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Thomas Grady – Over The Top Motorsports Newsletter

GradyTREC2The off-season raced by at the speed of sound — the sound of saws, grinders and welders. Along with the sound of laughter from good-natured heckling during late nights of fabricating, which was mixed with silence from many hours of thinking and designing.

The 2011 season was very productive for Thomas, driving harder and faster as the season went on. Thomas also grew to the height of 6-2 and received his driver’s license. At the end of the season, it was obvious that his height and driving would require him to be in a new race car. Mark Vittetow, one of his pit guys and owner of OVERKILL OFFROAD, an off-road fabrication shop in Winnebago, IL., offered to build a new race car.

The new car would be designed around the size of the driver and use many of the components from the previous car. The suspension design would be a combination of the previous car’s elements with BAJA style trophy truck engineering added.

The finished car turned out fantastic. The chassis is very safe, easy to service, and handles great on short twisty sections as well as wide open rough areas. The car would not have turned out near as good if not for the huge amount of time and effort Mark dedicated to the building of Thomas` car. While making his regular paying customers wait until the chassis was finished.

On the weekends that were not spent at Mark’s shop in Winnebago, the team also recycled a box from a 28 foot delivery truck. Knowing that an enclosed trailer would be a necessity for the 2012 season, we decided that mounting a delivery truck box onto our existing heavy duty trailer, which has eight tires, would be the best option. Finding a 26 foot box turned out to be very difficult. With the race reason approaching, we settled for a 28 foot body with two side doors and rear roll-up door, and just cut two feet off the back and reattached the rear door. Huge thanks to Jim Catt, without his help the enclosed trailer would still be a dream.

With the new car and trailer ready to go, Thomas headed out to test in April. The first weekend of testing went very well with the car able to go 20 percent faster in the roughest sections of the race course, and still be fast and nimble in the tight wooded sections. After three weekends of testing the car, the first race weekend was here!

The list of little things to do before the first race grew even faster than Thomas. As a result there were many late nights and early mornings out in the shop. The team arrived at the TREC race with a 14-person pit crew; we were ready for anything. The two days prior to the race it rained—a lot. Race day was good weather. A field of nine racers would line up on one line and start at the same time, going straight for 400 feet before making a 90 degree left hand turn. Thomas would be starting on the far right, not the best place to be. After the first left hand turn, Thomas was in seventh place and before the first lap was complete he would work his way up to third place.

Testing and practice is, well…..practice; it helps but it’s not the same as racing. Thomas was moving along at a good pace, keeping up with the leader, until the sound of the motor was replaced by the sound neither one of us had heard before: a hard metal-on-metal sound. At the time we were about three miles from the pit and it would be getting dark soon. I reminded Thomas that if he did not make it back to the pits, his night of racing would be over.

GradyTREC1It seemed to take forever to limp the car back to the pits those three miles. On the way we realized our radio was not working as we could not get a response from the pit guys. Unknown to us, they could hear us, so as we were heading back to the pits talking to each other about what it could be — the drive shaft, transmission, ring and pinion — the guys in the pit were getting parts and tools ready for anything. On top of that, the motor was getting very hot driving through the sand at a slower pace, not getting as much air, combined with mud from the previous day’s rain clogging the radiator.

We saw the light of the pits and everybody stood ready. With the look on their faces, we knew it was bad. It turned out to be a broken front axle spindle. We didn’t have a spare spindle as it’s one of those parts that almost never breaks, so Mark and Jim went on a search to find one — and they did! It took a lot of grinding and quick wrenching to get the car taken apart and put back together again. All in all, we spent one hour and nine minutes in the pits during a two hour race. Most teams would have parked a car that was that damaged and broken and given up settling for last place, but not these guys. It is so amazing to see friends and family make sacrifices and put so much effort into this race team. Thomas still managed to finish in sixth place.

Without them, and the generous sponsors, Thomas’ racing would not be possible. Thanks guys and gals!

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