It was a tough choice to make: race in a Shootout in Edmonton or race in the NHRA Open at Race City. Well, I had a grudge match to run in Edmonton against a Nova that beat me the month before, so I elected the latter.
This was JB’s Power Center (known to most as JB Automotive) Street Challenge, a format that changed from the former Mustang Shootout, now open to all “street cars”. The Import Challenge event ran the same day in four separate classes. To qualify my racecar, I had to install a second seat, “headlights”, and get the brake lights working. Because I was going to use nitrous oxide, I was put in the Super Street class, second from the top fastest.
The Pro Street class featured a couple cars from out of town that turned 7 second ETs at over 150 mph. As usual I left Calgary the day before with the plan to stay in a Leduc motel, not too far from the track. Twenty miles south of Leduc I was cursing my tape player because it sounded like the tape was disintegrating. Then the entire tape unit and radio just died. While I was thinking about how I did NOT want to take that big pig out of the dash, I began to notice it getting hotter in the truck cab. Checking my gauges I was shocked to see all of them at zero, even the speedo! I tried interior lights, horn, windows, etc but the entire electrical system was dead, only the engine was running. Knowing that shutting the engine off to investigate the problem could strand me on the highway, I just pushed on to the motel. When I tried to restart the truck, sure enough, the battery was dead. A voltage check showed only 10 volts in the battery. I opened the back hatch to get some tools and was once again shocked; the battery I had in the box to run my inverter was smoking and the back canopy area was full of acid gas, with a large stream flowing down the side of the truck bed. I immediately cut the #8 cables I had wired in between this battery and the truck system, flushed the smoking battery with water, and used the battery out of the racecar to boost the truck. All was well again.
I had a tough time sleeping. I had asked for a 3rd floor room because last time I was there, a pre-teen baseball team was on this floor while I was on the second. Didn’t sleep that night either. I thought the 3rd floor was the top, but I was wrong, there was a 4th and the people in the room above me kept me up until midnight. I later found out that these “people” was my crew that came in late that evening! We got to the track at 7:50 AM for a 08:00 gate opening, but that didn’t happen until 08:15.
When we were taking the car off the trailer, the ‘skeeters were eating us alive. Obviously Edmonton had more ponds of water than Calgary did. The car was hard to start, most likely due to the colder spark plugs I installed in the engine in anticipation of using the nitrous. The previous type got so hot with just the small shot of NOS that it burned the electrodes off two of the plugs, increasing the “gap” from 35 thou to about 135 thou! (For the uninitiated, “thou” is short for “thousandths of an inch”). The engine would eventually fire with a big bang in the air cleaner because of all the extra fuel in the carburetor. I learned from my previous engine fire that it’s best to start the car with the air cleaner on because it acts as a flame suppressor. When the filter is off, any backfire pukes the gas out of the carb all over the engine. A fire soon follows.
There were delays starting the first qualifying round so I sat on the track for about ½ hour. When we were finally called to stage, in my exuberance, I forgot to activate the NOS arming switch and turn on my second fuel pump. I ran a “reasonable” 11.21 seconds on that run. The other good news is that I didn’t lose traction at mid-track like I did last month, so it gave me confidence for what was to come. Round 2 of qualifying clocked me at a 10.514 pass. However, I was disappointed because I thought I could do better with the new bigger NOS jets I installed. Back in the pits I noticed the NOS pressure had dropped significantly, indicating that I had run out of the funny gas.
On this run I raced a white Buick that ran a 9.210 at 146 mph! Man was he quick. The car was from Dawson Creek, looked like a real sleeper, but with his twin turbos under the hood, it was anything but a sleeper. He eventually went on to win the competition, by default actually, because a certain red Mustang broke on the pass just before…
Round 3 was a by-run because my opponent didn’t show up. So I saved the NOS and did a motor-only run at 11.259. Round 4 was the fastest I’ve ever gone in any 4-wheeled vehicle, 134 mph in 10.049 seconds. I also set a 60 ft record of 1.490 seconds. Man, what a ride that was!
Finally, round 5. There were only 3 of us left, just like last month when I was the odd man out and out of the money. I was racing the blue Nova again, a car that ran in the high 9’s last month, but only showed 10.1 seconds or so in the qualifying rounds. Of course I was checking because I thought that I might just meet him again. The round did not start well. The car wouldn’t start and finally when it did, it was running hot, over 212 deg F, the boiling point of water. When I got in the staging lane, one of the organizers said there was water dripping from the side of the engine. This is usually a bad sign because any leak is cause for immediate dismissal from staging. I popped the hood and heard a hissing sound near the back of the engine, like NOS leaking. I closed off the bottle, purged the lines but the hissing continued. I thought it could be a leaking head gasket, with the hissing the result of water being turned into steam when it contacted the hot engine parts. I decided to go for it anyway. Once again the car was difficult to start and the battery had a hard time turning the engine over. With the high temp in the engine this was understandable because the pistons and valve stems expand more than the cylinders or guides that they are sitting in, making the engine very tight.
I got her going and since everyone was waiting for me, I was able to go right to the burnout box. I did a soft burnout in first gear only, not the high-speed 2nd gear burn where I make a lot of smoke for nothing. (Well, not for nothing, it’s really good for showing off …) Sean, in the Nova, beat me in reaction time, clocking a .517 second r/t to my slow .678. Already he was going to be ahead by 0.15 seconds. When I hit second gear I lost sight of him at the same time the head gasket on the engine blew out on the left side. I saw the steam in my mirror as water was being pumped out of the right side of my engine, directly into the exhaust pipes. No matter. This was one race I was NOT going to lose! I shifted to 3rd and went over the line before the Nova, then shut the engine down. The engine was spinning at over 7000 rpm in 3rd gear when I hit the end of the quarter, running on 7 cylinders. But I won. I was towed back and a bunch of spectators pushed the car up on to the trailer. I couldn’t use my winch, the first time I really HAD to use it this year, because of the battery problem I described earlier.
At the awards ceremony, I was given the 2nd prize trophy, and $300 in cash and gift certificates. My crew of Ryan and Chad and Ryan’s father Rob were all there to cheer me on. These two youngsters sure did some good work for me, not only the obvious mechanical-type work, but also observation of how my car launches or if the tires spin. They also spy on the competition. It was a grueling competition. It was a very hot day and the timing of the events left much to be desired, with too many long breaks between rounds.
I left the track at about 7:30, and about 30 miles south of Leduc, I lost all power to the truck AGAIN! This time I was a little worried because I thought the problem had been fixed the night before. I then realized the problem all the time was in the diode-steering module I was using to charge up 2 batteries without discharging either one. It obviously failed. So, on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere I jerry-rigged the system and once again boosted the truck with the racecar battery and made it home by 10:30 that evening.
Epilog: I pulled the engine apart the next day and found the head gasket blown in two places on cylinder #4, the one that was hissing earlier in the staging lanes. There were signs that the gasket was going to give way in 1 or 2 other places. The oil was green, having been emulsified by the water that filled the oil pan. Other than that I saw no signs of damage. I took the heads to my engine builder, Bob Prowse who gave them a clean bill of health. He also determined that the oil I described sitting in a pool in cylinder #1 was due to that one not firing, for some reason. The head chamber was well oiled and the plug was fouled showing that indeed it wasn’t firing! What that means is that I won that race on 6 cylinders, not 8 or 7. Oh, and Sean? What was his story? He came up to me after our race to congratulate me and told me he blew his shift to second, going to 3rd instead! I’m kinda sorry he lost that way, but what the hell, that’s part of the game!
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