Yes, we finally did it! A little more than three years after we began this project of a lifetime,
to construct a state-of-the-art Top Alcohol Dragster, we've got a completely assembled, and running,
car. It certainly hasn't been easy -- or cheap -- but its actually happened. If you've been
following the "Dragster Diary" on these pages over the last three weeks, you'll know that even
the few last minute items that needed doing, weren't that easy -- or cheap.
Frankly, without the dedication and skill of quite a few people, this day never would have
arrived. Let's take a few lines to start thanking them for all the help they've given me during
the construction process. I've got to start with Tom Mohan, who convinced me to go with a wedge
(B-1) engine and then put together a combination that appears to have the power required to be
competitive in Australian drag racing. Due to budget constraints, Tom isn't with us on this trip,
but he's been invaluable in sorting out some of the problems over the phone.
Several other people in North America have gone well beyond the typical business-customer
relationship to get the dragster to its current state. Brad Hadman built me one heck of a chassis,
incorporating his latest ideas, and willingly answering more than the usual quotient of dumb
questions from me. Les Davenport put together a fuel system that was more than a little daunting
in its complexity (to me), but seems to be very close to the mark right out of the box. He's a
man of few words, but has taken the time to walk me through the system more than once and explain
how it all works.
And we can't ignore the amount of time and effort that Dave, Bud and T-Bone put in at their
High-Performance Engines machine shop. Taking a brand new hemi block and converting it to a brand
new wedge block turned out better than anyone could have asked for. In addition, we nearly lost
count of the number of hours they put in on the cylinder heads, getting them "just right." Thanks
Next on the list are the invaluable contributions of numerous Canadian and American racers
who have willingly answered my questions, given good advice and encouraged me to persevere through
the rough patches and get the car running and on the track. Perhaps they don't perceive me as a
threat (with the car based in Australia), so they've been easy to approach and ask advice from.
The list of racers who've helped is nearly endless, but here's a sampling: Mark Hentges and
Scott Nelson of Airtime Aviation Racing; Bob Haffner, Leo Grocock and Paul Tarsenko of the Abbotsford
Glass and Northwest Drag Racing School group; the gang at Edgecombe Racing, who until very recently,
were the only team running a B-1 powered Federal-Mogul Dragster. Thanks also to Brad Hansen, Jerry
Brazil, Ken Sitko, Jason Howell and others I have may forgotten to include in this list.
On the internet and publishing side of things, the unflagging enthusiasm and support of Larry
Pfister, Vicki "The Champ" Strell, Dean Murdoch, Jerry Frechette, Bobby Bennett Jr., Bret Kepner,
and Don MacGowan have kept me working hard to keep the website tuned up and continuing to tell
the story as it happens, warts and all. Thanks heaps mates; you've kept the lights on, even when
the power supplies were too low to put a dim glow on a monitor.
Now we've got a long list of Aussies that have been there for me over the nearly two years
that the car has been in this country. First, obviously, is transplanted American
Ken Lowe, who was one of the major catalysts of this
entire project. When I met him on my first trip downunder, in October 1997, he convinced me, (or
more correctly, allowed me to convince myself), that it would be a smart move to ship all my
gear downunder and base the car in Queensland. The big move hasn't been without some pain, worry
and problems, but it's looking like it wasn't the big mistake that the nay-sayers predicted.
The location of the car is one of the keys to making this entire project work: directly beside
Ken's shop, with access to all the resources of the best-equipped race car shop and fuel injection
service shop in the southern hemisphere. Combine that with Ken's vast knowledge of blown alcohol
dragsters, gained in over 30 years in the sport, and we've got the best possible location on this
side of the planet. The many, many hours we've spent, sometimes long into the night, discussing
every aspect of the car have been invaluable. No matter what problems we run into, none of them
have been too difficult for Ken to figure out. Literally, he's been there, done that.
Local engine builder Kevin Kent, who did the final assembly of the engine down here, and is
probably the most knowledgeable Chrysler person in the country, was a godsend. He took a serious
amount of time away from his business to put together the engine without cost or complaint. Dave
Coles, one of Ken Lowe's employees, has turned out some beautifully crafted parts for the car,
including a great looking (and working) set of headers. His magneto support bracket, valley
plate, and internal hex head stud nuts have turned out to be excellent pieces also. He's also
been a very understanding and helpful landlord, putting up with me as a houseguest on the last
two trips downunder.
Finally, we've got the two Darrens. The first, Darren Fahy, has been a major part of the project
since the car landed here in June 1999. He spent nearly two months, seven days a week, doing the
majority of the work on the car and getting it to a nearly ready-to-run condition before the
money and time ran out in early August of that year. Since then, he's patiently waited for my
return, and within three hours of my arrival on this current trip, was working on the car again.
And kept working. The last three weeks has seen him working hard, most often twelve hours a day,
to ensure the completion of the car. Whenever my enthusiasm or energy flagged, he'd give me a
needed boost by continuing to put in the effort. Without his efforts, we'd still be weeks away
from having a finished race car. Thanks have to go out to his family too, for putting up with
his absences for very large portions of every day.
The second Darren, "Hollywood" Grimes, has been a very recent addition to the team, being
introduced to the group by Fahy only two weeks ago. He's got extensive drag racing experience,
having been part-owner and sometimes driver of the famed "Patterson & Stamatis" team from
Perth, Western Australia. In the early 1990's they purchased and imported one of the last small-block
Chevy dragsters run by Rick & George Santos and achieved some success (6.01 best at the old
Ravenswood track) with it before the budget ran out.
Since then, Darren's moved across the country to Queensland and is now the Retail Sales Manager
of Kingston Raceway, a local go-kart track. He's volunteered to handle the clutch (no... no one
else stepped forward, in case you were wondering) and looks set to become a key member of the
There's still a mob of folks that I could thank for their assistance, from Gary Phillips
helping us with a few answers to block stud questions; the Jack Brothers for the use of their
flow bench (to confirm that Tom Mohan had achieved his airflow goals with the wedge heads);
Roly Leahy for "smoothing out the wrinkles" at customs when the car landed in '99; the Surfers
Paradise Drag Racing Association for their support and friendship to an overseas member; Mark
Brew and his entire crew for helping us sort through some of the problems of building a new car;
and literally heaps of other people. Melissa Thompson, Kym Petterwood, Tracey Lowe, Harold and
Tanya Campbell, Bob Pengilly, David and Jan Cook, John Winterburn, Dennis Syrmis, Rob Oberg, etc.,
I've certainly omitted more than one person, and my apologies for those omissions, but we'll
get around to thanking more folks when the memory bank comes back to full speed, as it always
seems to, at a later date. Now, before we close for the day, here's a short rundown on what went
on yesterday. The first day of B-1 thunder in Australia.
8:00 AM The weekend was a weather wipeout, so we've postponed the first blast of
Northern Thunder until later this morning. Stay tuned for a brief report, with pictures (if we
can hold the camera steady enough) of the action later today. At this moment, the sun is out,
the temperature's in the mid 20's and the ground is starting to dry out after the incredible
rainfall of the last three days. Stay tuned....
11:00 AM Success! The monster is alive.... three years and a bit since we started
on this odyssey, it all came together in a thundering roar. Actually, it sounded rather tame at
idle, but certainly came to life when the throttle opened. Now we've just got a short list of
items to sort out before the next startup later today.
5:00 PM Double success.... sort of. Like the pop psychologists are so fond of
saying these days, we have a few issues to deal with. Nothing major at the moment, but we're
dropping the pan and going to take a good look at the bottom end. Then the transmission and
clutch are coming out for a look and some work. More news later. Let's hope it's better, eh?
As you've seen, we got the engine running, twice. Even though everyone said later that they
expected it to start as easily as it did, we were all impressed by the smooth, strong idle and
the almost effortless transition to staging (4500-5000) rpm. Ken, for one, had some doubts about
the ability of the Davenport fuel system to be so "user-friendly" without modification. Still,
we have to get the Racepak recorder and tach working so we can see if our visual and aural impressions
are confirmed by the data. That's one of the "issues" we've got to deal with.
The others are, in order: the blower belt, the clutch, and the transmission. The first one
wasn't totally unexpected, but if we keep putting black powder all over the front of the engine
on startups, then we're either going to be buying shares in Gates Rubber, or making some radical
changes to the drive setup. The clutch and trans look like solveable problems, but they're going
to take some inspection, thinking and changes before they'll operate in the manner intended.
As I finish writing this update, the pan is off the engine (and the bottom end looks good -
at least until we start pulling the main and rod caps), the oil filter has minimal amounts of
"gold dust" in it, the Lenco is out on the bench, the bellhousing's on the floor and the clutch
is ready for dis- and re-assembly. Looks like another long, hot (temps expected today are 30+)
day at the shop.
We'll try to slap together a report for tomorrow, but it might not be posted before we arrive
in Melbourne later in the week. Melbourne?.... Another story, for another day. As always, stay
tuned. PS: We did get some video of the car running yesterday, but we can't convert and upload
the images at this time. Ken's Sony Mavica (which has taken all the pics we've posted from downunder
on this trip) wasn't used as he was far too busy overseeing the startup.