COAL: 1999 UM Maize Blaze • Everybody Makes Mistakes

At one point a team member started a terrific little hydraulic fluid fire at the back of the trailer with a wrench on the positive terminal of the liftgate’s big 24-volt battery; as soon as it touched the diamondplate battery box, it welded itself into place and began behaving like a very large light bulb filament. That day he learnt why you always disconnect the negative first.

Not long after that, my involvement was abruptly cut off short: my father’s lymphoma had worsened and I hurried back to Denver, guessing—correctly, as it turned out—that if I didn’t, I’d never again have the chance. By that point in the race, tensions were high in the team and there wasn’t much fun being had. There was a lot of blame being thrown around. In fact we were all more or less equally at fault. We had too much money, too much luxury, way too much sense of entitlement, not enough hunger, not enough incentive, and we were busily getting experience just after we needed it.

I kept in touch with friends on the team. After the American race ended with our car in 16th place, the group went back to Michigan to lick wounds and rebuild the car for the Australian race. During that effort, one team member burned the workshop down by putting an item in the high-temperature composites curing oven last thing at night, then shutting off the lights and leaving the
empty shop instead of babysitting the cure oven in accord with the rules. By 5AM there was scarcely anything left. I think a few other businesses in the complex were also severely damaged; our workspace had a whole lot of highly inflammable stuff in it. If I remember correctly, the new body tooling crashed down from the second floor of the space and was completely destroyed.

That fire wasn’t final, because money. The UM team came in ninth in Australia, out of 40 cars that started and 28 that finished. Our car was on display at the Boston Museum of Science for awhile; I don’t know what became of it after that. The PM, I guess he got suitably LeaderShaped; eventually he wound up conning nuclear submarines for the US Navy.

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