GOOD NEWS! Team 39 arrived with clean hands today (no mechanical or even electrical problems – other than a balky temperature gauge that resolved itself)! The secret is to gentle the car like an old lady, so we don’t jam up the gears again.
GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS! That worked, but the vastly different acceleration profiles messed up our scores badly. We also bobbled a few instructions, with misunderstood speed changes and one big missed (or double-counted) instruction that sent us into the far end of the county. Yesterday’s errors were all mine, but today we seem to have both contributed our share.
In a TSD rally like Great Race, much of the error is not in holding constant speeds, but in executing turns and stop-go events, both consistently and accurately. We use a method where the driver calls out ‘MARK!’ during a decel, at the half-speed point, and again just past the half speed point during accel. In theory, if both changes are linear, then the time between the halfway marks is equal to the ideal stop time (if stopping and starting to speed were instant). The delay in the upward Mark! accounts for the fact that there’s much more torque in first gear than in higher gears, so initial acceleration is greater (that is, it’s not really linear or uniform as the speed climbs, especially for climbs to 40-50 mph. However, we think that with the gentle initial acceleration we used to protect the gears, today’s accels were much more linear, and the delayed Mark! meant we accounted for a longer stop that we really made. Our scores showed that, too – all early by 9-36 seconds per leg. That’s a lot, but the accels are the only thing changed since the days when we were piling up aces, so that must be at least a part of the problem. Here’s a typical image of some cars waiting for their turn to accelerate at the start. This is always a tense moment, as you can tell by the fellow in the blue speedster.
Today’s route took us through more of the mile-square grid of the American midwest. Not quite so filled with corn today, but still very agricultural: lots of right-angle turns and frequent farm equipment on the road. Fairly challenging, at least for us as evidenced by our high error scores!
We had a superb lunch at the astonishing Stahl Automotive Foundation museum (sorry about the oil stain under Bender, Ted). The Stahls are long time Great Race supporters and participants; and I really like Ted Stahl’s taste in collectibles. He has a range of exquisite and unusual examples. Not much that you might see in any other place we’ve been so far. My favorite, if only for it’s sheer weirdness, is the 1904 Cyclonette tricycle. Almost Steampunk-ish!
Stahl’s just moved into first place in my book for best lunch stop!
Dinner was in the theme town of Frankenmuth. This area was intially settled by Germans and they have really gone at that heritage with a thick troweling. We ate German, we’re staying in the Bavarian Lodge (yes, the waiters wear lederhosen, and the waitresses have those beermaid outfits). It’a a bit intense, but what the hey! Good food and friendly folk. We also got the first rain of the trip while we were in eating. Some kind soul rolled up our windows for us.
I’d like to give shout-outs to my pal Dale, navigator for Team Bender, who is cool as a cucumber – totally unflappable, even when I tossed us in a ditch, with his side leading the way. Navigators do a lot of the work, while we pilots just steer and stare at the speedometer! Here he is, working hard on the instructions, while I wander about taking pictures.
Also to Ethan, my son and last year’s Team Corey driver, who now lives and works in Livonia. He appeared at Ypsilanti last evening – nice surprise – and will meet us again in Traverse City. Ethan graduated in December and is now an engineer at TRW, developing advanced traction control systems. Lots of folks have asked for him, so it will be good to be back together again at the finish (and I think I can con him into coming back next year, once he’s collected some vacation time).
And now, the Tale of the Pink Monkey. few years ago, I was given the Pink Monkey. That is an informal Great Race award dating to the late Nineties, that goes to the finishing contender that got there despite the most mechanical (or electrical) problems on the way. That year, we ran from Ogunquit, Maine to Florida. My 32 Buick split its axle before the start. A weld repair also failed, so we towed it back home (Melrose, NY) and swapped for the big Imperial convertible we used in earlier years. We rejoined the race in Lowell, Mass and as we pulled in, the center driveshaft bearing carrier failed. That was an all-night weld-up that worked. The next day, the alternator quit, and the day after, a wire wheel failed and flattened its tire. The brake lights quit the very next day, and the service brakes wore out by the time we got to Florida (I was stopping with the parking brake!). So we got the Pink Monkey. Such an honor!
The next year, Patrick King went through three Cadillacs to get from Missouri to Santa Monica, CA. So I passed it on to him. Then last year, Herb Clark lost his ball joints, one on each of two successive days. He also had electrical troubles, so Patrick awarded him the Pink Monkey. This represents the monkey on your back when the machinery’s faults get in front of our own. Makes for poor scores, but the perseverance to overcome the problems and finish is Great Race spirit at its core. Neither Herb nor Patrick could come this year, so I am the temporary safekeeper of the beast, fully intending to pass it on to some other deserving sufferer. But now I fear it may go home with me (and Bender) again! Not that I’d wish more troubles on any of our other racers.
Tomorrow, we Get Up and Kick It Again! To Finish is to Win!