Sunday, June 19th: More work in the shop in Denver. A very long week is coming to an end, just in time to begin another very long week. Finally, late in the day, we get the pink car loaded on the trailer and head to Campground in Cascade. We get the portable garage set up and grab a quick bite to eat up in Dave Carapetyan’s Campground Pit area. I head down to the office to settle up for my camp spot and it begins to rain. I hate setting up a camp spot in the rain and hope I can wait it out, but after taking a quick look at the radar, I see that the rain likely won’t let up any time soon.
A long day turns into a long night, as I finally get my tent set up and crawl inside hoping for a peaceful night’s sleep, before we load up for testing in the morning. It just wasn’t meant to be. Periods of heavy rain all night are amplified by the tightly stretched nylon rain cover. As if that weren’t enough, turns out my tent has a small leak. Not a big deal except that it’s positioned directly over my face. All night in the rain, in a tent that leaks onto my face…not exactly how I was hoping this week would start. Supposed to find some dirt and do some testing Monday…probably not.
Monday, June 20th:
Rain washes out most of the day. Drove the hill with Anthony for most of the morning and the sun comes out. Finally, after considerable debate, we decide to drag the car to South Park to do a quick test in the dirt. We drop down into South Park and spot a lonely dirt road, far enough off the highway that we shouldn’t bother local residents and shouldn’t be bothered by local law enforcement. Still, we decide not to doddle and unload the car quickly. After a quick warm up, I head down the road. The tires have surprisingly good traction in the loose dirt we’re testing on. The alignment and suspension set-ups seem to be pretty close to the mark, as well. The car launches hard and straight as a string and I’m getting through the gears cleanly and quickly. A little too quickly at first. I’m getting the car into the upper RPM band and when I shift, the tires bite hard and pull the revs down too far, killing my momentum.
After a few more pulls and taking some time to figure out how to feather the throttle, so I get bite and speed before shifting, I begin to feel more comfortable. I stop and talk to Anthony and we figure we have the data we need and decide to take just one more rip down the road, and see if we can get it a little sideways. I’m pointed the wrong way, so I flick the car around with some amount of confidence, jump on the gas and head up the road. I wave the back end of the car around a bit and find that she’s easy to recover and predictable. First time I’ve felt that in the dirt.
I finish my run and flick the car around and I immediately see Anthony, waving his arms and jumping up and down. Not in a good way. I take it easy getting back and pull up to his position and he immediately points to a dark spot on the dirt. Oil. Not good. We suspect a rear main seal or a front seal on the transmission. As Anthony is loading the car, I’m on the phone making arrangements to bring the car to Adam Kennedy’s shop, Revolutions Performance, in the morning. We head back to camp, grab a quick bite to eat and clean up. A good day was made a bit miserable with the way it ended, and now to add insult to injury, all I can conjure from the campground shower is cold water. Bummer.
Tuesday, June 21st:
Tech Day. But much like in 2009 we have trouble. We push the car through Tech and quickly then head over to Revolutions Performance. We get the car on the lift and disconnect the transmission. Roy Tomkins is here working on his car, as well and comes over to lend a hand. As soon as we got the trans apart from the engine, we can clearly see it’s not the rear main seal. What we find is a missing bolt in the front seal cover on trans. The bolt hole goes all the way into the interior of the transmission and that’s where the oil was pouring out. We spend the better part of the day removing and replacing the trans and do a complete fluid flush and fill. There’s lots of debris in the oil. This wear is probably more than just “break-in” debris, as well. Not much we can do here, since we have no spare.
Adam Kennedy is AWESOME and all the guys at Revolutions Performance are top shelf. Good stuff. We decide to pony up and take the car to PPIR for some testing. We get the car unloaded and have two good sessions on their infield road course. This is my first time driving the car on a big oval, as well, and it’s pretty fun. Not taking any chances, though, I take it pretty easy on the oval. The car starts to have a pop and bang in 2nd and 3rd under load. Fairly minor. I figure it’s just a miss. Check the plugs later and find nothing. Quick once over through engine bay reveals nothing. We load up and head back to the campground. It’s already late and 2AM will come quick. Finally on the hill tomorrow.
Wednesday, June 22nd, Practice Day 1:
Middle Section. This section is known as the W’s. A dozen or so hairpins, each requiring a push back into first gear. Our bone-stock transmission does not like this. We get underway and my times are not what I was hoping for. Tires are working well in the cool morning air with a cool road surface. The engine is popping and banging in 3rd and 4th under load, and I’m having to short shift. Feels like we’re giving away tons of time, and we are. Our times are mid-pack, but we feel we will do better when we find and fix the problem. I call Brice after practice and he suspects rich condition. Nothing we can do to change it now so we get the car ready for the next day’s practice. I get a chance to drive top portion of road for the first time and I love what I see. I’ve heard it’s fast and dangerous and it looks that way to me, as well. Should be really fun.
Thursday, June 23rd, Practice Day 2:
Top Section. This section covers Devils Playground to summit. We’re still popping and banging and having to short shift. We know we’re giving up tons of time, but still, we’re getting to the summit in a hurry. Disappointing, because we’re still mid-pack. Travis and I agree that it feels good to be on the summit again. We love the new pavement. It’s very fast, very scary, and it’s going to be great to do it, when we aren’t forced to short shift. It’s crazy, though. Going into a turn you realize a bit late, just how much speed you’re carrying. Jeff Zwart comments on this as well. He says particularly with his car being so quiet, he doesn’t realize just how fast he’s going.
After the second run we’re parked on the summit and we get the call to fire up and head back down. One minor problem…the car won’t start. We’re strapped in and yelling for the summit workers to help give us a push. Rhys Millen is there finishing an interview and sees us yelling for help. He runs over and leans into the deck lid and gives us a push out onto the road. This strikes me as funny and I yell over to Travis, “Holy sh*t…we’re getting a push start from Rhys Millen!!”
So, now the question becomes, are we having voltage problems or has the starter just sh*t the bed? Thinking about what the engine problem is, we wonder if there’s a low volt condition causing an injector problem and a rich condition?
We need another run so we get a push start, back to the line at Devils and head back up. Still popping and banging, but at least we got in some practice. I leave the car idling at the summit. I sincerely doubt that Rhys will be so good-spirited about giving us a push for a second time. Brice comes in tonight. We’ve already decided to get the car back over to Revolutions.
Once there, we find the starter is in fact, kaput. The problem with the engine appears to be a plug gap issue. We close down the gap to a very skinny .018 and get the Pink Car on the dyno. The new starter works great and we’re making it through 3rd and 4th now with no problems. Good, because we qualify tomorrow morning.
p.s. I can’t say enough nice things about Revolutions Performance. These guys don’t know us from Adam and they treated us like we were something special. GREAT people and a really great facility. I am so thankful for the support they gave us not only this day, but all week long.
Friday, June 24th, Practice Day 3:
Bottom half and qualifying. Having way too much fun in the dirt. Only took me three years to get comfortable. First time I ever heard the voice in my head wishing for more dirt. I start throwing around the steering wheel like I actually know what I’m doing. First time through Brown Bush and I toss the wheel into the corner, and hang the back end out longer than I have in the past. Travis gets wide-eyed and yells at me, Where did that come from?” Still driving pretty aggressively in the dirt and I almost lose it on the exit of “sump,” but we’re able to recover. That one instant gave me tons of confidence, that if we got out of shape we could recover. The car is straight as a string in the dirt and the brakes are really doing well. Even though we’re doing well, we still, to our disappointment, qualify mid-pack. I’m unsure about time. I know I made a few mistakes but it still felt much faster than the 6:03 we’re given. I missed a shift and blew at least two corners: Ski area and the switchback below Glen Cove. I feel like we can drop a ton of time if I can just make a clean run on Sunday.
Car seems to be doing well. Hiccup is gone, mostly. Something still isn’t quite right, but not really in a position to dig for it. I feel that if the trans holds together we should have a really good run on race day. I am still hoping to meet my goal of a 12 flat. Our best times, even being mid-pack in qualifying, suggest that we could very well make it if I run clean. The long week of practice is over and we head back to the camp and try to get some work done. But not before waiting two hours for breakfast. That was a nightmare. Any of you that have been to the place on the left as you’re coming off the hill, know exactly what I’m talking about.
We head down to the Springs and the host hotel to get credentials for Brice and Renee. Back up in Cascade we do a quick cleanup on the car and head back down to the springs for fan fest.
Grant Barclay is awesome. If it weren’t for him ponying up for the spot at Fan Fest, we wouldn’t have been able to make it. We end up being parked right next to Rod Millen’s Genesis, which is lucky for them, because I’m sure our Pink Car is the reason that Red Bull machine is getting more attention than it really deserves (tongue firmly in cheek). The night, as usual, is great. We get a chance to meet a lot of fans and I’m really surprised at how much people are following, the progress of the Pink Car. I finally get a chance to spend time speaking with Taz from Federal Tire; manage to miss the guys from Motul on two occasions. Once when I went to get some dinner with my Dad, Brice and Renee, and once again when I take the guys from Speedhunters and Tandem of Die over to meet Chris Nazarenus and Greg Tracy of My Life at Speed. I do get a chance to speak with them on the phone, though, and we agree to meet sometime later. It’s good to relax after a long and frustrating week. Fan Fest comes to an end and we load up the car and head back to the campground.
Saturday June 25th:
I leave the list of stuff to do with Anthony and he takes over. He and our other volunteer crew member, Cory, get to work on the car getting it ready for Sunday. I head out with Brice and Renee for the afternoon and we decide to head up to the Summit. They’ve never been and I’m anxious to see the road one more time before race day. Anthony and Cory, meanwhile, have gotten through the entire list and even had time to get a sketchy, ready-to-blow tire on the trailer fixed and get the new tires on the Pink Car scrubbed off. How did we get so lucky to find this kid? I dunno, but I’m glad he’s here. We decide to get a good night’s sleep and head back over to Anthony’s house for the night. For the first time in a week I’m sleeping in a very comfortable, real bed. Today, was a very good day…that worries me.
Sunday, June 26th, Race Day:
It’s finally here…It’s already here. It wouldn’t matter at this point if we did have a few more weeks to prepare. We’d probably still be only as prepared, as we are right now. I’m feeling comfortable. I know Anthony has taken good care of the car and besides that, everything just feels right. Sure, I knew a few things were nagging the car, but I felt as good as I ever have. The morning rolls on. Drivers Meeting is entertaining, as always, and we’re lucky enough to hear some inspirational words from none other than Fast and Furious star, Paul Walker. Travis and I even manage to trap him between Travis’ chair and the door of his pace car for a quick photo before he heads off to the summit.
The race is underway and things are moving relatively smoothly. We have a fairly early start time, so we head back to the car and start to get things ready. I load up and get the car out of the pit area and onto the main road so Travis can get loaded in.
Loaded up and in line for the start, things start to go haywire up on the hill. We’re delayed…and getting warm. This smacks of last year’s 45-minute wait when ACP hosed it up at Engineers. Time ticks by…I’ve been in and out of the car a couple times now to stretch and make a last minute pit stop. We’re almost two hours behind schedule. This is a problem for a couple reasons. One being my tires. We specifically went with the softer compound because we were set to start early, before the road and air get too warm.
We finally stage, and get the green flag. Once again we’re on our way. I spin the tires a bit on the launch and the engine revs out smoothly. We’re accelerating much quicker than last year and on the exit of the first turn, I’m already grabbing the shifter and pulling fourth gear. Which would have been great if it had worked. I pull the shifter back from third and there’s no fourth gear. This was not how we wanted to start. I tried going back to third and can’t get it to mesh. I find fifth, clutch again and the trans reluctantly slides back into third. I’ve already lost a few seconds, but I think we can recover. Most of the lower half is third gear for me anyway, so we power through the lower pavement, and even manage to find fourth gear just below Engineers and again at Picnic Grounds. But let me tell you, it did protest on both occasions.
In the dirt now and we’re moving pretty quickly. The run definitely feels much faster than qualifying and I manage to avoid the mistakes, that slowed us during qualifying.
Glen Cove comes and goes, then into George’s Corner and Cove Creek. We didn’t get to practice this section, but I feel like we make it through here pretty quickly. Climbing through tree-line and everything is going fine. Right up until I get to Ragged Edge. My first mistake. I’ve never made this mistake before…I just flat forgot where I was. Coming onto Ragged Edge, I was on the brakes like it was the hairpin coming onto the First Leg, only to turn the corner and see the long straight in front of me. I definitely gave up a few seconds here. We recover and continue through double cut and into the W’s.
When we make the turn onto the Third Leg and an unexpected gush of fluid sprays across the windshield; and steam and fluid are pouring through an opening in the firewall. Travis pulls his legs up and out of the way to avoid the scalding hot fluid. I glance at the gauges and both my water temp and oil temp are pegged. Something has gone horribly wrong. We are still pressing on, but the motor is clearly injured and our chances of making the summit are declining exponentially. I see my water temp gauge plummet as the system is now void of fluid. The oil temp is still well over 320 degrees. I’m sure now that we’ve blown the head gasket and the combustion is super-heating both the water and oil. I still have oil pressure so I decide to press on . I just ca’nt bear the idea of not making the summit. We’re limping, but making it up the hill. We shoot through Devils Playground and up around the bend down into Bottomless. I feel the motor starting to seize and the back end is getting loose. I’m not sure if we’re dumping a bit of water still, or if the motor is starting to hemorrhage oil.
A few more turns and I can really feel the motor giving up the ghost. More than not making the summit, I really don’t want to be the guy who dumps a pad-load of oil on the course and causes someone else to have an issue they didn’t deserve. I get through gravel pit and, with smoke and steam now pouring from the engine bay, decide that we’ve gone as far as we should. I get through the hairpin and pull over. I jump out to make sure there’s no fire and check on Travis. Everything is ok, so I hop back in the car and wait for the tow truck of shame to retrieve us. We’re towed up to Boulder Park and at the next break Travis and I are shuttled to the Summit. There’s no way Travis can sit in the car all day and stay healthy.
Being on the summit is bittersweet. For the first time in eight tries, I’m there without my race vehicle and I’m not pleased. I’m already thinking about what we’re going to do for 2012. Clearly, a new motor and transmission are in the plans, but what else will we do. With all the delays during the day, I had plenty of time to think about it.
Disappointed. I’m ready to get off the hill and get home to my family, who I haven’t seen for nearly a month. Being on the the road for a month, even to do something I absolutely love, is way too long. Hopefully I’ll have the budget to bring them with me next year.
Another year is over. Another year to prepare. I’ll spare you all the details of my long and uneventful drive home. I did get to spend a couple days in Grand Lake with my Dad and sisters on the way home. That was a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating year at Pikes Peak. BUT, we’ll repair and replace, tune up and dial in, and we’ll be back next year for another go. That’s the great thing about that giant, pink chunk of granite that we all beat ourselves against…it’s not going anywhere…and neither am I.
See you in 2012. – Ken Stouffer