Paris by Day, Dec 2002.
SCCA Club Rally
16 Nov, 2002 work begins full time on the rally car. Gary (my roommate) has convinced me to turn the old monza I have in storage (the Monztr, the yellow one with the BIG fenders) into an SCCA rally car. The SCCA is having a rally in Paris, Tx on Dec 14th. A rally is an event where cars have a driver and a co-driver and they go through a designated route as fast as they can. The course has not been driven by any of the contestants before the event and all you get is a route-book on how far to go and then which direction to turn. These are dirt or hard-pack road, usually NOT paved. So, basically it is driving down a dirt road as fast as you can, never having gone down the road before and having a navigator holler directions at you through the intercom in your helmet. Both passengers have on full fire suits and there are fire extinguishers in the vehicle, along with a full roll-cage and skid plates, full racing harnesses and racing seats, etc etc etc. We pulled the car back from San Antonio storage and went to work. Off came the old big fenders and the car got a thorough cleaning.
Pulled the big fenders and put on a spare nose while the 1LE keeps an eye on things.
The motor from the red road race monza came out and went into the rally car with a 4 speed behind it. A better rear end went in the car and using spare pieces from various cars we assembled a complete body. I think we used parts from 4 or 5 different monzas and had to dig deep in the attic for all the parts! With the body assembled we ran it over to a friends house and he painted it bright yellow for us. We figured if we went off deep in the woods, a bright yellow car should be easy to find!!! The weeks before the event become a blur as we settle into a routine of going to work in the morning, home by 1800 and working on the car till midnight and then starting it all over again.
Josh and Gary putting in the engine and Wendi putting on roll-bar padding.
Nick installing the instrument panel, and the Monztr had clear corners long before they were cool.
Our only break was Thanksgiving day which for my family was very nice and wonderful at Cathey and Jan's house this year. Friends are coming over in the evenings and helping as the last two weeks zoom by as we thrash (and there is no other word for it, we were in total thrash mode) and fight to get this car going. On weekends, Wendi is up helping and Gary and I live, eat and breathe rally car. Finally it is the week of the event and we actually get to drive the car for the first time. IT LIVES! I set the alignment by eye and camber gauge and on the night of the 12th we load the trailer with the car, the box of stuff that still has to be done, and every spare item we can think of that will fit in the trailer (and its a big trailer) and we are happy. The day before we put our required stickers on the car and I actually drove it to Exxon to fill the tank with gas! Friday the 13th (that has GOT to be lucky....for we are car #713) Gary and I head to Paris after a quick stop for more spares. We drive straight to registration and then take the car to technical inspection. I pleaded for them to let us do it in the morning as my wiring wasn't finished but they wanted to tech it right then so we let them. I actually was wiring up switches as they were checking items on the car! It was hilarious. Once they found out that the car had never rallied, the driver and navigator had never rallied, and that we had never even BEEN to a rally, most folks kinda blew us off. I guess they had never seen the Witchdoctor crew in action! Speaking of crew, Todd, Josh and Wendi show up late friday night and meet us at the hotel. The car has already been teched and all we have to do is show up to the Parc Expose for the morning at the Home Depot. Part of every rally is a car show/competitor inspection and we are due at the Home Depot parking lot from 9am till 1130. We show up on time, unload, and begin working on the car. To our surprise Tye and Liz (good friends of ours who live in Breckenridge, TX) show up and they both help out a ton! Everyone else is shining up their car and milling around, but the Witchdoctor crew is mounting driving lights, wiring up relays, running checklists, etc etc. Near the end of the Parc Expose, Todd checks out one of the All Wheel Drive (AWD) cars and speaks to the owners and finds out that they have more money in their wheels and tires than we have in our whole car! Yikes. At 1130 we load up and head out to Camp Maxey (which is a military reservation that lets us play on their miles upon miles of dirt road) and setup camp. Finally we get to some action! At the driver/nav meeting they go over the basics again (they had a worthless newbie rally school the night before...total waste of time) and assign us grid positions. We are gridded in the far back, but I dont care, I am just ready to go. We go back and suit up and bring the car to the grid. We are behind an Austin Mini that is running in the 'historic' class and it is very clean. The event orgranizer walks down the line of cars and as he gets to me starts apologizing profusely about our grid position. I tell him it is no big deal, but he says he told the seeder many times that I had a good deal of racing experience and that I should have been seeded in the top 5 cars. I tell him no biggie, and he goes forward to tell the Mini to watch his mirrors as we will probably catch him on this first 12 mile leg. We meander out to the start point and launch exactly one minute after the mini. I asked Gary if he thought we would catch the Mini and he thought we would on the second half of the leg. I agreed. Boy were we wrong!! We caught the Mini within the first 1.5 miles, thankfully on a straight part. He moved to the left, we went to the right, and I never lifted. Further up the course, we saw another competitor far off the course nearly into the trees. We get back from the first leg and ease into the pits.
The Monztr in service. Tye is heading in the trailer and Liz is wondering why some mud is going the wrong way.
Everyone asks how it went, and we tell them it was a total blast! The crew bleeds the front brakes (they were giving me fits), checks the suspension and undercarriage, and we have a few minutes to spare before we re-grid for the next leg. Surprise, they have re-done gridding and moved us in front of the Mini. Next leg starts and we roar off into the woods again. Gary is hollering distances and direction, but without a working odometer, I am guessing at distances. I know my approximate speed and can count, but we are still doing some navigation by 'dead reckoning'. This is just too cool. I am driving down a closed dirt road (no traffic but us rally folk) that I have NEVER even seen, I am going as fast as I possibly can (and still keep the car on the road) and Gary is reading a route book that is written in rally encryption and he is hollering directions at me while trying not to get us lost. We easily top 100mph on some of the longer straights. It is on this second leg that the 'barrel incident' happens. Sometimes, on long runs, the course organizer will put orange plastic barrels on both sides of the course so the competitors know they are still on the right path. In this particular section there were barrels about 20' on each side of the road. The road in this section was a long gentle left turn. While going somewhere above 80mph, I got loose on some gravel (the path was mostly dirt in this area, except the gravel part I failed to notice soon enough) and the car stepped over to the outside (right side) of the road and began to ease down the banking. I was counter-steering and trying to gather it back up on this long, fast, gentle corner and then I saw the blaze orange barrel and the trees about 100 yards beyond it. I had several seconds to decide what to do. I could: A) stay on the same path, whack the barrel (praying it is empty) and hopefully gather the car up before we meet the trees in the distance, or B) slow down, risk losing traction and sliding further down the embankment and possibly getting stuck. Since 'A' had more chance of making faster time, I kept trying to steer up the bank while keeping my foot flat on the accelerator. Sure enough, we whacked that orange barrel smack on the passenger side door and that barrel got out of there in a hurry. Not sure where it landed or even IF it landed coz we smacked it good. The bank got a little shallower and we eased on up to the road still going as fast as possible. The rest of the stage was relatively normal, but the brakes were still giving me fits and the rear suspension felt extremely soft. Three corners from the end of the stage the shifter locks into third and after I force it out of gear I can't find any other gear! I jam it back in third and limp thru the remaining 1/2 mile or so, and then go straight to the pits.
Todd and Tye get the car up in the air, fix the shifter, re-attach the right rear shock, re-bleed the front brakes and we are back in line just barely within the allotted 20 min service time. Way to go crew!!!! We even took a moment to look at the looooong orange skidmark on Gary's door. Again, we had passed another car on the stage and were allowed to grid another step higher! Gary's father showed up for the event and loaned us his video camera and we began in-car filming on this stage. There were five total stages and we got video from 3, 4, and 5. The third stage was another good run with only one mistake that was mine. I overshot one bend and went a little down off the road, gathered it back up and shot back onto the road only to find the road had turned and I overshot again! It was some furious driving and it all got caught on camera and is in the Rally Video that Gary made. The brakes were still a problem, but (other than the incident) we were getting better and smoother. During the next 20 minute service Todd and Tye performed a front brake job, installing some of the race pads from the red road-race monza, fixed a small coolant leak and topped off the coolant, checked over the car and sent us on our way. The fourth stage (gridded further up again due to passing cars) went well and Gary and I were finding a nice groove and I was beginning to get a feel for what to expect. We pass another car during this stage and bring the car back pretty much in one piece. The fifth and final stage was short and was, by far, our best stage. We recorded an exceptional time which vaulted us to 3rd overall and first in our class! The start of the second rally (in the dark) found us with a broken ground wire and we didn't make it to the first stage in time and got DQ'ed :-( I was sad more for the crew who had done an exceptional job of keeping us running and ready. With us out of the night rally, we loaded up and went to eat and got to the hotel for the awards ceremony. Getting the first place trophy for our very first rally was special and we will rally more. And not with a little V6. Plans are in motion to put a V8 in this thing so we can see how fast we can scoot across the dirt. Stay tuned.
Todd (Peace!), Costas, Wendi, Liz, Tye, Josh (leaning on hood) and Gary.
Could NOT have done it without your help crew!!!!!