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The latest update as of October 21, 2010

"Hola from El Pescadero, Baja California - 2:30 PM"

In case you haven't been following the exploits of our intrepid traveler, scroll down the page and see what Mr. Thunder has been up to for the past few days. It's been fun and interesting to say the least. But if you're seeing this on the internet, then we're back in business, at least to some extent, and back online. With so much unfinished business to take care of, it's difficult to know where to start, but let's get on the John "Nitro Boss" Hale story before the details get too fuzzy to translate into a coherent story.

John's journey into nitro nostalgia funny car racing began just two years ago, when he and his wife grew tired of go-kart racing. "It's boring, can't you get into something faster?" she asked, and John was only too ready to take the next, admittedly huge, step into the motorsport world. Jumping right into the deep end of the pool, he contacted Virgil Hartman (Rhonda and Richard's dad) and purchased a surplus funny car, "Scarlet Fever", that the Hartman's had been racing in nostalgia trim for a while, but was parked when Richard's crew-chief-for-hire business left him little time to play with it.

Before John brought the car out in competition, he changed the appearance with a new paint scheme and the car became the "(Big) Mike Burkhart" tribute car. He first came to my notice at the first, and is it turned out, last AHRA race earlier this year at Desert Thunder Raceway in Denton, Texas. Everything that could possibly go wrong at that event, did. From tornados cruising in the vicinity, to golfball sized hailstones that dented the body and threatened to break the windows on his tractor-trailer, to the three feet of water and mud on the track, all the way to the final insult: no paychecks, despite the promised $1000 a run for Hale and his opponent, John Capps, in the Jungle Jim Liberman tribute car.

A little sidenote here: an even bigger victim of the Denton fiasco was John's good friend Mitch King who brought out both of his Top Fuel cars (himself and Spencer Massey) driving for a contracted $4000 per run, and of course he didn't receive a penny in payment either. As soon as word got out in the racing community about how these racers were stiffed at Denton, then the chances of AHRA promoting another race with pro category racers, were just about slim and none... and you all know the punchline for that old joke, don't you?

After meeting up with nitro flopper guru, and chassis builder extraordinaire, Steve Pleuger, John decided to go really first-class and ordered a brand-new, from the ground up chassis to remount his Burkhart body on. Why keep the old body? It's really light, and more aerodynamic than most people realize. And he's got a 249-mph timelsip to back up that assertion, so who's arguing. But as with all things Pleuger, it's going to take time.... as in a lot of time, before the new chassis is done and John can move into the upper ranks of the really competitive cars in the class.

After this year's March Meet, John contacted Bob LeDuc, who still had the car that his daughter Leah drove before she landed the ride in the Pleuger & Gyger Mustang. Gee, this is getting to be a really small world, isn't it? One connection leads to another, then another, and before you know it, John Hale is sitting in a very competitive car that was repainted and now bears the "Nitro Boss" moniker. "It's a bit - like 185 lbs. - over the minimum (2350 lbs) weight for the class, but it runs very well and we're more than happy with it."

The combination has worked well for them this season, with a small (413 cid) engine, 3.90 rear gear, 34% (most of the time) Lenco 2-speed, and a Littlefield LB2 (I think that's what he said) 6-71 blower. Despite it not being the flavour of the week, John is very happy with it, as it's consistent and doesn't start losing boost after a few runs. The secret seems to the 8-71 case with 6-71 rotors and large billet end plates that fill the extra space (no billet cases allowed in nostalgia funny car racing, but billet end plates are OK) and make for a very stable, repeatable blower that puts out a consistent 30 lbs of boost.

One of the real bug-a-boos of the combination is the Cirillo magneto that, as all points mags do, seems to lose power on a regular basis and keeps the crew guessing from run to run as to just how well (or not) it's going to perform. My quick note that it would be great to completely eliminate this variable with a 44-amp MSD mag leaves both of us wondering whether that's a Pandora's box that is simply best left unopened.

After all, once the big mag moves in, what's the next upgrade? More fuel pump? Lower rear gears? Bigger blowers? Where does it en? And the answer, as we all know, only too well, is that there is no end. It just keeps on growing and getting more expensive and that is not where these nostalgia nitro racers want to be. At least the ones that want to be able to continue being able to afford to do this and still have fun; not changing engines every pass, or changing all the pistons every lap like the nostalgia fuel dragsters are doing now. And are they having more fun and seeing their class grow? Let's leave that barrel of worms alone for today, shall we?

Back to the story, and right after the Hot Rod Reunion, Hale planned to pay Pleuger a visit to see if he could ignite just a small fire under his butt and get the new chassis on the way to being finished. John would like to see it ready for next year's March Meet, but he'll settle for seeing it ready to pick up and take home to finish at that time. With that car coming in at least 100 lbs lighter than the current Nitro Boss, Hale is looking to knock off that ever-elusive "tenth" (of a second), the holy grail of all drag racers. With that e.t. improvement, he can look for more later round finishes and even see the winners circle on his horizon.

So where does he go from here? The next, and final event on his calendar for 2010, is a benefit race for the long defunct Lakeland International Raceway (near Memphis) where he'll be running as part of a four-car funny car show. Then he's going to be on the sidelines until the March Meet, as he's going to undergo some badly needed shoulder surgery, that he's long been postponing, that requires a month of total inactivity to guarantee a good outcome. Not knowing John Hale for very long, in fact barely an hour, I can tell that for him to remain inactive, with his arm strapped to his side for that amount of time is going to be one tall order.

His wife summed it pretty well, saying "I'll be the one needing medication after his surgery". John, however, has got his sights set (dreams are more like it, I'm thinking) on getting Jennifer Anniston - yes, THAT Jennifer Anniston as his nurse for the recuperation period. "Nurse Anniston, yeah, I like the sound of that. I'm sure I'll obey her orders".

To see previous updates go to the What's Old page