Challenger IV WINS at the MINT 400......Finally!

Rory

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Short version:
Wednesday: Parade...very cool.
Thursday: Back home, finalizing.
Friday: Registration line, Tech line, Primm hotel line.
Saturday:
*Lap 1- hit rock, broke a wheel. battled with Todd Richards in "Little Mac".
*Lap 2- hit a rock, broke a wheel, lost a fuel pump and ran out of fuel 5 miles from the finish, still won our class.
Sunday: back home and at work.

Long version: Sorry guys, there is no short way to tell the long version. Grab 2 or 3 beers, sit back and relax.

Wednesday: Got to Vegas, unloaded the race car and got to hang out with a bunch of people I love to hang out with. The parade was pretty cool, especially when you got into the heart of the strip. Most people had no idea what they were looking at but seemed to REALLY enjoy it.

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Once it was over I loaded Challenger IV (CH4) back on the trailer and headed home.

Thursday: I had a bunch of small things to do to the car so doing it back at the race shop made sense instead of a hotel parking lot all day in Vegas. I surprised myself with how prepared I was for this race prep wise and the car was buttoned up Thursday early afternoon. The only things left to do were to zip tie the transponder to the A pillar and fill up the drinker system in the car.

Dilemma 1: My biggest issue for the MINT 400 was manpower. My normal crew had prior commitments for the weekend since I didn't know for sure I was racing until 6 weeks ago. Luckily for me I have good friends who saved my butt. Sean Hoglund from YT Motorsports told me not to worry about outlying pits because he would have me covered. Robbie and Billy Goerke from Collins motorsports told me they would take care of my main pit. I had 2 guys that were OFFICIALLY on my team, Ed Maurin (Owner of the Larry Ragland Woodstuff buggy) and, get this, Terry Fitzgerald, who sold the #252 DirTrix to Ed, then Ed sold it to me and we raced it at NORRA this year....small world! Ed and Terry would handle radio communications and updates to me in the car, then coordinate with Sean and Robbie on what was needed for pit stops. Big sigh of relief once this was all worked out and I could concentrate on trying to keep CH4 on the race course moving forward.

Friday: Got in line for registration and it took about 2 hours to get a wrist band. Had the pleasure of talking with the guys from South Dakota racing in the #4511 Vintage Jeep to help kill the time. Finally put CH4 in the tech line with the help of Ed and Terry and that actually moved pretty fast, approx. 2 hours also. The car got a lot of attention and I'm glad, although I'm bias I still think it's one of the coolest race cars ever. The true joy comes from people coming up to me thanking me for racing it again and telling me the stories of it when they watched it race in the late 70's and early 1980. We finished Tech, buttoned up the transponder and I headed to Primm. On my way I stopped off at the Casino where Sean Hoglund was staying to drop off some spare tires for the outlying pits. About that time the storm started blowing in and I jumped back in the truck and headed south. Buffalo Bills was a train wreck, stood in line for another 1 1/2 hours to get a room and then finally got to bed around 10pm.

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Saturday: I met Ed and Terry at the race car, we unloaded it and got in line. It was then I noticed that my radio wasn't working. I could talk to them but they couldn't talk to me. I had tested earlier that week and everything was working fine. Oh well, I told them I would transmit in the blind a couple times before getting to them and hope they heard me. A couple days before the race I decided to take a rear start. I like these better since I'm in a single seater and I can keep a mental note of where I am in my class. The Vintage class had 11 total entries but there was 2 different classes:
1982 and lower
1992 and lower
We raced the 1982 class which had 6 entries but I still started 10th.

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Lap 1- I quickly started working my way through the field and passed a few guys before we got into the tight wash section. For some reason they started the poor class 11 guys (or 4700 guys in BITD) in front of us and they were holding up traffic because they really had no place to go due to how high the sides of the course were. One had already been high centered on the side berm so we got held up for a few miles. I didn't get too excited, I knew they were doing their best to get out of the way. Around race mile 10 I caught up to my good buddy Cam Theriot in the Vessels class 8 truck. Now Cam and I have been trash talking for a good 2-3 weeks now so when I saw him my smile got bigger. When I got about 100 feet behind him that's when he saw me. How do I know that? Because the rooster tails on those back tires kicked up 3 times higher and the rock show had begun. I took a few good sized rocks to the helmet and hands, laughing the entire time. Finally I got buy him and gave him a wave.

Todd Richards in the Little Mac truck (4572) was next and we had a nice little race going on, even though we weren't in the same class. He let me by and now I had 2 more cars in front of me. Pete Alesi in Norm Francis' Funco was driving a good race but that VW motor was no match in the uphill sand wash for CH4's V8. Only the #4555 Chenowth of Ryan Kutzbach was in front of us. I was really taking it easy in the rough stuff and I'm sure the lighter weight buggy's were handling the rough much better but I didn't want to take any chances, I knew where CH4's strengths were and also it's weaknesses. The first 45 miles were almost dust free, it really made for some good racing. When we started getting over to the hidden Valley side of the course you could tell the rains didn't make it over that far. The dust picked up and it was blinding.

I started working my way through the Jeepspeeds and then the TrophyLites. Around race mile 50 I got behind another TrophyLite but there was no way around so I just followed in his dust and then I saw it, as Ivan Stewart use to say "A rock the size of a microwave oven", but this microwave was from the early 80's. It was in the middle of the course and if I tried to straddle it I would have taken out the rear end or driveline or both. At the last second I aimed the passenger side tire straight at it and B O O M !! Well #$%&. I pulled over soon after and started changing my first flat tire EVER in one of my own race cars during a race. Turns out the Tire was fine, I had bent the wheel pretty badly, almost bad enough that it wouldn't get by the caliper. It took my fat a s s 12 minutes to change the tire and I was back on the road. #4572 got back by me at this point with the co-rider waving that smirky style wave that we all give to the guy having problems. I decided I was going to take it easy until I got back to main pit at get the right size spare back on CH4 because the spare for CH4 is a skinny 35" Mickey Thompson Baja Belted tire for a buggy.....long story.

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Photo credit SNM-Media.com

The rest of Lap 1 was uneventful and I was feeling pretty good, CH4 was running strong and it WASN'T running hot! I caught the #4572 truck about 7 miles from the finish and we cruised in from there. The drivers side mirror had taken a direct hit from a rock thrown forward from the rear tire but was still intact enough to see out of. I radioed to Ed Maurin to tell Collins Motorsports we were coming in. I needed fuel, a new front tire and the SPARE put back on the rack. The stop was a little slow for TT standards but perfect for old guy vintage car stuff. I lengthened the pit because my kidney belt was digging into my back and I lost a minute taking it off. I saw the #4572 pass while we sat in the pits and 3 minutes later I was back on the road with a full tank of 110 octane and a new front tire. I passed the #4572 truck while they pitted and it was on to lap 2.

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LAP 2- Around mile 1 when you cross the 25mph bridge I saw the class 10 cars coming over. Now I didn't know if it was the leading class 10 cars or the 7th and 8th place running class 10 cars and I didn't have radio contact so I now was going to have to watch my mirrors so I could stay out of the way of their race. I get to race mile 8 or 9 and I keep thinking I'm seeing something in my broken mirror. I'm thinking it's the leading class 10 with his headlights on coming up on me but I can't make it out so I look harder. Well, if you haven't guessed it by now, when I look up there is another MICROWAVE rock in front of me. I swerve to miss it and I DO.....with the front tire....B O O M!! Drivers side rear takes a direct hit and I'm now cursing like a drunken sailor. Oh, by the way, there was no one behind me, it was the sun hitting the shards on the mirror flashing my eyes. I see the Brenthal class 10 car broke on the side of the course ahead so I pull up and ask for help. They say no problem and start helping. I recognized Jordan Brenthal but I didn't realize the other guy was Ryan Villopoto until the next day when I saw a picture of him...hahahha. Anyways, turns out the flat was a blessing in disguise because the knock off was coming loose (Ryan was able to spin it off with his bare hands). I'm sure I would have lost that tire and wheel someplace where you would not want to lose it.

Jordan and Ryan get me back on the road and I only lose 9 minutes on this tire change (CH4 is not set up for quick tire changes). I radio to Sean Hoglund at Pit A and let him know I need a new rear put on the car. While I was getting the tire changed #4572 passed by again with that same smirky wave from the co-rider hahahaha. I get to Pit A and Sean, Tom Stewart and the rest of YT Motorsports changes the spare out and gets me back on course. Before I leave Pit A and tell myself I WILL NOT BE GETTING ANOTHER FLAT. I look in my mirror before exiting the pit and I see the 1st class 10 right on my butt and he's trying to get my attention. Attention received, I move over just after the "resume race speed" sign and let him go. I then catch a glimpse of another class 10 as I re-entered the course about 50 feet behind me so I sprinted to the next corner which was a wide wash and got out of his way. The class 10's seemed to have a great race going.

I cruise across the dry lake at 93 mph with plenty of pedal left but thinking about that driveline that is located 9" directly under my butt, and not wanting to risk heating up the motor like what happened at NORRA.

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Photo credit www.thelensmanphotography.com

I was really trying to take it easy on the last lap but I was also trying not to go slow where I could go fast because that would put me closer to more faster cars getting to my bumper. I get to the whoop section where the spectator area is and I've been getting into a rhythm with CH4. The first lap I was moving around 50-55mph through the whoops but this time I kicked up the wick. CH4 seemed to like it and I think I topped off at 65-70mph. Out of the corner of my eye I could see people cheering the winged sprint car on as we made some dust toward the finish line. I crossed the last dry lake and then noticed the car was a little loose than normal. I figure I had better check it out because I was thinking I was leading and didn't want to have any problems. I got out around race mile 93 to look the car over, thinking it might be that new wishbone or something to that nature. Nope, everything looked good, maybe it was my mind playing tricks on me.

I get to race mile 100 and get caught by another class 10 car, I let him by then race towards the 25 mph bridge. In the process CH4 coughs, then resumes speed. Now, I've had this happen before and I know what it sounds like, but there is NO WAY I'm running out of fuel. Ch4 gets about 5mpg and I had a full tank 100 miles ago. CH4 continues across the 25mph bridge with no issues and I think, hmpf, must not of been anything. 2 class 10 cars are right behind me crossing the bridge so I pull over when we get back to the dirt and let them continue on with their race. 50 feet later CH4 dies. Anyone ever have that happen to them 5 miles from the finish, you remember what that feels like? The drunken sailor rears it's ugly head inside the cab of CH4 as I change ignition boxes, shut everything down, restart, go 5 feet, restart...repeat. I shut everything down again and then hit the fuel pump switch. Nothing. Hey, maybe the fuel pump burned up. All I have to do is take off the rear panel, switch the plug and I'm off!

Dilemma 2- Remember when I told you about the 2nd flat with Brenthal and Villopto? What I forgot to mention was the tool bag was having a hell of a time going back into it's happy place. Well, when I got out to change that fuel pump I had 4 or 5 tool sitting on top of the fuel cell (so that's what that noise was) and the bag totally dislodged from it's cubby hole. CH4 has a dzus tab located BEHIND the rear coilover shock. The fuel pump panel is BEHIND the coilover. I put a long screwdriver in the tool bag specifically for this reason. Guess what's missing out of the tool bag? **DING DING DING, Yes, you are correct, tell him what he's won Bob! With no long screwdriver it is virtually impossible to get this Dzus off. In a normal race car I would have pealed that aluminum open like a sardine can but I'm not going to do this to CH4. The late great Nye Frank built this beautiful body and I would not result to that type of barbaric behavior.....well, not just yet anyways.

Nick and Bob pull up in a Big Black Dodge truck BITD retrieval vehicle trying to help. I have half my tools spread out all over the ground and I'm "Somewhat" off the course. Would I consider it "safely", probably not. Nick and Bob kindly and professionally offer to pull CH4 off the race course more so I can safely work on my car. The irritated drunken sailor unprofessionally yells at the retrieval guys telling them he is not too happy with that plan because he is leading the race and blah blah blah blah. I finally agree, they pull me off and I continue to work on my vehicle. around the same time #3712 pulls in close with a rear flat. I ask if they have a screw driver I can borrow, they point to the tool bag as they start changing the tire. Not a long screw driver but at least it was a screw driver. For 15 minutes I fight that stupid Dzus button with no luck. The more I tried the madder I got. I could only think of Mickey Thompson and all the races he had led with this car only to break before getting t the finish. At one point I gave up with my hands at my sides, head down, then looked up to the sky and said "COME ON MICKEY, GIVE ME A BREAK"! I tried that dzus again and what do you know, it came off.

I now have hope, I change the fuel pump plug, hit the switch....nothing. I then remember the restoration. I had a ground issue with the other pump. I cut the wire, then twist it together with the other wire, hit the switch......It's making noise! I jump back in the seat, buckle up and radio I'm back on the road. Start it up, hit the gas and I'm on my way....for about 20 feet and it dies. Return of the irritated drunken sailor. Now I say, "ok, I'm out of gas". I get on the radio again, tell Ed to get 5 gallons of fuel and bring it to the road closure, then have a retrieval bring it to me. First the retrieval can tow me to the road which is only 50 feet away and then we can fill it. They say no problem.

In the distance I see that Big Black Dodge truck making it's way towards me. I then remember all the horrible things that drunken sailor had said to them. They pull up and Nick has that smirk on his face, you know the one. I walk towards him with my head down and then lightly rest my forehead on his door apologizing for being a complete a s s hole to the guys trying to help me.
Nick and Bob start laughing.

Nick: "what do you need"?
Me: "can you tow me to the asphalt?"
Nick: "yes, I can do that".
Me: "can you then go get my 5 gallons of fuel at the end of the road closure and bring it back to me?"
Nick: "Of course I can".

They leave, 5 minutes later they are back with Brandon from Collins Motorsports with 5 gallons of fuel. Bob yells "Get in the car, we got this". I strap in and apologize again to the men that came to my rescue. They start playing with me now and say "And you yelled at us, and were acting like a bitch"! It's true, full bitch mode and will now gladly eat my turd sandwich with 5 fresh gallon of fuel and hopefully a 1st place trophy. Nick, Bob and Brandon send me on my way and I think about how my day has gone. I get to the infield of the short course track and start to feel a little sporty. I slide the CH4 sprint car around the wide sweeper in grand style and then set it up for the next corner. That felt pretty good, I can do better on this one. 3 turns from the finish I almost do what I have had nightmares about. CH4 slides around, but his time a little too far and starts coming around. I feel the top of it get light and I start screaming NO NO NO NO NO! Luckily for me I stab the throttle enough to keep it from going over and it just loops around in a 360. Ok dummy, just cruise it in to the finish line without screwing up. What a day.

As I rolled up onto the victory platform it was like a dream come true. The other great thing about it was I got to share that moment with my good buddy Bob Bower who was the announcer for the MINT 400.

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Mickey was not going to let me win that race without a fight and was probably enjoying the hell out of watching me in full bitch mode 5 miles from the finish. What an honor to bring this legendary racer home in the top spot at a race Mickey Thompson fought so hard to win each year. I share this win with all the people and sponsors who helped me along the way and also Mickey, Trudy and the rest of the Thompson family. And to Lyndy Thompson, thank you for believing in me enough to sell me this car a do what we did.

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y2kbaja

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Awesome story! Congrats Rory!
 

MasTacos

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Awesome write-up Rory and congratulations on a well-earned win!
 

Alvinapm

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One of the best story I have ever read about racing the Mint 400. Great job Rory !!
 

J Prich

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Such a great story Rory, if I could like this each time I read it you'd have about 7 more likes already!
 

CentralWAbaja

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I so wanted to see this car in person, but missed it on Friday in tech. I must admit that I felt honored to watch it climb the hill in Pit-B on Saturday. So I guess its one more Thank You for racing it again. If that is the only time this kid from Washington ever sees that car....well I seen it in a RACE! One in which you broght home a win! Congratulations.
 

51rcr

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great story. You earned it for sure. Legendary challenger MT style. Thanks for Racing a museum piece. Nothing like seeing them run.
If anyone has any video share it. Would be nice to see.
 

Zambo

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Good times! Looking forward to seeing you back in action at NORRA.
 

henderoni

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Great job Rory! It's great to see all the smiles you and C4 bring to everyone including me! Although i'm sure the smile you have yourself is the most gratifying. Best of luck at NORRA!
 

bajatime

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Good job Rory. Looked like the left front was a little low after the race. What is it with you and fuel? Isn't there another race you were in with fuel issues. Haha See you at Norra
 

Mark Murrell

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Rory, Congrats on the win! I had a big smile when you passed my Fireguys Jeepspeed Wrangler on lap one. Pretty cool to be on the same course as that iconic car!
 

Rory

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Thanks everyone, a huge accomplishment for Racers Only Motorsports and Mickey Thompson Tires.
 

CFreeLV

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Rory, how does the Challenger IV compare to the other cars you have owned? This car was so out of the box I could only imagine what people thought when Mickey showed up in it at its first race. Really cool of you bringing it back to its glory.
 

Norm Johnson

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I remember those days when Mickey was racing the Big Monster...you could hear it coming two miles away...at last he won the Mint 400 with your help...I really enjoyed reading your story of the Mint 400...Brought back some major memories...Norm Johnson
 

Rory

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Rory, how does the Challenger IV compare to the other cars you have owned? This car was so out of the box I could only imagine what people thought when Mickey showed up in it at its first race. Really cool of you bringing it back to its glory.
Cody, all I can tell you is that it's a handful to say the least...LOL. Back in the day John House (MT's crew chief) said it had a 600-700hp motor in it. Right now I have around 500hp and it's MORE than enough. CH4 is squirrely and hard to keep in a straight line when pressing down on the skinny pedal. Of course the entire time I was driving it I was worried about wrecking it or something bad happening to it. I drove it a lot harder than i did at NORRA and i guess that was because i was in the states and not in the middle of no where without any help. I hit 2 HUGE rocks and broke 2 wheels because this thing has a mind of its own (although on one I was watching my mirror too much). The turning radius is horrendous, a school bus has a better turning radius....no kidding. The gas pedal is what turns this thing and turn it does if you're not paying attention (see race report with 3 turns to go to the checkered flag).

The interior is very tight, so tight in fact that you can't wear regular shoes just to move it out of the garage, you have to wear slim race shoes. The scatter shield hampers the room inside where the throttle and brake pedals are located and it takes some getting use to. The heat would be the next thing, it gets pretty hot sitting over the top of the trans/driveline and right behind the motor. The exhaust on both sides of you approx 8" from your feet does not help either. I'm not complaining, I was smiling the entire time I was driving it.

I can see why guys in class 1 unlimited didn't like racing against CH4 back in the late 70's and 1980 because it was almost like cheating. I truly believe if MT would have backed off the throttle and saved the car and only pushed when he had to this car would have DOMINATED! Then again, if MT did that he wouldn't be MT.

I remember those days when Mickey was racing the Big Monster...you could hear it coming two miles away...at last he won the Mint 400 with your help...I really enjoyed reading your story of the Mint 400...Brought back some major memories...Norm Johnson
Mr. Johnson, Thank you for the kind words, I can't begin to tell you what the win means to me. I think the best part was calling Lyndy Thompson on Monday morning and telling her that her dads race car won the MINT 400. I could hear the emotion in her voice and she was so happy, what a great lady. Rory Ward
 
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