Sunday, October 7, 2012

The racing quad

The racing quad.

If you are unfamiliar to off road racing, it is a different animal when you compare it to road racing, in that there are amateur drivers on the same track as the professional drivers.  In other words, this sport is wide open to new talent.  If you have a dream, talent, time, and money…   you can compete with the best in the world.

Alright look…  this blog entrée is long and a about month late.  I know, I started out by just adding a few sentences under the drawings.  Now each entrée gets longer and longer.  I just really like the challenge of writing, almost as much as drawing.  Some people read my blogs and some just look at the drawings.  For those that skip the writing, muster up some energy.  Get a cup of tea, and read this one.

This week’s drawing is of a sport quad, I drew over the summer.  The quad was built up to race long distance, in the desert.  I drew this vehicle while camping in Lake Tahoe over the summer.  As I mentioned in my last blog, I missed a Nevada off road race with my friends the Zelenka's and met up with the team after in Reno.  From Reno we traveled to Tahoe.  After racing it has been the team’s tradition to relax in southern Lake Tahoe for a few days.  Tahoe is an epic vacation town surrounding a lake.  If you have never been, please make time for a trip at least once in your life.  Tahoe has San Diego's weather with Vermont's mountains and charm.  Anyway, let me tell you about the vehicle I drew.

It is a two wheel drive sport quad.  Simply put, it is a fast dirt bike with two more wheels.  At the time I drew this, the quad had just finished a long desert race.  The race was about 550 miles through the Nevada desert, all off road.    The race starts in an old western town about an hour north of Las Vegas called Beatty.  I can picture the old gunslingers in the middle of the street facing off.  In the background are wide open spaces.  Great for off road racing!  The racers blaze up the mountains and down the desert valleys.  They follow the trail to the finish line in close to Reno.  If all goes well, a team can finish in about 10-15 hours.  A team has up to 24 hours to finish and some teams will need all 24.  Most times, just finishing can be an accomplishment.  Mechanical break downs, crashes, and getting stuck in the soft dirt can hold a team back.

Like I mentioned at the top.  Off road racing is a different compare it to road racing, in that there are amateur drivers on the same track as the professional drivers.  There is an opportunity for new talent unlike any other professional sport.  All the races are open.  In 2009, the Zelenka's saw that opportunity.  We assembled a team made up of me, Mike Zelenka, John his brother, and Margret, Mike’s wife.  After years of planning, we entered a 1000 mile off road race called the BITD V2R (YouTube it).  The race was spread over 3 days.  We entered the amateur class and placed 2nd.  Since that first year, the team has grown in size and capability.  Mike and John are such fast racers that I believe they have what it takes to win.   Each year they finish closer and closer to first place.

As I mentioned, I rode with them that first year and got a taste of racing.  I found it to be surprising how far I could push past what I though were my athletic limits.  Sure…   I will admit that driving a quad around a farm doesn't take more coordination than sitting on a tractor.  Driving a quad competitively, as fast as the machine will go, is a full body workout.  When racing, I pushed myself past my comfort level, and then something magical happened.  Somewhere out on the race course, just when I thought I was at my limit, I found a rhythm that worked.  I was able to go faster.  Let me take you to the race course and put you in the driver seat.

On the last day of our 3 day race, my section was to drive the quad from the starting line to the second pit stop.  We got up at 4AM and I was on the start line by 5:30AM.  I waited in line as the sun rose.  The line of racers got shorter and shorter.  The officials let each rider leave 30 to 60 seconds apart.  It was cold, the engines are running, and I had no idea what this section of the course would look like.

Some sections are flat for miles as I described above.  Some are bumpy mountain trails that wind up the side of a mountain.  That morning, my section was straight…  but covered in Woops.  What the (beep) is a Woop?  A Woop, is one of many speed bumps lined up together.  It would be as if a highway was filled with speed bumps.  Only these speed bumps were so tall that you could not see over them.  If you’re a skier, imagine an endless trail of large moguls.  I would drive up one.  Rrahhhha….  Then down.  Brrohhhha…  Up. Then down.  Oh man.  It was endless.  At one point my back muscles started to cramp up and I ran out of steam.  This was one of my defining moments.

At the top of a woop, I could see ahead that the series of woops were not going to end any time soon.  It could be 10-20 more miles.  I did not know.  Plus it’s a race.  I am trying to go as fast as possible.  My teammates are waiting at pit 2 about 60 miles from the start line.  I had to come to terms with the reality that the fastest way off this ride is to finish the section.  To deal with my back muscles cramping up, I came up with a plan.  I decided to use the throttle to stretch out my back.  Let me explain.  I would go down a Woop, and then as I throttled up the next, I would press extra on the throttle.  Holding on the handle bars as my body is free to slide back in the seat.  This would stretch my back out.  I know it sounds funny.  I must have looked like a cat stretching out in the morning.  Anyway it worked.  I unclamped my back and I went faster.  Before I knew it, I was at my pit stop.  I did that section fast.  I even impressed another team.  They said that I was not far behind their pro rider.  That was a low speed, difficult section.

I felt confident with the low speed technical sections.  However on the first day of that same race, I was faced with the challenge of doing a high speed section.  Lets go back to the race course…

This time I hopped on the bike at pit 2 to relieved John, who drove it there from the start line.  I kept my speed pretty conservative since I had a cloud of dust in my face.  The dust is kicked up by the competitors ahead on the track.  If the wind is crossing the course, then the dust is moved out of my way.  However this time I had no wind, so the faster I went, the less I could see.  Naturally I am scanning the trail for large rocks or dips so I do not crash.  I just kept repeating to myself what Casey Folks, the racing director said, "slower is faster".  He means that if you race too fast and crash, you did not actually go faster.

Just then the trail opened up to a dry lake bed.  This part of the course is as flat as a highway and as wide as a football field.  The dust cleared and I floored it!  Brrrrraaaaaaaa….   3rd gear topped out.  4th gear topped out.  5th gearrrrrrrrr topping outtttttttt.   The wind is rushing past me and whistling through my helmet.   The speed just gets faster.  Now only the wind can hold me back, similar to pedaling a bicycle down a long steep hill.  I held the throttle till I felt like I was flying.

Then I backed off.  BrrroooMmmm...   I thought at that speed, if I hit a small dip or bump I will get bucked off the quad and crash.  I have seen $500,000 racing trucks flip like toys after hitting a bump at that speed.  That moment is a good example of the difference between me and a pro rider.   A pro will keep the throttle pinned and take the risk of crashing because winning is a part of their livelihood or life goals.  I have many other goals and my livelihood depends on me being healthy.

Let’s think like a pro for a moment.  Is the pro rider just crazier?  Yes and no.  Yes, in that they risk it all on the unpredictability of racing.  And No, they are not crazier, because over the long term there is a benefit to taking a short risk.  If the pro rider takes a risk and goes faster, they have a better chance of winning.  If they win, they may be able to direct more resources into the racing vehicle.  More money or time can mean that a team can modify the vehicle to be safer at high speeds using a longer suspension.  So if a team wins taking a high risk in one race, after some modification, the next race may have less risk and be faster.  So there is logic and progression to developing a racing team and a racing vehicle.    However, this development could take years and infinite resources.  Therefore a person would have to commit more that just guts, to win races.

So let’s say you commit your whole life to racing.  After years of racing, what do you have?  Well I don't know.   I only raced for one year and then helped work on the team for 4 years.  The one race I did, took the whole year to prepare for.  Even though I feel I have just scratched the surface of racing, I can tell you I have gained a lot.  Racing can enhance your life.  I imagine that you could compare it to lots of risky sports.  It has similar risks to surfing, snowboarding, bicycling.  When I was at speed, negotiating bumps and turns, I felt very alive.  Racing can also be therapeutic.  Anyone can relate.  Got a problem on your mind?  Just bicycle 50 miles and watch that problem get smaller and smaller as your muscles ache more and more.  Now add in that desert racing is 2700 miles away from my home in New Jersey and there is immediate danger.  Oh brother.  All your problems melt away.  It is great.  They seem to flow through me and exit as I navigate the trail.  A life of racing can have a healthy progression.

With all the glory of racing, the reality of the risk is still there.  At any moment I can crash and end it all.  Is the risk of crashing worth it?  I am not a religious man so I substitute any ideas of Heaven or Hell for a simple cup of tea with your conciseness.  I imaging sitting comfortably in a quiet reading room at a library.  The glass walls all around reveal the world still moving on without me.  I put my feet up and answer one question.  "so…   How did it (life) go?"  Luckily I can't answer that question yet as the story is not complete but the half time report is good.  If I did end my time early by racing with gasoline I would not be proud.  It is just not my destiny to do it in this way.  There are so many other obstacles that I would lay down my life for before this specific type of racing.

The parameters to win in this way are to drive a mostly stock gasoline fueled quad on a desert course, faster that the competition.  To me, racing is about development.  If I won using gasoline, what would be the development?  What have I proven to the world or to myself?  To take the risk, I must think of who will benefit.  Just me?  A small group of people?  Or will it benefit the greater good?  Going back to that honest conversation with my conciseness, I think winning with a stock motor running on gasoline is not a big enough cause to risk my life for.  Sure, the devils advocate would say that, I could get hit by a bus any day of the week.  If I am going to risk my life, on purpose, it better be for a cause I am proud of.  The cause I am more interesting in would be to win developing an alternative fueled vehicle.

Alternative Fuel?  Those who know me, know that I currently build full size electric cars with high school students.  Now that I also have some racing experience, I have a goal to combine my racing and alternative fuel.  Ideally I would use the combined effort to teach the next generation of their energy choices.  So you may be asking, “why alternative fuel?”  That is a long story so I will save that answer for another blog entrée.

Lets take a break…  Hmmm

I need a paragraph in here that will transition me from why I went racing in the first place, to why I stopped, to what is next for me.  The truth is that this blog entrée is getting very long.  I really would like to finish it up and publish.  It is not that easy to button it up as I want to stay true to what I have established.  I am carefully writing about my experiences related to the drawings.  In that spirit I will labor on to explain out my thoughts about racing and this Quad drawing.

So why did I go racing in the first place?  I have three reasons.

One, I wanted to do something bigger. (Bigger than the daily grind)
Two, I set a goal with a friend.
Three, I wanted to expand my automotive experience to include racing.

In every person’s life, there comes a time when you want to do something bigger.  Entering into racing is to take on goal.  The goal has deadlines and will take priority over the daily chores.  Racing was just that.  What I got was a journey of overcoming a challenge that revealed other parts of my personality unknown to me.

I shared that goal with my friend, Mike Zelenka.  From humble beginnings the Zelenka’s have continued on, entering more races.  As their experience grew, so did the development of the team.  They are now running a more advance vehicle and moved up to an expert class entree.

Just like I mentioned before, the pro-rider uses a risk and reward approach.  I can see that the Zelenka’s have chosen to stay on the throttle until their initial risk pays off into a 1st place win.  That win can be the exposure that will attract a large sponsor; and take this team into a professional level.    For them, the initial risk of crashing is worth it.  In life a person needs to take risks to find out who they are or to accomplish life long dreams.  It just may be that the Zelenka’s are meant to be pro racers.  They certainly have the talent.  However…  it is more likely that their determination that will get them there.  As I mentioned before, to win is to commit yourself fully.  It takes more than just guts to progress into professional riders.  The development will take years and they are laying the groundwork now.  Look for them racing their 2nd Baja 1000 in November 2012.  This just may be their year to win.

For me, racing has long stood for the most advanced progressions in vehicle design.  I naturally took an interest in that.  My interests in racing lead me to a journey with my friends the Zelenkas’.  Now with some perspective, I will stay close to my lineage by perusing the design of vehicles that benefit the world by running on an alternative fuel source.  The end goal of this will serve as an educational tool for the next generation.  This is my destiny and I plan to make it my life’s work.

Thanks for reading this.  My next blog is about a three wheeled car.  It was custom built by my friend Tony in California.


  1. Well well very well thought out. Ron's thoughts are very rich in awesome ideas.

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