Longest Day of Nelson Ledges August 25-26, 2007 Team SRacing / RaceCarSupply.com (consisting of drivers: Randy Walker, Greg Walker, Doug Sontag, Wes Allen, and Jon Ricker) entered the legendary 24 hour race at Nelson Ledges Road Course in Garrettsville, Ohio. First run in 1980 the race, reportedly ran on the first day of summer, which is the longest day of the year. It attracted a variety of competitors and fans from across the country. Some of us long-timers remember Car and Driver, and Road & Track magazine entering several for a big magazine rivalry. The last time the 24-hour race was run was in 1996. It was resurrected for 2007. Greg Schings, who had run it before with his Dad, suggested the event to Randy and a few others. Everyone got interested real fast. The SRacing team (consisting of Jim and Greg Schings, BJ Moore and Brandon Davenport) prepared the car. SR also owns RaceCarSupply; you can check them out on the web at www.racecarsupply.com for all of your racing needs. The support crew consisted of a diverse cast of characters ranging from well-respected citizens to rowdy miata monkeys: Mark Manuel- Jack Man Mark Rivera- Front tire changer Kerry Embry- Front tire changer Dwight Sontag- Rear tire changer Ramsey Potts- Driver change assistant/Fuel drip pan David Brown- Cool suit ice/Radio tech Gary Hackney- Fire man Brandon Davenport- Fuel man Cameron Sontag- Rear tire changer/Fuel man Lee Bohon- Fuel man Jim Cornes- Food man Mike Shepherd, Lee Wells- Timing and Scoring Judy Walker, Cyndi Allen, Alex Allen- all around good help and support. The group entered the Friday test day so they could get as much seat time in the car as possible and begin shaking out any problems. Aside from a broken exhaust hanger, the test day went well. Shortly into the first qualifying session Friday evening, the clutch began to fail and sidelined the car for the night. We lost most of the first qualifying run, all of the second run and all of the night practice session. Not fun. On hand to address the clutch failure, two of the „Miata boys‟ (Mark Manuel and Kerry Embry) immediately jacked the car up and determined the transmission needed to come out. The third Miata boy, Mark Rivera, arrived just in time to help. They pushed the car into the trailer to do the work. Before they went to bed they pulled the transmission, determined the problem was due to a defect in the clutch pressure plate (which also damaged the throw out bearing). Since it couldn‟t be fixed that night they changed the brakes for the race with a new pad compound specific for endurance racing offered by Hawk. Upon searching for replacement clutch parts, nothing could be found in the surrounding area. As hard as that is to believe the closest pressure plate was at a dealer in Grand Rapids, MI. Fortunately, a fellow competitor had used parts available and had them brought to the track Saturday morning. The car was repaired and on the track for the morning warm-up by 11:30. Doug drove the morning warm-up, checking the transmission and bedding the new brakes in. All was good. The car was ready and set in its qualifying position of 26 out of 35, and 7th in class. Jon Ricker was chosen to start the race and ran the first 41 laps. Jon‟s start to the race went great. By lap 15, we had moved to 23rd position. He came in to the pits when the fuel gage showed less than a quarter tank. The first pit stop went fairly well with a driver change and a refuel. This was the first time that the refuelers (Lee Bohon and Brandon Davenport) actually refueled the car. There was some trouble with burping the air out of the tank so the first fueling only got about 7 gallons in (plus a pint or two slung over the crew when the filler tube was pulled before turning the valve off – oops!). Randy Walker took the wheel. This time we got 60 laps from the tank, although we still didn‟t trust the fuel gauge to know where “empty” really was. Once again, the car gained positions. By lap 100, we had advanced to 20th. Greg Walker took the wheel at lap 102. We were planning on leaving the car out longer and see what would happen regarding fuel consumption. 54 laps into his stint, the gauge showed “E” but after he pitted we still hadn‟t put more than 8 gallons in a tank that held 11.9. Greg‟s stint gained us 2 more spots. By lap 150 we were 18th. At lap 157, Wes Allen took his first stint. We did our first full pit stop consisting of fueling, changing of all tires and a driver change. It took 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Not bad for the first full stop. Subsequent pit stop times would continue to fall as we got more experience. 10 laps in, it started raining slightly. We were getting spooked by the fuel gauge and decided to short pit rather than risk running out of fuel somewhere on the track. In this stint of 66 laps, Wes managed to advance the team to 14th place. Doug Sontag, the last of 5 drivers, got in at lap 224. We installed the driving lights as he was starting around dusk and driving into the dark, he completed 65 laps. By lap 260 we were 12th overall and 3rd in our class. On lap 281, there was 20 minute “Black Flag- ALL”, followed by 1 lap green, 2 laps yellow, and 1 lap green, and 5 laps yellow. I don‟t remember why this happened, but there were probably too many cars off around the track. Of the 5 drivers, Wes was the only one that had night experience. Due to the clutch failure during the practice session the night before, no one got the chance to drive this car at this track in the dark prior to the race. However, we had very good drivers and they got in and hammered the car every lap. At lap 291, the car was pulled into the pits. Jon Ricker entered the car to begin his second stint. Jon‟s run went well and was uneventful except for an off course spin at lap 315. Jon said that while he was spinning out, he was already looking for the glow stick taped to the emergency brake (to be used to locate the car/driver) but fortunately ended up in a position to drop back into gear and head back on to the track. All seemed fine until lap 364. We had heard over the official radio that car 21 was showing sparks in the RF fender well. HEY, THAT‟S US! After the next lap, Jon came in for regular service and driver change. The gas gauge had showed “E” at lap 355, but by this time our DTR‟s (Designated Team Representatives) Jim S and BJ, were pushing the stops past what the gauge was saying. It still only took 9 gallons and we had been 75 laps this session. The right front tire was worn TO THE STEEL CORD and BEYOND in one place. No wonder where the sparks were coming from. We officially got our money‟s worth from that tire. Needless to say, the tires were also changed at this stop. Randy entered the car for his second stint at lap 365. Before completing his first lap, he uttered the now famous line, “This SOB won‟t turn right!!!” Being dark and damp with cold tires BJ convinced him to drive through it. Ever the soldier Randy did - to the point of doubting his skills. It is 1:00 AM. Randy was still experiencing the same problem and it was costing him several seconds each lap. At lap 387, the car was called in to check the suspension. Since the RF tire was worn so badly earlier, we jacked up the right side but found no problems. After much discussion, it was decided to wait until the next driver change to look further for the source of the problem. We were trying to avoid too much time in the pits, so off Randy went to complete his stint. Around lap 400, we were 11th overall and 2nd in class!!!!) During the night, the racing officials instructed the driver to turn on their turn signals to show following drivers which side you want them to pass on. At the end of lap 437, Randy dutifully turns on his left turn signal and proceeds to turn right into pit lane…COLLIDING WITH ANOTHER MIATA! As it‟s dark and a lot of the cars have the same headlight configuration we do, and knowing Randy just called in, Ramsey flags the approaching miata into our pit…only to discover A DIFFERENT MIATA, where‟s ours, oh, there he is WAITING FOR THIS GUY TO GET OUT OF OUR PIT! Frantic shouting and waving from all of us accomplishes this. We never did swap stories with that other crew about that, but the car that pulled in was the same car Randy contacted when entering the pits. At this stop, Greg gets in and the pit crew further inspects the car for the turning problem. We finally find the culprit to be the LEFT front lower control arm. One of the cam bolts that adjust and hold the alignment had slipped out of position. Miatas are known for this to happen unless the bolt is torqued down VERY tight (more so than what Mazda specs in their service manual). Fortunately, a mark had been previously scribed to show where the position of the adjusted cam bolt should be positioned, so it was put back in place and the car goes back out…fixed! 10 laps later, Greg calls in and says it will not turn right again. There are only 3 right turns on this track, turn 1 at the end of the front straight being the fastest. Having a car that won‟t turn right is scary at 100 miles an hour…in the dark…with a damp track. The caliber of our drivers was quite amazing. Although they had been saying the car wouldn‟t turn good, they kept driving as hard as they could anyway and just made it work. On lap 450, Greg brings the car in again to the pits. This time the problem is fixed for good. Apparently the bolt had loosened up again due to a hard spot in it, probably from being loose and feeling tight when it really wasn‟t. Mark Rivera tightened it to the point of scaring us it was going to break. By the time Greg is finished our drivers have pulled up to 2nd in class and 9th overall!! Lap 498 4:20 AM, another pit stop. Tire wear is good and only fronts are changed this round. The gas gauge says empty but it only takes 8.5 gallons. Wes gets in. There is a yellow flag at lap 517. This was when they brought the water truck inside the track to fix the bathrooms that had been closed for the majority of the evening/morning. There were only a few porta-potties on site that acted as back-ups for the bathroom. Lap 553, the fuel gauge was on “E”. Lap 563, Doug gets in and STILL we can only get about 9 gallons to flow in. Doug said later he went into turn 1 scared to death the car was still diving badly. Lap 569 he calls in. He suspects a wheel bearing had gone bad or a wheel was loose. There was lots of vibration and noise. He pits and the left rear wheel is found to be loose. Damn, I changed that!...(Dwight) but I know it was tight. I had time to go all around the wheel a second time with the impact! Heavy discussion about the problem led to a discovery: the wheel-centering ring from the wheel we took off the LR is missing. This is a pressed in piece and shouldn‟t have come out. However, this was also endurance racing and things happen, especially weird things. Doug calls in at lap 583, reporting that the problem is back. BJ was just getting ready to call him in. When the left rear was removed, we discovered the ring had been left on the hub. While a new wheel was fitted, we discovered we had an odd sized lug nut...the hard way. It got stuck and required borrowing a tool from the team next to us to get it fixed. Doug goes out again. 5 laps later he is black flagged for 5 MINUTES apparently for an off course excursion in a yellow flag zone. However the rest period appeared to have calmed him down. After the rest he goes out and turns the fastest laps of all the drivers so far! As he completes his stint, daylight once again joins us. As he is pitting Doug mentions the right mirror needs adjusting. Mark Rivera inspects it and tears it off the side of the car announcing loudly to all that the MIRROR IS ADJUSTED. It‟s lap 619 and Jon gets in again. He runs his fastest laps, turning times in the same range as Doug. It is obvious the car is now fixed and really singing. Lap 668… Jon says, “I smell trans or rear end fluid…I think its me.” Lap 669; Jon blasts down pit lane. He lost power coming out of the last turn and dove for the pits! The car is jacked up and upon immediate inspection shows THE DIFFERENTIAL HAD HOLES AND CRACKS IN IT!!!! It is about 9:00 AM. SRacing Spec Miata… A drive train barely alive… We have a whole spare car… We have the technology… We can repair it as good as new… Strong… Fast… We have the desire… BJ looks at the crew and asks, “Do you guys want to change the diff?” “HELL YEAH! We didn‟t come here to stop now!” It looked like there was an explosion in our pit. Tools were loaded on the Mule while one group headed for the tech shed with the broken car. Another went to the trailer to get Mark Manuel‟s car on the rack and start the removal from this fine organ donor. We were just pulling the diff out of Mark‟s car when somebody opened the door and said they were ready for it. Wow! 1 hour and 23 minutes later, at 10:29 am, the car re-entered the track with Randy at the wheel! We were on lap 670. This was Randy‟s first time in the car since the suspension problem was fixed. He goes out and turns his fastest laps. No longer doubting his ability, he quickly gets down where the rest of the guys were running. Lap 716, Greg got in. It was obvious he liked the car as his 2nd lap is down in the fast range. Lap 738, he complained that the brakes were mushy. Lap 739, he turned his fastest lap. Lap 759, he sets the fastest lap so far in our car, beating Doug by a few hundredths. Lap 771, Wes began his stint. He turned his fastest laps. Things were going very well for the team. Despite our troubles, we were back on track and moving fast. That was, until… Lap 796, Wes brings it in the pits as there was steam coming out of the hood. Initial inspection reveals the overflow hose has come off and a little coolant had spilled out obviously being the source of the steam. Not much was thought of this as a zip tie fixed that problem. Back to the track Wes goes. Lap 800, Wes comes back in, this time with huge amounts of steam rolling from the engine bay. Closer inspection shows a broken belt that drives the alternator and the water pump. The pivot bolt for the alternator had disappeared which allowed the alternator to slide out of position and cause the belt to slip off (and break). We push the Miata back to the tech shed. One group goes to the trailer to further dismember “Junior”. It‟s discovered that not only was the pivot bolt gone from the alternator, but also the right side motor mount bolts are gone. Doug is belted in the driver‟s seat as we frantically worked to save our little engine that could. Repairs were made; we dropped the car and told Doug to start it. It spun weird and made a whirring sound followed with murky water spouting out of the filler neck of the radiator. “Sorry guys we‟re done.” Kerry Embry whistled an appropriate song to the tune of “Taps”. We were indeed done. We looked at each other. 800 laps, 8th in class, 23 hours and 45 minutes have gone by, a few hours of sleep by some, none by others, failures initially feared terminal resolved obsessively by a crazed, dedicated crew…and “we‟re done?” Ill feelings? Disheartened moods? A general sense of failure? NOT HARDLY! Cheers go up from everybody. We didn‟t finish the race but everyone there had perhaps the best time they ever had at a racetrack. BJ said, “Let‟s get everything out of the tech shed then go back and watch the finish.” At the end of the race, all the crewmembers from all the teams lined the pit wall to cheer on the finishers. It was a sight to see. The winning car went 962 laps!!! After leading most of the race they had problems of their own retaking the lead in the last half-hour. The 2nd place car overall was in our class. One of the finishers was a VW Rabbit that cart wheeled outside of the backstretch early in the race. It only completed 215 laps. I went past the tech shed in the middle of the night and saw a backhoe attached to one end and a diesel dually attached to the other. I thought they were putting it on the trailer. No. They were actually PULLING IT STRAIGHT!! It was a shock to see it on the track when we were watching the finish. No glass, no straight sheet metal! As he crossed the line, the driver threw a rubber chicken tied to a string out the front so it would land on the roof. Those guys were interested in finishing! There are many stories to be told, and told, and told. One of the ones I appreciated came from Greg. He said he watched other crews as far as 4 and 5 down from us, and noticed that when our car came in they would pay attention, sometimes even getting out of their chairs to watch OUR pit stop. We had practiced and we were very serious, even though the practices sometime looked like the keystone cops. We even changed a little after getting to the track. A full stop with fuel and tires went like this: In the front, the jack man, usually Mark Manuel, would go first and position the jack at the same time the fireman, Gary Hackney, would go over the pit wall behind the car with the fire bottle. Front tire changer, Kerry or Mark Rivera and rear tire changer, Dwight or Cameron, would go over next, and take the lugs off of the left wheels. At this time, the first of 2 fuelers actively working, (LeeBo, Brandon or Cameron) would begin carrying 6 gallons of fuel in a large fuel jug over the wall and up on a shoulder in preparation to refuel the car when the time was ready. Ramsey Potts would open the door, unhook the driver and literally pull the driver out of the car. The attention Ramsey gave to these guys was much appreciated. I‟m sure the other teams were envious of our drivers not having to climb out on their own around all of those @#$^%$#@ roll bars. Once the driver was out of the car, we would all shout FUEL to make sure all hands were off the car. When the fuel process starts, all other work had to stop. Nobody could touch the car during this time, the driver had to be out of the car, and all wheels had to be on the ground. One time during the night Manuel moved the jack handle and Rivera put the dipstick back in. Both were minor but indeed infractions. However, the official watching our pit stops came to us and said, “You guys have been doing this right all night so I‟m not going to penalize you…this time.” The official even noticed us! When the fueler was done he would yell DONE, then we would change the tires, put a driver back in, while Brown-o would scoop water out of the cool suit cooler and replenish with ice, and change the radio when it was dead. By the end of the event, it was like a well-oiled machine of frantic, madmen each crisply focused on their role and in perfect harmony with one another. Our first stop was about 4 minutes 30 seconds; our last was right at 2 minutes. I even noticed a team next to us that had lots of enduros under their belt was taking the lugs off before jacking the car up to save time. Jim Schings said, “Had it not been for the diff and belt issue we would have probably finished 2nd or 3rd in class and 10th overall. This was an unbelievable effort for our first attempt. 4 of the 5 drivers had never been in a Miata before or ever done a 24-hour race. Our pit crew was flawless and probably better than any crew there, and they had zero experience.” (Thanks Jim) I remember Jon‟s look of disbelief when he found out about the diff change. “You changed the diff??? You guys are freakin unbelievable!” Everybody involved gave 110%. Everybody acknowledged and respected the other guys, yes there were driver/crew jokes, all good-natured. Everybody that participated is ready to go again. The mood of everyone was always positive, no matter if was amidst a challenge or when we get good news of gaining position on track. Here is a quote from Mark Manuel: ”I do have a very serious concern. After seeing the exuberance and enthusiasm after the race, I'm concerned about us doing this again. If everyone is this excited after not finishing, I can't imagine what would happen if we actually finished, or even WON! Be sure to corner somebody from the team to regale you with more stories. There are many, many more. Be prepared to listen for a while as it‟s likely you‟ll get showered with enthusiastic bench racing. There‟s talk of these guys doing more enduros…you better get on board as the crew line is forming now. Enough said… By Dwight Sontag, Lee Wells, Mark Manuel, Lee Bohon.