Background story: Sunday, the mostly-annual Detroit/NW Ohio Region Challenge autocross was held on a big piece of pretty-much billiard-table-smooth concrete at Toledo Express Airport (this year, owing to the presence of many competitors from Saginaw Valley Region and other Ohio regions, it became more of a North/South challenge — a new Battle of Toledo, as it were). Due to the planned early start, I decided that I’d rather drive down on Saturday and get a hotel room than get up Sunday about 0400 to hit the road from home and get there in time.
This proved to be a good plan, but not only for the reasons I’d originally intended. I loaded up from my trailer storage facility and headed out to US-23, met a friend and her son for lunch. Then got into construction backup. Then took a detour, and pulled into a gas station for a nature break. Except that the gas station had large rocks marking the corners of their driveway. Right side of trailer contacted a rock, denting in the lower outer panel a tick and ripping the fiberglass fender flare off. Just cosmetic, but still a PITA I’ll have to fix. The extent of the corrosion on this trailer is becoming more and more obvious now that it’s 15 years old (and having spent its first 6 years making annual trips to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for Speed Week with its previous owner).
Picked up the fender flare, put it in the trailer, and got back on the road. And then, just south of Ann Arbor on US-23, the truck kicked out of OD. Okay, it lost drive pretty much entirely. Got past an overpass then ducked WELL onto the shoulder, emergency flashers flashing. Popped hood, and also checked underneath for signs of carnage — none detected. By this time the OD cancel light is flashing, which indicates transmission trouble (No kidding! How about the fact that the truck wouldn’t go as an indicator?). Let it idle and cool off a bit, then managed to get it into gear and rolling — gingerly — again, to the next exit (Carpenter Road into Milan — not “mi-LAHN” but “MY-lan”), and a gas station (which was CLOSED for some odd reason). More idling, check fluid levels (full but looking a bit toasted), then just let it sit and waited a bit from the AC of a nearby Arby’s.
Back on the road, OD cancelled means it will run but I’m only good for about 60mph. We’ll pretend I’m a big truck following the big-truck speed limit, then. Get to hotel in Maumee (motto: “We’re not Toledo, but you can see it from here.”), trans rewards me by puking a little fluid out the vent. Work the phones: friend I had lunch with has another black F350 crew cab diesel (this one a dually) that’s not otherwise engaged this weekend. That turns into Backup Plan B.
Primary Plan is I limp the rig north on Sunday after the event, to the Ford dealer that sponsors me (conveniently on the way home), tuck the trailer somewhere out of the way, leave the truck for diagnosis and service, and unload the Cobra in street trim for the rest of the trip home. I am talked out of this by the tag-team of M and J (husband and wife) who give me Backup Plan A. M is just about my best friend — I’ve mentioned him before — and unindicted co-conspirator on a number of things over the years. A plane crashes on my house at 3am, M’s the first phone call I make after 911. J is his lovely, talented, and exceptionally patient wife, who I’ve known for almost as long as M and has voluntarily taken on the non-enviable task of making sure I take care of myself at racing events, which I am notorious for neglecting.
Backup Plan A: M and J take THEIR rig down near Columbus, OH to have the car’s graphics redone before Nationals, pick up me and my trailer on the way back home, I limp the truck sans trailer to Demmer Ford, drop M & J off at their nearby house, then take their truck with my trailer the rest of the way home. This, we did. I managed to get the truck/trailer out of the airport site and about 6 miles down the road to a large parking lot near US-23/I-475, ducked into the nearby Texas Roadhouse for dinner, and then waited for M & J to return. Which they did, we unhooked my truck from trailer, hooked their truck (yet another black F350 — did I mention that I bought Leviathan from M in the first place?) to the trailer, and off we went.
When I got to Demmer and cross-loaded my luggage into M & J’s truck, J mentioned that “your truck stinks” (I should note here that J is a transmission calibration engineer of great experience). “Ah, yes, Eau de Mercon, I take it”, to which M added “Yes, with a subtle-yet-biting carbon overtone.” Keys in the key drop, my butt in the other truck, and off we go. Drop them off about 12:15am; I get home about 1am.
Up at 6, throw some scruffies on and unload the Cobra — it’s quicker to do that than take the trailer to storage and I have an 8am meeting at the GM Tech Center in Warren (which is why I didn’t want to pull the trailer there).
Made a phone call to friend G (who is the 2nd after-911 call I make after that 3am plane-crash-into-house), who did the calibration on the transmission used in Leviathan, looking for ideas/options. Turns out he was one of the approvers for the authorized remanufactured HD version of the 4R100, and has a contact at the reman facility in… Oklahoma City. Who happens to also be a racer (drags). He drops his guy in OKC a note, reliability is confirmed, part numbers are provided, methods of getting best price are also provided (no surprises there — go through Demmer, who treats me right).
So today, I get the word: torque converter has fragged internally and spread its metallic goodness all over the innards. Okay, not a HUGE surprise there, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be. (For those who don’t know, the torque converter is the coupling between the engine and the transmission and works on hydraulic principles — an impeller spun by the engine moves fluid that in turn spins a turbine attached to the transmission input. There’s also a stationary element called a stator that provides torque multiplication and, in modern TCs, a clutch that locks up the connection under conditions like highway cruise for better efficiency/fuel economy.)
I give the service writer (my usual service writer is off until tomorrow) the part number for the HD trans, he gets a price, I agree to it (it’s a good price. I never pay retail if I can help it. Running Jack Demmer Ford and Lincoln-Mercury on the side of the race car has some benefits to both parties), and ghods willin’ and the creek don’t rise, it’ll be ready on Friday. They don’t want a hoist queen, and I want my truck back enough to do some shakedown before leaving for Topeka.
K gasped at the price (not a surprise) but I reminded her that it’s cheaper than buying a new truck (for the record, I priced out a comparably-equipped new GMC with the Duramax diesel and Allison transmission. My price, which you can have via GM’s Employee Pricing for Everyone sale going on right now? $45K. Sticker: $56K).
And really, I have no complaints. I went 228,000 miles with Leviathan before this happened. He’s earned his keep many times over. Also in the plus column: he’s paid for, I happen to really like this truck, and being a ’99, he doesn’t have all the new emissions stuff that will be a long-term maintenance $$expen$e$$ on a new truck, like the particulate filter. My stated intention is to drive him until the doors fall off.
And in the grand scheme of things, if this had to happen, far better that it happens on the way to Toledo, within easy recovery range of my operations base and all the resources I can bring to bear on a first-level connection, instead of 3 weeks from now on the way to Topeka for the SCCA Solo Nationals.
I have to thank all my friends who jumped up to help without even being asked. As complicated as significant parts of my life are at the moment, it’s been a major mood-lifter that so many were willing to inconvenience themselves to help me out of a jam.
But it did turn out to be an expensive weekend.