All racing is endurance racing for the people whose blood, sweat and grease go into building and prepping a race car. Therefore you can imagine the massive disappointment I felt when all that work seemed to go out the roll cage when my car was shunted just minutes into a race. The only bigger FAIL would come from not trying to learn something from the experience.
Sure, there are guys who show up with a car that isn't properly prepared and spend a large chunk of their race weekend just getting the car ready to run LONG after the race starts. Most of these fellows at least realize what they've gotten into, though. Some are even masochists who love to wrench and have fun with that sort of thing. Whatever floats your boat, I say.
There's also tragedies like the one at Le Mans this weekend, but those are on a whole different plane of sadness. This isn't a tragedy. I'm merely talking about your grade-A, garden variety disappointment here.
There's nothing more disappointing than having a reasonably competitive car together and working well that gets punted out in the first driver's stint. Nothing. And that's what happened to my team at this weekend's Chump Car race.
For those who don't race beater cars, Chump Car is like the slightly faster/less gonzo version of LeMons. They position themselves as "real" racing on the cheap, as opposed to the sometimes maniacal parade of LeMons which, nevertheless, many of us also compete in.
We'd dialed in the handling, stripped out a bunch of extra weight and even painted it to match my little blue Puffalump bunny, who rode in the car through tech inspections. It had the best looking vinyl side banners ever, with "Porschelump" in Carrera-style script. It was a hoot to drive even on crappy tires. I never even got to drive it on the new tires we'd bought for the race.
Our car took a 6G hit in just the spot where the roll cage attaches into the passenger side footwell, bending in the roll cage and the car's frame at that spot and shifting the center of the car over into a giant baby blue banana. It's the kind of hit that insta-fails your car from being safe enough to take back out again.
As the car's owner, this instantly gave me a billion things to worry about:
- Holy crap, we're lucky that wasn't on the driver's side.
- Oh my gosh, what about the rest of the team?! I picked awesome people to run, but OH MY GOSH, FOUR OF THEM DON'T GET TO DRIVE NOW.
- HOLY CRAP, WE'RE LUCKY THAT WASN'T ON THE DRIVER'S SIDE.
- Is everyone okay? Everyone's okay?
- I need to post a WTB on Rennlist.
- Pfft, it needed a new cage anyway for LeMons' new design rules.
- [insert expletives here]
- Seriously, is everyone okay? What happened to the other car? Are they okay?!
- HOLY CRAP, WE'RE LUCKY THAT WASN'T ON THE DRIVER'S SIDE.
It reminded me of something a friend said a couple weeks ago as he was beating a Spec E30 with a hammer. "They always describe drivers as being 'gutted' after something happens on TV. I never quite understood what it meant to be 'gutted' until today."
Yep. "Gutted." Totally accurate.
That being said, I feel like I learned a lot about how to be better prepared for when I find another 944 shell, swap all the bits over and enter another beater enduro.
Here is my advice for surviving a crapcan race weekend with your (and your teammates') sanity intact:
1. Come prepared.
This isn't just a scouting adage, it's a cold, hard fact. If you're scrambling to finish up the car, it's just not fun.
Next time, I want the car mostly finished and ready to go a month before the race – both for sanity's sake as well as the opportunity to get some practice driving it. I'm way more comfortable going to a new track if I've gotten to drive the car already, and a few of the other guys on the team are the same way.
I'd much rather plop the car off the trailer, roll through inspections like a boss and then take a nap or goof around with other participants.
The few minor last-minute tasks we had to take care of before going through tech inspections were agonizing. Every little item that took longer than expected devolved into horrifying thoughts of "Are we going to make it through on time?" or "Dude, inspections close at 7."
...which brings me to:
2. Keep your tools organized.
Even if you organize things by pile, guess what? Your teammates don't.
I'm pretty sure that if Dante's Inferno were written today, the deepest circle of Hell would involve a pile of tools where it's impossible to find the right one... which you know you have. Knowing that you brought a tool and simply can't find where it is can be enough to make the most stable man crack.
Look, I'm not your mother. I'm worse. I won't clean up after you, but I will start riding your nuts about basic cleanliness and organization. Your pit is a shared space. Keep it simple for everyone to find things, please.
Clearly, my "everybody bring tools!" strategy only served to drive me insane. We got busy and had things all over the place, and that caused quick fixes to take far longer than they should have.
If I start to whine about labeling totes full of tools and spares this summer, just ask me about 19mm sockets. The dadgummed 19mm sockets that always disappear because Miata people use them and getoffmylawnIdon'twannahearit.
I'm seriously thinking about assigning the most Type-A personality on the LeMons team as the tools guy for the September race. One dude to make sure that we keep things organized. That's how frustrating this gets.
Furthermore, everyone wants to get invited back to a track, right? Leaving your space in better shape than when you got there is always a good idea. Simple things like this give the track management and event organizers warm fuzzies and make their decision to bring an event back to a venue much easier. Cleaning up after yourselves takes a lot less time when everything's kept in its correct place to begin with.
That being said...
3. Breathe. Oh, and don't jump down anyone's throats.
Rule #1 in life: Don't be a bunghole. You're there to make friends and have a fun weekend, not to ragequit and start throwing hammers at peoples' heads. If you're getting frustrated enough by a silly crapcan race to do the latter, other sports beckon.
Even when things get incredibly un-fun, there's nothing I can think of at a ChumpCar race that's worth losing friends over. It's all sheet metal and dribbly fluids. Keep your calm.
If you think you're going to lash out at people because you're a raging hormonal mess, it's best just to take a walk and cool off. Find a secluded corner and breathe.
Whatever you do, resist the urge to become "that guy." Nobody likes "that guy." LeMons used to have an award for "that guy" called the People's Curse... and it never ended well.
If you're involved in something that's gone wrong, it's always a good idea to go apologize and check in with the other teams involved. These events tend to attract good people, and they're not the kind to punch you in the face for being that car who took you out. We're usually just as worried about the condition of the other cars in as big a smack as you were.
It was a huge relief when the driver who hit us came over to apologize. Not only was it a nice gesture, but it let us know that he was unharmed, too – which is always a worry.
4. So, you're out of the race? Other teams aren't.
One of the pros of running a 944 is that there are usually several other masochi—err, teams running related Porsches. Go make friends, swap technical advice and when things break, swap spare parts. You'll never know when you'll run into them again (or need their parts next time).
Besides, if #2 proves anything, no one likes to be out of a race when the item you need is right there in the paddock.
Our full car didn't make it past the first hour of the race, but part of our transmission did via a team running a V8-swapped shell. PARTIAL SUCCESS.
So, afterwards, we went for Mexican food, partially to relax and calm down and partially because my nickname is Coco and I needed a photo with the sign. Mexican food is tasty, and after you've been knocked out of the race, you don't have to worry about frijoles' revenge any more.
We've got a ton of work to do before the LeMons race at the end of September: New shell, new cage and a complete swap of all the running bits into a new car. It's a full twenty-four hour race, which I've always wanted to do, so that's a pretty convincing carrot to put in front of us to get the car finished in time.
I'm going to make a schedule for the team, assign tasks out to people based on what I know they can do and start shopping around for a cattle prod. (Just kidding on the cattle prod, but we've got to work fast.)
We're definitely shopping around for a professional to deal with the roll cage in July since ours saved our bacon this time and that kind of fabrication work is over all of our heads. Even though it's the cheapest wheel-to-wheel series you can get into, that's definitely an item you don't cheap out on or try to do with uncertain welding skills.
tl;dr—Crap happens. It's just a hunk of metal. No one was hurt, thank goodness. We'll get a new car and come back soon. Anybody got a spare 944 body?
Photo credits: Mark Rolston (garage shot), Matt Rhoads (photos of Stef and car/rabbit)