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2012 Race Reports
The 54th Bakersfield March Meet - Woodstock on Nitro
In the weeks leading up to the event, it was all I could think about. Was I more “amped” for this particular event, or has it just been too long a winter? Regardless, we were happy to roll into the gates Wednesday afternoon to find our numbered and reserved pit space waiting for us, just one row behind the nitro funny car pits!  The only downside to “arranged pitting” for us was that our VW friends were not able to pit close. Spaces were assigned in the order they were received. We were number 14. Paul Miller was 104, so he was down several rows. The Palmers were unassigned and were out at the tail end of the pits.

Overall, things seemed to go so much quicker and easier. I reckon this was because there was a test session that Wednesday rather than set-up only. No big line of racers waiting to tech. We rolled up and got right through Wednesday evening. We then got our pit situated and watched test runs the rest of the evening.
Pitted two spots away from us was the “US Air Force” A/Fuel dragster on which friend and fellow VW guy Steve Phillips is a crew-member. This gave us a chance to visit frequently. Our other pit neighbors were a B/Gas 67 Nova, and an early ‘70s Dodge Charger that rolled in late with a big rig more suited to a top fuel team than a ten second bracket car. In fact, many of the TF and FC guys had more modest rigs! And across from us was one of my favorite nostalgia event cars. A ’23 T with a straight six with Hilborn injection on alky, candy red and lots of polished aluminum and magnesium!

Our first run came at 9:30 Thursday morning. The density altitude was below sea level and there was a bit of a tailwind. Another VW group, the Podersay boys were also there and as it turned out, they were directly ahead of us in staging. As such, we were in the burn out box when they were at the line in the right lane. They had a couple of their guys there on the starting line, one of which was in the middle next to the starter.

Their car launches and the starter motions for me to begin my burnout. As I come out of the water box, their boy, who was standing in the middle steps right in front of me without looking. I had to abort my BO. The starter hollers at him.  After that, I just did a dry hop to clean off the tires.

Damn. Coulda been ugly. We gots to pay attention out there!

Disaster averted, the Blue Car responded with an 11.40 @ 118.60mph. Big wheels up launch, straight and clean! Our VW friends also made their runs, Troy Palmer had a misfiring motor and didn’t have a clean run, and Paul Miller went 11.6x.
We were then free to do whatever till the afternoon. We watched some racing, cruised the midway, spent some money and went around visiting.

We made our second run that afternoon. With no tailbreeze and more normal altitude readings, we went 11.47 @ 117 and change. Troy improved to 12.01 and had some oil control issues, and I think Paul made another 11.6x pass. After that, the drinking lamp was lit, and I cracked open a cold Corona, relaxed and took it all in!
Some “cackling” got my attention, and eighty feet from our pit spot, the Austin and O’Brien fuel Funny Car had been test fired. I walked over and stood just a few feet away and was engulfed in nitro-methane fumes. It was hard to breathe, my eyes were burning, my ears were pounding….it was incredible!

By Friday morning, overall conditions were improving. The chance of showers were pretty much gone and the sun was peaking out frequently. I reckon it just would not be the March Meet without some threat of rain! We made our final time run, and clicked off another 11.47, but this time the time-slip said 134mph! I’m thinkin’ “Wow! It didn’t feel all that different, but that’s a heluva top end charge!” (Most likely it was caused by some debris blowing through the timing lights). Troy had posted an improved 11.87, and was still wrestling a bit with oil control.
 
That would be our only scheduled run of the day, so we were free to be spectators for the rest of the day. I felt pretty good about things. Car was working good, launching wheels up and straight. My lights were OK. Not stellar, but not bad either, hovering between .03 and .06. Good to go!
For Saturday morning’s first round of eliminations, I had the typical “jitters.” I don’t get ‘em too bad. After all, it’s not a life or death situation! Well, I guess it is in a way.
I was paired with a ten second 68 Camaro. I had a decent .06 RT, but missed the shift to second. It just hung in the "gate". Fortunately, Camaro guy redlit. The missed shift bugged me, but I chalked it up to the “jitters.”

We spent the remainder of the day as spectators again, hanging with friends. My longtime friend Steve Long who races a ’69 big block Mustang was there to spectate, and good friend Mike Herbert made the trek north with an entourage as well! Saturday night we chowed down at Troy’s business associate’s campsite. Like last year, him and his friends prepared a huge feast. It was incredible and very much appreciated! Later that night, the illegal fireworks were lighting up the sky (along with a police helicopter trying to find who was doing it), there were parties in the pits. It was Woodstock on Nitro!

Our second eliminations run came Sunday morning. I was paired with a late '30s Chevy dialed in at 9.85. I had a better .04 reaction time, but missed second again. Again hanging up in the gate. Again I got lucky and Early Chevy guy redlights.

Now I was agitated. It was acting the same as did early last year when we had the bent shift fork. With few options, I decided to back off my dial, granny shift it, and try to fender race my opponent for the next round and hope for the best. I backed off from 11.50 down to 12 flat. It did go into gear doing that, and I chased him down, took a .009 second stripe, but I ran under and lost the round. 11.93 on a 12 flat dial.

Still, we were quite happy. We have no grand illusions about racing here at the March Meet. Our only goal is to still be around for Sunday’s eliminations. We achieved that. We talked to a lot of people who were curious about the Blue Car, made some new racing friends, spent time with old friends and were in the staging lanes NEXT TO NITRO CARS!

Upon our return home, I yanked the motor and found a little chunk of “something” had been rattling around in the bellhousing. It musta been small. There was no actual debris to be found. Some of the fingers on the clutch diaphragm were bent down once it was off. I don’t know if that was the cause of the gear changing trouble because the other gears were not affected. So, after talking to Mike Herbert at Rancho Transaxles, we figured it was time to move away from the synchros and install pro rings on second and third gears.
And that my friends, wraps up another great March Meet. It was all worth it and we left pretty happy. One has to experience it and appreciate the history to really “know.”

Next up, the Phoenix BRS event on March 25th. Looking forward to being with our VW friends again!
••••••••••••
Phoenix Bugorama - If You Ain't Been to Silly Al's, You Ain't Been to Quartzsite!

This was our first trip back to Phoenix since 2009, and the first BRS points race of the year. I actually dread coming here because it's so dang far. Our good friends, Allen & Sue Wiess help make it enjoyable because we can split the trip into two parts and spend some extra time together. That is always a benefit. We started our trip from their place in Chino with a stop at their favorite "hole in wall" restaurant for breakfast. Afterwards we hit the road. Once there in Phoenix, we had dinner and drinks at Outback, then back to the hotel where we downed a couple more beers in the hotel's backyard cabana, and talked about the meaning of life. We came to no meaningful conclusions.

Since we were only a mile or so from the track, we weren't in a big rush to get there, also figuring that there wouldn't be a huge crowd due to the distance from the center of VW activity and the cost of fuel. When we got there, we drove right in and the Troy & John Palmer were already there, holding a spot for us.
We got our pit set up, got thru tech and waited for the call to the lanes. This would be the first run on a fresh tranny with the "Pro-Ring" conversion and a fresh Stage 1 Kennedy pressure plate with four puck disc.

On our first run, the trans shifted beautifully! The clutch however, did not come close to holding, slipping badly. Now, I had replaced a stage 1 with a new stage 1. Apparently they are not the same as they used to be just a few years ago. And this really gets under my skin. I could go on a big ol’ rant about it, but I won’t.
Decision time. Pulling the motor out of the blue car is no small task. It is, after all, still a full-bodied “street car” that does not have a removable apron. Cindy and Mark agreed that we should at least try, since we came all this way. ESPECIALLY considering what happened back in 2009, the last time we were in Phoenix.

At that event, everything was great till we attempted to start the motor upon arrival at the track. It wouldn’t fire. At that particular time, I had been under a lot of stress at work, and my “fuse” was pretty short.  (Really, REALLY short if you ask others). Even with the help of friends, after well over an hour of trying, I snapped. I uttered some profanities, loaded up the car and we left. I’m tellin’ ya, THAT was a long ride home! It turned out to be a dead coil. We could have bought one at the swap meet and been able to compete had I not lost my temper.

Of course, making the attempt to change the clutch would all be contingent upon being able to find a new "Stage 2" pressure plate. Mark and went up to the vendor area and the first vendor in line happened to have a new one available. $125 later, it was on it's way back to our pit with us.

The goal was to at least get it changed out before eliminations began. So, we got to it. Throttle bodies, injector pump, alternator stand, and a bunch of other stuff has to come off before the motor can be lowered. This was complicated by the tricky twelve point nuts holding the throttle bodies on, for which I have a special ¼” drive, twelve point 10mm socket - at home and NOT in my “race tool box,” and for which there was no room to get a box end wrench in, nor would a 3/8” drive socket fit. After all, I hadn't planned on having to drop the motor, so I obviously didn't come prepared. Our friends helped with what they could, but nobody had anything to get into the tight confines of the intake manifolds to get that nut off.

About to throw in the towel, I remembered back to my days as a USAF flight line machinist. I used to have to remove stripped out screws from odd places all the time using something we made up in the shop called a “screw punch”. So, I used my big screwdriver as a "screw punch" and using the technique I learned so many years ago, with a couple light taps with a hammer, they were loose! Off came the throttle bodies and the motor was dropped down far enough to swap the clutch. During all this, a bunch of people gathered around to watch. I asked Mark, if he felt all "top-fuel" doing this between rounds thrash with spectators all around. A couple kids came up and wanted an autograph on the “hero card” I gave them. Mark crawled out from under the car and obliged.

We were getting it buttoned up when the call to the lanes for the third qualifying round came. John Palmer said he would hold back as long as they could. He passed this along to race director Greg Urrutia and he had ‘em pull Super Gas last. We needed every minute. We rolled up to the lanes just as they were pulling the last SG car out. Mark suited up, settled down inside, and proceeded to the burnout area.

In all my years of drag racing, this kind of thing has been very far between. In fact I can’t remember the last time we made repairs to get to the lanes “just in time.” Things would have went much smoother and quicker had I been prepared. I thought I had everything to do an emergency engine removal. I was wrong. Looks like a minor change in race track toolbox contents is in order….not that I’m planning on having to do this again any time soon!

Anyway our second run was a pretty fair 12.27 considering “someone” forgot to tighten one of the injector lines and it dropped a cylinder in high gear. This put us third in the four car qualifying order and we would face our friend Russel Sakatani, last year’s SG champ, in round one. Of course this was preceded by a bunch of friendly “smack talk” leading up to the round!

Mark put up a 12.05 to Russell’s 12.14, and even though Russell was quicker on the tree, Mark turned on the win light. The margin was tight at .019 at the stripe. This put us in the final with Troy Palmer who had bested Esther Hollister in round one. The result of that was Troy taking the win with an 11.70 to Mark’s 11.65. Troy had the advantage at the tree and took the stripe with a .02 margin.

Back at the pits, Allen Wiess was also celebrating a win in Super Comp, so it was congratulatory hand-shakes all around in the so called “RCB” pits.

By this time, you may be wondering what the title of this story has to do with any of this. After a full day of track activities, we like to share a sit-down meal with friends to wrap things up and talk about the event. Troy says, “I know a place in Quartzsite!” Troy has a knack for finding these obscure locales and has never steered us wrong. Without hesitation, we say “Let’s go!”

We arrive in Quartzite roughly two hours later. It is a desert town with a normally very small population. At certain times of the year, it seems to be “THE” gathering place for those who trade in “Junk.” The town’s population swells to several times its normal size, with all the RV parks (and there are a lot of ‘em in Quartzsite!) filled to capacity.

We roll up to this joint that looks like a dive bar. Gravel parking lot, faded siding and a sign that says “Silly Al’s – If You Ain’t Been to Silly Al’s, You Ain’t Been to Quartzsite!” Cars in the lot had license plates from far-off places as well as local. Inside, it had the look of a place that the health department doesn’t visit much. The hostess invited us to sit anywhere we liked.

The menu was mostly pizza. And it was good pizza too! The location was just as flavorful as the food. Good times with good friends!

To put a period on this story, the easy thing to do would have been to throw in the towel once we encountered the clutch issue. I know that changing a clutch isn’t really a big deal to a lot of racers. On our car it is difficult. It takes a good chunk of time. If it were my decision alone or if Mark wasn’t there to help, I probably would not have attempted it. Our friends, Allen & Sue Wiess, Troy and John Palmer, and my wife Cindy wouldn’t let me give in. I know that Mark wanted to try as well. He wanted to race! As a result, with a team effort, we came away with a good story and a good race-day showing.

Now I have to come to a decision on the clutch. Even with the Stage 2, the Blue Car’s starting line manners were not satisfactory. It still seemed “soft.” Certainly nowhere NEAR what they were with my old Stage 1 or the McLeod “J&G” we have used. I have several weeks before our next event at Famoso, which will be the West Coast Hot Rod season opener. Hopefully, I’ll have it resolved by then.
•••••••••••••••
WCHRA May 6, B!tch-Slapped by Lady Luck (Sorry Chaplain Matt!)

Last year, we had a pretty tough time in WCHRA’s  11.60 index E/Gas. We only “won” one round of competition all year, and that was only because I had a bye due to our #1 qualifying position and an uneven field. The rest, all first round losses, two were due to redlights, (both .002 red) one missed shift and one blown up motor. As one can imagine, I was looking for some redemption.

This time, things seemed to be going our way. Even though this was the first time I’ve driven the car since the March Meet, from the very first run, there didn’t seem to be much rustiness in this old man’s joints.

We opened up qualifying with a “balls-to-the-wall” 11.57, 117mph run with a -.006 (red) reaction time. I made a clutch adjustment, and for second round of qualifying, we ran it full out again and ran 11.54, 117 with a .010 (green!) reaction. Third qualifying round, we ran against Dustin Lee in his deadly ’53 Ford wagon. With a very nice .015 reaction, I paced Dustin through the traps, gave ‘er a couple whomps on the throttle on top, took a .02 stripe, and got into positive qualifying territory with an 11.64 at 113 mph.

After that, I can honestly say I had confidence that we had the stuff to do well. Of course, I have to say that almost anyone in that class could say the same thing. It has become very tough. Most of the E/Gas guys were cutting razor thin reactions and running very, very close to the index. To win would no be a walk in the park. A racer would need a good skill set, and just as importantly, have Lady Luck as their co-pilot.

When we rolled into the lanes for Sunday’s eliminations, I knew I had the skills. I knew the car was working well. I just had to do everything just as I did the day before.

My first round guy was unknown to me. A “rustic” example of a late ‘60s Chevelle. I didn’t plan on approaching anything differently. The last pair to run, I watched Paul Miller, the only other VW guy in attendance at this event, break his transmission on the starting line. I watched Dustin go down with an uncharacteristic redlight. I did my burnout, and rolled into the beams, just like hundreds of times before. When that amber light flashed, I side stepped the clutch and watched my opponents win light come on. I didn’t even see the red. Dammit! Here we go again.

When the time slip guy handed me the slip, he said “you both redlighted by the same amount. Sure enough. A -.016 red in both lanes.

I've never seen that before. Hell, I never even HEARD of it! It was as if Lady Luck reached over and b!tch slapped me. Even with identical reds on the slip, I ended up on the losing end.

That was enough. I’ve always said that I won’t argue with the car. Just give it what it wants. E/Gas uses a .5 Pro Tree. I had spent years prior to running E/Gas to get the car to leave on a .4 pro tree, and now I struggle to back it off enough. Since I have pulled as much reaction time as I can out of it with adjustments to the  suspension, clutch, launch RPM, tire pressure, and even wearing sunglasses, I’m not going to fight with it anymore. I’ll give it what it wants, and change classes to Open Comp - a “Dial In” handicap class with a .4 pro tree. I know that once I tighten everything back up, we can be competitive in the class. It’ll be interesting getting chased down by much faster cars. It’ll be a bit nostalgic too. In the mid 80s, we ran “Super Pro” with our Dodge Challenger. Dial in, Pro Tree, and getting chased by dragsters.

Anyone who didn’t come to the WCHRA Opener at historic Famoso Raceway missed some absolutely beautiful conditions. I was hoping to see some our VW bretheren out there, particularly in light of the PRA running with WCHRA later in the year.

Well let me tell you something….
If you’re afraid of getting your butts handed to you by V8 guys, You SHOULD be. Those E and D/Gas guys don’t play nicely with others!

••••••••••••

WCHRA June 9 - Redemption
“When I saw the light you cut on a .4 pro tree, I said to myself ‘no wonder he’s been redlighting!’” Those were the words of fellow E/Gas competitor Jim Brown at the June 9th installment of the WCHRA series. The Event also featured a Chicago Style Nitro show. This is a short race format with one round of qualifying for an eight car field, 16 cars tried to qualify and from those then the eight are run, the two quickest (NOT the round winners) go the final round.
Our friend Paul Miller, also an E/Gas competitor had joined us for the day since his car was out of commission. The conditions were incredible for this time of year, and when the sun went down, indescribable!

As for us, we had decided to try out Open Comp. A “Dial In bracket with a .4 pro tree. We simply have not been able to tame the car enough to run the .5 tree in E/Gas. We had actually decided to double up and run both. Unfortunately, while others manage to pull it off, for us, that proved undoable. Had the run order been reversed, it may have been OK.
After our first round of qualifying in Open Comp, we needed to hurry back for the E/Gas Qualifier. The car ran good on it’s first run in OC, posting an 11.49 at just under 118. I didn’t even un-strap for the E/Gas qualifier. Cindy towed me directly up from the end of the first run to make the qualifying run for E/Gas.

That run resulted in an 11.56 feathering the throttle on the top end, but what was more telling was that the clutch was so hot and sticky, it didn’t respond to clutch management at all. The reaction time was minus .055 red on a CM setting that should have slipped the clutch enough to go green. The engine also complained a bit by pushing a little oil out the breather and issuing a puff of smoke out the stinger on top. Even on Alky, the chambers and rings still see significant heat, and it probably butted the ring gaps on that run, much like it did at the March Meet on 2009 when we had to hot lap it in the late rounds.
With that we decided to withdraw from E/Gas.

I was to be Jim Brown’s first round match-up. He was observing when we ran second round of OC qualifying when we posted a .027 RT on the .4 tree. He came around to make sure I had decided to withdraw and give him the single. Good on ya Jim for asking. (I probably would not have asked).

Our ET on the second qualifying OC run was 11.50 at 118. On our third and final run, we netted an 11.52, which is exactly what I predicted based on the rising temps. I have to say that having Rancho Performance Transaxles do the “Pro Shift” thing on our trans seemed to help consistency tremendously!

Temps were starting to fall by the time eliminations started. Cindy had wanted me to dial a little lower than the 11.52 I had planned on and lower than the 11.50 I went with. In OC, once you have chosen your dial, you own it for the duration. No changes.

Qualifying position in OC is based on reaction time rather that ET. We qualified eighth with a .027 RT. Fortunately for us, this pretty much gave us a gift in round one, pairing us with the 16th qualifier. A young man in a supercharged Dakota pick-up. He was supposed to be dialed at 13.40, but didn’t put his dial on his window. His qualifying RT was .341. It made me think that perhaps he was new to the game.

However, always aware of gamesmanship, I didn’t lay off. We staged, his side of the tree came down (a blinder prevents opponents from seeing each others side), and I waited till he left to come up on the two-step. I caught the kid by well before the 1000 foot mark and paced him through the traps, running an 11.80 @ 100mph for the win. I considered that round a gift.

By the time second round came, is was dark, and I’ll tell ya, that to me, there’s nothing finer than night racing at Famoso! My second round guy was much tougher. Perennial winner  Mark Miyashiro in his C/Gas roadster (9.60 dial). What I CAN say, is that if he underestimated me this time, he probably won’t in the future.

I reckon I was pretty amped up for this one. I went .003 on the tree and when I saw him coming up quickly but still behind me, I gave a throttle a couple womps, and got the win light!

That was a very satisfying run! I ran 11.54 on my 11.50 dial to his 9.57 on his 9.60 dial. It was a great feeling. A feeling I haven’t had for quite a while.
Paul had told me that during the run, the people on the sidelines were chanting “Go bug, go bug” and when our win light came on, we got a big cheer!
Things weren’t going to be getting any easier for the next round. Into the semi-final, there was a bike dialed in at 8.79, a black corvette dialed in at 8.60 and white 55 Chevy dialed in at 8.60. No matter who I had, they would be coming up on me with a closing speed of around 40mph.
I got the bike.

With about a .02 starting line advantage it should have been mine to win. (.072 to his .097, and I was a little bugged about being “late”). Approaching the stripe, man, he was coming fast. I made the split second decision to stay in it because I just knew he’d come around. He didn’t. I took a .06 stripe, and lost on a double breakout, 11.44 (11.50 dial) to his 8.76 (8.79 dial). I went over to his pit, we shook hands, and I said “MAN, that was fun!” I told him that I was trying decide on whether to lift, and I decided right at the last second, “Screw it! I ain’t lifting!” We both laughed and he said “I knew we were both gonna break out, cuz I wasn’t gonna catch you!”

Even with the loss in the semi’s, it was the most fun racing we’ve had in a long time. If I had any doubts, they are there no longer. I proved to myself I can hang with the Open Comp guys. Of course, I will have to “re-learn” judging the top end since the biggest majority of OC racers are B & C/Gas class racers (8.60, 9.60 index). It’s been a long time since I’ve had to do that.
We will leave E/Gas behind and focus on OC for the remainder of the year, and work on moving over to D/Gas next season. I also think we gained a new measure of respect amongst the faster guys too. And that is also a good feeling!

On a side note, before this event, there was a guy on the WCHRA forum lobbying to change the tree in D/Gas to 5 tenths. Since we are about to commit considerable resources for the purpose of running on that .4 tree in D/G next year, I pretty much let him have both barrels! Another team backed me up, saying it wasn’t broke and didn’t need fixin’, also telling him that if he can’t cut it, to switch classes or “Stay on the porch if ha can’t run with the big dogs.”

Apparently, my snappy retort to his proposal met with approval with the track staff at Famoso.

While in the tech line, “Papa Joe” saw me and came over. “What’s this I hear about you getting on the internet and beating up on MK (we’ll just call him MK for this purpose)?” he says. “Don’t you think he should be allowed to change the rules just to suit his car?”

All the tech guys are laughing. “Yeah I read that. It was pretty good!” said one.

I said “Joe, I just couldn’t sit by and let it happen. If his ego won’t let him throttle stop his car down to run the class that already has a .5 tree….” Then Joe cut in and said “Yeah, then that’s HIS problem!”
“Thanks Joe!”

That was a good start to the day. I even got an “atta boy” from a couple of the other D/G guys. I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive about how we would be perceived after doing that. It ended up being positive. I don’t think I’ll be “friended” on MK’s facebook page though!


See you at the races!

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