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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Did we make it?

We made the Dragon Hillclimb . . . but unfortunately, the car did not.

Finished everything on the list but the exhaust, went out on 9/11/2014 to fire it up for a test drive around the block, and got a giant "CLICK" . . . dammit!!

I started checking over the wiring harness with the simple, but highly scientific wire tug test. Tried starting her up again . . . "CLICK" . . . Needless to say, I was not amused.

I tried pulling codes from the computer . . . Negative . . . CEL was illuminated continuously . . . I fished through the harness and check all of the grounds. AH HA . . . found a questionable ground wire. Made some quick repairs to the ground and tried again . . .

Turned the key, the fuel pump spun to life and  . . . . the engine just turned over . . . crap!!

I grabbed a noid light and threw it on #1 injector and the injectors are firing on the crank sequence. GOOD!! Moved to the voltmeter and tested the coil and no voltage registered at the coil . . . BAD!!

I unbolted the coil from the car and shaved off some more paint to make sure it has a good ground to chassis.

Bolted the coil back in and tried again. Turned the key, fuel cycled on . . . . but did not go off like it should . . . . hmmmm. CEL . . . yup still on . . . .This is not looking good. Tried to start it anyway and it cough and sputter to life . . . then died. HMMMMM . . . .

Grabbed the voltmeter and tested the coil and we had voltage at the coil. GOOD!! I grabbed a noid light and threw it on #1 injector and the injectors are not firing on the crank sequence.   . . . BAD!!

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING!! I get fuel OR spark from this damn harness??

I pulled the harness off the car and proceeded to go pin by pin and wire by wire to make sure nothing was amiss. Needless to say this took the rest of Thursday into early Friday morning.

I was determined not to be beaten by this harness . . . no matter how hackered it was . . . I was going to try my hardest to get this car running.

I took a quick nap in the car (FYI race buckets suck to sleep in). After grabbing a quick bite to eat, I jumped back on the harness. I fought this harness all day on Friday into the night. Finally around 11:30 pm, the car came to life with two CELs for emission equipment that I didn't have installed. It still didn't rev cleanly through the RPMs like it did the first day I fired it up.

After getting whooped by this harness, some pragmatism set in. I did not want to tow this beast 4-4.5 hours away and get another click when I turn the key . . . or worse, set it on fire due to a still questionable harness. Dejected and disappointed, I decided to shut the garage down and not take the car to the dragon.

We woke up on Saturday and packed the CTS-V to head to the Dragon. I was still pissed beyond belief that I could not take the 350is to run the hill. On the drive there, I thought of several things I could've done better. Mrs. Zero said . . . "You know, how many people do you know builds cars in 15 days from untested parts without issues." It's funny she said that because I told Frank and Harold that a few days into the build. "I'm building a car with untested parts, a shoestring budget, with a hammer and a dremel, and by myself in a two car garage." Other than those crazy GRM guys that build  cars 30 days before the $20xx Challenge , there aren't many masochists out there that will attempt something like this. Being reminded of the feat I just attempted made me feel better, but I still wanted my car on hill dammit!!!

We arrived at Simple Life Campgrounds (review coming soon!!), checked in, unpacked the CTS-V, and headed to the Hill. Robbinsville is a awesome little town, nestled in the Smokey Mountains, that have a ole hometown feel. It had just enough conveniences (WiFi!!) without being out in the sticks, but the charm of being . . . out in the sticks.

This town KNOWS its visitors are and provides for them. We saw several Dragonslayer and Hillclimber are welcomed signs EVERYWHERE.

After driving some of the MOST AWESOME roads and scenery, we arrived at the hill . . .

View Maple Springs Hillclimb - Graham Co. Robbinsville, NC in a larger map

We were welcomed by Tabitha M. Myler of Graham County Travel and Tourism (more on this later), loaded up on the shuttle and took to the start line of the hillclimb.

I found the ringmaster, Ted Theodore and it was like seeing a long lost relative. I proceeded to head up the down the paddock and start line talking to people that have been following the blog and my crazy adventure. While I was still disappointed I couldn't deliver a car the hill, I received several pats on the back and "ATTA-BOY" from people I've never met!! A few congratulated me on even attempting such a feat!!

Since the event was underway, I didn't want to spoil or ruin anyone's concentration. So I just stood by drooling over all of the machinery as they staged, roared off the start line in a glorious, metallic symphony, and returned after their run to the top.

The peeps that ran the hillclimb were always on top of everything, ensuring the safety of the drivers and spectators. Everything appeared to run like clockwork; a few hiccups . . . but you couldn't tell unless you really paying attention. When the hiccups did happen, they changed modes, resolved the issues, and back to racing up the hill. I was THOROUGHLY impressed!!

The atmosphere was indescribable . . . I've been to races, AutoXs, and track days before, but this felt like I came home to a family after long deployment in the military . . . I've been missing out!!

At the end of the day, we joined everyone at the Huddle House. The steak and veggies were excellent! The staff there made sure we were full and had plenty to "drink". I met MORE people there and they were all interested in the hear about the gory details of the build. I finally got to meet Ray and Sheila . . . .

I met these two through friends (John and Ted) on Facebook. Sheila owns the finest Mustang II Cobra I've ever seen!! It was good to finally meet them in person. They were waiting to hear if I and the car made it the Hillclimb and were cheering all the way. Even though the car didn't make it, they loved the effort I had put forth to get it done. I met a guy named Nate. He made a marathon of traveling to the Dragon, then going to his hometown to get another car to race since his had diff issues. He told me I cannot come to Dragon Hillclimb and not drive. He promised to find me a drive for Sunday . . .

We retired for the night. I made an "I'm here, but the car isn't" post on FB and looked on some mustang sites for a replacement harness.  I found one on and made an offer. I pondered a bit about this whole journey then turned in for some shut eyes.

Sunday came and brought some rain as well. We arrived at the Hill ready to cheer on some peeps I met the the previous day. We met Tabitha at the parking area, hopped on the shuttle and headed to the start line. We shook hands of familiar faces from Saturday. With the rain coming and going, attacking the hill became an exercise of restraint. Some drivers decided to pack it up and head home.

I went down the hill to chat it up with some drivers. With the hill being treacherous due to weather, I doubt I would be driving, so why not rub elbows with some of the best drivers in the southeast. I snuck around to different groups, listening to stories of attempts of attacking a rainy hill, and the outcome of that attempt.

These guys and girls had some amazing recollection stories of their runs up the hill; vivid descriptions of understeer and oversteer along with body and hand motions to give a clear picture of the many pucker moments. I continued down the hill and ran into Rocco. He has this uber sexy black E30 loaded with a M50 straight 6, slung with coilovers, a splitter, and topped with a wing. This car is the BUSINESS!!

He asked if I saw his response to my post on FB. In his post, he mentioned taking the car to TGPR and participating in the TT school. We laughed about the post and began chatting about cars and other stuff. He introduced his fam and we huddled under the canopy as it began to rain again. I went on about the 350is and more gory details. These guys and girls seem to dig my crazy story!!

I told Rocco I needed to head down the hill and find Nate. I mentioned that he was attempting to find me a drive, but I had doubts since it was rainy and most drivers were packing up. Rocco looked up and said . . . "Take my car up the hill." After a long pause, I finally stuttered out, "Really??!!"

Rocco said as long as Ted and Chief Steward would ok it, I could take his car up the hill. I sprinted up the hill to Ted. He talked to the Chief Steward and was cleared to run the hill under two conditions . . . I need to have full race gear and I have to be the last car in the next group. When is the next group? On the grid right now . . . crap!!

I sprint back down the hill to Rocco's car. I let him know that Ted and Chief Steward ok'd it. He asked where my race gear was . . . down hill in the spectator parking . . . crap!! I flagged down the shuttle and went to the spectator parking and retrieved my gear. We got back to Rocco's car and I proceeded to disrobe on the side of a rainy mountain.

I climbed into Rocco's E30. He was giving instructions on the switch gear and things I should be aware of. In a borrowed car, you notice all of the nuances about the car. Me? I didn't notice anything other than oil pressure, coolant temp, and RPM. I was WAAAAY to gittery to notice anything else. I didn't notice how I didn't fit in Rocco's car. He's about 5'8" and I'm about 6"1" It was a tight fit in the cockpit of the E30, but none of that mattered, I was about to drive the hill.

I made it to staging lane just as the last car was rolling towards the start line. My heart was racing. I used to own E30s, so everything in the car was familiar. While waiting on the start, I started to think about the last 30 days. I tried to bring an abandoned, seconds from being sold project back from dead. I didn't have a big budget. I didn't have a garage full of tools. I didn't have a deep pool of talent (never done anytime of this level). I was oh SOOOOO close to completing it. I should be proud of my accomplishment. I built a car purely from my will. All the people I met during this journey, was so impressed with the commitment and tenacity I put forth to get this done. All those long days and nights I spent under, over, and in the 350is . . . Then it hit me . . . I was just in my boxers on the site of a rain soaked mountain. Ahhhh the things we do to drive a car!!

The starter let me know the way was clear and I could make my way up the hill. I tached up Rocco's smooth running E30 and left the line nearly sideways. Grip was fairly low at the line. Once it hooked, I was off to hill!! The previous days of riding the shuttle gave a chance to memorize the the course. Hey . . . gotta do whatcha gotta do!!

I kept reminding myself to take my time and not perform something stupid in Rocco's car. His car was setup meticulously . . . Turn in was awesome, the brakes were great, and throttle response was sooooo sweet!! I got to Lori's Lefty. This turn was looooong left hand turn. I got into the corner and car hung on without too much slipping or sliding. Did I mention this corner was long? Finally came out the other side of the Lefty and explored a little more throttle. Holy crap the response is terrific I could modulate the throttle to get a car settled in the wet conditions on the hill. If the car slid, back out a bit, then squeeze the throttle, apply the appropriate steering, and maintain the slide through the corner. This car is truly setup for my style of driving. I dove into Racer's Elbow. It was a weird right hander that was open, closed, and open kinda corner. Again, in Rocco's car, there was no way I was going "tally-ho" on course. I got this corner all wrong but I didn't give a damn!! I was making my way up the hill!!

I flashed by the spectator area into the Hair Bender. This left hander was pretty cool. I turned in a little late (remember it's wet) dove down to the apex and powered out of the corner. This was a corner had some secrets that I need to come back and explore. The next set of corners were absolutely great; the Snake Skin Esses!! The flow was breath taking in Rocco's E30; off the power, turn in, balance with the steering, on the power, rinse, repeat!! I could do this all day. His car showed remarkable balance in the quick transitions with the throttle being damn near telepathic. Next up was Zig and Zag. I don't remember much about this set of corners as I was still stuck in the Esses!! I blasted out of Zag and headed to Ruffles. I finally experienced the E30 wiggle. I shot into the Ruffles and backend shuffled out like my old E30 . . . Ahhh yes, that's the E30 I know! I eased out of throttle and balanced the car with the steering. That pavement transition was hell . . .  I blasted across the finish. My time running up the hill was over . . .

I made it to top without any issues, turned around, made my way back down the hill. As I made the descent and waving at all of the course workers on the way down for the awesome job they performed all weekend and in the rain, I had the strange rush of emotions and thoughts. While I wasn't in my car, I ran the hill. While it wasn't timed, I ran the hill. While my car was stuck in the garage with a crappy harness, I ran the hill.

I finally got back to bottom of the hill and turned the car back over to Rocco. I could not thank him enough for allowing me to take the hill in his car. It was pretty hard to get my helmet off. I was out of breath and the grin on my face made it rather difficult to do anything other than sit down. Sheila came over and we talked about the run. Most importantly, we talked more about the experience. I almost couldn't describe it and I was fine with that! I went back to the start line and proceeded to give thumbs up, high fives, and waves.

At the end of the event, Ted called me up (he's good at doing that) and presented me with a cool gift, an old school cool shirt!! He also mentioned that I helped out by bringing some attention (hopefully it was good) to the hillclimb through this blog. Honestly, I just thought it would cool to attempt something I've never done before and have some friends along for the ride. But this blog allowed me to be able to reach far beyond a small band of peeps to watch me goof around. However, if this blog brought some good publicity to the hillclimb, I am glad to help.

I would like to thank a few peeps (in no particular order) who helped me through this journey.

Special thanks to:
  • Ted Theodore for continually pushing that button
  • Rocco Bocchicchio for lending me his E30 to let me take the hill
  • Mrs. Zero for being my greatest sponsor, supporter and cheer leader. Blame Ted for all the track days that are coming :D

I needed something like this for a long time to help me get back in swing of life. Time to finish the 350is and attack some tracks on the east coast . . .

See you cats at the track!!