Tar and Feathers!

June 30, 2012

No, I’m not proposing tar & feathers for our navigator, not for the Rallymaster, not even for the scorching hot sun.  It’s all about the numbers: here’s the countodwn: Today was long (SEVEN legs).  We went through a SIX pack or more each (water and soda, that is).  We rallied from early morn til half past FIVE.  Our brakes gave us the what-FOR again.  An overnight storm had knocked out power and downed many TREEs.  We had our lucky buzzards, TOO.  But there was an Ace WON!  And a slow-walking grouse is now a ZERO.

We rallied through every stop sign in rural Ohio, many twice, and we wove through the back roads and farms.  Some roads were not much wider than the Imperial, some were shared with astonished Amish in their horse-drawn carriages.  By mid-afternoon, the heat had melted our brains and we were barely functioning (“Which left, Dave –  the one you said, or the way you’re pointing?” & “John, why did you stop and wait at that corner? – there was no stop sign! GO! GO!”).  You get the idea.  But that’s what’s it about – and today was a real filter for survivors!  Those that didn’t melt, made it.

After our horrible performance in the past two days, we figured the problem was surely in my braking.  In our Imperial, the brakes (and I use the term VERY loosely) are just not up to the duty they see here.  I also think there is a dislodged spring retainer in the left front backing plate that lets one shoe there drag and sometimes grab & lock.  The result, despite our  attempt to clean and adjust the brakes this morning, is that we had RBF (Random Brake Function) disease all day today: sometimes fine, sometimes grabby, sometimes faded or low pedal, sometimes pull left, even once pull right!  I guess that would tend to make the decelerations a little hard to get right or even consistent.  Dave had calculated that we needed to add about 1.5 seconds to each stop allowance to compensate for the problem, based on prior days legs and the number of stop signs and corners in several legs.  He did that fudge all day and though we still had two rough legs of seven, we did score one Ace and three other respectable legs, for a daily total of about 27 seconds.  Meh.  But better! All legs were still early, just not as much.  I don’t know if we moved up or down overall, but our newest new goal is just to finish (funny how success can be re-defined to match actual accomplishment and possibility)!  But really, today’s adjustment and some careful watching of other teams’ stop-sign techniques did indeed show did show that we are hurting mostly there, and with these wacko brakes – all we can do is better average out the error with a little more fudge factor.

NOTE: Dave suspects Corky has secretly sabotaged our brakes to wear out the tires more quickly, so he can sell us more!

Out in the back roads we experienced gravel and grouse.  It seems many of these roads were recently re-surfaced with thick oil and fine gravel topping.  Yummy! In 100 F heat, that becomes a sticky mess of shrapnel that both blasts and coats the undersides of a full-fendered car like ours.  The open-wheel racers suffered a more personal shower of tar and tektites in their teeth (note to self: put fenders on the new car).  What a mess!  And we met another one of those hesitant slow-stepping birds that like to leisurely cross the road (grouse or prairie chicken or some such remarkably slow & ignorant featherball).  This one didn’t make it; so we carried a little extra wind drag forward with its feathers added to the stuck-on stone (believe it or not, we even found gravel bonded to the chrome wire wheels when we cleaned up tonight).

Our lucky buzzards were with us again today.  Of course, we suspect it’s not really the same buzzard that has trailed us every day, all through this Great Race (that would be our newly named Lucky Bucky Buzzard – a byproduct of brain melt in the heat).  More likely it’s been his cousins; Guido and Smiley, and some others in the extended family.  But whoever, they’re keeping an eye on us, watching out for trouble (so they can get lunch)!

One of the tougher decisions for me as driver is deciding if I can take a corner without slowing down.  That has to be decided before we get there, of course, and often without seeing what lies ahead.  Mostly I cannot, as the Imperial requires a lot of room and not much speed to negotiate a right-angle re-direction; but occasionally it seems practical and worthwhile, to avoid time loss we have to make up later.  And it’s fun to power slide the big beast once in a while. Today, we had a country corner, in at 20 mph and out at 30.  That’s the easiest kind to do without slowing: we come in already slow and then power out.  Now, we started 75th in the order today, so we were near the end of the parade (that’s not irrelevant detail – bear with me here…).  So when I made that gravelly right-hander with wheels squealing and stones flying and punching the throttle for acceleration; the motorcycle cop who was waiting just around that same corner probably had seen a lot of our fellow racers come around there before us.  Another constable might have objected; but this astonished fellow seemed to understand our purpose, and after a second of surprise; he just laughed – no doubt at the sight of our land yacht tacking upwind, full sheets out!  At least, he didn’t chase us, so we held the speed & kept going.  Now THAT’s Great Racing.

We rolled through mostly farming country today – including some Amish areas.  I can’t imagine what they think in their horse-drawn buggies as these dozens of amazing race cars go buzzing by!  Not too annoyed, I hope.  Maybe as astonished as the motorcycle cop?  We passed through a covered bridge (no camera – sorry).  We passed many a hay bale and even some hand-pitched old-style haystacks in Amish country.  I’ll spare you the details, but I’ve rarely missed a camera more than right then (I need a picture of haystacks for my book on bundled hay:  Hay Yaks, as we called them when the kids were small – but that’s a whole other story…).

Our evening host city was Findlay, Ohio.  But as we approached, it became clear that they had a rough night of it before us.  Strong storms had torn through, pulling down mighty trees and power lines all around.  Most (but not all) of downtown got power back just before our arrival.  This is Findlay’s 200th Anniversary and they had a big party planned of which we were a part – but much had to be cancelled (the firemen could hardly parade when they were still hard at work!).  Still, a good crowd tuned out on Main Street for the racers and we found food in some restaurants that had re-opened, and gratis thanks to the City.  Very nice, indeed, especially under the circumstances.  That’s the spirit, Findlay!

Two disasters in towns we visited this race.  I sure hope this isn’t a new trend!  Lucky for us (thanks, Buzzards) our hotel had power, so we’re comfy tonight.  At least one of the other hotels for racers did not, so some re-arranging was required.  As I write, I think everyone found a bed for the night, though.

Ethan and I invested an hour each tonight, removing the worst of the tar and gravel from our cars  – at least on the visible painted surfaces; then off to bed.  Tomorrow is an early start and the final running day of this 2012 Great Race.  We’ll be finishing in Dearborn, crowning a new champ tomorrow evening (no danger it will be Old Age & Treachery in the mighty Imperial, though).  G’nite for now.

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