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29th Annual CSCC "8 Hours of the Cascades"

16 October 2004

Most sports car racing follows two formats: 20-30 minute sprints, common to club racing and series like SPEED World Challenge, and endurance racing like what you see at Le Mans (so famous they've made more than a few movies about it) and in series such as the ALMS. I'd always liked watching the longer races (which is saying something, once SPEED started showing 24 Heures du Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona in their entirety) and, in fact, seeing the camaraderie and teamwork involved in running these longer races was one of the motivating factors behind my entrance into club racing.

Early on in the 2004 season, Eric and I started some idle discussion about running the enduro that fall. Although I didn't think I wanted to run my car, Eric said he'd been considering running his. We were both also considering joining existing enduro teams, such as that being fielded by TC Motorsports. In the end, we decided to run Eric's Porsche 968 in as low-budget a manner as possible. The more the project progressed, though, the more it seemed prudent to get someone on board who'd actually done this before. It also helped to split the ever-rising costs three ways instead of two :), so Eric invited fellow Porsche racer Hal Hilton to come on board, which was one of the better decisions we made.

The drivers and crew of the 2004 "HAcK Racing" enduro effort:


Pictures from this event

Friday

The plan was for Eric to load up the car on his open trailer while we put all the equipment (tables, chairs, canopies, wheels & tires, spare parts, etc.) in my enclosed trailer that we would also be using for our race headquarters. Hal and Andre were bringing pit lights, equipment, and more canopies, and Eric's dad Randy was bringing an air compressor and 110 (!) gallons of fuel.

Since we'd already decided not to run the practice day at PIR on Friday, Eric and I met at his house a little before noon in order to load everything and leave by 1pm. I'd left my trailer at his house since the last race, so the wheels and tires were already loaded, but it still took a good 45 minutes to an hour of hustling to get the car and all the gear loaded. A little after 1pm we hit the road.

During a discussion beforehand of how fast we drive with our trailers, it came up that I go about 10MPH faster than Eric. About halfway down to Portland, though, there developed some sort of "who can get to Portland first" challenge. With the extra weight, wind resistance, and lower visibility of my big box of a trailer, there was no way I was going to win that one, but we kept it close. :)

Upon arrival at the track around 4:30, we found that one of the teams had already had a setback: The #17 P2-class BMW, featuring all 3 of the Fitzgerald brothers (including full-on racer Mike) had blown a header or something, leaving car owner Stan Bovetz to race all the way back to Seattle, finish rebuilding one of his other cars, and drive back down to Portland in time to run the race at noon the next day. Yes, he made it!

Once the waiting transporters were able to cross the track to the infield pits, we trundled down to the end of the pit lane and pit #4, our new home for the next couple of days. We backed my trailer into one edge of our allotted space, unloaded the car, and then set up our 4 canopies... hey, we were starting to look like a real race team. We took the car and our driver gear over to Tech in the gathering dark, then returned the car to the pit and settled it in for the night.

Leaving the rest of the equipment locked up in the trailer, the members of the crew that had come down Friday headed off for some pre-race discussion and (ahem) refreshment. Included in this discussion was a conversation about our class competition, which included a year-old Porsche GT3 Cup car (with 2004 engine updates), a Porsche 993 Supercup, and a tube-framed, turbocharged Pontiac Fiero GT2-class car that had come in 2nd overall in 2003. Knowing that these cars are all significantly faster than Eric's 968, that the four drivers in the two other Porsches are half of the driving team for Team Seattle in the 2005 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, and that there are two fast-looking Mustangs and two second-generation RX-7s in the class as well... let's just say that we all realized we'd need a small miracle to get on the podium for our class.

Saturday

Although we'd known there was a reasonable chance it would rain for the race, the weather report we saw at breakfast that morning was really discouraging. Basically, it said it was going to shower all day long, except when it was raining cats & dogs. On the one hand, ewg, who wants to race in the pouring rain (especially at night), but on the other hand, rain was one of those small miracles that might help us with our P1-class competition.

Pre-race

We arrived at the track a couple hours before the 9am practice session so that we'd have plenty of time to get everything ready for the day. This involved everything from getting the car ready; to setting up pit lights and power connections; to sorting and testing all tools we expected to use; to getting the parts sorted into "every pit stop," "likely maintenance," "potential damage repair," and "major catastrophe" sections. Also, after thinking about the weather report, looking at the sky, and a discussion about his past experiences at the enduro, Hal convinced Eric and me that buying and mounting a second set of rain tires would be prudent, especially if we did it early and before the inevitable rush once the skies opened.

The first hiccup of the day came when I was trying to adjust the car's seat. I pulled up on the bar that disengages the teeth on the underseat sliders, the same as on my Acura, but I couldn't get the seat to move. So I tried again, pulling a little harder... and the bar came off in my hands. I fiddled with it a bit and Hal fiddled with it a bit, but we couldn't get the bar back on. Then Eric, a bit perturbed, came over and spent probably 5 minutes reattaching it. In the end, all was well, but I now had something else to be concerned about, as I'd be adjusting the seat after each handoff from Hal during the race.

Almost before we knew it, it was time for the first of two practice sessions. We had two main goals for practice: Eric would scrub in our tires and make sure the car was feeling okay, while Hal and I (especially me) would use the time to get familiarized with the car. Our secondary goal was to get the whole team used to the car coming in, switching drivers, doing some minor maintenance (fuelling, switching tires, topping up oil, etc.) and taking off again.

Eric went out for the tire scrubbing and reported the car to be in fine shape. We swapped over to another set of tires and he went back out to scrub them in. When he returned, he handed over to Hal (as he would halfway during the race) for some familiarization laps. Well, between the practice pit stop and Hal getting a little too into a groove, there was only about 15 minutes left in the session by the time Hal returned for my turn. Since I'd been a bit nervous to this point, not so much about the actual driving of the car but about keeping up the team's pace, he gave me a quick pep talk, smacked me on the helmet and sent me on my way.

As I said, although Eric's Porsche is different in many ways from my Acura, it was (on paper) extremely similar to my BMW. The big difference was that his stripped race car is about 700lbs lighter than my BMW and I haven't pushed my BMW on the track as hard as I'd be pushing his Porsche. So I was using this first practice session to simply get used to how the car sounded and felt, especially exiting corners (rear-wheel drive and nearly double the torque would make that a very different experience to the Acura) and under braking. I was also getting used to the seating position, which was pretty much the opposite of what I'm used to: Very close to the steering wheel but well away from the pedals.

Early on I noticed that Eric's HotLap timer was functioning, giving me an idea of how fast I was going. With our dry-weather target time being 1'24" or better, the 1'28" to 1'29" times I was getting were not encouraging. Sure, I wasn't pushing as hard as I would during the race, but that was a pretty big gap to be making up. Hm.

The rest of our crew (and the best!) arrived during the 10-minute "track crossing" break between practices... Eric's wife & daughter, my wife & daughter, my mom & sister, and... the food! Yes, the caterers had arrived! :)

Eric scrubbed another set of tires (or two? I can't remember) at the start of the session, turned it over to Hal for about 10 minutes, and then the car was mine for about 30 minutes. I could tell I was getting more settled in the car, and I was definitely feeling more confident in where and how late I could brake, but I only dropped about a second/lap during the session, so I was still not feeling too happy about my predicted race pace. With the thinking that I had learned pretty much all I could without leaning on the equipment too hard, I brought the car in a bit early.

We had just a few minutes after the session before Hal, Eric, and I had to go to the drivers meeting, while Andre went off for the crew chiefs meeting. We discussed the usual pre-race topics, as well as some items specific to the enduro (which lanes meant what on pit road, penalties, etc.) before heading back to our pit for a team meeting. Essentially, the message from Andre was "concentrate, stay safe, and have as much fun as possible."

Since this was also the official lunch break for the day, we headed into the trailer to see what the "women-folk" had prepared... wow! There was a 6x3-foot table just loaded with BBQ meatballs, coldcuts, cheeses, crackers, chips, candybars, and my mom's kick-ass chocolate-chip cookies. Also big coolers full of water, Gatorade, and various sodas, along with coffee and hot tea. Well, whatever else happened during the race, we weren't likely to starve.

Race

This race is, so far as I know, the last in the world to make use of a Le Mans-style, "run and gun" start: The cars are backed diagonally into their pit boxes with the starting drivers standing against the wall across the pit lane from them. At the starting gun (or horn, in our case), the drivers run across to the cars, strap in and go. Officials are watching to make sure that no one moves before they're completely strapped in, but each driver is also allowed an assistant to help.

After what seemed like a long while but really wasn't (time seems to speed up once some of the other cars get going), Hal was fully buckled-in. Eric slammed the door, Hal started up, and off he went! Out of 39 cars, I think he was 8th to enter the track. By the time he came around to complete the first lap, he was up to 6th overall and 1st in class. From our pit area near the head of pit lane, I could see enough of Turn 4 at the end of the straight to tell that he was braking quite a bit later than I do. Part of me was thinking "Wow, Hal's really committed to this!" and the other part of me was thinking "Man, it'd really suck if he screwed up the car before I get to drive it." Considering that the car turned the fastest lap of the 8 hours in the first 30 minutes, I'd say it was the former! :)

Hal continued to drive hard, having a good race with the ex-Speedvision World Challenge and eventual-2nd overall BMW of Strictly BMW before settling down to solid, fast laps. He finally got passed for the class lead about 35 minutes in, as the Fiero and the two P1 Porsches really got going. As his 1 hour, 20 minute stint was over and he brought the car in for the first stop, we were 4th in class and 8th overall after 59 laps.

As I stood out in the pit lane, signalling to the approaching Hal where our pit box was, I was excited but not nervous. Not thinking too clearly, either, as I stood in front of the pit box to signal Hal and he slid to a stop just inches from where I scampered out of the way. Silly me... getting hit at the pit speed limit of 35MPH would not only hurt, it'd be awfully embarassing.

As Hal unhooked the belts and removed the steering wheel, I opened the door, lowered the window net, and unplugged his helmet from the radio connection. He squirmed out and I got in, adjusting the seat position before he started to belt me in. As he was doing that, my job was simply to keep still and let him hook me up. As he finished that up and moved to plug me in to the radio, I reattached the steering wheel and pulled down on the straps to tighten the belts. The whole time, he was giving me a quick pep talk and reminding me to have fun.

As quickly as you can imagine all that went, refuelling the car and checking it over for problems were proceeding at a pace that saw both efforts finish up at the same time I was ready to go. I got the signal from Andre to go, so I fired up the engine, put it in gear... and very nearly stalled it! Sheesh.

I didn't stall it, though, and used a little more throttle as I pulled out of our box and watched the pit lane marshall for instructions. He waved me on into the acceleration lane and I was off on my first race lap of my first enduro. As Eric mentions in his enduro report, it's really weird the first time you get in a car that's already in the middle of a race. In my case, that meant a really crappy first lap, as I immediately found myself behind a slower car. He pointed me by in the first corner, but the combination of my inexperience with the car and excitement about my first stint meant I totally botched the attempt to pass, getting the car really loose in the second corner. I caught back up with the slower car in Turn 7 (the fourth corner out of the pits), receiving another point by and really getting the car out of shape as I squirmed all over the road. At that point, I think both I and the poor guy in front of me were relieved when I decided to just settle into the car and not worry about my pace for a lap or two. In any event, I caught him on the front straight and passed him quite easily, which is the least you could expect. :)

As I became more comfortable with the car, I started checking out the HotLap timer for my times. My target, as you recall, was 1'24" or better and I was steadily working down into the 1:23's by my sixth lap. For the rest of my stint, I was seeing lap times from the mid-1:23's to low-1:25's, with most in the mid-1:24's or better. Not quite where I wanted to be, but my job was basically to take care of the equipment, keep a decent pace, and not screw anything up. This I managed, returning to the pits to hand over to Eric on lap 114, still 4th in class and 8th overall. As I entered the pit lane, Andre reminded me over the radio to watch my speed, as exceeding the pit speed limit would result in a stop-and-go penalty. (As the steward reminded us in the drivers meeting, the duration of the "stop" portion was entirely up to the attitude we took upon being given the penalty....) Thirty-five MPH never felt so slow!

Eric and I reversed the procedure Hal and I followed, with me giving track condition updates to Eric and my comments on some of the other cars on the track. Then I hopped back over the pit wall and watched as he roared off for his first stint. No problems, good position on the track, and the weather was looking far less spooky than it had earlier in the day. So far, so good!

Now that I was out of the car, I could reflect on my first experience driving competetively for longer than a 30-minute sprint race. I first confirmed what many people say, which is that it's surprising how fresh you feel. Considering I'd just done the equivalent of nearly three races, I felt just fine. Of course, you're not driving to quite the same level as you would in a sprint, but you're not far off. Second, I remarked to a few people about how uncomfortably aware I'd been of being sweaty in my driving suit, until I'd sweated for long enough that the whole suit was sweaty... at which point I didn't feel sweaty anymore. Kinda gross, yes, but anything that keeps from being a distraction is a good thing. Finally, I was surprised to note that... well, that my butt & thighs were sore from dealing with racing-level G forces for an hour and twenty minutes.

A quick trip into the trailer for some food and a Gatorade, then back out into what had become a warm and partly-sunny day to watch Eric's first stint. He had 9 laps that he ran at pretty much the same pace as me, until the first full-course caution of the day came out. Although it sucked that he got his run interrupted by the caution, it was pretty cool that we'd gone almost 3 hours without any incidents severe enough to cause one. (Check out his enduro report to read about what caused it!) Once that was cleared up, the green flag flew on the front straight signalling a return to racing... followed immediately by a local yellow as one of the P1-classed, second-generation RX-7s blew a thick cloud of oil smoke (and oil!) all over the front straight. (I guessed at the time an apex seal let go, but I don't know for sure.) There was such a mess on the run down to the first turn that the local yellow quickly became our second full-course caution of the day. Once that one had finally been cleared up, Eric put down a string of sub-1'24" laps until, you guessed it, the third full-course caution of the day. That one got cleared up in a couple laps, though, and Eric finished out his stint with a string of laps from the low-1:22's to the low-1:24's.

The changeover from Eric to Hal (still 4th in class and 8th overall) went smoothly and soon Hal was back out on track, tearing up lap times roughly 3 seconds per lap quicker than Eric and me. (In our defense, Hal has been racing quite a bit longer than either of us.)

In thinking about how quickly we'd been running on the same set of tires, and with the knowledge that we had a second set of dry-weather tires available (weather report notwithstanding, it'd been a dry race all day), I had talked with Hal and Andre about putting on new tires. Once Eric had settled down after coming off the track, I broached the idea to him, as well. Despite what I thought was a reasonable argument on my part, nobody seemed willing to take the time hit in a pit stop to change tires. The best I could get was an agreement to do a thorough visual inspection during my stop to see if swapping tires was necessary. Judging by the times Hal was putting in, though, more than 5 hours' hard running on a set of shaved Toyos hadn't diminished their capabilities in any noticeable way.

By the time Hal came in to hand over the car to me, still 4th in class and 8th overall, the ever-changing sky conditions looked like we might actually see some rain. If nothing else, the temperature had dropped and the wind had picked up. And, with the additional cloud cover, 5:20pm was starting to look quite a bit darker than you'd expect. For reasons that aren't at all clear to me, this would turn out to be the fastest pit stop of the day, despite the tire-wear inspection and removing the tape from the lights in preparation for night driving. Eric gave the "thumbs up" on the tires, Andre hollered "Go!" through the passenger window and off I went, feeling much more confident than I had earlier. I clearly wasn't going to set the world alight with my lap times, but I was doing what we needed without abusing the car.

I was immediately back up to my earlier pace, although with more laps in the 1:23's than I'd seen before, as well as my fastest lap of the day at 1'22.283". The flip side to this stint was that I ran into more traffic than I had in my first, so my lap times pogoed up and down quite a bit. I was also seeing a lot more debris on the track, including everything from grass & dirt caused by "off-course excursions," to large balls of rubber ("marbles") coming off tires as they wore down, to bits of body work resulting from contact between cars. Turn 6—a corner already known as being a bit slippery even when dry—now had a car parked on the inside grass, oil and body parts (including a full bumper!) in the middle of the corner, and a significant amount of dirt and grass on the exit, all contributed to by an increasingly frequent light rain. Finally, I was becoming extremely aware that a lot of cars I was passing/being passed by were showing a good deal of body damage. A couple cars I saw even had entire sides pushed in or otherwise mangled. Eric's car was still in the same condition it had started and I wasn't about to be the guy that changed that.

It was only about halfway through the stint when the "LIGHTS" sign was shown at start/finish. From now on, anyone without at least one working headlight, taillight, and brakelight would get a call to the pits for repairs. At first, the gathering darkness only meant that I now had bright lights in my mirrors whenever I passed someone or was passed myself. Later on, though, it made it ever more difficult to see, as being in front of a car with bright lights (or a rally-style light bar) would essentially wash out my forward visibility. Worse, checking your mirrors for approaching traffic was a great way to lose whatever night vision you'd developed. The absolute worst was when faster traffic was approaching as you yourself were approaching slower traffic: Are those lights in my mirrors the car I just passed or the car who's about to pass me?

Towards the end of my stint, I got into an odd sort of battle with an SR-classed car, one of three single-seat, open-topped cars running the enduro. I was comfortably faster on the straights, but he was about the same amount faster in the corners. We got into an annoying, back-and-forth tussle for quite a number of laps until other traffic separated us enough that we didn't trouble each other any longer.

And now for the last stop of the day: I pulled in to our pit box, now illuminated by a set of halogen work lights, and swapped with Eric. I gave him my assessment of the track conditions, warned him about what I'd experienced with the lights of other cars, and sent him on his way. Barring anything ugly happening, we were looking good for a solid finish about where we'd expected.

He'd gotten about 20 laps into his stint, running slower lap times now that it was completely dark and raining off-and-on (everybody was about 1-3 seconds/lap off their earlier pace), when the starter's tower displayed our fourth full-course caution. Yes, that's right, poor Eric got tagged with ALL the full-course cautions of the day. Including the fifth caution period of the day, near the end of the race, which also saw us move to 7th overall.

The track went back to green with about 10 laps to go, leading to a couple of really good battles between cars that were still close enough to fight for position. (The gap between 1st place and 2nd in the P2 and SR classes were 15 seconds and 22 seconds, respectively. After 8 hours!) For the last lap, everyone ran across the pit lane to stand next to the track wall, cheering and waving as the cars completed their final circuit. We were done!

Post-race

While Eric was still circulating on his cooldown lap, Andre said that it appeared we might have made up a position during those last 10 laps: The Porsche 993 Supercup had pitted during the final caution and there were indications it had never returned to the track. We all gathered around the pit box as Eric pulled in to cheers from us all.

A few minutes later, we got confirmation that we had, in fact, managed to finish 3rd in class and 6th overall! Against all our expectations, but due to good driving, good pit stops, and good reliability, we had somehow managed to work our way to a podium finish against some very tough competition. We only spent a little over 11 minutes in the pits on the way to completing 320 of 334 total race laps, and all on only 85 gallons of gas, 2 quarts of oil, and 1 set of Toyo tires. No spins, no off-course excursions, and no contact with other cars. (Yes, our only problem of the whole day was when I disconnected the seat adjustment bar before the first practice session.)

Of course, now that all the fun was over, we had to pack everything back up for the trip home. Although I'll bet some teams packed up and went home that night, and I know some teams packed up and parked their rigs at their respective hotels, we decided to just lock everything up and deal with it the next morning. Even so, it took over an hour to break everything down just enough to throw it all in my trailer and some of the trucks people had brought. Then off to the restaurant for dinner and well-deserved drinks all 'round!

Sunday

Hal and most of the crew had headed home Saturday night, so that left me, Eric, and Eric's parents to return to the track to collect the car and the bulk of our gear the next morning. The local Conference club that had hosted the enduro was running a school at the track, so we had to wait a little bit before we could cross over to the infield section... where my trailer, Eric's car, and some blowing trash were all that remained of the previous day's events. It was kinda creepy, actually, like we'd completely missed the memo on when to clear out.

We would end up spending about 40 minutes loading the car and getting Eric's dad's stuff separated from what Eric and I would haul back to Seattle, before we were finally ready to get on the road. Of course, just to keep things interesting, I nearly rear-ended Eric's trailer as we left the track: In addition to all the stuff I'd hauled down, I was also carrying what remained of the gas Eric's dad had brought, and it turns out that Lauren had spent some time in my truck on Saturday and had fiddled with my brake controller, dialing out most of the brake bias to the trailer. I didn't realize any of this until I went to stop at a light and had the truck's ABS kick in as it tried to stop the weight of itself and the very-loaded trailer. I was so close when I finally stopped that I think the front of my truck was hanging over the tail of Eric's open trailer. Nothing like a little adrenaline on a Sunday morning, huh? :)

I hadn't felt tired at any point during the week-end, but the long, warm, and generally unchallenging drive home made two things very clear: 1)I really was quite sleepy, and 2)my lower back, butt, and thigh muscles were really, really sore. By the time we got to Eric's house, I was ready for a massage and a nap, but we spent another couple of hours getting all his stuff out of my trailer and back into his garage, including pumping the gas out of the two 55-gallon drums and into more manageable containers. Then it was back to my house to unload my stuff out of the trailer.

Finally, my first enduro was over. Can't wait 'til next year!

A final note

Although there is no question that we could have done as well as we did without the efforts of everyone involved (and, believe me, it was great having all those people helping; it was fantastic to not have to worry about anything except the driving), I want to make a special note of the efforts of Eric's mom Linda: With but two quick breaks for the bathroom, Linda spent the entire 8 hours of the race standing out in the cold, wind, and rain to keep track of our lap times. She was so worried about missing the car as it went by that she never even sat down. And despite all that, she timed each and every lap of the 320 we completed. Now that's pulling for the team!

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