Planes, Trains & Automobiles – Part 2 (Life as a Pro Driver)

Typically, it takes at least six months to design and build a race car. Most race car builders take longer than that. But did I mention that I might not be all that smart, and that I’m driven?

I raced Tom Johnston’s old car in the first race of the season at Long Beach, California, and it was sadly apparent that it was not competitive enough to do what we wanted—win races. Or even be remotely near the front of the grid. So, in a mere six weeks, between the first and second races of the Formula Atlantic Championship, we built an entirely new car. Tom designed it, and he, Gord, and I built the chassis, the suspension, and all the bodywork in five weeks. Then I ended up with mononucleosis. I guess that’s not surprising when you go for five weeks with no more than three hours of sleep every single night while roughing it on a lean-budget diet.

The paint was literally drying on the car as we loaded it into the truck at two in the morning a few days before the next race outside Toronto, at Mosport.

Let me tell you about The Truck we used to transport the car. It was a mid-‘70s GMC box truck that had a pickup truck-type cab but a large enclosed box on the back—the kind that gets used for all sorts of delivery purposes. We outfitted the box’s interior so that it held the race car and all the spare parts, tools, and supplies we needed. Or should I say, all the spares, tools, and supplies that we had—we never had everything that we actually needed.

To load the race car onto The Truck, we’d position the car at the base of two ramps we set up from the edge of the truck box. Then we’d attach a cable to the race car’s front suspension and use an electrical winch connected to the other end of the cable to pull the car up the ramps. If everything worked right, it took only minor pushing of the car from the back by one of us to get it up into the truck box. And that’s where this trip had its first hiccup.

On the street in front of Tom’s upscale house in North Vancouver in 2 am pitch-dark blackness, Gord was in the front of the box working the winch motor. The cable from the winch was pulling the car up while I was at the back of the car pushing. As the car crawled up the ramps and into the box, it was no longer on a slope. It was getting closer and closer to being all the way in the box…

“Ahhhhhhh! Ooowwweeee!” I was surprised by the length of the sound coming from Gord, a man of few words, echoing inside the hollow truck box.

It seems that the car’s front tire had gotten so close to his hand that it began pushing against it. The more the winch pulled, the more it pushed the tire against Gord’s hand, pinching it between the tire and switch—in the “on” position. And the further the tire pushed, the more his hand turned the winch switch to pull the car. And the more the car was pulled, the further Gord’s hand got crushed between the tire and the switch. And the more it crushed his hand, the further it drove the metal switch into it. And…

Suddenly realizing the situation, I yelled to Tom, who was in his garage getting the toolbox ready for loading. By the time he found a tool to cut the cable and free Gord, my brother had quite the imprint of a winch switch embedded in his hand. Talk about making a bad literal first impression, this winch…

That may have been an omen.

The story continues next week. See you back here – click here to go to Part 3.

 

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