TGSI RACING -- OPEL

This is a reprint of an article that I wrote for California Sports Car in 1996.  It was printed as a two part series. It has been some years now, but now dp MotorSports is once again embarking on the insanity of a 25 Hour enduro, I thought every one would enjoy reading about such an event.  By the way, in 1996 Lowell Preston was a racing friend and we teamed up for a number of races.  He is now the "p" in dp MotorSports.  Here is Part 1 of the article


 

The Longest Day

By Robert Dennard

After last years Cal Club enduro Lowell Preston and I talked about going to the “Longest Day” at Nelsons Ledges.  Lowell had been my enduro partner for the past two years... And because we did not make it to the end of either of these endouros (water pump and carb problems), running in a 24 hour race seemed to make some kind of perverted sense.  So we decided to go for it.  For some time Lowell had used the name J.O.B. racing; so we used it for our team.  The J.O.B. stands for Just Over Broke.

One of the first people I talked to about the idea was John Norris.  John has about a zillion miles of previous “Longest Day” experience.  The first advice John gave me was to run someone else’s car... which I promptly ignored.  John also told me to take spare everything and be prepared to rebuild the car before and after the race.  John was right on all counts.

By the January/February time frame the project was taking shape and making this race became a real quest.  Early on Lou Ryba signed on with us as a driver.  I had kind of a hard time finding a fourth driver.  John Norris graciously declined... he didn’t want to go with a “rookie” team.  I contacted Del Ferris who said in effect “you’re crazy”... maybe he’s right.  After I did a little “side-by-side” racing with Gerry Wollery (a fellow ITB racer) during the March race at Willow Springs, we asked him to join the team and he agreed.

After three more months of preparation, several buckets of money, and a completely rebuilt car, we were ready to go.  There were a few extra things I wanted to do but time ran out.  The one thing that should have been done was to install a re-fueling “dry break”.  As it ended up we used the old funnel and gas cans.  That turned out to be a real pain in the butt.

The last thing I did was to paint the car.  After two seasons at Willow Springs with all of the dirt & rocks... and a couple of  “E ticket rides”, the car was looking pretty bad.  So on the last Saturday before I left for Ohio, Lowell and I did a paint job.  The car really looked good... maybe we shouldn’t have painted it...

I had confidence in everything for the car, but finding a crew was a different matter.  It’s hard to ask people to take a week or so off from work to “crew” a car... for free.  I put out the word that I was looking for crew members in the Opel Motorsports Club news letter.  I was overwhelmed by the response.  I even got cash, a crisp $100.00 dollar bill, from the Opel GT Club in Holland for running their decal on the car.  Now those folks are really enthusiasts.  I got so many volunteers to work as crew that I didn’t know with them.  So, I ended up with a crew  of Opel GT enthusiasts from the Ohio area.  None of them had any crew experience, but they were enthusiastic.

A few weeks before it was time for the race, I got word that there was not going to be anyone at the race changing tires.  That sent me into a panic!!!  Like most “IT” racers, I have a few wheels, but not enough to mount up all of the tires for a 24 hour race plus a set of rain tires.

LIBERTY TIRE Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio came to the rescue.  The brought a crew and a trailer load of tires.  That worked out great.  Instead of having to buy a load of tires and take them with us to Ohio, we only had to buy what we used for the race.  The LIBERTY TIRE folks were great and really “busted their buns” for us.

If you’ve ever been to Nelsons Ledges before, you know that the “out-house” at the track is really awful... among the worst I’ve ever been in.  So the LIBERTY TIRE folks even rented a CLEAN Port-A-Potty for their customers (and themselves).  This might seem like a little thing, but I would have certainly died a terrible death if I had to have used the Nelsons Ledges “facility” for three days.  The LIBERTY TIRE folks attend most of the regional races in the area, so if you’re in that region for a race, I know they will fix you up.

Finally, it was off to Ohio.  MAN!!! That’s a really long haul.  I had loaded my tow vehicle (my motorhome... to be my home for almost two weeks) and trailer with everything I thought I could possibly use.  The whole “rig” must have weighed a zillion pounds so I had to go slow... especially up hills.  From my home in Lancaster, Ca. to Nelsons Ledges is 2592 miles...and it seemed longer than that.  As it turned out we were the team that had come the farthest for the race.

In arrived late Thursday afternoon.  It looked like most of the other teams had been there all day getting their pits set-up.  There was every kind of scaffolding, pit light set-up, and re-fueling rig you can imagine.  I worked into the night to get the pit area set-up and everything ready to go for the Friday practice and qualifying.

I thought I was well prepared.  I brought almost every tool I owned and spare everything.  But... stuff started to “die” even before the Friday morning practice.  I had brought three generators... the one in the motorhome and two portable units.  The generator in the motorhome didn’t even make it to Ohio... I guess it’s time to pay a little attention to the “tow vehicle”.  The other two generators died Friday.  The crew worked on them and got one going enough to provide pit lights on Saturday night.

The first time I plugged in my air compressor it went up in smoke.  To be competitive with the front runners I knew that pit stops, with re-fueling and tire changes, would have to be done in the 90 second (required) minimum.  Without “air” to run air impact wrenches for tire changes we would have been “dead meat”.

I had arranged to pit next to Ed Funk in the “Racing Against Leukemia” ITB Opel Manta... there’s strength in numbers.  Fortunately, they had brought plenty of nitrogen bottles and let us share their “air”.  Ed has kind of a reverse sponsorship deal.  He is raising money for the fight against leukemia with his racing.  He also brought out a bunch of kids to see the race.  Thanks for the help Ed, and keep up the good work.

The first two hour practice session started at 9:00 A.M. Friday.  I was in for a rude awakening.  The Nelsons Ledges circuit is the roughest race course I have ever been on.  Now I knew why John Norris said to take someone else’s car.  This track was going to really beat-up the car.  Rather than figuring out how to go fast, I spent my practice time trying to find the semi-smooth areas of the track.  During the practice session, the car took a beating.  Even the rear view mirror broke.  I had to “steal” one of these from one of the crew members cars.  The problems we had in practice were minor and easy to fix, but what would the car be like after 24 hours of racing?

Two qualifying sessions were next with a total of 3 1/2 hours of track time.  For the time that I was in the car, I was still trying to find out where the smooth parts of the track were...  I never found them.  Lou and Lowell did some really quick times.  I’m not sure who was fastest but by our un-official stopwatch, both of them did a 1:23.9 + “change”.  This was good enough for 11th overall on the grid (out of 36 cars) and second in ITB (out of 14 cars).

Next was evening/night practice from 8:00-10:00 PM.  It doesn’t get really dark until after 9:00 PM so we didn’t go out until around 9:00.  Then we got our next surprise.  I had replaced the standard head lamps with 60 watt halogen lights plus added four extra 55 Watt halogen auxiliary lights. (Four extra lights are allowed by the supplemental regulations for this race.)  Gerry took the car out about dusk and felt like the lights weren't aimed properly.  Lou went out in the twilight and turned in some good times after dark.  Then Lowell did one lap and came in.  He said that the lights were awful (not his exact words but I can’t print them here) and that he couldn’t drive the car the way that it was.  I jumped in to check it out. I went sooooo slow that I was worried that I would get hit from the rear.  The lights I had put on the car were totally inadequate.  I don’t know how Lou went as fast as he did in the dark... it has to be large round male organs.

The next morning I started out at 6:00 A.M. getting the car ready.  First I went to the HELLA (halogen light) folks who were at the race.  I told them that I wanted to put on enough lights on the front of the car to burn the paint off any car in front of me.  $900.00 later we had a set of “paint burners” on the front of the car.  These lights really worked.  If anyone is thinking of going to this or other night race in the future, don’t try to short cut with the stuff that is “street legal”.  Call HELLA and buy the most lights they have.  

We spent the morning and early afternoon putting on lights, changing brake pads/shoes, tires and a few other things to get the car ready so we missed morning warm-up.  Missing warm-up was no big deal... we were going to get plenty of track time.  By the time the car was done, it was nearing the 3:00 P.M. start time... I had already put in a full day and the race was just starting.

Lowell started the race for the team.  In our two previous Cal Club enduros Lowell had gotten less than 15 minutes of racing time.  I was determined that if we broke this time, at least Lowell would get some time in.  Our starting strategy was simple.  Drive easy, stay out of trouble, and keep the car together.  We could always “turn it up” later if we needed to.

It was really hot; around 95 degrees and humidity about the same.  Lowell was only able to stay in the car for about 1 1/2 hours.  When he came in we found out what a “goat rope” our pit stops were going to be.

Since we didn’t have a good re-fueling method, it took two people almost the whole 90 seconds to re-fuel the car... one to hold the funnel and one to pour in the fuel.  Then when the tank was full, any fuel left in the funnel went all over the ground.  Safety required that we wash down fuel spilled on the rear of the car and on the ground... what a mess that made.

Only four workers are allowed “over the wall” during pit stops.  With two people tied up re-fueling, we realized that the only work that we could get done in 90 seconds was to change two tires.  I’m not sure we ever even made that.  I sure have a new appreciation of what the NASCAR guys do... in less than 20 seconds.

I had originally planned to change brake pads every six hours.  But, I had been told that “Nelson” is not hard on brakes.  During practice and qualifying, the pads looked like they would last a long time.  Since I realized that it was going to take a long pit stop to change pads, I decided to “watch” the pads, but not change them until morning unless we had to.

My turn in the car was next.  I settled into a comfortable pace.  I think I was doing pretty good because I passed a lot of ITB cars, and none passed me.  After about an hour I started to feel a terrible wobble in the front-end.  I brought the car in and it turned out that the left front hub had broken.

Gill Wesson, owner of the OPEL GT SOURCE and Opel GT expert extraordinaire, had flown in early Saturday morning.  Thank goodness he was there.  He got the car fixed really quick and got us back on the track in about 35 minutes.  We were down about 23 laps and probably in about last place.  But it’s a long race and we started to make-up time.

Gerry and Lou picked up the pace and we were moving up.  I watched Lou during his last daylight session.  He passed every car in class at least once, and most of them two, three, or more times.  By the 6th and 7th hour there had been a number of cars in the “tech barn” fixing what they had broke... Now it was their turn... maybe we had gotten our problems over early.

I remember reading somewhere that at the “Longest Day” things “go bump in the night”.  I was far too tired to drive so I decided to pass my night driving to the other three drivers.  After it got dark, an off road excursion tore a fuel line which took about ten minutes to fix.  Later, Lou got pushed off the track.  Nothing on the car was damaged, but it got stuck in the mud and Lou had to wait for the tow truck to get him out.  Fortunately, a full course yellow came out at the same time (not for Lou), so we didn’t loose too much time.  As the night wore on, we continued to move up.  By around 3:00 AM... what were we doing racing at the in the morning!!!... we had moved up to 15th overall and 6th in class.

By now I was really tired.  I had been going for about 21 hours. I laid down to get some rest in what had become known as the JOB hotel... a tent trailer one of the crew members had brought to the race.  It was parked in the infield, so real sleep was impossible.  I was in  that “never-never land” between sleep and awake when my son came up to me and yelled:

DAD!!!!!         THEY NEED YOU !!!!!


TGSI HOME