It was past midnight, and not a cloud in the sky. The stars were brilliant and the line of the Milky Way
evident, when I could see them. Only I was wearing sunglasses
The reason is simple. The Longest Day of Nelson. A 24 hour race for amateur (and semi-professional racers) Starts noon Saturday, ends at noon Sunday. I was working at the kink, and some of the cars out there are whizzing by me at over 130 MPH. This is where Glenn was killed by an out of control race car. At 2:00 AM and the drivers are tired, and the cars past their peak. I was working blue flag, so I needed to face traffic in order to protect my corner station. The racers needed to see, so they bolt high candela lamps to the nose of their car. The lights were blinding, and even with sunglasses are dare not look at them directly. Just enough to see them closing, and to see if one might be heading our way.
To be honest, I didn't want to work this race. Endurance racing is less about battling it out wheel to wheel than survival, getting through the night. The best way to win an endurance race is to avoid trouble, stay on the pavement, take care of the car, keep rotating. That's what everyone out there wants to do. Of course like anything else racing is easier said then done. It only took nine minutes for the first car to go off, an ITS E30 BMW who slide off drivers left in the carousel and rolled gently on the tires. His number is 30, an we'll be hearing a lot from him as the race continues.
You see I expected pretty much 24 hours of rotation. 23 hours, of boredom, an hour of competition, 30 seconds of terror. Boooring. But I was wrong. Endurance races are about endurance, and endurance breeds stories. I headed in for lunch, and BMW 30 was in the tech shed. The car had no major problems, just a few small ones. The shift linkage was balky. The radiator was leaking. And the new one they had as a spare, also leaked, and it had just been pulled from its box and bubble wrap. Car & Driver Magazine showed up in a very, very fast Mazdaspeed Miata. They ran out of gas an hour into the race, and when I got back from dinner they were being towed in from my corner. My friend Roland, former Can-Am racer E.B. Lunken and another driver had brought a Corvette Touring Challenge car. Unfortunately, the 'vette spun a bearing on Friday, so they rented an ITE Civic . . a very quick Civic indeed. Until the driver's side front shock tower collapsed, due to rust lurking beneath the paint. Fortunately they brought my old crew chief Dale Dilhoff along. Dale and his Dad kept busy welding the shock tower back together.
Still, I missed the 'Vette. A very, very fast and exquisitely prepared Piper racing BMW 330 was running away from the field. The corvette might have changed that. But you started to see things happen. Car & Driver entry siid off the front part of the carousel and rolled, destroying some rear bodywork. BMW 30 finally went back out to compete. Honda Ron brought a spare Honda to provide parts for his race-prepped Civic and he needed it as things kept breaking. Let it be said now that stealing parts off street cars is a time-honored tradition for endurance races, that began in the days of the Model T.
Out came car BMW 30 again. Ooops. Transmission trouble. In for a tranny change. Out came the Honda with a new welded shock tower. It went in once or twice for de-bugging but the car ran until five A.M. when their tranny finally quit and no spare in sight. I know Dale. If had had a spare, he would have changed it just to get back out again. But BMW 30 did come out again, and then slid back into the tires at turn seven, the very entrance to the carousel. Back into the paddock for more labor. A couple hours later out she comes again. Of course the middle of the night is the witching hour, when men are tired, visibility is poor and a tiny lapse in concentration hurts. The team from Car & Driver discovered this just before sunrise, rolling the car hard at the very fast turn 3. They trashed everything forward of the radiator (including the radiator) and did not return. I can't wait to read the article. BMW 30 was being passed exiting the kink and gets nervous. Off he goes driver's left at over 110 right into the tires. He drove off, but directly into the paddock.
The truth is you never can tell. The super-fast Piper racing BMW 330 took a long pit stop in the wee hours as foam from his fuel cell worked itself loose and into the injection. A half hour later she came out again and re-took the lead. Until around five AM the driver lost it exiting three, did two rolls on the nose and ended up on top of the tire wall right before station four. Into the pits it went and never came out again.
But #30 did come out again. And back in for more work. Then back out again. Those guys never quit.
At the end the battle came down to two Miatas, and they both ended up on the same lap after 2,000 miles of racing. BMW 30 came out at the last minute, as that battered car (two rolls, two other crashes, several breakdowns) was sent out to try and get a finish. She got a lap and half before something else gave way, and she sadly pulled off at turn seven. A wrecker was dispatched and they forlornly towed her around the circuit.
Only the rope tow cut the car loose ten yards before the start finish line. Crewman from 30 and other teams jumped over the fence to push the car across the finish line. If she'd crossed under tow, the finish wouldn't have counted. But under push, it did count.
And all across the track the workers were jubilant. We'd been on the net, heard (Or watched) when cars crashed and broke, and admired the spirit of this little team that wouldn't say die. They hooked her up to the rope-tow one last time to tow her around for a victory lap.
And I learned something. I learned that endurance racing isn't so much about the competition on track, but in the heart of the competitors. It's about the stories born from adversity and an unwillingness to quit. It's about taking a battered race car and doing everything you can to get her back out in the fight. It's about wanting that track time even when you know there is no hope of victory.
For at the Longest Day of Nelson Ledges, 2008, victory came from survival.