Vegas to Reno, 2013

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Oh I know what you’re all saying, ‘Really? Vegas to Reno? What about the Baja 1000 write up?’ Look at it from my perspective. Baja was 15 people, 1100 miles and 42 hours. Not the easiest thing to wrap your head around. Although you can read about the chasing part here. V2R is simple. Only 545 miles and 19 hours. Piece of cake.

The race started out pretty much as planned. Marc behind the wheel and Kurt settled in as co-driver. The Van Tassel Family had made the trip down from Ely and set up close to the start line to watch their Dad kicking up some dirt. Marc spent his time out at Delle a few weeks earlier practicing nothing but starts so needless to say he nailed it. We were the 4th to last car off the line and by the time the rest of us had made it back to our chase trucks the construction crew had already started grading the road back to its pre-race plainness.

The Canguro chase crew was a mix of old and new with Baja veterans Jason Goates and Ryan Nakaya adding their experience to the enthusiasm of Brent Childs and Topher Maxwell. Rounding out the crew in Chase 5 were the Van Tassells. Darren and I were driving together again and for those who follow us on Facebook the news of Will Carroll joining Ryan is nothing new. After work took Dave Helm on the road for 3 straight months racing just wasn’t in the cards for him.

One of the great facets of Vegas to Reno is that the Chase trucks are constantly all over each other for the first half of the race. It makes for a lot of laughter and chatter on the radios as well as a lot of seeing each other. Well it also proved to be a huge benefit to the race car this year. The car ran great and fast through Pit 1 with Marc and Kurt passing a half dozen vehicles in the first 35 miles. Shortly after bombing right past Pit 1 Mathilda began to develop a grinding noise from the rear end. After a quick course-side assessment the noise was identified as a torn CV boot and the exposed joint was beginning to fail. The proximity of ALL the chase trucks resulted in an assault on Pit 2 and the CV was replaced within 20 mins and Marc and Kurt were back out on the course and lost to radio contact for the next hour or so as they went around the west side of a small mountain range. Once radio contact was re-established they had bad news for us. Our power steering was gone. We had lost our PS in Baja and after what we thought was a solid re-engineer of the set up this news was disheartening. Fortunately, again the entire crew was able to descend on Pit 3 for a fix and driver change.

Ryan tore into the cracked bracket with the welder. Then a larger more powerful borrowed welder/generator setup. We were ready to send Kurt and Marc back out when we realized our rack itself was cracked. Off came the broken rack and we installed our spare, non-power, rack. The entire pit took about an hour and Kurt took the helm of the now wounded Mathilda, powered by Armstrong. By now the temps were close to 110 and the wind relentlessly blasted the entire crew with sand. We were all a bit exhausted at this point and we were only a few hours into the race. Kurt summarized the perspective thusly…

“If you were to ask me what chance we had to finish the race as I rolled out of the pits… I would have given a 25%. We were just 20% done with the miles and the car was already in full limp-mode. Fast forward another 50 miles and we lose a second CV boot and subsequent joint, this time 25 miles out of the next pit. Would it hang on?”

Yep that’s right we lost a second boot less than 50 miles later. At Pit 5 Ryan and Will would be taking over the car and while doing our second CV swap a bent brake line was identified as the culprit. At this point something magical happened and I’ll speak solely to my perspective.

At Pit 5 the chase crews had begun to go our separate ways as the course starts to stretch out and the pits are farther apart. Darren and I had gone ahead to Tonopah to get some food and gas for my Cruiser, with the responsibility of going to Pit 6 to monitor the radio and be there to check the car just in case. Racing Mathilda without power steering is far different than driving on paved roads (for those of us old enough to remember) without it. The speed makes it easy to turn the car but the lack of any hydraulics means your hands are absorbing ALL of the impact. I was coming off a broken hand and was not looking forward to subjecting my hand to hours of abuse. Darren and I were both tired, dejected and not optimistic about us even driving the car. Then a funny thing happened. We were able to get Will and Ryan on the radio about 10 miles out of Pit 6. The car was running great and more importantly Will sounded like he was on the verge of laughter every single time he transmitted. His joy and enthusiasm were hilarious. Will had zero seat time in Mathilda prior to the race and the giddiness of his first miles of competition was contagious. Instantly my spirits were lifted and Darren and began to laugh and were now looking forward to getting in the car even though we had 5 hours of chasing to go prior to it. They rolled into Pit 6 and we did a quick check of the CV boot. With the cause of our issue identified the car was clean and ready to move. Our 30 second pit put our team back into race mode and they were off into the sunset.

About a week after the race Ryan and I were swapping stories about the race and he told me something that perfectly illustrates Will’s attitude during the race. This requires a quick digression however. I’m sure each race team has their own processes for communication and in-car responsibilities. One of the reasons we keep the same teams is that they become second nature. Race notes, communication, lights, gauges, etc all happen without discussion after you spend some time with someone in the car. Ryan had worked out with Dave Helm that when the driver needs a rag to wipe their visor you just hold out your hand where the co-driver can see it and he passes the rag over. Darren and I do the same (although in this race without power steering the co-driver would just reach over and wipe the driver’s visor so that two hands could stay on the wheel) and it takes place without talking. So about an hour into Ryan’s stint driving they hit their first silt bed. Ryan instinctively reached out expecting a rag in return. Will’s instinct was to high five him and proclaim through the radio ‘this is awesome.’ I was in stitches when I heard this story and I really hope we have video of it. Hysterical.

About an hour after dark that enthusiasm was tested when Ryan came hot into a silt bed, was blinded for the first 20 yards and in attempt to find clean air left the course and sunk into the bottomless sand. A 30 min effort of jacking, digging and sagebrush stacking and they were back rolling, very sweaty, dirty and tired but rolling. Less than an hour later they bombed into Pit 8 for their driver swap, huge smiles on their faces and in a flash they were gone. Will only stalled Mathilda twice on the way out of the pit. Ryan said Will was a natural behind the wheel and their ascent into the mountains went flawlessly. They ran incident free for the next two hours and came into Pit 10 still smiling and laughing despite the exhausting effort required to manhandle Mathilda down course.

Darren and I climbed in the car 8 mins after midnight with 193 miles between us and the finish line. We would be without radio communication for the first 40 miles or so as we climbed back into the mountains. One of the last things we heard as we wound our way up the rough, rocky and jack rabbit filled canyon was ‘hey the guy in the pit said there is a huge silt bed at Race Mile 371 and a few cars are stuck. Stay right to avoid it.’ Darren battled his way up the canyon for the first 15 miles or so then quickly down the back side. The clouds began to break up and the moon was a casting an eerie light over the landscape. We had a few dangers to avoid as we worked our way down from the saddle and I kept thinking 371, 371, 371. We came out of a sharp right and spotted 2 cars stopped in the road about a ¼ mile away, RM368. I told Darren ‘I think this is it, stay right, stay right!’ He tried to overpower Mathilda and she bit back snapping the wheel out of his hand as he tried to climb out of the silt filled trench. We were stopped. The 4 drivers of the two stuck cars were out and digging the silt, and according to Darren looked like zombies. The first set help push us out to the left and we made it out of the silt. We decided to return the favor and agreed to pull them out. On the second pull they came right out. We tried to pull out the larger truck but in our little car we had no luck. The car we pulled out crossed the finish line (spoiler alert) about 45mins after we did and they told us they’d been stuck for an hour when we got there and the truck had been there 3 hours. We got lucky.

To avoid the silt we edged down the left side of the road until eventually we got lost out in the sage brush. We came across a six foot ledge and I decided to get out and spot Darren back to the course. All told we spent about 35 mins in the silt bed/sage brush. Once back on course we made great time over some smooth and quick roads. We covered the next 130 miles in about 3 hours. Along the way we did a quick driver swap, nosh, and got gas (thanks Ryan Nakaya and Will), watched a blood-red moon set, passed a half dozen cars, and experienced a gorgeous sunrise. A creative course volunteer had marked a tricky intersection with Christmas lights with about 35 miles left. At that point I took a long pull on the Camelbak and thought to myself ‘that’s the last drink I need, we’ll be done in a half hour’ as the roads I had been on were superfast and with the sun coming up I could make even better time. Well 2 hours later and without an ounce of energy left Darren and I crossed the finished line at an enthusiastic 73mph. The first 34 of the final 35 miles were brutally rocky and steep. I couldn’t go slow enough to smooth it out without stalling the car so I just battled in first gear for an hour up one side of the mountain and was able to even get to second gear going down the backside toward the finish line. We passed two broken cars along the way and I’m pretty sure I lost the conscious mind of my co-driver for about 40 mins. The desert smelled of cookies, the light was sublime, the mountains looked, let’s say majestic, and all I could focus on was the finish line. So back to Kurt’s question. Would the car hang on? Well he answered it…

“Amazingly it did… as did the steering as the next two teams muscled her through the rough course and through the finish line. Matilda for the win. I attribute the finish solely to team work, each driver/co-driver race team worked together to pass the car off but our pit crew really came through with much needed repairs, spares, moral support and motivation to push it through to the next pit. Go Canguro!”

I couldn’t agree more. Our crew was awesome. Let’s not forget Cory Fillmore and Jason Call who stared at a computer screen for 19 hours and updated the entire crew via text throughout the race. A race team with six drivers is a unique situation and one that most people advise against. But I think we’re proof that it can work and that the friends we have crewing for us turns a unique situation into a special one. We’re proving that we can battle through our adversity and finish races despite them. Next up, start winning races.

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