Schumacher Taxi Service
It's faster if you let us drive.

Our Second LeMons Race
By Dave Heinig

So we arrived at the event on Saturday morning full of hope and ambition for the Rolla, and a little dread for the Audi. After getting everything unpacked, we took the Rolla through tech, and it kind of set the tone for the weekend. Our seat is on sliders so we can adjust it for different height drivers, although as far as I know, no one has ever touched the adjustment in either race. Well, the tech guys were not happy with the amount of play in the slider mechanism, so they sent us back to the pits to fix it. After unbolting the seat and crimping the sliders with some vice grips we went back through tech and made it.

Cue up the BS station. This was the only flawless part of the weekend for us. The judges didn't even open the hood. They asked, "Have you done anything to it since SC?" "No." "Ok, you guys are good."

We pack Rob into the car and off they go for the pace laps. As he's driving around out there, I notice that the exhaust keeps hanging lower and lower... uh oh. Finally one lap he goes by the grandstands with our jury-rigged cherry bomb audibly dragging on the ground. We call him back in and after a couple of seconds under the car it's clear our clamp-on connection at the downpipe is not going to work at all. The only thing still holding the exhaust under the car was the wires we used to tie it up. We yank it out and send Rob back out, missing the green flag in the process. Total downtime: 5 minutes. Case of beer #1: first taxi to break down, is now lost.

Rob's first stint was pretty good, and he set our fastest lap time for the whole race (mostly due to a change to the chicane near the end of his stint, but I will chalk up some of it to good driving). Case of beer #2, fastest taxi lap, is now won, although we don't know it yet. We actually motored on up to 3rd place at one point. He managed to pull a massive off at the chicane exit, getting all four wheels in the dirt (sideways) and somehow recovering and getting back on track without losing any positions. Strangely enough, no black flags were forthcoming.

Rob came out after the first hour and Jerry went in for the second stint. After a few laps to settle in, he got comfortable in the car and started motoring past people. Then he met Vlad the Impala. Those guys were impossible to pass. The only good passing spot on the track was the banked turn, and they had enough power in their motor to fend us off around there. Finally after seven or eight laps, Jer got a great run on them at the entrance to the banking, took the inside line, and was promptly sideswiped as they tried to close the door. Jer kept going, the Impala almost hit the wall. Taxi 1, Vlad 0. Amazingly enough, no black flags this time either, even though that was our hardest impact of the weekend.

 
The donuts are from our car.

A few minutes later, I'm back in the trailer getting dressed for my stint and look over to see the Taxi rolling into the pits under tow truck power. Uh oh. Jerry says it just died on him on track and he's got nothing. After realizing that "I've got nothing" doesn't mean it won't run, it means the starter won't turn, the fans don't work... nothing works, I realize the fuse in our control power line is blown. Pull it out and sure enough it's popped. We vainly hunt for a large type automotive fuse for a couple of minutes (they don't use those in anything any more) until I say, "Screw it, just cut it out and solder the wires together." I figure a small electrical fire can't be that bad. Jerry goes out and finishes his session with no issues.

Cue up me. I hop in, and head out on track. I had forgotten how loud a 4-cylinder downpipe under the floorboard is. I spend a lap or two getting comfortable, then when I start to push it, get into the chicane a little too hot and a little too loose. I managed to pull off a nice drift around the cone, but apparently brushed the dirt with my back tire as I was going by. I get a warning flag pointed at me and keep going. Next time around, I'm nice and clean through there, but they apparently decided a warning wasn't enough and black flag me. I roll into the pits thoroughly confused, where they tell me I put a wheel off, but since we let them borrow our welder, get the hell out of here and back on the track.

So I get back out on track and start doing laps. After about 8-10 laps, disaster strikes. Coming off the banking I feel a little wobble in the steering which quickly turns into a quiet thumping. As I'm thinking, "Do we have a loose wheel?" it turns into a horrendous racket that I can feel pounding through the floorboards. In very quick sequence, tire separation, broken tie rod, and busted transmission go through my head until I rev the motor and get nothing... shift to second... nothing... shift to third... nothing... oh crap, it's the CV axle. I manage to coast to the pit exit and get a push back to paddock from a tow truck (again).

We look under the car, and sure enough, the inner CV joint came apart from the transmission. It sheared four of the studs right out of the transmission yoke, broke one off in the yoke, and bent the sixth one. Rob and Mike quickly disassemble the right front suspension and pull the halfshaft out of the car while sending other team members scrambling around paddock for spare bolts the right size. As Matt and Jerry are begging for loose hardware from other teams, I start poking around looking at the damage under the car. It looks repairable.

With the halfshaft out, we realize it lost the steel backing plate at the end that keeps all the grease in. Rob fixes that with about 20 feet of duct tape and we're ready to start the reinstall. Our team members are starting to come back with a pretty motley collection of loose bolts, none of them with matching nuts. As I'm sifting through the pile of hardware, I ask Rob what happened to that bag of loose bolts from when we ripped out the interior. I remember it being in the toolbox before we left. Turns out Rob actually had a little box of various sized nuts and bolts in there too and forgot about it until that moment. If people actually had light bulbs go off over their heads, this one would have blinded half the paddock.

We found our likely candidates, popped the shaft back in, and started trying to get all our hardware threaded. The duct tape made that an absolutely miserable job, but we managed to get everything on and snugged down. Of our four bolts, one had a lock nut on the end, one I actually remembered to locktite, and the other two were on there by the grace of God. As we were reassembling the suspension, Mike decided to seat the hub on the axle by pushing on the brake rotor with the heel of his hand. (Ouch) Total downtime: 1 hour.

 axlerepairs.jpg
Axle Repairs.

Since my stint was over, Mike got in the car and took off. There's really not a whole lot to say about his stint, it was well driven and pretty uneventful I think. I spent much of it in the trailer trying to cool off.

When Mike came back in, I decided to check our axle bolts to see how well they were holding up and the answer wasn't very reassuring. Three of the four were loose. The only one that held was the locknut. Rob and I got under the car and tightened them back down as best we could during the driver change, then sent Matt out.

As I walked up into the stands to watch Matt's first stint, I was totally unprepared for the half hour of anxiety and nervousness that were about to hit me. I walked up the stands to the sound of Jerry on the radio saying, "Matt, don't wad the car up!" He was driving the car like it was an autocross, tossing the tail around in the turns, braking at the last possible second, and generally running up the ass of everyone in front of him. It was fast, but it was dangerous, and fast and dangerous is not the way to finish an endurance race. After Jerry and I traded off yelling at him over the radio for about 15 minutes, he started to settle down and found a rhythm.

The rest of day 1 went pretty flawlessly, and we held on at around 100 laps behind the leaders while other cars were dropping like flies. Rob managed to pull a number on the Mostly Motorsports Toyota Paseo just by passing them. You could see the red mist descend as the Paseo pilot turned on the afterburners. He may be beating the crap out of the car, but dammit he was going to get that spot back. Rob let him by just in time to watch their motor nuke itself in the next turn. [Nelson](HA HA!)[/Nelson] As they were being towed off the track, Rob gave him a nice little rev on his way by under yellow.

My second stint finally rolled around as the sun was going down. It was in my eyes for the first 10 minutes, but after that we were running under the lights. There were only about 14 or so cars on the track, and by this time, the really aggressive teams had either blown up their cars (Vlad the Impala puked most of the tranny onto the track sometime during Jerry's stint right before me) or been benched for the night by the organizers (the Elemonators and Chard Beef Racing were two of those). The course was pretty crappy, but being a circle track they don't really pay much attention to their infield. Some of the pavement was horrendous, and by this time there was a pothole about a foot across developing in the far infield section. I had a blast, although I spent about 30 laps looking at "Got Polish Sausage?" on the tailgate of the Kielbasa Kids Honda Accord before I finally got by. After my stint I found someone from their team and asked for the guy driving at sunset, I wanted to shake his hand for some good racing. The guy I asked said, "Yeah, that's Mark. He's our ringer. He's got tons of track experience." My reply? "Yeah, it was really tough to get around that guy."

As Matt was running his stint to finish the night, the event organizers came over to tell us that we were over the sound limit and would have to fix the exhaust before we could run on Sunday. We still had the cherry bomb laying around, so we added it to the list of repairs.

At 9:30 PM on Saturday, they finally brought everyone off the track, and we parked it in the paddock. After letting the car cool down for 3 to 6 beers, we climbed under it and locktited the crap out of the bolts holding our axle on. No more re-tightening every driver change. We grabbed our cherry bomb, and instead of using a u-bolt clamp to attach it at the front we just welded the sucker in place. Satisfied with our repair jobs, we called it quits for the night.

Final standings after day 1: Taxi II in 3rd place, 12 or so laps behind the leader. Taxi I in the pack somewhere about 110 laps down. That third case of beer was starting to look like a done deal.

Sunday started with an amusing twist on the People's Curse: crowd participation. They allowed every team to go get one object to dump into the victim's oil filler while the motor was running at full throttle. Some of the various items that went in: assorted nuts and bolts, sand, soft scrub, clam chowder, turpentine, beer (big cheer from the crowd), etc. You get the idea. With an inconsequential sputter, the motor finally shut down. Team Stutgots LeMons pushed their Benz back to the paddock.

The driver order rotated a little on Sunday, and Mike took the first stint. As he was circulating for the pace laps, he was complaining about the exhaust banging the floorboard of the car. We could also hear it dragging a little in left-handers, and since they were all left-handers, that ended up being quite a lot.

Matt took over from Mike, and about halfway through his stint, the exhaust came loose again. Right in front of the grandstands. On its way off, he ran over it with the back tire and almost spun the car. He was black flagged for losing parts on course and came in. We sent him right back out and he was promptly black flagged for being over the sound limit. We pulled him back to paddock, and Rob went and got the exhaust off the track. It had conveniently slid to a stop in the grass at pit in.

After a few modifications and some debates about exhaust hangers, we got the cherry bomb welded back up and sent Matt back out to finish his stint. Sometime around then, Taxi II rolled into paddock. They opened their hood and water was spraying from a pinhole in the radiator. Even worse, steam was coming out by the cylinder head. We pulled a spark plug and cranked the motor over... about half a cup of coolant shot out the plug hole. With the blown head gasket, Taxi II was dead.

After Matt, Rob was up. I was spotting for him, and everything was going well until I got a radio message: "Something's wrong, I'm coming in." Uh oh. As he drove out into the pits I could hear the exhaust dragging on the ground. After some inspection, we determined that the welds were fine, but the downpipe was breaking just in front of the weld. We considered welding some angle iron from the O2 sensor all the way back to the muffler to stiffen everything up, but then I remembered that Rob was carrying his Supertrapp with us. We jammed that on the end of the downpipe, welded it in place, and Rob was off again.

exhaust.jpg

Two notable occurances happened during Rob's stint. First was the #70 Mercedes of Team Stugots LeMons reappeared on the track to a standing ovation from the crowd. Did I mention it was a diesel? They made one lap and the car finally quit. The second was that Vlad the Impala was back. They had somehow managed to put their blown automatic transmission back together and made it back out. They circulated for a while before a familiar knocking sound started. With a spun rod bearing, their motor proceeded to puke its guts out all over the track.

Looking at the standings, at 3:45 Taxi I was 175 laps behind Taxi II. Laps were about 37 seconds each. We raced until 5 PM. (That's 218 laps for those without calculators and/or math skills.) We could pass them, as long as we kept going, didn't break, and didn't get penalized. Jerry's run went well, even though at some point the Supertrapp parted ways with the downpipe. He didn't get black flagged, so he kept going. After his stint was over, it was my turn to hop in and take the checkers. I believe my last words were, "I don't care what happens, I'm driving this thing until the race is over or it won't go anymore." Turns out I'm a prophet. 

The run started well, the car drove great, and I was passing everything still out there on the track. I managed to get a strange flagging signal when I tried to pass on the outside on the way into the chicane, then barely missed wrecking two other cars as I buzzed through on my early-apex line. The flagger gave me a signal with a furled blue flag in one hand, a furled yellow flag in the other, and his arms up at about a 45 degree angle. I can't seem to figure out if he meant "WTF?" or "Field Goal!" Perhaps some of our road racers can enlighten me.

About 15 minutes in, I stepped on the brake pedal on the way into the chicane and got nothing. It went straight to the floor. After a tense moment filled with lots of intense brake pumping, I got enough pressure in the system to slow the car down. I didn't realize it at the time, but the brake failure was from boiled fluid, which was odd since you didn't really need the brakes hardly anywhere. It was a harbinger of things to come though.

Without the brakes, I went into limp mode. For the next 30 minutes, I kept my eyes on the mirrors and gave point-bys in the banking to anyone coming up behind me. Surprisingly enough, everywhere else I could still keep up with traffic. As the time dragged on, I finally radioed in to find out how much time was left in the race. Matt came back with 3 minutes. We were almost there, and I could taste the checkers.

Then next time around on the banking, the outer CV joint gave out. It had been seizing for the last few hours, which is what boiled the brake fluid. It finally locked and the axle ripped out of the passenger front wheel, taking most of the bearing and some of the hub with it. I figured all this out later. At the time, all I knew was I heard a loud bang, and now the car wouldn't go. I rolled to a stop on the banking and a tow truck pushed me over the line for the last time on our way to the pits. Our race was over.

After results were posted, we found out that case #3: best finishing taxi, was ours! We had made enough laps to squeak by Taxi II in the standings. I feel bad that Lou's car nuked itself, but that certainly won't stop me from taking free beer. All in all it was a fun weekend, and I'm amazed we managed to get the car to hold together as long as we did. I want to thank all the guys on the team (both teams) for an awesome season. We'll be back next year!