In 24 hours, I drove from New York to Massachusetts with no clutch, raced a rally car I'd never seen owned by a man I'd never met before, and then drove from Massachusetts back to NYC with no starter motor. There was no rationality. This was destiny.
I think it should be clear to anyone who knows me that I have a few screws loose. In particular, I'm missing the part of my brain that says it's not a good idea to take off for a 350 mile drive to enter a race in a 40-year-old Volkswagen expecting nothing to go wrong.
Long story short: I snapped my clutch cable half an hour into the three hour drive, and managed to rev-match my way 150 miles up into Massachusetts in the dark, bump-starting the car in first with the starter motor to get it going out of gas stations.
I slept curled up in my backseat in a fairground lot outside the track. When I woke up and tried to start my car again in first, the starter broke. A very nice guy showed up and, after helping me try and push start my Baja, said I could drive his car for the day's racing. His name was Joe and he had possibly the coolest car I have seen in the past six years of my life — a dripping orange rally-prepped 1979 Plymouth Arrow, stripped and caged with dual Weber carbs and a houndstooth bucket seat. For those of you not familiar with the Plymouth Arrow and it's hi-po version the Fire Arrow, it was really a first-generation Mitsubishi Lancer sold by ChryslerCo back when Detroit didn't have any clue how to make a proper small car on their own.
There was no more plan than he was wearing an orange shirt and had an orange car and I had an orange shirt and a broken car. We'd never talked before, we'd never seen each other before, but in a few hours he was sitting in the passenger seat of his own welded-diff Plymouth and I was oversteering through the banks of a rallycross course for the very first time. I had never seen this course before, or even entered a rallycross event in my life.
If you're wondering what it's like to drive a rally-prepped 1979 Plymouth Arrow with a welded diff, it's pretty hilarious. The fixed seat is so low you can only sort of see over the hood, the steering wheel is so far away you drive with your arms all the way out, and the steering is so slow that every time the car starts oversteering, you end up spinning the wheel, overcorrecting your overcorrections while the car sorta kinda makes its way around the corner.
At lunch I tried to start my car again. No luck. I tried to swap out the clutch cable, but the bolts holding the pedal cluster on were rusted shut. I only got the car started by sticking it in first and enlisting the local boy scout troop (conveniently camped at the fairgrounds that day) to bump start me. I made it to the rallycross pits, but the starter was still toast and the clutch was still busted.
Joe didn't just let me drive his race car, he helped me get the pedal box unbolted, and helped me fit the replacement cable into the pedal box while I got it adjusted at the rear. We finished just in time for the afternoon runs.
The clutch was finally adjusted and ready by the close of the day, a couple of guys bump started me, and I limped the car home without ever turning the car off. Like, while filling up at gas stations. It would have been a sketchy drive on its own even if the electrical system didn't start giving up me. There wasn't enough spark, and the car was backfiring like an old tractor. Crawling up hills at 50 miles an hour, shuddering down the road at sixty in fourth (top!) gear. I was convinced the car was going to shake itself apart somewhere near Greenwich, Connecticut.
How I made it back to my parking space, I don't know. How I managed to make it though my first rallycross even though I broke my car twice, I don't know. The only explanation is that it was destiny. One orange car, two orange shirts, two busted road trips, and one rallycross event under my belt. I know there will be more — it's meant to be.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove