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Jason Marks leads a crew meeting in our "new" trailer.

2016 – Race 2: Sebring International Raceway

Sound asleep and comfortable in your bed, in your dream you glance back over your shoulder. Whatever it is that’s chasing you continues to close the distance between you. Redoubling your efforts, you strain to run faster. Your feet grow heavier, as though mired in clay; muscles ache, limbs grow weary and refuse to respond to your commands – the night wears on.

That’s how my Sebring weekend started.

Johnny, the other transporter driver and I are both early risers. We prefer to start out in the morning and finish early in the day. There are several reasons for this. First is that we are both morning people. Second, Johnny is blind as a bat driving at night, so we try to be on the road as little as possible in the evening. Also, should you be unaware of the truck parking issues in many states, the earlier one arrives at a truck stop or rest area, the more likely there will be a place to park.

As this trip begins, we are packed and ready to go on time Sunday afternoon. We plan to drive to the Georgia-Florida line where we know a truck stop that always has available parking. A rare find, indeed. The guys in the shop kid us about leaving early all the time, but then again, they drive down with four drivers in the ‘Burbs. John and I don’t have that luxury. We also have a specific time to stage at each race, and in the past year we’ve had more races where we stage at 0700. That essentially backs our schedule up one day. We also need to plan for when “stuff” happens. Since I’ve been with the team we’ve never missed a staging time, so the naysayers can, um, nay-say.

Furthermore, getting in and out of the track to buy groceries and supplies is a royal pain in the keester. IMSA took away our delivery passes this year. As a Go-Fer, that pass was the Holy Grail of paddock access. As usual, and just as when we were kids, some folks couldn’t play by the rules and overstayed their welcome in the paddock. Mind you, all of us knew who these scofflaws were. Rather than punish the ones who couldn’t play nice, we all lost our passes. Now we have to go to the IMSA trailer and check out a Delivery Pass as though we were kids asking for a hall pass to go pee. But I digress.

As we sat comfortably parked for the night, well fed and ready for a good night’s sleep, Johnny’s truck throws a serpentine belt. Great. You may presume that one doesn’t walk into the local Auto Zone and buy anything for a 2010 Volvo VNL64T780 with Volvo D13 engine. You presume correctly.

The short version of this story is that after finding a shop that would come to the truck, we dropped my trailer and I bob-tailed to Jacksonville, about 25 miles away to get the parts needed from the local Volvo dealer. Thank goodness they carry a $3 million parts inventory. Of course, not being at my brightest that day, nothing registers when the guy says, “Are you sure you don’t need an idler pulley or something?” As I return an hour or so later I said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do need an idler pulley.” Doh!

Things could have been worse. As I was leaving the dealer (the second time), a tow truck came in pulling a rig. So, yeah, our day wasn’t so bad.

Long day and probably a $2K towing bill.
Long day and probably a $2K towing bill.

Back to our thing about leaving early. With almost the whole day now gone, we still have about a five-hour drive to Sebring, need to get the trucks washed, shop so we have the stuff we need with us when we get into the paddock, and get to Sebring in time for another good night’s sleep. Of course, the truck stop in Ft. Pierce is about the craziest, worst designed place one could ever visit. Trucks are parked willy-nilly all over the place, making it difficult to even get to the fuel pumps. Because of the chaos the drivers are really happy and share their joy transmitting over the CB while using extraordinarily colorful and creative references to other drivers’ spouses, mothers, religious preference, and ethnicity. A happy place, indeed. 200 gallons of fuel and two and a half hours at the truck wash and we’re on the final leg through Okeechobee. As the lead truck driving through the swamp, I look at my windshield and ponder whether we could have skipped the truck wash. Swamp = Big Juicy Bugs.

Finally in Sebring (and having skipped the shopping), I fall asleep with a giant Walmart cart chasing me. My legs grow heavier and heavier…

On Tuesday the staging goes well and we start our set up process. Each crew member has specific tasks or people to assist.

Start with the floor.
Start with the floor.

Unload the transporters.
Unload the transporters.

Finally, everything is set up, and we’re ready to get some work done on the cars and enjoy a relaxing evening before the next day’s schedule starts.

Unfortunately, as at many tracks, affordable housing is hard to find on race weekends. We had nice condos on a lake last year, but apparently the owners got wise and raised the rate beyond what we would pay. We ended up at the classic Oak Tree Motor Lodge in beautiful Avon Park, a quaint tribute to lodging styles of yesteryear. Certainly not the worst place we’ve ever stayed, but it was towards the bottom of the desirability scale. You don’t want to know what we paid for this charming place.

The charming style of old-school lodging.
The charming style of old-school lodging.

Following the mechanical issues with the truck, the joy of discovering the luxury of our lodgings, and the extra time it took us to get to the track, I had hopes that the worst was over. Right.

If you read this blog you certainly follow the team. By now you are aware of the fire, the engine change, and eventual success despite the challenges.

Jason Marks leads a crew meeting in our "new" trailer.
Jason Marks leads a crew meeting in our “new” trailer.

If it's dark and there's pizza, things are not going well. This place did make amazing Calzones.
If it’s dark and there’s pizza, things are not going well. This place did make amazing Calzones.

Post engine-fire night, the crew probably left the track around 1AM The next night after the engine change, Simpkins stayed to check details since next day was race day and all the cards were on the table. I think I went back to get him and left the track around midnight.

Despite the challenges, the crew responded well as always, and with little sleep managed to pull off both the first pole position and podium for an F30. Perhaps the gremlins that have haunted the development of the F30 chassis are mostly behind us (don’t want to jinx things here), and we can look forward to more podiums and, perhaps, that elusive win.

As always, thanks for reading. More to follow after Laguna Seca.

-Dave Taylor


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