“So, uh, I guess we’re done”. The first time I said that, it was an unnerving realization. A week before the race, we had the car running just fine and all the major items checked off the to-do list. The carb and header were in, the new ignition system was working great, the front wheels pointed in all the right directions and the rear tires no longer rubbed. It was only about 8:30 and I was sending JeepJeff home with no need to come back mid-week. Weird, what are we forgetting? I wondered.
We forgot nothing, but when Graham went to start the car for a test-drive on Thursday, the ignition system was dead. We quadruple-checked the supply, the hookups and the grounds, all of which were right. Other than that, the remaining pieces were the coil, magnetic pickup in the distributor and the Duraspark box itself. One-by-one, we ended up replacing all of them more than once, but never got a spark out of the system. We swapped back and forth with our points distributor, and the old-school unit worked fine every time. As best we can tell, something in the Duraspark system died in a way that killed other new components that we swapped in. Points it was, then.
Fast forward through a million logistics and we’d cleared tech and BS without issue, aside from being too late in the day to make practice worth the $325 Sonoma Raceway wanted. Everyone but Glucker had raced there before, so we just decided to put him in the car first and let him learn the track while the field was crowded and slow. He started inauspiciously, with the car stalling and refusing to restart right as his lane rolled out. Aside from that, his shift went uneventfully. Uneventfully in terms of our car, at least: there were multiple full course yellows and even a full course red courtesy of a flaming Porsche.
At the Glucker-to-Graham handoff, we realized we’d forgotten to tell him the intricacies of our clutch linkage (you have to pull up on the pedal after shifting), and he’d burned through a significant portion of our clutch’s remaining life. We mentally prepared to swap a clutch that evening while Graham did our fastest laps of the day (2:27, 10 seconds faster than last race’s best and merely 27 seconds off the fastest pace) over a marathon 2.5 hour stint. He brought the car back in with no black flags and the clutch no worse than it started. Sweet.
JeepJeff took the wheel, and immediately endured a long full-course-yellow. The hope was he could stretch that tank (and his nerves) to finish out the day, and in a way he did. I forget the exact timing, but at some point I looked up to notice the standard LeMons cacophony had died down and everyone was parked: Full Course Red. FCR leaves everyone in the paddock on edge, knowing that it’s reserved for situations requiring immediate firefighting or medical attention. Once we know the cause, we tend to go back to BSing about stacking 12A rotaries end-to-end. Unfortunately, someone shouted my name and pointed to our Racecast.me feed: the Ranchero was facing backwards with a crumpled hood and no driver.
Well, shit. What now? Where is the car on track? Do I try to find the ambulance that may or may not contain Jeff? If he’s really hurt, will anyone actually contact me? How bad is the car? Meanwhile, our Race Cast feed showed the recovery crew unable to get the three-on-the-tree out of gear, so they had to just drag the car with its rear tires squealing. After jogging down to meet the ambulance and confirm Jeff was ok, I hustled over to the turn 1 access road to survey the damage.
“So, uh, I guess we’re done”. It was a relief, in a way. Uncertainty stresses me, but the front of the car was so destroyed, there was no question as to the fate of our weekend. No need to scramble with a sawzall and play tug-o-war with heavy duty trucks; it’s over. To briefly survey the damage: the passenger unibody “frame rail” member was accordioned and bent up 30 degrees, the floor section it attached to had erupted through the passenger footwell, the passenger shock tower was 8″ farther back, the radiator, fan and grille had all become one fruitcake of automotive bits and the transmission tunnel was slightly accordioned.
The onboard video shows the #386 “GoPro” (which is actually driven by GoPro staffers) BMW E28 clipping our front-right corner, setting off a series of (over?) corrections leading to a spin. The “DemBones” C4 Corvette that plowed into us seems to have a lot of reaction time, until you realize that at that time of day on Turn 1 the driver’s staring directly into the sun. I’d call that three minor driver errors stacked end to end to generate an unfortunate racing incident. As much as it sucks to kill the front end of the car, it’s better than the equally probable driver’s door or even rear end (where the 1962-original gas tank resides).
A few words on safety. In the corner of the onboard, you can see Jeff’s head bounce forward, then catch on our NexGen’s straps. Kudos to LeMons for making head-and-neck restraints mandatory, as this was our first race with one. To be honest, we’re the kind of cheapskates who’d always mean to get a head-and-neck, but would never prioritize it until it was mandatory. Our Evil Genius cage? Completely unfazed, as best we can tell. Probably kept the rest of the structure of the cab from accordioning. Lastly: we’re glad the impact wasn’t on the driver’s front, as we still have/had the original non-collapsing “spear of death” steering column. Jay seemed ready to make collapsable columns on pre-’67 cars mandatory on the spot, and common sense suggests any future builds should just include this from the get-go.
So, what’s next?
Just from the paddock at LeMons, we’ve got at least three people offering “deals” on Falcons or Rancheros to replace this one. Looking at the extent of the damage, I’m skeptical a cut + stretch + weld job will ever un-banana this car. A more rational course would be to swap the good steering, suspension and brake bits from this one to another member of the 1960-1982 Falcon Platform family, then scrap the shell. It’d be nice to attempt to save the cage, but we’ll have to how feasible cutting the floor plates and two roofs off would be. Meanwhile, we know our biggest weakness is the combination of the straight-six’s powerband with a three speed, so we’ll have to find a way to rectify that.
Let’s see where 2016 takes us…