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The latest update as of March 13, 2001

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 heaps, mates.

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 team.

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., 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.

Black Bar
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