So what's been happening over the last three weeks? Work, work, and even
more work. I flew out of Vancouver on May 29th and arrived in Brisbane on the
31st. As soon as I arrived at Ken Lowe's shop down on the Gold Coast I found
myself stuck into the race car. With only 48 hours to finish prepping the car
for the Saturday night test-n-tune, and my crew at work on their regular jobs,
it was up to me to get busy.
We made it out to Willowbank on Saturday.... about six hours later than
planned, but the car never made it off the jackstands that night. Our new Racepak
(Pro 1-A model) computer turned out to be both a curse and a blessing. We finally
got some data, but not the sort we wanted to see.
It appears that between our twelve nozzle fuel system, and pro-stock style
intake manifold, we've got some serious fuel distribution problems. Combining
that with air that kept dropping as the evening went on, we kept chasing our
tails until finally throwing in the towel at 10 pm.
What about those license passes that had to be made? Well, in a stroke of
good fortune, Willowbank offered a Sunday test session for Group One (Pro)
cars the next day, at a reasonable cost, with full track preparation. Salvation.
We managed to cajole the track manager into letting us park the car and the
contents of our open trailer in the scrutineering shed overnight and headed
home for a few hours sleep before our last chance test day.
Sunday dawned bright and warm, and we arrived at the track shortly after
the gates opened at 9 am, got the car pitted and warmed up just after 10 o'clock.
The personal computer we'd set up on a work table under the grandstands then
appeared to die just as we went to check out the cylinder temperatures from
Luckily, Darren's daughter Nicole sussed out the problem (the monitor had
been turned off) and we soon got the readings we'd been hoping for. There
were still some wide variances, but at least nothing appeared to be melting,
so we figured we were safe to do the half track pass without making any radical
modifications to the fuel system).
Shortly after noon, we fired up the car behind the water box and proceeded
to do the first license pass; a half-track pass was required.... and as it
turned out, THANK GOODNESS! We made it through the burnout safely on our one
remaining blower belt and everything looked good as I pulled into the stage
With the clutch still loaded down with a tonne of counterweight and a huge
air gap, and the fuel system very rich, we weren't disappointed with the 1.04
sixty foot time and the car moved well through low gear. Then it all started
to unravel.... quickly. I shifted just short of 8200 rpm, then the car laid
down and lumbered to the half-track shutoff point.
Coasting down through the braking area, I tried to figure out what had
happened. The engine didn't make any funny noises, it didn't feel like anything
had broken, but the power just fell off. Guessing that we just had the fuel
system far too rich, I shut the engine off and rolled to a stop at the far
When the crew arrived, all they could report is that it was hosing fuel
out of one cylinder on the launch, then dropped two more at the shift point.
Hmm.... "Let's get 'er back, check out the data and see what happened. We'd
better hurry, as we've got two more passes to make and only four hours left
to do it."
Our first hint of impending doom was difficulty in removing (aka: prying)
off the rocker covers. When they finally came off, we could hardly believe
how much damage we'd done in so short a time. The rocker stands were bent
upwards nearly 30 degrees at either end, on both sides, and we'd obviously
damaged nearly every rocker arm. Most of the pushrods were beat up, and some
of the lash caps were missing. Ouch....
While the crew set to work stripping the top end off the engine, I checked
out the data on the computer. As we'd seen, number one was a dead player before
we left the starting line, and numbers two and three died before the 300 foot
mark. Number seven and eight started to go away just about that time too. No
wonder we weren't making any power with three dead holes, two weak ones and
only three healthy ones.
And the bad news didn't stop there. After the valley cover came off, we
took an inventory of the lifters and counted three dead ones. Plus, one very
second-hand looking camshaft. This was starting to look very bad. The general
consensus was that the cam could be run, with some "in the field" grinding
and massaging. We had enough spares to replace all the other damaged parts.
Now all we needed was enough time to get it done.
The crew of Darren and Mick were soon augmented by Lawrie Moore, Michael
Bailey and "whatever you need mate" help from Victor Bray. As the clock moved
on, we worked as quickly as we could, with me making several phone calls to
Ken Lowe, begging for some extra nozzles and hoses to put in the fuel system.
Ken showed up, with Dave Coles in tow, shortly after 2 pm, but we were still
a long way from being ready to run.
A close inspection of the cylinder heads showed that nearly every rocker
stand mounting bolt hole had stripped. Luckily, Victor Bray had just enough
(we used all he had) heli-coils to fix that problem. With time running out,
we thrashed the engine back together in what we assumed was a runnable condition,
when word came down from the tower that we were out of time.
Everyone's watch had a different time, but the consensus was that we had
indeed run out of time and we'd run out of chances to get the last two license
passes done. Or had we? A quick brainstorming session came up with several
options to get the deed done.
One included a trip north (350 miles) to Benaraby Raceway in Gladstone.
Another involved a trip south (120 miles) to Warwick Dragway and the third
was dropping back to the Supercharged Outlaws or Modified Eliminator category
and using the runs I'd made in March as passes towards an Unlimited Drag Racing
License (one notch down from the Group One Top Alcohol license I was seeking).
With lots of phone calls to various parties, from the ANDRA Division Director,
to the track managers at Benaraby and Warwick on tap for the evening, we set
to work loading up the race car and all our gear as the sun set at Willowbank.
A quick trip back to Ken's shop, the car unloaded, the hired ute (truck)
returned, we turned our attentions to the phones.
Before we'd made the first call, Simon Holgerson rang Ken to inform him
that he'd hired the Warwick track on Thursday and had already arranged for
an ANDRA Steward to be present. Hmm, looks like we've got an option there.
Calling the division director, Helen Hansen, proved promising, but she couldn't
make any decision until she'd talked to her superiors in Adelaide. "I'll ring
you in the morning, Bob".
Looks like it's getting down to nail-biting time in a hurry. Exhausted
from the last four days of non-stop thrashing, I loaded up my rental car and
headed back to Dave's for a well-earned full night's sleep. Monday's going to
be a looooong day.
The day turned out to be a weird mixture of emotions: elation and despair,
sometimes simultaneously. Cutting to the chase, I can report the following:
After several back and forth phone calls, ANDRA decided that my license was
valid to race in Top Alcohol at the Konica Winternationals. Hooorayyy!
With the requirement to travel to either Gladstone or Warwick removed, we
could concentrate on prepping the car for Friday's first qualifying session
at Willowbank. Bliss. Three days to get it ready, then haul it up there and
set up our pit area on Thursday. And then all day Friday to get through
scrutineering (tech) inspection and prepare for the 6:30 pm qualifier.
What about the despair? While I spent the day removing what I could from
the car, cleaning and organizing everything, I had to wait until Darren arrived
in the evening to lift off the blower and tear down the engine. We thought we
were ready to run again on Sunday afternoon, but with three days to carefully
inspect everything, felt it best to take it down completely.
A leakdown test gives good results in seven out of eight cylinders. The
readings are all under 10%... except for #4 which is 65%. Bad news. And it's
not coming out of the valves. Worse news. Let's get the heads off and run
the pistons out.
No surprises up top, no chunks of metal in the sump or filter... things
are looking "good". First three pistons out okay, then it hits.... number
four rod looks a little funny; the piston attached to it sticks in the bore
and when it finally comes out the top.... OUCH!
While Darren knocks out the remaining four pistons, I inpsect the remains
of number four. The piston is wasted, the rings are welded in place, the liner
looks decidely second-hand. Worst is the rod, which is bent at a 20 degree
angle and has bearing material protruding from both sides of the bottom end.
Even the pin, one of those "you couldn't break it with dynamite" 1.156" nitro
pins is bent.
How in the heck can you hydraulic an alcohol motor? Quick answer: let
Wilson drive it. Correct answer: when the rocker arms (especially the exhaust
ones) quit rocking, and the fuel pump is still putting out 14 gallons a minute,
bad things happen very quickly.
On the bright side, we've still got a healthy block, the main bearings look
okay and the crank doesn't have any cracks. Thank goodness for small mercies?
But we still have some serious problems to deal with. We've got no spare piston
pins (who would have we'd have needed them?), we've run out of spare pushrods,
we're looking very marginal in the rocker arm department and a close look at
the cam reveals more damage than we'd originally thought.
Fortunately, we've managed to build up a network of friends and suppliers
and the plan is put in place for me to call Sainty Speed Works in the morning
for the pins, while Darren tries to find a cam grinder that can save our hurt
piece. The rocker gear may be available at Performance Wholesale; Darren will
ring Brett Ehmer there during his coffee break to find out.
Suddenly, the three days of relaxed preparation has become two days of
frantic thrashing and hoping. Oh well, eight days from now I'll be on the
plane back to Canada; I can rest then.
Tuesday was a slow process getting through to the right people, arranging
for the pins to arrive on Wednesday (thanks heaps, Stan and Marg), getting
the cam to Tighe Engineering for a quick repair and sourcing the rocker arm
gear. Add in all the small details like arranging for an awning for the race,
getting the needed pit passes for all the people who've bent over backwards
to help us and getting the sign-writer up to measure the car for all the
graphics and lettering.
Last night we worked until midnight... again, with Darren and Mike putting
in a full six hours after a full day at work. I don't know how they can keep
doing it; must be their youthful enthusiasm. All I can say is: Thanks heaps
guys. You don't know how much I appreciate it.
We managed, with not a little effort, to extract the dead liner and replace
it, then turned our attention to the cylinder heads. We decide that the repairs
done during Sunday's thrash may not hold up and start drilling and tapping
deeper into the heads for much longer rocker stands mounting bolts. We can't
finish the job tonight as the promised heli-coil kits that Darrens had ordered
didn't arrive. Looks like another long night on Wednesday.
Before we pack up for the night, we formulate a plan for the next day;
divide the jobs among us and resolve to not let any of these setbacks keep
us from getting the car down the track on Friday night, and Saturday night,
and, if all goes well, Sunday night.
As I write this update on Wednesday morning, the weather outside is more
of the same: warm and sunny and looking very promising for this weekend. The
day ahead is going to be a long busy one preparing the car, then tomorrow
will be another long hard slog, getting two cars (mine and one of Ken's) out
to Willowbank and setting up our pit area.
I'll try to get the next update (and some of the missing ones from the past
week) posted by Friday morning. Then the plan will be to post daily updates
(sorry, not live ones this year) of our progress at my first competition event
in Australia. As always: stay tuned!