Triumph! Awesome people help us win surprise Solo Nats trophy

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
Sep 12, 2022 | SCCA, Solo Nationals, Solo Nats, Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

Photography by J.G. Pasterjak

In my column in the November 2022 edition of GRM–which you may have already read if you have access to the digital edition of the magazine–I explain how an act of kindness and generosity by Corvette driver Justin Peachey got me back in the game for Solo Nationals after my Toyota MR2 suffered an engine fire just a couple weeks before the event.

[How to react when your car catches fire | Project MR2 Turbo]

Before I’d even blown the fire extinguisher powder out of my nose during the mandatory ambulance ride to the hospital, Justin offered up his Corvette. This is the same car Hilary Anderson would be driving in the XA class–the same class that I run.

Well, I feel like I owe you the update: That column is already obsolete. That single act of compassion mushroomed into a full-fledged object lesson in sportsmanship, decency, cooperation and good old-fashioned goodness that I almost wasn’t prepared for this week.

Okay, let’s walk through the last couple days, because if I don’t write it down now, it’s just going to overwhelm by brain and my soul.

I got to Lincoln, Nebraska, home of the Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships, this past Friday. That’s earlier than usual, but it was also a nice chance to gather a little content, see friends, and watch the ProSolo finale on Saturday and Sunday.

Justin was competing in the ProSolo, co-driving his C6 Corvette with Shawn Lambert. I’d be running that car in the XA class the following Tuesday and Wednesday, so obviously I wanted to see the car in action before I took my practice runs Monday afternoon.

On the Corvette’s first launch of the ProSolo, with Shawn aboard, it looked great–for about 15 seconds. Then the left-front suspension collapsed and threw the event into a holding pattern while a tow truck was summoned.

The diagnosis–not that it was a particularly difficult one–was a broken spindle. Like, the actual spindle just…broke.

The week’s first disaster was this busted spindle. If you look closely, you can see a dark band at the edge of the fracture, indicating a previous crack.

It was a billet aftermarket piece from our pal Mark Petronis at AMT Motorsport, and further examination showed that the culprit was almost certainly a bad batch of aluminum. Mark makes great stuff, but even the most skilled fabricators get a bad run of stock from time to time.

The Corvette’s specific geometry also meant that the broken spindle had to be replaced with a similar piece. A stock upright wouldn’t do. Add in that it was Labor Day weekend and the car was expected on grid Tuesday morning, and the situation wasn’t looking great.

Except the community rallied.

A couple hours, a couple phone calls and a couple texts later, Justin had tracked down an upright in Texas at LG Motorsports–on a Saturday afternoon during a holiday weekend, remember. He was able to get that part to another competitor who was about to leave Texas for Lincoln that very afternoon.

The replacement part arrived Sunday evening. It was on the car within moments of arrival, and the car was all ready for a lively day on the practice course on Monday.

The C6’s Nationals week dance card was loaded. In addition to running the ProSolo with Justin and Shawn at the wheel, it was slated to compete in the Solo National Championships in SSM on R-compound tires with Justin and Chuck Mathews co-driving. Hilary and I would then fit it with Yokohama A052 tires for our runs in the XA class.

The Corvette delivered dozens of flawless practice runs for everyone Monday afternoon. I found the car very familiar, having just spent four years driving a C5.

[Project Car: 2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06]

Then, when I returned from a run, there was a weird noise. Not a terrifying one, but Hilary and I traded “We should check that out” glances.

It was a bit of a whine, adjusting with engine speed, so we checked the usual suspects. Temp was fine and nothing was leaking, so we ruled out the water pump.

Voltage was fine, and there were no weird vibrations coming from it, so we scratched off the alternator.

And a wiggle of the steering wheel didn’t change anything, so the power steering pump was off the list.

Then I parked a toe on the clutch pedal, and the whine stopped the moment I applied the tiniest pressure.

Throw-out bearing.

Now, I should repeat, this noise was not particularly scary. It did exist, though. We were conscious of it.

But all of us, and everyone we discussed it with, had driven cars with throw-out bearings that sounded way worse for way longer, so we made the decision to just let it ride.

Heck, pulling a C6 driveline to get to the throw-out bearing is a 6-plus-hour ordeal in the best of conditions, so certainly it would survive a dozen more autocross runs.

We parked the car for the evening. I then walked the West Course a couple more times, devising a very Corvette-centric approach to the John Hunter-designed course we’d soon be attacking during the very first heat of competition.

Yeah, I’m sure you know how that worked out for us.

When I arrived the next morning, I immediately took another course walk while the sun was still just peeking over the horizon. Then I unloaded some of our accessories into our grid space in preparation for our Heat 1 runs.

I was putting my helmet and a water spray bottle on the ground when I got a text from Hilary relaying the Corvette’s current status: “Dead.”

Well, certainly someone has jumper cables nearby,” was my first thought.

Her subsequent text expanded upon that “dead” status to include the details of the throw-out bearing seizing and destroying itself not 200 feet from its paddock space. The car never made it close to grid.

Cool.

Then another text: “Jay is letting us use the Audi. Dave is mounting tires.”

The Jay in this case was Jay Bullington, and the Audi was his 600-plus-horsepower, twin-turbo, six-speed S4 you may have seen sporting an absurd but productive set of multi-tiered wings.

[JXB Audi: Is this the ultimate autocross aero setup?]

With the spindle fixed, the Corvette’s throw-out bearing was the next to go. The JXB Performance Audi was our day one lifeboat.

The Dave in the narrative was Ron Ver Mulm of R & S Racing, and the tires were some Falken Azenis RT660s that Jay and Jason Frank had run on the Audi at the recent UMI King of the Mountain event and, fortunately, still had in the trailer. Still, I needed to inform the stewards that we might be cutting the call to grid awfully close.

[Ultimate track tire guide | 200tw, 100tw, street-legal track and R-comps]

If you’re keeping score at home, we’ve got a guy who offered me his car for this event, only to have that car break, then get fixed thanks to fellow competitors shuttling parts into town, then break AGAIN at the last possible second. Then we’ve got another competitor who volunteered ANOTHER car so Hilary and I could make our day one runs, but only after THAT car got an emergency tire install by a supplier willing to do whatever it took to make sure everyone got to play.

All that generosity, and we hadn’t even made our first runs yet.

Now I was facing the impending reality that I’d be driving a car I’d never sat in. It was extremely different from the car I’d been planning to drive and had based my entire run around. I had about 8 minutes to wrap my head around this.

Jason, Hilary and Jay all did their best to provide a ground school for driving the Audi, but even they seemed to know how incomprehensible that task was given the circumstances. Ultimately, I had about 80 feet from our grid spot to the starting line to make my peace.

And honestly, the experience of driving that car is possibly even more extreme than it looks. The acceleration is explosive when the boost hits. The car wants very, very badly to kill you, but it wants to make sure you die scared, too.

Initial throttle application lulls you into a false sense of security as it begins to accelerate to your next mark, but then the boost hits and the car just teleports past the point of no return.

Somehow, I survived my first run. I was muttering expletives I had just made up when the team met me in the grid afterward. Any Corvette-based plan I had for the course was out the window, so I just shut up and listened to Hilary and Jason as much as I could and tried to revert to the basics on my subsequent runs.

It’s a big car, fast as hell in a straight line, with good steady-state grip but not much transitional ability, so I concentrated on gentle throttle inputs, late apexes and looking far, far, far ahead while trying to wrangle two more runs out of the beast.

And somehow, I finished the day in the final trophy position. Hilary was just a bit behind, and it was all due to the extreme valor of others that we were anywhere to begin with.

The Audi then became the day’s lifeboat. Jay made his runs in Street Mod in the car, even pausing to replace an exploded rear axle on the grid in less than 15 minutes. Then, in place of the Corvette, it carried Justin and Chuck around the course in the SSM class.

Meanwhile, a throw-out bearing had been located for the Corvette, and by the time I even found a moment to visit the paddock spot, a whole mess of folks was busily extracting the driveline for the Corvette in preparation for a bearingectomy.

Fellow Corvette driver Zach Moore was the all-star of the crew–after all, he wasn’t running until Thursday and Friday, so what else was he going to do with all his free time? Hilary was already covered in grease, hair full of gear lube and hydraulic fluid, and she only paused work long enough to occasionally to snatch a pizza roll that had magically appeared in an air fryer basket. She did so without even emerging from beneath the Corvette.

Zach Moore, Hilary Anderson and Justin Peachey ignored the ooze and grime to remove and replace an entire Corvette driveline in a concrete paddock.

Zach and his dad kept at it until the rear subframe, transmission and torque tube had been separated from the engine, but there was also a rotating cast of passersby who would stop for a moment–or a long moment–and help reposition a jack, fetch a tool, or just offer up a clean rag.

The team had help, too. It seemed like half the paddock lent a hand to the effort at some point. And it wasn’t just us on the receiving end of all this benevolence. This same story played out in every corner of the paddock–with a Honda transmission, or a Miata control arm, or any one of a hundred other disasters that were averted through the power of community.

It was literally the entire community crowdsourcing the repair like trick-or-treaters who refuse candy but insist on vacuuming your foyer before moving on to the next house

By midnight, the Corvette was back on the ground and shifting, and the next morning it rolled into grid for Heat 1 of day two.

Back from the grave, the C6 appeared on the grid again Wednesday morning.

Having walked the day two course not knowing what I’d actually be driving, my plan was basically, “Haha, I have no plan,” and it worked out fairly okay.

Back in the familiar and far less terrifying confines of a Corvette, I somehow managed to hold onto the seventh and final trophy spot in the XA class. Hilary was also far more comfortable in the C6, and she leapt all the way from 13th after day one to eighth at the final bell.

Somehow, Jay wasn’t done being an all-around amazing dude, since he offered the Audi to yet another unlucky pair of XA competitors– Andriy Sytyashenko and Mason McGavock–after their Mitsubishi Evo grenaded a piston.

So, what’s the point here? I’ve spent nearly 2000 words simply relating the facts of my SCCA Solo Nationals experience because I feel like I don’t really have the communication skills to do justice to the overwhelming goodness of this community.

At every turn, each opportunity to fail was instantly transformed into an opportunity for someone to step up and make sure everyone on the Lincoln concrete had a great week.

It seems trite to use words like valor and compassion and determination to describe the actions of 1000-plus people who get together to drive around an airfield for a total of 6 minutes, but I simply can’t find any others that seem appropriate. For the autocross community, the determination for EVERYONE to have an amazing experience seems to outweigh even the personal desire to succeed. No one wins unless we ALL have the chance to win.

It's humbling.

It’s inspiring.

It was nothing short of an absolute honor to share a seat with Hilary. Anyone who’s ever run a car against the clock would be highly motivated just to be around her intensity.

It was no less thrilling to see guys like Zach Moore dive in and wrench for hours on someone else’s car, not walking away until it was back on the ground and functioning. Or to see Jay Bullington offer up an untamed dragon of a car to anyone who needed it to complete their personal quest.

Or to see Justin Peachey never, ever show any sign of stress, even as disaster after disaster conspired to ruin his week. He took everything in stride, even while his glorious mullet–a nod to this year’s SCCA Solo Nats ’80s theme, but, if we’re being honest, it looked far too good to be worn purely ironically–soaked up grease and fluid from his wounded car.

Justin Peachey’s mullet deserves its own photo. He said it was just for the event’s ’80s theme, but I think I made a strong case for him to keep it. Tell me you don’t want to buy carnival tickets from this guy. It’s glorious.

In my aforementioned column–now hopelessly outdated by all these very recent happenings–I mentioned that I’m not always the most comfortable operator socially. And the thing is, spending time around people like these, who are so completely motivated to not only succeed personally, but to see everyone around them succeed as well, is such a gloriously inclusive and safe feeling that I can’t help but get a little emotional when I think about it.

No one succeeds unless we all succeed. I got to be right in the middle of that vibe for the last few days, and it’s maybe the best feeling anyone could take away from an event.

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David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/9/22 1:23 p.m.

Much congratulations, JG, and always awesome to see the community come together. (Not that I'm surprised at all.)

jglee920
jglee920 None
9/9/22 1:54 p.m.

"The car wants very, very badly to kill you, but it wants to make sure you die scared, too."

One of the best sentences I've read in a while.

 

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
9/9/22 1:56 p.m.

Beautiful story of a community coming together, JG!

A lot of what you mention is what keeps me coming back to the Challenge.  Hell, last year, how many people were wrenching on and working on Riggamort with Doug?

 

 

That being said,  gotta razz you a little.  Your car caught on fire, the car you were gonna drive broke, then it broke again while you were driving, then (if I'm reading it right) the car you had been driving broke for someone else...

I can put you in touch with an old priest and a young priest?  Maybe a shaman to drive out whatever spirit is haunting you and the vehicles you touch?

Randy_Forbes
Randy_Forbes New Reader
9/9/22 2:09 p.m.

Congratulations, and wow, just wow!

I was following Hillary Ann's account of the week on her FB page, and I have to say, I just wanted to give her a hug; now I'm left thinking that I don't have the stamina to hug ALL the people that deserved it..

Your emotion definitely came through in your story (I've got goose bumps)!

Mustang50
Mustang50 Reader
9/9/22 2:52 p.m.

Great article.  It's stories like these that make me want to get healthy enough and get the car updated to get back in to autocrossing.

kkaranges
kkaranges
9/9/22 5:23 p.m.

It was really great to watch all around! The Audi coming in as a life boat seeing the epic fixes on it and the corvette in record time. It was unfortunate events but nobody gave up and it was pretty awesome to see everyone rally together.

I will note though that there should be a correction, I brought the said Corvette Spindle up from Texas and it actually came from G Speed who helped develop these spindles in collaboration with Mark at AMT. 

Purple Frog (Forum Supporter)
Purple Frog (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
9/9/22 9:07 p.m.

JG,  I had a like experience back in 2005 at the SCCA Runoffs.  Seemingly hundreds chipped in to make sure I got to compete.  I can tell you that 20 years from now tears will still come to your eyes when you try to retell your great story.  Amazing stuff.

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
9/11/22 11:43 p.m.

I have to re-read this again so I'll be able to accurately summarize it when I talk about autocross. Absolutely one of the best aspects of the sport. 


Congratulations!

BTW, this won't be my first time re-reading one of your columns. Love your work. 

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