Days 8 and 9, or…

July 3, 2012

…The days of no internet. It’s an odd thing, but it makes perfect sense once you think about it. Expensive hotels make you pay for internet, while cheap hotels don’t, it’s just slow. The expensive hotels charge because when WiFi was just coming out they signed decade-long contracts, so now everything seems opposite of what it should be.

Anyway, that completely off-topic intro goes to explaining why my posts stopped after day 7. Actually, to be totally honest I had internet on day 8, but it was the first day of the Championship Run, where your worst legs no longer get thrown away, and we were up until day 9 trying to figure out where our error was coming from (yes, we did primarily refuse to admit the same blame we’d had so far). We ended up running some (very) crude statistics.

Basically, we’d gotten a total of 3:11, almost all late that day, and while we did have 7 legs rather than 4 or 5, it was still an unacceptable amount of time. We both primarily agreed that a huge issue hanging over us was the lack of sleep. We were both very tired, and we each had issues. I would get distracted by something (with or without Nick’s help), the speed would fall, and I’d start holding the new speed without realizing it was slow. We did know that we could do better, even with our distinct handicaps (mechanical 50-year old speedometer, total inexperience, awful focus, etc) because we had managed 30-50 seconds days. I wasn’t happy with the times, even though I knew we’d get worse as the week went on. Nick was less upset about it, willing to pass it off as a accumulation of our various errors. I forced him to help brainstorm.

So we looked at all of our times. Then we recalled the general course types. Then we’d recall our strategies. The final setup was: Fast Speedo, Slow Speedo, Speed Splits, and Time Splits. The course types (back roads with tons of stops or tons of speed changes with no stops) was only used for pinpointing our weak spots. I should explain the four stats, though.

Fast Speedo: This could also be called “Default” in that it was when we ran aiming to get the needle on the mark exactly. We ran this 8/9 days.
Slow Speedo: This was one of our correction attempts- I touched on it on Day 7, I believe. After a few days of continuous early legs, we decided that our speedometer may have become slightly fast (because it had lost pressure and shrank slightly, the mechanism was running smoother in the hotter weather, whatever) so we aimed to run the needle TOUCHING our tape marks, not planted dead on it.

We run our time a little differently than many of the teams. Instead of using acceleration charts that tell us delay around corners and the like, we would split our changes. This is (theoretically) more accurate, but less repeatable. However, because the splits assume perfectly linear speed changes, there’s two ways to run them.
Speed Splits: This is when we have our target speed, and we time from the exact MPH between the two speeds. So if we had to speed up from 20 to 40, the split would be a 30. If the car had perfectly constant acceleration, this would be exactly what we would need.
Time Splits: However, because of a low-powered engine, terrain changes, gear shifts, etc, the better system should be time splits. This is because our acceleration is anything but linear. For example, 0-20 takes about 6 seconds, while 0-40 takes about 20. That’s 8 seconds longer to 40 than it would be ideally. So, instead of splitting a 20-40 change at 30, we would split it at something like 35, because it’s halfway in the TIME taken to change speed.

These four parameters made up our tuning ability. Running really early? Run Slow Speedo and Speed Splits. Running really late? Fast Speedo and Time Splits. Running a bit early? Fast Speedo and Speed Splits (though this would really depend on the leg type).

Anyway, we changed tactics for the 9th day, since on the 8th we ran Speed Split AND Slow Speedo and we’d gone a full minute in the other direction, from -30 to +30 on nearly every leg. This did work a bit better, we zeroed in and we had some early and some late, though our total error was still 1:50. That amount I’m more than willing to blame on our extreme tiredness.

To be brutally honest, I can’t remember most of our stops or legs on those days. I’ll let my father write about the two kids with the lemonade stand that happened to be on part of a loop- I don’t remember enough to do those two justice. I do remember our finish at the Henry Ford. The finish was a lot like the other daily ones, but then we went for the parade lap around Greenfield Village. That was quite fun, though Nick was too busy trying to spot the steam train to be able to appreciate the time capsule that Greenfield is. After that we came back for the awards dinner where all the awards got announced. Excellent dinner, inside the museum. The awards have already been discussed, but suffice to say we claimed 3rd in X-Cup! That was enough to go up to (supposedly) get a plaque and a picture with Corky. The plaque didn’t actually exist right then, but I’m sure it will show up.

I will say that I need to go back to that museum…. I think we arrived around 6:50. We had around a half-hour to browse the car wing and saw a fourth or so of it. Then dinner finished around… 9-ish. Until we found out the place was being locked up, we were inside. While I did manage to complete the car circuit, it left out the other THREE wings. That was partly because they had an Allegheny “Super Power” Steam Loco there. This thing is a 2-6-6-6 wheel configuration, with the middle two sets of six wheels being driven. Each wheel weighed 10 tons. I couldn’t even fathom the problems that some of the engineering solved, much less the solutions… And being able to stare into the firebox… Even if I had remember my camera, there’s no way a photograph could have conveyed the enormity of it.

Anyway, before I get too lost in thought, I should chronicle the further issues that we experienced with the VW. Last I’d written, we’d changed the starter for the new one, and it worked (after some coaxing). Well, that held true for another, oooh it had to be about 6 starts. Then it gave up, just like the last one. And also just like the last one, hammering, fiddling, hoping wouldn’t make it work. Every now and then it would say “well…. okay, I’ll spin this once,” but for the most part, it was push-start only for the last few days. That wouldn’t have been a problem, but…

On day 8, because I knew the car wouldn’t start on its own, I avoided turning it off. This cause two specific issues. One, it’s very bad to idle an air-cooled car, especially when the cooling fan is driven by the engine. Two, being carbureted, it’s not very economical at idle. That meant more gas stops, even during transit zones that weren’t allowed time for gas. This made us run even later. It also gave Nick an excuse to go use the restroom and then wait in line with some awful candy. This made us later. Then we had to push start the car. This made us yet later. Then, because we were running late, we had to drive HARD to catch up. When combined with higher temps from idling, this meant we overheated the car. This meant the oil thinned out to the point of losing pressure, and we had to wait at the start for the car to cool down. Which meant turning off the engine. Which obviously wouldn’t start. Which meant a push start… on a very steep hill. Backwards. Backwards hill starts are a challenge, because the reverse gearing is so high, it simply locks the wheels when you engage the clutch. Once it started, however, we were still late, which meant driving like a… slightly silly person. Which meant more heat and more gas lost.

Who knew a starter could cause so many problems? See Nick, it’s not just an accessory!

It caused another issue in a sleed-deprived head, too. When something like that has gone wrong, it’s nerve-wracking at stops and lights, so you start to over-think… So, inevitably…

After dinner in Findlay, OH, at one point in the route to the hotel, there was a very steep hill with a traffic light. The light was two forward lanes, and by coincidence I was the the only car in the right line, while a team in a Model A was in the left, both first in line. Their lane was full, mine was empty. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Oh, you stalled when the light turned green, right? Nope, it was even worse than that. I was thinking that I had to make sure I didn’t stall, so when I stopped, I let out the clutch. A hair before I popped it out of gear.


The guys in the Model A didn’t notice. Yet. I looked behind me, and saw that the lane was clear. There was traffic coming, but it wasn’t there yet, so I let my foot off the brake, and shifted into reverse. I looked forward just long enough to see the guys next to us following our roll backwards with looks of complete confusion. After a few seconds I popped the clutch.


No good. Just locked the wheels, and the engine didn’t catch. That Lincoln Navigator is really bearing down on us now… And there’s no reverse lights on the VW to tell them what I’m doing… But we’re still gaining speed… Once more, just as the traffic is getting too close to allow another chance, I pop the clutch again.


It fires, I mash the left and middle pedal, throw the shifter into 1st and floor it up the hill. The light stayed red the whole time, and it took maybe 10 seconds for all of this to happen. When we got back to the light, we heard clapping. Looking over to the Model A revealed three men in an old Ford laughing uncontrollably and clapping sporadically.

It was a Great, Great, Great Race.

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