As I type this column, I survey the backs of my hands, and they look like they’ve been run through a cotton gin. They ache from tugging on wrenches. The fingertips are callused and numb from starting nuts and bolts. The knuckles are scabbed and cracked, and there is a fine layer of dirt and petrochemicals in the crevices of my fingernails.
I suppose that’s what building a new racecar in two months will do for you. Of course, I should have started earlier, but duties with the magazine kept me from working on it much after I bought it in early December. Then, of course, came Christmas and New Year’s. Once the college bowl games were over, I went out to the garage, took stock of everything that needed to be done, lost all motivation and walked back in the house. Then it hit me.
The first points race of the season was March 2, which was two months away, and there could be no more delays. So I headed back to the garage and got to work.
I had to strip the donor car and get it ready for the cage builder. We highlight the cage build elsewhere in this issue. Once I got it back from the fab shop, I had to take all the good hardware off my old car and reinstall it on the new car. That meant removing two steering racks and two differentials and reinstalling one of each in the new car in my “spare time” in one weekend.
The Monday before the first race, I looked at my wife and said, “I don’t think I’m going to make it. There’s just too much to do.”
I still had to find time to nut-and-bolt all the mechanicals I had been fiddling with for the last two months, bleed the entire brake system, install a kill switch, install race mirrors and harnesses, do some paint work, add decals, have it corner-weighted and aligned and a laundry list of other things I’ve either forgotten or blocked out of memory.
By the Friday before the first race, I was in a sprint. I dropped the kids at school, came home, sanded and primed the parcel shelf. While the primer was drying, I laid the decals. When I finished the stickers, I painted the parcel shelf, loaded the car into the trailer and towed it to the alignment shop with the paint and decals drying.
I got home just in time to get the kids off to a couple of “away game” play dates. When they were gone, I began to load the truck and trailer for the weekend. I went back to pick up my car from the alignment shop and arrived home just in time for the kids to come home.
I unloaded the car and wheeled it around back to bolt on the roof. I got all the bolts started, and at 6 o’clock, I loaded the car back into the trailer and continued to pack. I would have to tighten the roof before practice the next morning.
I don’t think I have worked that hard since comprehensive exams in grad school, and I can’t tell you how many times I questioned my sanity. But at the end of the first weekend, as I pulled the car back into the trailer, I knew it was all worth it. Nothing leaked, broke or failed, and that brought a sense of accomplishment that made all the hard work worthwhile.
Something else occurred to me. All across the country, there were probably thousands of NASA racers who feel the same way. Our hands will heal, but that sense of satisfaction will last a long time.