Wheels Up: Southbound and Down (and Almost Out)

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Wheels Up: Southbound and Down (and Almost Out)

It’s the beginning of April and the June 2017 issue of Racer X Illustrated will be showing up in your mailbox any day now (you can also read the digital version at www.racerxdigital.com). Inside this issue, you’ll find an article that I put together, with Cajun photographer Phillip Crabtree, on the Loretta Lynn Area Qualifier that took place at Kevin Windham’s track in Centreville, Mississippi. In this article, you’ll read about all of the fun and excitement that occurred during the weekend at Farm 14. What you won’t read about however, is the adventure that ensued just getting to K-Dub’s. That’s where this piece you are reading now comes in; I present to you, Wheels Up: Southbound and Down (and Almost Out).

Prior to this event, I let the office know that I’d like to attend this race to put out social media content and write something up for the magazine, secretly (probably not-so-secretly) I also wanted to visit Kevin, Dottie Windham, and everyone else who would be attending. Getting the green light to venture down to Mississippi was pretty simple and I was now tasked with finding someone to tag along with me for the weekend—not so simple. I approached a long-time friend Christopher Krivi to come with me, he agreed with the promise that after the weekend was over we would extend our trip into a miniature vacation to Destin, Florida. Spend three days doing nothing at the beach? I’m in!

It’s Friday morning. Our bags are packed. My van is fueled up. Our bags are stuffed into the back. We’re ready to hit the road for a six-day trip.

Wheels did make it to the beach, not without some setbacks along the way, though.
Wheels did make it to the beach, not without some setbacks along the way, though. Jason "Wheels" Todd

The trip started out as any ordinary road trip; music, stories, snacks, and hours of staring out at the open road. From where I live to Centreville, Mississippi, is about an eight-hour drive—one that I’ve made a couple times previously—and I had no reason to doubt that we would roll into the track at around 7:30 p.m. Now I’ve been wrong a time or two, but I’ve never been more wrong about anything in my life than I was on predicting when we would arrive.

We’re rolling down Interstate 55 just about 20 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee when *DING* the battery light on my van suddenly comes on. I look at Christopher and—him being extra mechanically efficient—he says “Well, your battery either just went bad or your alternator just went out.” “Awesome.” I reply, “We’re 20 miles from Memphis, let’s at least make it through traffic before we pull over someplace.” So we keep driving and pull into a Wal-Mart to have the battery tested, and naturally, it tests fine. Not having much faith in the gentleman who tested my battery, we decide to find an auto parts store and have the alternator tested. The alternator checks out fine and we’re sent on our way.

Sometime during this battery/alternator testing, I check my phone to see I have a missed call—I’d been driving for 4 hours and hadn’t looked at my phone while I was driving—upon calling back I find out that there was an issue with the hotel and they actually sold my room to someone else ... I’ll deal with that later.

We get back out on the interstate under the impression that everything is fine, heck the battery light even went off when we got fuel, so it must have just been a freak thing. Boy oh boy was I wrong again. Things were not fine—well they were for approximately 172 miles. We’re now driving in the middle of nowhere when my van randomly revs to about 6,000rpm and downshifts so hard that I thought my transmission just bounced back to St. Louis (while the cruise was set mind you). I’m not sure if you’ve ever been cruising down the highway and randomly had your motor go haywire on you at 70-plus miles per hour, but it’s extremely sketchy. So I immediately pull over to the shoulder and Christopher and I begin to assess the situation. Suddenly the van starts running okay so we limp it to the next exit (at 45mph) and pull into a truck stop.

Not the view you want to see in the middle of the night.
Not the view you want to see in the middle of the night. Jason "Wheels" Todd

At this point, it’s beginning to get dark and Christopher is really starting to second guess his decision to join me on this journey—one of which is far, far from over. After making some calls, researching on the internet, and a pit stop to another Wal-Mart for tools, we determined that the alternator is indeed the issue. Now it’s dark, we’re still 150 miles from our hotel, we have no room at our original hotel because they gave it away, we haven’t eaten, we’re beginning to get tired, and we can only drive 45mph. Fun fact, when your alternator is on the fritz you can’t use your hazard lights while driving down the interstate. At our previous stop, I purchased a volt meter, and Christopher was tasked with monitoring how many volts the van battery had by keeping the prongs stuck in the cigarette lighter. If your alternator is working properly, your battery should read around 14.1-14.3 volts, so once the meter hit 12 it was time to pull over again because that’s why we had the whole high rev issue, we dropped below 12 volts and the electronic shift points were malfunctioning.

At 45mph, my van battery would last about 20 miles before having to pull over and let it idle for 15-20 minutes to build enough charge to soldier on. 150 miles to go, 20 miles at a time, at 45 miles per hour, yep this was beginning to be a very long day. At one point we had to stop in a very unfriendly neighborhood, where it was clear we had no business stopping here, but we were stuck. Eight miles down the road we have to pull over again to let it charge up more. At this point, I make a call to Windham’s to let them know that there is zero chance I’m making it to his house tonight. “There is an auto parts store two miles from our hotel, if we can just make it to the hotel, we will be good.” You guessed it, wrong again! After driving, and stopping, driving, and stopping, we pull in again, and dang it, the van has finally given up and left us stranded just 40 miles from our destination.

“Settle in buddy,” I say “this is home for the night. We’ll make some calls in the morning and hopefully get this thing fixed by Monday.” It was now Saturday and my confidence that we would find a place to change my alternator before Monday was at an all time low.

I should probably mention that the ramp that folds up and down to let me in and out of my van, runs off the vehicle’s battery, and for that reason, I was unable to get out at all up to this point. I lean my seat back and try to sleep, that was a no go. Morning comes and holy smokes this auto parts store has the part we need, and there’s a garage that can get my van fixed by noon, things are looking up! I start the van, and the battery is sitting at 11.2 volts, I’m going for it. We limp the thing to the garage and spend a couple hours while the mechanic gets it fixed. Phew, problem solved. Wait, there’s still the hotel ordeal….

The garage in the middle of Mississippi that saved the trip.
The garage in the middle of Mississippi that saved the trip. Jason "Wheels" Todd

I pull into the hotel, and the desk clerk can’t apologize enough. It’s fine lady, just get me a damn room, I’m exhausted. We finally get a room, get cleaned up, get food, and head to the track. We park my van at 3:00 Saturday afternoon, 27 hours after leaving my house in Illinois.

The rest of the weekend was awesome, and our vacation to Destin was a success as well. All in all, the trip was worth every minute—I’m not sure I will ever convince Christopher to go on a road trip with me ever again, though—but there were moments along the way when I just wanted to be home and in my bed. I chose to write this because I felt that it was a good way to give you all some insight into what it’s like being me. What I left out, and what most don’t see, is the not-so-entertaining things, like the struggles of getting in and out of bed or brushing my teeth or putting on clothes. This last bit is not a sympathetic thing, but rather me opening up to you so that you can have a better understanding of “Wheels.” So if you happen to see the occasional semi-shaky video on our Instagram, rather than commenting “This is the worst clip I’ve ever seen.” Or “Who let their kid take their phone?” You may just understand the process that took place just getting to the track.

Before I go, I’d just like to say thank you once again to Kevin and Dottie Windham for opening up their home to me and for always treating me as one of their own. The friendship and hospitality that the Windhams have shown me over the past few years is something that I will cherish for a lifetime.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read my words.

Until next time,
-Wheels