Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Halloween To Remember

On Saturday Oct 31st I woke up at 4am to drive out to Shannonville and take part in the PMSC Pumpkin Spice Rallycross with my friend Herman. We were to do our seven runs each, and be back home in the afternoon. However, after a series of events you could not make up if you tried, I only got to sleep at about 6pm the following day, having stayed up pretty much the entire weekend. This is the story of the craziest Halloween I've ever had, and a simple race that turned into a weekend-long adventure.

The RallyWagon has been sitting without much attention ever since we blew it's motor in Bancroft. We did take the broken motor out, but life and other projects got in the way which meant it was put onto the back-burner. We were still itching to go rallycrossing and it so turned out that our friend Herman, who came to some of our races to spectate, got himself a beater Impreza for the winter. Naturally, he was open to racing it. We agreed that we'd use our tires and share the work and running costs, and so our new car I affectionately called Baby RallyWagon was born. The three of us would co-drive it at events, while continuing to work on the original RallyWagon as time would allow.

The next rallycross that came up was the Peterborough Motor Sports Club Pumpkin Spice Rallycross and while Danil had to work that day, Herman and I signed up and we began to get the car ready. A replaced head, some broken bolts, stripped threads, and a new ECU because the original one was broken by a failed open source flash and the car was on the road and running. We literally finished at the last moment. On Friday at lunch time we weren't sure if we'd have a car to run, and the finishing touches were put on it that evening before the race. But all was well in the end, and a little after 5am on Saturday we were on Highway 401 heading towards Shannonville.

We had no idea what to expect of a rallycross track at Shannonville but when we arrived, we were amazed at the size of it and the amount of effort that was put into making it work. It spanned across pretty much the entire infield, crossing over the paved track surface only a few times. At about 2.4 kilometres it was the longest rallycross. However, it wasn't perfect. The amount of rain the previous week meant that the track got so muddy AWD or very good tires and a lot of momentum was pretty much essential. Preferably all of the above. Also, because the track was just the un-groomed surface of the infield it was fairly rough on the car.

Arriving in the paddock after our first run we heard something dragging on the ground. Turned out to be a heat shield on the exhaust. A couple swings of the hammer quickly took care of that issue, and we were back on the starting grid. We finished the run to find we were dragging something yet again - this time it was the exhaust that broke just after the first cat. Getting it off took more than just some hammer blows, but we managed to do it and Herman's earlier wish of "making the car sound more like a Subaru" was granted. Revving it to anything higher 2k was so loud it seemed to make the earth shake. We loved it.

The issues didn't stop there. Following the next run, we noticed a smell of fuel and decided to investigate. Turned out that this time it wasn't something we broke at the track - a hose clamp on the filler neck broke off from the rust. Luckily we had a replacement and the car was ready just in time for the next run. It seemed that the entire day we had no time to relax between runs - there was always something to do on the car the minute we got into the paddock, and it usually took us right up until the next run to fix. Unfortunately the last issue was one we weren't able to fix on the spot.

It was Herman's run and the track was so beat up by then there was really no way of avoiding the deep mud. Even with AWD and gnarly gravel tires, there was a lot of revving the motor in first gear as the car seemed to barely crawl along, slowing down gradually, wondering whether you'd make it through to the drier area ahead. We were almost through to the finish line, accelerating down one of the drier sections as all of a sudden the revs began to drop, followed by a huge puff of smoke from the engine bay. Herman stopped the car, and we jumped out as quickly as we could thinking there was a fire.

The smoke continued to pour from under the hood, as we were wondering whether it's a good idea to open it. Having a closer whiff we realized it was actually steam and carefully but quickly got the hood open. The whole engine was covered in fluid. "Broke a rad hose!" - was my initial thought. "No, that's oil" - Herman said. Then I spotted a 12mm bolt just sitting on the block under the intake manifold. Funny - I thought - where did that bolt come from? And then my glance fell a few inches to the right of it - a big fist-sized hole right in the engine block with a mangled crank and internals exposed to the world. Cool! I've never seen that before! Honestly, having done a silly number of Subaru engine swaps, our reaction was more excitement with a hint of annoyance at now having to get the broken car and ourselves home.

We called CAA and after we told them our location their first question was - "Were you at the off-road track?" Turns out there's something in their contract about not towing broken race cars. Damn! We called up a tow truck company and asked how much a 200 km tow to Toronto be - seven hundred dollars. Damn again! But then we were reminded yet again of how amazing the people of this sport are. Literally the entire field of competitors stepped up to help in whatever way they could. We decided we'd tow the car to the gate of the race track, hitch a ride back home, and come back with a truck and trailer to pick it up. Jeremy from Rally Pilot Racing gave us ride back to Toronto in his truck (huge thanks for that!) and we quickly got to our Operation Rescue the Broken Subaru.

It just so happened that we recently acquired a car trailer (that was parked at Danil's house in Barrie). We just needed to rent a truck with a hitch, grab the trailer in Barrie, and pick up the car in Shannonville. Unfortunately, the only company that rented trucks with hitches we found was U-Haul, and they didn't have any trucks available anywhere near Barrie. The closest location to us that had trucks available was Oakville. And so, we drove to Oakville where Herman picked up the truck and headed up to Barrie to grab the trailer. At this point Danil freed up from work, and joined our operation.

The first challenge was hooking up our trailer. The rented truck had a standard 2" ball, while our trailer (that we've only used once when we got it) needed a 2-5/16" ball. Luckily, WalMart was still open and the guys managed to source a ball of the right size, and mount it on the truck. Next they hooked up the trailer's harness and noticed the lights weren't functioning properly. By the time the three of us were on the road with the trailer in tow it was close to midnight.

About 1 hour away from Shannonville we decided to pull off at the service center for fuel. I got out of the truck, thew a quick glance at the trailer, and - oh no! - one of the tires was completely de-beaded, just hanging off the rim. Normally this would have been fine, but a) it was about 1am and we haven't had sleep in over 20 hours, b) our jack and toolbox were in the wagon at Shannonville and most importantly c) we didn't have a freaking spare.

Luckily there was a FREE air compressor at the service center (thank you Canadian Tire! seriously, if it wasn't for that we'd be bankrupt with the amount of times we used the thing). So the first thing we did was to try re-seating and inflating the tire. And by re-seating I meant all three of us were tugging on the tire to try and seat the bead, while trying to pump air into the tire. Then we realized yet another problem - no air was getting through the valve stem - it was completely blocked. Luckily we did have a couple small screw-drivers with us, so we tried cleaning it, even tried removing the valve - but no luck. The valve was completely blocked, and no air was getting through.

Where do you find a valve stem for a trailer at one in the morning? We decided that there was no choice, but to leave the trailer at the service center, drive to the wagon at Shannonville, dismount one of its tires, pull the valve stem off the wheel, and hope that it will fit the damn trailer. Off to Shannonville we went. The wagon was still sitting outside the track gate where we left it, and we quickly got to work. Did I mention the rain? Oh yeah, every time we were driving the night was perfectly clear. As soon as we got out of the car to tackle one of our countless misfortunes it began to pour. Needless to say, as soon as we got to the wagon the rain started again.

I admit, I've never dismounted a tire until that night and I imagined it would be fairly easy. Just deflate it completely, pry the bead a little and voila! Not in the slightest. With the valve completely out of the stem, no pressure in the tire whatsoever, and two guys jumping on a pry-bar wedged between the wheel and tire, the tire wouldn't budge at all. Then we came up with another clever idea - wedge the tire between the truck's hitch on top, and a jack on the bottom and keep pinching the tire with the jack until it squeezed off the bead. Took a couple attempts, but eventually the tire came right off. Awesome! Pulling the valve stem out of the wheel was pretty straight forward, and we were soon on our way back to pick up the trailer.

Of course the trailer was parked at a service center off the east-bound lanes, so to get to it heading west we needed to pass it, drive to the next exit, turn around, and come back to it heading east. But we weren't counting on getting home any time soon at that point, so what's another little detour. It's good there were three of us, because it meant we could take turns - one guy driving, the other on watch, and the third sleeping.

We finally got back to the trailer, that was (surprisingly, considering our luck) parked where we left it. Unfortunately once we got out our shiny new valve stem we realized that it was the wrong size for the opening in the trailer wheel, and wouldn't stay fixed in the wheel. We decided that we'd wrap some mechanics wire around the valve stem on the outside of the wheel, so that it wouldn't fall in as we were inflating the tire. After inflating, the air pressure would keep the valve stem from falling into the wheel. As we were trying to tie the mechanic's wire around the valve stem, one wrong move of the fingers, and the stem went flying into the wheel, and dropping into the tire. Damn! Should have brought a second one!

A considerable time later, lots of swearing and bruised knuckles and we managed to fish the valve stem out of the tire, and very carefully attach it on the outside with mechanic's wire so it wouldn't budge as we inflated it. Beautiful. Only thing left was to seat the bead and inflate the tire. Yet again we tried pulling the tire onto the bead while inflating it, but we just couldn't manage to keep it evenly on the bead and the air escaped faster than it was pumped in. We even tried removing the valve from the stem to increase the air flow, to no avail.

How to seat a de-beaded tire on a rim with nothing but hand tools, three guys, and the gas station shop... what would MacGyver do? Gas station shop! Between the three of us, we watched way too many YouTube videos of people mounting tires by spraying something flammable inside and igniting it, to consider it as a viable solution. We pretty much tried everything else up to that point, so why not. So off Herman went, into the shop - "Excuse me... do you have something flammable?" Out he went with a can of starting fluid. We tried to make a wick out of a box of Timbits, but that didn't work very well in the rain. Back into the shop Herman went - "Do you have a long BBQ lighter?" - they did!

So there we were at the service center on the highway in the middle of the night spraying starting fluid into the tire and igniting it in the hopes that the rapid expansion of the air would seat the bead. The first couple attempts weren't so lucky - a lot of the fluid leaked out onto the tire and set it on fire for long enough for us to get concerned. Luckily it was put out by the rain and we tried again. Emptied a significant amount of fluid into the tire, lit it, and jumped away. Bang! We couldn't believe it - the tire seated on the bead beautifully. We quickly jumped to the compressor, and oh joy - the tire began to inflate without any hints of a leak.

Remember how we took the valve out of the stem to increase the air flow? As we inflated the tire to the correct pressure, we realized it was still out! Danil put it into his jacket pocket, which as it turned out - had a hole. It didn't lead outside though - it led between the two sheets of fabric in the jacket. So as Herman continued to maintain pressure in the tire with the compressor, the two of us frantically worked on fishing the valve out of the jacket. In the end, we gave up trying to fish it out and simply cut it out with a knife. We put the valve back into the stem, and double-checked for leaks - there were none. We finally did it!

We hooked up the trailer, and got on the 401 to drive to Shannonville for the second time that night. By the time we got to the car with the trailer, the sun was beginning to rise so we no longer needed flashlights to winch it up onto the trailer and strap it down. Getting the car onto the trailer was surprisingly uneventful, but soon after we set off we ran into yet another surprise.

We got onto the highway with the car in tow, got up to no more than about 110 when all of a sudden the trailer began to sway. Mildly at first, but increasingly noticeable with each swing, up to the point when the truck and trailer were swinging across both lanes of traffic. Luckily we were the only ones on the road, but that didn't make it any less frightening. Danil who was driving lifted off the throttle and carefully brought the swinging rig under control. I don't know if it was poor weight distribution, or an alignment problem on the trailer, but after that close call we decided to keep the speeds down below 90 and avoid the highways altogether. We pulled off the highway and by early afternoon on Sunday we were in Barrie - exhausted and barely able to believe that we actually made it home.

No comments :

Post a Comment