in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of May 6, 2000
NOTE: The following "update" was previously published as the Saturday Report from Mission Raceway's Lordco BC Nationals. Since the Northern Thunder coverage of that event will slip into the dark recesses here in another week or two, I thought it best to preserve it in the "What's New Archives". If you're feeling "ripped off" by my doing this, I'm sorry, but you didn't really think I had time to write stuff 24 hours a day all weekend, did you?
After the nearly total wipeout of Friday, with barely 100 door cars going down the track, between 2 and 3 pm; and not one blown car getting near the staging lanes, our hopes rested on a successful Saturday. In North Vancouver, the day dawned bright and clear, with a weather forecast that leaned heavily towards the optimistic side. A few rain showers on the highway east to Mission worried me somewhat, knowing that MRP didn't have a jet drier available, but as I pulled into the track under sunny skies, my optimism returned.
Crossing the spectator crossover bridge to the pits, I was able to get a good view of the action on the track: an army of worker ants manually drying the surface, with a minimum of powered equipment. Since it was nearing noon, any ideas of getting qualified finished and allowing the race to be completed tomorrow grew dimmer. Apparently the rain had stopped several hours ago, but the combined total of the past few days had waterlogged large areas of the pits and the track crew seemed to be fighting a losing battle removing the moisture from the racing surface.
As the sun continued to shine strongly, everyone's spirits rose, especially with the announcement that the blown alcohol cars would have three qualifying sessions: at 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm. Two hours later than originally announced and an hour less time between rounds, but still, three sessions.
Well, it didn't quite turn out that way.... Shortly after noon, with the sun shining, a light rain began to fall (a combination only possible on the "wet" coast of Canada), and the prospects of completing the event this weekend seemed next to nil. With the track finally dried, for the umpteenth time in the past two days, the door cars began lining up and hot lapping, putting some small amount of heat into the track. At this point, the rumor mill had portable lights coming in and the alcohol cars running as late as 9:00 pm.
3:00 PM: Finally, we have supercharged alky burning cars on the track for the first time this weekend. They're Top Comp cars, not Federal-Mogul cars, but they are loud and the grandstands (still wet, by the way) are starting to fill. With nearly 40 cars trying to squeeze into the 32-car field, the action-starved audience is sure to see some loud, fast and exciting racing. Ten pairs later, we're still riveted to our seats, as the parade of half-fast, mostly carbureted, cars plods along.
Top Comp was conceived as a refuge for those cars orphaned by NHRA's class structure: Altereds, Dragsters, and Funny Cars, unable (due to funds or desire) to run a full-fledged Federal-Mogul car. Those cars, plus the ever-increasing ranks of Pro Mods or "Junior Pro Mods" with no opportunity to run NHRA events were supposed to be the backbone of the class, or at least I thought so.
Unfortunately, the class has quickly (de)volved into one which is dominated by big-engined Super Comp cars, with their full suite of electronic aids, auto transmissions and built-in consistency. So what's wrong with that, Bob? One word: BORING! Maybe it's fun for the racers involved, but the fans (the paying spectators) are being cheated. Cheated out of a show that promised much and delivers nothing more than another super category class.
Here they thought they were going to see a "Junior Top Alcohol" show and all they're getting is Super Duper Comp. The blown alky cars that have tried to compete are dropping out slowly but surely, fed up with racing a horde of dialled-in, on the money cars, with little chance to win and for very little prize money.
Just as I write those words, here comes a pair of blown alky Funny Cars. Finally, side-by-side six-second passes, with Tim Nemeth's 6.68 - 217.12 outdistancing Rod Clough's career best, and #2 qualifying, 6.80 - 204.54. The only highlights of the session, other than this pair, were the hard wheels-up launch of Ralph Paulik (ending 300 feet out with a broken engine) and another hard-leaving rear-engine dragster, Marty Zazula's, falling to trans woes.
Oops, spoke too soon. "Roll the sweep trucks". Bummer.... Fortunately, only the first 100 feet were affected, and we're back up and running in less than 15 minutes. Glen Braid, with a 7.78 - 177.09, wraps up the session in his heavily promoted (hype city or what?) '67 Chevy Canso (Chevy II). He gives the fans what they came to see: a hard burnout, a wheels-up launch and a good run. All with that screaming blown small block Chevy.
There's a short intermission while they run Comp Eliminator, with its usual sad display of only 14 cars (for a 16 or 32 car field, if there was enough interest). Then it's showtime at last, 4:00 pm and the first pair of Federal-Mogul Funny Cars roar to life.
For a blow-by-blow description of all the qualifying action for the Top Alcohol Funny Cars and Dragsters, go to the Saturday Results page. We'll be back later with a between rounds update of all the action in the pits. Stay tuned.
5:00 PM: Time to tour the pits and see who's broken and how badly. First stop, surprisingly enough, is Mark Hentges' trailer. Besides his obvious problem of tire smoke, the free-wheeling engine broke at least one rod and trashed the TFX block. Ninety minutes later, after a hard thrash involving the whole crew, a fresh bullet was installed and they were off to the staging lanes for the next session.
With the clouds starting to thicken again, and the entire program running very late, the decision has just been made to have only two qualifying sessions for the Federal-Mogul cars, with the second and final one starting at 6:00 pm.
Next stop is to survey the carnage at Leo Grocock's Northwest Drag Racing School camp. Long faces and grim expressions tell the story before I even get near the pile of damaged parts displayed on a table.
Apparently, the flame I saw come out from behind the car on his qualifying pass was not the rods coming out, but the result of a torched head and block. Whether that happened before, or was a result of the broken valve, is moot at this point. With Leo's spare parts inventory consisting of nothing but a case of oil, a box of spark plugs and two cans of Brakleen, his odds of competing tomorrow look marginal at best.
7:30 PM: The second (and final) session of Federal-Mogul qualifying has just ended and the fans get a bonus with the appearance of two Nitro Harleys on the starting line. Local hero Ron Houniet (the man too "dangerous" to be allowed into Australia earlier this year) and American Steve Hiedner. They both perform big honking burnouts and follow that up with performances well off their personal bests, but they're still an entertaining end to the day. Hiedner takes the winlight with a 7.35 - 166.60 to Houniet's 7.51 - 186.85
Back to the pits and first stop is Mark Hentges' again. Oh my god, what's happened now? My first sight is the large empty space between the frame rails and then, lying in the grass, another dead TFX. Sure I'm still welcome around here, Mark? "Hey, no prob, Bob." So what happened this time? "We're really not sure. The first engine had nine runs on the rods, so.... But this one had brand new rods. We really don't have any solid clues to go on. Guess we'll just have to throw another bullet in the chamber and pull the trigger again tomorrow."
Elsewhere, it's just usual maintenance for the most part, with Kim Parker's crew replacing a broken lifter and removing all the attendant debris from the inner recesses of the engine. No damage (other than the lifter) found, they're buttoned up and off to dinner before dark. Leo Grocock's gang have miraculously patched up their hurt pieces and appear to be ready to run in the first round, against #2 qualifier Duane Shields in the morning.
While wandering around the pits, I had the good fortune to bump into several old friends and catch up on some of the latest gossip. Jason Howell, late of Brad Hadman's "Progressive Metalcraft" shop, was found surveying his handiwork in Mike Giuliani's pit. He's opened his own chassis shop and one of the first major jobs, other than building his own front-engine Top Fuel dragster over the winter, was the front-half job on Mike's Funny Car.
This was necessitated by a rather disastrous test session at Mission a few weeks ago, which saw the car ride the wheelie bars long and hard, coming down with a resounding (and expensive) crunch. Jason capably grafted new tubing into the car, from the motorplate forward and the job obviously was working well, evidenced by Mike's #5 qualifying 5.91.
Jason let out some big news (and he'll probably kick me for reporting it -- BUT he didn't say it was off the record) about a possible TOP FUEL DRAGSTER race at Mission Raceway in August. NO, not those nuclear-powered NHRA 330 mph monsters, but the Pro Nitro group of front-engine fuelers. And with the air and track conditions at Mission, 5-second ET's and speeds up to 250 mph are almost a certainty.
That, my friends, on 11-inch tires, is a SHOW. Loud, fast and exciting. And affordable: for the promoters and fans alike. The date being looked at is the Langley Loafers Old Time Drags (August 12-13). And the purse figures being discussed are sure to get some major attention: $10,000 to win. Think that'll draw a field of the major players in the not-stalgia ranks? If it comes off, remember that you read it here first.
Another old friend, Brad Hansen, now of Bellingham, Washington, updated me on his racing plans and exploits. He's in partnership with and drives for Jerry Brazil of Eureka, California, in a Federal-Mogul dragster. They've run 5.80's and 240 mph, not bad numbers for a (typically) under-funded operation, with a first-generation PSI blower.
At their first (and so far, only) outing of the year, Bakersfield (last weekend), they just missed the show, ending up #9 with a 5.91 at nearly 240. The amazing part of that run was the heavy tire shake, so hard that Brad couldn't see the track for several hundred feet, and the possible high 5.70 performance that the car showed when it finally smoothed out in high gear.
Brad let on that he was heavily lobbying Jerry to bring the car up to the second Mission points meet in June. Since they had the Seattle date already pencilled in on their calendar, and with Mission only another three hours driving time, Brad is reasonably certain they'll be here for that meeting. Only problem is they need some new valve springs and yes, their budget is that tight, that it is a concern. Let's hope you can talk old Jer' into the trip; he'll really enjoy running at MRP and he'll be a ton of fun swapping war stories in the pits.
Before I called it a night and headed for home, a last trip round to Grocock's pit brought me face to face with two examples of that most dreaded species: Kiwis at large! These guys, similarly to Australians, run on almost pure alcohol when abroad, it seems. The major loony, Mark Seamer, of Auckland, tried to tell me about his "exact replica of the Stone, Woods & Cook '41 Willys" that he's building to run at Mere Mere's (yes, that's a town in New Zealand) Champion Dragway. When he got to the part about the 911-hp carbureted big block Chevy .... that's where he pretty much lost me.
Anyways, next time I'm stuck for accomodation in Auckland, I'm more than welcome to come stay at his place. Hmm, we'll be sure to mark that down in our "to do" book. Sorry, Mark, but a side-trip to NZ is just not in the cards. It's expensive enough to get down to Australia, and it's got twelve drag strips to attract me, but a pair of islands 800 miles east of OZ, with one drag strip is just not enough of an attraction. Thanks, anyway.
That's about all the news from day two of the Lordco BC Nationals, and with the weather forecast for tomorrow looking pretty good, it actually seems that we'll be able to get this event in the books, this weekend. Twenty four hours ago, that possibility seemed very remote. Amazing what a change a day can make. Tune in again tomorrow for all the stories from day three.