Las Vegas, Nevada - Dec 06, 2003: Raceday morning began early today at Best in the Desert's `Las Vegas 200'. On a crisp and windless Nevada day, Team HUMMER left the line just after 7:00 AM and for a while everything seemed to be going well for us. Chad Hall was first in his class to take the green flag in the #8102 Team HUMMER H1 Pickup and was well ahead of the competition when he pulled into pit #1 with mechanical problems, about 12 miles into the race. Apparently the AN fitting on the high pressure hose which connected the shock reservoir to the left shock was leaking fluid. The crew tightened the fitting and Chad pulled back onto the course, hoping that would be the end of the problem. Meanwhile, Team HUMMER's Josh Hall had started third in the SUV class driving the #4121 H2 with Thad Stump riding shotgun. They were also moving up in the ranks, taking over second place just a few miles into the race. Shortly after the first pit, Josh passed the H1, which was parked off the course, while Chad and chief mechanic, Brad Falin were working on the left shock once again. As it turned out, the AN Fitting wasn't merely loose, which had been their original diagnosis, but was cracked and needed to be replaced in Shock Leakage on trailered H1 order for the H1 to continue. We knew this would take an hour and Chad would have to drive the H1 over 35 brutal miles to pit #2 with no left suspension, causing additional damage to the vehicle. With any opportunity for a win very unlikely, we elected to retire the truck at race-mile 19 and put it on the trailer.
Because Josh had joined with Chad in the H1's winning effort at the `Baja 1000', he had been in the H2 since the debut of the SUV at the `Vegas to Reno' race in late June and was very impressed with the improved performance of the truck after just three races. "This is a race car now," he was heard to remark at the main pit on raceday. "I was driving the truck hard enough to keep my position on the leader and still had plenty of power left to quicken the pace when the time came." And that time came shortly after the beginning of the second lap when the H2 took the lead for the first time in any race and began to pull away, putting twelve minutes on the now second place Ford in less than 40 miles. It was somewhere about race-mile 140, ten miles outside of the main pit and the beginning of lap #3 that the H2 ran out of fuel and coasted to a halt near John Baker, whose #7311 truck was broken and stranded on the course. Hall/Stump in the lead at Pit #2
We had only the two previous races to gather fuel consumption info and what data we had told us that the truck was getting a little over 4 MPG. If that figure was accurate at this race we could go two laps with almost 4 gallons to spare before we had to take on fuel. But it had never been driven this hard or this fast before. At the `Vegas to Reno' it was new and wouldn't take the abuse without breaking the shock mounts. During the `Baja 1000', we paced ourselves because it was such a long race, choosing to drive the H2 more conservatively. In a short 225 mile race, you keep on the gas all the time and we failed to take into consideration the additional demands this would place on fuel usage. The desert is a lonely place to be stranded, whether you are broke down or out of fuel, so deals are made when two racers find each other useful. Baker had fuel but needed a tow back to the pit. We had 4Wheel-Drive but needed fuel to keep going. By the time the gas changed hands and the #7311 truck was towed, the H2 arrived at the main pit 25 minutes behind the leader, who had passed us while we were busily negotiating the deal for fuel.
Developing a new race truck is always a learning process. This is particularly true with the H2 which has never been raced before, because there is no history to draw from as there might be with another vehicle, like the GMC Sierra or the Ford F-150 which have both been in competition for some years. Clearly, we now have accumulated some valuable data on fuel consumption and will be installing a larger fuel cell for future events. Once the H2 got back on the road, we knew two things. The truck gets about 3.2 MPG at the `Las Vegas 200' and we were now 27 minutes out of the lead and had no interest in second place!
Josh had gotten comfortable with the capabilities of the H2 and started to reel in the #4100 Ford. By the first pit, twelve miles into the final lap, he had shaved five minutes off the lead and was completely confident The H2 taking on fuel at the main pit that he could catch the leader in the 63 miles that remained. The Team HUMMER SUV was running flawlessly, as it had through- out the entire race, until it reached a point just a bit further down the course than the H1 had traveled on the first lap. Without warn- ing there was a loud explosion from the front of the vehicle and smoke began billowing out from under the hood. Quickly they brought the truck to a stop and extinguished the fire, which turned out to be burning oil from a crushed oil filter. Raceday was over for Team HUMMER, which became apparent after a survey of the damage.
On the pinion side of the front differential there is a bolt which I will describe as the front axle rear hanger bolt. This bolt is about 6" long and roughly 7/16" in diameter extending vertically, through the pinion side of the differential and into a crossmember directly overhead. This is not a particularly expensive part but it is a critical one as it holds the differential in alignment under load so it doesn't twist up or down and cause a universal joint failure in the front drive shaft. What had happened was that this fastener failed, causing a hyperextension of the drive line which exceeded the angular limit of the u-joint. Predictably, the u- joint broke and sent the unsecured drive shaft swinging around beneath the vehicle, splitting the oil filter and oil cooler lines and spewing hot oil onto the hotter exhaust manifold, resulting in an oil fire.
Why this occurred is a matter of some conjecture, depending on who you talk to but the general consen- sus seems to be that it would probably not have occurred if this bolt was of a higher grade or greater diameter. More post-race diagnosis will be required to determine the exact cause of the failure, if such an examination can ever be definitive. In off-road racing, when a part or system doesn't stand up to the abuse, you overbuild it so it's tough enough next time and doesn't fail again.
It was frustrating that we didn't win this event and more frustrating that we did not finish. But we learned a number of important lessons from this race. Lessons that will take Team HUMMER to victory lane in the not too distant future.
- grt -