On New Year's Day, while you were complaining about the Gregorian calendar or nursing a wicked hangover, I was hurtling around a snow-covered racetrack, en route to destroying a perfectly good Saturn station wagon.
After all the months of preparation, we finally hit the track with the io9 Apocalypsemobile, running in the 4-cylinder class of the Hangover 150 at Ransomville Speedway, just north of Niagara Falls, NY. You can probably tell from the photos, but just to drive home the point - it was really really really really really freaking cold that day. When I woke up, the temperature was 4. Degrees. Fahrenheit.
But before I get into the fun stuff, there's a bit of bad news. The track officials assigned numbers to everyone. Therefore, I couldn't use io9 as my official number, and had to paint out the 'o' to make my number 19. I was disappointed, but it was either that or not race.
And race we did. Previous years, it has been cold and snowy, but a within a few laps the cars had churned the dirt track into a quagmire of half-frozen mud. This kept speeds slow and made getting stuck more of a concern than crashing. There were also lots more cars in the past, so many that sometimes they ringed the entire track four deep at the start of the race. This year, those factors were not in effect. The cold had frozen the track solid, and the four-inch coating of snow was packed flat by the fifth lap. Car counts were down as well, perhaps due to general economic malaise. There were fewer than 40 cars in the 4-cylinder division. The fast track and open space meant the cars could really build up speed - a lot more speed than I expected.
If there's one thing the Apocalypsemobile had plenty of, it was speed. With a dual-overhead cam engine, it had in the neighborhood of 180 horsepower, and by the time I'd stripped the interior, it weighed significantly less than a ton. Of course, as soon as I climbed in it was probably back over a ton, but still, it had some serious kick. Once a I got a feel for it, I could blast down the straights, kick it sideways in the turns and dive past slower competitors with ease. Cars were spinning all around me, fading in and out of view through billowing clouds of snow (which occasionally blew inside my helmet, which was unpleasant). I avoided them all, becoming increasingly confident and aggressive.
And that, naturally, is what lead to the Apocalypsemobile's downfall. The photos probably tell the story better than I can, but here's how it went down: I went into turn one very fast, making an inside pass on a white minivan. I figured to slide high once I was past him, letting the front wheel drive vehicle's natural push carry me through the corner. Except someone had spun out and stopped near the wall directly in my path. I slammed into his rear corner hard. Hard enough to give myself a headache, even though I was wearing a helmet. Hard enough to destroy my right front tire, bend the front frame rail, and shake something loose in the engine (the leading theory involves the ignition system). The car still ran, but the engine pulsed rather than running steadily. As it sputtered, I could only manage about 20 or so mph, which felt terrible after the estimated 40-50 I'd been doing. The Apocalypsemobile and I soldiered on for quite a few more laps until someone spun me out in the turn. I ended up stuck in the snow at the bottom of the track, up against another car.
That would have been fine were it not for the fact that my driver's side door was facing oncoming cars. Oncoming cars that were careening through the turn at high speed, barely in control. There were some moments of extreme terror as I pondered the effect of someone slamming into me. Then someone did, but luckily they hit a few feet behind my door. Resisting panic, I judged the amount of space available between my passenger window and the car I was pinned against. Enough space? I hoped so. I undid my shoulder belt, unlatched my lap belt, threw myself across the front seat (somehow remembering to grab my disposable camera in the process), then flung myself out onto the other car's hood. From there, I reached the safety of the infield.
Not 30 seconds after I got out (I was still taking my helmet off), a black Camaro slammed its rear corner directly into the spot I'd been sitting in. Close one.
Before we get to the photos, I have to thank some people for helping me make this whole Apocalypsemobile thing happen. This was easily the craziest, most fun thing I've ever done, and I could never have managed it on my own.
My dad, who did enormous amounts of work on the car, contributed huge amounts of automotive knowledge, bought the battery, towed the car there with his truck, and acted as my squire in the pits, arming me for battle and making sure my trusty Saturn was mechanically sound.
Kurt, for letting me borrow his helmet. Without it, I have no doubt I would have cracked my skull in the crash.
Annalee, for being really supportive and enthusiastic, and sponsoring me.
My wife, for putting up with me keeping this thing in our garage for half a year, and not totally freaking out about the potential of me getting hurt.
My brother, for lots of enthusiasm and some excellent photographs.
Jim Mercurio, for letting me use his old drag racing seat belts.
James "Mac" McParland and www.titzenbeer.com for coming on board as an early sponsor.
io9er FredicvsMaximvs, who also sponsored the Apocalypsemobile.
Finally, here's the photo gallery. For reasons I cannot fathom, the photos appear in the gallery in random order, thus defeating my careful chronology. Still, they express the triumph and tragedy of the io9 Apocalypsemobile quite effectively. You can also check out the official race photos, as well as an excellent Youtube video that is well worth the watch. My favorite part starts around 1:10. The crowd's reaction is priceless.