What a weekend. The SCCA RallyCross National Tour stopped in Byron, Illinois last weekend. This was the first national event I attended and competed in. I had some hesitance going in to it for a few reasons, but that all went out the window when I arrived Friday evening.
The drive from metro Cleveland to Byron was a smooth 7 hours. Byron is about 75 minutes outside of Chicago, and 15 minutes to Rockford, Illinois. The drive went flawlessly, only hitting traffic passing through Chicago. Checked in to the hotel and got a free upgrade to a whirlpool suite! The jet's didn't work, and they didn't provide any special soap for it, so it was essentially an oversized bathtub. Oh well, it was a free upgrade in a 3 star hotel.
I arrive to the site Friday night to check in. My first point of hesitance was missing most of the check in, tech, and practice laps happening Friday afternoon. I didn't know if that was mandatory or not. Despite communicating with the event leads about my logistics, and them assuring checking in Saturday morning was all good, I still felt like I was already at a disadvantage. Upon checking in, I give them my name, and the nice lady says, "Oh! You're the guy with the van!" I confirmed her claim, assuming there was follow up to that. Instead, she explained how she has heard about the van, and couldn't wait to see it out there.
I wake up Saturday with a bit of a hangover thanks to my college football team, Northwestern Wildcats, shitting the bed the night before. I pass on the free "continental breakfast" the hotel provided, and copped a few slices of Casey's famous breakfast pizza on the way to the site. I unload the van and swap on the rally tires. I face my next challenge: will tech flag my spoiler as a modification?
In short explanation, a spoiler on your vehicle will bump you out of stock class. The argument is it may provide a performance advantage, even if a 70s Trans Am spoiler on top of a van will provide no such thing. I passed tech with no issue, fortunately. But now have to face another challenge: driver protests.
At national events, drivers have an opportunity to inspect other vehicles in the grid, and protest if they see something they don't like. I've heard stories of competitors busting out measuring tapes on other vehicles in past national events. Basically splitting hairs trying to find something to complain about. Well, a van that barely makes the height requirement with an obviously illegal wing is a prime target for some protests.
Well, the protest hour came and went with no complaints issued! It was time to race. I started working the field first. I got to watch a bunch of AWD vehicles rip the course. The famous GMC Typhoon was in town, and boy that thing is a riot! Typically, a run session will last about 60-90 minutes depending on the number of cars and length of the course. Well, this first session went over 4 hours...
This happened for a few reasons: some legitimate and others not. There were a few course changes to adapt around rough bumps and hard ruts. That's understandable. They need to make the course as safe as possible, especially with the regions notoriety of having too many cars flip.
The other stuff seemed like it could have been handled better. We had a rogue visitor park their UTV on the opposite end of the site watching us. There are dedicated spectator spots if you want to watch. It took a while to get the safety steward out there to inform him of what's going on. After he left, they coned off whatever entrances they found on the site to prevent other wanderers. I believe this should have been done way before the event starts. If the guy went through the coned off entrance to get there, that's a different story.
The other hang up was silly. They had two inflatable arches at the beginning and end of the course. Super cool in theory. But the generator for the finish arch ran out of gas causing the arch to deflate. That took another 30 minutes to clean that up.
Little things like that make a huge difference between how many runs the competitors get. And those delays played a huge role on this day. Each group got their 4 runs in the morning, but due to a 6pm noise curfew, each group only got 1 run after lunch break. We typically are able to run 6-8 runs total on a good day...10 if we cruise through the list.
For me, I ran a little sloppy in my runs essentially screwing myself for the lead. Our class had three entrants: myself, a 2021 Corolla CVT (that definitely was a rental), and a Mini Cooper S with some John Cooper Works goodies in it. I finished the day under 6 seconds behind the Mini with 3 cone penalties. I would have been leading after Saturday if I drove clean! I also had my first debead in my career. Judging off the GoPro, it happened on one of the last few corners. So I was never flagged to stop, at least I didn't see any flags. Luckily, with the help of a fellow racer, I was able to reseat the tire with no damage and got a rerun! I also banged up the brush guard pretty well. This typically happens every time I race, but I just loosen up the brackets and reseat it properly. This time, the brackets were bent to hell. So I had to take the brush guard off after the races Saturday. I'll have to fix up the brackets later this week.
This event was not only huge because of nationals. This was the closes RX event to where my family lives. Half of my family made the trip from Chicago to Byron to watch me race. To say this meant a lot to me would be an understatement. A lot of you know about my clash with my family with other issues. And I was not expecting them to make it out there at all. I don't blame them. The race usually lasts about 8-10 hours, and I basically was behind the wheel for a total of 6 minutes. It's not a great thing to watch if you're only there for one person. But they showed up in droves. My parents, my brother, one of my three sisters, and 4 of my nieces (out of a total of 15) all came to cheer the van on. It felt great, and was an emotional time for me.
After the race, a few of us headed out to downtown Byron for some food and drinks. Cute little small town with the lowest price for draft beer I've ever seen. I love small town bars. While driving back to the hotel, the van started shuddering. Definitely something going on in the transmission. After a few seconds of bucking, I get a "Service Transmission Now" message on the dash. I plug my OBD2 scanner in and get a P0766 code-transmission solenoid fault. At 10pm in practically the middle of nowhere, there's not much I can do in a dark parking lot. I checked for any damage to the transmission case, checked for leaks, checked to see if any connections were damaged or undone. Everything seemed to be ok. There was a ton of dust from the race, so I cleaned out each of the connectors as best I could. I fired it up and saw the fault message disappeared. I shifted the van in to every gear to check for clunks or problems. Everything functioned normally. I babied it back to the hotel with no issues.
With that being said, I had to make a heartbreaking decision to bow out of Sunday's race. I still had to drive back to Ohio, and didn't want to risk destroying the transmission. I did make it home in one piece with no issues. But I still need to figure out what the hell happened. I checked the fluid level yesterday, and everything seemed to be at level. I did do a quick change of the fluid last week before heading to Illinois, but only drained the 4qt and filled 4qts. I didn't do a complete cycle change. So that might be the issue: mixing old and new fluid in the transmission. As for the code, P0766, I'm guessing some dirty fluid plugged up the solenoids causing them to malfunction. So I will go through with a full fluid change this week. My worst fear is that trans may have its days limited with the abuse its seen the last three years. That's a repair that I truly cannot fit in to my budget with this wedding coming up.
Overall, I had an amazing weekend. All of my fears ended up being less than I expected. A handful of folk were excited to see the van out there. If I could bring smiles to faces while racing the van, I think I'm doing something right. I do have to apologize to @Shop-Teacher for missing you on Sunday. We literally were parked next to each other at one point, and I failed to recognize you. That's on me. I do appreciate you making the trip out there, and I hope you stuck around and watched the rest of them race! Now, I need to figure out this van's transmission.