side half shaft decides to separate itself from the CV joint. At first I think we’ve broken an axle. They are stock replacements (remember, we lost most of our budget) after all and I when I look under the car all I see is a greasy mess and the shiny end of the spider gear assembly. After closer inspection I see that what we have is the wrong axle, and all that has happened is that the spider gear slipped out of the CV cup. I had been told all through this process that the half shafts on a 240 were the same length on both sides. Clearly they weren’t, so I start making calls to find a passenger side half shaft. Everyone I talk to says they are the same (obviously lots of non-NICOclub folks!) I’m going nuts now, trying to figure out why everyone insists they are the same, even though I know they are different. The full day is wasted. Finally I call Carrigan, a guy I have traded with before and ask him if he happens to have a set of S14 axles. “Of course I do!” He always has this kind stuff in his storage bin. Are they the same length? “Nope, 240SX never have been.” I knew it! I should have called him in the first place. I won’t be able to get the axles till mid day Wednesday, so I go back to the bottom of the hill and start working on the cooling problem, right there in the grass. This was a total shade tree mechanic moment.
Wednesday comes and I’m back in my own shop after a long night fixing the cooling system and towing home. I get a call from Carrigan just before lunch. He has the axles from his storage and does me a huge favor and brings them all the way to my shop.That’s a pretty long haul for him, and I really appreciate him taking the time to help. I have just a few hours to get the axles swapped in and tow the car back down to Arlington so Brice can get her on the dyno. Brice already has plans for the evening, so by the time I get finished and haul the car down, all we have time to do is confirm we have the cooling issue solved and finish a quick oil change from the break-in oil to the Motul Racing oil we plan to use for the race.
Brice had planned to get the car on the dyno first thing Thursday so I could have more time with it at Mineral Wells. Things didn’t go as planned (see a theme developing here?) One issue after another plagued Brice for most of the day Thursday and we didn’t get started on the dyno until about four in the afternoon. There is quite a bit of setup that needed to be done in the ECU before he could start doing any real work. Time is ticking by. First pulls are done and we have 225hp at 5psi. Good start. Everything looks good so far, so Brice starts building the boost maps and begins to up the pressure. 317 hp at 10psi and everything looks fine. Only issue Brice sees is that the turbo isn’t coming on till 3900 and makes full boost at 5500. We are shifting at 6800. Originally we built the engine to work from 4500 to 7500 or 8000. After the deadline came and went we made the decision to back off of those numbers because we wouldn’t have any time in the car before the race and priority number one was to make the summit.We decided on a conservative tune. The car would be harder to drive at these lower RPMs, but we were confident that we could make a respectable run and reach the Summit.So we stopped at 10psi and set the fuel curve on the rich side.
It’s nearly 9pm and I’m finally loaded up and on my way to Mineral Wells to shake down the car. I still don’t even have the seat belts bolted in. It’s been a long day already. I make it to Mineral Wells and unload the car. First things first…get the harness bolted in and complete a quick bolt check. Everything looks good. I climb in the car, strap in and put on my DefNDer and my helmet. Wow. This is the first time I’ve had a head and neck restraint on with my helmet and I’m ridiculously uncomfortable. It’s now pitch black outside and I’m starting to thank the Time Attack rules makers for requiring headlights. I fire the car and start off slowly. The windscreen is filthy and I’m having trouble seeing, so I decide to do what I used to do on new ATV’s…donuts. Do a bunch of left and right donuts and get the car as sideways as possible so I can get used to how the car will break loose. There’s just a couple problems with that. My tires are a bit under-inflated, and they’re brand new. The car hops a bit and doesn’t like to break loose. I’ll have to do more than donuts. I slowly scout out a small area that looks free of debris and large bumps and start doing long figure eights. With a bit more speed the car finally gets a bit livelier and the back end starts to break loose. It’s like a light switch, though. I either have crazy understeer, or I’m completely sideways. Not much in between. I’m thinking that I’m glad that I have another couple hours to get used to how the car acts before having to load up for the Peak. Just as I complete that thought a gush of fluid splashes across my windscreen. What the hell just happened? I looked at my temps, no problem…what was it? Tons of smoke and then I smell the very distinctive smell of burning power steering fluid. Dammit. I pull in front of my truck and kill the engine. I jump out, hit the headlights on my truck and the problem was instantly clear. One of my power steering hoses failed and spewed fluid all over the headers and all over my windscreen. I have had all of fifteen minutes in the car and now I was done. I load the car and make the long two and a half hour drive home and I’m wasted. It’s 2 am by the time I get home and get the car unloaded into my shop. I called Steve on the way home and let him know what happened. Steve’s main business is hydraulic service and repair, so I knew he’d be able to source a pair of new high pressure lines Friday and have them made and delivered before I needed to leave Saturday morning. But even with the problem and only fifteen minutes in the car, I’m pretty satisfied. I drove the car. I did something most people didn’t think would happen. I drove the car. That was a big deal. A significant milestone.I was pretty proud. And as I had been through much of this build…I was all alone.
Friday is my son’s seventh birthday. I have much more to do today than just fix the car and get it loaded for the trip. Most of the day is consumed with my son, which is great. I needed the break, mentally, at least. Steve comes through with the new hoses and the rest of the day and evening is spent celebrating my son’s birthday. I’m a bit tense. I still have to load the trailer, load the car, and pack all my clothes and race gear.And because the car is being wrapped Sunday and Monday, I have to be in Colorado Saturday night. Time is getting tighter.
Saturday I get up way too early and start loading the trailer. I think I have everything. I was about to load the welder, but decided last minute that I probably could come up with one locally if I needed to (I’m an idiot). The trailer was heavy enough as it was. I finally get to work on the power steering hoses mid-morning. Time is flying by and I finally get everything loaded up and am on the road about 10AM. I thought I was in the clear. Not so much.
I borrowed the trailer from an old friend (I ran out of money and couldn’t buy one) and I was using Steve’s work truck to tow it. My truck is just a half-ton with a small V8 and Steve’s truck is a ¾ ton diesel. I had been using my truck to tow around town and out to Mineral Wells and the heavy load was killing it! As I got down the highway the truck started steering a bit light. There was a problem. Not sure what, but the truck didn’t want to hold its own lane and it was pitching a bit. I knew that if I kept going I’d probably never make it to Colorado. I reluctantly turned around and went home to swap trucks. My truck would have to do. I finally got back on the road a little after noon.
My truck didn’t handle the weight all that great, but it was enough. I was finally on my way. I fill up in Sherman and turn onto Highway 82 towards Wichita Falls. About ten miles down the road, BANG, there goes one of the trailer tires. Luckily I have a spare. Two, actually. Better safe than sorry. I get out and get started changing the tire. It’s 108 degrees today. And not that dry heat you get in the desert. This is sticky, nasty, humid heat that feels several degrees hotter than it really is. I get finished up and crank the AC to cool down a bit. I’ll get the spare fixed in Wichita Falls. I’m just cooling off, about fifteen more miles down the road, and BANG. There goes another trailer tire. Holy Cow! I’m now on two lane blacktop, with a small shoulder. I find a bit wider turnout and pull over, just clear of the road. I get started on this tire and all I can do is laugh (must have been the heat). So, between this and all of the other problems I faced while building this car, I’m starting to wonder if whatever it is that controls the universe is trying to tell me something. Should I quit now, or am I paying dues for some later success? I get the tire changed and now I’m just hoping a third doesn’t go, since I’m now out of spares (and energy).
Luckily I make it to Wichita Falls without further incident. I limp into a local tire shop that, on the phone, assured me they have plenty of trailer tires in stock, and there’s not really any wait right now (I won’t tell you their name, but it rhymes with Miscount Fire). Of course, when I get there, they don’t have my size trailer tire in stock and the wait is about an hour and a half. I am already exhausted and I don’t know the area, so I ask them to just get me a decent set of tires and get me on my way. I settle in for the afternoon. They finally get me in and out and I’m on my way again. It has taken me seven hours to get as far as I usually get in two. It was going to be a long night.
Tire troubles are behind me now and I’m making decent time on my way to Colorado. I pass through Amarillo and hang a left at Dumas Texas, towards Raton, NM. The road skinnies down to two lanes here and with the extra weight it must look as if my bright lights are on. And every car that passes makes sure to let me know that it seems that way. Some of the gestures are friendlier than others.
It’s getting late and I’m getting tired so I pull off to sleep for a couple hours. The wrap guy is supposed to be there early Sunday, so I don’t have much time to spare. I get back on the road early and make it up to my friend’s home in Castle Rock at about 8AM. The rest of Sunday is spent with Imagewraps finalizing the design and getting the printing started. Pieces of the wrap start to show up Sunday evening, and the rest of the wrap is applied overnight into Monday.
Travis Tollet and I have been friends since we first met in 2004. His Dad, Mike has been competing at Pikes Peak for years now on an ATV, and Travis would start competing there in 2005, also on ATV’s. Travis has been racing since he was three and has quite a bit of talent. He was racing at another hill climb event in Victor Colorado in 2006 when he hit a rock in the road, and had a wreck that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He has limited use of his arms and hands. He’s never given up, though, and in 2007, just one year removed from his accident, he went back to Victor as a co-driver for a rally car on the same road where he had his accident. Travis is truly an inspiration. Just a great kid, with a never give up attitude.