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Das Boat at Crash Fest

By Jason Burton

IMAG1044There it sat on the infield grass. A battery drained by a driver that wasn’t. As full of hope and will as Mitch Peronto, the fearless captain of Das Boat, was, the end had come as he cranked and cranked in an effort to get his proud race car restarted. The engine, no longer how long it was cranked and how much unburned fuel hung in the air, would not fire. This 32 year old flagship of Mercedes-Benz had covered its last miles in a way that most probably no other had ever done, in a race to the death towing a boat in rural Indiana. The car, its crew, and confident driver gave all they had and the results were admirable.

The event was Crash Fest, a medieval gladiator style match to the death, only with cars, held at the Illiana Motor Speedway in Crown Point, Indiana. The competitor, a 1985 380SEL Euro (grey market) sedan, belonged to club member Bob Youngman who used it as his winter transportation. As IMAG0366trusty of a vehicle as the old W126 was, salt and Midwest winters had rusted away large sections of the great machine to the point that it was no longer safe for use on the road. Apart from rust there were plenty of other issues including numerous leaks, such as a severe one from a tire, and a questionable trans. After being stripped to within an inch of its life for everything of valuable the question remained what to do with a still drivable but unsafe car? A question quickly answered by Hi-Line European Automotive in Downers Grove. Destroy it at Crash Fest, of course. With Brian Paleczny as crew chief work began converting this luxury cruiser into a luxury bruiser.

The first race modification was to attach a trailer hitch since part of the rules were that the car must tow a trailer with something on it, in this case a boat. Tricky since the car is unibody. Bolting it to the spare tire well with 4 bolts was the best option. Next up, sparing no expense on safety, 1.5 inch square tubing welded straight to the body on the OUTSIDE of the driver’s door and a metal screen over the windshield gave the car a “I mean business” appearance and protected the driver from side and front impacts. The screen onIMAG0361 the windshield also had the less than pleasant effect of obscuring visibility out the front which complimented the lack of rear view caused by the 14 foot aluminum scrap boat and trailer (with new tires however) it would be pulling. The tough look lessened only slightly by the vinyl graphics down the side and Titanic like smoke stacks crafted from a heater duct and painted with the finest red spray paint that authentically puffed real smoke courtesy of the fireworks that were lit and thrown down them.

The parade lap proved beneficial for the crew to shake out last minute glitches with the fine machine, more specifically a throttle cable that needed to be held back in place. A repair was completed using the crew chief”s shoelace. With the repair made, the steering wheel unusually crooked, and right front tire looking questionable, it was ready to race! At that point the only thing going through the intrepid driver’s mind was “please don’t die car before the race starts”.

The rules of racing were simple and few. Contact with the trailer only, a rule widely disregarded, and a requirement that you must hit something on every lap. Mitch’s IMG_5105strategy…hit as many things as possible before the car died. With that the green flag dropped and Das Boat, tuned by top techs and with a fully charged battery, was off. Mitch explained before the race his strategy to use the normal racing line, completely disregarding the fact that he was towing a boat and trailer. Bold! Before the back of the trailer even crossed the start line Das Boat made contact, HARD, with the Snoopy mobile. Fitting, as on the next lap when Snoopy’s dog house was laying in the middle of the track the German bruiser finished it off with a head on collision shattering it and sending the pups home flying into the air. Next up, a direct hit to the back corner of a boat, spinning it 180 which also caused Das Boat to go into a spin, 14 foot boat behind it and all, coming to a rest on the infield grass. The aluminum 14 footer now barely hanging on, Mitch flung the car around and back onto the track, dragging the boat half off its trailer, and skillfully completing another lap this way (as if he’d done it often). Drifting by the grandstands on the next lap the boat finally let loose flying off onto the grass while simultaneously flipping the trailer over which was now being dragged down the strait with a shower of sparks behind it until it too came detached from the car around the next turn. Shortly after that it was hard to say whether the left front tire went flat from hitting debris that littered the track or because of the crack in the wheel but the fearless driver carried on getting in one more good hit before the car stalled and it was all over.
Mitch and the car did exceptionally well in part because of the solid? German engineering and, in part, his strategy. In a post race interview he shared his number one rule, DSC_0001“never hit the brakes”, and told us the small V8 pulled strong and could gain on competitors which he attributed to the crew’s “special tuning”, 20 bucks of premium gas, and a double shot of Lucas injector cleaner. He continued on to explain that he “felt very comfortable” with his seat reclined “gangster style” to look cool and so his helmeted head would not hit the roof, and knowing that he “was in one of the safest Mercedes made with excellent handling and build quality”. His only concern through the race was longevity, hoping the car would finish well. While this was his rookie season racing in this series you never would have known it. His background racing go karts as a kid and playing a lot of Mario Kart more than prepared him for the serious track competition in this sport where anything could happen at any moment and, as he put it, “the craziness is even worse than you would imagine.” So the best strategy is to just hit things as frequently as possible.

With every objective accomplished apart from a desire to blow the engine up, he has goals of achieving this next season with his valiant crew at Hi-Line and Das Boat II.


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