Easily overlooked by city dwellers, mud season is all too real for the rest of us in New England. Consider that in Vermont, for instance, more than half of the nearly 16,000 miles of roadway is unpaved. For tips on keeping one’s vehicle moving through the muck, we visited Gilsum, New Hampshire, to chat with […]
By Joe Bills
Feb 20 2018
Easily overlooked by city dwellers, mud season is all too real for the rest of us in New England. Consider that in Vermont, for instance, more than half of the nearly 16,000 miles of roadway is unpaved. For tips on keeping one’s vehicle moving through the muck, we visited Gilsum, New Hampshire, to chat with 16-year-old mud racer James Munroe. He began competing when he was 13, not long after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “[Racing] was something he was excited about, and he needed the distraction,” says his mom, Jessica. “He loved it right away.” Here’s some wisdom we gleaned from this young master of the mire.
Plumb the Depths
“It’s important to know the clearance of your vehicle and how deep the mud is,” says Munroe, who has raced in up to two feet of the stuff at Monadnock Speedway in Swanzey, New Hampshire. “Smaller cars will literally be down in the mud, while larger truck tires kind of skim over the top.” If you don’t know what you are driving into, get out and look.
Get a Grip
Traction is key when driving in mud. If your vehicle has four-wheel drive or other traction-control equipment, mud season is exactly what it’s meant for. “Lock in the four-wheel drive, and don’t forget to lock the hubs,” Munroe says, and laughs. “You never want to find out you aren’t in four-wheel drive once you’re already in the middle of things.”
Find Your Path
When it comes to mud, you’re better off blazing your own trail if the ruts have gotten too deep. “It all depends on what is already there,” Munroe says. “Sometimes the ruts can be good and will keep you on track, but I’m always ready to cut a new path if I have to.”
Your goal should be to get through the mud with as steady a hand as possible. Maintain momentum, and avoid stomping on the gas or the brakes. Keep moving in as straight a line as possible to minimize steering. If you start to slide, ease off the gas and turn the wheels slightly into the skid. Don’t worry about the tires spinning so long as you are moving forward. If you start losing forward momentum, ease off the gas until the tires start to grab again.
Don’t Get Stuck
When you’re driving in mud, the No. 1 thing to avoid is coming to a full stop. If you do lose all momentum, turn your wheels from side to side, to see if traction can be gained in another direction. You can also reverse out, or rock the car from forward to reverse in an attempt to get it moving. “On the track, I only got stuck once, and it was bad,” Munroe admits. “Embarrassing. I was suspended on the mud, with all four tires off the ground. If I had it to do over again, I would have stayed up on one of the banks, to give the tires something hard to chew on.”
Keep It Clean
Mud gets everywhere, and it can be as hard as cement when it dries. As soon as possible, wash the mud off your car and check carefully for any damage. “I use a pressure washer after a race, and even with that, cleaning can take a long time,” Munroe says. “And it isn’t just the mud. Rocks can get thrown up and lodge in the springs or in the brakes. It isn’t fun, but the longer you wait, the worse it gets.”
Mom Knows Best
As for keeping all that mud out of the house, we checked in with Munroe’s mother, Jessica. “Luckily, his clothes don’t get nearly as dirty as the truck does,” she says. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. In those cases, it’s a problem to be dealt with outdoors. “Mainly it’s his boots that get the worst of it. Thankfully, we can let the mud harden up and hit them together. If it’s really bad, the power washer will do the trick.”