No Race in Mexico
But That Doesn't Mean
Saturday Wasn't Interesting
Just because it's planned doesn't mean it happens the way you expect it to.
My usual M.O. when I come out West for a race is:
Show up a week before the race
Prep the Dez
Give the Dez a shakedown run
I left Ohio on Friday morning after Thanksgiving and headed to Tulsa, OK to hook up with my co-driver James and his son Chase. Chase races BMX and had been invited to the Grand Nationals Invitational. The plan was to spend the weekend watching Chase do his racing and then James, Chase and I would head on to Phoenix. Chase kicked butt and took 5th over all in his class (13 Intermediate) - Damn fine for someone that's only been racing for about a year! Congrats!
I arrived at ATV Racing on Tuesday, November 29th and got busy. After the last Snowflake Race, the Dez needed some work:
I needed another new alternator - something had taken out a few of the windings during the race
The engine needed tuning - it had laid down very badly during the race
One of the CVs and boots was in need of replacement
The rear brakes were toast again
The Team Tech harnesses had been sent back for recertification and needed installing
And, in general, the Dez needed a full race prep.
Time to get to work.
I went after the easy stuff first - alternator was replaced, safety harnesses installed, CV & boot (I can't describe how much I despise CV grease - nasty black goo from Hell) were replaced. The rear master cylinder was worn and leaking internally - time for a new one. All the nuts and bolts on the chassis were checked too.
Next thing to tackle was the engine issues.
I have one and a half engines for the Deztaz. One in the car and one as a spare. The spare's toast beyond reasonable money repair (bottom end/case issues) - so I have parts and an engine.
The first real engine in the Dez was out of a 2000 Thunder Cat. It has a more advanced ignition system that includes a TPS (Throttle Position Sensor) and from day one, we've had some funky issues with it. Half the time the ignition wouldn't shut down with the kill switch, sometimes the engine would light right up, other times it would get an intermittent spark - like I said, funky things - our guess is that the Dez had some welding done at one time or another and the CDI unit wasn't unplugged - zap. This is also the same engine that suffered a moron mechanic's oversight at the dunes. When it was put back in after the dreaded Snowflake Race of 2003 Jason the Idiot forgot to secure the hose clamp on the cooling system and after a 5 minute run in the Dunes, well, let's just say things didn't work.
The 2000 engine was replaced with a 1999 Thunder Cat 1000. It had a more basic ignition system and it worked flawlessly from day one. While it was in and the 2000 engine was out being rebuilt, Neil talked me into doing some porting and head work on the 2000 engine. I should have stuck with my gut feeling of "I have enough power and I have RELIABILITY", but the dangling carrot of more HP won. Damn...
The 1999 engine was dropped in at the dunes, back in late 2003 or early 2004 (can't recall now) and spent the next year running flawlessly and wonderfully. Unfortunately, it dropped a cylinder at the dunes back in Feb of '05 during a long, WFO run through the whoops. So, back in went the new, modded 2000 engine.
The modded engine never seemed right. I'm sure the ignition was a lot to do with it, but it just never worked correctly. Among the issues were a sucked a reed cage in Mexico in May of '05, strange loss of coolant, hydraulic locking (twice now) and a warped head. But it is the good bottom end engine, in the car at the moment, so it's what I have to work with.
Since the good ignition was on the bad engine (1999), I decided to make the good engine(2000) more reliable by getting rid of the TPS ignition and replacing it with the 1999's system. Of course, nothing's ever easy. I had to remove the engine mounts to allow me to get to the ignition. After a day's worth of work, the Dez started on just a bump of the key. Sounds good, kill switch works (all the time) and the Dez was ready for a shake down.
On Friday morning (Dec. 2) before we head to Mexico, I get the final prep work done and take the Dez to my favorite Happy Valley testing area. Time to put thirty minutes or so of test time on it and see how things look for the race.
The Dez went 5 minutes... I came to the end of a run and when I slowed down to turn around I was met by a nasty cloud of coolant steam. WTF???
I could see the magneto side cylinder peeing coolant out of the exhaust - not a small amount, but a nice steady stream. I was able to get back to the van before it overheated and headed back to ATV Racing. I pulled the head and discovered that it had spit an o-ring. A quick check and we discovered that the head was badly warped too. I'd had enough of this modified crap - time for STOCK heads again. This was the second time I'd had a head warp due to hydraulic locking. Even with Neil's help and guidance, this engine wasn't wanting to play nice for me.
Normally, it wouldn't be that big of a deal to change the head out - but I had to change all three of them. I can't put a low compression head on one jug and keep the other two high compression. That meant finding new o-rings too. I got lucky and found one to replace the damaged one from the leaking head. Okay, so far, so good. Everything looks good and as I'm torquing down the head (20 lb-ft), the stud decides to go ahead and pull the threads out of the cylinder. DOH!!! I had to put the torque wrench down and walk away for a few minutes. When the cylinder hydraulic locked, it pulled the threads in the cylinder past their ability to remain tight, so when I torqued them to spec, they didn't hold. I was able to time-sert the hole and get the head back on without any more problems. It was now starting to get dark. Damn.
I had just enough time to put the Dez through one lap on the test loop that I run at Happy Valley. Everything seemed to be in order, but the engine wasn't running right yet (very rich) and I didn't trust the car for a race. Nothing worse than getting out as far as possible from the pits in Mexico and breaking down (which is exactly where it would let go if it was going to). The decision was made to skip the race and wait for the next one. Nobody was happy about it but we all understood the reason. It's not worth the time and effort without the car being race ready.
Saturday morning came and I decided that, if nothing else, I was gonna take the Dez out and drive the darn thing. I'd spent way too much time and effort on it to just let it sit until the next race and I still had a week left in Phoenix, so why not go use the car? Off I headed towards Jay's place - Desert Dog Off Road - out in Fountain Hills and then on out to the Four Peaks recreational area for some fun.
Four Peaks is a killer place to go play. It's a small mountain range that has a road that runs from the bottom to the top - 24 miles of road. If you ever watch the World Cup Rally racing stuff, you'll appreciate the road. Short straights, tight twisty switch backs, blind curves, elevation changes and a slippery gravel surface make for a total blast and a real workout.
I unloaded the Dez out of the Big Blue Beast at the bottom of the mountain road and started heading up. The Dez wasn't a happy car. The throttle response was terrible, it didn't want to idle, the jetting was off and it had no top end. I was glad I was doing another test/shake down instead of trying to blitz across the Mexican Desert. The switch from the high compression heads to the stock, low compression, stock heads, the colder air temps and the change in elevation as I went up the mountain road demanded a major jetting change. I decided that I'd let the engine run poorly and fat and make sure it got me up and then back down the mountain. I'd go about jetting for the conditions a bit later in the week. There were quite a few people out and about on quads, bikes, in trucks, Jeeps and such, so ripping along the roads wasn't a very safe idea anyhow - a slower, let's just run it, pace was the smarter thing...
I think this was the fourth time I've been on the road now. Once on a bike a year ago or so and then a couple other times in the Dez. I was starting to remember the road, which made it fun. When I could see a longer stretch of road, I'd run it as fast as the Dez would allow - when I couldn't see, well, I'd throttle down and stick to the right side of the road and stay tight up against the edge or wall so I wouldn't take someone out coming around the blind corner. Where and when I could, it was stab the brakes, toss it into the corner, feather the throttle and slide on through the corners. It's a blast.
Just a little past 18 miles up the road, there's a trail intersection. Turn right and you go up to the top, stay straight and you start heading down the back side of the mountain. I looked over the signs and instead of turning right, I decided (wrongly) to go straight. I don't know why I thought it was the way up, but hey, I'm allowed to get lost on occasion, aren't I? Anyhow, I'm having fun playing on the nice slippery road, trying to work the throttle so I keep the car running along.
I come to a small left hand jog - it sort of goes around a hill side - and it looks like the road goes more or less straight. I was wrong. It jogged to the left a bit more to avoid a fairly wide wash out. The problem was, while the ROAD avoided the wash out, I did not. UH OH! I got on the brakes and tried to pitch the car a bit more to the left, but I was on the exit of a corner, so the Dez was already set up, weight on the back end, front end pushing and, well, the front right wheel decided it didn't want to stay on the road anymore. In the matter of about fifty feet or so, I went from being a willing participant to being a totally committed spectator. I was no longer in charge and now along for the ride. WOO HOO??
As the front wheel went over the edge, I can remember plain as day thinking, "OH SHIT". You see, the road up the mountain has all sorts of stuff along the edges. In some areas there are ditches. In some areas there are walls. In some areas there's not much other than a drop off a ledge. In some areas there are rocks. These rocks can range from the size of a car on down to the size of a base ball. There are some areas that have trees. Some that have cactus. In other words, the place has just about anything you can imagine you'd find on a mountain side and I couldn't really see what was off the edge of the ledge I'd just tossed myself off. The Dez made one sudden jerk and I was suddenly looking at the world upside down and was in mid roll.
I grabbed the steering wheel as tightly as I could and thought "I'll be all right. I've done this before but much faster. Eventually it will quit." I was actually quite surprised when it finished it's roll and came to a nice, cushy stop, then settled in the tree branches that surrounded me. The only odd thing about the Dez's attitude was that the nose seemed to be pointing upward quite a bit.
I was extremely lucky and discovered that I was sitting in a pile of freshly cut brush. It appeared that who ever maintained the road had recently come along and trimmed the brush and bushes along the edge of the road, letting the branches and discarded brush just sort of fall as it wanted over the edge. I couldn't have picked a better spot to toss a car off the side of a mountain! I climbed out, checked the car, which seemed to be just fine and discovered that I'd hit my left elbow pretty hard. Not bad for what I'd just been through.
I climbed up to the road and started trying to figure out what to do. I was all right, the Dez was all right and I just needed to get it back up on the road. I decided to wait a few minutes and see what/who came along. While I waited, I climbed back down and started surveying the brush underneath the car. Once I realized that it was mainly cut limbs and such, I started removing as much from around and under as I could. About ten minutes passed and I heard the first sounds of someone coming down the road in my direction.
Around the same corner that I missed came a couple guys on quads. They both came to a stop with a slight look of panic "Are you okay?"
"Yup. I just decide that I wanted to park in a manner that kept me out of traffic's way."
The three of us discussed my situation and one of the guys decided that he'd take a try at extraction, as he had a brand new, never used, winch on the front of his Honda quad. The two of them took a few minutes to get situated and then ran the winch line down to the strap that I had already attached to the front of the Dez. A couple more quads rolled up on the scene.
Nothing ever works like it's planned...
I kept waiting on the cable to have the slack pulled out of it so I could get busy trying to help get the Dez up the mountain side. I kept waiting and waiting and finally noticed that the two guys were busily messing with the handlebars of the quad. Turns out that they could unreel the cable, but when it came time to pull it back in, the control switch had taken a dump! DOH!!! The poor guy had just unreeled about forty feet of cable and now couldn't get it back in. Along comes a couple more quads and a Jeep with two people in it.
The new arrivals start with the questions and making sure everyone was all right and then, after they discover the quad had a broken winch, they offered to give it a try with the Jeep. Two or three more quads and now a full sized Chevy pickup show up. I heard someone in the crowd say that that we had an Official Peanut Gallery standing along side the road. (I had to agree). The Jeep guys finally got the quad guys to unhook from me and move the quad so we could hook up to the Jeep. (the quad guys got side tracked trying to get the winch working and we couldn't get them to move out of the way for close to ten minutes - it was sort of funny)
We finally got the Jeep in position and started to pull. The Dez wasn't coming out yet. There were branched and limbs that the tires were getting pulled up against, not over. We had to climb back down and try to clean out the stuff from around the suspension and wheels. Again, the Jeep tried, but no luck. A couple more people came down and we lifted the front of the Dez up over/onto the stuff. This time we also decided that a bit of help from the Dez might be a good thing, so I put my helmet on, climbed into the passenger seat, staying low and out of line of the tow strap, in case it decided to break and romped on the throttle as the Jeep started it's third pull. The Dez moved a bit, but was still stuck on some of the brush. I climbed out and with the help of a few of the guys in the crowd, we were able to move a few more branches, pick the front end up a bit more and make another attempt. This time the Jeep was successful and the Dez came out of the bushes and branches, right on up the side of the mountain. I was free!
I checked the Dez over - just a couple scratches, a bit of a pushed in roof and a slightly bent rear body panel pretty much covered the damage. Not bad for rolling off the side of a mountain, eh? As I helped the guys with the tow straps get them rolled up and packed away, I got to answer all the usual questions "What is it?", "How fast does it go?", "Where do you race it?", so on and so forth. I thanked everyone that helped me out and we all proceeded to go on our merry ways. I really appreciated the help I was given by total strangers.
I went back to the trail intersection that I'd passed earlier, turned left and went on up to the top of Four Peaks.
I figured that I'd had enough adventure for the day and decided to head back to the truck and go home.
Nothing ever goes as planned...
As I came back down the mountain, somewhere about half way down, the Dez decides that the single rear rotor just isn't enough. I managed to cook it AGAIN and just when I needed them, the brakes faded into oblivion. YIKES!!! Fortunately, I wasn't hauling ass - I was taking it nice and easy. I pumped the pedal, moved the bias bar to the front and nursed the car on down to the parking area. What a wild ride, what a wild day.
Looks like missing Mexico's race may have been a good thing. The engine may have made it (sick, but working), but the brakes probably would have given up pretty quickly. I heard, the following weekend from another racer, that the course sucked, so maybe the adventure I had was good in it's own right. Who knows...
The following week saw some more mods done to the Dez, but that's another tail. Let's just say that I no longer have a single brake rotor and she actually stops well now. (I went out testing them and couldn't make them fade - we'll see if this stays true when I get more time on it)
The next race should be somewhere around the first weekend of May. The Dez will be a totally new ride by then. It came back to Ohio with me this time. It's my winter project. I'm going to strip it down to the frame, get the chassis sand blasted, inspect each and every tube/weld/component on it and the fuel injected Yamaha RX1 sled engine that rode back underneath it will get dropped into it. No more two strokes, no more jetting, no more pre-mix and probably double, if not triple the fuel economy. I do believe that the Dez will be more reliable and fun when it rolls out of my shop early next spring. I'll keep track of the mods and repairs in another page here in this web site.
So, until the next installment, keep the rubber side down, the dirt flying, a grin on your face and stay ON the mountain roads...