Friday, October 24, 2008

I The race is over, the fat lady sang a off-key tune, and the Slaabs blew up their car. Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Before jumping to the results, here is a review of the weekend in chronological order:

The Slaabs held a send-off party on Thursday night, which was well attended given that the team is made up of nincompoops and what-nots. I believe the neighbors really enjoyed having a 75’ semi parked in the street. Before loading the car into the trailer for the following morning, we probably should have broken a bottle of champagne on the car (on hindsight, we should have christened the boat with an oil drum), like they do with boats. We needed all the good luck we could muster.

Here is Brian's take on flying in from Dubai to be a part of this monstor Swedish team, and seeing the car for the first time at the Party:

I travelled 8200 miles – from Dubai to Houston – to participate in the 24 Hours of LeMons. I knew that we had purchased a POS Saab and that Phil, Dave, and Nick were working vigorously to get the car “prepared” for this race. Little did I know how much of a POS it really was until I arrived in Houston and saw it for the first time. It was ugly. Real ugly. Funny thing is…..when we went through Tech Inspection at the track, the Judges decided that our car looked too nice and proceeded to bang it up with their gavels (a couple of big rubber mallets) and put some dents in it.

Personally, I think they just like hitting things with hammers and exerting their power. That got me looking around at the other entrants, though. Our Saab definitely looked too nice to be running with this group of cars. I’m afraid to say it, but we were the Dancing Queens. But that image wouldn’t last long…….

(those Swedish Meatballs probably explain the smell in the car the following day).

Here is the car packed up and ready to go:

We arrived early on Friday morning for the practice session that would last all day. When we pulled up in Red Beard Racing 18 wheeler and Dave’s Cobra, I believe that the other teams already present hoped that we would die a slow, miserable, Swedish death. Our fellow competitors weren’t exactly smiling at us as we parked the trailer. However, they WERE smiling when we unloaded the Slaab. We were surrounded by Detroit iron, most of which was of the 8 cylinder variety. We were there with 4 Swedish cylinders. And a Semi.

Given that the other 75 cars were being maintained and worked on from pop-up tents and whatever other shelter could be found, we were living the life of luxury. We had the race deck floor down (which would prove extremely nice later as the car became the USS Leaky Bucket), we had flood lights, we had air conditioning, we had a drivers lounge, and we had a slow Swedish car. We had everything a Swedish team could want.

The all-day practice session started at 9am, and the Slaabs were the first team on the track. Our first victory, albeit a moral one. Dave took our virgin racer out on the track and slowly brought it up to speed. We decided to run the practice session on the Barum Bravarus tires (in other words – the cheapest tires on the planet), and save our nice Goodyear Eagle rally tires. Practice all day was fairly routine, though we didn’t exactly follow our team mantra of taking it easy on our car. We were out there pounding the Saab around the track to the best of our feeble pathetic abilities, and all 5 drivers were getting the same lap time (1:26 to 1:28) despite 5 totally different driving techniques and lines.

Here is Brian's take on Day 1:
"First day, Friday, was open practice on the track for everyone. We started learning what our Saab was capable of that day. Or rather, not capable of. It was peppy for a 25 year old car with 113 horsepower. It also leeeaned in the corners. Ask Nick about that. The tires squealed in protest around the entire track. We all were turning about the same lap times but we were pushing way too hard for an endurance race and that became abundantly clear when we realized the car was eating oil and only running on 3 cylinders. So with the help of Bruce and Tony (our new friend and Saab expert) we were able to fix the car. And by fix I mean rig. Some sort of oil blow-by collector. It had hoses running from the cylinder head, through the firewall, up along the ceiling, and then down into the former windshield washer fluid bottle which was located behind the passenger door. At least we knew where the oil was coming from…..the number 4 cylinder…..which was now dead. At this point we didn’t think the car would last 5 minutes the next day. "

Couple of pics from the practice session - Two Swedes watching our slow car in disgust:

The smoke has yet to begin:

We had two incidents during practice:

Incident #1 – Nick drifted the car hard into corner #1 and nailed the inside curb on the bottom of the car. That in turn launched the car into the air and came down on two wheels, almost flipping the car (this two wheeled affair was what the team became known for until the Exxon affair later). The incident knocked the radiator pipe off, and the car overheated on the way back to the pits.

Incident #2 – Brian, on the last lap of the day, in the same section of the track as Incident #1, all of the sudden turned the car into the Baytown Refinery (i.e. a cloud of smoke). Brian brought the car in, and the car had belched all of its oil out and was running rough. Not good.

That evening, we evaluated the options on our wounded motor (it appeared to have a blown piston)…options that included pulling the motor and fixing the cylinder to putting in our oil-bypass fix. We settled on the oil by-pass fix that Brian mentioned earlier (the bypass fix included putting a recovery canister, otherwise known as the windshield wiper fluid reservoir, in the drivers compartment. Nothing like smoking hot oil next to you to get you to drive faster). The result was we would be running on 3.5 cylinders at best. Going to bed Friday night, we’re pretty sure that our car is good for about an hour of pain and suffering, and will likely blow up soon thereafter. We also expect to receive multiple penalties for racing a car that looks like its fire (i.e. lots of smoke). Did I mention that we also managed to lose 1st and 2nd gear on Friday? It didn’t matter much anyway, as we practically drove the entire lap in 3rd and 4th gear anyway. Where the gears went, we’ll never know. They probably were embarrassed at our driving skillz and wondered over to a neighboring team.

It should be noted that our friendly Jamaican mechanic who specializes in Swedish cars (go figure) named Tony is with us in the pits, and has helped us with the engine. Upon getting the engine back together with all kinds of Engine Restorer, Piston Seal, and 30W oil, he cold starts our engine and immediately guns the engine to over 7000 RPM (wayyyyy over the limit on this car). And does it again. And again. And again! We all stand by watching in total horror as we imagine our Swedish car detonating on the spot and launching a rod to Mars, effectively beating NASA to the punch.

Here is the oil can recovery system:

Here is the standard Slaab pose in the pits:

Here is a picture of Tony helping us Friday

Saturday morning starts with a few minor touch up items on the car, including the minor item (or so we thought) of putting our fancy Rally wheels and tires on the car. Nick is the designated starting driver for the Slaabs. Hell, at this point, we thought he might be the ONLY driver for the Slaabs given the condition of the car. Nick warms up the car, its running, and doesn’t seem to be losing any oil. We’re a happy 3 cylinder Swedish team. Cue team photo!

Look how happy we look:

Instead of me summarizing every driver’s “racing” session and being a total smart ass about their skillz, here is a summary of their sessions in each driver’s words (we asked Nick to write his summary in English rather than Brit-Speak).

It should be noted that the race started under yellow flag for 50 minutes, and we were all watching those 50 minutes unfold scared to death that the car wouldn’t last even that long before turning into the Labrea Tar Pits. In reality – Nick drove probably 15-20 pace laps with no problem….

Nick hasn't written his English summary stay posted.

Picture from Nick's session:

Nick brought the car in, and reported that 1st and 2nd gear had been found!!!! Still a mystery to this day. Like the Lochness Monster. We also determined the car was totally empty of oil, and put another full 3 quarts of oil into the car. Its smoking a fair amount, and its only a matter of time now until Mission Control calls for the launch to Mars. Dave gets in the car and drives off:

“My first session was abbreviated by a spin in one of my first few laps and getting black flagged [any spins result in a black flag, and result in a 30 minute penalty and a spin of the Wheel of Misfortune and a mandatory driver change]. It seems Goodyear might have something to learn from the Barum Tire Company. While the Goodyears did exhibit considerably more grip on the tighter lower speed turns, they failed to keep the rear in check on the higher speed turns. For the short period of time I was on the track [and he does mean short!], I do not recall being in very much traffic, the car was running fairly well on three cylinders, just a lot of smoke in the cabin. Oh yeah, due to my black flag, I had to spin the wheel of shame which gave me the privilege of being "Colonel Sandered", which is getting doused in Karo syrup followed by having feathers thrown all over me.”

Here is Dave getting tarred and feathered:

Dave comes in after 10 minutes, and the car requires 2 quarts of oil. AFTER TEN MINUTES. We determine the car will have to come into the pits every 15 minutes for a full fill-up of oil. We’re killing the environment one lap at a time. In case you are wondering where this oil is going…watch this crappy video and skip ahead to 2:20 to hear this nitwit complaining about us:

After watching Dave get tarred and feathered, it’s a quick driver change to put myself in the car.

I agree with Dave in that the Goodyear tires have a TOTALLY different feel from the Barums, and the car is drifting nicely, if not too much. Being the team captain, it was my motto that I beat into everyone: “EASY ON THE CAR!!!” Well, I drive 4-5 laps on 3 cylinders, and its running better than I anticipated. On lap #6, feeling racy, I drifted the car hard onto the front stretch and went for…A PASS!!! I managed probably one of my only passes all weekend. Look! Here’s a picture of me coming up on the poor sucker getting passed by a 3 cylinder Saab:

I drove that lap far too hard, given our motto. And coming onto the front straight again, I came into the last corner WAY too fast and spun the car. In front of everyone watching. I proceeded to finish the lap, and came in for our 2nd black flag / penalty (you only get 4 before you’re told to scram). I pulled into the penalty box (2nd time in 20 minutes), and the judges were not happy. They hated that our paint job looked so good to start with. So they made up an award for us: The Barack Obama – Make Change We Can Believe In Penalty. We had 30 minutes to re-brand the Slaab into a new team theme. It was immediately obvious to the team who we were to become, given the massive amount of oil we were spilling– THE EXXON VALDEZ, with the motto of “KILL THE OTTERS” on the hood, a funnel on the roof with the drunk Captain Hazelwood (formerly The Swedish Chef) commanding the ship.” I was done for that session.

Here is Jalopnik’s article on our Barack Obama Change We Can Believe In penalty, with plenty of pictures to save me from posting them here:

And of course - Brian's take on the penalty box:
The Judges had some basic rules. If you spin on the track you get black flagged, spend 30 minutes in the penalty box, and get to spin the Wheel of Misfortune. Dave spun. Then he spun the Wheel and was served his punishment. He was tarred and feathered with Karo Syrup and feathers from a pillow. Then Phil spun. When he drove into the penalty box, the Judges decided that we needed a change to get rid of our bad luck. Something just wasn’t working for us. They immediately handed us the Barak Obama Change You Can Believe In Penalty. We had to change the theme of our car and it had to be believable before the Judges would let us back on the track. That’s when the Dancing Queen became the Leaky Queen and The Slaab turned into the Exxon Valdez. We became a menace to society. The Judges liked us again.

We fill the car with the standard 3 quarts of oil, took the Goodyear Eagles OFF the car (good riddance Rally tires…HELLLOOOO BARUMS!!), did the mandatory driver change, and Brian was off and running. We’d probably managed 15 race laps by this point in 2 hours, and were already on our FOURTH driver. Not the Swedish start we were hoping for.

"Saturday – the first day of the race. We get to see what our ¾ Saab can do. We find out that our once peppy car became, should I say, lame? Lame as in having a disabled part and also as in lacking needful and desirable substance. But what we lacked in performance we gained in offense. And from what others were saying about us, we were offensive. Our oil blow-by collector contraption doubled as a smoke screen. Like something Q came up with for Bond. Except we didn’t have an on/off switch for it other than the ignition switch. We were slowly moving away from our Dancing Queen moniker. I drove 3rd that day. I remember asking Phil when I should come in for oil. You see, most race cars stop for fuel. We stopped for oil. He told me I would be able to tell. What he didn’t tell me was that I would be tasting burning oil fumes. Literally. I drove for about 20 minutes and my mouth felt like it had a coat of 10W-30 in it. Our smoke screen device seemed to be working too because nobody wanted to stay behind us. And luckily for them, our ¾ Saab was easy to pass."

Look, here he is coming into the pits. Smoking.

Brian brings the car home after a consistent 15 minute session, we fill the car up with another, cough cough, 3 quarts of oil, and send out Dad for his session. At this point, we’ve breathed a sigh of relief that we managed to get all 5 drivers into the race (albeit that Dave was in the race for only4 laps so far).
Look, more oil!

Here is Brian pre-session:

And here is the standard pit pose / quizzical look:

OK - lets keep going here.

"This was the first time I had actually driven a “race” car on a race track. Practice day on Friday went reasonably well. The only problem is that we tended to flog the car to see how fast we could lap the track, rather than establishing what speeds we could run consistently for an endurance race. My best lap was about 1:28 which was typical for the drivers on our team. By the time the race started on Saturday, we were already in a hole with a damaged motor that needed 3 quarts of oil every 10 laps or so. Driving with all the traffic it was difficult to maintain the proper line, keep track of the other cars, watch for the flags, watch for the pit signs, etc. After a few laps it became somewhat easier, but since we were one of the slower cars, one eye was always on the rear view mirror. Nothing eventful happened on Saturday and we ended the day in 48th place out of 75 entries. "

Here is a picture of Dad driving. The golf cart. Sorry, its all I have:

No's an ACTION SHOT! Drift it Dad DRIFT IT!

We made it. We got all drivers into the crappy car. Now lets do it again. Nick is up again, and the engine looks like burnt metal. Insert the required oil, send Bruce to Autozone to buy more oil, and get Nick into the car.

No summary yet from Nick.

“Second session was much better as we were back on the Bravarus tires. The car was performing rather well for a car on three cylinders and I did not hold back in driving the wounded Slaab. I managed to pass a couple of cars although I was passed by a lot more. I think I overtook about three or four cars during my session. This was my first real chance to go wheel to wheel with other cars and thought it was a hoot. Managing the cars in front, behind and on the sides was a blast and felt it really made me drive the course much better. I stayed out of trouble and brought the car in intact and ready for the next driver to tear it up.”

The day of racing is coming to an end, and we’ve probably gotten 70 or so laps in so far (in 5 hours). That’s an average of 18mph. EIGHTEEN!

Here is a picture of Caroline practicing her skills at push starting the Slaab, since we no longer have a starter motor:


“My session was at the end of the day, and we decided to finish up without another driver change. That meant a little longer stint (30-40 minutes) on the Slaab. For the first 15 minutes, I am babying the car around the track…and I mean BABYING. I am puttering around in 4th gear, never shifting. I am afraid of breaking the car at the end of the day again, and not making Sunday. I have a very VERY uneventful 15 minutes on the track, bring the car in for its mandatory 3 quarts of oil, and quietly ask Dave and Nick what gear they were driving in, and how hard they had been driving. The answer? We were driving the shit out of the car in 3rd gear…to which I replied loudly “You’re using THIRD gear?!?”

I went back out onto the track a new man. I had 3rd gear, 3 cylinders of Swedish muscle, a track full of faster cars, and a cooler full of beer at the trailer. [note – this is the driving session that the whiney driver in the video was referring to]. It was a Swedish dream come true. All that was missing was some heavenly Abba music. I ended up running the until the end of the day (another 20-25 minutes), with a short break for a broken water pump belt (2nd time of the weekend that the car overheated), and managed to pass…..not one single car. But they were definitely passing me. I don’t know where all of the slow cars went, but we were bringing up the rear with the gear at this point. Checkered flag comes, and guess what….WE MADE IT TO DAY #2!!”

That night, Tony helped us change one of the engine seals to slow the oil leak down to a slow drip. We rotated the tires (and had to de-grease them due to the significant oil everywhere), and were ready to roll for Sunday.

Day 1 – we managed to do 98 laps, compared to around 200 for the leaders, and were in the low 40’s in terms of position (out of 76). We spent the night hanging out with the Lexus team (picture below) and the Shark team (picture below), both of which were a great group of people. It also should be noted here that the other Saab team only lasted two laps.

We started Sunday following our plan, which was to race harder (its all relative. Shut up.) on Sunday. Brian had the first session of the day. We brought him in 15 minutes or so into the session, checked the oil (STILL FULL!!!!), and sent him back out for another 45 minutes. A record for the Slaabs. We were feeling confident of achieving our top 50% finish at this point.


"Sunday, the last day of the race, I was up first. After more repairs the night before to stop the oil leaks, I was instructed to drive until the oil light came on. I ended up driving for an hour and never saw the light. We thought we might be able to make the end of the race. We were wrong. "

Note – we started timing the laps here again (didn’t do this on Saturday), and Brian was running only 3-4 seconds off our 4 cylinder practice laps. Impressive. Brian brought the car in when the oil light started blinking (who knew we had a freakin’ oil pressure light?!?!?), and we determined the car was empty on oil. Again. Fill er up, and we sent Dad out for his session with the goal of it lasting 60 minutes.

"Brian drove the first leg on Sunday for about an hour. I drove the second leg and made times that were consistent with my practice times [on 3 cylinders too]. About the 5th lap of my stint, I drove to hard into the final corner heading for the main straight and spun the car [same place as me on Saturday]. I stayed on the track apron. Unfortunately I was not able to keep the motor running and since we had lost the starter the day before, I had to wait for a tow truck. Luckily, I did not receive a penalty and was back on the track after losing about 15 minutes. Then the old oil consumption bug-a-boo raised its ugly head again with the oil pressure light coming on. By the time I got the car back to the pits…… "

We also timed Dad during his session, and he too was only around 3 seconds off his practice times. At this point, we’re feeling pretty good. We had just run the car for 2 hours straight, were FINALLY racking up laps at a good pace, and were sitting in 41st position out of 76. Our goal was to be in the top 50%, so we had 6-7 spots to go. We were on a roll at this point. Cue Swedish confidence.

Before going into Nicks driving report – it should be noted that the entire team left him hanging on the track as we went to go watch the Peoples Curse Award ceremony (i.e. crush the most hated car). No one was watching him, timing him, giving him pit signals, or there to meet him at the fueling / oiling station. Woops.
Still no Nick report.

Let me fill in for Nick here...he ran 3-4 laps, and the car was dead. Broken bearing or something awful sounding inside. Captain Hazelwood's (Dad) hot laps cooked the car...but it was our strategy to race on Sunday so no fault on him.

We were done. Cooked. Finished. We ran the car out of oil 11 times, significantly overheated the car twice, ran it 2 days on 75% of the cylinders, and still the car wanted to keep going. But, alas, we ultimately killed the car. The race continued, and was won by a Toyota Corolla painted like Wayne’s World (see below).

We finished in 48th position out of 78. We completed 166 laps with a best racing lap of 1:28 (the best at the race was a 1:16, with the majority of the cars at 1:20-1:22) The winner ran, uhhh, 466 laps. That’s only 300 more than us.

We had a great time with lots of family and friends there, which made the event even more fun. We also had, by far, the nicest pit setup in LeMons history. Had to have. There are tons of storys that I didn't have time to mention, from the tech inspection, to the BS inspection, to the Peoples Curse Award, to us winning the Judges Choice Award, Fastest Swedish Car award, and Tony got the Mechanic of the race award. There were tons of incredibly funny penalties dished out to other cars...but not better than this penalty:

I will post a bunch of articles, links, and more pictures soon. And most importantly....WE'LL BE BACK! We're already formulating a plan to get a new motor in this beast, and be ready to run the next race in Houston. Stronger, faster, smarter. And we're bringing the original paint job back!

I'll end with more words from Brian, which seem fitting: "We ended up about 46th out of 75 cars. So that means there were almost 30 cars worse than ours. That’s got to be an accomplishment!"

No comments: