One Helluva journey (to buttonwillow)

One Helluva journey (to buttonwillow)

In the quest to try to come up with new content for the blog, I am always searching for new ideas. After blowing his rear JRZ’s (shock was bottoming out before the actual suspension would be maxed out) on the way down to Chuckwalla a few weeks back, and not being able to run a lap time he was happy with he got new rear suspension, and wanted some redemption. An open test day came up at Buttonwillow, on Friday April 5th, and he wanted to make the trek down there to set up his new suspension properly, and get a lap time in that he was content with. He knows I’m always looking for content for the blog, so he hit me up and asked if I wanted to ride shot-gun with him down there and do a cool write-up on the blog about our journey.

Thursday at 4:30 pm after we had both gotten off work and I met up with him at his house. The goal was to drive to a Motel 6 just outside of Buttonwillow, stay there for the night then in the morning head to Buttonwillow. I arrived at his house and we began to load the car.

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As you can imagine there isn’t much space to pack stuff into the S2000, so we had to pack as lightly as possible. We packed 1 small tool box filled with all the tools we could need, one box with spare parts/fluids, a jack, the camera bag, a backpack for me and my supplies needed for the next day, a day bag for him with his supplies, and two helmets. We basically had to shoe horn everything in especially since he has a roll bar, and a stock spare tire. With everything loaded we began the journey, as we drove we talked about how cool it was going to be to dial in the car to his liking…At this point we were so optimistic and we had no idea what catastrophic events were ahead of us.

The goal for this post was to help inspire people to do a track day, to show you that you don’t need a complete army of people, supplies, tires, etc… You can sign up and do a track day easily just by bringing a few extra parts, fluids, a jack, and some basic tools. As long as you aren’t running R compound tires (below 200 tread ware) you don’t even need to bring an extra set of tires.

For 5-6 years now Patrick has made MULTIPLE trips to California, easily 25+ different times and he has never had a mechanical failure that has inhibited him from driving back. Yes there have been mechanical failures, but they were all easily remedied by the box of spare parts he had brought, a close by auto parts store, or someone at the track having the part he needed. As he said “it was bound to happen” I guess you could say the odds were against us from the start, since he had so many successful trips with out major incident.

Anyways lets jump into the meat of the story, I’m sure you want to know exactly what “catastrophic event” happened to us but Im going to continue the story from where we left off… With us on the road being so happily optimistic about the fun that was assumed we would have. We traveled south on the 15 freeway all the way until Barstow where we then jumped onto highway 58 west towards Bakersfield. 250 miles into the drive as we arrived at our first stop in Tehachapi for gas it was starting to rain.

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This was the first time his car had gotten a bath since I washed it before the photo shoot we did of his car for the blog back in February. I myself am a stickler about keeping your car clean and shiny. But his car is his daily, he doesn’t have covered parking at home, and he has carbotech xp10/xp8 pads. So for him he could careless about the cleanliness of his car because any attempts to keep it clean would be feudal. He also doesn’t care much about the appearance of his car but more the functionality of it. 33677032118_d2681a4587_o

Along the drive we had some slight rubbing issues when hitting harsh bumps, here is Patrick taking a look to make sure there isn’t anything major rubbing. He’s running and unconventional (for S2000’s, most people will run a square setup with a stiffer front swaybar) spring rate set up of 800f/550r so fully loaded with all the supplies and myself there is probably an extra 350 pounds in the car. Nothing major was actually rubbing just the tire on the plastic of the rear bumper. With the car topped off with gas we headed back onto the 58 west towards Bakersfield, and into heavier rain. If anyone is familiar with highway 58 heading west from Tehachapi (4000 foot elevation) there is a steep decline and the road twists and turns through the mountains all the way down to a near sea level elevation of 500 feet. In the rain, and at night this would make anyone uneasy. But I had faith in my driver seeing how he knows this road like the back of his hand since he has been to Buttonwillow numerous times. So many times in fact that he has even figured out that rather than head on the 58 all the way through Bakersfield, that it is actually a better drive if you hop on highway 223 and head through a small town called Arvin. This will spit you out onto the 5 freeway a little more south of the Buttonwillow, but there is fewer stops, and less traffic that way.  We arrived in Buttonwillow CA at 9:00 pm, we got off the freeway and headed straight for the Motel 6 which would be providing our residence for that night.

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We had made it! no problems or issues what so ever. * Pro tip, ask for the racer discount and it will knock a small amount off per night. We parked the car, put our stuff in the room and decided to walk to go get some food. The little off ramp town is small enough that everything is within walking distance, and we had just spent about 5 hours sitting in a car so it was nice to get the blood flowing with a little walk. Apparently everything food related in that town closes at 10 pm, we somehow managed to sneak into the Taco bell right at 10. We were the last customers, so the food that we got was the last little bit of crap they had lying around. This meant that the already low quality food was even lower quality. No matter I was just excited to be there and ready for a fun day of racing the next day.

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We woke the next morning and partook in the morning ritual of basic bitches everywhere, topped off the tank and headed a few miles more miles north on the 5 freeway to the Lerdo highway exit where Buttonwillow raceway is only two left turns away.

We arrived at Buttonwillow and were greeted by the most glorious sight… the lack of people who were actually there! There was no line to get in, and parking was bountiful. We picked a prime parking spot and set up camp.

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Once everything was unloaded he started to do the usual track prep inspection, oil, coolant, wheels/suspension all tight, tire pressure, mounting of the AIM, resetting zipties on the shock shaft, and the installation of the camera.

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With everything gone over on the car we still had about 30 mins to kill before the start of the drivers meeting. I wouldn’t say that we were bored, but it’s just strange being so ahead of schedule that you aren’t running around like a chicken with its head cut off with only minutes to spare before the drivers meeting. We were still unsure if there was going to be a tech that we had to go through before getting the OK to be on the track. 8:30 am rolled around and we went to the drivers meeting, with there only being a total of 37 people in the meeting (this was including track staff, and mechanics for some of the larger race teams that were there) The meeting was short and sweet, and it seemed like there was almost going to be too much seat time. The AM session was from 9am-12:30pm where there would be a break for lunch, and the PM session being from 1-5pm. Patrick had signed up for the whole day which was only 200 bucks, It was also an option to only pay for either the AM session or the PM session. They had said in the meeting that there was not going to be a tech inspection, and that there wouldn’t be run groups. Instead they were just going to have everyone be able to go out at once, so you would have fast cars and slow cars all out there at the same time. As we walked back to the car we joked about how much seat time there was going to be, and that maybe I would even do a few laps.

The track went hot at 9 am, and there were about 6 cars that headed out. Patrick being one of them. His plan was to put some heat in the tires then come back into get an accurate tire pressure reading. I managed to barely get the camera all set up and snap only three pictures of his car (and they aren’t even that good, since I was still dialing in the setting on the camera) Before everything went to shit.

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Then it happened… After exiting the last turn and heading on to the front strait I heard the unmistakable sound of an engine dying. I quickly turned around to see smoke everywhere and at that moment I knew that his day was done. I rushed over to our pit area ariving just as the tow truck was dropping his car off. Instantly we began to asses, and diagnose the issue. There was no oil on the track, no oil in the engine bay, still oil on the dipstick, no sign of holes in the block, and there was no coolant int he radiator. The sound that it made when it blew was the sound of an engine loosing compression, so to be optimistic I thought maybe it was the head gasket. We decided to pull the spark plugs to see if we could figure out what had happened. We pulled #1 and everything looked normal, we pulled plug #2 and again everything looked fine. When we went to pull #3 this is where we knew there was something majorly wrong, the spark plug wouldn’t loosen or even come out. We moved on to #4 and there was nothing wrong with that one either. So it was narrowed down to cylinder #3 being ground zero.

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It’s a strange feeling trying to document a disaster like this, basically documenting someones despair. I feel like at the time tensions are so high that it could almost be offensive, but on the other hand there isn’t much else I can do. Besides the reason I’m here is to document our trip, for better or for worse. I also felt like this is a great opportunity to be completely transparent with everyone so you can see that there isn’t one person that doesn’t actually have issues, if they haven’t had issues theirs is coming for sure. Just like they say in motorcycling: there are two kinds of riders, ones that have been down, and ones that are going down. Your time is numbered and how you persevere is what makes you a true enthusiast. You must truly enjoy the whole experience of the journey and understand that sometimes things don’t always work out in your favor, but that doesn’t mean its time to throw in the towel.

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We managed to get spark plug #3 out, once out it revealed the severity of the issue. My optimism of it being a head gasket was no more, and we now had to switch our thoughts of how we were going to get home. There was no point in looking any further at the engine, it was clearly FUBAR! Luckily Patrick had just gotten AAA for this exact reason. AAA would only get us so far though… 200 miles max to be exact, which puts us right around Barstow. With still 150 miles back home to Las Vegas, we had some decisions to make.

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Heres Patrick making some calls, trying to see what options we had. In true track racer forum he has his la Croix in hand. While we had a few hours to kill until the tow truck would be able to get us, I ran around trying to take as many pictures of the other cars there that day.  You can click the link below to see all the pictures that I took.

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After a little while Patrick text (since I was one the other side of the track taking pictures) me saying he found a hole in the block. We just couldn’t figure out why this happened, and still we have no idea what happened. He has an oil pan baffle, oil level was good, gas tank was full, engine made no mechanical noise, valves were adjusted, and the engine didn’t smoke at all. Since he has been home for a week now he has taken some things apart and has found metal in his throttle body/intake manifold, and in the radiator. He has already purchased another long block, and when we remove the old engine we are going to try to see what was the cause of this. *side note the engine was still running after it blew as he pulled of the race line and then turned it off. It was making noise obviously though, but we never tried to re fire it for obvious reasons. Also remember that this is Patricks daily driver, this is how he gets to work everyday.

Here’s the video of the best lap he did and the engine blowing. you can clearly see/hear there is no issues with the car it just decides to die. Remember also there is plenty of time left on the table as this was only the warm up laps and he managed to get that time.

Patrick was able to secure A ride home for us from Barstow to Vegas. Luckily for us his friend Scott (who he tracks with) was able to take the shop van and car dolly from his job in Vegas to Barstow and pick us up. So all that’s left now is just wait till the tow truck picks us up from Buttonwillow raceway.

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Here’s how it sat for the time being until the tow truck arrived. The trunk was open however we never actually packed anything up. He was preoccuppied replying to concerned friends and being the competitor he is, he was out where I was taking pictures timing cars to see how his time was going to hold up to some of the other faster cars. Once the tow truck arrived we rushed back to pack the car real quickly, since we were clearly preoccupied.

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The tow truck got there and seemed surprisingly familiar with everything that was going on. The driver even knew that there was a concession stand in the building behind us, he walked over to grab a soda and we snapped some pictures of Patrick “driving” the tow truck.

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As we set off for our 2.5 hour ride in a tow truck, I asked the driver if he has been here before? “oh yea” he says, just last weekend he towed a Porsche that had blown its engine all the way back to San Diego! So apparently we aren’t the only ones that have AAA come pick us up at a race track. Just so you’re not wondering why we didn’t take the AAA tow truck all the way back to Vegas… Well it’s because the package only comes with 200 “free” miles,  anything after that is $8.00 a MILE! We weren’t towing a Porsche so we couldn’t afford that extra 8 bucks a mile after the 200 we used up.

It was strange riding in the tow truck for 2.5 hours. The driver was very polite, and tried making small talk with us. No matter what though its going to be some what an awkward situation, the language barrier, and knowledge for what we are interested in and what he was interested in and neither one of us knowing about the other persons interests were made for some very basic general converstions.

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Things were silent on the road as we listen to the radio playing the cliché “music for everyone” then losing reception and changing the spanish station, then back to easy listening. Randomly he just decided to pull off at a rest stop in-between Tehachapi and Barstow,  and as he pulls off he says “PEE PEE time” parks and runs off to the bathroom. Patrick and I both get out to stretch our legs (the tow truck is much more uncomfortable than it looks like it would be). Once he returns we merge back on to highway 58 east towards Barstow. Rather than have him drop us off at Barstow we try to squeeze every last mile we can out of him, and have him drop us of just east of Barstow on Yermo rd where Peggy Sue’s diner is. Since he must drop us off somewhere  there is people we can not have him just drop us off on the side of the road exactly at 200 miles, so the for us the farthest we could go with out going over was Yermo rd.

When we arrived at the ARCO where he dropped us off at, it was just about 5:00pm and with his friend not yet off until 5:30pm, and still a 2.5 hour drive from Vegas to us we had lots of time to kill. There really isn’t much stuff going on where we were dropped off 4 gas stations, 1 hotel, 2 diners, and a jack in the box. We decided to go to Peggy Sue’s diner just so we could sit and hang out there for a while and just debrief about the day that we had. Peggy Sue’s ended up being the grossest, creepiest place ever so we didn’t want to stay long. Remember that we don’t actually have a way to get around so we are walking around, we walked to Peggy Sue’s then after we finished there we walked back to just double-check on the car (not like it was actually going to go anywhere). We still had some hours to kill, we decided to walk to the newly built Eddie World, which is 3 miles from where we currently at. *side note… its funny that the name of the place we are going is Eddie World, meaning a world of Eddies. Why is it not called Eddies World.

Anyway we started making the trek to Eddie World and received a call from Scott that he was on his way.

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The 3 mile walk that sounded like a good idea before we started, but quickly turned into a why did we decide to do this. There wasn’t really anything else we had to do other than sit in the car, this at least took some of the boringness away and ate up a lot of time while Scott was driving down to us. We continued on the journey only to have a coyote cross our path and seem a little more interested in us than we were both comfortable with, and we passed a house that had 4 large pitbulls in the yard thankfully 3 of them were chained up as the fourth one just paced back and forth getting increasingly anxious as we approached. We managed to make it all the way to Eddie World without any problems, but were severely let down by the lack of ice cream that this place was “famous” for. We had hoped for a full on ice cream parlor where we could get sundaes, banana splits, and custom ice cream sandwiches. But like most things in life we were let down, only to be served generic scoops of ice cream by 16-year-old minimum wage employees one of which was asleep in the corner. We also made the decision to just wait at Eddie World since Scott was only about 45 min away at this point. I had already walked 10 miles that day and I didn’t want to make it 13, so we sat in the eating area, ate our ice cream, charged our phones, uploaded some stupid funny pictures to instagram, and patently awaited Scott’s arrival. Not long and Scott had arrived, Not knowing exactly what kind of vehicle he had to transport us, we walked outside and gazed upon the most neglected transport van, with only two seats and a mattress in the rear. At this point we didn’t even care we were just so spent from the day we had that started at 5:30am, we were just happy to have a ride. We drove back the 3 miles we had walked, to the ARCO where the car was parked and got started on loading the car up.

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For the car to fit on the tow dolly the front bumper had to be removed. I’m not sure what the guy in the yellow jacket was doing. Was he the security guard for the gas station? was he just a truck driver that was interested in what we were doing? Did he like S2000’s? we don’t know, he never said one word, just stood there and watched us. No doubt there is some strange people out on the Yermo rd, so I guess his behavior could be considered normal for that area.

Before I show you the van and tow set up, let me just tell you that the van was only running on 7 cylinders, the CEL was on, and had over 200k miles on it. We were assured by Scott that this van has towed cars to New York, and makes other far journeys so we would be fine for just a 150 mile trip to Vegas.

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We spent a little more time than I’m comfortable saying loading the car onto the tow dolly. Mainly just because we were making sure the car was secure and we double and triple check everything. Going over everything just to make sure we weren’t going to add a wrecked car to the list of broken things that day.

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All loaded up and ready to make the drive 150 miles back to Vegas. Despite the van running on only 7 cylinders we made the trip back with ease, I couldn’t believe how well the van handled the trip. Even going up the big hills outside of Baker it just plowed right up them like it wasn’t even towing anything! By the time we got back to Patrick’s house we were all convinced that we should just buy tow van’s and car dolly’s. Big thanks to Scott for making the drive down to rescue us, you’re the real MVP!

In conclusion If you think of the big picture, all the money we waste, hardships we encounter, and lack of sleep we get for our hobbies. Most people would wonder why we do it, why don’t we just get an easy hobby like drinking and watching sports? Well I say where’s the fun in that? I wouldn’t have traded any part of this adventure for anything! I know that Patrick thought that I was bummed that I wasn’t going to get any blog content since he blew his motor right a way, and he was sorry for that. But I told him “don’t be silly” I’m sorry your motor blew, and that the blog post is about the whole journey, and not just about him going around a track. Of course it would have been great if his engine didn’t blow, but either way i’m able to tell the story of our journey, and regardless of the outcome we still had great time, many laughs, and made the most of the bad situation.

Patrick seems to think that there is no reason other than bad luck the motor blew, but as I don’t believe in the actual “luck” part, there has to be some reasonable explanation, some mechanical failure that we can blame for the destruction of his F20c. He also believes that it was just his time, the odds were against him and it was bound to happen eventually. Honestly I’m happy it happened when I was there, because forever now I will have a great story to tell. Not to mention all the things I learned along the way, everything from how you can get a “racer” discount at the motel 6, to never wanting to eat at Peggy Sue’s ever again in my life, and that vans CAN tow you home safely while only running on 7 cylinders. Most people would think we are crazy for what we go through, but I think most people are crazy for wasting their lives aways just sitting around on the couch on their days off. To quote Patrick’s dad… “In 30 years, you’ll wish you could do it all again… trust me.” Don’t let life pass you by while you’re too busy saving for that retirement, or trying to do what “society” says is the proper life path. There is no proper life path. Just be a good person and enjoy your life while you can, cause one day you’ll be dead, just lying in the ground…

…And always remember, DONKEY BOP!

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