We all have done it. The trailer is loaded and you are just about to leave for a long tow to a racetrack for the big event. You are standing in front of your open garage door staring into the abyss of boxes, tools and parts, and you ask yourself, “Is there anything else I want to bring with me?” That’s the $64,000 question. What little washer, extra wheel spacer, rebuilt transmission or distributor cap will you need? What is the spare part or extra tool you are going to need to win the 25 Hours of Thunderhill? If we could see into the future and know these sorts of things, we’d spend our time in Las Vegas and make some real money. We can’t see into the future, so we try to prepare for anything and everything. Because at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, anything and everything will be thrown at you.
Here are a few things you need for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill that you may not have realized were crucial.
Window defroster — Yes, I know, when you first built your racecar you did everything you could to lose every pound possible. You stripped the car of every unnecessary component. The first thing to go was the air conditioning and heater core. Well that was a good plan for a 35-minute sprint race in the middle of summer. But it’s winter at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill and it’s wet, it’s cold, it’s miserable and windows get foggy. No amount of RainX and anti-fog wipes are going to resolve this problem.
You must have a reliable defroster system. I know a hand-held squeegee won’t do it because that was our crack-head system in 2010. Make sure your driver can see. It is paramount for safety and for speed.
Positive pressure helmet air —Here is why you need to have fresh air pumped into your helmet from outside of the car: carbon monoxide poisoning. “But my car doesn’t have an exhaust leak,” you tell me. Sure, it doesn’t have one when the race started at 11 a.m. but the 25 Hour is multiclass racing with differential speeds. Things get smacked, they get bent, and when this happens, and you patch your car back together as quickly as possible to get back in the race, poisonous gases can leak in and slowly try to kill your driver. Yes, I said kill. This stuff is deadly.
I had so much of this crap in my system one year, I was delusional. Nobody realized anything was wrong with me until they found me walking around in the 30-degree paddock at night wearing only my underwear. I had one eye swollen shut and I was asking the crew chief over and over again, “Is it my time to get back in the car?” Obviously the answer was, “No.” Now I won’t drive a racecar unless it has a pump to feed fresh air into my helmet.
Cool Suit System — Even though the 25 Hour takes place during the winter, it can still get hot in the car’s interior. Having a cool suit system helps keep drivers fresh over long driving stints. But there’s another trick these systems are good for. When the sun sets and the evening temperatures drop below freezing — snow fell at night during last year’s race — you also can pump warm water through the system to keep drivers nice and toasty.
Lights, Lights and More Lights — The 25 Hour is a long race and most of action happens when the sun sets. Thunderhill doesn’t have any lights on the track. None. NASA will light pit lane, but other than that, you are in the blackness. If you think your car’s stock headlights are sufficient, you are — sorry for the pun — clearly in the dark on this issue. Winning teams have multiple light setups and run “apex” lights — lights pointed 30 degree angles off of the front of the car to see the corners before you actually turn into them. You also want lights over the top of your pit box so the crew can see what they are doing.
Extension Cords — Thunderhill has power in the paddock, but there are only so many outlets. It is first come, first served for power and not all pit spaces have a power source directly in the assigned area. You need to get there early. We bring massive industrial extension cords — RVs cords and standard three-prong cords — and duct tape to line power from the outlet to our assigned pit space. You are going to need power for lights at night.
Generators — Even though I just told you Thunderhill has power, the power shuts off every year. There are so many teams running so many devices off 17 extension cords plugged into one outlet, as soon as one team starts their air compressor at the same time another team fires up a microwave to cook some mac and cheese — boom! The paddock is blacked out. You need multiple generators to ensure your team has power to run what you require. We had a crew member whose only job was to fill generators with gas all night long. This is where lots of extension cords are nice too. You want the generator belching exhaust far away from your working area.
Five Gallon Buckets — You can never have too many five-gallon buckets and they stack inside each other nicely when they aren’t being used. The most important use for these is ensuring your canopies don’t blow away during the stormy event. Fill the buckets with water at the track and use rope to tie the bucket handles to the canopies to lock down your shelter. You want your crew concentrating on the racecar, not chasing “kite canopies” through the paddock. While we are talking about canopies, get the canopies with the sides so you can wall off wind and rain. We use white Christmas lights inside the canopies for lighting at night. The five-gallon buckets are also great for storing parts, cleaning spills and collecting coolant during motor swaps.
Portable Heater — Thunderhill gets cold in December. Bitterly cold. Having a portable heating source to give your crew some warmth will pay huge dividends. Bring enough propane tanks to keep the heater running. The crew member who spent all night filling generators with gas also was swapping propane tanks on our heaters. NASA regulations do not allow an open-flame heating element in the pit wall area, but you can use one up the steps in the paddock area. Just be smart and keep your race gas away from this stuff. Cold is a reality at the 25. If you spent some cash making your crew members spiffy sponsor covered team T-shirts you wasted your money. They will never see the light of day because everyone will be wearing a jacket, over a sweatshirt, over the super cool T-shirts you screen printed. If you want your logo to show, you have to pop for team jackets.
Good Radios —Teams who have tested the full track realized the low wattage radios didn’t have the range from the paddock to the driver on some parts of the course. Some teams are implementing a repeater system. Communication is the key to success in a long endurance race. No money should be spared here.
Sleep — It might seem obvious, but one of the hardest things about the 25 is how much work and effort that goes into it before the race even begins. Most people can endure 25 hours of being awake, but it is hard to do after three days of sleep deprivation while prepping the car and fixing it after testing mishaps and qualifying incidents. It is imperative all team members get a solid night’s sleep Friday night. Also run two shifts of crew members so they can sleep during the race. Of course, this means there needs to be a place for them to go to sleep — motorhomes and trailers. You can take a lesson from the Navy and use the hot-rack method. Once one person leaves a bed, the next person on the opposite shift jumps in.
Bacon — My crew had one request: bacon. They wanted 25 hours’ worth of hot bacon available to eat with coffee to wash it down. Crews work off their stomachs. Keep them fed and you will keep them happy. Because it’s cold, hot food is crucial to help keep the crew warm and ready to work all night. We had a craft services team to ensure everyone was fed. And when the race is over and it is time to celebrate, have some beer and champagne ready to go. Don’t bother with an ice chest, just leave the beer outside and Thunderhill will have it plenty cold for you.
Spares —How many axles? How many wheels? How many engines? How many tiny C-clips specific to your car that hold the shifter in place? My suggestion is to bring every spare you have, plus one more, categorize it all, and prep the pieces the best you can. Our team always brings a spare car, yes, the entire car.
How many crew members? Bring every friend you have. The 25 Hours of Thunderhill will push everything to the limit, your crew, your right rear wheel bearing, you name it. The only way to be successful is to have plenty of resources. I promise you this: if you leave one spare part in your garage and fail to bring it to Thunderhill, that will be the piece you need to get back out on track. Good luck.
To see the preparation and organization of a grassroots racing team as they earned a podium finish at the 25, check out the Krider Racing documentary “Double Down” available on Amazon.com. The film gives you an inside look at what it takes to Survive the 25 and highlights all of the above mentioned suggestions.