By: Carl Olson
Due to no Wi-Fi at the Stateline Nugget, our plans to do a daily blog post didn't materialize.
Picking up from our last blog entry, the first run was intended to be nothing more than to determine if the car was capable of pulling away from the push truck (given the extremely high gear ratio), accelerate without excessive tire spin, and shift into high gear. On straight methanol fuel and with a very low engine compression ratio more suited to a liberal dose of nitromethane and a very rich fuel mixture to keep things cool, we didn’t anticipate gobs of horsepower and torque. The other purpose of this “shake-down” run was to work toward revalidation of my “Class A” license (200+ MPH) due to my inactive driving status for the past few years. We anticipated a speed somewhere between 175 and 200 MPH.
Towing to the starting line for the first run.
After coasting to the return road and stopping, our friend “world famous” Kenny Hoover and my brother-in-law, Carl Fjastad, were the first to meet me and help me out of the car (avoiding all the arm bruises that occur when I get myself out). Friend Dan Richins, a geezer top fuel dragster racer from Salt Lake City, was shortly behind and informed me that he got some good photos of the car on the course, and that we ran something over 200 MPH.
When our ace crew of Mike Kuhl, Daryl Woods and “Biker” Bruce Fischer arrived in the push truck, there were smiles all around as we’d run 216 MPH in the 3rd mile, which was well above our expectations. My license was revalidated, so we were good to go for a speed in excess of 250 MPH on future attempts.
The other good news was that everything worked just as planned, and there were no leaks or other issues. Suffice to say we couldn’t have been more pleased with our first trip down the salt in the car we’d worked so long and hard on over the past two-and-a-half years.
Dan Richins (below) - provided the above photos.
On Sunday morning, we removed the necessary body sections and panels, and warmed the car up in our camp adjacent to the 4 mile marker. The engine sounded stronger, as Kuhl had put his expert tuning skills to work on leaning the fuel mixture. We headed to the staging lanes filled with anticipation.
My wife, Kathy, had attended a wedding in Pasadena on Saturday, so she flew up to Salt Lake City on Sunday morning and hitched a ride to the salt with a friend of ours, Paul Schavrien, who was in the process of checking the Bonneville experience off his Bucket List. They arrived just in time to observe me suiting up and getting bolted into the car at the starting line.
Carl and Kathy
Carl and 'Biker' Bruce
Daryl and Bruce preparing Carl for the run on Sunday.
After a very short wait, it was our turn to go. The start-up went perfectly, and I was off on our second run. The first mile was very torn-up from all the runs during the prior two days, and traction was hard to find and hold. Once I got to the 1 mile marker, the course tightened up and I was able to go to full throttle. Thanks to the tune-up, the car accelerated very well through the first mile, and ran 12 MPH faster at the “quarter mile” (actually a speed trap starting at the 2 mile marker, and ending at the 2 ¼ mile).
The car stopped accelerating at around 5,200 RPM this time as I ran through the second mile, so I hit the shift button. I didn’t feel the same surge of acceleration I’d experienced on the first run but, as directed, ran to the 3 mile marker, shut off and pulled the chute.
After pulling off on the return road, Hoover and Fjastad helped me out of the car again and we started discussing why the car hadn’t accelerated in high gear. In checking through the possible causes, I discovered that due to an unintended oversight, the air bottle for the transmission shifter hadn’t been turned on. As a result, the car never shifted into high gear which explained the lack of acceleration in the 3rd mile. The car still ran 214 MPH in the 3rd mile, which should have resulted in a much higher speed in high gear somewhere near our target of 250 MPH on this run.
After trailering the car back to the K-O-B camp, we checked everything out, repacked the primary drag chute, cleaned everything up, covered the car and headed back to the hotel with high expectations of better results the next day.Monday morning sunrise from the upper parking lot at the Nugget.
On Monday morning, we warmed the engine up in the pits, and headed for the staging lanes early in order to take advantage of the better atmospheric and course conditions that come with the cooler morning conditions. After another very short wait in line, we were off on our third attempt of the event. This time the traction was much better, and I was able to “flat foot” the throttle very early on. The car accelerated much better than it had on the first two runs, and I was very encouraged that we were going to make up for our Sunday “oops” by hitting our target performance in the 3rd mile which was, again, as far as we intended to go. (The 4th and 5th mile would have to wait until we were confident that everything was primed for longer and higher speed attempts.)
The car again stopped accelerating at 5,200 RPM, so I hit the shift button. Damn it, nothing happened. No shift into high gear, so I immediately shut down and coasted over to the return road having aborted well before the 3 mile marker.
After checking things out at the camp, Kuhl announced that the transmission problem would require disassembly and repair, assuming that the necessary parts would be available to do so. Just accessing the transmission is a major ordeal with this car, requiring removal of the fuel, water, ATF and rear end gear lube tanks, the entire rear-end / axle assembly, the rear suspension and disconnection of the brake lines which would require eventual access to the brake master cylinder which lives under the on-board fire suppression system bottles and other impediments.
Suffice to say that this is an undertaking that would be infinitely more easily and efficiently done at the shop. As a result, we had a team meeting and concluded that, all things considered, we’d be better off to call it quits for Speed Week 2013, return to our respective homes, disassemble the car, clean everything up, make the necessary repairs and return to Bonneville in October for the SCTA-BNI World Finals event.
In spite of the disappointment of not working our way through our target performance levels at Speed Week, during our team dinner at the Wendover Nugget Hotel and Casino on Monday evening, we all agreed that we’d made huge progress overall. First off, we actually got the car, trailers and all support equipment finished, made the trip to the salt and were ready to run on the first day of the event. Given the many delays and disappointments we’d encountered in the past, just being there was a major accomplishment.Mike Kuhl, Carl Olson, Don Bowman
With our very first run exceeding our performance expectations, and with me having the confidence of knowing that the car was balanced out well and went where I pointed it on each and every run, we were light years ahead of lots of racers who had problems, some minor and some very major, who were already on their way home on Saturday afternoon.
As would be expected, we now have more lists of things “to do” to make everything more efficient, but our “rookie” crew of Mike, Don, Daryl, “Biker”, Jeff and our support contingent of Carolyn and Kathy, performed beyond all rational expectations. We must also acknowledge the hard work and unmatched skill of our dear friend, Steve Davis (quite possibly the world’s very best race car fabricator), without who’s assistance over the past month would have made it difficult, if not impossible, to participate in this event with the level of preparation necessary for any level of success.
Most importantly, in spite of the inevitable issues that arise when a group of people come together for the first time to race as a team, we all agreed that we had fun (always priority one), and look forward to returning to the salt in October to take the next steps toward our ultimate objective of setting a class record in excess of 300 MPH. That won’t come easy, because things never do come easy at Bonneville. If they did, everybody could do it. We have no illusions about the problems we’re bound to encounter in our pursuit of our objectives, but we look forward to the challenges ahead with great anticipation.
From my personal perspective, I got to drive a race car in excess of 200 MPH for the first time in quite a while, and it confirmed that my “need for speed” has not abated in any way, shape or form. The sensation of driving across the face of the earth at a high rate of speed is something I have always craved and, in spite of my rapidly approaching 70th birthday in November, that need is as strong as ever. I guess some things never change.
On to the World Finals.