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Snowflake 2003

The day before I left for the 2003 Snowflake race (8/28), I posted this on my home page:
This race marks the beginning of my third year of Desert Racing. We run four, twenty five mile loops. I can make the full 100 miles w/o having to stop for fuel! I'll update next week after the race. Should have video from inside the car again this year. Hopefully I'll have enough tape to capture all four laps this time.

(9/4/03) Well, I got part of it correct. I had enough video tape.

We were all fired up for the race. Yellow Dog's pit crew - James, his son Chase and Paul from ATV Racing were all race ready. Jay and I were looking for the class win - and we had our fingers crossed for the over all.

The Dez had gone through some pretty serious testing in the past couple weeks. New suspension settings, tire grooving and car setup had been worked out. The car was working PERFECTLY.

We arrived at the track on Friday night, set up camp and got ready for tomorrow's event. Four twenty five mile loops. One hundred miles of fun was headed our way!

Saturday morning was the usual stuff. Get the jetting correct for 6000' above sea level, 80 degrees, bleed the brakes, check tire pressure, so on and so forth. We were scheduled to leave the line at 12:45.

During the morning, I decided to check the infield for the fastest way through it and watch the pro classes leave the line. At the end of the start straight where the track heads out into the high desert was a pretty descent launch. Some of the faster guys would launch a couple feet off the ground and travel about thirty feet or so before landing. Most of them would throttle down and just sort of putt over the jump. Watching the pros gave me an idea.

We all lined up at 12:45, ready to race. We were the third car in our class and number six in the line. One class 5 and two class 9 cars were in front of us. At 1:20, we finally got to launch. Seems the medivac helicopter had to go make a run as it was coming back to the track and they had to send in the backup bird - or something like that - I never did hear the final story.

So, thirty five minutes after we were supposed to start the race, the cars started rolling off the line in thirty second intervals. The first couple cars left the line and Jay asks, "You getting butterflies yet?" Funny he should ask, I was just getting ready to tell him that they were becoming quite large. There goes the car in front of us. Our turn is next.

If you'll recall, last year when the green flag dropped, so did my foot - and so did the motor. It didn't like being in the thin air and when I whacked the throttle slides open, it took a deep breath before it decided to take off. Not this year! I kept the revs up just below clutch engagement and when the flag waved, I rolled into the throttle. Yea Buddy!!! We were off the line like nobody else. The killer thing about the Dez is that it's so quick. It tops out right at 80 mph (finally got a GPS reading on it - all the math says 95-100, but the real world speed is 79.7 - guess I've been wrong about it for a while!), but it gets to 80 in the blink of an eye. Where most of the cars were still on the throttle and accelerating through the long left sweeper that leads into the first jump, I was having to feather the brakes!

The jump was sort of in the beginning of a sweeping right hand corner that got a bit tighter near the end. Most of the pros were slowing down, squaring up the face of the jump, launching and then landing on the outer left side of the track. They'd then have to slow down to make the corner. Wonder what would happen if I just lined up the jump so that it was in the middle of the line? Effectively moving the apex of the corner in and closer to the jump? I decided to give it a try, working from the far left of the track, setting the jump in the middle and then landing on the inside of the corner. Jay and I flew a lot farther than anything else I'd seen! We heard later (and I'm hoping that they got pictures!) that we travel in the air at least 100 feet. (Video tape counter says the air time is right at one second, something traveling 60 mph moves 88 ft/sec and I have no doubt in my mind that we were traveling at the very minimum 65 to 70, so 100 feet is just about right! - I love physics!!!) The corner was a bit of a hand full and we drifted a tad wide, but there wasn't any reason for concern. The tree was far enough off line that it wasn't a worry.

As we headed off into the first lap, the most apparent thing was how well the car was working and handling. The rear suspension changes made all the difference in the world. The car was actually turning now, I had brakes, and the course was a blast. It quickly turned into a game of catch the slower class cars and pass them all while trying to catch car 1275 - the leader in my class. One car down, two cars down, three passed and then right in the middle of a long straight boom, no more drive belt. Jay hopped out and had it changed in just over a minute. Two of the cars passed us back, but it wasn't as much of an issue as the fact that 1275 was getting more distance between us. Once we got up and running again, we passed the class five car again pretty quickly and set our sites on 1275.

Somewhere around mile 15 or so we came to the power line road. Whiplash hasn't used the power line road in years, so I've been told. It's a narrow, fairly straight road that runs right along a set of power lines that go across the desert. The road goes up and down over the small ridges, dropping away in some areas pretty quickly, but nothing that was too bad until that last one.

Ah, the last one. What a hill, what an entrance, what a ...CRASH!!!

As Jay and I came to one of the rises, the trail went to the right side of the telephone pole. So far, we'd pretty much been on the left side of them. The trail appeared to jog off to the left as we approached the crest, so I set up by initiating a bit left steering - not enough to turn the car, just enough to make the Dez start to fade to the left. That was Mistake Number One.

Mistake Number Two then took over. As we crested the ridge, I'd misjudged my speed just a hair and did not get on the brakes quite soon enough or hard enough and along with the fade to the left, trouble was brewing. We managed to launch off the top of a fairly high down hill. About thirty feet or so and about 10 feet down from where we left the top of the ridge was a water bar - flat landing, bounce, uh oh, we're airborne and now we're headed towards the trees!

I've heard for years that when some people go through an accident that they go into slow motion mode. Their senses get heightened and they go into high speed record mode. They witness the entire crash in full vivid awareness. I'm not like that. Ususally I suddenly find myself on the ground wondering what just happened. I go into speed up mode. Boom! What? Huh?

This time was different. I had a bit of both slo-mo and high speed. As we bounced off the waterbar, I very distinctly remember thinking "Oh Crap! The front wheel's gonna hit a tree!" - I'd steered right as soon as we crested and launched off the top of the ridge, trying to correct my drift mistake. But it didn't catch with the front wheel - I could feel the Dez rotating to the right while we were flying through the air and then the hit happened.

I don't really remember the two middle flips/endos/rolls, what ever you want to call them. I do recall seeing light (sky) and dark (ground) a couple times and hearing the engine rev then fall off then rev up again and fall off again. My next really clear mental picture is very much like the one on the right of this paragraph. I can remember looking down at my feet while heading back towards the ground nose first and realizing the rev was from me bracing with my legs. Each time we'd hit the ground I'd tense up and push my butt back into the seat with my legs. Vroom, vroom when you step on the go pedal!

The second to last hit was the worst by far. The car landed on its nose like it was doing and endo and then slapped the roof down on the ground extremely hard and flat. We were given a killer pile driver - both of our heads were slammed into the roof of the car as the roll cage bent inward. Jay and I were so extremely thankful that we had on our Team-Tech harnesses! They saved our necks - no doubt about it! The slam on the roof was hard enough to actually bounce the car onto the right side - and there we sat. Done, crunched and hanging in our harnesses.

I reached up and turned the car off and then asked Jay if he was alright - he answered yes. He asked me the same and I answered yes too. Here we are, laying on the right side of the car, at the bottom of the hill, still buckled in our seats. I had to wait for Jay to get out - he was below me. The car we'd just passed came up on us and asked if we were alright. I wonder what he was thinking seeing us there. He asked if we were alright and we said yes and waved him on. Jay unbuckled and as he stepped out of the front window his intercom wire got taunt and he almost fell over when it pulled on his helmet. I had now unlatched my harness and as I knelt down to get out, I discovered that I'd forgotten to undo the sternum strap and darn near hanged myself! So much for graceful exits on either of our parts.

We gathered ourselves up and then started trying to piece together what had just happened. The car was facing the direction we'd come from and I had no clue which way was coming or going. I'd lost all sense of travel direction during all the twists and flips. We both recall doing three and a half end over end maneauvers. There were a couple twists in there too, but I'm still not sure. The video shows 2.5 endos with a twist and a half, but I think that the big fuzzy wad in the middle of it is another more violent flip/endo. There's really nothing on the tape that explains the right side damage.

The majority of the wreck took place on the left side of the trail. We finished it at the bottom of the hill, on the right side, facing back up from where we'd come, laying on the side. We pushed the car over onto it's three wheels, off the track and sort of sat back, looked around in amazement that neither of us were hurt - other than a sore elbow and stiff neck on each of us.

We started looking around to figure out what had happened. Jay walked up the hill and started flagging at the other racers coming into the area - "SLOW DOWN!". We were the sixth car off the line, so there were a bunch more to come through. There was a log that was about five inches in diameter laying in the track - We'd broken it off sometime during the down hill plunge. Jay moved it out of the way and I dug out the cell phone to call back to camp to tell them what had happened and told them we were alright too.

Jay calls me up towards the top of the hill - "Check this out!" - there it was, the tree that killed us. I'd ripped a strip of bark off with the rear wheel. The lower point of missing bark was about four feet off the ground!. We started following the trail of debris, freshly turned up dirt, and broken branches down the hill. Ah, there's my right rear tire! Here's the antenna, and Mr. Cactus - the only fatality of the wreck. My antenna mascot was face down in the dirt.

 

The first half of this article was done on 9/7/03. I guess I'm a bit tardy in the updates...

The Damage - lots of it. Drats

It took us about eight hours of waiting, slowly working back to the Dez with a pickup truck and a trailer and then fighting our way out of the course before the crash was cleaned up. Luke from ATV Racing supplied the pickup truck and the knowledge of the back roads to get to the Dez. I was extremely thankful he was there. We had to work our way up, over and through a series of ridges and valleys to even get close to the powerline road. It was very slow going. When we finally got to the dead Dez, it was dark. Fortunately for us, a group of quads came along just as we arrived and they helped us get the Dez up on the trailer we were pulling. That thing's NOT light! Another two hours of first gear crawling and we were out of the forest and next to the BBB. More tugging, grunting and swearing and the Dez was inserted into the back of it's transport. Back to Phoenix we headed.

On Monday, I took the Dez to ATV Racing for the once over to see what had been damaged and what had survived. Let's just say the preliminary list was pretty extensive.

Right side suspension was toast. Front upper a-arm survived because the 5/8" grade 8 bolt snapped off the top of the spindle, the lower arm looked like a pretzel. The rear trailing arm was two pieces. The welding that had been done by Sand Limo (they used to make the trailing arms for the Tazcars) was trash. The plate that holds the bearing carrier to the arm was ripped clean off. Both front rotors, both spindles (chromoly!) were destroyed - one bent and cracked, one bent. The rear bearing carriers were toast - one of them look like it had exploded. The roll cage was a mess, along with the roof - but it did it's job - Jay and I did walk away and I'll take replacing a roll cage any day of the week over a day in the hospital. The front bumper and the mounting for it were pushed up and back, all four wheels were either bent or warped, the CVs on the passenger's side were pulled apart, the tranny was shifted very badly in the mounts and the tubing underneath it was bent, the body work on Jay's side (passenger) was pretty scuffed up, the brand new (first time used! - I killed it in a roll the weekend before in the dunes.) Parker Pumper fresh air system was squashed, the hood was tweaked and a few other smaller mounts and such were either bent or torn free. Surprisingly enough, the main chassis survived with flying colors! After the car had been stripped down to the frame it was set on the chassis jig to check the location of all the susupesion mounting points and they were all right where they needed to be. I left the car in ATV's capable hands and headed back towards Ohio, with plans of racing Mexicon in December.


Fast forward to February of this year. My first time back to Phoenix since August. (Circumstances in Ohio prevented me from running the Mexico race in December)

When I got to Phoenix the Dez was sitting in the garage waiting for me. It looked great! Everything was fresh, straight and clean. The wheels had been saved by cutting out the old centers and replacing them with with new removable centers (3/4" thick centers!), the roll cage had been cut off just at the body line and completely replaced, along with the addition of a center down bar that goes from the dash to the roof and some more bracing in the roof itself. The rear trailing arm was saved! A new bearing plate was welded on and anything that was reused was magnafluxed for inspection. There was a couple days of final prep work that I had to run through - things like wire harness placement, and attention to detail stuff that only I know about, since I'm the one that did it. I slowly worked my way through the Dez, making sure everything was fixed, placed correctly, safety wired and such.

I had planned my trip back out to Phoenix around the race at Gila Bend and the annual K-Fab Glamis Dune trip on the 14th of Feb. In December the race was listed as the weekend of February 7th on the Whiplash calendar, but sometime after I'd made all my arrangements, they moved it up to the weekend of January 31st. I had planned on arriving on January 30th, with the idea of testing and doing shake down runs during the week, then we'd head on down to Gila Bend (about an hour and a half from the house in Phoenix) on Friday, do a couple pre-runs of the course and race on Saturday. Nope, of course it didn't work out. No race for the Dez. Drats.

Instead, the shakedown run got to happen at Glamis - but that's another story all by itself...

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3/29/04