As Gidi pulled into the pits in the Diamonds by Wire Alpha Performance Alpha G GT-R after a quarter mile pass at Royal Purple Raceway a ribbon of smoke rose from the front of the car. Before you could blink a small flame licked the front of the carbon fiber hood. The car was on fire. Seeing what had started to unfold in front of them the Alpha Performance Team members that had made it back to the pit quickly put it out. It was determined that cylinder four had misfired dumping unburnt fuel into the exhaust where it combusted overheating the pipe which in turn caused the carbon composite main core to ignite. It was the worst start to the week that anyone could have imagined. The dreams of capturing that first elusive 6.xx second pass we had been chasing for a year quickly faded. If we were going to take a shot at being the first into the 6’s it was going to take all of our strength as a team and more.
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strength. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Mark Praner / AMS Performance IT Manager
The Team was devastated. What had started as a legitimate shot at the record books was obfuscated by the contents of the fire extinguisher and smoke. As we hung our heads trumpeting our surrender, Ivan our driver and Technician, picked up a wrench and started disassembling the front of the car. Then without saying a word everyone else, no matter their position in the company, picked up tools and started helping. The tuner was unbolting the under carriage. Alpha G’s Technician, Ricky, removed the hood. The Shop Manager meticulously cleaned the engine bay. One of the Media Team members recorded the events while the other jumped in a rental car with the Sales Manager and made an eight hour round trip to Dallas to pick up parts from our friends at T1 race Development. We also had the use of a local shop, Kozmic Motorsports, if we needed it. There was one critical team member though that was still back home in Chicago.
AMS’ engine builder was planning on flying down with the second half of the crew on Friday. He was at a Doctor’s appointment when his phone rang. It was from the team in Texas. It was not the good news he was hoping for. He quickly found out there was a crisis and that he had to be on the next flight to Houston. Having only an hour to get himself together he kissed his wife and kids, drove to the shop, threw his tools into a plastic lined suitcase, and headed to the airport.
As dawn broke on Wednesday the team arrived back at Royal Purple Raceway to start reassembling Alpha G. With the parts from T1 and our engine builder in our pit the team had regained their confidence. Again, it was all hands on deck. With a lot of hard work and a little desperation the front of Alpha G started to take shape. We had to get the car ready for the next day to qualify for the TX2K event. A couple new additions, extra heat shielding on the carbon composite main core support near the titanium exhaust, and two vents drilled into the grill would hopefully stop a repeat of the conditions that led to the fire. The engine was not the cause of the fire but would have to be rebuilt because of the misfire and the fact that it could have ingested particles during the effort to extinguish the flames. It would have to be rebuilt in less than ideal conditions.
Back at AMS Performance our crate engines are built in a clean room. With a heater and Merle Haggert warming up the cool air the precision tools and pristine engine parts are laid out as if by a fine watchmaker. Each part is meticulously measured and at the correct time added to the assembly. This engine rebuild would take place on a wooden pallet, on the ground, in a dusty South Texas breeze, and in unusually cold temperatures. Our engine builder and the rest of the team though were up to the task and Alpha G was back together and ready for qualifying the next day. We had done it. A look of relief grew on all of our faces. Racing is a lot like being on a roller coaster. There are ups and downs, twists and turns, and peaks and valleys. Little did we know the ride had just started.
Friday was the first day qualifying for the event. The team was confident that we had overcome the one big obstacle on the trip and we were ready to race. Gidi, Alpha G’s driver, slipped into his seat, cinched the racing harness down, and squeezed into his Alpha Elite helmet. He headed to the staging lanes with the team following close behind. This first pass was to make sure everything was in order. The tree dropped and the race car hurried down the lane. Everything was good to go. The next two passes were good enough to qualify the Alpha G first in his class. This was going to be the day would hit that illusive 6 second mark. You could literally feel the energy in the air. We were on top of the world with what we had accomplished in such a short time. It took even a shorter amount of a time to have it all come crashing down.
On the last pass of the day Alpha G was flying down the track when someone spotted something wrong. The car was trailing smoke. A heaviness settled on our chests. A freeze plug had let loose spilling the contents of the cooling system onto the hot track. The motor had overheated. By the time Gidi realized what was going on the motor had suffered too much damage. If the fire did not end our event this surely would. When the Technicians went to try and restart the car they got…nothing. The motor would have to be swapped out. The team had nothing left in their tanks. Our hearts were broken. What happened next, in this moment, would define exactly what it is to be the Alpha Performance team.
Without hesitation the crew, now double in size, picked up their tools and began taking Alpha G apart. The fire did not stop us and this would not stop us. The car had to be ready by the next morning. There was not a second to waste. It, again, was all hands on deck. As the sun slipped under the horizon ending the day we were just getting started. The warmth of the light gave way to a chilly darkness. This resulted in a dew settling on everything not covered by a canopy. A fog blanketed the Alpha Performance OB Prestige Auto pit area diffusing the glow of a few lights towering over the lot. The only sounds that pierced through the dark were the pinging of tools on the pavement, the clicking of a ratchet, a grinder spinning down, and the muted voices of the team growing more exhausted still donning their green TX2K Alpha T-shirts.
Hours pass. Original motor out. The new motor in. Stay awake. Stay awake. Lines connected. Fasteners tightened. Parts added. Stay awake. The team now up for 20 hours felt their eyes growing heavier. Ricky working on top of the engine closes his just for a second shivers and strains to reopen them. The crew that remains is fighting, fighting against fatigue, fighting against their bodies, fighting against defeat, but fighting for 6. Finally, the car is ready to start. Jacob calls out “OK!” Ricky turns the key. The car turns over and the engine roars. The methanol exhaust fumes sting their eyes. This time though they don’t mind. Now to drive it. Next problem, no headlights. Jacob rushes into the trailer and grabs a flashlight and a roll of tape. He hands the tape to Ricky and holds the flashlight to the front of the hood. Jacob then jumps into the drivers seat. He starts to drive Alpha G around the parking lot to make sure that in their state of near slumber they did not miss something, and was immediately pulled over by the local Sheriff who was acting as security at the event. After a stern “talking to” the remaining team members headed to the hotel. They have been up for 23 hours. As one showered the other slept. After a half hour they headed down to the lobby to meet the rest of the team and head back to the track.
When the team arrived back at the track on Saturday morning they quickly went over the car to double check last night’s work. It was good to go. They headed to the line for a test pass. Alpha G went down the track and confirmed that their work was flawless. The next run would be the real test. Again, the team headed to the line. Gidi completed his burnout and eased up to the line. The lights dropped. Alpha G took off like a bottle rocket. The time showed 7.08! That was the fastest time Alpha G had ever run! If there was any day that the 6 second barrier would fall today was the day. This was the car. This was track. We were the team.
Electricity filled the air. The pit was buzzing. You could feel the anticipation. The loud speaker echoed the event coordinator’s call to enter the staging lanes. We hurried Alpha G into its spot. We wanted to be the first team out on the newly prepared track surface. Then, we did something we have never done. We huddled up. In the circle we spoke words of encouragement and teamwork. We talked about whatever happens on this next run it did not matter. We had already won. We had overcome impossible obstacles to have the car in the position it was sitting in. When you looked to the right and to the left you saw not a co-worker, manager or boss. You saw a brother or a sister. You saw a family that had been through an enormous amount of hardship in the span of four days and with every fiber in their body had triumphed. You saw someone that was a champion without even having to compete. It was our turn.
Gidi steered the car to the right into the tunnel and stopped. The team followed. The final prep of the track was almost complete. Hundreds of people surrounded the car as it sat waiting. Thousands of fans filled the arena. You could feel a buzzing in your feet as you stood in the stands. Nobody was sitting. Everybody was anticipating the history they might witness. The starter called to us to bring the car forward. This was it. Gidi performed a burnout to get heat into the rear tires and then switched the transmission back into All Wheel Drive. He snuck up to the line lighting the first set of staging lights then the second. Gidi literally standing on the accelerator as the exhaust spits blue flames from in front of the wheels. The thunderous roar vibrates everything in the arena. The lights on the tree dropped. GREEN!
Alpha G looked like a bullet exiting the barrel of a gun. The race car shot out to an incredible 1.21 second 60′ and a blistering 4.57 second eighth mile. The shifts 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 are flawless. It is the perfect run. Then, the time for the car to shift into 5th passes with only the sound of the rev limiter echoing through the crowd. The car is not shifting into 5th. NO! Before there is time to get upset Alpha G crosses the finish line. All eyes are on the screen as the mile per hour displays first…196.27. “Awwwwwww he was down on power,” was said disappointingly by the announcer. The crowd holding their collective breath expelled it in unison and their eyes dropped as they read the board. The time finally lit up.
6.937! “Yeeeeeeaaahhhhhhhhhhh” exclaimed the announcer! The crowd roared to life as they jumped back to their feet. The stands swayed from side to side. The team exploded into celebration at the starting line. Jumping, high-fiving, hugging, lifting, and yelling you could hear the release of a year of disappointment. OB Prestige’s Alpha Queen driver raising his arms during the run pushing his teammate to the finish unbuckled himself and hurried to join the celebration. Ricky said it best,”The smiles on our faces were like those when we were kids. We didn’t have a care in the world, no worries. We believed anything was possible because we just watched the impossible.”
This World Record run to be first into the 6’s is dedicated to our friend, co-worker, and brother, Mark Praner. We did it Mark! We did it. 01001101