Part 3: Intermission
Our alarms go off Thursday morning at 9:45 – a late start on a normal day, but one that feels incredibly early to us. We stop at the local IHOP for breakfast, and arrive back at XRP just past noon.
When we arrive, we find that the rest of the crew appears to have the wiring issue fixed from the previous night. The plan for today is a few more test passes in the afternoon, then drive the rig over to the Texas Motorplex in Ennis. Shortly after arriving, we learn that a 100% chance of rain in the forecast has altered our schedule. Instead of No Prep Kings taking place Friday and Saturday, it has been pushed back to Saturday and Sunday. I call my wife to let her know I’ll be home a day late, as Robin and other members of the team try to change their post-race flights.
Following the brief distraction, we pull into the lanes for our first pass of the day. The car bumps in just fine, and Robin rockets off to a new personal best mph of 198.7. We’ve got a hot rod again.
But alas, the roller coaster ride is destined to continue. Immediately after we get the car cooled off and ready for a second test pass, it begins to sprinkle off and on. Teams try to squeeze in test passes between the light rain showers, but it never holds off long enough for us to make another hit. An hour later, a monsoon rolls through. We hide out in the trailer, coming to terms with the fact that testing is officially over.
Finding a silver lining, the rain gives Robin, Jeremy and I the opportunity to head up to the massive Summit Racing Equipment store in nearby Arlington. In addition to some basic items like spark plugs, shop rags, and a couple extra fuel jugs, Robin decides to buy a whole new line lock stage control kit to hopefully prevent any more staging issues. We are not alone, as other racers like Bobby Ducote are also here buying parts.
Due to the rain and heavy traffic, it’s an hour drive each way, and when we return to XRP, everyone is starving. The entire team, including some of Robin’s family and friends that have arrived, heads to Buffalo Wild Wings. We are joined there by Ryan Martin and the Fireball Camaro team as well. Although we call ahead to warn them we have a party of 21 coming, they don’t believe us. Lucky for us, it’s not busy. Once we’re all seated, I sit at the end of a long row of tables, quietly observing the other 20 people in our group. This is the stuff they don’t show on television. No drama, no fighting, no racing. Just two teams interacting and having fun like one big family – which in a way, they are.
“The one thing you see is when you spend time together like that, people either grow closer, or they grow apart,” Roberts says. “And for us, with the teams that we’ve gotten to know, we’ve all grown closer.”
After a fun night out, we return to the hotel relatively early at midnight. The rain has settled in, and with no plans for Friday now, we have the rare luxury of sleeping in.
It’s almost noon when Robin, Jeremy and I finally arrive at IHOP once again for breakfast. These breakfasts are another fascinating time you’ll never seen on TV. We talk a lot about racing, and how we think the weekend will play out, but also about any number of other topics. Aside from the racing, they’re some of my favorite moments.
Allen and the crew have already moved the RV and trailer to Texas Motorplex, and we drive straight there to get our crew bands for the weekend. The warm weather of the past two days has been replaced by temperatures in the low 40’s, mist, and a bitterly cold wind. There’s no point in getting the car out today, and we hang out in the RV to stay warm. The smells of pork loin that our team chef Robert has put in a smoker waft through the pit area.
Our only mission for today is picking up Robin’s wife Melody and daughter Faith from the airport, as well as Lorenzo Herrera, who works for Switch Communications, Robin’s biggest customer. The trip there and back is uneventful, although driving by Dealey Plaza, where John F. Kennedy was assassinated, is interesting. We return to the track, and for the first time this week, we’re all here. The pork loin we smelled earlier is ready, and everyone crams into the RV to eat. It’s another one of those small moments that aren’t really appreciated until after the fact. As Allen states, this is truly a race family.
With Robin staying at the track tonight, Jeremy, Lorenzo and I return to the hotel. The last 24 hours of having nothing major to do is over. Tomorrow is race day.
Part 4: Grudge Racing
Saturday morning brings sunny skies and warmer weather. It’s shaping up to be an amazing day of racing. Jeremy, Lorenzo and I make a quick stop at the Waffle House, then head next door to buy 20 bags of ice – some for drinks, but most for the transmission cooler. By the time we arrive at the track, there’s already a long line of cars waiting to get into the facility. Spectator gates aren’t open yet, but it’s clear this event is going to be huge.
We’re able to bypass the line with our crew bands, and our pit area is bustling with activity when we pull up. The Firebird is out, the merchandise table is set up, and everyone is helping in some way. Jeremy immediately begins helping get the car ready, and I dump three bags of ice into the transmission cooler – my tiny contribution to the team.
Before any of the racing begins, however, we head down to the track and walk the full 1/8 mile. The first hundred feet, possibly more, has been scraped clean of rubber. We can actually see the concrete underneath. Beyond that, the track crew has sprayed a cleaning solution, eliminating almost all of the stickiness to the track. While not scraped, our shoes slide easily enough across the rubber. Despite what many fans believe, what they see on TV is definitely a no prep surface, and the first passes of the day will be interesting to watch.
Small tire leads off the afternoon, followed by some 7.00 index racing. The team makes their final preparations, then it’s time for the Invitational grudge races. Robin’s first grudge race is against Big Chief, an agreement they’ve had for a while. I learn the two have actually been friends for 15 years, and like to see how they stack up against one another at each event. This is an interesting dynamic, as Chief is one of the most recognized characters in all of drag racing, and viewed as the top dog on Street Outlaws. Robin is far lesser known, but on paper actually has the quicker car.
We’re one of the last pairs to run, and while the previous cars have laid down a bit of rubber, the track still looks loose from our vantage point. The crowd erupts when announcer Steve Logan introduces Big Chief. We’re treated to a pair of long, smoky burnouts, the cars are lined up, and it’s time to go. Both cars get loose fairly early in the run, and while Robin lets out, Chief peddles his car through the finish line for the win. It’s not the run we were hoping for, but it’s a start.
“I’m sitting in the staging lanes, and three drivers come by and say, ‘Oh, that right lane’s sketchy a hundred feet out,’ so I was a little concerned about that,” Roberts says. “I hit the light, hit the green, let go, and right about where they said, the car drifted right a little bit, and I just lifted, mainly because this is first round grudge. Also, I didn’t want to take the risk of hurting the car. I was probably too conservative on that pass, but we get two more, so we’ll bring it up.”
Our second grudge race of the night is against Doc, who had a great side-by-side race with Ryan Martin earlier in the evening. It will be another good test to see where we stand amongst Team 405, a specific strategy employed this season.
“We want to run only in the 405, that’s our agreement amongst each other,” Roberts says. “We can see how fast each other is and learn from it, and it doesn’t show everyone else how fast we are.”
Prior to the run, we’re entertained in the staging lanes by the deep musings of Doc’s brother, Bobby Love. And by deep musings, I mean he told us how he couldn’t pass up a dare to pee in his friend’s mailbox while at a party. Not satisfied with that success, he learned years later the owner didn’t believe he did it, so he christened the mailbox at their new home as well. The entire conversation is a great way to keep the mood light before we race.
Humor aside, it’s all business as Robin and Doc line up. The sun is down, and the air has once again cooled off considerably. Doc chops down the tree and has roughly two car lengths on Robin right off the line. Robin is running him down hard, but runs out of room. Doc grabs the win light as a huge flash erupts from a nitrous backfire. Again, not the result we wanted, but regardless, the Firebird looks absolutely stellar, and Doc has also made two great passes.
“He’s had that car going pretty well, and that pass he certainly did really good,” Roberts says. “But I rolled in, stood on the trans brake, the window fogged just a little bit, and I had trouble finding the green light. I think I was a little slow, and I think he guessed [the light], but he was out a long way on me. But the car did exactly what we wanted it to – it went really fast, it went super straight, no complications at all. There’s still a lot left in it, and I’m pretty confident about where we’ll be.”
With just one more grudge race to go tonight, it’s time to figure out the issue with the window fogging. Not wanting to change the bullhorn on the driver’s side because it could mess with the car’s downforce, the team places a heater inside the car. Their hope is that with enough warmth, the exhaust won’t fog the window up again. We pull back up to the lanes, ready for our final run, this time against Ryan Martin. Ryan asks for the left lane, meaning Robin is stuck in the right lane for the third consecutive pass. We’ll know soon enough if the fogging problem has been rectified. Both drivers pre-stage, we hear the turbos spooling, and Robin leaves early, turning the red light on. He lets out soon after, meaning we’re 0-3 for the night. Back in the pits, we learn the window fogging is even worse.
“It’s just one of those things. It’s 12:30 at night, it’s cold, you can see the air is thick with moisture,” Roberts says. “When I put it on the trans brake, it instantly fogged up the entire side of my window. When you’re in the right lane, the tree is sitting right where the A-pillar and the roll cage come up, so I’m having to tip my head a little bit to see the green light anyway. But as soon as that window fogged over, I couldn’t find the green light. I really just sat there and thought, ‘Well, that has to be about how long,’ and I let go, and it was early. I left out and saw the red light, thought, ‘Dang it!’and then I lifted. But the car made a really nice 60 ft., which is what we were looking for. Still feels really good.”
The good news is that the temperature Sunday will be even warmer, and racing will start earlier in the day. There’s no worry about the window fogging again unless we reach the finals – a problem we’d gladly accept. Despite not winning any of our grudge races, the team has plenty of data, made a killer second hit, and morale is high. High Voltage will be a threat when eliminations begin tomorrow.