Richard Fitzgerald didn’t drive more than 700 miles and endure two tire blowouts on his hauler to give up when the engine on his Spec Z called it quits during a test session on the eve of the Western States Championships.
Traveling without a spare engine, Fitzgerald wondered whether he should call it a season after his string of bad luck. Where would he find an engine on a Thursday when the sun was setting over California’s Central Valley?
Fitzgerald decided to find another engine so that his Spec Z competitors could receive their full contingency money. Nissan also was paying teams a race bonus for starting on Sunday, which the four teams agreed to split equally.
Fitzgerald found a used engine in Sacramento about 250 miles north of Buttonwillow. They delivered the engine on Friday morning for $1,750 including shipping. While Fitzgerald had an engine, he still had a tall task getting it installed.
“It would have been easy to just pack up and go, but we didn’t want to give up,” said Fitzgerald, who lives outside Salt Lake City. “We’re going to fight to get it done.”
Fitzgerald had no engine hoist and limited tools so he walked around the paddock to see if other teams could help. He asked maintenance if they had an engine hoist and one the workers recalled seeing an old hoist sitting in the dirt behind a building.
“Sure enough it worked, but it up went up only so high but because the way we change these engines, it would work,” Fitzgerald said.
Fellow Spec Z competitors pitched in to remove the old engine so it would be ready for the replacement engine. Fitzgerald had to find a new pilot bushing but otherwise the engine came complete.
“It’s pretty difficult to change something just out in the dirt and concrete and the sun, so that kind of discourages you a little bit,” said Spec Z racer Tom Kaminski. “We had four able-body men and anyone else who wanted to help.”
The team finished installing the engine at 11 p.m. Friday and Fitzgerald was back on the track Saturday. He took third place in the Championship despite the weekend challenges.
“I wanted to stay here and race with the guys. I’m glad I did,” Fitzgerald said.