Monday, May 28, 2012

We Place 3rd At The Yerington 300

The long awaited first desert race of the 2012 VORRA racing season was crazy!!! Just like last year (which was actually Romy's first race with the Dingo team), it happened over Memorial Day weekend. And just like last year, western Nevada got pounded with winter-like weather!

Yerington 300
Working on the Dingo before pre-running.

The race took place in Yerington, NV and was about 300 miles long, total. Each lap took you from the pit area, which was just outside Yerington, around a huge 56 mile loop through the desert west of the town. The race was aptly named The Yerington 300. All classes that took part in the race did all 300 miles (three long 56 mile laps, and three shorter ones what were about 40 miles or so), except the really slow classes (like us, the VWs!) who only had to do 5 laps (3 long, 2 short), so we did a total of about 260 miles or so, give or take a few miles. In between each lap, you were allowed to stop in your own pit area to fix your car, refuel, or change drivers.

Yerington 300
We passed tech inspection, and we're ready to race!

We came to the race a bit early so that we could go out and pre-run the course the day before the actual race started (which was Sunday). That gave most of us a chance to see the course and get a feel for what it was like before we starting racing. Before the race, I helped set up and test all the radio equipment. Unlike the short-track races, where you can see the car at all times, the desert races are different. When the car is miles and miles away, you need a radio to communicate with the people in the car from the pit area. That's the only way you know if anything bad (or good) happened. So it was important to have the radios set up and working. The weather before the race while we were pre-running was super cold! We had almost constant sleet coming down on us, and the surrounding mountain tops kept getting whiter and whiter!

Yerington 300
All suited up to do our lap together as driver and co-driver!

Luckily, on race day, the weather turned for the better, and everybody was excited to get racing. I was in charge of the radio communication, and I also recorded our lap times and clocked in when the car got to each mile marker. There was some dead air in spots when the car went behind the mountains, so not all mile markers were clocked. That was really the only job that had to be done while the car was out on the track, so everybody else milled around or helped cook. We had some amazing pot-luck style meals which were sooo yummy! But whenever the car came back in for a pit stop, everybody sprung into action! We all had our individual jobs, and we tried to be really fast.

The Yerington 300
A picture of Romy, Crusty, and Dennis frantically trying to fix the car so we could keep racing.

Romy and I got to go out on one of the long laps together, which was really exciting! It was my first time in the car on a desert race. I imaged it would be a lot like when we take our baja out to the desert and go on the national forest or BLM roads, except a lot lot lot faster. I was half right, and half wrong. In our baja, I'm usually hanging on to the 'oh shit' bar in the baja, looking out the window, and enjoying the scenery. In the dingo, I was also holding on to the 'oh shit' bar, but I had almost no time to look out and enjoy the scenery. As co-driver, you have a lot of responsibilities it turns out!

The Yerington 300
As we passed one of the check points, Dennis snapped a cool picture!

First, the co-driver has to aid the driver in driving as fast as he can. So that meant I had to look at the GPS screen above my head and let Romy know if there were turns coming up, and help him judge how hard they were, and if he should slow down for the turn at all, or if he could go at full speed, etc. Also important was when we crested hills. The driver doesn't know what the road looks like over the other side of the hill, so I had to use the GPS screen to let him know if there was a turn right after the crest or if it was straight ahead. Another thing I had to do as co-driver was look in the rear view mirror. Since we are one of the slowest cars, a lot of the faster trucks come right up behind us and we have to let them pass. We have such a tiny rear view mirror, it was hard to notice when there was somebody behind us, especially since we were kicking up a lot of dust. Half the time, Romy noticed before I did. I wasn't too good at looking back, but eventually I got the hang of it.

Yerington 300
Just pulled into the pits after a crazy lap around the track!

Another thing I had to do as co-driver was call out to the pits over the radio every time we passed a mile marker or a check point. This was quite tedious but as somebody normally sitting at the other end, it is really a good thing to do. That way, the other team members in the pits know where you are at all times. Also, if they don't hear from you for a while because something happened, they at least know where you were during your last point of contact. And if anything is of note along the course, the person on the other end of the radio can mark it down on the map as you go, so the next time, you have stuff recorded (like if the road is really rough at spots). Now comparatively, the driver's job is much simpler. All the driver has to do is drive! ;-P

Yerington 300
Working as fast as we can during the pit stop!

The radio came in really handy while we were out on our lap. We were having so much fun, blazing through the desert (at an amazing average speed of 32-ish mph! But in sections we were doing almost 70 mph, pretty fast for a stock bodied VW Beetle off road). We turned a pretty hard right about halfway through the long lap, and then we stopped moving forward! Something broke!!!! Luckily, we happened to break down in one of the best spots it could have happened. We were close to a paved access road, and it was flat terrain, and we were able to pull over right away. Romy got out of the car and I radioed back to the pits to let them know we broke down and where. Then, after we figured out what happened (the pivot bolt on the rear control arm backed out and we bashed up the CV joint), I radioed for help and parts. Luckily, we had all the parts that were needed to fix the problem back at the pits. Dennis, Crusty, and Debbie came to our rescue with all the parts and even some snacks and juice! While we were waiting for them, a green baja bug drove out to check on us, and it turned out to be Tom Cruise! Okay, no, it was actually Tom Kruse, a much nicer man who helped us start fixing the control arm and stuff and get it ready for the new parts that were on their way.

The Yerington 300
The Desert Dingo out somewhere on the track. Not sure who is driving.

A while later (I think almost 2 hrs after we initially broke down) we were off again! I was so happy we were all able to fix the car and get going again, and that we were not out of the race! If we hadn't broken down, we would've finished 1st that day. . .

The Yerington 300
That's me and Paul sitting around while I took over the radio.

The rest of the race started to get really crazy. Apparently, we weren't the only class 11 with problems. The other teams were having just as many problems as we were, and when it came down to the last lap, all of the VWs left racing were within a few minutes of each other! Its amazing how over almost 300 miles, it came down to literally seconds, by the time everybody crossed the finish line. Bob was driving the last last with Romy as co-driver. They were right behind the Meeks (car 1142), driving like hell to try and pass them. In front of the Meek car was the Weirs (car 1156), all so close together. However, because the start was staggered, even though we were third over the finish line didn't necessarily mean we would finish third. Nobody knew who was going to win, so we just hoped for the best as all the VWs crossed the finish line together.

Yerington 300
We finished!!! Just barely in 3rd place!!!

It turned out that the Weirs, who crossed the finish line 1st got 2nd place. The Meek car, who crossed the finish line 2nd got 1st place, and we got 3rd place (and also crossed the finish line 3rd). It ended up that way because the placement went by total time from start to finish, including pit time. Its amazing, because if we just were able to scrape off about 45 seconds from our total race time, we would've got 2nd place. If we could've finished a minute and a half earlier, we would've got 1st! But oh well, the whole race season is actually scored by points (not who won in individual races), which you get for each lap you complete. So now after the second race of the season, we are in second place by points in our class (class 11).

Yerington 300
The 1107's lap times as recorded by VORRA.

The next race is in July outside of Reno. We will be in Norway over the summer, so we're going to miss that one, but hopefully the other people on the team will have a great time and maybe we'll finish first! Who knows, I am crossing my fingers and I'll be glued to the facebook and twitter updates when they come (July 14th and 15th).

Yerington 300
All packed up and ready to head home. Now the weather decided to get good. . .

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Annular Solar Eclipse

We went to see the annular solar eclipse that was going to pass over northern California, Nevada, and Arizona on May 20th. The eclipse happens when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, leaving a huge shadow that is cast over parts of the earth. The shadow moves really fast, about 1,250 mph! Because the moon didn't block out the sun completely, it didn't get dark outside during the eclipse, but it did block out 94% of the sun light.


We wanted to drive to the nearest place where we could see the moon pass totally across the center of the sun, making a ring. This was only possible in a 'small' band, along the center of the path of the shadow. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), that meant we had to drive up north a little. We decided to go towards Chico, which was supposed to be pretty much directly in the center of the path. However, because we didn't want to stay in the city (we wanted to camp afterwards), we headed up into the Sierra Nevada mountains just outside of Chico.

May 2012 Solar Eclipse
Our solar eclipse viewing spot in the Sierra Nevadas.

We were driving the bus to go see the eclipse, so we were a little slow. We got to Chico just about an hour before the moon was predicted to start passing in front of the sun, which was about 5:15pm. We figured that we better try and get as high into the mountains with that hour we had. It was like we were racing the sun and the moon! I am happy to say that the VW bus won! We got to the crest of the Sierras (literally, we were just west of the Pacific Rim Trail) near Chester, CA when we found a nice forest road off of the highway.

May 2012 Solar Eclipse
Watching the eclipse with Romy's welding helmet.

We took the forest road a way before we got to a nice small meadow. It provided a perfect clearing where the sun was in full view. So we parked the bus and got set up. We pulled out Romy's welding helmet, which turned out to be perfect for viewing the eclipse. It was auto darkening, so as soon as you put it up to the sun, it darkened up. We figured out that waving your hand in front of the light sensor helped keep it dark. The sun looked greenish through the helmet. Then once we were sure the helmet was working, we pulled out some ice cold beer, and the dinner we packed for ourselves.

May 2012 Solar Eclipse
Our attempt at taking a picture through the welding helmet as the moon was just passing the sun.

Like predicted, the sun got a small dark spot in the lower right at around 5:15pm. The dark spot got bigger and bigger, and traveled diagonally up and left over the sun. The dark spot was the moon! It took until 6:30pm or so for the moon to get completely over the sun, but since it didn't cover it completely, it left a glowing ring! It looked so cool! We tried to get a picture of the eclipse when it was full on through the welding helmet. It didn't turn out as nice as other ones I saw later on, but I'm glad we got something! It was so exciting watching the moon come over the sun so slowly. As the moon started to cover more and more of the sun, it began to get kind of dim outside. It also got noticeably colder. I had to put my sweater on, even though before the eclipse started, I was in a shorts and t-shirt.

May 2012 Solar Eclipse
It wasn't a total blackout during the eclipse, but it did get a little dimmer and cooler outside.

We were in a pine forest, so there weren't really any shadows cast on the ground. But after we got back, some of our friends who also saw the eclipse in Chico saw crescent moons in the shadows of deciduous trees. Each leaf that slightly overlapped another leaf and was able to make a pin hole projected the eclipse onto the ground. That would've been pretty cool to see, but we didn't notice any shadows like that. We really enjoyed being able to see the eclipse. I am so happy that it passed over California! Nicole and Marcel also saw the eclipse, but they went to Pyramid Lake in Nevada, and said that they also thought it was really cool to see (also through a welding helmet)!