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A Visit to Grattan Vintage Races -- in the Rain!
September, 2002

Note for 2016 -- this story was written 14 years ago. My co-pilot and son, Austin, has since earned an engineering degree, worked for Lotus Engineering, Roush Industries, Roush Fenway, and is currently employed by 3GT Racing... Formerly known as F Performance Racing, 3GT has Scott Pruett and Sage Karam piloting the new Lexus RC F GT3 in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship...

My 10 year old son Austin and I started out on a grey Sunday morning to venture nearly 100 miles from our home to watch a friend, Rick Cook, (see his car here) race his S2 Super Seven. The rain started about 20 miles from the track. We had the 'top up' already, but I didn't own 'doors' at the time! The well-traveled country roads had 'tracks' worn in the lane the width of a normal car, so I was left traveling with either left or right wheels in the river of water collecting in the left or right track.

Whenever we hit a particularly deep puddle, we heard a "sploosh, smack!" sound. Through each puddle - sploosh, smack, sploosh, smack. Before too long I realized it was the sound of the water being thrown up from the front wheel, then smacking against the front of the rear wings. Of course the smacking of water on the rear wings deflected half of it right into the cockpit...

After a pit stop for fuel (topping up that 5.5 gallon tank) and a few minutes refuge under the canopy of the gas station, we arrived, pretty well soaked to the skin. The rain kept up as we idled around the paddock and found Rick, in whose trailer we were finally able to take cover.

When 'track touring' time came around during the lunch hour, the rain continued, but we were determined to go out. We were directed to the front gate (back outside the track) to get a pass for touring. The front gate had closed early due to rain(!) so we dejectedly turned around to drive back to the infield to hide in the trailer once again. When we got to the track crossing however, it was closed off because track touring had commenced! So we sat grumbling at the gate watching a half dozen modern cars circulating in the rain. At one point a VW van zoomed by in a cloud of spray, and I couldn't help pondering the pathetic situation. I said to Austin 'Can you imagine how frustrating this is? Here we sit in a car that was designed specifically to run on a track like this, we did our best to get out on the track, and now, not only do we not get to go on the track, we're stuck out here watching a dang VW van run around -- that should be us out there!' He nodded his agreement, probably thinking I was a little crazy about all this.

Soon, however, track touring ceased and the gate was opened to allow us to cross back into the paddock. We drove back in across the track, and I thought we'd cruise around looking to see if I could get a touring pass somewhere in the infield. Maybe by the tech inspection garage or something. Somehow we inadvertently ended up on the pit lane (honest!) and the steward at the end of it was frantically waving at us -- It eventually dawned on me that he was waving us onto the track! So I think to myself, who am I to blow against the wind? This guy sees a car coming tentatively, even respectfully down pit lane -- a Lotus Seven! A car that obviously belongs out on the track, and so, out onto the track we went, grinning ear to ear, rain splashing, wipers twiddling! We had gotten on late, so the 'pack' was coming up behind at a fair clip, faster than I wanted to go on my first tour of any race course in the Seven, and in heavy rain no less, so I took the outside line and waved the half dozen cars on by. I took the rest of that lap tentatively and then picked up speed for the next few, enough that I was nocely drifting through the turns and eventually reeled in the pack once again. NO, I didn't try to pass any of them, but I revelled in the completely controllable, neutral handling of the car, even in this wet weather. It turned out to be quite the treat!

Contented after our track touring, we returned to Rick's paddock, watched the clouds brighten up, and pondered whether he'd switch to dry or stick with rain tires. Conveniently, I had a slick new Palm Treo cell phone that had a thing called weather reporting on it... so we checked the radar map and it showed the tail end of the rain clouds was just about to the tack. So 5 minutes before line-up, Rick decided the track woul dbe dry enough and he swapped over to dry tires. Good choice - he out ran the Porsche for 1st place!

The sky is clearing overhead by now, so now we put the top down on our Seven, letting the interior dry a little and eventually begin the drive home. We're traveling east now, on the heels of serious dark clouds, but the sun is beaming behind us brightly lighting the farm fields and barns of the country landscape, which is all glittering and still dripping from the recent deluge. Austin (my son) is dozing in the passenger seat when about 50 miles out from home, the engine starts to sputter and lose power. I pull onto a very narrow shoulder, pull the bonnet not really knowing what to look for and but don't see anything obvious. I get back in, fire it up, and pull away gingerly, but the power seems to be back. A few minutes later, down on power again... I really hate the feeling of being stranded (like anyone I'm sure) so am using all the positive will power I have to keep us going. After another hour of intermittent sputtering and smooth running, we finally make it safely home, to glorious sunshine and the smell of wet grass.

Later in the evening, I decide to test the car, taking it out and around the 'country block' where I live, and it seems fine. I determine to drive it to work in the morning so I can look it over during my lunch hour too.

Of course it starts its sputtering on the way to work, but I get there okay, and come lunch time I'm ready to run up to the local NAPA and get some dry gas thinking that maybe I got some water in the tank from all the rain. As I try to calculate how much to put into a 5.5 gallon tank, I catch the fuel filter out of the corner of my eye, and the little bulb in my head lights up... Freeing the fuel line clamps from the small 'billet' fuel filter (with the handy-dandy 'Swisstec' multitool my wife gave me for the key ring) allows me to take a closer look. I fiddle with it, looking for any sign of markings or instructions, and eventually realize that it unscrews into two halves. Once apart, the inside displays what is certainly the problem - brown sludge essentially blocking the .05 micron (or whatever!) filter screen. So I run back into the NAPA, swap the dry gas for carb cleaner, spray out the filter screen and the filter body, put it all back together and fire up the motor. Of course it runs just fine! Tooling back up to my office it continues smoothly, then I notice over slightest bumps in the road a horrendous mechanical grinding -- is it a loose wheel somehow? Did the clutch pack up? Everything seems to be functioning fine, there's just this horrible noise! And I'm thinking 'here we go, this is a 40 year old Lotus and it's just going to be one thing after another from now on! I stop the car, get on my belly (hands and knees doesn't quite do it) and look under the tail of the car. What I almost immediately see is that the hand brake cable (held by the same clamp as the fuel line with which I'd just been fiddling) is hanging precariously close to the drive shaft/pinion flange at the front of the diff. So by deftly extending my arms a good six inches longer than they normally are, I reach into the back of the tunnel and re-secure the cable. Back in the car, all runs well, and the case is closed, and I'm only a half hour late back from lunch!

Of course now I've about used up today's lunch hour as well, so I'll say ciao for now!

John Donohoe

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