Lap 3 –
The race course was brutal. With so many cars pre-running and racing the course its condition had deteriorated much worse from last year. At this point, Tony was just trying to finish. On the third lap many of the drivers on the course were still on their second lap, adding a level of difficulty to an already challenging course. Just before Tony approached the ‘Backdoor’ obstacle, their roof antenna broke off, knocking out all communication to the pits just before one of the hardest parts of the race. Tony had gotten horribly stuck in Spooners during pre-running so without a working tracker or radio it was looking grim.
For the 5th year in a row, Tony was having tracker issues. This year not all of the EMC drivers had turned in their trackers, so 30-40 drivers in the big race had been given the smaller trackers that had to be ‘zip-tied’ to the car as they didn't fit into the original full-sized GPS mount. Cheesy.
With the antenna out, the radio went into a special failsafe mode and stopped transmitting. Between the Jumbotron live feed and Tony's last communication the crew was able to determine that he had made it up Backdoor and was on his way to Spooners. Bryan was trying to get the radio to work through the two hardest parts of the course. ‘Spooners’ and ‘Outer limits’ are harder than all of the rest of the trails combined in Johnson Valley. Once through them, Bryan had a chance to swap to the secondary antenna and reset the radio. With great relief, Tony and Bryan once again were in communication with their pit crews. Tony proceeded over to ‘Aftershock’ and opted not to take the bypass, despite the high attrition rate of cars to this point.
Surprisingly, when Tony came out of the rocks down ‘Boulderdash’ the car was in fantastic shape. Tony and Bryan report to pit 2A that the car was doing well and they didn't need to stop. Randy Slawson and Bill Baird had just made it into the pit to refuel and were getting ready to hit the rocks when Tony drove through. When they heard Tony had driven through the pit, they were both furious as this meant they each dropped a position. As Randy started to pull out of the pit his car blew a huge plume of smoke. Bill Baird left the pit 5 minutes later, hot to catch up with Tony. The crew radioed Tony that Bill was on the gas and Tony made sure the gap didn't close.
Tony and Bryan had previously been able to cross the lake bed at over 120 mph, but this time around, had bent both drive shafts in the rocks causing the cars top speed to slow to around 80 mph, to prevent the car from rattling apart! The Currie high pinion saved the drive shafts from major damage, allowing Tony to continue the race. Tony didn't want to change the drive shafts unless it looked really bad. With Bill only five minutes behind, Tony would lose his lead during the 10 minute swap. Every second mattered at this point if Tony was going to try to catch up with Loren Healy, and keep Bill Baird from catching him! After the race was over, Tony discovered that although Bill Baird followed Tony's dust, he was never able to catch up.
Immediately after pit 2 there was an area you get up to race speed and take off to Fissure Mountain. Right when you get up to race speed there is a nasty ditch that by lap 3 had degraded into an even nastier kicker. By this time, Loren Healy had already used his spare tire so there was not much to hold his jack down. When Healy hit that rut it dislodged the jack which punched through the radiator and the fan, which started an electrical fire under the dash. Loren was able to limp his vehicle back to the pit for repairs where his wife alerted him that “Tony is coming!”
When Tony hit that rut he was sent flying. After the front end reached 15 feet in the air, the car slammed down and maxed out the King Shocks. Amazingly, Tony, Bryan and the car were ok and kept up the pace to the finish line. When Tony reached the finish line he didn’t know what place his was in. Once he came through, he asked how they had done and was told he had unofficially gotten third place. On the stage the team swarmed the car jumping on top and cheering loudly. Not only had Team GenRight finally finished the race, but had achieved their second podium finish in 5 years!
Tony pulled off stage and was completely trashed, barely able to stand as he was congratulated. Through the crowd, a couple of the senior team members came through and informed Tony that there were still some time penalties to be assigned so he might get a better place. They stayed celebrating at the finish line until about 6:30 pm signing autographs, hand-shakes, hugs, and taking photos.
By 8 pm, a team meeting was called in the Falken tent. The area was packed with happy crew members, support staff, drivers, and co-drivers and as the meeting was proceeded. Dave Cole, founder of KOH, entered the tent with a sense of urgency and passed Tony without saying a word. Dave got up onto the stage and the room went silent. A sense of dread came up over Tony, as he searched his memories for anything that might have caused a penalty dreading that he would lose his place on the podium!
Tony will never forget the moment when Dave Cole announced that they had reviewed the trackers and he was happy to announce, that due to assessed time penalties, Tony and Team GenRight were officially bumped up to 2nd place finish!
Tony says he thought the roof blew off the tent with everyone going nuts, cheering, screaming, hugging and celebrating the great news! They went back to GenRight pit tent to review the day, and talk about how excited they are to be a part of such a fantastic team and an exciting day.
Later on, GenRight found out that Derek West had missed part of the course on Elvis. There was a straightaway that by passed the turn off for the checkpoint, resulting in a time penalty for Derek. Tony felt bad for Derek, since it was an easy mistake to make and was probably made by many racers that day.
At the end of the day, Tony’s co-driver Bryan only had to get out of the car three times on the last lap. During the course of the day, Tony got passed three times and went up the waterfall on Wrecking Ball twice. Tony doesn't like to take the bypasses since he feels it's not in the spirit of the race to take the alternate route. In hindsight, the two places Tony got stuck he could have taken the bypass which would have improved his time about 15 minutes. With those 15 minutes saved, Tony potentially could have won the race, but as Tony says…“that’s racing!”
Looking back on the day, Tony is convinced that the Falken tires were a tremendous asset and Tony believes that he could not have done nearly so well without them. Given this race is held on some of the toughest terrain in the world, the tires held up extraordinarily well!
At the finish line, the car looked great, and after it was dusted off, you'd never even know that it had been in such a grueling race. It was in near pristine condition, with not more than a scratch on either side. The next day, Tony was even able to give rides in the race car to some team members, media, and friends.
Jordan Pellegrino did exceptionally well with a 4th place finish for his very first race in a simple TJ with a 6 cylinder engine. Jordan hopes to get his driver’s license in July. Congregations Jordan!
Richard Garrett finally got his finish, and is looking forward to a come back next year for another crack at the podium!
Tony would also like to thank Bryan, Darren, Neill and his entire pit crew for the fantastic job they did in prepping and setting up the car, their superb team-work and on-the-fly repairs. Wayne from All Tech was also a huge help in dialing in the car's suspension. At the end of the day, Tony says just making it to the finish line is a huge accomplishment on the longest and most challenging race course in KOH history.