july 1 2007 : chattanooga, tennessee, usa
It’s 11:00 and we’re just getting to our room after another great day. Things started out well this morning, with good clear weather and finally some relief from the heat as we headed to the Blue Ridge Mountains for some racing. The first leg went off without a hitch and we thought we ran pretty well. After that we cruised a couple of hours (non-racing) away to the Maggie Valley Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum that hosted a big lunch for us. Again there were hundreds of spectators there lining the road anxious to see all the cars. The food was great and the hospitality that we received was incredible. We have really been amazed at how terrific everybody has been when we’ve rolled in to their towns.
After lunch we ran leg two. Ali and I were going along good until we missed a sign. We realized our mistake rather quickly though and I was able to calculate how much time we had mistakenly gained during the goof. Unfortunately I didn’t quite understand the rules properly and thought that I’d be able to calculate for the seven seconds of error at the next stop. As it turned out I was wrong and there was a checkpoint before the stop. Lesson learned.
Leg three didn’t go very well either. We had been going along fine until we rounded a corner and promptly missed our next turn. Again we noticed the mistake immediately and were able to spin around and get back on course. Our nerves were shaken though and I started getting grilled by Ali for “not having my head in the game.” While my mind raced with figures I managed to miss yet another sign, and before long we were well and truly screwed up. Total rookie mistake, compounding errors. But then we got a break when we caught a glimpse of the car in front of us. From that we were able to sort of figure out about where the heck we should have been and get rolling again.
During stage four the rain started coming down and things got a little crazy as we entered “the maze.” The maze was this crazy section that wound around inside an old abandoned Army TNT plant, full of one lane unmarked roads that zigzagged in every direction. We had about 50 instructions to follow through there and it got crazy. We again missed a turn early on and in order to make up our time we had to pass one car and go blasting over some rail road tracks that just about sent us airborne. With that time made up we were able to settle down though and we did awesome. Finding every obscure turn and keeping our speed pretty accurate as well. With about ten instructions left Ali’s drivers side wiper blade stopped working and she had to finish with about thirty percent visibility. Figures the little screw would work itself loose right then.
At the end of the day we were pretty unhappy with our performance. I estimated our times to be 2, 15, 15, and 10. We made a lot of stupid errors that we shouldn’t have, but I thought that I had made up for a lot of them as well. When we pulled in at the end of the day we found that despite the rain a nice big crowd had still gathered along the street in downtown Chattanooga to welcome us. We got our scores and found out things weren’t nearly as bad as they had seemed, though still not all that good. We had a 5, 13, 4, and 5.
As we continued through the crowd somebody yelled out, “Hey Bumfuzzle, did y’all paint your fire extinguisher gray yet?” A reference to the infamous gray painting of the man overboard pole. It was pretty hilarious. And as it turned out there were a whole bunch of Bumfuzzle website friends of ours there. Which is also why we aren’t getting to bed until well after midnight after about an 18 hour day. The whole scene was just a lot of fun. We did some interviews for the newspapers and Ali even did a little gig for the local news, apparently working towards her ultimate goal of the CBS nightly news anchor spot.
The awards ceremony started up and we really had no idea where we stood. When we heard the announcement that third place for the rookies went to a team with a score of 42 we couldn’t believe it. Our 27 had turned out okay after all. In fact, good enough for second place for the second day in a row. Another $750 check in Ali’s purse. We were a little shocked, but I was also feeling a bit vindicated, and Ali even grudgingly admitted that maybe I did know what I was doing. Though I, “Still need to get my head in the game!”
Day 2 leg scores: 0:05, 0:13, 0:04, 0:05 = 0:27 on the day
2nd Place Rookie, 17th Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 21st Overall
july 2 2007 : nashville, tennessee, usa
The fun continues on the road to California. Ali and I are having way more fun than we ever thought we would on this race. After the first leg today we stopped in Pikeville, Tennessee, for a quick pit stop. But even though each car was only stopping for about twenty minutes the whole town turned out to see us.
During the race itself it’s really amazing how little we actually get to enjoy the beautiful country that we are driving through. Ali’s so focused on the speedometer that she sometimes doesn’t remember looking at the road for what seems like minutes, though some part of her brain must be working on the problem of keeping us on the blacktop. Meanwhile my eyes are split, one looking at the instructions, and one nearly always focused on the side of the road scanning for the next sign from the instructions. Today I figured out a way to sit with the instructions up directly in front of my face so I didn’t have to look up and down which made a huge difference as we didn’t make one error in the instructions. That’s huge in a race like this. Basically if you do nothing else right, but you don’t make a wrong turn, you seem pretty sure to finish well.
Our next stop for the day was in Sparta, Tennessee, and yes, again we were shocked by the turnout. It’s like every single person in the five county area turned out to see the show and the people were incredible. This is what true southern hospitality is all about. Most of us, Ali and I included, don’t even realize that places like this still exist in America, but they really do.
Immediately upon arrival some nice lady pokes her head in the car along with a couple of gift bags full of things like fresh picked cherries, umbrellas, t-shirts, and even those frozen bandanas you take out of the freezer and throw around your neck. They then tell you to head right on over to the food stand set up for us, which generally has fried chicken and some homemade peach pie. And of course by the time everybody gets back to their car there are a bunch of nice people standing there eager to hear all about the race. I tell you, I hate to get all sappy, but we’ve been bowled over by the hospitality we’ve been shown.
Even though we weren’t making wrong turns today everything didn’t go perfectly smoothly. The racer in front of us is driving a big truck and seemed to be having some problems with his speedometer or something, because Ali and I kept catching up to him. The first time we were on a hilly one lane road and couldn’t pass him, so we stopped right in the middle of the road. When there is some issue beyond your control, like traffic, you can appeal for a time delay. So we did a stop and go that would slow us down 20 seconds, figuring that would be enough. But within minutes we had run right up on the guy, and again it was in an area we couldn’t pass. By the end of the leg we’d had to slow down a minute twenty. The problem is that we’re not exactly perfectly accurate when we do that so we knew we had some error that we couldn’t figure out. But we kept racing and felt like we were doing pretty well.
We had another pit stop in the afternoon in McMinnville, Tennessee. Same routine, great people, great food, and more great gifts. This town looked like I would picture Mayberry, with the town square, the courthouse lawn, and the small businesses all around. Not to mention they are the Nursery Capital of the World. Yep, the world. Great stop.
More racing ensued, leading us through more beautiful country that we couldn’t fully enjoy, but did catch glimpses of. One thing we did see a lot of today were weird animal encounters. Right at the beginning of the race a black cat ran across the road in front of us. He was followed by a squirrel that seemed completely unfazed by our car having to swerve around him, and not to be outdone a bird just stood in the road and stared at us too. Then there were the deer standing in the fields, and lots and lots of dogs chasing us down the roads. I get a little worried when Ali is driving and animals are around because I know that no matter what the animal is, even if its a crow, she will sacrifice the car in a crash before hitting the thing.
At the finish today we rolled in to the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, a very cool place with some beautiful cars, but more than that they’ve got a lot of unique cars. The stuff that the designers of the 50′s, 60′s, and 70′s probably envisioned as being space age.
Right when we rolled in to the parking area a bunch of 356 club guys came over to offer us any help we needed. I popped the lid on the engine and let them go nuts. They got a little better throttle response for us, but weren’t quite able to get that pesky idle nailed down for us. My tiny bag of tools thwarted any efforts at getting some serious work accomplished in the parking lot. It was really cool of them to come by though and say hey. The Porsche nuts of the world seem thrilled to see a 356 out running the roads.
We got our scores for the day and weren’t overly thrilled with them, but weren’t too disappointed either. We screwed up on our delay request and had asked for a minute fifteen not realizing there is a rule that it has to be in ten second increments. We also made a pretty embarrassing mistake when we were turning in the delay request in the first place. We didn’t really know what we were supposed to do with it except that we thought we were supposed to hand it in right away.
Ali somehow got it in her head that we were supposed to turn it in at the next checkpoint. But obviously we couldn’t stop at the checkpoint because we’d still be racing on the clock. So what was our solution? To let it fly out the window as we flew past them. Uh yeah, we weren’t exactly thinking that one through too clearly. Apparently though they were kind enough to pick it up anyway. So when we pulled in at the end of the day, after figuring out the proper procedure we told them it should have been 1:20, but they had already ruled it was 1:10. We didn’t think complaining would be very nice since we did make them pick up our paper in the middle of the road. That mistake cost us 8 seconds in our overall score, which is pretty significant. But what are you going to do?
We were very happy to find out that we had gotten another Ace and the corresponding 5 bonus points to go along with it. And come announcement time the tension mounted as we waited to find out how we fared compared with the rest of the field. We were more than a little stoked to hear our names called for the first place rookie prize for the day and 13th overall. The $1000 check that went along with it got some big grins on our faces too. It really was a great day all the way around. We can’t wait for tomorrow.
Day 3 leg scores: 0:05, 0:09, 0:00, 0:06, 0:10 = 0:30 on the day
1st Place Rookie, 14th Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 20th Overall
july 3 2007 : germantown, tennessee, usa
Today was pretty much smooth sailing from start to finish. We were out on the road early and had some great stops throughout the day again. We have really been finding out what southern hospitality is all about these last few days. The townsfolk (I don’t think I’ve ever used that word before) really get into the festivities down here.
Ali and I stayed consistent all day long, not missing a single turn or direction, and really not running into any trouble at all. In fact the only hiccup we had all day was when we came over a hill and found a car that was supposed to be a couple of minutes ahead of us, instead backing up out of a driveway and into the road in front of us. We laid on the horn and thought they’d stop to let us blast by them, but they must not have heard us right away and kind of blocked the road as they accelerated. Not two seconds later a car came over the hill from the other direction. If we had made the pass we would have been smoked. So thank goodness they didn’t hear us.
There were some pretty exhilarating moments today as well. A lot of the day was spent way back in the country, with narrow winding, hilly roads and just scattered homes throughout. People were generally just sitting out on their front porch waving as we went by. Until at one point we came over the crest of a hill to find a banner across the road and about 50 people and children sitting right at the edge of the road. We had a split second to see them before we saw the sign that marked our next instruction. So essentially what happened was that we came flying over a hill at 40 into a crowd of people and then had to slam on the brakes and slow to 20 right in the middle of them. It doesn’t sound all that crazy, but the road and the conditions made it pretty wild.
Then a little later we were on a road that they had set our speed for at 45 mph. The speed limit is 50 on this road, but most drivers use common sense to slow when going over blind hills and around sharp corners. The thing with rallying though, is that unless you want to try to figure out how much time you lost while braking all of those times, you will just stay on the gas and keep her pegged at 45 the whole time. Pretty wild in normal conditions, but we also had a five minute torrential downpour during our pass through. I had to keep telling Ali that she could make it, that the rain would let up any second, basically anything I could in order to get her to keep flying along like that at the edge of control. It was exciting to say the least. Ali has really become quite the rally driver. She can just about make a corner at 40 without touching the brakes now. She’s a nut. Of course I’m no better since at the apex of the turn when it feels like we are about to lose control I always yell, “Get on it!” Which she does as we fly through on rails.
Hey, we made a neat discovery today. Those little triangle shaped windows on our doors, yeah, they can actually deflect the wind into the car. Man sometimes we are so stupid. Somehow that fact hadn’t dawned on us until today and we had thought they only opened out to deflect the wind away. Thinking you could open them in the rain. Well hey, now we’ve got a 95 degree air conditioner.
Something else I haven’t talked much about are the other racers. I’ll have to admit when we signed up for this we sort of thought that the people might not really be our style. I was afraid it would be like at a car show where everybody sits in lawn chairs next to their perfectly polished car and can’t talk about anything but cars. Or even worse, it would be like when a group of cruisers get together and start talking about their boats. But it’s been completely the opposite. We haven’t had one conversation about cars. These people like to take their cars out and run the hell out of them, then park them at the end of the night and forget about them. It’s great. We’ve met some terrific people and have been laughing all day long. Seriously, this thing is really fun and I encourage anybody with a vintage car in their garage to get it out and join in.
Well today at the finish we got our scores and found out we had a 2, 7, 12, and a 1. All early, which has been the case for us on nearly every single leg. Today it dawned on me that the performance numbers I was using for the car on day 1 aren’t really applicable to Ali’s driving style anymore. She’s probably increased her 0-40 time by two full seconds in the last three days alone. So I’ll make some tweaks to that and should get us right in line for some Aces tomorrow. At the awards ceremony today we weren’t really sure what to expect. The Germantown sponsors had kicked in an extra $200 cash prize for the Rookie Class winner of the day so we had our fingers crossed but weren’t real sure if our score would hold up. But in the end it did, and we walked away with another trophy and $1200 bucks. Pretty sweet.
Ali and I are a little nervous though. We’ve gotten asked a lot the last couple of days, “So you guys have never rallied before?” We’re worried that word might get out that we were actually the European National Champions in 2004 and 2005. Keep that on the down low.
Day 4 leg scores: 0:02, 0:07, 0:12, 0:01 = 0:22 on the day
1st Place Rookie, 21st Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 20th Overall
july 4 2007 : fort smith, arkansas, usa
We’re grumpy tonight because we are real poor losers. Oh sure we put a smile on our face, clap, and shake hands, but come on, who doesn’t prefer to win? We had a disappointing end to our day today when we scored a 16 on our last leg, our worst score yet. Even worse is that we thought we had nailed it and have no idea how we were so far off. The veterans all told us not to worry about it, that even after 10 or 20 years of this they still had legs like that and it wasn’t worth worrying about. So we’re looking towards tomorrow instead.
It was a long day today with a 7:30 start and about a 7:30 finish. We stopped in a couple of small towns in Arkansas and also covered some serious ground on the highway. One of the coolest things about keeping up this website is the people we meet because of it. Today we pulled in to Searcy, Arkansas of all places, and hadn’t even gotten out of the car before a friendly face was in the window welcoming us to his town and telling us he’d been following Bumfuzzle along for at least four years now.
It’s almost ten o’clock now, and we’ve been in our room for about an hour. Ali’s nearly asleep and that’s where I’m going too. We’re wiped. This racing is exhausting.
Day 5 leg scores: 0:04, 0:06, 0:02, 0:16 = 0:28 on the day
4th Place Rookie, 32nd Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 24th Overall
july 5 2007 : norman, oklahoma, usa
You can’t win ‘em all, but it sure did feel good to come back with a great score today. Our confidence was a little bit shaken yesterday after scoring a 16 leg when we felt we had done really well. Today I finally decided that one of us must have simply screwed up, most likely by being off by 5 mph during one of the instructions. Going 45 instead of 40 for two minutes would have just about given us that error. So today we put it behind us and took off feeling pretty good.
We had a bit of a close call during the first leg when Ali drifted off the road a little bit. There was no shoulder, just 6 inches of tar perched above the ditch full of trees, but she managed to get us back up without an accident. However, we got screwed up during the commotion and misread a sign. We ended up the leg with an 8 on the day. Not bad at all considering some of the ugly scores posted on that challenging leg.
The rest of the day went well. I was confident we were scoring well after having made a few adjustments to our timing. Basically I slowed us down about one second per stop sign. Ali has simply become too much of a lead foot. Our clutch could attest to that. We made a couple of small town stops, but to be perfectly honest I don’t remember where. Not even what state. We are in a zone when we are racing and pretty much nothing gets noticed. Most of the racers have become so intense that the bystanders along the road don’t even get a honk anymore.
The car is starting to be a tiny bit of a worry. The idle has really been a problem all along, but now it really is sounding pretty bad. However, the car runs so well that I hate to tinker with it for fear that I’ll just screw it up. Late today the car really didn’t sound too well though. It seemed from where I was sitting that it was revving super high as Ali shifted through the gears, but not really getting the power delivery that it should have been. I’m going to have a little test drive in the morning to have a feel for myself. But for now we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that she’ll hold on one more day to Dallas where we can get a 356 mechanic to give her a well earned tune up.
Quote of the day, “Pat, there’s something wrong with the clutch. Oh wait, that’s the brake.”
Tonight when we rolled on in to Norman, we were met by our “sponsors.” A couple of great guys who have been emailing us for weeks leading up to the big event. They were awesome, printing up t-shirts, bumper stickers, you name it. Then of course they dragged us out and filled us with beer. Wait, maybe they were hired by a competing team. At the awards ceremony tonight I was feeling pretty pleased with our score, but it turned out it was only good enough for second place. Actually first place was the same score, but because their car is a couple of years older they won on the handicap. But hey, a good score, a good confidence building day, a 9th place overall, and another $750 check. Nothing wrong with all that.
Day 6 leg scores: 0:08, 0:05, 0:02, 0:01 = 0:16 on the day
2nd Place Rookie, 9th Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 20th Overall
july 6 2007 : lewisville, texas, usa
It turned out that the car was in really bad shape for the start of day seven. That high revving noise turned out to be the clutch slipping. There was nothing that could be done about it before the start of the day though so we just started out the day running her like a baby. Really, really, like a baby. In fact, in one test run from zero to fifty it took us twenty seconds to get up to speed. The problem for us was that I would just have to guess on our numbers all day long. Trying to figure out how long it would take us to go from 45 mph to a stop and back up to 50 was a real treat.
So of course the first leg today consisted of about twenty of those exact instructions. We raced around the countryside and just decided that if we managed to finish the day we would be happy. We really didn’t expect tothough. On leg two we were flying along a narrow country road when we ran up on a huge tractor chugging merrily along at about one mph. That threw us off a bit, but we were able to time the delay and turn in a time delay request.
The rest of the day went smoothly enough. I continued to guesstimate everything the best I could and Ali continued trying to help the clutch survive. When we rolled into Lewisville we honestly had no idea what we had gotten. So we were pretty happy with a 1, 1, 17, 0. The 17 was pretty disappointing, but overall just the fact that we had gotten through the day and not had to get towed in with a DNF score for the day was a relief. It was awesome to nail another ace, but when I looked closer at the scores I noticed that I had a different time written down for the first checkpoint. It was only one second, but if it had been the score I had marked it would have meant two more aces for a huge three ace day. So we went in to the scorers booth and asked them to have a look at the tape. I could have cried when I found out that we had missed the mark by a mere 9/100ths of a second. Anyway, at the end of the day we didn’t make the podium, but we were within just three seconds of first in rookies. Consistency has been the name of the game for us this first week.
Day 7 leg scores: 0:01, 0:01, 0:17, 0:00 = 0:19 on the day
4th Place Rookie, 31st Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 20th Overall
july 7 2007 : lewisville
Our one day off on this race and we were up at the crack of dawn and on the road. We drove just across town to a guys house whom we had never met before. We met him through a 356 owners group and he offered to help us out. When we showed up at his house he opened up the garage to reveal a half dozen of the coolest 356s out there. Turns out that he has owned upwards of a hundred of these cars in his lifetime and he knew everything there was to know. And, I thought, you just gotta like a guy who buys a house solely because it has a huge garage.
We got right to work changing the oil, adjusting the carbs, checking the timing, replacing plugs, etc. etc.. Most of this was new to me and I learned a ton. Within minutes he had the car purring like I’ve never heard it before. By the time we took it out for a test drive we could drive each gear 10 mph faster and it still ran smoother than before. Then we attacked the clutch problem. It was slipping pretty bad. He decided to start with the simplest possible solution first and work back from there. We pulled up the floorboard and made a little adjustment to the clutch pedal. With that done we took it out for another spin. Instant success. It turns out that the clutch pedal was engaging too near the top of the pedal travel, so when we tightened it up the clutch engaged fully. It turns out all that blaming Ali for being so hard on the clutch probably wasn’t even true after all. Ibrahim deserves a huge thanks from us, but he wouldn’t even accept that. He’s one of those guys who just figures what comes around goes around. Awesome.
With that done and the car running so much better we decided we’d better go run some new numbers. Turns out that was probably a good idea. Our zero to fifty time was a good two seconds better than before. Now I just hope this doesn’t throw us all off of our game. After that we washed the car. Good times on the day off.
july 8 2007 : abilene, texas, usa
Today was a pretty short day of driving. We didn’t start until noon and only ran until about 6 o’clock. Ali and I had a pretty good day aside from one glitch. On the second leg we came around the corner and found a semi truck sitting at a dead stop. In front of him was the Great Race sweep vehicle who had come in to pick up a broken down car. They aren’t supposed to come in until the end of the pack, but the course today had us go in a big loop so when we came around the second time there they were. This really shouldn’t be that big of a deal. It’s a simple matter of filing a time delay. But being rookies we still don’t quite have a good system for doing that. In the end I was torn between taking a ten second or a twenty second time delay. I eventually went with the twenty second delay and that decision cost us the days top spot. It turned out we would have had an ace if I’d stuck with the ten second delay. We’re still kicking ourselves over that decision.
On the plus side though, we have been very consistent in our scoring, which has helped to keep us in first place all along. With only five days of driving left we’re feeling the heat from the other drivers, but are still feeling confident we can wrap this thing up. My goal for the next five days is to get ourselves on the podium for the overall at least one day, not just the rookie class but the overall. I think it’s doable. I know Ali’s driving is perfect, and it’s just my calculations that need the tweaking, so we’ll see. Even with todays low fifth place rookie finish we managed to increase our lead in the rookie standings. Which is a good thing because there are only two more days of normal scoring before the championship run on the last three days. The bigger the lead going into those days, the tougher we’ll be to catch.
At one point today we had a car pass us. About ten seconds later I saw a dog running across the road. The guy in front of us locked up his brakes, and all I could think was that if this dog got hit our day was over. We’d have to stop and help. Amazingly the dog kept trotting right across the other side while the guy sat in his car totally stunned on the shoulder. I managed to get Ali to keep it pegged at 45 and we flew right on by.
We’ve still got another day in Texas, but we’re both anxious to get out. Texas drivers are the worst, most inconsiderate and dangerous we’ve encountered anywhere. I can’t even count how many people have rode up on our butt, tailgated, and honked at us. Maybe they’re all in a hurry to get out of Texas too. Unofficial state motto: Don’t Mess With Texas. Seriously?
Day 8 leg scores: 0:05, 0:10, 0:01, 0:03, 0:02 = 0:21 on the day
5th Place Rookie, 29th Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 23rd Overall
july 9 2007 : clovis, new mexico, usa
A horrendous day today. And what was most frustrating was that all day we drove along thinking we were doing well. This race is as maddening as bowling or golf. One day you can’t miss, and the next you can’t seem to do anything right even though you think you are doing everything exactly the same. I guess that’s what keeps guys coming back year after year.
We had some nice stops today and continue to be met by friendly people who had heard about us through Radio Margaritaville. I’m not sure what’s going on with that, but apparently somebody at that radio station has been keeping the listeners updated. By the time we got to the hotel tonight we had two new emails from people we had met in Sweetwater, Texas inviting us to their Rattlesnake Roundup. A big to-do in Sweetwater, apparently drawing tens of thousands of rattlesnake wranglers. Or something like that.
Then on the final leg of the day disaster struck. We had a beauty of a storm bear down on us. Driving across the vast expanse of Texas we could see the storm brewing. We even think we could see a tornado. I got a picture of it, and maybe it wasn’t a full blown tornado yet, but it wanted to be. We were flying along at 55 mph when the rain started. The sky was black and it wasn’t too long before the rain gave way to hail.
There was nowhere to hide and nothing to do so we just pulled over and waited it out. The hail piled up around us for four and a half excruciating minutes before it let up enough to move on. We flew down the road at 75 mph passing other racers until we were back where we should have been. And then the real heavy rain started. Soon we were barely moving through flooding roads, all the while trying to keep track of how much time we were losing as we did so. Not fun. We finished the day with a terrible 53 seconds. Our worst score of the race. With four days left we’re struggling to find our groove again. We’ve got a whole new plan of attack for tomorrow though. It should make or break us.
Day 9 leg scores: 0:05, 0:03, 0:09, 0:09, 0:09, 0:18 = 0:53 on the day
5th Place Rookie, 25th Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 19th Overall
july 10 2007 : albuquerque, new mexico, usa
Well the frustration is mounting. We made some changes today, but at the end of it all we still had the same problem, we are coming in late and we don’t know why. We did have a lot of fun today though. We were about to take off on our start for the fourth leg when Ali started freaking out and yelling that she couldn’t get the car in gear. Sure enough, it would not go. The stick felt like it just wasn’t lining up right. Our start time came and went while we sat there on the side of the road.
Eventually I was able to get the car to go into fourth gear and yelled for Ali to jump in. Now I was the driver. It took some coaxing to get the car rolling in fourth, but once she was going I had it on the floor. We had nine minutes to catch up so I just kept it pegged at 85 while we flew by one racer after another. Fortunately we did manage to get all the way back up to our spot before a checkpoint came along, which enabled us to hack off of the car in front of us to figure out where we should be. The rest of the leg I had to roll through stop signs and turns at 30+ mph to keep the car going, and just pray we didn’t get caught behind a slow truck on a hill. That would have been the end of the day for us.
As soon as we passed the checkpoint we pulled over to wait for some friends of ours who we knew would be able to help. These guys are racing in a mini-semi-truck looking thing with a tank engine in it. They obviously know a thing or two about cars. Wes jumped out of the truck and immediately started throwing our bags out of the back of the car to get at the tranny adjustment thing. Within about two minutes he had us back in running order. Meanwhile his driver had continued on to the pit stop two blocks down the road in town. If you don’t show up you get a DNF for the day. So Wes drove and Ali and I piled into the passenger seat for the quick drive up the street. We thought the whole incident was pretty hilarious.
It became even more hilarious when we arrived at the finish line for the night. The race officials approached us and told us that another competitor had reported that we had had an extra racer in our car, which of course breaks all sorts of rules. I told them the story and they told us they’d get back to us with the decision later. The funny thing is that we know exactly who tried to rat us out in order to get us disqualified for the day. Oh well, it is a competition after all. We were pleased to find out later that the judges had the common sense to see that we weren’t cheating and racing around the course with a third person and Ali in my lap.
So, not a very good racing day, but we did manage to squeak out a 3rd place finish which was enough to keep us in first place. And the check was enough to cover the hotel bill for the night too.
Day 10 leg scores: 0:00, 0:06, 0:11, 0:03, 0:11 = 0:31 on the day
3rd Place Rookie, 23rd Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 20th Overall
july 11 2007 : flagstaff, arizona, usa
Well Ali pulled it off today. She stuck her turns and completely dialed in on the slow speed runs which are really where this race is won or lost. That girl can drive exactly twelve miles an hour better than anybody out there. We did switch a few things around today, driving a little faster than what we thought would be perfect, and in the end it worked out. We scored a fourteen for the day with one ace over six legs, which was enough for the first place finish in the rookie division and seventh overall.
The drive today was beautiful. Ali and I have never been in the southwest before and had no idea just how nice it is down here. The weather was perfect, cool and crisp, and the scenery was amazing. We really enjoyed ourselves. And best of all here in the southwest, we don’t have to eat any more fried chicken. We actually get tacos and burritos for lunch and dinner; what could be better than that?
We had a pit stop today in Winslow, Arizona, which of course had me singing all day long.”Well I’m standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl my Lord in a yellow Porsche slowin’ down to take a look at me.” Come on, that’s good stuff.
Things have gotten pretty serious regarding the race the past few days. It’s sort of amusing how technical people get while trying to figure this thing out. I’ve heard discussions about tire pressure (apparently 1 psi difference can mean a one second per hour time difference), about altitude effects, having a speedo running off of a driven wheel versus a non-driven wheel, etc. etc.. You need to be a physics professor to figure all these things out.
Conspiracy theories abound as well. We’ve heard all sorts, but it does seem like somebody is out to get us as well. Yesterday we came in and found out somebody had reported that we had an extra person in our car. Now today we show up and they ask us where our time of day clock is. I look down and point at my stopwatch. Then they ask us about the clock on the dashboard. This is the stock clock in the car and hasn’t worked in probably twenty years. We explain that to them and they say it’s okay, but that we need to cover it up anyway. Sure, no problem. The thing we don’t understand though, is that just about every other race car here has a huge 9 inch dial clock on their dashboard with a sweeping second hand that is accurate to about a millionth of a second. Yet, apparently if we had a clock in our car that doesn’t even have a seconds hand we could be in trouble. Anyway, once again common sense prevailed in the official decision and we didn’t get into any trouble.
Two more days of racing ahead of us. Tomorrow we’re expecting temps of 114 degrees in Laughlin, Nevada. A lot of people seem to have concerns about us in our air cooled car, but we’ve got total confidence in this thing. It seems pretty bullet proof to us.
Day 11 leg scores: 0:02, 0:06, 0:01, 0:00, 0:02, 0:03 = 0:14 on the day
1st Place Rookie, 7th Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 18th Overall
july 12 2007 : laughlin, nevada, usa
We’ve managed to come through in the clutch the last couple of days. Today we scored a second in the rookie division and a tenth overall with a 22 second finish. We had a really good day on what was easily the most challenging day of the race so far. The course today was designed to break cars, and it did a pretty good job of it.
The funny thing with these old cars is that they really hate to run slow and they hate to run hills. The vast majority of the cars are air cooled, and when we’re running long sections of mountains at between ten and twenty miles an hour the cars really struggle. They simply can’t cool themselves down. The problem was multiplied today by the 108 degree temperatures outside. It was brutal.
Ali and I had a really good run throughout most of the day. In the first four sections we scored a 3, 2, 1, and 1. Then came the grueling fifth leg which consisted of driving nearly straight up a mountain at 20 miles an hour, followed by a 10 mile an hour climb through some weird mountain top dirt road suburb, and finally back down the mountain. We were running it perfect until we came up a hill at 10 miles an hour. At the top of the hill we had to stop, and then accelerate to 10 again up another really steep hill. My first mistake was not telling Ali to run the stop sign so that we could just do the stop and go at the top of the hill. Instead I had her stop at the stop sign and then try to accelerate from one hill to another, in the mountains, at ten miles an hour. It didn’t work out so well.
The car started bucking as soon as she let off the clutch. She yelled, “I’ve got the gas all the way down!” To which I yelled back, “Well feather the clutch!” Me and my buddies would all know exactly what that meant, but Ali didn’t have a sniff. Feather the clutch? We stalled. That’s when I made my second mistake, I didn’t start the stopwatch. If I had just done that we would have had no problem figuring out how to make up the lost time. Instead I had to make a guess. So Ali gets the car started again and spins around the corner only to find that there is a Model A sitting in the middle of the road with a half dozen humongous elk standing across the road. I yelled to Ali to just keep going. I knew if we stopped again on this road we would have almost no chance of getting the car to climb it a second time. So we flew past the Model A, zipped between some giant elk that just stood there staring down at our tiny car, and made our way up and over the top of the hill. In the end, I made up about ten seconds too much time, and that pretty much blew our score for the day.
Fortunately we had really good scores the rest of the day and were able to score some big overall points and hold on to our rookie class lead. I could go on and on about what a beautiful day it was, but it’s late and I’m beat. Tomorrow is our last day of racing. With a good showing tomorrow we can lock up first place. Need some sleep now.
Day 12 leg scores: 0:03, 0:02, 0:01, 0:01, 0:14, 0:00, 0:01 = 0:22 on the day
2nd Place Rookie, 10th Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 17th Overall
july 13 2007 : pomona, california, usa
The final day of racing. They set up a tough course for us again today. There were two more mazes, which are sections that you generally go pretty slow through, but that you need to make dozens of stops and turns in. If you goof up once and miss a turn you are dead. There was also one point that Ali and I were sure we had blown the whole race on. After lunch we were racing again when we came to a left turn in the directions. We drove along for about 40 minutes looking for the turn but there didn’t seem to be anything in sight. The big problem was that we couldn’t see any cars in front of or behind us. Usually on these really long stretches of road you can catch a glimpse of another racer, but this time we seemed to be all alone.
We started to give up hope, assuming we must have passed the turn way back at the last set of instructions, and were sure that we were going to get a DNF for the day. Fortunately we decided to just keep on going straight anyway, figuring that it couldn’t hurt anything now. Then a few minutes later we saw a group of girls sitting on the side of the road under a tree. I was holding my breath, hoping that they would start cheering as we came by. To me that would mean that they’d been sitting there a while watching the race cars go by. And sure enough, they yelled and waved as we went by. A minute later our turn came and we breathed a huge sigh of relief. We haven’t made a wrong turn since day two, and here we thought we blew it two legs from the end of the race.
At the beginning of the race we started out with a bit of bad luck. Driving through the desert we could pretty much see forever. So when we saw a long train in the distance we figured we were in trouble. Sure enough, out in the middle of nowhere we found ourselves stopped at a railroad crossing waiting for a train to go by. By now we’ve finally gotten the system for figuring out how much time we’ve lost on this sort of thing though, so we were able to figure that we’d lost a minute twenty, and knew exactly how fast to go to make that up. Right at the end of the race we are finally feeling confident about how the whole thing works.
We had a couple of crazy stops along the route today as well. The first was for lunch in Yucca Valley, CA, where we pulled in to a large crowd complete with belly dancers and dancing girls. No, not that kind of dancing girl. The dance team type, doing cartwheels and flying leaps all around the car as we drove through the crowd. Then as soon as we got parked these two ladies came racing up to Ali wanting to give her a big prize basket of some sort. Ali went with them and was given a huge basket full of the exact expensive hair products that she likes to use. You’ve never seen a happier girl. Forget the cash prizes, give us shampoo and hairspray and we’re good.
The next stop was at the top of a mountain in Big Bear, California. This place was beautiful, even though the lake that everything is built around seems to have disappeared a few years ago. It’s got to be weird having lakeshore property with no lake. Apparently a lack of snow the last few years has caused the problem. But besides that we couldn’t believe the numbers of people that came out to greet us. All the way up the mountain the road was lined with people holding signs and waving flags. Then throughout the whole town, at the airport tarmac where the stop was, and for miles back out on the road on our way out of town. There couldn’t have been a person in fifty miles that wasn’t there to see us. It’s a pretty cool feeling being part of something that people get so excited about.
Then the crazy people came out. We were only about ten minutes out of the hoopla of Big Bear, winding through the beautiful San Bernadino Mountains, when psychos in SUVs began to go nuts. We tend to travel at five miles an hour below the speed limit most of the time. This was one of those times. A scenic, curving, one lane road traveling thousands of feet downward. Exactly the kind of drive you should be out to enjoy, not be trying to go as fast as you possibly can. Anyway, our first crazy guy came roaring up behind us putting his big gold Ford pickup/SUV right on our bumper. We tried to wave him back, but he just stayed right there, getting angrier and angrier. Ali was practically in tears, fearing for our safety.
If we hadn’t been racing it would have been this guys safety that was in danger. The guy had to be over fifty years old and he was acting like that. I couldn’t imagine one of our parents behaving that way. Once he got around us, another idiot took his place, and then another, and another. A friend of ours driving a 1929 Ford Model A had a lady ride his butt all the way down the mountain honking and swearing. Then when she finally passed him she hit a tire in the road, sending it flying at him. He nailed it and broke his brake line, essentially ruining his day of racing. Anyway, if you happen to know who owns a gold Ford with California plates 7X62805, please let me know who and where he is.
At the end of the day today they kept the scores a secret. Tomorrow is basically a parade where at the end they’ll announce the winners and dole out the prizes. First place in the rookie division is $10,000, so we’re holding our breath. We think we’ve got it, but stranger things have happened, that’s for sure. When we signed up for the race we thought the prize was 50k, but it turns out that what they meant was that there was a total of $57,000 handed out to the rookie class. The majority of that given in daily prizes to the top three. First place also gets a $14,000 entry into next years race, which runs from New York, through Canada, to Vancouver. So that would be pretty cool too. Anyway, we’ll see what happens tomorrow. Either way it should be a lot of fun with some huge crowds in downtown Anaheim.
july 14 2007 : anaheim, california, usa
This morning we loaded the car up for one last drive to the finish line. We had about a thirty minute commute to downtown Anaheim where we lined up for the big announcement. We pretty much knew we had won by the time we got there, but still, pulling through the crowd and underneath the banners with the announcer yelling out, “The Great Race 2007 Rookie Champions!” was pretty awesome. She’ll punch me for saying it, but I also have to say how proud I am of Ali’s performance the last couple of weeks. She was incredible and I don’t think she made one mistake on the course. If I said to go x mph she would hold it dead on for as long as it took, which meant hours sometimes. The race was tough, but we did it, and did it well. A few minutes later they announced the overall winners, who are an uncle and nephew (15 years old) team and are two of the nicest people we’ve met. I think everybody was pretty excited to see them win it.
We all hung out downtown for a few hours before heading to our hotel and then on to the awards presentation. There we found out that our score for yesterday was good enough for an eighth place overall finish, and a first in the rookie division. That meant that during the three day Championship Run we had scored in the top ten every day which made us feel pretty good about our performance overall. We collected three more trophies on the night, which is making the backseat of the car look pretty ridiculous.
Day 13 leg scores: 0:01, 0:04, 0:00, 0:10, 0:01, 0:06 = 0:22 on the day
1st Place Rookie, 8th Place Overall
For the Race: 1st Place Rookie, 14th Overall
All in all the race exceeded any expectations we had for it. I’ve been so exhausted every night that I don’t think I’ve even come close to capturing on the site what it has really been like. The people we’ve met are the most fun loving, happy go lucky group we’ve ever met. We were honestly a little afraid when we signed up for this that it would be nothing but a bunch of gearheads that couldn’t talk about anything but cars and engines. Similar to the experience we’ve had with another certain subgroup that we’ll leave nameless for now. Instead we talked and laughed about just about everything else under the sun. We really haven’t laughed so much in years.
I also haven’t had a chance to mention all the great people we’ve met along the way that came out just to see us. Our time was so limited that we feel bad we didn’t get to spend more time with all of you. But we really did appreciate it more than you can imagine. It was incredible to pull in to these small towns across America day after day to find people holding Bumfuzzle signs, or have them come up and tell us that they’ve been following us along for years now.
Anyway, the race really lived up to its name and we encourage everybody to sign up for next years. I know a lot of you have old cars sitting in the garage that only come out for shows, but wouldn’t you feel better taking it out and abusing it a little bit? You honestly won’t regret it for a second.
july 15 2007 : anaheim
When we climbed out of the car yesterday nobody asked us, but if they had we would have answered, “We’re going to Disneyland!” So that’s what we did today. The park was only about five blocks from the hotel, right in the middle of the city. A far cry from Florida’s Disney World. The park is about a millionth the size of Disney World, yet cost about the same to get in. For one day of fun with Mickey and Minnie we spent well over $200. Those Disney people have got this thing figured out. They do have some awfully cool rides and shows though. Ali was screaming all day long on the different rides. Even the old standby Space Mountain put a little fear in her. That made it money well spent.
It was a little weird waking up this morning and not having a race to prepare for. I kind of miss it already. Ali and I will definitely be back for the 2008 race. And yes, we do plan on winning it all next year. Also, we’re seriously considering running the full 2008 race, which runs from New York to Paris over about two months. It’s basically a rerunning of the original 1908 Great Race and should be an incredible adventure. Only thing holding us back on that is funding. That trip will be running into the six figures, but also comes with the possibility of a huge payday at the end as well. Anyway, the vast majority of teams will be going with huge sponsorships, and we would be no different. So if anybody thinks they might have a sponsorship lead for us, let us know right away.
Ali finished up the Great Race Cost page which was quite the eye opener. It’s a good thing we did as well as we did, since after all of that we still hardly came out ahead. Next year will be nice with the race entry and hotels paid for, not to mention not having that costly speedometer to pay for again. But even at 15k the race was well worth it for all the fun we had.
july 17 2007 : santa rosa, california, usa
We’ve just spent the past couple of days driving north through California. We swung by Jen’s house in Malibu, but she was out with her other friends. Then we got in a high speed chase with the paparazzi, but got away when a CHP officer pulled up alongside of us and started talking to us through his loudspeaker while we flew along at 55 mph. Turns out he has a ’63 356 himself. He told us we were okay to drive 100 for the next twenty miles or so and we took off.
Seems like my imagination kind of runs wild here in SoCal. It’s a weird place to be for the first time because you feel like you’ve been everywhere before. Every street has a familiar name like Hollywood, Sunset, or the PCH, and each town is familiar just from watching surfing on ESPN. But really my fondest imaginary memories of California come from watching CHiPs. Still easily in the top five television shows of all time. That Eric Estrada is an acting genius. That’s why I was so happy to have an actual CHP officer talking to us while we cruised along the PCH. What could be better?
Highway 1 along the California coast is truly spectacular. It actually reminded us a lot of New Zealand. Sort of a weird comparison, but I think the weather had a lot to do with it. Today topped out around 65 degrees along the coast. We made our way through San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge. What an awesome setting. I have to say though, that watching the sailboats far below, battling against the currents with the most incredibly fast moving fog bank in the world engulfing them, made me happy to be on land again. Driving north to Portland with a plane to catch in a couple of days we’ve realized that California is going to require a lot of our time the next time we pass through on our way south of the border.
july 19 2007 : portland, oregon, usa
The Avenue of the Giants is a stretch of road that curves along through stands of humongous redwood trees in northern California. It was a great drive and we even joined in for some of the tourist nonsense along the way. We saw a sign for a drive-thru tree and figured that was just one of those opportunities you can’t pass up. After paying our five bucks we drove about a hundred yards and sure enough, there was a big tree with a hole carved through it. And here I thought that this was something they had probably stopped doing back in the 60′s. There have got to be some unhappy environmentalists out there right now.
It wasn’t very nice out so we just continued on up the coast until nearly dark when we pulled in to Coos Bay, Oregon. An old logging town with a hint of charm, but mostly just run down old motels. We tried one after another in a vain attempt to find a non-smoking room. In two days we walked out of six hotels because their only remaining rooms were smoking. Even in California, where I’m pretty sure you can’t even smoke outside anymore, hotels continue to dedicate half of their rooms to smoking.
It’s the west coast in July which means that it’s never supposed to rain. Yet, in typical Oregon fashion that is about all that it has done. Driving up the coast here is one of the best drives in the country, but with the rain pouring down all I wanted was to get off of the winding road and get home. Hopefully we’ll have nice weather in the fall when we’ve got a wetsuit, a surfboard, and a van to hang out in. Driving around this past month has gotten us even more excited about the upcoming VW trip.
The VW hasn’t progressed very far in the last month though. The engine has been built, a hundred miscellaneous parts have been ordered, and the body is primed for paint, but that’s about where it sits. The big hang up right now is the transmission we wanted was back ordered a month out. Once that arrives it is more or less just a matter of putting the puzzle together. When it is done the guys are going to ship it out to us in Minnesota so we can start the adventure from there.
july 26 2007 : st. paul, minnesota, usa
After waking up in a different hotel room every morning for nearly a month it was a nice break to hang out at mom’s for a few days. We really didn’t do much other than the typical domestic chores, laundry, washing the car, hanging pictures, and the like. Living a sedentary life by day and following that up with dinner parties and martinis by night. Not bad at all.
Portland has really grown on us over the years. It is such a cool, funky, retro, laidback place that you really can’t help but relax and go with the flow. You have never seen a place with so many old Volvos and VW Beetles. The roads are covered with them. Besides the cars though, the city is the most pedestrian and biker friendly of any we’ve ever seen. The town just has that cafe’ culture down perfectly, and is really the perfect spot for a couple of non-working bums like us to hang out.
We had originally been going to fly out of Portland on Saturday, but that got pushed back to Monday. The VW guys had offered to purchase our flights for us a few weeks back when it became apparent that the bus wasn’t going to be finished in time for us to drive home. Well the Monday flight got pushed to Tuesday somehow, and before we knew it we weren’t confirmed on a flight until Wednesday. Ali and I didn’t think too much of it, but we did need to be back in Minnesota by Wednesday night for some family plans on Thursday. An hour before we left for the airport on Wednesday we got a call from the VW shop. It seemed something had gone wrong yet again with our reservations and we didn’t have tickets. They said they would keep working on it for us and give us a call back.
When Ali got out of the shower I let her in on the bad news and she flipped. When my mom heard the commotion she said, “There’s something I have to tell you guys.” I thought, crap what else can be wrong. And then she proceeded to tell us the true story. It seems that the VW guys had been going absolutely nuts over the past couple of weeks trying to get the bus ready for us in order to give us a huge surprise when we got to Portland after the race. They had thought they could pull it off by Sunday and had brought in a bunch of help and worked twenty hour days for a week in order to do it. But as sometimes happens, everything just seemed to work against them. They kept stalling for another day and another day until finally on Wednesday it was just too late and we had to book a flight and get out of town. With a family reunion just 48 hours away there was just no way we would have been able to cover the 1700 miles in time anyway.
It was a huge bummer. Not so much for Ali and I since we hadn’t expected to see the bus for another month or so anyway, but for everybody at the shop that had busted their butts for days and days trying to pull off what would have been an awesome surprise. And then there was my mom who had been in on it pretty much all along as well, and had been in charge of keeping us occupied and getting us out of the house each of those days that the bus was supposed to arrive. Ali and I felt terrible getting on that airplane in the afternoon knowing that if we had had just one or two more days we could have had a great VW unveiling party. Ahhh well, that’s the way it goes sometimes.
So at midnight last night, after flying through Phoenix of all places, we arrived back in Minnesota. This morning we drove to Wisconsin, and by noon we were in the pool playing with our niece and nephew, who enjoyed the trophies we brought them from the race, but who were none to pleased with our month long midsummer disappearing act.
july 31 2007 : st. paul
Pretty quiet few days as we’ve just been hanging out at the cabin, playing with the kids, and enjoying a big family party out there. We’re spending this week getting ready for next weeks trip out to Sturgis. Sturgis, South Dakota is home to a huge biker gathering for two weeks every summer. During that time the tiny town turns into a mecca of drunken debauchery. At least that’s the stories that always come back out of there. We’re going to find out for ourselves.
The bus is nearing completion and we’ve gotten a few more pics of it. We think it looks pretty awesome. Apparently when they were applying the paint the guys from the shop were just shaking their heads and exchanging comments like, “Glad we didn’t pick that color ourselves.” Eventually the painter had to throw them out of the shop so he could finish in peace. When the painting was done and it was rolled out into the sunlight they all ate their words.