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Open Track Challenge 2002 -- Pat and Mark's Vegas Vacation
Event 3

Streets of Willow Raceway, Rosamond, CA

What a day! It started out quite promising, progressed to very frustrating, and finally we managed to salvage what we could, but only after a lot of hard work.   There is quite a bit to tell...

We made it to the "Streets of Willow" raceway by 7:15am.  I used Pat's little electric scooter to get some laps of the track.  Its important to see the track before we drive on it.  Even though I've watched on-track video's that show the track (as driven by other drivers), you can't get a sense of distance or elevation changes until you see it first hand.  The poor little scooter labors up the hill under my weight, and sometimes I have to push it, but on level ground and downhill it moves along quite well.  I was actually able to do about 3 laps on it in about 20-25 minutes.

We got smart and parked the car behind this Winnebego, and the building provided us some much needed shade until around noon.   The Streets of Willow is a tight little road-course situated on the same property as the Willow Springs track which we drove the previous day.   So we got another day in the desert of Southern California.  Hot, dry, and very sunny.   Notice the camera in this picture.  Besides the video I mentioned on the Willow Springs page, there is ANOTHER film crew following along with the OTC.  My understanding is that an ABC affiliate station in California is filming a documentary while we go along.  They have asked us for some technical information on the Mini, so we gave them a brochure.  Maybe we'll be featured in it, who knows.

This red blur is the red Ferrari F40 that we pushed onto a trailer two days ago.  The owner took it to a shop and got it fixed, and then returned to the event today.  He only missed one day (yesterday at Willow Springs).   That demonstrates the dedication that folks have to finishing the event if at all possible.  

Likewise the Honda from Hell looks to have a blown motor.  They were able to run one session today to make sure they didn't get a DNF, but then went to have a motor transplanted during the day.  They expect to make it to Buttonwillow tomorrow.  Incredible.

The Pulp Racing NSX is pictured here entering the front straight.  This track is very tight, and contains two long straights.  Most of the turns are very tight and require going into second gear.  For this reason, the track is often called "autocross" like.  We are concerned about these tight turns, because the lack of a limited slip differential will hurt acceleration out of these turns, and also it will cause us to use up our tires, because we will spin them needlessly trying to get traction. 

Here is a picture of the documentary crew, heading off to work.  So we have 2 different film crews at this event - one doing the official OTC video (which includes the camera car footage), and the other crew is doing a documentary.   The OTC organizers did an excellent job of lining up a lot of good coverage for this event.

But now I have no more pictures from the day at the track.  This is because after our second (of four) runs, disaster struck.  I went to get gas in the car, and when I tried to start it up after filling it up, it wouldn't start.  In fact, none of the engine electronics would work nor would any of the dashboard gauges light up.  I had to bum a ride back to the pits to get Pat, and then we hauled all our gear in the F250 back to where the Mini was stuck.  

We got Dan Zipkin, our Flow Mini Mechanic on the phone, and we figured out that the starter motor was causing fuses to blow whenever we engaged it.  We were able to use the one of the 50Amp fuses from the Xenon headlights to get the car started, but then a little while later it started to blow them again!  Pat jumped in the F250, and bought the only 2 replacement fuses in the Lancaster area.  But we blew those as well.  With one fuse left, we decided to not turn off the car, and then enlisted the help of BMW mechanic and OTC driver Bill Arnold. 

Bill, I meant to get a picture of you before I left, but we had to leave in a hurry in search of backup fuses!  Bill showed us how to jumper the fuse block while starting the car so we wouldn't blow the fuse every time.  He also got under the car, and attempted to locate the short circuit that was causing the problem.  He relocated some wires, and hopefully that will help.

I ran the last two runs of the day while Pat went in search of more fuses.  But these fuses are very special apparently, perhaps made of gold, frankincense and Myrrh, because they aren't available anywhere.

We decided to pack up as quickly as possible and head for Bakersfield, then largest town between us and the next track.  We hoped we might find a BMW or Mini dealer that had some fuses.  On the way there (while driving), Pat talked to Lee Davis, the salesman that worked the deal for us on the Mini, and Lee hit the phones calling around to the Mini and BMW dealerships in the US.  He found that the Mini dealers don't have spare fuses yet!  He helped us get in contact with the BMW dealer in Bakersfield (since the Mini uses many BMW parts), and while the fuses are standard BMW parts, the BMW dealers in the area don't stock them either. 

Finally I got on the phone with my wife, and she used an internet search engine to locate some automotive parts stores in Bakersfield.   While driving to Bakersfield, I managed to locate a NAPA with 1 fuse and a CarQuest with 2 fuses.    It is important to get these fuses by tomorrow night, because we used up the headlight fuses on the Mini to get the car running, and tomorrow night we will be driving to Thunderhill in the dark!!!

Where's Mini today???  Somewhere between Mohave and Bakersfield California, on highway 58.  This windy high desert area is heavily populated with electricity generating windmills.

Every hilltop is full of them, the picture don't begin to tell the story of how many there are...

But then the arid desert gave way to greener pastures, and although you can't tell it from these pictures, the hills were covered in tall grasses and even trees.  This happened as we got closer to Bakersfield, and I found the terrain quite beautiful and comforting after spending four days in treeless, dusty, windy, dry desert climate.

Finally we reached Bakersfield, after spending most of the trip calling every parts store in the area.  NAPA came through for us and we managed to get the first fuse!  Success!  At least we would have 1 headlight, if all else failed.  Then we headed for CarQuest, that had two fuses waiting for us.  That would give us the second headlight, and a backup fuse in case we blew the last starter fuse we had left.  All this while we are NEVER shutting the Mini off, because we don't want to risk blowing the last fuse.  If we have to shut the Mini off, we plan to push start it (push the car, turn on the ignition but not the starter, then pop in the clutch - voila! the car starts...).   It turns out that the Carquest / Southern Auto Supply that I talked to on the phone did not really have the fuses in stock.  But the parts guy there, Ron Mendez, drove to two other CarQuest stores before we got there and rounded up two other fuses!  NOW THAT IS SERVICE!!!!   I've always like CarQuest, and in fact they are a Compaq (now HP) customer, and one of my accounts!    Way to go CarQuest!!!  CarQuest and NAPA always have parts that other parts stores don't have. 

By 7:30 pm we rolled into our hotel.  We unpacked the car and truck, and immediately proceeded to rotate the tires and bleed the brakes.  Then it was off to McDonalds to grab a quick bite.  Right now as I write this, its 10:20pm, and I still need to watch some track video to prepare for tomorrow.

So you are probably wondering how we did today.  We finished 2nd in class T4 (Touring 4) to the Turbo RX-7.  The tightness of the course allowed us to match his handling, but since we weren't able to enter the straights with any momentum, he was able to easily out-accelerate us down the straights.    But a 2nd in class finish, still left us First in Class T4, because we have a first place finish and 2 second place finishes, which is better than anyone else.  But the lead is tenuous, and we expect the Honda from Hell to re-enter the fray with a replacement engine tomorrow.

We picked up a new sponsor today - Mini-Madness .  If you are a Mini lover, be sure to check them out.  And please tell them you learned about them from Pat and Mark's website!   They sent us some great decals, but due to the confusion of the day, we haven't put them on yet.  We will be sure to get them on soon.

I'm afraid I have to go now, but I hope you'll check back tomorrow.  I apologize for any grammatical errors, but I really don't have time right now to proofread and edit.

Thanks for tuning in!


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