Great Race post 6

June 14, 2011

Mondays are not known for going well. However, the day broke cool and clear in Salem, VA. We dropped the top and planned to run the whole day en plein. We started with a blast back up part of I-81 to Natural Bridge, VA, where we started from a side road gas station just off the exit. We made a clean start (on time!), and quickly got spooked by another racer coming back toward us on the same little road we were heading out on! Sometimes a rally route will double-back, and it adds a little confusion and uncertainty for psychological challenge, but this just could not be! Did he forget his gas? No matter, we pressed on.

Unusually, rallymaster John Claussen laid out a course with roughly equal length both early and post-lunch, but set three legs (and checkpoints) in the morning and two in the afternoon. We tolled through back roads that passed seemingly dozens of country churches at every knoll and corner in rolling farm country with the Smokies and Blue Ridge mountains for scenic backdrop! Wow! It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road. I would have so much enjoyed stopping a hundred times along the way, to snap perfect photos or just to say ‘Hi’ to the kids and folks that wave and hoot as we pass. Some set their lawn chairs to watch the parade! We ran in and out of deep, cool glades and back into high, open fields before diving down into another deep creek-bottomed vale and over another rollercoaster of a back road. Challenges included farm vehicles, deer (as everywhere!), and our own enchantment by the sunny day and drive. With the top down on the back roads, there are sounds and smells you miss in a modern, hermetic transport-o-pod. You can hear the birds sing as you pass; hear the whir of distant farm work; and there are smells of fresh-mowed hay (does it get ANY better?), and other farm scents, too… Also the earthy musk of a shady creek cutting rock. It is possible to travel through a country and actually BE THERE as you go!

But, hey, we are here to compete! Wake up, Dave! Pay attention, JC! We seem to have worked out our correction algorithms – for off-speed times when things or other folks get in our intended path (be they fellow racers or muggles: we have a difficulty scale called the mugglicity index, describing the frequency of such folk nearby that might be in bits of road we would like to use at the same time!). We actually had time for a photo or two and while searching for signs we saw some local detail we might have missed – and with it got a laugh or two. Consider the mailbox of one Ersel Funk (for so it was labelled as we passed): we wondered if there’s an Ersel Sr. and Ersel Jr, and if the latter is just a re-Ersel for kids still to come? OK, it sounds more lame in the writing, but really, at the time it seemed soda-snorting funny! Must be the sun. Thank goodness they let us run radials this year! These tight little roads are much better handled on modern rubber! Especially when laughing.

By the way, some of you know I am ‘writing’ a book on mythical creatures that disguise themselves as innocent haybales; the American Hay-yaks. Wow, was this the season and the spot for great photo ops, capturing the hay-yaks in action, grazing in the fields – but no stopping! We were on the clock. More on this project another day, perhaps (Hey, it’s a life goal with no deadline).

Rare Archaic Form of Hay Yak (Hayyakus Stackii) in Paddock


One very special little town we passed through (at 20 mph) is New Hope, Va. Many of the littler villages we pass have seen better days, perhaps having lost their reason for being. This little town was as tidy and well-kept as a Norman Rockwell painting. I wonder how they do it?

Some increasing difficulty with the brakes this morning, though… As in 2006, the left front is getting both sticky and draggy. Sometimes (but not always…) punching the pedal produces a lurch to the left! What’s wrong? The bearings are OK (checked and repacked just before the trip), but maybe the return springs? Maybe a cylinder fault? Can we do anything about it???? It can be quite disconcerting on these narrow ways when the car seems to be trying to dive into the oncoming. Weird. Also, the vacuum leak or what ever it is seems to be making the idle rougher. Still, the engine pulls strong and smooth, the transmission is being VERY supportive of the brakes AND the engine; enabling so many torque-ups and downs to hold steady speeds on the hilly route. We have always said that our secret weapons are comfort & reliability – in lieu of any real skill. We may have to work on the latter if the reliability falters!

We broke for lunch in Harrisonburg, Va. Late in, we got the last few hot dogs and beans. Not the best fare, but Sue’s dad was there, over from Charlottesville, and that made it mighty special (for us and I hope for him, too!). Just 30 minutes or so, then off we went again. For the afternoon run. One clean leg, then another very long one, and it seemed even longer as we missed a muggle-filled tricky intersection (my confusion!) and went for miles off course. No hope of recovery there, as we lost at least 15 minutes! We raced (more literally) to get back, at least into the pack, so we wouldn’t be straggling in all alone. We did catch up to the back two, then relaxed a bit, knowing that the leg was lost. It ended with a real treat; crossing the headwater Potomac and the parallel old C&O canal, over a narrow wooden toll bridge – one of the very few privately owned toll bridges in America! The toll lady held out a long ladle to collect our 50 cents.

We had our evening park-in on the restored main-street mall in downtown Cumberland, MD – a stop we had also made in 2006. Cumberland is a really pretty town, reborn from its industrial past, just a great little place. The Great Race cars were arrayed on that treed and tiled walking street in front of the shops, and hundreds of strollers enjoyed them while we enjoyed a delicious dinner at a café on the street, too. Gary Bartik, a fan, was one of our greeting hosts and reintroduced himself (we had met last time here, and he recalled NO XQS very clearly!).

Parc Fermé in Cumberland, MD

We pulled the cars into the hotel for the night and Dave and I set to getting inside the front brakes to understand the issue. The Fredettes, long term runners of this race in their yellow Model A pickup; lent a jack (we have the bumper jack, but for extensive work, a chassis support is much more reassuring for the guy under the wheel well). As we worked, a group of others gathered with lots of help (THANKS, GUYS!) and lots of opinions, too! A local constable pulled up and lends his cruiser’s spotlight to the working illumination (nice touch). One thing I love about this race is the support and community – we’re competing for our personal best, not to beat the others, so helping each other is a natural part of the game. Dave pulled the wheels, I pulled the drums and bearings, and everybody inspected the bits. We saw nothing amiss on the right, but the left shows much more lining wear, some odd colors and glazing, and some heat cracking in the drum surface. There’s no leakage and all cylinders are mobile. Nothing is a smoking gun, so we blew it all out and put it back together. I set the bearings a little looser. Chad Caldwell (another Chrysler fan – we helped him out of a flat on his DeSoto in the 2006 run) hopped in and we took it for a multiple hot–stop test. The pedal still feels low (I should have brought up the adjusters on the left, but I’m afraid of just adding to the drag problem). But there is no pull (as before, because the brakes aren’t all that hot, even with those stops). We decide to go with it, but to ask more of the tranny and less of the drums.

So, how’d we do today? In the five legs we ran 4 seconds, 0 seconds (another Ace!), 3 seconds, 3 seconds, and then a godawful many minutes on that last lost leg. With that one tossed, our total for the day is 10 seconds, good enough for 7th place overall and 2nd in our class (sportsman, not expert or rookie). That moved us up slightly in the overall standings to date, to 17th and 6th in Sportsman class. Not bad at all! Not bad for a Monday.

Hey, I understand that there are pix of the Imperial now up on the Great race site; and on the blog at; and even a photo (and soon a timelapse video) of our brake work tonight on the Facebook page for Great Race. Cool!

Family Motto: “Get up tomorrow and kick it again!”

J ‘livin’ it’ c

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