TGSI RACING-- dp MotorSports OPEL

The Longest Day

By Robert Dennard  

DAD!!!!!          THEY NEED YOU !!!!!


We had gone too long on the brake pads.  Gerry was driving when the brake pedal went to the floor.  Of course this happened at the fastest part of the circuit... when you need to use the brakes hard for a third gear left hand corner.  At the same time the "Car & Driver" entry, a Rouch prepared Ford Contour, occupied the spot Gerry needed to go. I don't think this was how Gerry wanted to meet the "Car & Driver" folks.

Besides the "fried" brakes, the damage to the car was mainly sheet metal. but both right side fenders were really jammed into the tires. (We had just put on these tires the fuel stop before.)  So we started to work cutting away the front sheet metal and replacing the front brake calipers.  It took us about 1 1/2 hours to get the car back on the track.  Considering how much work there was to do the crew did a really good job.

Now we were in the survival mode.  At 5 o'clock in the morning we were in 21st place overall and 9th in class; down 120 laps to the overall leader, and 103 laps to the ITB leader... but we were still going.

Around this time (5:00 A.M., but by this time I had no idea of what time it really was) it looked like I was going to have to get in the car... while it was still dark!!!  Gerry and Lou were at the JOB hotel trying to get some rest.  Lowell called in on the radio and said that he needed relief.  So I got ready.  A full course yellow went out, and Lowell pitted. I got in the car, but then the course "went red".  It seems that the generator for timing and scoring went out, and they couldn't see a thing.  So the race was halted until it was light enough for them to see.  So much for my night driving until next year.  (I didn't say that... I have sworn off of Nelsons Ledges forever.)

I drove for about two hours in the early morning.  This was probably the best time to drive.  It was cool and the car was running reasonably well considering what it had been through.  But the car wasn't the same as it was when I had driven it 15 or 16 hours before.  All of the drivers said that you could feel the car wearing out.

The next 6 hours were un-eventful.  Each driver took their turn going at a reasonable "survival" pace.  We had maintained the same track position since dawn.  By noon we were about 40 laps behind the car in front of us, and about 40 laps ahead of the car behind us... still 21st overall and 9th in class.

I got back in the car with 2+ hours left.  By now I was worn out... and so was the car.  But we were still going.  The track surface was worn out too.  The track was breaking up all around the course.  Pot holes had developed right in the racing line of several corners.  It was also the hottest part of the day.  It must have been a million degrees inside the car.  The other drivers had gotten together and agreed that I should finish the race.  Thanks guys... but I wasn't sure I could go the rest of the way.  I backed off the pace a little more.  The only way our position could change was if someone broke their car... I didn't want it to be us.  We had come too far not to be running at the finish.

That was the longest two hours that I can remember.  Besides being hot, we had developed an exhaust leak into the car.  Most of the way around the course I drove with my left hand out the window trying to scoop fresh, and relatively cool air into my face.  With about 10 minutes to go something "gave up" in the front end of the car.  What ever it was caused the front end to shimmy at anything over about 70 MPH.  The shimmy got progressively worse, but I wasn't going to come in now... if the car would still move, I was going to take the checkered flag.  In the last five minutes I slowed down so much that I only did two laps (less than 50 MPH).

Finally the checkered flag fell.  We had made it.  Even though we didn't finish very well... 21st overall and 9th in class... we all felt triumph in finishing a 24 hour race.  We had completed 743 laps; 1486 miles.  There's just not many people in the world who can cay they've finished a 24 hour race... not bad for a "rookie" team.

Before I wrap this up, I have to take a little of the editors space to thank some of the folks who helped make this happen for me.  First, I must thank Ann McHugh the race organizer and all of the SCCA volunteer workers.  They were terrific.  I can only imagine what a monumental task it must be to put on this event.

Next I must thank the crew, Dave Woodward, Dave Stoner, Dick Sowle, Larry Shall, Robert Preston, and Eeke VanDerWal who worked on the car and kept it going.  They really busted their buns.  With one exception they were all beginners when the race started... they were experts by the time it was over.  The one exception was Eeke.  She was the real Pro on the team.  She knew exactly what to do and taught the rest of the crew.  Thanks Eeke.

Finally, thanks to my sponsor Gil Wesson of the OPEL GT SOURCE.  Not only did he put up his "bucks", but he was the Opel technical "wizard" at the race.  He fixed things when we broke it, and found things that were about to break and prevented it.  Without him we would not have finished the race.

After the race was over, every one gathered around for a little "bench racing".  We were all glad that we had raced the "Longest Day".  If we had never done it, we would still wish we had.  We talked about the lessons we learned, and what we would do different if we ever did it again. As we were all sitting there, barely able to move, we agreed that the race was too far away... it cost too much money... the track facilities were too crude... the racing surface was too rough... I vowed never to go back again... the other drivers wondered why they let me talk them into going.

But, now that I have this really neat set of "paint burner" head lamps, it does seem a shame not to use them again... and while I'm rebuilding the car, I think I'll install a refueling "dry-break".  That's legal for ITB isn't it?... and... HEY GUYS!!!


Prolog July, 2003

This race was run in late June, 1996.  When we "headed out" for the Longest Day race I was leading in the ITB season championship in the Southern California region of the SCCA.  When I surveyed the crash damage from the race, I discovered that the front frame "horns" were "tweaked".  And 21+ racing hours plus about 8 hours of practice and qualifying had worn out just about everything on the car... engine, transmission, rear-end, brakes, suspension bushings and shocks.  So, with a tweaked frame and everything else worn out there was nothing else to do but build a new car.  With help (time and labor) from my co-drivers and a lot of parts from the OPEL GT SOURCE I was able to build a new car and only miss one championship race.  That left me a few points behind in the lead for the championship with two races and one "Enduro" to go.

I won the next two races which put me in a "dead tie" for the championship.  The last race, "The Enduro" was a three hour race. It came down to this;  who ever won "The Enduro" (my competition or me) would win the championship.  I assumed that either the person I was tied with or I would win... we were that much better than every one else. Again, Lowell Preston and I teamed up for "The Enduro".   With the experience of the "Longest Day", the enduro seemed like little more than a "sprint" race to us. 

The Enduro was uneventful.  The car was well prep'ed... including "dry break".  We won the race by over three laps... and I won the season championship.

The next year (1997) we all decided that we would not attempt another "Longest Day".  I was still financially recovering... and the other drivers thought I was nuts for considering going back to do it again.  (I guess I just can't resist such a challenge).  Another year passed and everyone had recovered.  We decided that we would take our lessons learned and see if we could win the Longest Day.  Early in the year (1998) we started planning. But it was all for nothing.  The "Longest Day" was canceled and has never been run again.