From the driver seat, Sam said that the car drove totally different than his truck. "With the spool in the back of my truck, you can really steer with the throttle; not the case with Frank's Class 1 car though. The cutting brakes were great for tight maneuvering through the canyons on the Yerington course, but I am still getting accustomed to using them." On lap 2, we did a short lap to get in front of some traffic and were starting to find our rhythm. Yerington is not a particularly rough course, so it played to the strengths of the buggy—namely a great power-to-weight ratio. While the top speed was slightly better, the buggy got up to that top speed much faster. "Trucks tend to work better in the rough because they have more total wheel travel," Sam explained. "All the additional travel is in droop, so on whooped-out courses like San Felipe, they keep the tires on the ground more, making traction and propelling the trucks forward."
By lap 3, everything was clicking … right up until the point where we heard a loud clicking. "Oil pressure dropping fast!" I shouted into the intercom. The yelling was more a result of adrenaline than due to noise, as the rear-engine buggy was surprisingly quiet. Being only a mile out of our pit, Sam tried to nurse the car in, until he lost the power steering. "We're on fire!" he yelled as he exited the vehicle on the side of the course. "Get the extinguisher!" he added as his adrenaline rate increased to match mine. By the time I got the extinguisher and got my harness and window nets out of the way, Sam had smothered our engine fire in dirt.
The original “buggies” are Volkswagen Bugs. There is still a class for near-stock Volkswag
There was a hole in the side of the block I could fit my fist in, and the piston and rod were in a million little pieces. As a result, all of the oil came out the side of the engine and started the fire when it hit the hot exhaust headers. The power steering let go when the fire melted the belts on the engine. Hero to zero in the blink of an eye; my day was over … or was it?
Back at the pits, I peeled myself out of my race suit and washed off the dust before devouring a cheeseburger. I was on the last bite when Sam asked if I wanted to get back in the race. "Huh?!" was all I could manage with a mouth full of burger. Friend and fellow racer Jeff Parsons, who was pitting with us, hadn't slept in three days. Like most of us, he is a working stiff who puts all of his free time and resources into his truck, and he was going to do anything to make it to Yerington. Apparently "anything" included multiple all-nighters in a row.
Jeff had completed the first two laps of the race, but between the lack of sleep and exhaust fumes leaking into the cab, he could not keep his eyes open. To make matters worse, his starter wouldn't engage and he couldn't shut off the truck. The team ripped out the windshield to solve the exhaust issue as Sam jumped into the driver seat. Like I said, Sam is a desert racer before all else. Someone else on Jeff's team volunteered to co-drive, recognizing that I was having a hard time choosing between the cheeseburger and the race seat. Sam wheeled the truck for two laps before handing it back to a rested Jeff to finish out the race.
And Frank's buggy? "That's racing," he said without emotion. "We'll build it even stronger now." Before the car was even unloaded from the trailer, there was a dry sump and forged pistons to go in the extra block in the back of Samco's shop. Frank's buggy will be back, and I just might be back in the passenger seat. I am starting to think that being a buggy dork isn't so bad after all.