in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of March 24, 2000
7:00 PM - To win, or even just to qualify, in Top Alcohol racing these days requires either a screw blower or injected nitro. While we'll do our best to ignore the second option today, the screw blower choices have been either the Swedish-built Whipplecharger (a renamed industrial compressor), or the PSI supercharger, the brainchild of Tempe, Arizona's Norm Drazy.
First introduced to competition in 1988, the PSI has gone through several stages in its development to its current configuration, named the "D" blower. Or is the "D" blower the current hot setup? Let's backtrack for a minute to the previous models, in order, from day one: 200C (1988), 200H (1992), 206A (1995), 206B (1996), 206D (1997).
Let's see now, have I left any models off that list? Hmm . . . oh yes, it seems there was a "one-off" (or was it two, or three . . .) "interim" blower that Norm produced in late '96, named the 206C. Apparently it had one slight drawback: too much boost! Say what? Yes, it's hard to believe, but there is such a thing in drag racing as "too much." At least there was four years ago. This blower was quickly superceded by the current "D" model and seemed destined to the history books, until earlier this year.
Over the past winter a certain Top Alcohol dragster team, that was already very, very successful undertook an extensive dyno testing program. They wanted to try every possible combination in an attempt to move well ahead of the rest of the pack. One item that they looked at, and found to be very beneficial, was the retired "C" blower. To the tune of 200 horsepower, reportedly. Since this was a previously (NHRA) approved supercharger, it was deemed legal for competition.
Or was it? The lathes and mills must have worked some serious overtime over the winter producing a reported 10 or more new "C" blowers, which were distributed to PSI customers at the Winternationals. The results are a matter of record: some teams did improve their ET's and speeds substantially. You can check out the results from the first two NHRA national events of 2000 for the numbers.
So what happened next? Well, sometime between the Phoenix and Gainesville races, someone laid a complaint with NHRA, questioning the legality (or otherwise) of these resurrected "C" blowers. Were they identical to the original, or were they modified in any way, in contravention of an agreement between the association, PSI and Whipple. This agreement states that the latest modifications (dating back to 1997) to the screw blowers by the manufacturers are the final ones allowed for NHRA competition.
And just how is this agreement policed? I'd really like to know, as I've never seen an NHRA tech inspector pulling apart a screw blower and measuring rotors, internal case dimensions, outlet sizes and shapes, etc. As if they ever could do it and then successfully reassemble the unit. Not to mention what that would do to the SFI certification of the blower. So how does anyone know exactly what is lurking inside that big grey housing?
Nevertheless, NHRA issued a letter to all the Top Alcohol racers at Gainesville, dated March 15, demanding that all "C" blowers be removed from their cars and replaced with either "D" or earlier models. As many as ten racers were affected by the ruling and they had to change blowers immediately or load up and go home. Judging by the number of blown alcohol dragsters on the qualifying list at Gainesville, several racers may have been forced to exercise the second option.
The latest news on the situation is that NHRA is receiving submissions on the subject and will make a ruling before the next national event on the schedule, the inaugural Las Vegas Nationals (April 6-9). Reportedly, PSI has applied for re-certification of the "C" model and if approved, it will be all systems go for all involved . . . except those racers still running a "D" (obsolete?) blower or a Whipple.
But what about the FBI involvement? Say what? When I first heard that the "feds" were on the case, it really got my mental wheels turning. Mystery, intrigue, "X"-files type stuff, eh? Unfortunately, it's much simpler and rather mundane. The facts are: A "racer" called PSI and asked Norm some rather pointed questions about the "C" blower and received what may -- or may not -- have been information that the "C" blower had been "optimized" for the smaller cubic-inch engines being run by some of the top performing cars. Norm's answers are beside the point here; the fact that the "racer" tape-recorded the conversation is the basis for the FBI investigation. This was in violation of federal wiretapping laws apparently.
So where do we go from here? Until NHRA makes a ruling, and as stated previously, that should come in the next two weeks, the "D" blower or the Whipple are the only two viable choices for supercharging a blown alcohol engine. I seriously doubt that Norm will be able to re-certify the "C" model on such short notice, so the whole issue may be put on hold until later this year. Stay tuned for what should be some interesting developments in this area.
So where does that leave the Whipple? Things have been very quiet for this company for the last few years, as development stopped on this unit more than three years ago. Art Whipple is not able to make any major changes to his units anyway, as the blowers are constructed in Sweden by the AutoRotor company. In fact, they were never really developed for an automotive application, but when the PSI blowers came on the scene back in 1988, Mr. Whipple did some research and found a business opportunity that has done very well for him in the past decade.
And at one point in the mid-90's, the Whipple absolutely dominated the market. A combination of blower overdrive ratios, and the ongoing development curve of the PSI, combined to give the Whipple a major advantage. Hard work and perserverance -- and some serious lobbying -- from Norm Drazy eventually levelled the playing field and during the second half of the last decade saw the PSI eventually overtake the Whipple and become the big player in superchargers.
At this point, the word is that Art Whipple has become very disillusioned with the whole blower market and may not even bother to perform the SFI-necessary spin testing required to continue re-certifying his units. The current NHRA rulebook has changed the requirement for blower re-certification from every year to every two years, so a "grace period" has effectively been built in to the rules to allow Whipplecharger owners to continue racing for at least another year.
And then what happens? Hey, what do you think I am? A cyrstal ball reader, a clairvoyant, a fountain of information? Sorry, I'm none of those and not even in the loop for the inside info on what's going to happen. I'm just as much in the dark as the next guy. For the last word(s) on this subject today, I'll quote the following passage from the PSI 1988 catalog. In Norm's own words:PSI never stops doing research and development. Racing involves pushing the limits, so PSI is constantly reengineering itself and its products.
PS(I): Hey Norm, do ya wanna trade me a new "C" blower for my brand-new, still in the box, "D" model? If it's not an improvement on the "D" blower, you shouldn't mind, should you? And while we're horse(power) trading, how about trading me one of those new injector hats, for my (also) still brand-new magnesium hat, with billet entry throat and Davenplate? I'll even pay all the shipping costs. Let me know, eh?
That's all for now folks and the next update is planned for tomorrow night, when I'll endeavour to catch up on all the stories I've missed this month. And I was planning to be at Mission Raceway tomorrow and Sunday -- the weather forecast looks pretty good for the weekend, for a change -- but my work schedule has just changed to put me on day shift tomorrow (for the first time this year; better set the alarm clock REALLY LOUD!!!).
Sunday is still a possibility though. Maybe then I'll finally get a chance to put that Optura camera to some good use. Stay tuned. And remember: for all the latest news -- whether we have to make it up or not -- from the wild, weird world of drag racing, keep checking the What's New page at Northern Thunder.
The latest update as of March 24, 2000
8:00 AM - Just a few quick words before I log off and head for dreamland. (I've been up for nearly 24 hours, working -- on my real job -- and am fading faster than a lean cylinder in good air...).
For the past week there's been lots of rumours, innuendos and downright misinformation circulating about the latest developments in PSI blowers. I've gathered all the info I can from various sources and will report my findings later today -- about 6:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time). Providing I don't sleep in, that is. Now where's that alarm clock? Check in tonight for the full story.