That is the only way I can describe the idea of taking my 1994 Buick Roadmaster Estate to a rallycross event. When I got to the venue, as I looked around at the other vehicles, as I checked out the track, as I grided up behind a track prepped Miata with a Plexiglas windshield, over and over I said to myself out loud, “What in the hell have I gotten myself into?”
A little bit about myself. I really am a shop teacher, for middle schoolers actually. I’ll be 35 soon and roughly half my lifetime ago, when I was 17/18, I ran a few autocrosses in my pig of an ‘89 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo. I hadn’t turned a wheel in anger since.
If you read Jalopnik and/or Oppositelock with any regularity, chances are you’re familiar with the last generation GM B-body wagons, even if you haven’t read about mine. This one is a ‘94 that was previously owned by a friend (a now retired auto shop teacher) for about 15 years. It has the LT-1 V8 engine, and a towing package that gets you all kinds of goodies like a limited slip diff and a heavy duty cooling package. It turned 160k miles a day or two before the event, and it’s riding on original springs, new KYB shocks, and helper airbags in-between the rear coils.
So what in the world made me think taking this 8-passenger highway cruiser to rallycross was a good freaking idea? Well, truth be told, I always knew it was a horrible idea. Why did I do it anyways? Because Roadkill, because I can’t afford a LeMons car, because David Tracy, because I was tired of just sitting around watching other people have fun with cars.
I signed up with a group called Stateline Rallycross. They aren’t affiliated with the SCCA, so they kinda do their own thing, but they do use the same class system as the SCCA. Just about anything is welcome to come out and race. Let me just say this before I forget. Everybody there was super friendly and helpful, and the event was pretty well run. I have nothing but good things to say about the event and the people there.
I rolled out at 6:45 AM, and pointed west towards Byron Motorsports Park, with my buddy Howard riding shotgun. Before I headed out I aired up my tires to max sidewall pressure, and checked my oil. Other prep? Nope. We needed to be there by 9:00 to register, and made that handily. After each signing not one, not two, but THREE release forms (thanks lawyers!), we collected our wristbands. As I made my way to the paddock, I saw another gold wagon! I parked near as I could to the ‘91 740, with a stock ‘09 WRX in between us. I met the owners of both of them, they were also first timers. A ‘98 Ranger then parked next to me, this was his second event. We predicted we were all running for last place (most of us were right).
Looking over the course, I started getting feeling uneasy. The course was on a small motorcross track, with a fair bit of elevation change. I got a little less anxious when I noticed that certain parts of the track were not prepped, including the table top jump that I was certain The Toadmaster would not survive. I was still worried about the parts of the track I couldn’t see. What if the Buick wasn’t just bad at this, but instead there were parts of the track it simply could not do? I went to pee, and then immediately felt like I had to pee again. Yep, I was nervous.
At the brief drivers meeting we were toldwho everybody was, how things would run, and a bunch of things for insurance and such (don’t be a jackass, basically). They then told us the 2wd classes were going first, and it was time to grid up (get in line, first come, first served).
I was something like the fifth car back, with several behind me. First was a slow parade lap, no helmets needed, then there would be one untimed hot-lap, then four timed runs. The scores in rallycross are cumulative, all timed runs count, no runs thrown out. The parade lap eased my mind quite a bit. The course was very tight in some spots, with lots of bumps and elevation changes, and there was a huge flat section in a field beyond the trees that I didn’t even realize was there. There was nothing that the Buick couldn’t do, now the nervousness started changing to excitement. This was really freaking happening!
Unfortunately the track was drying so fast and getting so dusty, they decided to skip the untimed hot lap and go right to racing. Predictably, this would be my worst lap of the day by a lot. My goal for the day was to have fun, not do anything stupid, and be able to drive home. The time for that lap was 210.71, this would be the third worst time for anybody of the day. It was a blast! I had been planning to do this for months, and in my head as I imagined what it would be like, “East Bound and Down” was always playing in my head. In reality I was so focused on what I was doing, that there was no room in my head-movies for anything but.
For my second run, I pushed a lot harder. Traction, power, and ground clearance were no issues. The inside of the slow corners were VERY soft, and huge ruts formed almost immediately, but with the LSD, plenty of V8 powwaaaaa, and those helper airbags pumped up in the rear, powering through that was no problem. On the really tight corners I was able to use the throttle to swing the ass end around, without the LSD helping me do that the Roadmonster would’ve been hopeless and frankly not much fun. The only real trouble I had on the first lap was in the back of the first section, heading for the gap in the trees towards the flat part of the track. That section is really rough, and I hit a bump so hard that the landing hurt my back and neck a bit. The time was a massive improvement of 195.06.
The third run was a bit slower at 195.44, I had gone slower through that back section. The fourth was a pretty good improvement to 191.85, I had done a lot better through the flat section and made up some time there. Then, just in the nick of time, as my temp gauge had gradually been creeping toward the H, it was time to shut her down and let the AWD groups have their fun. I was having the absolute time of my life, at the end of every run I was hooting and hollaring, and eager to get my time.
I parked it and popped the hood to help it cool down, and pulled up a chair to watch the AWD groups. It was helpful to see how they were getting through the first chunk of the course, and I realized I could go a good bit quicker through there. Howard asked me if I was 1-foot braking, or 2-foot breaking. I had planned on doing 2-foot, but immediately discovered my left foot and left knee were needed to brace me as I slid about on the wide, flat bench seat (I was genuinely surprised that my knee wasn’t bruised at the end of the day). The other problem with the Roadmaster was the shocks, even though they were new, just couldn’t handle all that weight and all those bumps. The front wheels were bouncing like crazy and I had to get off the power way sooner than I wanted to, because I needed a lot of space to whoa it down.
When it came time for the second heat, I was eager as could be. I was second in line this time, behind the 740 wagon. I chatted a bit with one of the workers, everybody loved to see it there, and got a kick out of the fact that I’d left the child car seats in. I reiterated that all I wanted to do was have fun, not be an idiot, and be able to drive home. When it was go-time, that first run was a disappointing 204.51. Next I pushed harder, a bit too hard, and slid into a pile of dirt on the outside of a hairpin turn. I was able to reverse out of there, and continue on to a 198.33. Mad at myself for being so stupid, on the third run I kept saying out loud to myself, “Just be smooth. Just be smooth.” I was rewarded with my best time of the day at 189.7, but I didn’t know that until I looked it up to write this story, as the radio at the finish line wasn’t working.
Now here’s the thing about me, I’m really not that competitive. I don’t care about beating other people, and that didn’t change. But I so badly wanted to improve, and as far as I knew all my runs this heat were worst than my last. That bothered me a lot more than it should have. I mean, I was still having a TON of fun, and that was the whole freaking point! On the fourth and final run I was going to push it, and push it I did. This run was going great, I was hitting all my marks, telling myself to be smooth. The ruts had gotten really really bad, and the Buick was bouncing all over the damn place, but it was still going where I told it to.
Then, on the very last turn of my very last run, I carried too much speed. The ruts had gotten too bad, and the front wheels were bouncing so much they just didn’t have enough contact time with the ground to stop me (I later discovered that the brake fluid boiled over, possibly a contributing factor). I stuffed the front end down into a set of motorcross whoops. The tops of the whoops were even with the track surface, so I dropped down into them. I managed to power back out of that, but the guys at the finish informed me I was loosing fluid. I shut it down and coasted down the hill and as far as I could. Then I fired it back up for a few seconds to get enough momentum to coast the rest of the way to the paddock. The temp gauge was on full Hot, and the temp warning light flashed for a bit before I killed it for the last time.
I jumped out to inspect the damage, and see what I was leaking. I borrowed a jack and jackstand from Colin, the 740 owner, so I could get underneath and inspect. It was coolant. The radiator had been pushed so far back, that it had crushed my new oil cooler lines into the steering box. they weren’t leaking though, it was just the coolant. As I sat there for several minutes trying to figure out were the leak was coming from, and if it was something I could maybe fix enough to nurse back home, I realized that my front air damn was missing. There was so much wet under there, that I just couldn’t see where it was coming from. The guy with the plexiglass windshield Miata came over and offered his tools. I thanked him and said I’d let him know if I could figure out what to do with them.
The overflow tank was bone dry, Colin gave me a gallon of antifreeze to put in. I then used that bottle to fill up with water, on the third gallon gallon, water began gushing back out. I looked to see where it was coming out and saw that when the oil cooler lines got crushed, one of the fittings twisted and cracked the tank. There would be no nursing it home.
Getting the tow truck there was another ordeal in itself, but I’ll spare you that. Another racer offered to drive his car home and put the Roadmaster on his trailer, but then he remembered that his car wasn’t drive-able either, because his alternator had died. I then settled in for a long, slow, expensive, and most of all depressing ride home.
It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, and up until that off I was having an absolute blast. As I sat there in that loud uncomfortable truck, all I wanted to do was hug my daughters, and take them to the park. The damage to the car was unknown, but my head went to the worst. I felt lower than low, like a selfish deadbeat out wasting money and ruining cars, instead of taking care of my children.
We got home just before my oldest girl was about to go to sleep, she was already in her PJs when her bedroom window opened up. The wounded and possibly dead wagon was right next to her window, about to be unloaded. It broke my heart to tell her, “Daddy broke the brown car.” She calls it the brown car, and she loves it too.
It’s been two weeks since I brought the battle wagon home on the back of a wrecker. Life and family things have meant I’ve only had a couple hours to work on it. In that time I pulled the radiator and confirmed my diagnoses of what part of the radiator was FUBARed. The bottom of the core support is bent as well. My “Drawer of Jeremy” is ready to bend that back as best I can. It looks like the cooling fans survived in-tact, thanks to the copious clearance between the radiator and the engine.
Will I rallycross the Buick again? Honestly, probably not. I had the time of my life, but even cheap racing is pretty expensive when things go wrong. With two kids in daycare, that’s tough for my budget to absorb. If I do decide to try it again, I’ll be hedging my bets and renting a trailer to bring it there and back. Would I recommend you try rallycross? Absofreakinglutely! It is soooooooo much fun. I don’t recommend you do it in a vehicle you need to get to work the next day, it is HARD on vehicles.