Once on the course I instructed Derek to stick to his plan and settle into a comfortable pace. Everything was going well until we hit race mile 8. At first, it felt as though a spark-plug cable had dislodged, or something like that. A quick glance at the coolant temp-which read 245 degrees-verified that we were already pushing the car too hard. We pulled over to investigate the problem. All systems appeared fine, and the car did not exhibit any obvious signs of a problem. We got back into the car and ran a conservative pace until the Bessemer Pit at race mile 12. Once there, we instructed our crew to remove the fiberglass hood and splash the fuel cell. We set out of the first pit area with the car back in normal operating temperature. Evidently the placement of the hood had restricted airflow through the radiator, causing engine coolant temperature to climb. Once removed, our cooling concerns seemed to subside.
At race mile 15, we encountered our first logjam. There were about seven rigs waiting to drop off a 12-foot tall waterfall in a section of course known as the Crowbar trail. With little drama, Summers managed to get through the slowdown with a little creative driving.
We continued around the Western loop near Soggy Dry Lake. About halfway around, we came upon car number 4411 of Dean Bulloch. Both Bulloch and his co-driver Tom Allen were out of the vehicle, picking up parts of their car that were scattered on the course. It was obvious from the trail of evidence that they had suffered a high-speed rollover. We pulled up and stopped to ask if everyone was alright. Allen gave us the thumbs-up and motioned us to proceed. Summers, thinking sarcasm was appropriate for the moment, asked Allen if they wanted to trade cars. (Allen's company, PSC Motorsports, played an important role in getting our steering system up to par before the race.) We pressed on, wondering why nobody had passed us during the brief exchange.
By race mile 23, we were just getting into a groove when we reentered the Bessemer Pit area. We stopped to let the crew give the car a once-over to check for loose bolts or other obvious signs of trouble. The car was starting to feel as if the front shocks were bottoming out too much, so we informed the pit crew to prepare a nitrogen tank to increase the pressure in the front shock reservoirs. We didn't have a tank handy, so we instructed our crew to arrange the shock service back at the main pit, some 17 miles away.
Our primary goal at the main pit was to resolve the front shock issues. Our crew worked diligently to increase the nitrogen pressure in both front shocks and bumpstops. At the same time, additional crewmembers added another four gallons of fuel to the car. As we resumed race speed just outside the pit, the car seemed to soak up bumps much better than before-the nitrogen was working. Then, about two miles outside of the main pit, the engine began cutting out again. Initially, we thought it was the overheating problem again. However, the gauge read 210-no problem there. We pressed on, evaluating every possible cause of the problem. The fuel pressure gauge read low, so we decided that the best action plan was to swap in our auxiliary fuel pump. Upon disconnection of the primary pump, we found the inlet was clogged with debris. About 15 minutes later, we had the backup fuel pump plumbed and wired and were ready to get back on the trail. At mile 38, we took off again. For the first time in the race everything felt perfect with the car.