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Story by Jack Baruth, photography by “Neon” Dave Everest

As racing seasons go, it’s been a challenging one. In April, I managed to put the car off before the first corner of the first lap; in May, the engine blew up; in July, the car was completely totaled. I couldn’t have blamed the team if they had decided to just forget about racing for the rest of the year – but instead, they rose to the challenge and built an all-new car in under four weeks. Our volunteers donated hundreds of hours doing everything from wire-brushing the frame seams to “weeding” the vinyl lettering on Friday night. After test driver Mark Mitias (not to be confused with Ferrari test driver Marc Gene, although they are both handsome fellows with a reported eye for the ladies) shook down the car on Friday, the crew went to work on fixing everything from oil leaks to alignment to a problem with the brakes which allowed the pedal to hit the floor on every stop.

Naturally, they were able to fix everything – except for the brake pedal. We went over everything and replaced any part we could find on the weekend, including the master cylinder and brake booster. There was no fixing it. The new #187 Neon simply wasn’t going to stop terribly well. Period.

Was it Ettore Bugatti who said, “I build my cars to go, not to stop?” Let me tell you, ol’ Ettore never had to race in a seventy-car field full of Spec Miatas. Sitting in the grid for Saturday’s race, I felt physically sick, so much so that I periodically had to relax my neck and let my head hang down off the straps of my HANS device just to avoid throwing up. I’d already asked my crew and friends to give up a month of their lives to build a car; I couldn’t do it again. The eyes of NASA were on me; if I so much as brushed another car’s bumper I’d be called on the carpet and possibly ejected from the sanction. The race group, and the spectators, contained plenty of well-wishers – but it also had people who were just dying to see me fail, hoping that our little team would be humiliated out of club racing forever. And the car had no brakes.

Then it was time to race.

A rare moment of rest for the team on a Saturday evening.

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On the green flag, my pal Ron Dodson slipped his PTD-class Integra by me and I followed him through a maze of shifting traffic, always pumping the brakes up a bit prior to applying them, ducking and dodging slower cars, making a move where I could, backing off where I couldn’t do it without the possibility of contact. Down the front straight, we were four wide, the bumblebee supercharged Miata of PTD racer Patrick Smith next to me on the pit wall, swinging past 90mph towards Turn One – when we saw the yellow flag and cloud of dust.

Smith and Dodson went wide on the entry to the turn and jumped the concrete “blend” line, Dodson’s Integra swinging so far sideways I could see the bolts holding his visor to his helmet. To the right of me, a “Thunder Roadster” jinked left and right trying to discern just what was in that cloud of dust. By the time we saw it – it was a “Legends Racer” sitting sideways on the racing line – it was too late. The Thunder Roadster connected with a sickening thump as the Integra and Miata to my left fought for control. I passed through the cloud and came out the other side – alive, undamaged, on full throttle.

On the restart, the 2008 Civic Si run by Team Honda Research beat me down Thunder Valley and we had an outstanding race to the checker. The driver, whose name I will find out and pop in here later, resisted all the pressure I could bring to bear – and we crossed the finish line side-by-side. Unfortunately, my side of that pair was .16 seconds back, putting me in fourth place of eight for the day.

A great photo by Neon Dave – you can see the heat mirage shimmering the Pakistan Express Civic behind me.

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We worked on the car through the evening attempting to resolve the brake problem – but with 30 minutes before Sunday’s race, the pedal was still going almost to the floor. Mark took the car out for five warmup laps to evaluate the issue and brought the car to grid reporting that brake effort was holding steady about a half-inch off the pedal stop – and it was time for the second race of the weekend. This time I tore through the field and was able to dispatch the very sharp-looking THR Civic with ease – but those crafty Honda engineers had an Integra in the race as well and I had nothing for them. With super-fast Honda Challenge standout Eric Waddell added to the mix for a total of nine PTE entries, I still found myself in fourth position despite running a more consistent race and finishing somewhat higher in the overall Performance Touring standings.

Chasing Faisal Ahmad in the Pak Express – and yeah, the car is going sideways. Who knew you could drift an FWD racer?

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As I took the second checker of the weekend, I finally stopped feeling sick and started feeling, well, a bit vindicated. We’d done it. From zero to Neon in twenty-something days. Everybody did their part, some people did more than their part, and we made it through the weekend with two solid, fast finishes. What will we do with a whole month between now and the National Championships, now that we don’t have to replace a blown motor or build a whole new car? Maybe I’ll give the team the month off – or maybe we’ll make the car fast. Watch this space!

That’s right – this Neon is a Plymouth.

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Thanks to the following people and many more…

Mark Mitias – my patient teammate, co-owner, and test driver.
Matt “Tinman” Johnston – the man who made the car happen from the ground up.
Jeff and Erin – for the help, support, and last-minute assistance.
Neon Dave – You made the green flag call on Saturday – if I’d listened, I’d have had a podium. I’m glad I listened on Sunday!
Mike Faigley – the master painter who never complained.
Byron and Sgt. Nicole – that was a long trip to work on a crummy old car!
Clark and Jack – for the sand, the buff, and the sane advice with minutes to spare.
Erick and Jeff at B&B Tire
Neil Claaaaaaaaaasen, a true African-American
Mustang Matt Carter
“Joe Vogelli from Brooklyn”
Eric Gee
Trackbird Kevin
Jim from Loss Prevention
Missy and her many fans
Darin Pogue – our gangster crewmember
The men and (HOT) women of #786, Pakistan Express
Last, but certainly not least, the most important member of the team, the Green Baroness herself!

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Jack Baruth

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