in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of September 18, 1999
"Hey, what happened to that story you promised yesterday? The one about Bob Haffner going over to England last weekend and helping Finland's Eero Kilpelainen to make the quickest and fastest runs ever in Europe?" ..... Well, as usual, time was the enemy. Just not enough of it to get everything done, so here it is, a day late, but not a dollar short, I hope.
It all started innocently enough with a phone call from Bob Meyer (of Bob Meyer Race Cars in San Diego, California) to Haffner several weeks ago. "Hey Bob, what are you doing next weekend? Interested in flying over to England for the FIA European Finals at Santa Pod?" Yeah, just like that, hop on a plane, fly halfway round the world and go to a drag race. Bob (Meyer) had already committed to helping the FIA Top Methanol Dragster points leader (Jarmo Roivas) at the event, but knew that Eero needed some help. He'd just fired his entire crew and none of the new guys knew anything about drag racing. Luckily though, one of them could speak English, so at least they could communicate with their Canadian helper.
Going into the event, Kilpelainen had a career best of 5.94 with his ex-Chris and Darrell Russell, Bob Meyer-built car. While equipped with most of the latest top alcohol gear, the car had not been too consistent during the season. Upon arriving in the Santa Pod pits on Friday morning, Bob (Haffner) was pleased to discover Eero was running a combination very similar to his own. Meyer car, BAE engine, Whipplecharger, MSD mags, etc. Despite the very unfamiliar surroundings, he'd at least found something in common with the Finnish team.
As he'd never worked with the Kilpelainen team before, Bob decided the best plan of action was to have them make the first qualifier with their standard tune-up and procedures and then use that as a baseline. A very nice 5.94 at his best speed ever (241.13) was the result. Looking at the computer readings and seeing the plugs weren't even close to hot, Bob turned up the wick a little for the second session. A much improved, and career best, 5.829 at 243.88 was the result. At this point, Eero and his entire crew were feeling pretty good about their new-found Canadian crew chief. The Firday night maintenance teardown revealed no damage anywhere and the only major work performed was shimming the tired titanium valve springs.
Saturday morning saw an early mist burn off and the sun out in full force, heating up the all-asphalt track and not providing the best running conditions. Despite those obstacles, the Kilpelainen team made history on their fifth and final qualifier, with a best-ever outside North America, 5.708 - 247.30. With (up to) three chances to back it up during eliminations on Sunday, Eero was on the verge of setting the official FIA (European) Top Methanol Dragster record for speed and ET. And the plugs still weren't fazed. The bearings were fine. Despite the huge performance improvements, the car wasn't hurting itself. If only they'd had a new set of "tyres", Bob felt that a mid-5.60 run was possible.
Sunday dawned cooler and slightly cloudy for eliminations; perfect weather for horsepower and traction. The first round battle with fellow Finn, Kari Eskelinen, was over very quickly, with another all time European best of 5.691 - 248.06, burying Kari's game 5.997 effort. With the record backed up, Eero and Bob could now focus on taking the event title. Unfortunately, the pressure of the situation got to Eero on the starting line in the semi-finals and a very late .703 reaction, coupled with an another outstanding run (5.746 - 246.58), failed to get around Dave Wilson's 5.78. The weekend ended one run short of their goal, but Kilpelainen and Hafner left Santa Pod with the FIA record, the honour of running the first sub-5.70 time ever in an alcohol car outside North America and the respect of their fellow racers.
Greatly encouraged by the new alliance, Eero has invited Bob over to Finland later this year and prior to the start of the 2000 season, to help prepare the car for even better performances. Bob's take on the situation: "The car is capable of running high 5.50's with some fresh parts, especially new tires, and if the tracks are capable of holding the power, we'll see new records set all over Europe next season. Eero wants me to fly in for all the rounds of the FIA Championship next year and feels that winning the crown is well within reach with the car running like it is now."
As I've said before, drag racing is now truly becoming an international sport. While there has been organized drag racing in Europe and Australia since the mid-60's, the movement of racers and technology across international boundaries has picked up some serious speed in the latter half of the 90's. As we approach the new millennium, this trend will only accelerate and the performance gains will be felt around the world.
Could a true WORLD drag racing championship series be all that far in the distance? The two biggest hurdles to clear at the moment are the logistics of transporting the cars and racers and the varying rules structures. However, with the right attitude, sufficient sponsorship and some innovative thinking (like Ken Lowe's shipping container ideas), a world championship series is an achievable goal.Last item(s) for this update: Tomorrow (Sunday, September 19) at Mission Raceway, Leo Grocock will be attempting to update his Top Alcohol licence at the wheel of Ken Rempel's "Cousin's Transport" dragster. Ken has told Leo that he's not allowed to run quicker than Ken's best numbers, so the word is that Leo will save the best for last. Why, after five (or is it longer?) years out of the cockpit is Leo getting back in? Well, it seems he has plans to attend Paul Smith's Top Fuel School later this year and without a current alcohol licence, he would need to make six passes (at $5000 US EACH) to get his Top Fuel licence.
While he has no plans to campaign a fueller, he's long held the ambition to drive one, and at his age, (sorry, Leo), feels that's there no time like RIGHT NOW. Rumour has it that he'll have a classmate from Mission, BC, joining him in Florida this winter. Wonder who that could be? We'll let you know as soon as we get permission. (Yeah, as if that ever stopped you before, Bob). We'll bring you a full report on tomorrow's licencing activities and any other hot news we find in the pits, plus, as soon as we can get them scanned, some photos of Bob Haffner's weekend at Santa Pod.
Final note for today: Drag Racing on TV this weekend. Speedvision will be broadcasting one hour of qualifying from Maple Grove Raceway's "True Value Keystone Nationals" tonight, (Saturday, Sept. 18) from 5:00-6:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time. Then tomorrow (Sunday), the first rounds of professional eliminations (Top Fuel, Funny Car and maybe if they have some time left over, Pro Stock). That broadcast will be two hours, from 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM, PST. If you miss it, or the VCR screws up, there will be a repeat of the two-hour show on Monday, September 20, from 9:00 - 11:00 PM, PST.
Despite losing the first day of qualifying to heavy rain brought to the area by Hurricane Floyd, the skies have cleared and at this writing, qualifying is nearing a conclusion. The forecast for Sunday's eliminations is sunny skies and comfortable temperatures. For complete Top Fuel and Top Alcohol results, check out our Results Menu, which will be updated throughout the weekend.