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The latest update as of March 30, 2001

As we mentioned in our last report, the clock is rapidly ticking down to departure day (on Monday at 0-too-early). We awoke this morning with the realization that there's only three days left on this latest downunder adventure. An all-day test session is on tap for today; a day and night test/licensing session is scheduled for tomorrow, and on Sunday, all we have to do is several loads of laundry, strip the race car down for a heap of finishing work, get packed, attend a farewell dinner and prepare for the ride to the airport on Monday morning.

It's been nearly six weeks since I left Vancouver, and it's still shocking to myself and everyone on the Northern Thunder team just how fast the time has flown by. The closest thing to a holiday I've experienced in that time is the five days I spent travelling to, attending, and returning from the "Racers Nationals" in Melbourne two weeks ago. While I immensely enjoyed that "road trip within a road trip", it was closer to a busman's holiday than anything else.

We've also spent a few Sundays doing not much more than sitting in front of the computer (writing these updates and other web-related stuff), cruising around Surfers Paradise and doing the endless loads of laundry. There was even a Saturday, the first one of the trip, when we drove down to Warwick Dragway and attended the debut performance of Graham "Zooman" Slapp's "Ratzilla" twin-engined '48 Fiat. So it wasn't all work days, but very close to it in the final analysis. It's hard to get out these words, but here goes: I'm almost looking forward to getting home and back to my "real" job.... so I can rest up for the next trip downunder.

Now it's back to the "Dragster Diary" while we've got a few minutes before getting some needed sleep before tomorrow's last ditch licensing attempts.

7:00 AM:   We're at Ken Lowe's shop, ready to go down the hill, pick up the hire ute (rented truck), hook up the trailer and head for Willowbank. The weather looks promising as we leave, with light overcast and moderate winds, portents of a comfortable day at the track; in sharp contrast to the steambath conditions last Saturday. With Ken's Chaparral staying at the track last night (for the Drag Racing School), all our gear has to go in the tray (bed) of the ute. Hmm, lots of tying down, carefully arranging and squeezing is required to get all the gear in the ute. Sure hope we can make it out there with the load intact. This is definitely a long way down from towing my own 42 foot Chaparral with everything safely secured inside, but we don't really have any options until I can afford to ship it down. Next year, next year (my new mantra).

9:30 AM:   It took a little longer to get here than we'd planned, but we should still have time for at least three laps, and possibly four, today. The track has been fully prepared and a quick look confirms that it's got the required "stick" for some full-bore runs in the afternoon... if everything goes to plan. We're a little shorthanded today, with Ken and Dave busy with the school, so it's just myself, Darren F, and Darren G. All we have to do before the warmup is fit the rocker arms, fill the fuel tank, and hook up the starter. Less than thirty minutes later, we're ready to go.

10:00 AM:   The car starts quickly and everything's looking good until I let out the clutch... and the wheels aren't turning. Misinterpreting the hand signals, I run through the forward-reverse and shift sequences before getting the kill sign from Darren. "The wheels aren't turning Bob!" Oh, oh, did someone remember to hook up the coupler? Doh! A few turns of the engine with the breaker bar, we re-fire, and everything works as it should. Let's get the valves lashed, clutch set and up to the starting line.

11:00 AM:   Up in the staging lanes, we're ready to make our first lap of the day, as soon as a student clears the top end. Literally seconds before we spin the engine over... a few drops of rain hit the windshield. Then a few more. Then heaps of the little buggahs. Bad news! It looks like it'll be a quick shower, but everything's getting wetter by the second, so we pull back to the pits as quickly as possible. So near, yet so far. Since the jet dryer will cost nearly $1200 an hour, it's obviously not in the budget today. Nothing to do but wait and hope.

1:00 PM:   The showers continued intermittently for nearly an hour, but the sun has dried the track quickly, partly because the temperature is about 30 degrees (86 F) and the skeleton track crew got both tractors out and worked hard to help. We're fired up and pulling around the corner into the water for today's first shot at the quarter. The burnout is a solid, under control, effort and as I pull up to stage, mentally remind myself to slooooow down, eliminate any mistakes and do what I've done so many times in the past.

1:06 PM:   Confirming what I'm feeling inside the car, the crew comes down to pick me up with smiles on their faces and congratulations. The car launched decently (an even worse than Saturday 1.076 sixty foot), shifted to second gear only a "little" late (8300 instead of 8000), and despite my 400 foot shutoff point, cruised to an 8.134 at 108.75 mph.

Of course it's still not anything to report in public, but when has that ever stopped me in the past? We accomplished what we set out to do on this lap, and the steering problem seems to have disappeared. (Maybe we can tell you about what we discovered when we took the steering apart yesterday, but for now we'll keep it a little secret between me, the crew, and a bloke named Brad....)

2:00 PM:   We've finished servicing the car for the next lap. Everything checked out fine and we're ready to go. But the weather is still acting up and we've been seeing very short showers (a few seconds to a minute in duration). The track crew and the air temperature are still able to keep the track in a runable condition, and we're waiting for a call to the starting line in just a few minutes. The next lap is planned to be a half track effort, with a 4000+ launch, shift at 8000, and shut off shortly after going into high gear. Remember: I said that was the plan.

2:30 PM:   Sitting in the car on the return road, waiting for the crew to arrive, I'm trying to reconstruct just what went wrong. The first burnout was rather weak; not sure why, but I just didn't get the tires spinning hard enough (possibly still thinking about the only blower belt we have - which is on the engine). Ken quickly backed me up and had me try again. This time it was worse -- far worse -- as the engine jumped up over 8000 instantly and I was off the pedal almost as quickly. Combined with the immediate hard shake that the car went into, I'm strongly suspecting we don't have any pressure left in the CO2 bottle.

Staged and gone (at just over 4000) the car is still sluggish (1.072 sixty foot) and seems to take forever to get through first gear. Finally I hit the button, feel nothing, then see the shift light come on; hit the shift button again, see the light come on, hit high gear, see the light come on again almost immediately. Hold on Bob, there's something really haywire happening here.... and that's the end of the run. Coasting across the finish line at very leisurely 84.24 mph, I've got plenty of time to hit the recall switch on the tach, which thankfully reads "only" 8800 rpm. And yet another opportunity slips through our fingers.

3:00 PM:   First order of business back in the pits was removing the air bottle. We've now got three empty ones to hustle over to Ken's trailer for refilling. At the rate we're going, we're going to be changing bottles every run... unless we can figure out where the air leak in our system is. We've got a few clues, and some ideas of how to fix it, but they'll have to wait until we can spend the time taking the entire system apart, hose by hose, fitting by fitting, and getting to the bottom of it.

3:30 PM:   We've just experienced the heaviest shower of the day, and the sky is now completely overcast; combined with the dropping air and track temperatures, it's looking very much like a losing battle for the track crew to get things going again today. I'd hate to say how much this shared track rental and preparation is costing today, but there's no refunds available for a partial rainout. Track manager Jeff Rice keeps trying to dry the track, but the braking area is a lost cause for the day and we reluctantly start getting the car ready for tomorrow.

5:30 PM:   We've been able to save quite a bit of work by leaving the car, trailer and equipment at the track overnight and as we head back to Oxenford, we've got time to reflect on the day. Everybody's pleased with the first lap and everyone can understand what screwed up the second attempt. After three days of testing and seven attempts, we still haven't gotten to half track with the throttle open, but we're confident that, weather permitting, we can do that (and a lot more) tomorrow. We'll be back at Willowbank just after 9:00 AM; have time for a few 330 foot hops before the gates open to the public at 2:00 PM; and be ready for the licensing runs by then if everything goes well.

The requirements to endorse my Group One Top Alcohol license are as follows: Blindfold test; Half pass: Full pass; Full pass. The only observer required is either an ANDRA Steward or someone qualified as an observer by the association. Realistically, tomorrow is pretty much the last chance I've got to complete the licensing before the Winternationals, and on the surface it appears to be a big ask, but we have no other options. I've got to be on the plane for home on Monday and I've got to get back to work a.s.a.p. to start generating some more of that race car fuel. You know the stuff; it's spelled m-o-n-e-y.

11:00 PM:   It's time to call it a night. The laundry's done, the coffee mug is empty again and the alarm is set for 6:30. Looks like tomorrow's going to be another of those big days, just like almost every one I've had on this trip. But tomorrow's got to be the biggest of them all. We should be able to get the story of how we did on Saturday posted by early Sunday afternoon Australia time, or early Saturday evening North American time. Tune in for it.... if you dare.

Black Bar
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