I had an opportunity to go for a quick ride in the Ragged Edge Racing car, #577 Whiplash, and I've come to realize - there is no substitute for suspension!
Of course, there's more realizations than that, so read on....
MadMan Mike is a hard-working professional. Over the years he'd accumulated some toys, and when he had to move and sell them, opportunity presented itself for a new sport. Wouldn't ya know it, off-road racing Baja-style appealed to him! Thus was born Ragged Edge Racing, a 2nd-year team in the Whiplash racing series, based in Arizona.
He has some races under his belt, and it was time for a major overhaul on the car. Rear suspension was an issue, and the re-install left some question on the stiffness of the rear end. It's adjustable, of course - it's a race car - and it was time to test.
Lucky for me, there were also recent problems with the race radio. That means that driver & co-driver had testing to do, and someone had to hold down the radio back at base. 5:00 am isn't really all THAT early, even on a Sunday, when it comes to race cars, so I met with Mike & joined 'em for a day of testing in the desert!
It all started mundane enough. Helped load the car & trailer. Picked up Spike, the co-driver. Drove to the desert, found a shady spot of sorts. Unloaded, checked the oil in the car. Watched them gear up in kidney belts, neck braces, gloves, 5-point harnesses, helmets, glasses. Interesting fact, there's velcro EVERYWHERE on their gear! The visors on the helmets have velcro to help keep 'em shut in the extremely rough. Helped fasten in Parker Pumper air system hoses and radio plugs. Picked a good radio channel, and off they went!
It's possible that nothing sounds as pretty as a 1600cc VW race motor in the crisp morning desert air. I could hear them for about a mile, it seems, and the motor sounded extremely strong after the recent rebuild.
So, I produced a bit of radio chatter periodically, to check range and be sure it wasn't "cutting out" at any point. I rolled out a piece of carpet as a mechanic's pad in case the rear end needed more adjustment, and when I called again, they were over 6 miles away! I couldn't believe it!
All reports were that the car was running fine, the rear end was adjusted well, the radio was good, the motor was great, and they were coming back in.
That's when it got REAL interesting!
Then Mike offers to take me for a spin! I thought about it for a little while, considered the pros and cons, then the second hand on my watch ticked and I knew I'd taken long enough. My biggest concern was that they had testing to do, and I didn't want anybody to feel obligated to give joy rides to some tourist like me, but Mike reassured me it was no problem.
Felt kind of silly trying to figure out the 5-point harnesses - there's a certain order in which the brackets are fastened in and that was new to me. They showed me the radio button and horn button, for the co-driver gets to control all such things since the driver's a bit busy for that. Even the rear-view mirrors are angled for the co-driver! There's foot-braces and the nicest T-handle Oh Shit bar I've ever seen. (Pardon the language, but I have a personal relationship with said bar, I believe I can express myself here).
Right off the bat, I realized this was going to be FUN. The testing course started with a rough hillclimb, washed out on one side, and I was impressed with the motor's low-end power. Mike seemed to take it for granted, but I've recently been playing with exhaust baffles trying to get the low-end back on my own car, since my big cam changed the relationships quite a bit. Now I understand what the 30-Pict-1 carburetor and 1 3/8" supertrapp exhaust setup does - low end is real good!
Then we hit the ridge, and MadMan says on the intercom -
"Let me know if I scare you too bad, and I'll slow down"
Sure, I've done some wild offroading. I've even taken some sections as fast as Mike did. I'm not easily scared, and I never did get scared - but getting used to such superior engineering is a mind-blower!
And consider, this was just a testing run. In a race MadMan would be going much faster, much harder than he did.
He hit sharp turns at high speed, and the front end just pulled right around 'em. You've heard the expressions about a car that drives like a slot-car? Mike can do that with his fast 5-1600. He cut a corner or two - non-destructive on that piece of real estate - because I don't think the tires touched the ground. He accelerated down the straightaways hard enough to stick my helmet back! And this is just a 1600cc motor!
The most impressive part came next - a downhill run through some turns and down an extremely washed-out, boulder-strewn hill into the washes. Folks, this car felt like an off-road Cadillac! Long-travel suspension is an absolutely amazing thing to a Lizrd like me - my own suspension is set hard for good lift, and is stiffer than daylights compared to this setup. He launched through holes 8 inches deep - not even a speed-bump comparison. He impacted on the washouts, then launched to the left onto the smooth, and it compared to bumping over a road median at slow speed then flying off the other side.
A word on style would be proper here. Mike repeatedly said that the car did all the magic, but I'll tell you, his good driving pays off. He has that talent of turning the wheels just enough, then letting the tires skip over the bumps to steer the car perfectly. No oversteer. One thinks he's understeering but his knowledge of the car converts to perfect control. Later, he mentioned his theory - if you don't turn the wheels too much you're less likely to roll. It pays off!
The bottom leg of the ride was in sandy washes, twisted and turned where the bikes and quads pushed up burms while dodging brush and trees. The driving style changed a bit - as most baja enthusiasts know, if you turn a split-second early in fast sand, the car goes straight for a split second then whips the front end around. The burms made it bit more complicated, but there was no need to drop below 40mph.
On an ATC trail.
I made sure to honk the horn when approaching any blind corners, switchback-style, and we were sure that no one else was back there, but MadMan showed some sanity in making sure we wouldn't wipe anybody out.
The return trip was just as exciting, as I could enjoy the ride a bit more. The washed-out hill was now an uphill, and might have compared to a parking block at 5 mph. I tell you, that suspension is amazing!
After our return, Mike suggested that his co-driver, Spike, take the car for a run. Mike had just drank a full soda and wanted to sit on the tailgate for awhile, so I co-drove with Spike, also.
The course was the same, but I dare say the speed was up a bit. Spike has the talent of power delivery - to step on the gas at the right time and pop right out of a turn, or initiate a rear-wheel slide around a corner. Mike mentioned on the radio that Spike's actually a bit faster, but takes a few more chances so it's a tradeoff. We caught the wrong trail for a few minutes on the way out, and dove through some truly soft sand washes. The car never complained, plenty of power & delivery to pull right through it.
In retrospect, it's interesting to consider that Spike's learing MadMan's fine steering touch. And MadMan's got more foot on the gas during a race, so I don't truly know his racing style. Given time and practice, these guys will become regular off-road driving professors!
So, to tally the net results of the day: Couple of gallons racing fuel burned. Break-in miles on the motor, time to change the oil again. The fiberglass on the hood cracked, it'll have to be tied down well for the next race - but not too well, since there's a spare tire under there - I'm sure they'll figure out a way.
And I had the prime offroad experience of my life, so far - a genuine E-ticket ride in a class 5-1600 baja!
I can't express enough thanks to MadMan and Spike for putting up with me & taking me out. I'd have been happy to work the radio and help load the car onto the trailer a couple of times, but they gave me a true gift.
Does anyone else remember the old days at Disneyland, where your admission bought a book of tickets for the attractions? There were A-tickets (Robinson's Treehouse), C-tickets (Mr. Toad's Wild Ride), and the coveted E-tickets. Those would get you onto the Matterhorn or Space Mountain.
What I need to know is, how much do I owe these guys for an E-ticket ride?
And check out Ragged Edge Racing at http://www.baja.org/raggededge
Anybody else got a race car?
And check out Ragged Edge Racing at http://www.baja.org/raggededge