You know those choose-your-own- adventure books? “Turn to page 133 if you want to do this. If you want to do this, turn to page 163”. That’s what I felt like our trip to the Shootout was like. When it asked if we wanted to swap the transmission on the side of the road, we turned to that page. I don’t know if we made all the right decisions, but we got to meet Jafro and we surely didn’t make the trip on our own. We have many people to thank in this article.
Words By: SPOOLIGAN | Images By: SPOOLIGAN, Kurt Barnes, Samantha Lynn
The last couple of days leading up to D-Day, I worked hard to get the car finished and presentable. I also spent a lot of time packing up all the things that we could use given the right circumstances. I brought tools, power tools, drills, drill bits, nuts, bolts, JB Weld, Silicone, Acetone, bug spray, spare 18″ tire and wheel, wire, wiring tools, parts, just a ton of stuff and I crammed it all into #PoisonIvy. I figured if we didn’t need any of it, maybe someone at The Shootout will. So, it went in the car.
I slept for an hour and a half to two hours and left to head down to Kurt’s around 2:30AM Friday morning. I made the hour and 15 minute drive to his house and we left from there. I was babying the hell out of #PoisonIvy the entire night. About an hour and a half from Kurt’s house, I had some weird, “minor” drivetrain noise that sounded almost like a throw out bearing. Not long after that I could smell some gear oil, then the drivetrain noise got really loud, similar to the time I broke a transfer case that ended up making the car FWD once upon a time. Seconds later, all 4 wheels locked up and I skidded to a stop.
The car same to a stop barely on the side of the road, in a section of the road with no shoulder. It was dark and traffic was zooming by. Initially, I could see that both front axles had been destroyed from the wheels locking up. I also seen some smoke bellowing out of the breather hole in the transmission. We hurried to jack up the car and removing the transfer case. The transfer case spun freely so I was pretty certain there was an issue with the transmission. Even with the transfer case off, the car still would not move. Eventually, I dropped the jack one last time and it freed up whatever was locking up the drivetrain. This allowed me to be able to drive the car up a quarter of a mile or so to a lesser traveled back-road.
This is where the first, maybe bad decision came about. I called a tow truck, frustrated that I hadn’t renewed my AA. The tow bill just back to Kurt’s would have been a few hundred bucks. Kurt and I talked and we made the decision to find a transmission. So, I called the tow company back and told him never mind, because we were going to swap the transmission on the side of the road.
It was raining, so we backed the car into a ditch to be completely out of the way and popped up the canopy in attempt to keep us dry. After a few posts and talking with a couple guys, Kurt found a transmission off of a guy named Chris Berninger, located in Williamsport PA which was about 40 minutes from us at the time. Chris and I agreed on a price of $600 and he allowed me to give him $200 cash, $150 on PayPal, and the rest once I got back home and had my next check. We jacked up the car and began tearing the transmission off.
We had one jack and no jack stand(s). So, we used my spare 18″ wheel and tire as a jack stand to prop up one side with the jack on the other side. Eventually the transmission was off and Kurt drove his 1G to pick up the transmission. While he was gone, I tried to take a little nap in the driver seat of #PoisonIvy, but I don’t remember if I was able to fall asleep. I was exhausted at this point already, soaked and disgusting from laying in the wet, mud, rocks, sweat, and gear oil. The blistering heat and sun certainly didn’t help either once the rain went away. It was absolutely the most impractical place and time to attempt a transmission swap.
Kurt and Sam got back with the new transmission. Before we could put it on, we needed to swap my Viscous Coupler Eliminator (VCE) from my old transmission and into the new one. After destroying both front axles, this VCE was going to allow me to install my front axle plugs (which I brought with me) and drive the rest of the way to The Shootout in RWD mode. Sketchy, right?
Sometime before we tried huffing the new transmission back up and in, Eric Patterson and Lauren Cerio showed up to our aide with Lauren’s Evo 8. They are locals to me which means they had nearly a 2 hour drive to come give us a hand. The transmission fought us and fought us and did not want to go up in. Again, we only had one jack and the car was sitting slanted on a hill. We were already so exhausted and the heavy ass AWD transmission took whatever energy we had left out of us. We all took turns trying to huff the transmission up on and finally, Kurt was able to get it up.
Things began going a little smoother from here. Well, until we went to put the transfer case on. The transfer case would not easily slip onto the intermediate shaft splines. We had to tap it on with a hammer and then pull it in the rest of the way with the transfer case bolts. Finally, we were able to drop the jack and attempt to see if the car moved. And of course, it would not. Every time I let the clutch out, there was a very weird spinning noise and the car would not move. Both front axle plugs spun, but the driveshaft would not turn. After convinced that the transfer case was also bad, Lauren and the gang loaded up in her Evo and went to pick up the matching transfer case off of the same guy we got the transmission off of.
While they were gone, I pulled the old transfer case apart to inspect it. It honestly did not look bad at all. None of the splines looked ground down but I did find some material laying inside the case. This gave me hope that the current problem was indeed a broken transfer case. I also looked at the splines in the driveshaft to ensure they weren’t stripped and they too looked alright.
Once they got back with the new transfer case and a couple boxes of Papa John’s pizza, we went to throw the transfer case on. Again, the transfer case would not go on the intermediate shaft. After not being able to get it on at all this time, we had no choice but to pull the 5th gear cover back off, remove the VCE, and swap the intermediate shaft with the one from the old transmission. Finally, the job was done, transfer case was on, and #PoisonIvy walked out of the field she was backed into.
It had been dark for awhile now. We left there around 1:30AM and had been sitting there along side of the road for a total of about 19.5 hours. We had no idea on what kind of shape this transmission was in. We didn’t know if it was going to work at all. But it did thankfully. Buying used transmissions is one of the most nerve racking things I have done and in this situation, it was way way worse. But we lucked out and Chris sold us a good transmission.
By the time we had left, Kurt, Sam, and I agreed to not go to The Shootout and to split a hotel room for the night. We were all so god damn nasty and wet, we needed a shower ASAP. We drove into Williamsport and found a room at the Econolodge for $150. After the partial payment of the transmission and transfer case, plus gear oil, and now the hotel room, there was no way we were going to be able to swing the trip out to Norwalk.
All day long, we had been putting up posts on our progress. Originally, this started out as a promising, awesome Shootout story but by the end, in the conditions we were in and the issues we kept having, it was a nightmare, and a costly one. By the time we were settled in at the hotel, I myself had already almost tripled my Shootout budget. After many Facebook post comments and PM’s, a local car enthusiast that was a grade below me in high school, Joshua Zickler, offered a helping hand. He PayPal’ed me $100 and told me to continue onto The Shootout. There is almost no word for how appreciative I was. It meant a lot. But, we still weren’t sure if we were going to be able to pull the trip off financially. We all decided to finally get some much needed rest and figure out our next move in the morning.
When I woke up, I jumped in the shower once more and then grabbed my phone off the charger. I had many notifications, texts, messages, Facebook stuff, etc. Scrolling through the notifications, my heart dropped. I had two more PayPal notifications. One that said Kenny Kline sent me $100 and another than said Chris Morrison sent me $50. I seriously wanted to cry, not because this meant we might be able to continue on instead of going home, but just that these guys spent so much money to help us make it possible. I had so many mixed emotions, disbelief, excitement, and honestly a little bit of shame.
These guys all told me they just wanted me to be able to go to The Shootout. I have tried my best to show them how appreciative we all were but I don’t know if I will be able to say thanks enough. A huge, enormous thank you goes to Josh, Kenny, and Chris for allowing our story to extend to Ohio. Another big thanks to Lauren and Eric that came to help get the car done. I also need to thank everyone that has supported us via Facebook and private messaging. The amount of support this weekend has been unreal. Seeing the community come together first hand has been an amazing experience.
Finally, we left the hotel and continued on. We had some more issues the first hour or so into the trip that morning. My alignment was all out of wack after disconnecting the suspension to remove the front axles. A few adjustments along the way helped tremendously. We made several stops on the way out to Norwalk to check the cars over and give them a rest. But at last, we made it.
We got to the campground a few hours before dark. The racing had just finished by the time we got in. Taylor Herb and a few others spotted us as we were setting up our tents and stuff. It was nice seeing them. Once both cars were fully unpacked, we made a trip out to town to Walmart to get some supplies. The last time I had been to The Shootout was back in 2010. I must say, The Shootout is not what it used to be. Before, If you were cruising around any of the nearby towns, there were DSM’s and Evo’s everywhere. Every parking lot used to have a DSM in it. You couldn’t drive a half a mile without seeing DSM’s. This time however, we barely seen anything else while driving around.
On the way back to the track, we were ripping around a bit. It was getting late and I was super excited to be there. Excited that we made it after everything that had happened up until this point. After pulling away from the wrong stop sign at the wrong intersection at the wrong time, I ripped through second gear, banged the rev limiter while spinning the rear wheels, as a cop was heading towards us. And, I got pulled over and received a ticket. Somehow I was going 51 in a 35. Kurt was only a couple car lengths in front of me going 35MPH but whatever. I deserved the ticket regardless. $10 a week on a $133 ticket, I won’t even notice.
When we got back to the track, Sam made us some sandwiches. We decided to walk over to the track and through the pits to check out some stuff. We walked up to the track near the tree and then Marybeth pulled in with her beautiful Kona Blue 2G Talon. This was the first time we had met her and she is just as cool as I imagined her to be. I also spoke to Mike Rowe on Facebook about some front axles and he said he would bring them to the track the next day.
Before we called it a night, we decided to run down to Milan and check out the hotel party at the Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn. There we ran into a bunch of guys that recognized us from Facebook. The party was everything we expected it to be. We couldn’t partake in the consumption of alcohol because we had to drive back to the track but we still had a great time. One guy must have gotten alcohol poisoning, an ambulance and some police came to snag him up. He definitely had a good time.
That next morning, we woke up to the sound of the track announcer and some antilag. I rushed over to the track to grab a shower and then we began walking around. Sam took one of our Eat Sleep DSM decals to the Kiggly Racing team. They agreed to put our decal on their car. That was a big moment for us. They are a great group of people and it was an honor meeting them.
I spotted Jason Drew and spoke with him briefly. He told us Jafro is parked just ahead so we walked down to find him. Meeting Jafro had been something I wanted to do for a long time. We were fortunate enough to hang out with him on multiple occasions throughout the day and this was easily the highlight of my short Shootout stint. We wanted to run test and tune but I wasn’t going to spend the extra money to do it unless I had time to put the front axles in. We met up with Mike to get the axles, threw them in, and drove over to the pits so we could get signed up for test and tune.
Once we were in, we parked next to Jafro and listened for the announcer to call test and tune to the staging lanes. The guy at the gate told us test and tune was done but they were going to try and squeeze some more test and tune in before the finals. Hours had gone by and while we were eating our $1, 1lb. ice cream, they finally called for test and tune. Kurt and I rushed back to our cars and drove to the staging lanes. We had to sit there for quite a while as they had yet another long cleanup on the track where someone had dropped some fluid down onto the track surface.
Finally, we rolled up to the track. Now obviously I know that after everything I broke leading up to this moment this weekend, a smart man would not have made a pass. But, it’s The Shootout. We busted our asses and it took a lot of helping hands to get here. So, we ran. Kurt went ahead of me and from what I could see, he had a solid pass. This was his very first ever pass down any track with any car. He did well and ran a 13.4 with a busted exhaust manifold and only 4* of peak timing.
Now it was my turn. If I could go back to this very moment, I would not have launched the car or at least not launched hard. But, I did launch hard. The car ripped off the line as there was a ton of grip. I was getting consistent 1.6 60fts with the 16G on a poorly prepped track. This was the first ever attempt at a pass with the HY35. The thing hooked and I immediate broke a right rear axle. So, I limped it down the side of the track and back into the pits. We walked around and found a guy with an axle within what seemed like just minutes. When the axle broke, part of the shaft was still inside the rear end. So, we popped the left rear axle out, punched out the broken shaft out the other side, and installed both axles. At this point, all the racing was complete.
Aaron Gregory managed to pull off an upset on Devin as the Red Demon broke. Congrats to Aaron, I believe this is his fifth Shootout Championship in a row. We were all hoping to see the Boostin boys get into the 6’s but it didn’t happen. I’m sure they will get closer by the end of the year.
Overall, we had a good time. We were fortunate to be there and made it count. It was awesome meeting up with the guys and girls I usually only get to talk with online. It was nice to see the Red Demon, Kiggly, Aaron, and Trevor and their cars. We also met some guys we never talked with before.
We made it home too. Next year though, we are trailering our cars out there. #PoisonIvy will be sitting for awhile. At least until I can get caught back up financially after this kick in the dick this weekend. We had fun though, we will be attending next year for sure. I feel like there won’t be too many more years of Shootout’s left unfortunately.
Special Thanks to:
Joshua Zickler, Kenny Kline, Chris Morrison, Kurt Barnes, Samantha Lynn, Eric Patterson, Lauren Cerio, Mike Rowe, Chris Berninger