By Dean Richardson
This blog is the second in a two-part series about my memories of the fantastic race that is Petit Le Mans. Here are a few more that I hope you will enjoy. This is what it’s like to be on the ‘other side’ of the fence.
2004 – The chance of a lifetime!
The 2004 race is hands down my favorite race of all time, Petit Le Mans or otherwise. The reason is simple, I experienced the entire race working for one of the teams on pit lane. Through my day job I had become friends with the Petersen White Lightning Racing team’s PR Rep. About a month before the race I got a call from the PR guy and he asked if I would be at all interested in working as part of the crew during the race. He explained that it would be an all-day commitment and that he understood if I wasn’t interested. Thinking back through my life, I cannot think of a solitary time that I gave an answer to any question faster than the ‘yes’ that shot out of my mouth at that moment.
Race day started early. I needed to meet at the team transporter around 6:00 AM. This allowed me time to meet the team members, find a fire suit that fit, and head to the catering tent for a quick breakfast with the team. The first thing I noticed was how quickly the team made me feel at home. As a result, I was constantly asking what I could do to help. I didn’t know if I would ever get a chance to do this again, so I was eager to help with anything. Surprisingly the team was happy for the extra set of hands and had me clean things, measure fuel and other jobs that I’m sure they hated… but I was loving it.
Once the race began my job was simple. I was the “Deadman”, a job that basically required me to hold open a valve that allowed fuel to flow from the tank on the pitwall into the car. If anything went wrong, I was to let go of the valve to stop fuel flow. Admittedly, not an overly challenging task, but I was working on pit lane for an ALMS team. It was awesome!!!
Anyone that has attended Petit Le Mans knows it’s a long race. When you’re sitting on pit lane its an endurance test all on its own. You can’t see much of the track and spend most of your time watching the timing and scoring screens and television monitors to keep track of what’s going on. Your meals are brought to you on pit lane and you eat when you have time. One of the times between pit stops, I nodded off for a couple of minutes, leaning up against the timing and scoring stand. I woke up to see Stefan, the team’s engineer looking at me with this big smile and he jokingly said: “It’s hard work, yeah?” Still makes me laugh thinking about it.
As the race transformed from day to night, the Petersen White Lightning Porsche steadily worked its way up the running order and we were able to finish on the podium in third place. I think my day wrapped up around midnight. It had been a long day but I was so charged up I stayed up for hours talking with friends about it at the campsite.
I made a strong enough impression with the team that I was invited back the following years and was part of Petersen White Lightning’s Petit Le Mans wins in 2005 and 2006.
2009 – One word: RAIN
By 2009 I was back on the other side of the fence, camping and watching the race with friends. The week started off well enough with mild temperatures and sunny skies. There was a huge crowd on hand to witness what promised to be another epic battle between the Peugeot and Audi diesel-powered prototypes.
In the early morning hours on race day I awoke to the sound of rain pelting the fiberglass top of the pop-up camper I was sleeping in. The rain was coming down so hard that the sound inside the camper was deafening. I remember thinking: ‘if we can get this over with now, maybe the afternoon will be better.’
After a couple of hours, the rain finally slowed, but everything was soaked. My buddies and I headed down to the paddock to take part in the grid walk and watch the start of the race. The race start was wet but barely drizzling. After the start we walked around a bit and headed back to camp for some lunch.
Right about the time we got back it started raining again. This time even harder than it had in the morning. It rained so hard that for the first time in ALMS history they stopped the race to wait for it to pass. But it never did, it just continued to rain and rain and rain. We huddled under awnings and EZ-Ups in an attempt to stay dry. It worked pretty well, except for your feet. They were constantly wet from the rivers that were running through the campsite. The ground was so saturated that when you took a step the ground would move two feet away. It was literally like walking on Jell-O.
Eventually race officials called the race complete after only four hours of running but by that time we were all in survival mode.
The next morning the weather was beautiful. The sun was out, the temperatures were great, but the rain’s legacy was far from over. The field around the campsites was a mud bog. Cars were stuck everywhere! But in the spirit of camaraderie that I love about Petit Le Mans, everyone chipped in to push cars and equipment up to the gravel road and eventual freedom.
For all the misery we endured during the 2009 race, we all had a pretty good time. That’s the thing about Petit Le Mans for me. It truly is an event. Some years the racing is epic, others its average. Sometimes the weather is horrible and sometimes there is no other place you would rather be. But no matter what happens Petit Le Mans is something to come and experience with all your senses. Hopefully I will see you there in a couple of weeks.