great racin’ suriel 2003

So yes, the 2003 installment of Suriel driving around the desert with her dad has just come to a close. I was less nervous than last year, which is good, but I was still a little nervous – after having come in third in the big race, my dad was now classed in the Expert division. This has consequences. The class you’re in determines how many checks you can “throw away”. In our case, we could only throw away one, as opposed to two or three like the other classes.

So the first day, up before the sun and shivering mightily, we made our way to the start, where I hopped around, trying to warm up and distract myself. We were set to go out 18th. At two minutes to 8:00, we got our instructions, slotted them into sheet protectors and headed out to the tire warmup and speedometer calibration.

We were headed out the 60 to I-10, and caught an obscene amount of traffic, which pleased no one, but at least we did the calibration with no problem – we were able to maintain 50mph the entire time. Other teams weren’t as lucky. My uncle and his driver got caught in traffic and had to make adjustments.

Finally we made it to the staging area for the start – a Walgreens parking lot. I snapped a couple of pictures (I remembered to bring my camera all three days, instead of just the last day!) and then, all too soon, it was time to leave. Once again, we took off explosively, making turns and counting seconds.

Friday’s trip took us through the southern desert. It was overcast and cold, and the wind lashed my face all day long. We tooled around the desert with a brief stop for gas in Ajo, then it was back on the clock. More bits of desert followed, with a trip through the Barry Goldwater Bombing Range (no bombs today), and then we turned toward Gila Bend and lunch.

After a grilled cheese at the A&W, it was back on the road. We were set to head out from a sign on Maricopa Road. So we squeeze into the car and head off down the road. The instructions said our turn was two minutes past Interstate 8. Five minutes later, we were worried we’d missed it. We debated for another two minutes, then turned around and headed back. Sure enough, Maricopa was about fifty yards past I-8. Nice instructions, eh?

Well, we made it to the restart, and actually got off on time. This was followed by what I shall refer to ever after as Miles and Miles of Dead Cows.

We’re on this little two-lane road doing 50, and I kept seeing these fuzzy lumps of brown at the side of the road. At first I took them to be remnants of the bundles of hay they put out sometimes to stop water runoff, then I decided they were old rugs, but I couldn’t figure out why people would dump rugs on the road.

Then I saw The Head.

Scanning the roadside, looking for the sign that marked our next instruction, I looked straight into the eyes of a dead cow, its head tilted up and its mouth wide open. I had an instant case of the willies, and nearly forgot to look for my sign. For the next several miles, in between peering at roadsigns, I had glimpses of cow corpses: torsos, hindquarters, sometimes just bits, the legs pointed skywards. Ew.

Finally, finally we turned off Dead Cow Highway and turned back towards the hotel and civilization. When we got to the hotel, we got our score: 33 seconds. Good gods! We were 28 seconds late at one check. 28 seconds! I felt dreadful.

My dad wasn’t as upset as I was, but we now had a lot of ground to make up, if we were going to place.

The second day started before dawn again. This time we were headed east, down the 60 to Superior. We were headed into the mountains today.

Today was a good day to have a racing car. There were a lot of ups and downs and turns and speed changes, and the Speedster’s powerful engine was well up to the task. We had one scare, though, right after a checkpoint. I spotted a sign that said “GR Caution”, followed by reflective triangles in the road. Sure enough, we rounded a curve on a mountain road, and there was an accident, and a huge truck blocking the way.

My dad slammed on the brakes, while I screamed and marked our time. Thankfully, we only lost a couple of seconds and were able to make them up after we got past the block. Others weren’t as lucky, though, and had to stop – and make up much more time.

Lunch was in Globe. I hate to say this, but I still don’t know where Globe is. I really need to look at a map.

After that, it was miles and miles and miles at 50mph, scanning for an elusive sign (“Mesa 32 miles”), that I thought would never show up. It’s a pity I had no idea it was going to be so far, because we drove through some spectacular country, and I would have liked to have taken pictures. Ah, well.

We rolled into the finish at the Scottsdale Pavilions to some welcome news: 9 seconds for the day! And we aced the first check! Forty bucks to me, and another sticker for the Speedster.

We were stuck at the Pavilions until 7, but Loki came up and hung out with us. I was most happy – I hadn’t seen him since Wednesday and I was missing him badly.

Today, Sunday, we got up extra-early to pack up everything, preparatory to checking out. Shivering in the dark before dawn, I watched my dad pull the car out of the trailer and leave it running to warm up. I was checking our clock against his digital atomic clock when the car suddenly stopped running.

Consternation! Panic! We couldn’t figure out what it was. At first we thought it was the coil, as the car seemed to want to turn over when my uncle held the wire out a little bit, but when we changed the coil, it still wouldn’t start. At that point, Billy, another friend of my dad’s who was racing this weekend, came out of the hotel. We dragged him over, and he had a look. After much futzing and poking, he noticed a crack in the distributor cap.

Thankfully, my dad had another cap, and ten minutes later, we had it swapped out. I thought I’d start crying when the Speedster fired up. After a hasty breakfast, we piled into the car and raced for the start. All I could think was, what if that had given out in the middle of nowhere yesterday? Someone was smiling on us.

We started on time, and made it through the speedo calibration and tire warmup with no problem, then lined up for the start. The last day is always a maze, and this one took us through a sleepy little town: right at the stop sign at 20mph, right on Main Street at 25mph, back onto the highway at 50mph, that sort of thing. After that, it was a maze in the country: peering at tiny street signs, looking for our first turn, praying to gods I hadn’t missed a sign.

At one point, we had an instruction: right turn at 40 on Nelson (road ahead unpaved). We were coming up on a road, but the road ahead looked paved to me. Halfway through the intersection I saw it was Nelson.

“Nelson! Nelson! Right, Dad, right!” And, tires squealing, car bouncing, we rocketed around the corner, headed towards the far side ditch.

I was swearing like a demon, sure we were done for, but the car held the road like velcro, and we sped off, going faster for a few seconds to make up the time we’d spent spinning the wheels in the gravel.

After that, we headed into Sun Lakes for another maze, because two clearly weren’t enough. So we’re putting at 20mph through a retirement community, at one point narrowly missing a clueless old bint crossing the road to church. We did miss her, though, thank gods. I bet they add seconds to your score if you plow down old ladies.

Not much longer after that, we were off the clock and back on I-10, headed into Phoenix for the finish, held at the home of one of the racers, halfway up Camelback Mountain. We also got our score for the day: 20 seconds. I was powerfully disappointed, despite the fact that we aced the first check. The second check was what killed us: 13 seconds early. 13 seconds! My uncle and his driver got the exact same score, as did a lot of other racers, which didn’t make me feel too much better.

When they handed out the awards after lunch, we found out we came in sixth, which wasn’t entirely dreadful: we got plaques, and there was a cash prize, so that was ok. And my dad pointed out that in terms of raw time, we were probably in second or third – we just couldn’t throw away as many checks as the rest of the finishers.

(The nine-year-old kid, who pissed me off so badly last year, came in second, the toad. He’s ten now, but he still needs to go away. I hate that kid.)

This time around, I had a lot more fun, and spent a lot less time feeling like I was going to throw up. I spent a lot of good quality time with both my dad and my uncle, who I haven’t seen since the Great Race went through Lake Havasu. I felt better about our performance, even though it wasn’t as good, and I got to see some amazing countryside.

Yep, another good weekend with my dad.

update: pictures are here. I’ll get around to renaming them in a bit.