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.