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The latest update as of March 23, 2001

It's been rather quiet on this page for the past week, hasn't it? It's not because we've been sleeping on the job; in fact, we've hardly had time for much of that very precious commodity lately. Here's a quick synopsis of the last five days:

Sunday:  Drove from Melbourne to Sydney, stopping in Albury for a visit with Tony Brooks (owner of a Top Doorslammer '63 Corvette). We took a few pics of the car and will post them when we return to Canada.

Monday:  Visited the Sainty Speed Works shop (in Wentworthville) and took a close look at the Mk II version of their Billet Three Valve engine. They've still got a few bits to make before they're ready to run, but 15 pairs of cylinder heads (alcohol and nitro versions), along with 10 blocks are sitting on the benches in a mostly complete stage. There's a heap of pics to be posted in the future, but again, they'll have to wait until I can pass them through the Firewire connection on my home computer.

After the Sainty visit, I drove over to Baulkham Hills and spent the afternoon with the DRAGSTER Australia folks. A planned thirty minute visit turned into two and a bit hours, during which David Cook gave us some very interesting information about the state of the sport -- which must remain "off the record" until a later date. The day flew by and it was nearly 4:00 PM before I reached the highway north to Brisbane. With more than 900 kms to "home", the prospects of reaching it that evening were looking rather dim. We did make it, after an "interesting" drive up the Pacific Highway, which would been a very scenic trip... in daylight.

Tuesday:  Back to work at Ken Lowe's shop, as we've only got forty-eight hours remaining until our first test session at Willowbank. Biggest task of the day is to get the Racepak computer working. To aid us in that task is the former agent for Racepak in Australia, Tanya Campbell. Despite her best efforts, we're unable to get the "vintage" data recorder working. It's getting power, and will display rpms (on the handheld display), but collecting anything other that has proven impossible. So it looks like we'll be running "blind" on Thursday.

Wednesday:  Final preparations for tomorrow's test are made, including loading the dragster on Ken's second trailer (an open flatdeck). We'll be bringing up Ken's Chaparral too, as there's no room on the flatdeck for all our gear. Our emotions dimmed when the rain started coming down just before sunset, and as the rain picked up strength through the evening, we were facing a washout on Thursday. All that work... and another setback from the Wilson Weather Hoodoo.

Thursday:  Surprise! The sun's out, it's getting warm and the ground is pretty dry. We're on the road at 8:00 AM, and after a few important stops (at the servo for LPG and bags of ice, and the bakery for some breakfast), we reach Willowbank just before 10:00 AM. The track is dry and prepared to the 300 foot mark for the day. Spirits are high and the anticipation level is building rapidly. The car starts instantly for the warmup, a port nozzle test confirms we're close on the fuel system; the handheld pyrometer shows the staging temperatures are good; and the driver shows he's able to follow instructions.

Just a few minutes after noon, the looooooong wait between runs is over. It's been four years, six months, five days since I last ran my blown alcohol car (and that was with 392 power), and a new era begins for myself and Northern Thunder. The car is off the jackstands and I'm turning the corner into the waterbox for the first burnout. Rolling slowly through the water, it's time to make some NOISE.

Brrrraaaaapp! Whew... this thing has some serious horsepower on tap. The tires lit up quickly, and the car rocketed across the starting line. I'd intended to pull up at the 100 foot mark, but as I lifted off the throttle, the revs came up and the fast idle speed kept me rolling for another 100 feet or so. I'm mildly worried about the idle speed, but the car slips smoothly into reverse and makes the trip back to the starting line.

The crew has diagnosed the problem, and they admit later that they were very close to shutting me off, but since we were only planning to go through low gear, decided to let me continue. Then, just before pulling into stage, the engine nearly died. Not being able to quickly diagnose the problem from inside the car, I kept it lit with some throttle manipulation and got ready to launch. We've decided to leave at 3000 rpm, run it up to the first shift point, at 8000 rpm, and then shut it off and coast down into the braking area.

Revs up, visor down and then.... showtime! The car scoots out quickly and almost before it began, the run is over. I cut it off a little early (7050 rpm), but the car and driver worked well. I've never accelerated that quickly, not even close, and the urge to keep the throttle down for another few hundred feet (or more) was nearly overwhelming. But I've got to show that I can follow instructions, and logic prevailed. Despite the very early shutoff, the car still had enough momentum to coast down to the last turnoff in the braking area.

Whew.... what a huge sense of relief. All the worry, dramas and anticipation are finally over. So when we can do this again? An hour from now? "No Bob, we've got some problems" (as I'm shown a small chunk of intake manifold gasket). Before we get it back to the pits, we make a small detour across the scales and see some very encouraging numbers on the digital readout. The numbers come up at 2010 pounds (nearly 50 lbs. under the minimum weight -- even with a steel bellhousing), and confirms that we've got some room to add ballast.

A few ideas to save the day are tossed about back in the pits, from cutting more gaskets (of course I left the spares at the shop), to using silastic sealer, but in the end, we figure that using any sort of a gasket is just not going to work. We've only got four bolt holes on each side, and the manifold and heads aren't mating squarely anyway, so we've got some serious re-engineering to do before it runs again.... on Saturday.

On the way back to the shop, we stop at Bob Brackam's Romac Engineering shop for a face to face discussion on purchasing one of his late model Racepak computers. Two are available, at a very reasonable price when I calculate how much they are in Canadian dollars. Note: People think that the exchange rate is painful buying U.S. dollars in Canada, but here in Australia, their dollar has been under 50 cents U.S. for the past two weeks. Ouch! Brackam is mindful of our cash situation, and our dire need for some data, but says that he's going to have to give some serious thought to our "some now, balance later" offer.

One more brief detour for some breakfast/lunch/dinner (take your choice) and we're back at the shop and ready to unload the car, the equipment, and strip the car down. We take some measurements of the head/manifold lineup and Ken starts working on a CNC program to cut o-ring grooves into the manifold flange (after cutting it square and putting a .250" adapter plate on the flange). It's going to take most of Friday to get that done, and then we have to put it all back together, load everything up and be ready for an early departure to Willowbank on Saturday morning.

As we head for home at 9:00 pm, the grin that's been permanently painted on my face since noon is still intact. It may take more than a few showers to even begin to dent it. The most encouraging aspect of the day was the way I handled myself in the car. The surface layer (no measurement available) of rust seemed to evaporate in the time it took to drive through the water and stand on the throttle. From then on, it all became fairly automatic. The car left hard and straight, and the quantum leap in acceleration wasn't intimidating at all. Saturday probably won't be a different story, as we only plan to run 660 foot passes. Note: we didn't have the timing gear setup yesterday, and won't be able to get any numbers until the gates open to the public at 4:00 pm on Saturday.

Friday:  Things are moving fairly slowly today, hence the ability to write this update. Ken and Dave are stuck into modifying the intake manifold, Darren's off at his real job until early in the evening, and I'm trying to get some web stuff done, picked up a few needed bits for tomorrow, arranged for a money transfer from Canada (at this point I don't want to even estimate how much I've spent in the last month) and cleaned up the car and equipment. If we stick with it all day, we should be done by 9:00 pm or so....

Our next update is planned for Sunday afternoon (Saturday evening in North America) and we should have some real performance numbers to report on. Maybe even some pictures if we're lucky. Note: We had four cameras with us at the track yesterday, and only one was running when the car was. We've got only one picture of the burnout on an SLR camera, and the roll of film is only half done, so we won't be able to get the results developed, scanned, and posted until next week. There are a few more pics and some details available on the Ken Lowe website. Check it out for quicker updates than I've been able to do. Now it's time to get back to work.

Black Bar
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