Thursday, March 5, 2009


Before diving into our weekend of Slaabin’ around…we need to first mention our friend / mechanic / Jamacian guru Tony Chin and his brother-in-law Mark.

Tony and Mark were at the track all weekend, and in particular, with us Saturday night assisting us in repairing our clutch hydraulics. Upon leaving the track to go home…Tony and Mark got into a massive traffic accident at the entrance to the facility (they were t-boned by a Hummer in their Saab 900). Mark was lucky to walk away from the accident / hospital…Tony was not so lucky. Tony is still in the hospital, having broken all his ribs on one side, his shoulder, collar bone, and internal injuries. Tony is lucky to be alive given the accident, but needs all the help he can get (he does not have medical insurance). If you are interested in donating money to help Tony and his family, please let me know. All of the race teams graciously donated their winnings to his cause, and we are EXTREMELY grateful for their good will, thoughts, and donations. I believe donations for Tony are over $4,000 so far.

It was tough to race on Sunday with Tony and his family in such pain. However, the right thing to do was getting our Saab (and the other Saabs) across the finish line for him.

Its worth mentioning that on Thursday (sorry - no pre-party this year), we loaded up the car into the 18 wheeler after driving the car around the block.  ONCE.  As in 0.25 miles.  We strapped the car down, loaded up the trailer, then heard this giant hissing sound coming from the trailer. Yep – Dad’s sprinkler part redneck fix to our radiator hose burst (it turns out sprinkler PVC parts do not do well with 200 degree water...duh).  At that point, we were thinking our bad luck had reared its Swedish ugly head again, but were also thinking that if this is the worst the Swedish gods can throw at us, its going to be a piece of cake race.  Fat chance.

Its also worth mentioning that during our team dinner, Tony and Mark joined us to eat, but also to continue tweaking our car.  Yes - the night before the big race, we were still wrenching on the car.  NEXT RACE - we're going to be done a week before at least.  

(in this picture...the car is waiting for us to close up the trailer before pissing its water all over the place.  Evil evil car this one)

The entire weekend was a replay of “The Cold Winds of Hell Blowing in from Sweden”. It was cold, windy, and the perfect environment for a Norwegian Swede to show its stuff. .Our goal on Friday was simple:  
  1. to take it easy on the car, 
  2. get familiar with the suspension modifications
  3. learn how not to spin with our spin-happy tires, 
  4. get acquainted with our newly rebuilt Swedish rocket motah.  
To avoid the 19 page blog entry from the October 2008 race, let me summarize Friday a bit quicker, because it was FULL of minor issues ALL.  DANG.  DAY.  By the end of Friday, we thought we'd be chasing small issues non-stop.
  • Fuel cutoff:  We’d been chasing a fuel cut-off issue for a few weeks, with no avail (credit the dumb-ass team members involved).  The fuel cutoff problem continued to persist intermittently, and we tried every tweak known to NASA to get it sorted.  None of which worked.  Luckily - our Saab neighbor Lyle mentioned it might be a fuel pump issue.  BINGO!
  • Radiator Hoses:   We also were plagued by the Curse of the Busting Radiator Hoses. Not one, not two, but THREE busted hoses on Friday (in addition to the busted Sprinkler hose Dad put on the car). 
  • Wiring Harness: yes...Dad pointed out a week prior that our wiring harness looked like it got in a knife fight in Tijuana.  Yes...we melted the crap out of it on our exhaust header.  Unfortunately - yes, we had to rebuild the wiring harness on Friday.  
We don't have any pictures from Friday...maybe thats because we were grumpy as hell, our fingers were frozen, or we had no camera.  Choose the reason that works for you.  Here is a picture of the car in the pits to help you visualize though (its inaccurate in the sense that the hood is down though).  I believe I am telling Dad - "so, let me get this put SPRINKLER parts on the car?!?"

Its worth mentioning that a lot of the same cars are back, with some new ones as well. The themes at the race suck, apart from a few.  And we have the best paint job by far.  We’re a bit quicker than last year, but so is everyone else. We made it though technical inspection with a 1 lap penalty, partially due to our inability to explain the partially painted, new springs…and partly as an insult to our fine looking Swedish machine.

We’re feeling confident about our Saab after the midnight cannonball run (on retrospect - also highly stupid), and confident that our myriad of minor issues are behind us.   Our goal for the race is to finish in the top 50%, get no black flags, and stay on the track for long trouble free sessions. What could possibly go wrong with that Swedish / Norwegian Plan?!?  I mean, the longest our car had ever run on track was around 30 minutes (last year).

NICK – DRIVING SESSION #1 (11:30am – 2:00pm)
Nick starts the race again for the Slaabs, and manages to drive 18 trouble free laps, and then the gremlins continue. Turns out he’s losing the clutch. Fast. Nick comes into the pits, we notice there is contamination in our brake / clutch fluid, quickly try to replace the fluid, and send Nick back onto the track. The clutch has returned….only to disappear a few laps later. Nick comes back to the pits again, and we set about a lengthy 60 minute fix to the problem. During this period, we’ve dropped from 20th place to somewhere in the mid 80s (out of 97 cars). Nick manages to complete around 33 laps…all conservatively. Despite the faulty clutch…a good session.   Its worth mentioning that this is the 2nd race in a row that Nick has failed to submit a race report (just as a reminder - he speaks proper English...though he can't type a grammatically correct sentence without typos to save his life).  Lets move on.

DAVE – DRIVING SESSION #2 (2:00pm – 3:30pm)
Dave gets into the car with some clutch, and gets our race strategy back on track. Here’s his summary of his session:

Saturday session was delayed due to our clutch problem. After a long session of downtime, we were able to rig the car back together enough to put it back on the track. The car was driving great for about half of my session until I noticed the clutch began to go soft again. I had about a quarter of the pedal left and determined to prevent from incurring additional downtime I would no longer shift the car. My strategy was that for the few shifts we had left, I would save them for time in the pits to switch drivers. For for about 45 minutes I kept the car in 3rd gear the entire time. Under full green, this should not be a problem, but in this race and the number of yellows, it became a little tricky. Just had to pad myself between the car in front of me during yellows to allow for enough track to not have to shift into a lower gear to get going again. The session ended without issue and saved enough of the clutch to enable Phil to start his driving session without issue.

Dave started in 84th position, drove 43 laps (nothing fast), and handed it over to me at 3:30pm in 72nd spot. Not bad – steady and rising. It needs to be also noted that this is the longest, BY FAR, that our car has ever run without issue (well, apart from that clutch going out again).

I get in the trusty Slaab, get ready to pull out of the pits, and realize our clutch has about as much grab as Dave’s newborn daughter’s hands. I put the car in third gear, and never come back out of third until 90 minutes later. My driving session was pretty slow, apart from 5 laps where I was around another Slaab just like ours. My session was pretty clean and simple, with a LOT of yellow flags. Yellow flags tend to be traffic jams on the track with 70-90 cars going around, and lots of stopping involved. Now is a good time to remind the reader that we have no clutch…so stopping is not a good option. Thus, I become Captain Slow on the yellow flags, drop way behind the guy in front of me, which helps avoiding stops. It works, I bring the car into the pits, and Dad gets in.

I started in 72nd position, drove the car for 43 laps as well, and ended my session in 58TH. Top 50% is close!

DAD – DRIVING SESSION #4 (5:00PM – 6:15PM)
I’ve left enough clutch to get Dad onto the track, and that’s it.  Dad has also failed to submit a race let me summarize it for him (this is the price you pay for not reporting on your own driving sessions team).

Dad started in 58th position, and brought it home in 48th position to end the day. Top 50% exactly!!! We met our goal.   Dad, however, must be hard of hearing and losing his eyesite, since he ignored the explicit team directions of steady driving, not crazy driving.   He turned in the fastest laps of the day (and the fastest race laps we'd had yet in 2 races).  That night, he claims it to be driving skill. In his next sentence, he explains how he almost spun the car (and gotten a black flag) multiple times, saw the rear tires more than once, how he lost it in this corner and that, and generally sounded like he was driving like an large orangutan. Remember this…

That night, we set about to fix a variety of issues with the car (leaking fuel tank, broken sway bar, clutch), one of which requires Tony to go back to his shop for a spare part. After having a great time working together through the cold windy night, we bid Tony good night at 10:00pm. We leave 30 minutes later, only to find Tony’s wrecked car at the entrance to the track with 10-12 emergency vehicles around it (and the Life Flight helicopter on the way).

Dave and I spent much of the night at the emergency room, and returned Sunday morning to continue to see how Tony was doing. As a result, our trusty team of drivers (Dad and Nick) are at the track without our Patton-like management style hanging over their heads.   Last words out of General Patton Sunday morning - "forget speed - just finish the race".  Famous last words.

NICK - DRIVING SESSION #5 9:15 – 11:30
All I know of this driving session is that I received a text message from Bruce while driving to the track from the Hospital. “NICK HAS BEEN BLACK FLAGGED”. The language in the car between Dave and myself was not repeatable among such nice readers.  Nick can't type more than 3 sentences together, so let me just speculate that he was driving too hard, too aggressive, and out of spec for our team.  As a result - he came into the pits hopped up on British Testosterone, and got caught for speeding in the pit lane.

Nick ended the session in the penalty box / dog house after driving 49 laps (an all-time high for our car), gotten to 43rd place (that’s like a win to us, only to be kicked in the groin), and turned 11 laps that we classify as pushing it. The team is sorely lacking leadership. We leave the penalty box in 56th spot.

Below is what Nick had to sit in for 25 minutes.  Its not big. 

DAD – DRIVING SESSION #6 : 11:30 – 12:00
So you'd think the team would be totally keen on moving on from the debacle and getting us sorted again.  Right?  RIGHT?!?  No.  Dad goes out again and drives like a hairy mammal with no thumbs.  Yes - he had fast laps.  But since we weren't there to witness, nor has he submitted his own version of the story, my version will get published.  Dad managed to drive 14 laps (FOURTEEN!!!), set the fastest lap of our team (AGAIN), and spun. See a trend here? Dad gets an easy penalty – screw a tire to the roof. We wish he would have gotten the “take your shirt off and pose for a cowboy calendar” penalty. Dad drove the car for 14 laps, set a bunch of fast (too fast) laps, rose 4 spots, and returned back into the penalty box.

DAVE – DRIVING SESSION #7: 12:30-12:40
Dave has one goal, and one goal only. Pile up laps.   He could putter around in 1st gear, we wouldn't care.  We don’t care how slow, how ugly, how stupid…just don’t come back to the its for at LEAST 90 minutes.   Here is numnuts version:

Car ran great for five laps until I was tagged by a car as I approached the chicane and got black flagged. The incident, in my opinion was caused by the car in front of me on the back straight. After I rounded the corner onto the back straight the yellow 200SX (Browndo) was signaling me to pass. As I attempted to pass, they stomped the gas, and since every car is faster than ours, I had to slow down to avoid going head on into the tire chicane. As I slowed and started to veer behind the 200sx, the taxi rx-7 came in to the chicane hot and could not control their speed and hit the side of our car. As a result I spun as did the rx-7. The only thing that makes me happy about this is our car has barely a scratch and the rx-7 was out for the rest of the race.

Dave drove FIVE (5!!!!!!!) FRIGGIN laps…all too fast, and got in an accident. Surprise surprise. Look – now we have 2 tires on our roof.  

PHIL – DRIVING SESSION #8: 12:45 – 2:15PM
I drove the sloppiest, slowest, most conservative session ever. I was letting everyone by…hell, the tow truck was driving faster than me. My session was so unremarkable, I hardly remember anything about it, except that everyone else on the track was getting overly aggressive. I drove 45 laps, started around 58th, finished around 54th. That’s it. Just like the General ordered (I did manage to cockle up the fuel pit stop…I think I was delusional from all the slow driving).

NICK – DRIVING SESSION #9 – 2:15 – 3:00pm
Nick drives another 22 conservative laps, and brings the car back to the pits for the final session in around 50th spot.  We're finally getting back to our top 50% goal.  Notice that the General's presence has gotten the team back in order.  

Back in the seat for the last hour of the race. Upon climbing into the car I started the stopwatch on the instrument cluster. I knew I had an hour and my goal was to bring the car to the checkered flag. The car was running decent except there were signs the fuel pump was starting to go again, so it was starting to sputter under full acceleration. There was a point in my driving session where I started to get nervous and was driving more tentatively as a result. Like soldiers in a war, I was starting to play every move carefully as my tour came closer to its end. The stop watch had to go as this was creating my anxiety as every minute that went by I was more and more concerned about not making a mistake and not seeing the checkered flag. Like Luke Skywalker in the A New Hope, I turned off my instruments and decided to use the force to get me through the rest of the race. Now I was able to focus on just driving and decided to put the hammer down and finish in style. For the last five laps or so, I put the pedal to the metal and ripped off some decent laps (for this car). Finally, the checkered flag, mission accomplished, Death Star defeated, we're going home victorious (at least in our book of incredibly low expectations).

Dave managed the fastest lap of the race (for us), and brought the car home in 46th place. Considering all the events, problems, and dumbass mistakes we made, 46th is outstanding. Our car was the 78th fastest car out there (not so outstanding), but for 75% of the weekend, we were very consistent. And consistency does well in these races. We think that had we eliminated the clutch problems, our car was an easy top 25% finisher. Without the dumbass drivers on our team, we might have been even higher. Next year – the General never leaves the battlefield. EVER.

Here is a chart that shows our position over each lap.   Red is our team...Black is the other similar Black Saab, gray is the super fast 900 Turbo, and blue is the white 9000 (tony's other car).  The early drop in the line is all the clutch problems, and the drops in the middle area are the penalties.

Another item of note this year – this is the 2nd time a Saab has finished a Lemons race, and in our race…we had FOUR Saabs finish. Yes, we were the last place Saab (thanks Nick, Dave, and Dad). The other “Tony Saab” finished the highest, while the Turbo Saab had the fastest Swedish lap (kind of a back-handed compliment really).

Quick - which Saab is the best looking?

Plenty of coverage of the race out there…a Mustang won this year (1st and 2nd) and the car that won last year placed 4th. We hope to extract more power and speed out of this car yet, and assuming our wives do not divorce us anytime soon over this continued debacle, we would like to give it another shot in October in Tony’s honor.  

While I have made fun of my teams driving in this summary - it has to be mentioned that our team is a lot of fun and all of this is in good spirits.  Everyone gets along great, we're all the same type driver, our skillz are similar, and its a good fit.   We hope to keep the Dream Team together for more races!

(Tony, as of today, continues to progress at the hospital…and might be home early next week.)


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