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Open Track Challenge 2002 -- Pat and Mark's Vegas Vacation
Starting Line

4 Weeks to go...

Brian Provost, one of the organizers of the Open Track Challenge, hooked me up with Pat when he learned Pat was looking for a co-driver.  Pat was determined to come to OTC this year, even more determined than I was, as it turns out.  Nothing was going to stop him from going. 

So Pat proposed that we would drive his 300zx turbo in the OTC.  I said fine, but I would like to check it out first.  So Pat brought his 300zx up to VIR one sunny day, so that I could drive it on track.  Needless to say, it didn't go too well, because quite frankly the 300zx needed some sorting out.  The engine was smoking so badly, that I told Pat he needed to get a compression and leak down test on it.  And sure enough, Pat later determined he had a bad cylinder, so it would need rebuilding.  So the 300zx was out.

2 Weeks to go...

So then Pat asked me, if I could drive any new car in OTC, what would it be?  I thought about it a bit, and then I said, "A Mini Cooper S".  The "S" stands for supercharged.


Well it turns out I'm not the only Mini Cooper S fan around.  Pat was at the Mini booth at the Detroit auto show earlier this year, and they photo-shopped his image onto a Mini Cooper S postcard!

So what does Pat do?  He goes out and tries to get a brand new Mini Cooper S!  The Mini Cooper S is currently the toughest car on the market to purchase.  Unfortunately there is several  month long list to get one, and there aren't more than a handful in the US.  So that seemed out.  But Pat persisted, and he started talking to Flow BMW about using their Mini Cooper S demo model in the OTC.  Flow finally agreed to sell Pat the demo car, but then we found out they couldn't release the car until it was replaced with a new demo Mini Cooper S.   Since one wouldn't arrive in time, we went back to square one. 

Less than 1 Week to go...

So then Pat's wife offered to let us drive her 1992 Porsche 911 turbo.  Pat brought the 911 turbo up to VIR so we could check it out.  But then disaster struck.  I was driving the 911 on track when the brake pedal went all the way to the floor - no brakes.  Unfortunately this happened at a terrible place on the track, and I took an excursion into a tire wall.  The impact was not as bad as it could have been (light enough so the airbags did not deploy), but it did ruin the front bumper and one of the fenders.  And the brakes will need repairing as well.  Things were not going well.

Ok, so now what are we going to do?  I offered that we should drive my BMW M3 J-Stock Race car.  After all, I just crashed his Turbo 911, its the least I could do.  That was going to be the plan, so we started to make preparations.  So we had a firm plan.  We ordered tires, spare parts etc. 

4 days to go...

Lee Davis from Flow BMW called Pat on Saturday morning and said we could have the Mini Cooper S!  Special permission had been obtained from Mini USA, so we could get the car in time.  Uh Oh, this is almost our worst nightmare.  We have to figure out how to get spare parts, race tires, racing brake pads, change fluids, etc etc, and we don't have much time.  If we are going to make it to the starting line in Nevada by Saturday night, we have to leave on Wednesday.  And they are not actually going to give us the car until Tuesday night.

So I spent the entire weekend researching what racing tires will fit, what brake pads are available etc, etc.  But no one has raced one of these yet, so there is NO information out there.  Things are starting to look grim, and we are getting desperate.

2 days to go...

We were running out of time.  We aren't going to be able to take delivery of the car until Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before we had to leave.  We decided we didn't have time to do anything but get race tires and rims, and brake pads.  The rest of the car was going to be bone stock. 

Monday comes, and we hit the phones, calling all the Mini Cooper performance shops (which had been closed over the weekend).    We get the same answer everywhere - "there are no performance parts yet, in fact, we haven't even seen a  Mini Cooper S yet".  Finally, the folks at  Mini-Mania told us they had sent some of the standard Mini Cooper brake pads to Porterfield Enterprises to have some high performance pads made, but they didn't have any they could sell us.  So we called Porterfield directly, and the nice folks there said they would be able to sell us pads sometime in the near future..  We explained our situation to them, and pleaded for them to make some racing brake pads, which they agreed to do!  Hooray!  One hurdle has been cleared.

But we don't know what size tires to buy.  We want the widest tires that will fit, but once again, we are breaking new ground.  So we took a risk and guessed what would fit, and then placed a very expensive tire order.

1 day to go

We need to leave tomorrow.  We are committed to run the Mini Cooper S, and we have brake pads lined up (they are being sent to our hotel in Nevada, ahead of us), but we don't have wheels and tires yet.  I managed to borrow a couple of sets of rims from fellow Tarheel Sports Car Club members Ron Spencer and Chris Crumpton.  This is because we have been told the standard Cooper S rims may not work with the tires we've ordered.

Another major milestone falls into place.  Pat drops off the car at my house at 10:30pm, the night before we leave.  I have less than a day get the car ready.  I am up late into the night, test fitting rims and tires, changing fluids. 

0 days to go

It's D-Day.  We have to leave tonight if we have any hope of making Nevada in time for the start.  I determined last night the rims we have borrowed won't work, but interestingly enough, the tires that I ordered for my M3 (because we thought we were going to run it instead), look like they might fit, if we could find the right rims for it.  We had also ordered some other tires for the Cooper S, but the M3 tires would be wider and offer more grip.  Hmmmm, this is an interesting turn...

A quick phone call to some tire and rim dealers, and I get hold of Rodney at Discount Tire in Raleigh.  Rodney says that if I bring the car down, he will find a solution to our rim problem.  I explain to him that I need a solution today, and he says he can do it.  (Rodney tells me later that after he hung up the phone, he realized maybe he went out on a limb!)

Neal Lord (the webmaster from last year's onelapadventure site), stops by and lends me a hand.  We go down to Discount Tire, and Rodney comes through in the clutch.  He finds a rim that will fit the Cooper S AND allows us to run the wider M3 tires.  Another major milestone has been reached.

With Neal's help, we finish packing, get the car loaded up and hit the road.  Which brings us to the present...

Wednesday night (May 8th), finally on the Road, heading to Nevada...

Big Sigh.  Quite frankly I had serious doubts we would ever get this far.  I never thought we'd be doing this event in a Mini Cooper S.  But Pat's efforts to get the car were nothing short of miraculous.  He never gave up trying to get it.  And Flow BMW went to great lengths to give us the car in time.  They use the demo models so they can take orders for the Cooper S, and by giving this one early, they risked losing some business because they might go without a demo model for awhile.


We will be driving straight across I-40 to Pahrump, Nevada.  Because of our late start, we only get about 400 miles behind us on Wednesday night, and end up somewhere in eastern Tennessee, before we stop for the night.

Thursday, May 9th - 2 days to Vegas

So here we are, the first team to compete in an on-track event in the USA in a Mini-Cooper S.  I'd better explain that a little further.  Some folks have competed already in a standard Mini Cooper, but the supercharged S version is special.    The car has a 1.6L Supercharged 4 Cylinder motor, making 163hp.  Despite its small size, it does weigh a bit much at around 2600lbs.  Nonetheless it is quick, and we should have a fighting change running it in class T4, despite the fact it is bone stock except for tires and brake pads.

Here's a nice picture of Pat in his stocking feet, carrying his cowboy boots and gear out to the truck, early this morning.  

That's my F250 TurboDiesel that we are using, and Pat went out and bought a small open trailer to haul the Mini.  We decided it didn't make sense to use my 32' long enclosed trailer to pull an 11' long car.

So we are currently hauling this diminutive racecar 2500 miles or so to Las Vegas, and right now as I write this we are crossing Arkansas.   We've gone about 1050 miles so far.  We'd have gone farther, but the roads in Arkansas are perpetually under construction.

So folks, this is about all I can write today.  Maybe tomorrow if I have some time, I'll write a section about the Open Track Challenge itself, so you know what we are up against!


Friday, May 11th

Last night we made it to a point just west of Oklahoma City, which we calculated to be the mid-point of our drive out to Pahrump.  We hit the road this morning by 7:00am, after a quick stop at Walmart to pick up a few things that we forgot to pack in our rush to leave. 

Most of today was fairly uneventful.  The scenery turned quite beautiful when we reached New Mexico, so we stopped the car for a photo-op.  

We still don't have a lot of our sponsor decals on the car (with the exception of Flow Mini), but that will change soon as many of our sponsors are overnighting decals to our hotel in Pahrump.   Pat and I have been wheeling and dealing with sponsors on the drive out, so we hope to have decals on the car from the mini specialty tuners Mini-Mania and Mini-Madness, as well as Virginia International Raceway.  So the car should look like a real race car in a day or so.  I will provide more details on our sponsors as the event progresses.  Needless to say we greatly appreciate their support.

Towing has become a bit more difficult, as the wind has become a serious factor.  The gusts are incredible out here, and I was almost blown from the trailer when I climbed on top of it for this picture.   We are now very glad we didn't bring my enclosed trailer, which would act like a giant sail under these conditions.

The surrounding terrain is worn smooth from years of constant buffeting, making for an almost moonscape type appearance.

Our spirits are rising as we just spoke to the hotel in Pahrump, and our brake pads have arrived there, safe and sound.  Having a high performance brake pad is crucial to on-track driving, as the tremendous heat generated can severely reduce the braking effectiveness of standard brake pads.  The two most important upgrades to the car when going on track are tires and brakes, so at least we have that much covered.

As I write this, we are crossing Arizona, and we hope to cover another 250 miles before stopping.  This will leave us a relatively short drive on Saturday morning, and maybe we will arrive in Pahrump by noon.  Pat just told me to write how impressed he is with the F250 Turbodiesel as a tow vehicle.  It just chugs along, up and down hills, pretty effortlessly at whatever speed we dail in.  The speed limits out here on the interstate are set at either 70 or-75mph, and we have no trouble at all keeping up with traffic, or setting the pace of traffic, if we choose to do so.

Tomorrow, after we arrive, I hope to make the rounds and try to get some pictures of other folks cars.  We've gotten several nice emails from fellow competitors, and look forward to meeting everyone.  So check back late Saturday night for an update. 

We've stopped for tonight in Kingman, Arizona, right along historic route 66.  Lot's of old cars, "historic" museums - a car lover's dream.  We have about 200 miles to go...


Saturday, May 12th

With only about 200 miles ago, we got a liesurely start this morning.  Our hotel was situated upon historic Route 66, and the town of Kingman is proudly dotted with museums and shops that honor our motoring heritage.

I thought my friend Chris from back home would appreciate the picture of these two Ford hotrods, since he's building one of his own.

We hit the road by 7:30am, and then crossed into Nevada shortly there-after, gaining an hour.  This meant we should make Pahrump well before noon.

When you are towing with a diesel, its a good idea to buy your gas where the trucker's get theirs.  This is because Diesel gas absorbs water when it sits a long time, so its best to only buy it from stations that move it quickly.  The truckers seem to get a kick out of seeing the Mini. 

We then headed up highway 93 toward Vegas, which would take us over Hoover Dam.  Because of the threat of terrorism to the dam, checkpoints are setup on the highway to inspect vehicles that will pass over it.

Here we see terrorist scum getting the once over by Officer Russ at the checkpoint.  Wait a second, that looks suspiciously like Mark, aka "the jackel"!

The Mini attracted attention whenever we stopped, and folks from all walks of life expressed interest in it, some taking pictures.   Most folks are really surprised when we tell them how affordable it is. 

Where's Mini?  If you look really closely in the middle of this picture, you might see a red speck, with a bright blue spec behind it.  Can you guess where Mini is?

Mini's not in this picture, so don't strain your eyeballs...

We hit Vegas, and decided to stop and pick up the remaining items on our list of forgotten equipment.  I had been joking to Pat that my ideal shopping center for supplies would contain an Office Depot, a Lowes, and a Walmart.   That makes for truly One-Stop shopping.  Imagine our surprise when we came upon this, and on my very own street, as well!

Arriving in Pahrump by noon, we were greeted by our fellow competitors, showing up in some really scary equipment.  They are very serious about their cars out here on the west coast.

Do you fancy a 380 horsepower Audi with a removable carbon fibre hood?

Or a Turbocharged Volkswagen Beetle from the netherworld, with fantastic dinosaur graphics?

Do you like your Miata turbocharged with 350+ horsepower?


Or maybe you'd like yours with a 5.0L V8, shoehorned between the front fenders.

Or maybe you really wanted a motorcycle with 4 wheels, which is what this Lotus 340R has been compared to.  200hp, but only 1300lbs or so.  0-100 in under 11 seconds.  Wow.

But the cutest, toughest looking little car award goes to our own Mini.  Yes, it may be outclassed since its a stock car running against 280HP Miata's, but we'll give it our all, and see what she can do!

Many thanks to our sponsors - not all the decals have arrived to our hotel yet, so you may see a few more in a couple of days!

Tomorrow the competition begins!


Go to the next part of the adventure:  Spring Mountain