I'm a dirt racer. Put me out in the desert and I know exactly what to do. Put me on the pavement, well that's another story.
I figured the easiest way to get some pavement experience was to join a LeMons team. That's how I found myself under the tutelage of Speedy Cop and his Gang of Outlaws.
Calling ourselves the DC Delusional Racers, we bought Speedy Cop's old Suzuki x-90 and found a 1996 1.8L Miata engine with 50K miles on it. Our Haynes manual became well worn, we drank way too much beer, but we finally got the damn thing to start up.
We all had high hopes for the Real Hoopties of New Jersey. Things started with more wrenching as our fuel cell didn't pass tech and we needed to modify the support frame. Which meant welding. Which none of us could do.
Here's the thing about LeMons: everyone is fucking awesome. I had not one but two teams offer to help. I didn't even have to bat my eyelashes, they just...helped.
The next morning we were ready for the green flag. We decided to put our Australian driver in first because he A) has never driven the car B) has no race experience and C) has never driven a manual with the shifter on the right hand side. What could possibly go wrong?
He took the green flag and had an astounding 20 minute run, but came back into the paddock behind a tow truck. The water hose rubbed against the exhaust manifold, melted, and you know what happened next. Ka-BOOM went the head gasket.
It had taken us months to get this engine into the car. Now here we were at the track with limited tools and time. But true to LeMons, a veritible Miata God came out of the sky and led us through quickly changing the head gasket and checking the valves.
Right around 3pm I got suited up, thinking, "Dear Lord, I know I'm kind of a heathen but please don't let this car blow up on me."
My prayer was for naught as she wouldn't start. We started back at it, replacing the fuel injectors, the fuel regulator, and modifying the timing. At 1am she still wouldn't start. We fell into bed exhausted and out of ideas.
The next morning we rustled up a compression gauge (yes I know we should have done this the day before. Shut your pieholes, I'm learning.) and found that while we had fuel and spark, we didn't have compression. Miata God said he would help us pull the engine and look at the bottom end. After a few hours we got the engine and transmission out, checked the pistons and found them scorched, the bearings shot, and the rings not very happy.
We finally had to admit defeat. Well, first the team tried to pull the engine out of my Miata. I said GTFO and don't go near my car, THEN we finally had to admit defeat.
To add insult to injury, I forked over $500 for Nomex undercrackers. I ended up borrowing a pair from someone as the track store told me I could return them if I ended up not needing them. Imagine my surprise when they wouldn't let me. So now I have a LeMons car scattered about the metro Washington DC area (Speedy Cop has the car, the engine/trans are in one place and all the spares at another) and a set of fireproof drawers that I don't really need.
But you know what? It was the most fun I've had at a race in a really long time. Sure, we were working our butts off in the heat, but everyone was helpful, everyone offered encouragement, and everyone wanted to see us succeed. The guys next to us even offered us a 30 minute stint in their Mercury Cougar, another old Speedy Cop car.
When the track went cold, the beers came out and the music came on. Everyone was willing to share what food, drinks, and knowledge they had. Desert people are the same, but not to this extent. This really was a special weekend. I don't know when we'll be back, but we will. The x90 will rise again.
****ADDITION**** The fine folks at New Jersey Motorsports Park just sent me an email and said they will accept my return for the unused undercrackers. This means I have $500 to go towards a 2 layer suit. Thanks so much, NJMP!