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  • Writer's pictureKelsey

Relapsing in Mexico

I had stayed on the “not racing” wagon for almost 4 years.

So, back a million years ago there was a college kid sick and tired of looking at books, but he needed some “on the job” hours to graduate. So, he decided to be an accountant at a local fabrication shop in Tucson, AZ. He did accounting for about a half hour each day after class and then spent long hours into the wee hours of the morning working on race cars.

He helped and watched day after day as tubing hanging on the wall was formed into a racecar. He learned what he could and helped where he could. Eventually that racecar was done and he raced it all over with his new buddy in Arizona, Nevada, Sonora,MX. and Baja California, MX. Some years later the old racecar was cut up and scrapped after many crashes, rolls and endo’s, some of which he performed himself.

Those old parts were reused on a new single seat car. Faster and lighter it kept racing while the college kid was now busy with life, work and other activities. He almost never made it to races and never had time to spend long days into the wee hours of the morning working on and prepping the car, but sometimes, just occasionally he got the call from his buddy to come out and jump in the old car.

(When the waist belt is too big, just tie it into a big old knot!)

(Settling in)

Last weekend was one of those such times.

  • Sonora, MX. The Sandstorm 300. - Feb 24th and 25th, 2017

So named because it covered 300 miles of within the state of Sonora, MX not far from Rocky Point, MX. These were mostly old race courses strung together so bits and pieces were faint memories as I bounced around like a bird inside a cage being shaken by a gorilla. People often don’t realize that the little 1600cc limited buggy class is often the largest class in desert racing. It’s the most bang for the buck class. These little sub-100 HP engines can propel these light buggies to great speeds over the desert, but the limited wheel travel means that it’s about the most brutal ride in the desert outside of a class 11 stock VW Bug.

We went out testing on Friday and I quickly realized the seat was not meant for a person as small as I. Struggling to sit high enough to block out the blazing sun and seatbelts too loose I bounced around inside for 20 miles knowing I needed to fix a few things. I pulled off the 2 sizes too small helmet to revel a red bloody bump on my forehead. The penalties of no longer owning your own equipment. I hopped out of the car in my XXXl firesuit hanging on me very similarly to the style of low crotch hammer pants. I don’t care, I will endure anything to race again.

(Brent’s other car, the fastest around, sitting next to me. He was starting right behind me. How long can I hold him off was the only goal)

-We put towels from our subpar Mexican hotel room on the seat, I borrowed a helmet that was 2 sizes too big, but wore a headsock and a hand towel also from the Laos Mar hotel. It was good, enough.

Off we went into the desert as the sun rose. The GPS wasn’t able to find it’s location and the radio was completely dead. I was all alone and not entirely sure of the course. Just like old times. I smiled whenever I hit a smooth patch. The not so smooth bits in between feel like your insides are breaking apart. The first time in a 1600 car I really believed something inside me had burst and I may not be okay. It’s just part of it. Good driving helps, but a willingness to endure pain helps more.

I’d say I spent half the race in the air, but I genuinely think it was 1/3rd of the race so I don’t want to overstate it.

(Coming in for splash #1. Turbo Golf cart coming up behind me.)

(No header nuts... well, fire it up and get to it!)

Not too far into the race I felt like I was down on power. I remember my buddy saying I should be able to pull 3rd and 4th gear the entire course, but I was only managing 2nd and 3rd just barely. This was frustrating so I upped the pain quotient. In the turns the engine would almost die and I’d struggle out of the turn in first or second gear at best. That meant I had to take up the slack in the rough bits.

Just 50 Miles in I stopped to splash for fuel because this car could not make it the 125 miles that each loop consisted of. (In addition to a one time 55 mile entry from the start) They told me to shut it down and I sat helpless in my 5 point harness wondering what in hell was going on. What was wrong. Did it have anything to do with the blown apart oil filter that took place just as I started the car that morning to head to the start line. (Did I forget to mention that upon the initial start up at camp this morning the oil filter blew off the engine and pumped oil everywhere? Just another day in racing old VW engines.)

No, it was the header nuts. They decided to work themselves free so the engine had no back pressure. That made more sense regarding the power. After a minute of scrounging for nuts that fit, they told me to go for it. Looks like I was almost keeping pace with 2nd place despite the engine dumping the exhaust straight out the sides so why waste more time in a pit in the middle of no where without the parts I needed. Off I went with the loudest car around.

Somewhere around 120 miles into the race I found a section that I either had to roll through (Meaning, not getting any air) or hit hard. I kept my teeth apart and tongue out of the way to keep from biting it and hammered myself and the car as hard as I dared. I knew that I was making time by enduring it so I just kept on. The thought of coming around to this spot again made me tear up a little. I really wanted to never see that section again. I’d do anything to avoid it.

We splashed fuel again and I heard that despite how slow I felt I was only 5 minutes off of 2nd place so I turned it up a notch. I was having fun, immense fun. The pain seemed less important now. Maybe I was a bit numb. (The cut on my neck from the seat belt harness that looks like a burn to my coworkers tells me maybe I wasn’t feeling much by this point). I kept hammering. Every sighting of dust in the distance that might be 2nd place spurred me on to take more chances. I drove off a little waterfall of maybe 5 feet while driving down a section in a wash. “Don’t get stupid Tim, come on, take it down a notch.” I hit a bump way too fast and walked the front tires and felt a familiar feeling to when I’d last endo’d the car end over end almost a decade ago. “DON’T YOU DARE.” It was going good, the car seemed even slower for some reason. “COME ON YOU PIECE!!!”

Just after passing the finish line for the second to last time I headed back out for the final loop. I was within a mile of my next splash and go fuel up and the idiot light came on. “OH NO! Don’t you dare!” I tapped it and covered it with my gloved hands to try and make sure I was really seeing it. Just then the car went silent. I rolled to a stop next to a ramshackle village. I tried the backup fuel pump, shut off the helmet’s air pumper and tried to start it for a minute. Nothing.

I was now surrounded by little kids. Crawling all over the car and asking questions. I pulled off the helmet’s cords, the 5 point harness that was so tight it hurt everywhere it touched and crawled out. The fan belt was off. These engines cook almost instantly without the fan spinning. I called my buddy (Glad I got that Mexico cell coverage) and within minutes of hanging out with my new friends he was bashing his nice Dodge fullsize down the course to help me. If we fixed it fast there was still a chance.

The alternator bolts had come loose and let it spin, that threw the fan belt off due to lack of tension and without the cooling of the fan the rings had turned molten lava colored and disintegrated. The engine turned over and you could even push the car while in gear. There was NO, I mean zero, compression. My race was done.

Crushed, but all too used to these high rates of attrition in desert racing. I told K I just need a beer and to keep them coming. I hopped back into the race car I’d killed for the shame and sand in your face ride back to the start finish line to watch the others finish. I felt bad for and I was mad at the car at the same time.

All in all, attrition was about 1/3 of the entire field. It’s a rough old course with whoop-dee-doos as big as cars out there. No matter, I could feel this desire to race again. This desire to do whatever it took to get behind the wheel. This sickness, to forget saving/retirement/relaxing vacations and anything else that gets in the way of racing is strong. Too strong maybe. I think I’ll keep my distance and maybe just race every once in a while, but not get my own car. That would just be too expensive. There are some good used deals on race ready cars though. I mean, if I took care of it, I bet I could get a whole season out of an engine. It’s not that expensive... right. I mean, I don’t want to race full time, I just want one more shot to win. Just one more.

Maybe I’ll call Brent to see if we can get it rebuilt by May.

(All of the finishers cars were in various states of pain.)

(Broken torsion bar... not gonna stop and he won the race with it like this)


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