Between Nationals in October and KOH we made several improvements and did a lot of testing to the car. We replaced our old and beaten up front axle with a Ruff Stuff fabricated Ford 9”, which we added a True Hi 9 third member, Reid Racing C’s and Knuckles and Dutchman custom axle shafts. We also fine tuned our transmission, and found a faulty EFI unit which was replaced and the faulty one rebuilt.
We arrived to the lakebed the Wednesday before our race, to a very windy situation. We set up camp as best we could, and prepped for our shock tuning which would be Thursday morning. Thursday came with some wind, but not as much and cool temperatures. We made several passes and Fox made adjustments to our shocks, improving the speed and ride each time. They recommended a valve change to the rear shocks so we left the rear shocks with Fox. This was also the first time my co-driver, Kory Merrill, had been able to ride in the car. He was surprised by the ride and speed we could get from the car. Thursday afternoon the race course was released and all got to review the course and begin to make plans for our pit strategy.
Friday morning, we began our pre-run of the first loop, which is mostly a desert course. The car felt good, we made quick work of the sand hill, clean through the ridge area and out to the open desert. We ran at a good pace to test out our suspension and final check of the car. We made it to Race Mile 20 when the driver front shock went through the fender, and beat up the brake booster. We turned back there and nursed the car back to camp. We used our onboard welder to patch her back together back and camp, and give her a once over.
Saturday morning came and we again planned to pre-run the course. We only made it 2 miles when some of the welds broke off and we went back to camp to make more complete repairs. We were able to borrow a 120v welder, which we used to make a more substantial repair. We finished up the repairs about lunch time, and headed back out to pre-run. We ran the course much more conservative, and made it to Cougar Buttes, where we could not make sense of the course, but felt comfortable with our ability to negotiate the terrain. We turned back to camp after Cougar Buttes. On the way back we got lost, and ran into some very rough terrain, which provided some good practice for us. The brakes also failed us on the return, with the booster finally failing from the abuse the shock gave it.
We were able to get the order in for a new booster to Daniel Alvarez, our crew chief who was leaving late Saturday to come out to KOH. On Sunday morning, we headed over to the BFG Garage, to install the new booster and re-do some of the welds we made to the shock mount. The BFG Garage did some great work helping us which was much appreciated. In checking out the car, we found the pitman arm had wallowed out the splines, and was no longer tight, so replaced it with our spare. and prepared a new spare.
Monday morning we fabricated the parts for a spare pitman arm, which we brought to Ruff Stuff to weld. We then watched the stock class qualify, which went terrible. They could not find the stock by-pass, had trouble getting up the difficult line, and had trouble with a rock descent. We discussed our strategy, and then scouted Chocolate Thunder and Backdoor, picking out our lines and strategies for race day.
We lined up for qualifying, and because Albert Contreras did not make the race, we were first to qualify. We had a lot of time on the live feed while they waited for our time to qualify. We left the line clean, went full out to the loose uphill. The car felt great and handled all we threw at it. At 1/3 up the uphill, the steering wheel popped off, we stopped and put it back on with little time wasted. Kory mentioned that everyone probably thought we just shifted into low range. We continued on the course and came around the hill, looking for the entry to the stock by pass. We finally saw a way into it, backed up and went through. We made it through the rest of the qualifying course cleanly and got a 3rd place start despite the trouble we had.
Tuesday was Tech and Contingency, so we prepped the car for tech and got in line just about 12 pm. At the first station we had an issue with the brake light- it did not seem to be working. We continued on while trying to fix the brake light. It turned out that the new brake booster had a different swing, and was not switching off the brake light switch, so the brake light was on continuously. This was remedied before the next station, which they accepted, but found the amber light was not going on when the car was started. We negotiated on this for a long time, with the tech inspector finally agreeing to pass us, but we had to fix this before the next race. We had no more issues with Tech and finished up a little after 3 pm. We went back to our pits and prepped the car for race day. We had a driver’s meeting a 7pm. We found out the stock classs had a few more by-passes and would not have to go down Back Door. Late in the evening I decided to check tire pressures. During this, the arb compressor failed. Luckily I had spare relays and fuses, so Kory was able to get it working again.
Wednesday morning arrived early and cold. We warmed up the car for about a ½ hour then went to line up the car. Cars arrived slowly and by about 7:15 most of the cars were in line. We mingled and talked with many of our competitors, hearing the challenges they had faced and how they felt about the course. We then put on our safety gear and got in the car for the start. On the way to our start, I saw my wife, our grand kids and daughter. It felt great to have their support.
We started the race well, getting ahead of the car we started with, and making our way to the sand hill. It was very congested, and we could not get a good run at it. After 4 attempts, we took a by-pass. We lost many positions there, and continued on our way making it cleanly through the ridge area, across the desert. As soon as we got to the desert area, the car began to load up, and I had to stop and clear out the fuel injection unit every couple of miles. We finally discovered the car ran best in 2nd gear, going about 30-35 mph. This really slowed us down, but we were still moving forward. We went through all the possible causes, and decided it was the O2 Sensor. We made it to pit one, and the pit guys gave the car a thorough once over. No other issues were seen, so we continued on. When we got to a good communication place, we radioed our main pit to send a spare O2 sensor to pit 1, and we would replace it when we went through again. We made steady, but slow, progress on lap one back to pit 1. The guys did a great job replacing the 02 sensor, and Kory found the pitman arm had loosened, and tightened that up. We tested the car with the new sensor before heading out, and she sounded great. We left the pit and car felt and sounded great. We made it to guacamole, and immediately got a flat, which we replaced and continued without incident. We did hit some traffic on the short course, made it to our pit, where we filled up on fuel and replaced our used spare with a fresh one. We headed out for lap 2, and soon heard our driver rear corner slamming onto the bump stop, something had happened to that shock. Turned out the reservoir was gone and all the fluid was on the race course. This limited our speed in rough terrain, but on flatter areas we could carry speed. We were clean all the way out to Aftershock, where we had traffic again, running behind 4 or 5 cars. We made it through, and got another flat at the exit. We changed this flat and continued to pit 2.
At pit 2 the car got a once over and the used spare was replaced with a fresh one and we were off. We had 2 hours to go as far as we could. We continued through the rocks without any trouble, ending up at Chocolate Thunder about 5:20pm. We had only scouted the canyon, and thought the only line was on the right around the boulder. We got up to that point without trouble, but at the entry we got hung up and just could not get in good position to go around the boulder. We finally hooked up the winch and that pulled us into and across the boulder, but we got through. At this time it was 5:40 or so, and we decided to call our race and headed back to camp.