It was 9:47pm on Tuesday night while driving home, when I suddenly remembered that at 8am the following morning I needed to be at Willow Springs International Raceway, and ready for the 2nd annual UCI Energy Invitational. Oops! So much for sleeping in!

4am I was up, quietly pack the truck with my helmet, sleeping bag and “pussy pad”, MRE’s, water, jackets, extra shoes, tools, gloves, camera, phone charger, notebook, humvee diary, leatherman, all weather pen, and scribbled driving directions.

5am, all loaded up, light up the glow plugs, crank the engine and–Darned. Batteries are dead. Need to slave start. At least I’ve gotten really well practiced in jump starting it now! Go inside, grab the key, start the civic, pull it up in front, connect the civic to first one truck battery, then the other and let it charge. 15 minutes later, I’m cruisin up hwy 5 and its totally dark on the road.

6:30 am, watch the sunrise right over the road in front of me, while passing Agua Dolce, on hwy 14 towards lancaster. 8am, right on schedule, with a 1/4 tank of biodiesel left, arrive at Willow Springs, in Rosamond, CA.

UCI Energy Invitational, the brainchild of Dr. Michael McCarthy, mechanical and aerospace professor of UC Irivine’s Henry Samuelli school of engineering. It is a race for both custom built formula karts, as well as full sized passenger cars, to see who can go the most distance in the allotted time, on only 1$ worth of fuel.

Certainly, at around 10-13 mpg and close to 5$ a galloon for B99 Biodiesel, this old military humvee wasn’t going to be winning any prizes, but if I could lend a hand in making this event more prestigious for marketing future events, and set a benchmark for comparison for future engine upgrades, and other cars to reference, then I have done my duty.

In the Modified OEM class, there were several competitors, a regular mazda miata, an honda insight hybrid, nissal altima hybrid, Toyota actually came with several very interesting cars: a very high end lexus hybrid, and a test hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

In the custom <500kg class, uc irvine brought the lithium powered all electric Gamma, a FSAE car from a few years ago, the recently re-designed and grinning Delta, a CNG and electric hybrid, and Beta the old gasoline powered one wheel drive mini baja cart.

Several other independent teams brought custom built vehicles, and this is where the competition really got interesting. Phil Chipman brought his self designed and home built all electric 2 seat tricycle, some other guys whose names I can’t remember built a Formula V roadster mocked up like a German Messerschmidt from WW2,  the 60 year old Volkswagon engine and manual transmission growling heartily.

The Tortoise, a 1985 ex-military M998 HMMWV, with broken power steering, severe frame rust, non functional speedometer, and various other ailments, purchased for $15,000 off ebay motors last fall, weighs 5200 pounds with a full tank and no driver, and is powered by the original Detroit 6.2L V8 naturally aspirated diesel engine with 3 speed automatic transmission. Despite the powerful image that the Humvee may inspire, it is really quite underpowered by modern standards, accelerates, handles, and sounds like an old school bus.

Modified OEM class cars ran two 15 minute sessions in the morning, and another two 15 minute sessions in the afternoon. In the interest of conserving fuel, most cars lap times were in the 4 minute range, thus in total cars drove about 12 laps for score.

Before and after each session, event volunteers measured each vehicle’s fuel level and consumption. During each lap, an event volunteer was in charge of recording times, and many more volunteers worked timers, clipboards, fuel measuring, stop-wait-go stations, and corner flags.
I drove 3 laps in the morning, basil drove 2 or 3 laps after the driver change, and then I drove another 6 or so laps in the afternoon.
An innovative socal company, Millenworks, trucked in their Light Utility Vehicle, an amazing diesel electric Hybrid Armored vehicle competing for the latest military contracts to replace up-armored humvees. Disappointingly, they decided to only display the vehicle, rather than run it in the races.

After the day was done, and everyone had packed up, the enthusiastic sports car drivers in the crowd of engineering students got a chance to blaze a few laps around the track before we all headed out. Basil sprung a crack in the Turbo Camry GT-Four, so had me tow him out to autozone, where we waited for the car to cool, patched the radiator with some putty, waited some more for it to dry, and headed out for the long drive home.

As we reached the intersection of 405 and 5, we reluctantly waved goodbye, and split ways. I was headed out to a bar called Southland, in Torrance, CA where my friend was hosting a fundraiser for the red cross earthquake relief efforts in Japan. I was sunburnt, dehydrated, tired, and my night was just beginning.