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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – The Incredible Story Behind ChumpCar’s 36-hour Endurance Race!


Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – The Incredible Story Behind ChumpCar’s 36-hour Endurance Race!

(Words John Condren – Photos by Alicia Glubrecht) There’s always something cold and heartless about statistics.  Raw numbers.  Basic facts that rarely tell the whole story.  For example, take the final statistics from “The 36” — the name of the 36-hour endurance race held at Spokane Raceway, 5-7 July 2013, as part of the Optima Batteries ChumpCar World Series (www.chumpcar.com).  Here are the cold and heartless facts:

2.25 mile, 12-turn road course track

49 cars entered in the event

322 drivers entered in the event

237 crew members registered to support the cars

1,045 laps completed by the winning car

2,351.25 miles completed for the winning car
36,786 cumulative laps completed by all competing cars
82,768.50 cumulative miles driven by all competing cars
… and …

37 of 49 vehicles took the checkered flag on the last lap of the race

Raw numbers.  Data.  Stuff to read and forget.  That is, until you start to really think about those numbers.

DSC_0729Forty-nine cars in a single class of racing is a pretty decent size field.  Imagine 49 cars for B-main on a 3/8-mile dirt oval.  Or, consider that the GrandAm attracted 57 teams for this year’s Daytona 24, and that included three (3) classes of cars.  The 24 Hours of LeMans had 56 cars in this year’s classic race that also included 3 classes.  Formula One gets 26 cars per race.  Heck, NASCAR only has 43 cars in its premiere Sprint Cup Series.

But, the real number to consider is 322 drivers.  I’ve been to SCCA and NASA regional and/or national events where they didn’t have 322 drivers which included over 12 classes of cars!  Consider the fact that in the cumulative total of NASCAR’s top-tier racing divisions – Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck – they have less than half that total number of drivers!  And, finally, this year’s 24 Hours of LeMans featured a total of 168 drivers.

Then, throw in another 237 crew members – folks that come to keep both the car and the team from falling apart.  That’s impressive.  They don’t get to drive and there’s very little glory in it for them.  They didn’t even get a free t-shirt!  They don’t get to go to work the next day and talk about some harrowing slide in T3, or a great dice with two other cars through the esses.  All they have to show for their part is grease under their fingernails and a few band-aids to cover the sheet-metal scratches and hot brake rotor burns.

Then, there’s the basic facts about the laps. 1,045 laps for the lead car.  What’s missing from that basic statistic?  What’s missing are the 47,023 passes that the winning car had to execute during the course of the event… each and every one another dare thrown at the mirrored twin faces of fate and chance.  Even the cars running mid-pack, down in 20th through 30th place, each had over 15,000 passes to prepare for, plan and complete without wadding the car up into a ball.  Compare those numbers to the number of passes completed at a 30-minute regional sprint race.

The real eye-opener of all the “raw numbers” are the 2,351 miles completed by the race winner and the cumulative total miles driven by all of the competing cars.  For the winning team, their ‘weekend excursion’ was the equivalent of driving from the Pit Lane at Spokane Raceway to the Pit Lane at Daytona International Speedway… in 36 hours… including their 22 scheduled and unscheduled pit stops for fuel, driver changes and repairs.

Another “raw number” to consider is the 82,768 total miles driven by all competing cars.  That’s the equivalent of starting an eastward drive in DSC_0231Ibarra (Equator), proceeding around the equator three complete times, and still drive just that little bit extra… enough to pull into your favorite Starbucks… in Mogadishu (Ethiopia).  What we won’t do for a good latte!

Another droll, boring statistic: 76%.

Of the 49 cars that started the race on Friday night, at 10:00pm, 76% of them were still racing at 10:00am on Sunday morning – some strongly and some barely enough to make minimum freeway speeds.  Regardless, they had survived.  They had seen two sunrises.  They took the checkered flag.

Cold and heartless statistics.  Numbers that don’t tell the full story.  In fact, no amount of words could really tell the full story about ChumpCar’s “The 36” event.  You had to have been there.

Oh, yeah… there are two more statistics worth noting:

1)    Historical importance.  The Optima Batteries ChumpCar World Series has just secured a place in history as the longest closed-course endurance race in North and South America.  In fact, it’s the longest closed-course endurance race ever held in 195 of 196 countries.  What’s the “other” country?  Germany.  What was the “other” event?  Well, in 1969 there was this event called “La Marathon de la Route” (reference: http://jalopnik.com/5827242/when-argentina-ruled-the-nurburgring) on the 14-mile long Nurburgring circuit.  Many in motorsports consider it more of a road rally rather than a closed-course endurance race but the (somewhat myopic) folks at the Guinness Book of World Records consider that event to be the longest motorsports endurance event, so ChumpCar will have be content with being #2 in the world – that is, for a while.

2)    The races within the race.  In many of today’s so-called “endurance” races – actually mini-enduro events which are 4 or 6 hours long – we read of a close finish where the 2nd-place team is within 4-6 laps of the leading car.  That’s a close race?  If you pull up the official ChumpCar event standings (http://www.mylaps.com/en/classification/2757804), and you follow the event, you’ll see that the 1st place (#25 – ‘Squirrels of Fury’ Volkswagen Rabbit) and 2nd place (#184 – ‘Will Race For Beer’ Saab 93)  cars were racing nose-to-tail and swapping positions for the last 45 minutes of the race.  It was anybody’s race until the constant velocity joint and axle on the #184 Saab had enough and decided it was time to disintegrate, only one-and-a-half laps from the checker.  After 36 hours of racing, the winning margin was less than 2 minutes of time.  And, that’s not the only race within the race.  The 3rd and 4th place finishers (Socket Monkeys and Martini Racers, respectively), although 20 laps down from the leaders, were 37.2 seconds apart from one another.  Finally, a mere 14.1 seconds separated the 6th and 7th place teams.

Statistics.  Data.  Numbers.  Facts.   Regardless, they don’t tell the whole story…

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12 thoughts on “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – The Incredible Story Behind ChumpCar’s 36-hour Endurance Race!

  1. b3m

    amazing race. I’d wonder about sickness, as things where down, oxide chains, chemicals. Not all cars get along…even the cars would seem to have a mood swing and soul eventually.

  2. brent hougestol

    Might want to revisit the math in this statement:

    “What’s missing are the 47,023 passes that the winning car had to execute during the course of the event…”

    That’s 45 passes per lap.

  3. Bonnie Aarseth

    This was an awesome event to attend & work. I was surprised at the percentage of cars that finished the race. If you enlarge the first photo in this story you will see that the black car is actually pushing the car in front of it across the finish line. That is good sportsmanship!

  4. fast Ed

    Chumpcar is a blast guys, you have to get out for an event if at all possible! We did the Watkins Glen race early this year, over 90 cars took the green flag, it was awesome.

    I’ve done 24 hours race before, I can’t imagine a 36 though … everyone must be completely dead tired after that ordeal.

  5. Whelk

    Just paging through the rules it looks like they’ve fairly strict about the $500 valuation of the cars. I don’t think I’ve seen a car capable of moving under it’s own power for that little in decades. Amazing teams can unearth those cars.

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