Emily got a great article in her alumni newsletter. Check it out here!
I have a confession, it has been a while since we’ve updated this blog. That’s because our efforts have been focused on live updates on our Facebook page. Interested in seeing those updates? Head on over here!
The Boise Divisional was a blast for Chris and I. Chris had taken the car out earlier in the season for some testing, but this was my first chance in the dragster since October. This new car is a dream, let me tell you. I seriously doubt Chris could have built a better ride. It’s amazing!
Chris attempted to test on Thursday, but Mother Nature wasn’t having it. Friday started out a bit drizzly, but the clouds parted, the sun shown through and we were ready to rock. We ran a solid 9.11 (on a 9.15 dial) and I was feeling quite good about my first pass. As I’m heading back down the return road, I see everyone packing up the cars. I overhear that the announcers are warning of some possible wind gusts, as well as some thunder and lightening. I ask our good friend Ed to help me lower our 20 foot EZ Up and before I know it, the tent is lifted up by a gust of wind and ready to take me with it. The tent got the better of me and went flying through the air and then through the pits. Unfortunately it took down a neighbor racer in it’s path. The tent required about 10 guys to drag it back to our trailer (mid-wind storm) to attempt to collapse it.
Needless to say, it did not collapse well. Luckily we were able to save the custom canvas top. Hopefully with a few parts, it’ll be looking brand new again.
Saturday was a much better day, weather-wise. We got three passes in, all close enough to the dial. We also had a number of friends come out to visit. It was wonderful to see all the support in Boise! This is my pup, Kora, busy with her bone.
And Sunday was race day! I won round one and was paired with our friend Ed (my tent buddy) in round two. I was a bit nervous, being that Ed had beat me many times in the past. However, I snuck out with the win this time! Next up was another pal, Bob Woodruff. The winning streak continued and I grabbed one more win light. Round four was Trevor Harkema, and unfortunately our car lost some steam. I came up short and Trevor took the win. Four rounds on Sunday was more than good enough for an awesome weekend at the track. Chris and I had a wonderful time! We received so much support and a few win lights to dream of until the next time at the track.
FINALLY! It was a long winter without it. Chris and I celebrated by hopping on a plane to sunny California for the Winternationals a few weekends ago. Chris headed out a day early to watch some of our Super Comp friends run, while I sat in my cozy office in Boise. I joined him Friday afternoon just in time for some of my favorite SoCal Mexican food.
We rose with the sun and were out at the track early on Saturday morning. It rained on and off all morning, making what should have been an awesome day quite long. We were able to see a few rounds of racing and smell enough nitromethane to make me happy. Then, as we were walking around the pits, the sky suddenly opened up and dumped everything it had. We attempted to run to the rental car, but ended up more than soaked. It was finally concluded that the purchase of new (dry) shoes would be a must, so we booked it to the mall. After finding some dry clothes and a cold beer we called it a night.
Sunday was just as much of a tease as Saturday was. We waited on and off for the rain to quit for a couple of hours and commiserated with our Super Comp friends who would not get to run. Suddenly it was clear and racing was in progress. It was an awesome day of racing and filled my heart with so much love for the sport. Being so far from Chris (and my family) makes it hard to continually stay passionate about the sport. I love racing and will always love racing, whether or not I’m in the driver’s seat. Chris gets to see the car, work on the car and head out to the track on a regular basis. However, my schedule does not allow for that much racing. I decided that weekend that I would need to find a way to get out on the track more often. Racing means too much to me to sit on the sidelines!
Oh! I forgot to mention that on Saturday there was a ridiculous crash in an Alcohol Dragster. The car got out control and took a hard right into the barrier, flipping the car into the air. After sliding along the outside of the barrier, the car finally came to a stop in the timing board at the finish line. Mark Reblias, one of my favorite racing photogs, came away with this insane shot of the dragster in the air. Amazing photo, but not something we racers like to see too often.
Hopefully we get a few of our new promotional materials up here soon for you all to check out. They look pretty good!
I’ve finally updated our photo gallery with over 100 new photos in more than 20 new galleries from events over the last three years. Yes, it’s been a long time in coming, but it’s definitely worth the wait! Check it out here.
Of special note are the 50 photos by our friend, and photographer extraordinaire, Tamara Kenyon of tk-foto.com. Some of the most amazing images, from the Boise Halloween Classic, that really captured the Emily, the racing, and the new car. Thanks, Tamara!
Welcome, everyone, to our new updated home on the web. After letting the site get admittedly stale, we’ve done some major house cleaning, and moved to a new, much faster host. We’re hoping that you enjoy our new web site, we would love your comments on it.
We’d like to thank Tamara Kenyon, a Boise-based photographer for all the wonderful images you see in the header. She’s a great photographer, and a good friend, be sure to look her up at tk-foto.com.
Soon, after all the dust settles up here in the virtual world, I’ll be updating you on all the recent changes to our racing program, and our plans for 2012. Stay tuned.
I’ve been pathetically lame in updating the blog lately and for that I apologize. But you see, I’ve been really, really busy. Since the last entry below, things got ugly. We were starting toward a new car, and planning for the future, as you read, and then… Well:
In preparing to travel from here to Texas to pick up the new car (1,800 miles each way) I thought I should have the trailer checked out. I had noticed in the last few trips that the curb side seemed to look a little lower in the rear view mirror than the street side. I measured, and yes it was. I crawled underneath and was concerned about some things I saw.
I called our trailer guy, he said to check with a body shop. I called our body shop and they said call a truck company. I called the Kenworth factory (here in Seattle) and they referred me to the best truck frame shop around. I took the trailer to them and they said: please don’t drive this trailer on the road.
While the main frame rails and the inner connections were fine, the outriggers that go from the main frame to hold up the entire box of the trailer were a mess. Literally every other one had a cracked or broken weld, one was even hanging there only by the screws into the floor. And the welds that weren’t cracked looked like they were done by a shop class dropout.
So the question was, how to fix it? The right way is to 1) remove the contents, 2) remove the cabinets, 3) remove the box, 4) remove the floor, 5) weld up the main frame, and then reverse the process. I said, really? They explained that the welds that are crucial are the ones that run along the top of the outriggers (the welds most frequently broken) and they take all the stress. Sure you could try to fix it from underneath, trying not to set the wood floor on fire, but you’d never get the crucial part of the welds. It would just break again.
The long and the short of it: we needed a new trailer. After much research, I decided that we should get a well made trailer that would last. And that meant a T&E. So just before the new year, I placed an order for a new T&E trailer. Just after my birthday in March, I drove out to Herscher, Illinois to pick up the trailer and drive it home. With the help of my good buddy Ed Hauter, we drove 2000 miles, and 38 hours straight to get it home.
And that was only the beginning of the trailer story. Because, of course, I had to remove the brand new CTech cabinets from the old trailer, move them to the new T&E, and completely outfit it. And clean up the old one and sell it. That’s an off-season’s worth of work alone. But I had a car to build on top of that, and then…
It was just a short trip to Sears to pick up a sander. In, out, maybe a half hour. I had just pulled out of Sears, and was waiting at a light when WHAM! I was rear-ended by an 88-year-old guy. At speed. It wasn’t clear he had even slowed down.
The good news is that no one in either vehicle was hurt. I was fine and so was our dog in the back seat. The old man was fine, so was his wife with the walker, and their 44-year-old nurse sitting in the back seat (why wasn’t she driving?). That was where the good news stopped.
His car was totaled. It was a Buick Century, of course, and it was leaking all kinds of ugly things, and running at high speed. I quickly got out and told him to shut it off. As I went back for my license and insurance info, I heard him restart it. He just wanted to move it away. Ugh.
And the truck was damaged pretty badly. It didn’t look too bad, but the body shop confirmed that the frame was bent. Double ugh.
After much thinking and debating, I realized I didn’t want to try to tow a new, even larger trailer with a truck that had been “fixed”. I trust our body shop, they are the best. But I just didn’t want to worry about it.
The instant it was repaired, I took the truck directly from the body shop to the dealer and traded it in on a new 2011 Denali Dually. All my friends convinced me that I would be much happier with a dually, and they are right. It tows wonderfully, and has all the creature comforts.
So, aside from the building a new car from scratch, we have a new truck, a new trailer, and more projects than you can shake a stick at. That’s why it’s been nine months since my last update.
But the good news is that it’s almost all done now. I promise a prompt update that will bring you up to speed on the new car. And it’s exciting new technology. Stay tuned!
After our ugly second half of the year, it was clear something had to change. We were in danger of the invoking the old definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
We ended the year with several key observations:
- We can be successful. We went to the fourth round in a very competitive division race, and we won a PNSCA race. We were as high as 8th in the division, and 3rd in the PNSCA. Emily can drive, I can give her a winning car, and we can make it work. If we hadn’t been nibbled to death by gremlins in the second half of the year, we would have easily met our goals of top 10 in the division and top 3 in the PNSCA.
- Our car is tired. It’s clear that, as much as we love it, a 13 year old hardtail car just isn’t competitive anymore. We had numerous problems with breaking welds, many brought on by the added horsepower we need to keep pace with the class. And a hardtail car, which requires us to carefully log and compensate for every bump in every lane of every track, just can’t cut it. At the very least we’d have to tear the car completely down and have it checked and rewelded in many places. And we’d still have a 13 year old hardtail car. Hmmm…
- We have to fix the fuel system. We spent much of this year, and a good portion of last year, fighting a terrible stumble on the hit of the throttle. At the end of the year we lost three consecutive first rounds due to this problem. We kept thinking we’d found it, but it came back. Time and again. That definition of insanity…
So, while we know we can win, we need to fix some things to really be competitive. First on our list is that aging chassis.
Over the last two years, I’ve done a lot for this car. As you’ve seen, I’ve completely rewired it, built a whole new dash, added state-of-the-art electronics, completely overhauled the engine, put in new fuel, CO2, and cooling systems, and generally done a lot to bring it up to date. But it’s all based on a chassis that just can’t cut it in today’s world. It’s time to fix that too.
We looked at several options, including “back-halfing” the car, where you tear out the rear end and put in a modern four-link suspension. But it’s pretty expensive, and we’d still have an old car up front. And we could end up with a Frankenstein’s Monster, where nothing is right because it’s not all designed together. The motor area, where we had all the welds break this year, would still be old, we’d have to fix that too.
I started looking at options for a new chassis. There are a number of people making very nice cars today, almost all of them are 4-link cars – cars with a suspended rear end that can quickly move to take out the nasty bumps in the tracks we tend to race on. People like Worthy, Mullis, and Undercover all make nice cars. But ever since I saw my first TNT Supercar a couple of years ago, I thought: that’s the car to have. Beautifully engineered, clean, and outfitted to the max. They are done by a guy named Tommy Phillips out of Texas, and they are raced by a lot of people who win a lot of races.
I researched TNT and discovered that while Tommy and company put the cars together, the chassis is in fact made by Joe Monden out of Gainesville, Texas. The more I researched Joe, the more I liked what I saw. Here’s a guy who knows what he is doing, is a straight shooter, and builds incredibly nice cars. I looked at a car a local rep had for sale, and it was close, but didn’t meet our needs. So we decided to go meet with Joe and look at having him build us a new chassis. Em and I went down to Texas, visited his shop and he won us over. We put down a deposit on the spot.
One of the reasons we decided to have a car built for us is because we’d both like to drive. Our current car is an 18 car, that is, it’s 18 inches across where the roll cage meets the frame. That is tiny, a car made for a small driver. A driver like Em. But I can’t even get my keister part way in it. Today’s standard is 23 inches wide, into which I fit just fine, thank you. But of course Em loves the current car. It fits like a glove, all the controls are easily within reach, and she’s snug as a bug. In a 23, she is dangerously loose and can’t reach anything.
To fix this, we’re having Joe make the car with adjustability in mind. The pedals will move (a standard feature in most cars), the dash will have two positions, and the steering wheel will have two positions as well. We’ll also be having a poured-in foam insert made to give Em the safety and security of feeling nice and tight in the seat. All of these features can be changed over in about an hour, meaning we could have a weekend where she drives one day, and I drive the next. Or more commonly, when she’s off making a living, I could go to a weekend race by myself and have some fun.
Joe builds a state-of the art car, with a fully-triangulated four-link suspension. This is a new concept for a dragster, one that very few cars have. What this means is a much more stable car. In a typical suspended car, the rear end can twist a great deal under the incredible torque that the engine exerts. This can be OK, as the suspension is just responding to the load. But it means you have to fiddle with the springs and shocks to adjust it just right. With a fully-triangulated suspension, the back end can’t twist, and it’s so stable that Joe just builds it with one spring/shock package. Less to adjust, and a much more stable car.
This is such a radical idea, that TNT has only started to get cars with this suspension, even though Joe’s been building them like that for quite some time. We saw the first one made with it for TNT when we were there, and it was specially made to have both the new and old suspension. Just in case. I’m sure once some of their customers try it, they’ll love it.
We had a great visit with Joe and are extremely excited about the new chassis and body. We should see it in a couple of months, and I’ll be driving down to Texas to pick it up. Then it will be a winter of moving everything (engine, tranny, electronics, etc.) from the old car to the new car. Essentially building a car from scratch. It’s a big project, but I needed something to keep me busy.
In addition, we have some plans to address #3 from our list above. But that will have to wait until later. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on progress and on the more exciting changes to come.
When I last wrote, we were feeling good about all the work we’d done to chase down and squish all the gremlins we’d been experiencing. We’d welded up all kinds of things, and were headed to Woodburn to try to improve on our 3rd place in the PNSCA points. Everything looked so hopeful.
But then reality reared its ugly head. In our first test run at Woodburn, the car wouldn’t shift. This was a problem we’d had in Seattle, and had assumed it was electrical in nature. I had changed the ignition box to fix it. It was a gremlin we assumed was long since dead.
After some brilliant diagnosis by our friend Ed Hauter, we discovered the shift linkage was off by about a sixteenth of an inch. It worked fine on the jackstands in the pit, but on the track, with the car under load and the chassis arched, the linkage was just out of alignment. We fixed that, and made a marvelous second test pass. The clouds had parted, birds were singing, all was good.
And then reality hit again. In round one, facing the number one guy in points, the car stumbled so hard on the starting line that it actually died. Had to get pushed back. Ugh. This stumble was also a gremlin we thought we had vanquished. Apparently not. After tearing apart the carburetor that night, we made another beautiful test pass in the morning on Sunday. And again, in round one, facing the Saturday winner, it did it again. Died on the starting line.
The result was that we dropped from 3rd in the PNSCA points to 4th. Still above our 8th place finish last year, but one short of our goal of a top 3 finish this year.
Licking our wounds, we made the long haul to Medford for the last Division Six race of the year. Long conversations with our carburetor guy, and some tweaks done, we were ready to go. We rolled off the trailer, and made a series of pretty good test passes. We were ready to go. Maybe, just maybe, we could move up from 12th in the points into the top 10, our year’s goal.
But it was not to be. In round one, the car stumbled so badly that Em had a ridiculously bad .200+ light. And the day, and the season was over. We are currently 17th in Division Six, and we hope to not fall any further when the final race of the year in Vegas happens in early November.
This was such a promising year. We were as high as 8th in the points. We went to the fourth round of a divisional event, as far as we’ve ever been. We won a PNSCA race. We were on a roll. Until our 14-year-old chassis just got tired and caused a chain reaction of disaster after disaster.
All is not lost. We have a fix for it all. And some exciting news about next year. But that will have to wait for the next installment. Look for an update in the next few days.
Back on the 4th of July, we got our first win. It was the first time we ever packed up and went home NOT having lost at the end of the day. It was amazing and wonderful. Almost a dream.
It was also the last time we had a clean weekend without any car issues. Since then, we’ve lived a nightmare of “if it’s not one thing, it’s another”.
We went right from the high of that win in Mission, BC to the National event in Seattle the next weekend. National events are their own special nightmare of hurry-up and wait. We drove directly from Canada to the lineup for parking at the Seattle track. That was Sunday night.
Then Wednesday, it was time to choose a pit and park the rig, a four hour ordeal of waiting and waiting for your turn. Thursday was tech — nothing but tech inspection. A two hour round trip to the track for a 5 minute tech inspection. Friday we got two time runs the first chance to actually run the car, five days after we had brought it to the track. The runs were OK, but not great.
Then Saturday we had round one. Which we lost in an ugly fashion when the car unexpectedly ran well off the prediction, for reasons we still haven’t figured out. Within a week we went from the highest high to the lowest low.
We had a two week break, then we went to the divisional race in Spokane. We went to the test session on Thursday, and ran a perfect 9.05 right out of the trailer. We made another fantastic run that day, and thought “the magic is back”. How wrong we were.
The next day, the first day of time runs, we couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, with three runs that were way off the number. Then we got a fourth run that day, and the car twisted and squirmed so hard off the line that Emily actually had to get out of it. We couldn’t figure out what could possibly be wrong, so we went to bed.
The next morning, when checking the car over, I discovered that one of the motor mounts had broken, completely in two. Fortunately our friend and expert welder Jeff Yoder was there and was able to weld it back together. But we missed the first time run that day. The next run was dead on, so we figured we had it nailed. And maybe, just maybe, it explained the terrible runs the day before. Except it didn’t really fix it.
The next morning, Jeff noticed that we had two cracked motor plate mounts. He came over, expertly welded them, and we thought, “phew” we dodged a bullet on that one. And maybe had fixed all the motor mount issues. (Except we hadn’t, as we found out later.)
In the first round of eliminations, we pulled up against Michael Dalrymple, the number 6 car in the world, and the leader in the division. And we beat him, soundly. That put a spring in our step, until we lost in the next round to Andy Morris, another divisional heavy hitter. But we escaped from our gremlin-filled weekend with some good points. And left number 8 in the division. Not bad.
We next headed to Bremerton for a PNSCA race. It was a disaster. On Saturday we had a truly weird run, in round one, of course. The car left the line, went on the stop (eased off on the gas as controlled by the delay box) just as it should, resumed hard acceleration, then … strangely, went back on the stop!
After spending all kinds of time trying to understand what went wrong, we discovered that all the twisting and torquing of the frame (caused by the broken motor mount) had broken a wire into the delay box, causing it to reset halfway down the track. That was incredibly hard to find, but easy to fix. But in the process we discovered that a weld holding the dash in place had broken, so we had more damage from the motor mount issues.
The next day, we discovered more damage. Strangely, after our first two time runs, the battery was very, very low. Normally it’s at something over 80% after a run, now it was at 20%. I checked the alternator, and sure enough, the connecting wire was quite subtly broken. A clear result of the twisting of the engine in the frame. And of course, I couldn’t get the new one connected to the alternator because the connecting screw was a mess. Fortunately, we carry a spare alternator, and it was quickly in place. But we still had to rush to charge the car. And that threw us all off our game. We lost in round one.
We went the next weekend to the divisional race in Seattle. The first test and tune run was a cold morning, and the track was a mess. Emily had to get out of it, after the car got almost sideways, resulting in a throwaway run.
In between runs, our friendly welder, Jeff, came over and noticed that, we had four broken components to our motor support system. The two thrust rods that prevent the engine from twisting in the frame looked OK but were broken. And that had caused the previous failures (see above), as well as slightly cracking even the welds Jeff had done in Spokane.
The next run was fine, so we were feeling pretty good. Except, when I checked the car over, the motor mount on the other side had broken. Fixing the thrust rod that connected to it, had finally put enough stress on it to break it. We rushed to Jeff, he welded that together, we replaced it, and we went to bed feeling OK. Maybe, just maybe, we had finally found and fixed the last of the motor mount issues.
The next day, now the only time run day due to advancing weather, was an unmitigated disaster. The morning began with Emily getting into an ugly scooter accident in the pits within minutes of the first run. She scraped up her shin and hands, torqued her right wrist, made a mess of the scooter and badly bruised her ego. Then we rushed up to the first time run.
It was not good. The car strangely leaped off the line, like it wouldn’t hold on the transbrake. It was an embarrassment and a disaster. But both she and I wrote it off to her pain in the wrist and not being able to hold the button. So we didn’t fix anything.
How wrong we were, when the car did the exact same thing on the next test. Again, more embarrassment in front of a good crowd. Ugh. When we got back, I discovered that the ground for the transbrake was barely connected, almost falling off. Another consequence of the terrible torquing and twisting of the car. And a great explanation for the problem.
So we went up for the third test session, and not only did it do it again, but it acted so bizarrely that Emily shut it down at about 60ft. And had to get pushed back off the line. The ultimate embarrassment. Oh… my… god. I checked everything electrical over under the dash, found some OK, but not quite tight enough ground wires, and we went sulking home.
The next morning, I awoke with the brilliant thought that maybe it was a loose ground or wire elsewhere. So checked the entire rest of the car, and found… nothing. At the last minute, I decided to change the transmission and torque converter. It’s an ugly job in the garage, and a really tough one in the pits. But with the great help of our friends Ed Hauter and Greg Pessimier, we got it done. Unfortunately we missed the only time session of the day, so we had to go into round one blind.
But confident that we had fixed everything, we went up ready to kill in round one. The car held on the line and left wonderfully. And… never shifted. Holy cow, what else could possibly go wrong?
The weekend was a nightmare, but we’ve had time since then to lick our wounds. The tranny and converter when off to their respective doctors, and I ordered replacements for the ignition and delay boxes. Maybe we can put this all behind us.
But, as you can probably guess if you’ve stuck it out this far in this sordid tale, both the transmission and converter were deemed “good as new, not a thing wrong” by their respective doctors. So there was no explanation for the bizarre behaviors we saw. In desperation, today, I swapped out the ignition box. It’s the venerable whipping boy of the drag racing world, if things are not working, and you don’t understand why, change the ignition box.
On Friday, we head off to Woodburn for our last PNSCA double-header with a car that’s got all kinds of things welded back together, a transmission and converter that worked at the beginning of the year, and a brand new ignition box. Join us in crossing every finger and toe you can find, that we’ve finally got it all back together.
Thanks for reading this long, and long-overdue, entry. We’ll let you know how we do.