We made great time to mile 45. Then, at the base of Aftershock Trail, a six-vehicle backup just before a steep climb ceased our momentum. A large crowd of spectators lined each side of the canyon, and some were getting in the way of alternate lines. About 15 minutes passed, and we hadn't moved forward much. As the car in front of us got hung up, we decided to attempt a pass. The driver in front of us was hung up with a passenger-side rear tire buried under a large rock undercut, and as we attempted to pass him, he hammered the throttle, resulting in a broken passenger-side rear axleshaft. Now was our opportunity to get by him-but I would need to get out and spot Summers. Just then, another co-driver of another disabled rig came over and took on the responsibility of spotting us around the disabled vehicle. We pressed on, motioning thumbs-up to the spotter for saving us time.
About ten minutes later, we were at the summit of Sunbonnet Trail. Everything on the car felt perfect, and the only bummer was that we were closing in on the Masters Pit at mile 52, where I would be relieved of my duties as co-driver. My ride would be ending too soon.
As we came into the pit, I released my harness and helmet, and it didn't take long for Lavender and I to swap positions. The car was in great shape and we were still ahead of more than half the field. I could see the excitement in Lavender's eyes. He was in for the ride of a lifetime.
The Waiting Game
Once I was out of the racecar, I started taking photos of the car, and the team, during pit procedures. I rode with our chase team to the Wrecking Ball pit area. The action stopped cold, until the race leaders came through about the Wrecking Ball pit about one hour later. At this point, Team Summers was still among the top 50 vehicles in the race. We waited, and waited, and waited-with no communication from Summers or Lavender.
About two hours into our wait at the Wrecking Ball pit, I decided to hitch a ride back to the main pit area to see what I could find out, looking to secure another team's powerful radio to ask about our car's status. Just then, FW Senior Editor Brubaker came along on a side-by-side in search of a good shoot location. I flagged him down and asked if he could get me back to the main pit. He was happy to help.
Back at the main pit, our crew was waiting patiently as information trickled in slowly. Evidently, Summers had hit a rock at mile 88 and was attempting to drive the car on a flat passenger-side front tire. (We didn't have a spare tire onboard because we figured that the weight savings would give us an advantage over other teams.) In addition, the extra drag of the flat tire caused the car's cooling system to keep running hot. As a result, Summers and Lavender had to stop and let the engine cool every five to seven miles.
At race mile 93, they were out of the car, waiting for the engine to cool at the start of steep dirt hillclimb, when the distant roar of small block V-8 was heard approaching-it was the Blue Torch buggy the piloted by BFG-sponsored veteran desert racer Rob MacCachren. MacCachren's buggy was looking really good as it attempted to climb the hill. Then, moments later, a catastrophic failure occurred with the engine. Apparently a large portion of the side of the engine block gave way as a connecting rod busted outwards, falling to the ground. A large volume of engine oil splashed against the exhaust system and instantly a bright flash of flames was seen. Summers and Lavender took action. The two each grabbed a fire extinguisher from the interior of our car and proceeded to run down the hill towards MacCachren's buggy.