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Last Ditch Racing had made the decision to focus on running as many SCCA ProRally events as possible in 2003, and I had thrown out the idea of going to California to run the Rim of the World 2003 rally in early May.

I really didn’t expect the team to bite, but when they ALL told me they were up for going, I really couldn’t believe it! We’ve always had high expectations of our rally program, but this would be one of our most ambitious undertakings to date. Targa Newfoundland 2002 was our other.

The team members had combinations of stashed frequent flyer miles and free tickets from getting bumped from previous flights that allowed them to find their way to California much quicker than I. I would piloting the team’s new tow rig, “LDR-1 Heavy,” a 1997 Ford F-250 crew cab diesel that I had recently bought from a wholesale lot.

While the team had their reservations made, I was desperately searching for a co-driver to make the cross country trek with me. Despite numerous responses, I finally found a co-driver in one Mike Rademacher, a private jet pilot and fellow Subaru owner from Maine.

Our rally car, “Steel Tulip,” had most recently completed Rallye De Quebec, and was in fine shape. We loaded all the gear we thought we’d ever need and I picked up the trip-tik from the AAA office. We estimated a trip that would take 5 days averaging 700 miles daily.
I left Bangor, Maine at 06:00 with a destination of Albany, New York, where I’d meet Mike. 12 hours later, I pulled in to the Holiday Inn near the airport. Mike called me on his cell phone and told me he’d be in later. I grabbed some grub and read some of the car mags I’d brought while waiting for Mike.

Mike and I had met only once previously, at a local send off party for the team’s trip to Rim. Mike had commented that he would have loved to go with me, but he had to work the coming weekend. When I informed him it was the following weekend, he seemed a bit stunned. Little did I know I’d hear from him later on committing to the trip.

We set off for St. Louis, MO the next day, but were stopped short of our destination. Climbing a steep grade in Ohio, the sweet smell of coolant wafted into the cab. Mike and I were in denial as the temp gauge was fine and there were many other RV’s and trucks towing slowly up the hill. When we pulled off the ramp, the steam started to rise from under the edge of the hood and we knew LDR-1 Heavy had a, “situation.” Mike was sure we were done. I then educated Mike about the LDR mantra, “It’s not over until we’ve done all we can.”

We pulled into a large truck stop and surveyed the engine compartment. The entire front of the engine was wet, so finding the problem was difficult. All hoses seemed intact, but there was a leak somewhere. I started up the truck again and we saw coolant flowing freely out the bottom of the water pump. Not realizing it was Sunday(it was just, “day 2,” to us), we called parts stores all over the area to no avail. We finally located an Autozone in Akron that had a pump and got directions.

We hung up the phone and then realized that we didn’t have any way to get to Akron! Mike’s lightbulb went on first-”can we take the rally car?!” Of course we could! We rolled tulip out of the trailer and jumped in. The trip into Akron was uneventful and we had many positive comments on the car from a city policeman we had to ask directions from.

Pump finally in hand, we arrived back at the truckstop. Many hours had passed and we were tiring. Having the Chilton manual for the truck, the instructions advised removing the fan from the pump using a, “special,” tool. After having the truck stop mechanics rummage through their tool kits and even grinding down a couple of hand wrenches to try and fit, Mike and I decided we had done all we could.

On the advice of the truck stop, we called Bear’s towing and arranged for them to tow us at 7AM the next day to their shop for repair. Mike and I climbed the metal fence for the highway and found our way to a Motel 8 across the street. Mike and I were quite punchy from the long day, and he was convinced that the woman at the reception desk thought us to be a, “couple.” He did nothing to convince her otherwise.

After some order in food and some beverages, we took advantage of a relatively early bedtime. Next morning, Bear’s showed as promised and towed the truck/trailer combination to their shop. Jack, an experienced Ford diesel mechanic, pulled out the special fan removal tool and had the pump off in 10 minutes. an hour and half later, LDR-1 Heavy roared to life again.

Filled with coolant and hope, Mike and I hit the road about noon. Knowing we couldn’t make out destination, we made it as far as we could, ending the day in Joplin, MO. We settled into a routine of fueling the rig prior to checking into the hotel, so we could get on the road with as little delay as possible each morning.

The remainder of the trip to California passed without drama. Memories of that leg of the trip are like a collage. The shiny St. Louis arch contrasting with the run down bulidings next to the highway. The outrageous tolls in OK, the beauty of Flagstaff, AZ, and dinner at Little Anita’s in Albequerque. The sign for London Bridge in Lake Havasu. Signs for things we’d never see, like the grand Canyon and Meteor Crater Park. Billboards for tacky roadside giftshops. The awful smell of cattle excrement West of Amarillo. The windmills spinning in the plains of Texas and Arizona. The many trains with so many cars you sometimes couldn’t see both ends...

Each day, Mike and I would call our wive’s to check in. The conversations were usually the same, “Where are you guys? Are you driving each other crazy yet?” Mike had told me earlier that he had seen the US from the air and had always wanted to see if from the ground. By the end of the trip, he had.

Our one bit of drama came in the Mohave desert. We average 10mpg in the truck, and had planned stops appropriately(or so we thought). We pulled into one of the few service areas on the desert, fuel gauge on empty, and were horrified to find that there was no diesel fuel! We got information that the next service area had diesel. “How far is that,” we asked. 28 miles...

Damn...Mike now learned Team LDR’s second favorite tenet of rallying and life-”If you can’t fix the problem, do what you can,” or as I like to paraphrase it, “drive it until it breaks.” We set off down the highway, both tanks showing needles deep in the red territory. Mike and I said little as I called out each tenth of a mile as we rolled slowly down the road, trying to conserve whatever fumes we had. The number of emergency call boxes increased in frequencey as we approached the end of the desert, reassuring us that we weren’t the first to face this type of crisis.

I told Mike to get some video of the desert and fuel gauge, but he told he couldn’t. He just kept staring down the road. Then, he finally got it. “He said, “well, each tenth we go is one more I don’t have to walk to get fuel!” The smile and nervous laugh told me he knew, as I did, that we were at the mercy of the rally Gods.

We coasted downhill and off the ramp to the loan structure in the desert. A truck stop with diesel! I pumped fuel while Mike sought some reward inside for our excellent escape from a certain trip delay. The Ford has dual 15 gallon fuel tanks. We put 30.5 gallons in the truck. We now carry a five gallon can of diesel with us. Funny how you learn things from every rally!

We crossed into California, and Mike and I both got quite giddy. We had planned on getting there early in the afternoon on the fifth day, but the water pump had put us off the schedule. We had an ETA and called the crew, who had been in the state for a couple of hours to inform them that once again, “LDR is in the same state, ready to commence spank operations!”

We pulled into Palmdale and exchanged greetings and hugs. Mike and I felt like Merchant Mariners, as we continued to feel the vibrations from the diesel long after we were on solid ground.

We had a day to take car of registration and other issues. We had to get the oil changed in the truck in preparation for the trip back and get the coolant in Tulip replaced with, “raptor safe,” coolant per the Rim regulations. Once done, we went to find our VP fuel salesman and register the team. Eating at Baja Fresh was one of the highlights of the trip.

Bill Knose and the crew met us at the hotel for some tuning of the LINK ECU. Road testing indicated that the car seemed to be running better than it had for Rallye De Quebec, but the event would prove that it wasn’t running well enough.

Registration completed, Dave and I hopped into the car for tech. While at tech we saw the Mitsubishi factory team members. We asked their engine guru if he could help us tune our ECU, and he replied, “Maybe after the event!” He was standing with another Mitsubishi crew member and they were looking at Tulip and laughing. I knew what they were about-”Do you like our chrome antenna?” Iasked. They laughed and said they did. I told them it was quite American, and they laughingly agreed.

California was sunny-at least until we got there. Then, the heaven’s opened and the rain came. Not down, but mostly sideways, blown by the cold wind. We had lots of people thank us during the weekend for bringing the New England weather with us! Some suggested that next time we might try and bring lobsters instead!

The race itself was pretty intense. Night stages combined with the rain, fog and a semi-functioning climate control system in the rally car made it difficult to see the large, toaster-sized rocks in the road. Our ECU was clearly not happy either as we had very little power in the mountains. I had to keep feathering the throttle to try and find power. Dave did an awesome job with the stage notes-his first time with the Jemba created notes, and only felt mildly motion sick during one stage.

One surreal memory of the night stages was sitting in the line to start Magic Mountain. We could hear the cars on stage growling over the noise of the blowing wind. Looking skyward, we could see the driving lights shining into space and fog as they negotiated the moutainside corners. Quite intimidating to say the least!

The crew was thoroughly soaked despite the easy up tent and quite tired after the night’s stages. Eric and myself were quite dismayed that the ECU was clearly not working well. Unfortunately, we had neither the time or the expertise to suss it out for Saturday.

Saturday found us tired but dry. The ground was still thoroughly wet and the rain continued down as we watched the local news proclaiming this to be the most rain the area had seen in quite some time.

Despite the car not being at full power, Dave and I felt positive about the day. The day saw us campaigning Del Sur as well as other stages. Seeing the exposures on the stages in the daylight was even more intimidating! Combined with the 3-4 inches of mud, it made it very difficult to find traction. We were fortunate in that we had recently installed a rear LSD unit from PhantomGrip( This allowed us to find traction where others couldn’t, and we ended up passing many cars on the day.

There was a question of whether or not to run Del Sur back down again, as the conditions had not improved. The competitors voted to attack it once again, and we headed back down. We were held up by an oblivious competitor for over five minutes after having passed a couple of competitors already. We had one stage after that was filled with left and right turn combinations. It was a stage I could imagine in the WRC!

We were informed that the rally was no officially over. The ride back to service was uneventful. We found the radiator to be full of mud from following the car down Del Sur and we were lucky to make it to the finish time control in Palmdale without overheating.

The next day, the team all departed for LAX for flights back to Maine. Trusty companion Mike was driving to the airport to catch his next work flight. Prior to leaving, he helped me re-organize and pack the truck and trailer for the ride back East.

I fired up LDR-1 heavy and pointed it East with a sense of relief and trepidation. I was going to make the trip back solo. I wanted to get back as quickly as possible, but I knew fatigue would be an issue. The first day, I made it to Flagstaff, AZ. Having had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere Texas, I was happy to get that far.

On the third day, I was driving on the busy interstate through Missouri and all of a sudden, there was a big metallic clanging noise and the engine in the truck stopped. I coasted to the side of the road, and looking at the gauges, could see that I had no oil pressure. I got out, expecting to see a big puddle of oil under the truck, but there was none. I tried to restart the truck but it would fire(and made bad mechanical noises. I knew I was done. I called my wife on the cell and asked her to check the internet for the closest Ford dealer. Friendly Ford in Springfield, MO was the closest, she said. I called AAA, but they couldn’t tow me with the trailer on my budget membership plan. Friendly Ford called a tow truck for me, and I waited by the side of the road.

I was quite surprised when a new Lancer EVO pulled up and out stepped Lance Smith from Vermont Sportscar. He asked if there was anything I needed or that he could do. I explained the situation. We looked at the truck, the Lancer, talked rally and then he headed on down the highway.

What are the odds of meeting someone from Vermont in Missouri driving back from the same race in California?! I have no idea, but I should have bought a lottery ticket that day!

Dennis Elders at Friendly Ford tried to calm me a bit when I arrived. He told me it would take them a day to diagnose. A severe tornado had just struck the Springfield area the day I arrived. While eating dinner at the hotel, I called my wife on the cell. She asked what the alarm type noise was in the background. “It’s the emergency broadcast system on the TV saying there’s a tornado warning in effect for where I am.” That night, I realized that I was more in control of my destiny on the Magic Mountain stage at night in the rain and fog!

The next morning, I can back from the hotel and the mechanic showed me a diesel fuel injector with a severly bent tip. They checked compression on that cylinder and there was no. Apparently the crank had spun a bearing, causing the piston to hit the tip of the injector, bending it and putting a hole in the piston at the same time.

After consulting with Dennis, I opted to buy a new diesel engine with a three year, unlimited warranty. I flew home to Maine and returned two weeks later to finally finish my trip from Rim of the World.

When my wife asked how my drive home was, I replied, “I’ve definitely been to the Rim of the World and back!”

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