School bus racing is catching on across the country. We decided to give it a try.
Twice a year, traffic stacks up in Florida as the crowd heads for the action. If you think we're talking about Daytona, you're close. In this case, the crowd is headed to the 11/43-mile Orlando Speedworld for the Crash-A-Rama event.
Sometimes, we take this racing thing a little too seriously. I'll agree that it's important to be professional, but every once in a while, you have to let your hair down, have some fun, and then you're rejuvenated for the challenges ahead.
The Crash-A-Rama event, organized by Chuck Rush and FASCAR's Don Nerone, has drawn international attention and hits the road to far-off places like New York and Indiana, playing to packed houses wherever it goes. Home remains the tiny Orlando oval, and that track sets the scene for our adventure.
With the help of our sister publication, Stock Car Racing, we set out to discover what it takes to get a bus in the school bus figure 8 event. Mind you, the bus race is only a part of the menu of excitement, but it remains the most popular to many. In addition to school buses thundering through the intersection, Crash-A-Rama offers trailer races, chain races, boat races, flagpole races, demolition derbies, and a host of zany activity.
When preparing a bus for competition, you better have a sharp knife. Some of the glass had
Since neither magazine happened to have a bus in the stable of cars, finding a suitable bus became the first item of business. Fortunately, we were able to rent a bus, a practice used by many of the competitors. Our bus was new to the stable, having been acquired the week before at an auction in Georgia. No matter, it was still going to get painted.
It's safe to say we put more time and money into painting this bus than the rest of the field. While we understand that paint jobs don't win races, it was our own little attempt to bring Cinderella to the ball.
A trip to the supply store led to a decision to go with silver paint. Numerous nicknames were discussed on the return trip. Silver Bullet, Silver Eagle, Silver Pelican, and Silver Streak were among them. There was no consensus. We opted to keep it simple with just the magazine logos and the numbers in the required places. We didn't want it to become a target.
After some routine safety and maintenance, the first coat of silver was about to be sprayed on. The wind was slight, but enough to threaten nearby vehicles, so the maiden voyage of our unnamed bus was a quick trip to a remote area of the parking field. The painting commenced, perhaps using more care than necessary. At the end of the first day, the bus was silver, awaiting its lettering.
The team of Circle Track Art Director Carolyn Woodard and Jean Adams returned a few days before the event to put on the lettering and numbers. Carolyn had the idea of blowing up pictures of staff members for the windows. That helped turn the bus into a fan favorite.
Sleepy Gomez goes to great heights to make sure the paint is right. We made him work for t
The painstaking process of painting the logos over the uneven ripples in the bus sides drew the attention of Orlando Speedworld officials. They'd never seen so much effort put into a bus that could be destroyed in mere days. Remember, though, image is everything.
Race day came with the threat of rain. Did I mention this was a rain or shine event? We had some last-minute projects for the bus and found it sitting among the rest of the combatants. Some of these buses were warhorses from previous races. One had a tank theme with a turret. Steven Cole Smith, automotive editor of the Orlando Sentinel, was using the bus parked next to us. He's also a classic car racer, so we knew the competition bar had been raised. It was his first bus race, so he was in the same rookie heat event as SCR Technical Editor Sleepy Gomez, who'd been conned into driving our bus. As the green flag flew, our paint job got its first battle scar as Smith clipped the left-front while passing. Oh well, we were using his duct tape anyway.
Here's our candidate for best-appearing bus. What do you mean they're not giving that awar
After a handful of novelty races, it was time for the school bus feature, and that's when it started raining. With a new bus, we had the luxury of operable windshield wipers. Did I mention we didn't acquaint ourselves with the bus like we should have? As the race began, visibility got poor and Sleepy attempted to find the wiper switch. Faced with 20 toggle switches, he wisely pulled off to locate the right one before resuming.
The crowd craves contact, but we were not in an obliging mood. Others filled the bill, however. The bus of race leader Chuck Rush struck his brother Eddy's bus at the intersection, and Eddy's bus rolled completely over-but he fired it up and continued racing. Chuck's bus ended up in the Turn 1 wall with a busted radiator. The radiators, we were warned, are $300 apiece.
When it was all said and done, an Eighth Place finish in an 18-bus field was not a bad start. However, it was just a momentary aversion. Don't expect school bus setup tips in the near future. For many, including some staff members, it was a chance to get away and have a little fun. We may even do it again. CT
Editor's Note: Crash-A-Rama returns to Orlando Speedworld on Friday, November 26. Information is available at 386/427-4129 or www.fascar.org.
Most of the buses were veterans of previous races as evidenced by the battle scars. This i
What's A . . . ?
Trailer Race: Competitors hook a trailer to a car or truck and run the oval. If the trailer breaks off, the competitor is done. The trailer stays where it comes to rest.
Boat Trailer Race: Competitors hook a boat on a trailer to a car or truck. They race around the oval. If the boat falls off, they're still legal, so they keep going. The boat stays where it comes to rest. The winner must have the trailer attached at the end of the race. There is seldom a boat left intact on the track by the end of the race. They are usually hit and destroyed, either accidentally or intentionally.
Chain Race: Two vehicles are connected by a length of chain (rules may vary on the length). The front car has the ability to accelerate and steer, but has no brakes. The rear car has brakes, but that's it. Drivers communicate by hand signals. The race can be run on the oval, a modified notchback oval, or even a bowtie course. If the chain breaks, the team is out and the driver in the rear car becomes a sitting duck. The former front car needs to slow and find a safe spot. The winner is the first joined pair across the line.
Flagpole Race: a flagpole or similar device is erected at a spot on the track. Drivers must loop around the flagpole before a lap can be scored as complete.
Reverse Race: cars must drive the track in reverse. Small, four-cylinder cars make excellent reverse race cars.
Circle Track Art Director Carolyn Woodard puts up the stencil for the logos. Track officials watched in amazement. No one had put this much effort into a Crash-A-Rama bus.