Saturday, October 18, 2008

Saturday - Race Start

We started the morning with stops at the auto parts store, the gas station, and the grocery store before arriving at the track to get the rest of the team up and hopping. Lois and I wiped water off of the truck and put the Lemon Hauler decals on the truck's bed cover. Each driver and build crew member had a lemon with their name on it and there was a large lemon with the team name, "The Professionals," and another large one with "Lemon Hauler" on it. A few items needed attention on the truck (i.e. tire pressures, fluids check, fuel, etc.) before the guys gathered in Phil's motor home for a team meeting. Chris went over various items in the rules issued by the race officials and took input from the rest of the team regarding strategy and driver order. They agreed to stick with the order they pulled yesterday since it seemed to work well.

Since the number peeled off of the hood during the trip over and it was looking a little bare, we found a black marker pen and drew a math equation on the hood that best described how we came to where we were starting the race.

All said and done, we were off to the driver's meeting.

After all the introductions and thanks to various volunteers and workers, Jay got serious about a few of the race rules and procedures, one of the officials from MSR-Houston went over flagging and track rules, and the Judges came forth regarding the depth and breadth of their wrath should a driver or team incur an infraction. Nearby was the Wheel of Misfortune and explanations of the terms of the penalties to be paid should a driver be black-flagged to come off the track to visit with the BS Judges. (Look in the slide show above for photos of the wheel and penalties.)

When the driver's meeting adjourned, there was only about 15 minutes before the cars would be let out on the track at 11:30 a.m. Chris Wilken got suited up and Mike, Robbie & Dennis cinched his belts and hooked up the radio in his helmet. Our paddock was right next to the pit out gate so he didn't have far to go to get onto the track. Chris' wife, Lois, and Mark's wife, Angela, and I went up to Brent's condo to watch the start of the race.

The Cajun Rice Burners, our friends from Baton Rouge, with Bryon Rome behind the wheel, were first out behind the pace truck and Chris was in 6th position. After about an hour of pace laps due to transponder issues with a multitude of race cars, the green flag finally waved for the 76 cars slated to race in this event. It was 12:29 p.m. and the race was on! Our team strategy was for each driver to go out for 1-hour stints, but it didn't always work that way. Yellow flags, fueling, driver changes, and the occasional incident altered the plans.

Chris made a lot of passes and even got as high as 4th place at one point. He came in for the driver change at 1:06 p.m. after an hour under pace laps and a half hour under race laps. Timing sheets were posted about every hour. At 1:30 p.m. we were scored in 16th place with 32 laps and a total race time of 59:20.062. The team's best lap time was 1:22.344.

Mike was the next driver and he did well in the Danger Ranger during his stint. He raced hard against the car that was leading the race, the light blue Toyota of the Schwing Team which was made to look like the AMC Gremlin from the movie, Wayne's World. He said the truck was easy to drive but the stick shift seemed to "run around" and was never in the same place when he went to grab it. Huh?? At 2:30 p.m., we had moved up to 7th place with 65 laps and a total race time of 1:.58:50.039. Mike also snagged the fastest lap for the team with a 1:22.165. We're not doing bad at this point! Remember, we started 14 laps down!

The next driver change put Phil LaHaye in the driver's seat. Phil was doing well, moving through traffic and staying clean. Suddenly, he was coming in off the track and heading for our paddock. It was 3:00 and he was in earlier than scheduled. Hopefully nothing was wrong. As the truck came through the pits we noticed that the front bumper was hanging. That was not a good sign. When he came to a stop, the front right tire had a groove cut into it from the bumper and it was shredded but not flat yet. The radiator was leaking and it appeared to have been punctured from the motor side.

The team sprang into action as Phil got out of the car. Robbie grabbed a jack and started changing the tire. Chris got to work on removing the front grill and getting the radiator out while Dennis took the sawzall and cut the ends of the bumper off. There wouldn't be any more tires cut from the bumper if the truck took another hit in the front! Once the radiator was emptied and taken out, Mike fixed the hole with JB Weld. After a 5-minute period to dry, the radiator was replaced and refilled with water.

Mark Summers was next up and Phil helped him get strapped in. By the time he pulled off, only 30 minutes had passed. Hopefully we haven't lost too many laps.


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