As I sit down to write about my horrible experience at the Tuner Shootout, I can’t help but reflect back on all of the things that went wrong and, more importantly, all the little things that went incredibly right. There’s still a lot of disbelief that this even happened to me. You always hear people who go through dramatic situations say, “I couldn’t believe it was actually happening to me,” but those words couldn’t have been more true around sundown on April 2, 2011.
For those who aren’t familiar with who I am or what I do, my name is Tage Evanson. I’ve been a husband for 12 years and a father to two adorable little girls for six years. I hold a full-time job as a lead project manager and have a horrible addiction to my hobby of racing cars. If that’s not enough, I’m also the owner and regional director for NASA Arizona (nasaaz.com), which is really a second full-time job. People ask me all the time how I can possibly juggle all of these highly demanding priorities, and my answer is, “I honestly have no clue!”
Once a year, NASA Arizona teams up with Modified and Continental Tires to put on the biggest road race, HPDE, time attack and drift event in Arizona. To top things off, I’m also a competitor in the Modified Tuner Shootout. Add all of this stuff up, and you have one stressed out guy…me!
Since the results from the competition are in this article, I’ll spare you those details, but I want to write about how I toasted my clutch after the drag race and autocross. I should’ve noticed there was a mechanical problem, not a driver issue, when I had problems at the dragstrip and changed it then. I’ll take this opportunity to say that my best quarter-mile pass was an 11.5 with a 1.7-second 60-foot time and my last pass I pulled a 1.5-second 60-foot time, but I couldn’t get the transmission into second or third gear. I figure I would’ve pulled closer to an 11.2 quarter-mile time. I wasn’t too happy about that, and then getting edged out at the autocross didn’t make my day go any better. I took the car out for a test-and-tune run and could tell something was certainly wrong. We quickly found out that the header was broken (I guess it hit/dragged on the ground during the drag race launches the night before breaking the header) and the clutch was fried from all the nitrous launches and slicks.
The good news was we had at least four hours to get it changed, and I had plenty of help to get it done. I’ve done clutch jobs myself in my garage floor with a floor jack and jackstands in about three hours, so there was certainly more than ample time with at least three guys working on the car, and I could just focus on my event. Typically, the participants don’t know a thing about all the stuff going on in the background to keep our events running smoothly and, more importantly, on schedule, but let me tell you it’s far from a relaxing weekend; I’m running around like crazy the whole time. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do at the NASA events, but on the same token, I hate that it hurts my race preparation.
So my guys are rushing around, and it’s problem after problem with the transmission and header repairs. Long story short, they literally finish the car less than a minute before I’m supposed to go out for the Shootout’s last competition. There’s no time to check over the car, I just grab what gear is within reach and jump in. Earlier in the day, we were having problems with the nitrous, so we hardwired it to always be on and engage whenever the throttle was more than 80 percent. It’s a dry system, where the nitrous injects into the intake and the KPro engine management adds additional fuel via the injectors. The only problem with this setup is if you forget to turn on the nitrous bottle, the KPro doesn’t know that and it will still inject a bunch of extra fuel whenever you floor it. Can you guess what I forgot to do before heading out for the time attack? Yep, I forgot to turn on the nitrous bottle. Anytime I floored the gas, the engine would fall on its face from running ultra rich. With only a couple laps and knowing that I was in the lead for the FWD class, I simply did the best I could. I held the gas pedal around 75–79 percent to maintain as much power as possible. It wasn’t too bad in the turns, but it was horrible on the straights. Amazingly, my lap time was still good enough to win the time attack against the other FWD cars, but it should’ve been about 2 to 3 seconds quicker.
Being a competitive guy, I just had to know what the car was capable of had the nitrous bottle been turned on, so I immediately came into the pits, topped off the fuel and went back out on track for the evening’s premier event: the one-hour NASA mini enduro race, a 30-plus-car field of wheel-to-wheel racing at its finest. I missed qualifying, so I had to start in the back, which I’m sure made things quite entertaining for folks in the stands to watch because I was able to pass 75 percent of the field with the utmost ease. On the straight or in the turns, it didn’t make a difference — I was a man on fire! (Pun intended.)
Due to all the rushing around and the fact that I only wanted to run a few laps to see what kind of lap times I could pull, I only had on the minimum safety gear required for the race group. Really, the only thing I purposely didn’t put on was my balaclava (fire-retardant head sock that covers the face and neck). Once again, no one double-checked anything after the clutch job, so no one noticed that the three large bolts that screw into the transmission and hold up the engine/transmission combo off the ground were barely holding on because they were never tightened down.