June 30, 1999

After the fine outing that we had at the "Night of Fire and Thunder" match race at Bandimere Speedway in Denver, our expectations were high for the NHRA Div. 5 FMDRS event in June. The plan was to unload with a low 6.20 pass in the first qualifying session, then really get aggressive and try to run a high 6.0 or a low 6.1 second time in a subsequent session. Alas, plans rarely work out as designed ...

Prior to the first qualifying session, Lyle took readings from the weather station and, using the May match race tuneup as a baseline, adjusted for the warmer temperatures in June. Once this baseline was established, he leaned the fuel system slightly to make the car a little more aggressive so that it would run the hoped-for low 6.20. A new set of 17 inch wide Goodyear Eagles was on the car, so Lyle did a longer than usual burnout to thoroughly scuff them in. On the run, the car launched nice and straight but was very lazy all the way down the track. There was also a vibration all the way down the track that created a concern. The 6.44/219 mph time slip confirmed that this was not a spectacular run. To add to the disappointment, the methanol fuel was found to be contaminated and the run was disallowed. After each event, the team drains and lubricates the entire fuel system to counteract the corrosive effect of the methanol. It appears that some of the lubricant backflowed into the fuel tank. When we filled the tank with fuel, it immediately blended with the methanol and contaminated the whole tankful. Because of the vibration, we took the tires to the Goodyear trailer and found that one of the inner liners had a crack in it. This caused it to move around and throw the tire out of balance.

Once we figured out those problems, our attention turned to the weak performance. Lyle literally stewed all night and then again at breakfast about how he could have made the car significantly more aggressive and have been rewarded with a weaker run than at the match race a month earlier. After poring over the "black book", he discovered that there seemed to be significant discrepancies between the temperature the weather station was reading and the temperature that the Denver track prints on the time slips. After borrowing a couple of thermometers, Lyle was convinced that his weather station was giving bad temp. readings when it was hotter or colder than 75 degrees. The practical meaning of this was that the car was probably leaner than he thought at the May match race. When Lyle made the adjustment for the current weather he was using an erroneous baseline. So, instead of being 0.2 gpm leaner, he was really 0.2 gpm richer (or a total of 0.4 gpm richer than he thought).

With that now seemingly explained, the team set about making the appropriate preparations for the 2nd qualifying session. This time, the car launched even worse, with a thick haze of clutch dust. The 60 foot time fell off to a dismal 1.06 second time (compared to the 0.99 that we ran in May). The car did pull a little harder the rest of the run, but the ET was a still anemic 6.40 at 220 mph. As we pulled the car back to the trailer, the woeful noises that were eminating from the clutch were a strong clue about where the problem was. In hindsight, the car had given us plenty of signals that the clutch wasn't right. On the warmup, it was dragging when the clutch pedal was fully engaged. Everyone just assumed that the air gap was a bit off and quickly readjusted it. On the burnout, the car was a bear to get in reverse because the clutch was dragging. It continued to drag, making staging the car very difficult. Upon inspection it was discovered that there was a problem with one of the discs that was causing the clutch to engage very slightly with the pedal depressed, but to not engage totally when the pedal was released. Luckily, the only damage was a severely toasted clutch floater - it turned it a gorgeous shade of blue!

As we prepared for the 3rd and final qualifying session, our 6.40 was only good for 9th position. With 12 cars attempting to qualify, it was a sure bet that the bump would improve from the 6.37 it was at. The fuel system tuneup was left pretty much the same, as the team felt that the car should be running in the 6 teens if they could get all the mechanical systems operating correctly. The launch on this run was the best effort of the weekend at 1.000, but was still somewhat disappointing. The car made its way down the track to a 6.27 ET at 222 mph. The run was good for the 8th qualifying position. The very next car to go down the track was Jett Field and he just missed bumping us out with a 6.29.

After the run, the team went through their normal maintenence routine and everything looked pretty good. That is until Crew Chief Robert Howard (who was checking bearings in the motor) uttered the phrase that no one wants to hear - "it looks like we got a little problem down here". He was referring to the fact that one of the main cap studs was loose. Upon further inspection it was found that it pulled the threads right out of the block. Although it would have been possible to put a thread insert in, the team closely analyzed the situation and decided that a bad situation could be made even worse if we tried to run the car again. After the motor explosion in Phoenix earlier this year, the crank was known to have some hairline cracks that would severely limit its future life span. The team felt that maybe the crank had gotten bad enough to create a vibration that pounded the threads out. If that was true, the next run could very likely end with the crankshaft spitting itself onto the ground and causing a real mess. Discretion dictated that we withdraw from competition and let someone else (Jett Field was the #9 qualifier) have a shot at Vern Moats (the #1 qualifier).

When we pulled the motor apart at the shop and performed the "high tech frequency analysis" (otherwise known as hitting the crankshaft counterweights with a wrench and judging the tonal quality), it was pretty obvious that the crankshaft is a dead player. We got a little over 30 runs out of it. We've had some people claim to get more than 50, but Newberry claims that 30 to 40 is a reasonable expectation. A new crankshaft is on its way and should be received in plenty of time to make the Mile High Nationals in Denver on July 15-18. If you go, be sure and come by, say hi, and tell us you read about us on the 'net.

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