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As told exclusively to
Sunday 30th December 2007: Looking back at 2007.
During the last days of each year I always have a tendency to look back at what will make the closing year one to remember. The first thing that has hit me this year is the loss of Eric Medlen after he sustained severe injury during a testing accident in Florida. The news was released on 23 March that Eric had passed away, which I will in future remember not only because it is my birthday, but also the date we lost a true champion. Later this year we had the great honour to meet his father John Medlen, a man who carries the loss of his son with great courage. I have a deep respect for him and how he is dealing with the loss of his son, especially after meeting him in person.
Other things are keeping my mind busy. Like losing a Championship in the final round of racing; qualifing during the last session at every race was my speciality this year. The awesome weekend we had in Hockenheim with all our MPM fans in the grandstands and the track record we took home. The weather that played a prominent role in an already plagued season looking at the poor number of Championship rounds. Urs qualifying at his first NHRA race at Las Vegas to maintain the high profile of European drag racing.
The time has come to look forward; we are busy with finding and instructing our crew for the '08 season, as some of my '07 crew guys are leaving my camp. It’s an issue that we have to deal with each year, because my guys are all volunteers and some of them have to leave our team to make time for their social and future obligations.
The last couple of months have also kept me busy to find the resources that would make it possible to start our 2008 season in the U.S. Looking at the calendar it will be difficult to pull it off in time. But an early start to the season would benefit our European programme with the number of runs we can make during a stay in the US.
This weekend I went horseback riding in the dunes on the coast of Holland, a great experience and a good alternative way to keep the condition of mind and body in shape. It's always fun riding a horse because working with 1 HP or 7000 HP can both be challenging.
It only remains for me to wish all my readers and fans a healthy and good 2008 with a lot of pleasure and fast racing.
Sunday 2nd December 2007: Working for nxt year.
December has made its appearance in the calendar; in just one month's time we will start the 2008 season.
I think the 2008 season will give the fans and teams even more excitement than this year, especially when you look at the Top Fuel class; most of the teams are working hard at their performance.
And, because it's the highest class in drag racing, the ET's and MPH will be the most interesting things to observe. In each continent or country where drag racing is on the list of sports that are competed in, Top Fuel has got the leading role when it comes to the level of performance. I'm sure we will see more 4.6s runs in 2008 and I even want to put my money on a 4.5 run when the weather is not spoiling our runs as it did in 2007. There are at least three teams who are capable of running into the 4.5 zone.
When you look at the numbers Andy Carter was running at the Euro Finals, when the 4.6 came on the scoreboards the MPH was really low considering the ET. If it had been possible for this run to be a full pass, it would have probably hit the 4.5 range. Of course Per and Karsten tried to repeat the run when they came out again later that weekend but the conditions were different which prevented them from making it happen.
Urs of course has got the data from his Vegas run when he was the first European driver to make it into the 4.5s zone. At the same time, the conclusion is legitimate that it's not easy to repeat this kind of run because he could not run another 4.5 during his stay at Vegas or Pomona.
After we closed our season it was of course disappointing to lose the Championship in the last round but the thing that aggravated me most was the fact that the numbers we run throughout the season were not representative of our real potential. Even when we started at the Easter race we were ready to make it into the low 4.6 zone. Small problems prevented me from making a full pass at that moment but everything was in place to make it a great season. How frustrating it was when we could not repeat or better our performance. What will take us through the winter through is the knowledge that we have found the problem that kept us from running the numbers we had in mind. Another thing that will make our job a little bit better is the fact that we will run our car next year with 90% nitro in the tank. This will be easier on parts and will give us the opportunity to make more horsepower without big investments in parts or change in the tuneup. I know some of you are scratching your heads, but I know we are ready to run a 4.5 in 2008.
Besides the teams I have mentioned there are a couple of others who are not sitting still; don't be surprised when the other drivers that competed in the 2007 season start running strong in 2008; the best proof was the last run from Stig when he left a 4.8 on the boards during the final against Urs last September, his first Four ever.
Tommy Möller's dragster has been sold to Finland. I don't know what their game plan is, but the new owner knows the car is capable of running the numbers. I also have the feeling Dave Wilson will surprise us with a big announcement after we saw him walking around Doug Herbert's pits at Pomona and the ad from Herbert that he had a complete TF car for sale.
Anyway, this is only concerning Top Fuel; I cannot speak for other classes but you don't have to be a genius to know the other teams are doing their homework as well during the winter break. The best way to stay up to date is by reading Eurodragster every day, then you won't miss a thing.
Wednesday 14th November 2007: Second week in the U.S.
Our trip to the US has come to an end and, although you know it will happen, it's always a big change leaving LA with 30 degrees celsius and sunny weather and getting off the plane in Amsterdam with just 6 degrees and rain. When I was walking through the pits in Pomona, one thing struck me; the teams over there never have to worry about the weather when they start qualifying, something we always have to do when we are racing in Europe.
Qualifying was very intense at the last race of the season. The difference between the #1 and #16 in Funny Car was 0.061 and in Top Fuel 0.081 seconds. We almost had the quickest TF field ever, something that is frequently seen at the Pomona race at the end of each season. This fact and some mechanical woes kept Urs from qualifying in the second race he attended in the U.S. The good news is that the mechanical problems the team experienced during the first two seasons in Europe are addressed and solved.
The way the NHRA TF Championship ended was almost a copy of our European Top Fuel Championship. Rod Fuller who dominated the whole season saw his Championship taken away in the final round by Tony Schumacher with the Army team. I know what Rod was going through when he lost his first round race and had to watch the rest of the event without being able to influence the outcome, at least by racing.
When Bob Vandergriff won his second round with his UPS sponsored Top Fuel dragster and used another engine up, Rod Fuller's team brought over to Bob's pit a complete engine from manifold to oil pan in case he needed one to run the final against Tony Schumacher. At that time the UPS team had to run the semi final against J.R. Todd who ran a 4.49 in the opening round with a stellar 334 mph. Kevin Poynter, who is the tuner of J.R.'s car was on his game and ready to take it against any team in the other lane. Kevin's contract ended after this race, because the team will not do the full tour next season, and he told me he had decided to show the world something. At that time I didn't expect Bob Vandergriff would need a motor for the final because he first had to win over J.R. Todd. Well things appeared to go differently after J.R. red-lit his spot in the final away to a slower ET from Vandergriff. Kevin deserved a different goodbye present but things didn't go the way they wanted to. For Schumacher, things came together in the final of the day, because there was less stress, running against a opponent that had not the best weekend of his season. Again the Shoe managed to pull off the stunt, taking the Championship Trophy in the final round of the season.
That's it for now, more about our visit to the US in my next blog.
Friday 2nd November 2007: First week in the U.S.
The first of our two weeks stay in the US has come to an end; things went really quick but I suppose that's an aspect of "when you're having fun, time flies" so they say.
After we flew into LAX and visited Gary Burgin I went to a doctor to undergo my medical test for my NHRA TF license which Gary's wife arranged for me. After receiving the necessary documents from the doctor we went to the NHRA head office in Glendora to deliver all the paperwork they needed to organize my license. For me, this is another barrier removed to enable me to start racing here in the USA.
Sebastian and Arjan are traveling with us for these two weeks, giving Gerda and me the idea that we have two Japanese tourists with us; when they see something they they are always getting their cameras out to take a picture. During our drive to Las Vegas they took around a hundred pictures so you can imagine what the total will be at the end of our USA visit.
We had booked some rooms in one of the hotels at the Strip in Las Vegas. On Friday we went to the track to meet and greet our friends and to wish Urs and the team good luck with their quest to qualify in the Top Fuel field. Urs did an awesome job, qualifying in a strong field with a 4.59 second run which prevented Hillary Will entering the field, the first DNQ of her Top Fuel career.
The conditions on race day were different from the two qualifying days. The corrected altitude came down from 4000ft to a little above 1000ft providing the cars with a lot more power. Also the track was not sprayed with traction compound on race day, to prevent the rear slicks blistering as they did on the previous days. A lot of teams had problems with these conditions and although Urs had an American tuner onboard they lost the first round against Doug Kalitta, who made it to the final, which he lost against Rod Fuller.
Urs and the team left Vegas together with the knowledge that they did a splendid job and have the chance to do it again in Pomona atthe last race of the season.
Gerda and I had took the trophy we had won in Mantorp this year with us to Vegas, together with a picture printed on canvas with our team and car showing the Eric Medlen #4 decal on the windscreen of the MPM Top Fuel dragster. Gerda had made an appointment with the PR manager of John Force racing to hand over the trophy and picture to John Medlen, the father of Eric who as you will all know lost his life in a tragic testing accident on 23 March this year. On Friday evening we got the chance to speak with John Medlen and give him the trophy and picture on behalf of our team. It was a really emotional occasion. John Medlen is a great and generous person who carries the loss of his son with great heart.
During the weekend and on Monday when a couple of teams were testing, John Medlen gave information about all kinds of safety issues he is working on and we promised each other to keep in touch in the future regarding safety issues . We also had a meeting with Susan Wade of www.1320tv.com when we were at Las Vegas. I did an interview with her which can be seen at their website.
Some teams were testing their cars with 90% nitro in the tank during the test on the Monday following the race; the way these engines run on 90% is awesome. For us it was a good day spent seeing how the teams are approaching the 90% rule chance in anticipationof setting up their motors. NHRA is considering getting the percentage back to the 90% next season, something that will benefit our program in Europe were we have been running 85%.
After visiting the Sema show in Las Vegas we are heading for Pomona to see what the last race of the season will bring us.
Saturday 20th October 2007: Planning for the trip.
Although the 2007 FIA Drag Racing season has come to an end and our car is parked for the winter break, it does not mean we are sitting still waiting for things to happen. There are a couple of "issues" we need to solve on our car, basically things we found during the 2007 season that can be made better or need to be changed.
Another thing that's high on our 'to do' list is to acquire another trailer; the one we are using now is getting a little bit too small for all the parts and tools we have to take with us. Although our trailer is still working flawlessly the time has come to upgrade our transportation to meet the conditions we have been working in since we started running Top Fuel. You always want to bring more of everything to the races and the saying "what you have in the trailer you don't need" has something to do with this. If you look at the inventory you always try to have at least twice the quanitity of parts that are used on the car. We carry with us most of the time four sets of rear and front tyres; the parts to service the clutch after each round are huge and heavy.
To cater for all the team members during the events is a challenge itself; Gerda has already said something about it in a previous blog; the amount of space used for all the food and drinks is more then a general van can transport. One of the issues I have to take into consideration is the fact that the Dutch Government does not allow the length and height that most trailers in the race business use.
On a different note, our bags are almost packed and we are ready to fly to L.A. where we pick up our rental car that will take us to Las Vegas. It will be interesting to see how the teams and drivers in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship will perform. Each mistake made by a team member or driver can be critical; if you think about it, the same kind of situation we encountered this season in Europe. Gerda, who can be counted upon as one of the biggest Gary Scelzi fans, told me she will make him Champion; I don't know what she is up to, but I tell you don't be surprised if you are reading more about it on the news during the events that will decide the Championship.
After racing at the Strip in Las Vegas is over, we will visit the SEMA show, something you can't miss if you are automotively minded. Then our journey will continue back to L.A. were Pomona is the place to be to witness the last race of the NHRA season.
One of the things that is on our agenda is a meeting with John Medlen. As some of you might know we raced with the Eric Medlen decals on our car this season. And although the number 1 as the number on my race car is always the main goal, for us it was an honour this year to run with the number 4 on our car. This because that was the same number that Eric was running when he had his fatal accident. Gerda called John Force Racing a couple of weeks ago (before John's Force crashed) to see if we can donate the trophy which we won in Sweden this year to John Medlen in memory of Eric.
It was great news when David Baca told us he will be in competition during the last two races in a dragster from David Powers. Whit Bazemore has been released from his driving duties with the team and Baca was called to fill the seat of the Matco Tools Dragster.
A thing we do every year when we visit Pomona is to have dinner with Tom Hoover and his wife. Gerda has already called him and made an appointment. If there is anybody who wants to say something to Tom Hoover, who raced and visited Santa Pod several times, or to John Medlen, please sent me an email with the subject Tom Hoover or John Medlen before Tuesday afternoon and I will print them and hand them over to them. When interesting things occur I will update my blog to share the ins and outs with you; thanks for reading.
Wednesday 3rd October 2007: Back in the U.S.
Recently I have been getting a lot of questions about the Las Vegas and Pomona races and whether we will be there with our team. We have made the decision to keep the car at home for the time being. With all kinds of rulings up in the air concerning chassis changes and updates, we decided it would be better to sit out these last two races. After Pomona, the NHRA will make a statement of what will be the mandatory changes for the 2008 season. There is a rumour that the NHRA will allow teams to go back to 90% nitro in 2008, something that will help us a lot in Europe because we have been running an 85% fuel setup in case we need to ship our program to the U.S. where 85% is mandatory. There are some other things going on at the moment; the hottest issue is the crash John Force suffered in Dallas during the O'Reilly Fall Nationals, where his Funny car chassis broke apart. One of the questions that was raised is, did the heat treating of the chassis play a major factor in this accident?
Urs has shipped his car to the U.S. and according to the media he will race both of the final two events of the season (Vegas and Pomona) and is planning to start the 2008 season in California as well. People ask me what I think his chances will be against the Top Fuel teams competing in the NHRA. I think it will be really hard to get things sorted out without some proper testing. The tracks provided by the NHRA need a different approach regarding tuning than we are used to here in Europe. Glenn Mikres, who helps the team out with the tune up when they run in Europe will be working for Scott Kalitta (FC) during these weekends. The question is, can Glenn can provide the Swiss team with a tune up that will be good enough to give them a spot in the top 16 qualifiers? Another thing to be careful with is the oil downs; Urs is known as a driver that will keep his foot in even when things go bad behind his back, but when you have frequent oil downs running a NHRA event you have to pay a fine for oiling the track, something you don't need spending money on when you have already spent a lot when you have hurt a motor. I really hope Urs can pick up the pace and represent Europe the way we know he can. I will be there anyway with some of our team members to give the Fat Attack team the mental support to make his trip a success.
Friday 21st September 2007: Season's close.
After we came back home from the FIA Euro Finals, it took a couple of days to go by before we realized what had happened and got everything in its specific place, at least mind wise. As I have said before, the performance needs to be flawless, otherwise you don't deserve the Championship, meaning one of the other competitors will get the chance to take it.
During this 2007 season, this became clear as it was our first year tuning the car by ourselves. At the start of the FIA Championship we were a step back compared to the other teams we were competing against, because of the experience they already had running their cars. This caused some desperate qualifying runs to make the field. During one of the interviews before the last qualifier at the Finals the question was, you did it in Finland, you did it in Sweden, do you think you can pull this stunt again?
At the Euro Finals, I was pretty confident that I would make the field because we had found the issue that caused our problems in the previous runs, but there is always the 'oops factor'. Sometimes you can lose a round because a 25 cent part fails; you know the stories, they are a nightmare especially under the conditions when you have to deliver.
The tune up Seb and I chose was one of the conservative ones; a four second run would give us a place in the field which was what we were aiming for. Knowing then what we know now, we would have gone for a better ET, because a higher qualifying spot would have given us the points that would have given us the Championship. When the car left the start line and was motoring down the track I had my hands full; the lack of power caused the car to wander over the track. At a certain point I clicked it off because I didn't want to hit a cone or the guardrail to disqualify my self.
Race day was for us a gamble regarding the tune up to use. Because we had no decent data from the previous runs we had to guess how the track would behave. Around 300 foot, I had to pedal the car once; it responded very well. I ran 4.89 but it was not good enough and we lost the round by 0.06 of a second. The 312 mph I run was a PB and the highest speed of the weekend. What happened after our loss was more like a movie script, Andy losing to Stig, Urs winning over Thomas and Stig running his first 4 - with an 8 - just losing to Urs in the final.
One thing is for sure; this TF Championship has been one that has kept a lot of people on the edge of their seats and is one for the record books. I'm very proud of my crew; we made 26 runs this year leaving no oil on the track and avoiding keeping track officials busy with getting my car off the track. The people from MPM gave us the opportunity to perform at the highest level in drag racing, something that's really special, knowing that here in the Netherlands there is no dragstrip to speak of.
For me personally this year was disappointing. You would think this was only because we didn't finish the year with the Championship, but for me there were some other things that were also important. Things that didn't came through, like running the numbers the car showed us it could run at the beginning of the year during the Easter Thunderball. After all it came down to a specific part of the car that kept us from a lot of wonderful things. We now know how to deal with it and we have already put everything in place to solve this specific problem.
Another thing that worries me is the lack of races. It's a very difficult task for us as Top Fuel teams to keep up this level of professionalism with only four races on the FIA calendar. This issue needs to be sorted out, but a direct solution is not visible in the near future. Perhaps I'm too focused on what's going on in the U.S. but, for me, its clear we need to move on with the current structure here in Europe. We need a professional organization that can lead our sport to the next level. This would be a big benefit for every class in our sport.
Sunday 7th September 2007: The Finals Day Three.
Overall it's been a difficult weekend. We qualified in the final session and as a result of our problems we had no data to set the car up for the first round of eliminations.
We went over the car in great detail last night. We put a new crankshaft and camshaft in as they had suffered with our startline problems and blowing the tyres off the car. We serviced the car so that we could be sure that everything was fine. We finished at 5am this morning.
We had to hope the tuneup would be good enough to get us through the first round. Not only did we have no data but we didn't know what the track needed. It is hard when you are in this situation and needing to put enough in the car to get through to the next round. We anticipated that Thomas would run a 4.8 and so we went initially for a tuneup in the low 4.8s but in the back of my mind I thought we would need a 4.7. The tuneup worked but I came up short against Thomas by six hundredths. On the run I had to pedal around 330ft as there was tyre shake and I didn't want to go up in smoke. In the end it was just enough to lose the round.
When we reached the far end neither of us knew who had won and Thomas thought I had as I passed him at my personal best speed. I had to wait until my crew arrived and I could see by their disappointed faces that we had lost. That's racing.
We then waited to see what would happen. We could now only win the championship if Andy, Urs and Thomas went out before the final. It was surprising to see Andy lose to Stig Neergard in round one and this gave us some breathing room. Then it became Thomas and Urs in the semi-final. We were watching Tommi Haapanen and thought he might have been a spoiler for us but then his car didn't start and that gave Stig a bye-run into the final against Urs.
The final was another exciting race. Urs did well but no-one expected a 4.8 from Stig and he really gave Urs a run for his money.
Urs deserves to be champion. He has put everything into it. I congratulate him on his first Top Fuel Championship.
We will go back home and have a think about our game plan for next year. Things will be fixed one way or the other. We shall pay a visit to the final two NHRA races of the year and make a blog entry for these events.
Saturday 6th September 2007: The Finals Day Two.
To say that today was exciting is an understatement. Solving our problem from yesterday was like finding a needle in a haystack. The data showed it was a clutch issue but we couldn't find anything wrong. Last night we worked to the early hours to get it sorted.
Unfortunately the third qualifier showed no improvement and we were still in ninth place and out of the field. If we couldn't get in the field we can't win the championship. So the faces of the team as they collected me at the end of the track were not cheerful.
We took the car apart and looked carefully at the clutch. At that point something I would not have normally noticed caught my attention. We investigated it and it was the problem. I believe Eric Medlen and Monique Pels are looking over us today. In the last three events we did not qualify until the last session. After we discovered what the problem was I was sure that we could make it into the field. The direction in which we obtained a solution was special but I do feel we were helped to find it.
In racing you need not only strong nerves and faith in your crew but sometimes eyes from above. I had no nerves for the fourth run. It was a bye run so there were no distractions and I could run for myself. After the burnout I stayed in pre-stage for a little longer than usual looking at the track in anticipation. I knew I had everyone's attention - if I had shut the motor off the crowd would have been totally silent. Then I thought: let's do it.
I put the fuel on the high side and the engine settled then I let the clutch out. I waited for the green as I wanted to be sure that a time would come up. Within one second I knew I was on a pass. The car had a really soft tune-up as a 4.9 second pass would have put the car in the field.
The car started shaking on the run so I pedalled once to keep it in the groove. I then clicked early because it was heading towards the centre line and I didn't want to hit a cone and be disqualified. When the time came up I was in the show. We deserved it as we had worked hard to solve the problem.
Tomorrow we have a chance to do well. We have no data from the previous runs this weekend but enough knowledge from previous rounds to get to the final. I wanted to meet Andy in the first round but it looks like we will probably meet in the final and if I get that far I will be champion. To get there though I have to get past Thomas in the first round and Micke or Urs in the semi-final. If I beat Thomas, he is out of the championship race. Urs is a championship contender too so we have to earn the right to be champion in each round. We wouldn't want to win it for free.
Friday 7th September 2007: The Finals Day One.
We started the day off in a good frame of mind with smiling faces. But on our first qualifier we lost traction after half a second. We made some changes and the same thing happened, so we are currently in eighth.
The good thing is we know the weather will be good. We have to investigate further what is wrong. We have been there before but we do need to launch strongly. The way the car is reacting bears no relation to how we have tuned it. Perhaps the conditions caused our car to react differently from the others. Andy proved the track is there and looking at his timeslip he would have run a 4.59 if his car had run to the finishing line.
Fortunately there was no mechanical damage after smoking the tyres. We are bright enough to know what to do. A lot of people have been saying "What can you do now?" We are not despairing and we have to continue.
If we don't make the show or fail to run properly we don't deserve to be champions. You just have to get the car going and get it from the start to the finish. Being champion is partly about overcoming adversity. The weather cannot spoil our race, only failing to achieve our target can. The most I can say is that it keeps life interesting.
Sunday 2nd September 2007: The Championship decider.
It's Sunday today, just a couple of days away from the last FIA round of the 2007 season. Looking back, it was a very difficult year; not only did the weather play a major role, the loss of a round in Norway did not help to make things any more easy going. With these factors, the tension for each weekend becomes higher then normal when the Championship is decided over 12 rounds of racing and the conditions are optimal. The Main Event gave us no racing at all and in Finland we did only one round. Sweden gave us a good weekend of racing, although the weather almost spoiled our weekend during qualifying.
You can do the math. Until now we have had four rounds of racing. The Euro Finals can add an extra three rounds to the total of this year. When you look at the percentage it's almost half a season that will be run this coming weekend.
This said, you can understand why I don't take this last event lightly. In the Championship we have an points advantage but in Top Fuel racing, anything can happen. I know Andy Carter has done the trick before, winning the Championship from an almost impossible position, and with his current team he will be strong enough to give it another go. Thomas and even Urs still have a chance to make their way to this years FIA Championship crown. Our philosophy is that attack mode will be the best way to win my second European Championship. I told my guys we will go for the win at the European Finals, as this will secure the Championship no matter what will happen.
The competition is getting better each round we race; don't be surprised when we see the first all 4 second field in Europe. The Santa Pod track crew is eager to get this record into their account, that's for sure.
Another thing on my wish list is setting some new records. After we returned from Hockenheim we found everything is in place to go after records. In Germany we ran a PB in speed (311 mph) and this showed us we are getting our puzzle in place.
We have used the time between Hockenheim and now to get all our stuff prepared and ready for battle. All the necessary parts to make it a great Final are in the trailer. I believe the car is better then ever before. I'm really looking forward to being back at the Pod and meeting all our fans again. Hope to see you at the Pod and otherwise you can follow all the activities through Eurodragster.com and this Blog, which will be updated after each day of racing.
Friday 24th August 2007: The best weekend.
Sorry that the updates on my Blog are not as frequent as promised. My schedule is rather busy with my day job asking more time than usual and of course the racing issues which need to be solved. We are in the middle of our racing season and although we are professional racers we still need our daily jobs to earn our living. I can tell you that life can be tough sometimes.
The 22nd NitrolympX and the last to be organised by Rico Anthes was the best ever. In the twenty one years I have attended this race I have never had so much fun. MPM, our major sponsor, had invited around two hundred guests which was for us an extra incentive to make the show.
Our first run on Saturday morning was a little too aggressive. The track looked really good but our tune-up was a little too energetic. We smoked the tires before sixty feet and our ET was around fourteen seconds after I clicked it of. Our second run of the day took place in the Night Show. I always look forward to this session because it is in the dark and the real nature of these nitro cars can be seen.
The car left the line with a 0.878 sixty foot and it felt really good. It went arrow straight, then around 900 feet it started to nose over and I clicked it off. The 5.0 ET on the scoreboards gave us the quickest of the night session and we hoped to make it to the finals on Sunday. Our guests were over the moon seeing the car leaving the line with the header flames over the rear spoiler. Thomas Nataas was running beside me and we both left the line together, around the eighth mile Thomas lost traction but it must have been awesome looking from the grandstands seeing both cars going into the dark followed by fireworks.
On Sunday we made some changes to the tune-up to get the car down track for the full 1320 fet. Again the car left well and again it went down the groove, I could keep my foot in and although we lost a cylinder around the eighth mile the car crossed the finish line in 4.79 seconds at 311 mph losing the blower belt at the finish line. For me it was the best speed ever and for Hockenheim a new track record. I was really proud to take this record home with me. I told Rico before the event started a record would be broken and it was.
Urs Erbacher had already used up two motors in the first two runs and was on the edge with parts. We discussed on Saturday evening exactly what was going wrong, looking at the two remaining runs it seemed the bug had left his pits. The Final was set, Urs came second in the Cannonball qualifying and we were first.
I had a good advantage at the start line, my car went down Broadway without any sign that I would give the lead away. Just as I passed the 660 foot marker the blower belt decided to go its on way, leaving the car without further notice. The engine went silent and I was waiting for Urs to pass me. And there he was just when I spotted the finish line, Urs' pedal job paid off.
Of course we would have liked to win this one, but if one team needed this victory it was the Fat Attack team. Urs left with the victory and we left with the best feeling we ever had after a Hockenheim race. It was a weekend to remember as one of the most enjoyable ever. Good performance, great guests, happy people and a track record to take home. Rico, thanks for all the great years and for the legacy you leave behind for others to continue in great spirit.
You can find our video of the Night Show run on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wKE5bHe7MI.
Tuesday 7th August 2007: Quality competition.
As you can imagine the drive back from Mantorp Park to Holland after our victory was a pleasant one. After our struggle to qualify things went pretty smoothly on race day. Our main competition was eliminated before we could run against them, but that's part of the deal. It shows you that any error can be fatal and that strategy is more important then ever. The main reason is that the quality of the Top Fuel teams in Europe is growing rapidly. Last season, racing was slowed down by oildowns and other issues that are common when racing Top Fuel. This season is going pretty smoothly, all the competing teams are getting their act together and this translates into quick ETs and no big hold ups on the track for cleaning. Mantorp gave us the quickest Top Fuel field ever, just one car was in the five-second zone, all others had made a pass in the fours. With just three qualifying rounds that is a true statement of the raising quality of all of the teams. Most of us were pretty certain that if the fourth qualifying field had been run then we should have had an all four-second field. Peter Lantz is ready to give his driver Jöran Persåker his first four-second experience. When the Santa Pod crew repeat the outstanding performance they showed at Mantorp during the Finals in September it can be a done deal.
For me it was a great joy to see Tommi Haapanen run as well as he did with a string of four-second runs. It must have been a great relief that the car is finally showing such a strong performance after a couple of years being more or less an outsider. Anita now knows why she stays home looking after the children and chickens. I told Anita in Finland that I admire her because she just stays home and makes it possible for her husband to keep on racing. Sami Lehtimäki, who is Tommi's Crew Chief, worked with our team in 2006, and you can understand that it was a big thrill for me that we had to run against them in the semi-final. I think it was the closest side-by-side run of the weekend and it was good that I ran my fastest of the weekend, something I already understood was needed before we started the car before the semi.
I'm proud to see this Finnish team is doing so well. They can't be Champions this year because they lost too many points at the start of this year but they certainly can be the spoiler for the teams who are still in the race for the 2007 title.
For some of you it may be a done deal, I mean the Championship: two rounds on Andy Carter and three on Thomas Nataas and Urs Erbacher seems like a comfortable lead but I certainly take nothing for granted. I know Andy Carter will fight as long as he has the chance to make it and that the other teams will go after me as well. As said before the competition is really tense so there are no easy round wins any more. This can work positively as well because my main competition can be ruled out by one of the teams running the numbers.
Next week we firstly have the Nitrolympx to attend, a good chance to get the last issues worked out tuning-wise and start running the numbers we have been looking for from the start of the season.
Hockenheim is always a welcome race in the middle of our season. It is always an awesome feeling being towed into the arena - well that's how I see it from my point of view sitting in the car and looking up to all the grandstands filled with people. The night show especially is something different, running fuel cars at night with the header flames over the rear spoiler is something to get ecstatic over - just the thought alone will do it.
Our main sponsor MPM will have a lot of people invited who will make the trip from the Netherlands to sit in the grandstands and wave to Gerda when she is signalling me back after the burnout. It will be great stuff without any doubt.
Sunday 29th July 2007: Zero to Hero.
Well we won the event, although I was disappointed with our ET in the final. I was hoping for another 4.7 rather than the 4.95 that came up on the boards. I'm happy with the outcome of the weekend. It was a real rollercoaster ride but all came into place right. In the first round we had a single as Janne Ahonen had problems. We only needed data to the eighth mile point as lane choice was not an issue, so we clicked it early.
The semi-final was such an important round to us: if we had lost and Andy Carter went on to win he could have amassed a points lead. As it was, his engine failed in the burnout. Our race was an exciting one. Tommi Happanen had a good car that was running consistent 4.9s and so we had to improve on that. A lot was at stake. Fortunately we went through but it was a good side-by-side battle, which is what drag racing needs.
In the final we knew Thomas was not in the best shape as his team had installed a new fuel pump after the first round. But we could not take it for granted. There had been an oil-down and the track had changed once again. We had to decide whether to step up and try to run a 4.6, which had a chance of not working, or keep to our previous setup. We actually changed very little on the car. After he smoked the tyres in the final we were happy to take the win.
My points lead is 43 which is just over two rounds of racing, but still anything could happen. The result was important but we still have Santa Pod to go. If the weather is with us, we will show what the car is capable of as we have solved some of the issues that have been holding our performance back. The potential is there and we will find a way to show it.
Saturday 28th July 2007: Getting from A to B.
At Mantorp Park it has been a pretty intense day in spite of the rain delays. We started thinking there would be three qualifying runs if there was no rain. However that was not to be and the first qualifier was rain-delayed. Conditions have been tricky and we got to the stage where we needed to qualify but could not afford to overdo the tuneup.
We had underestimated the track on Friday and put more power in but conditions were difficult. Why? We had a malfunction of our fuel system and that hurt us. It is a tight schedule at the track and errors occur - the problem was not picked up until after the second pass. This morning, we had more power than anticipated and had a 0.84 60ft time; it was 4 G's leaving the line and I had never experienced this level of acceleration before. I thought it was going to be ok and run pretty straight but in reality here you need to drive it all the time as there are small bumps and holes on the track and the tyres spin a little and that causes the car to skate around.
When the fuel system malfunctioned the car once again went towards the guardrail as this time the left bank lost two cylinders. You suddenly find yourself alongside the edge of the track and once again, steering didn't help correct it because cylinders were out. I had to get off the throttle and recorded a 5.432.
So at the end of the second qualifying session I wasn't in the field. We then prepared the car for the next round and found the error in the fuel system. But we still didn't know whether our setup was right as the data from the first two runs was invalid and had to be thrown away.
The field here has been so tight as so many cars have run well, We decided to take our Easter data which was good for a 4.7 pass and adjust it for the track conditions. But when we got into the pairing lanes the conditions started changing. There was rain, the temperature went down and air improved. You can pull back but conditions could change again. In the end it was three hours between leaving the pits and coming to the line after rain and an accident. In the end, conditions were better than our tuneup had allowed for.
You can adjust the clutch timers, the clutch and the fuel system in the staging lanes. But you cannot change the blower overdrive which is the main device to vary the power in the car. With the other things it often proves best to stick with what you originally had because changing the setup in the staging lanes can make things worse than better and there is no time to try.
After the burnout, Stig had problems selecting reverse and drove down the track without making us wait. He did a fine job. By doing so he sacrificed his chance of getting into the field and gave us a chance to do so. He gave us the track and it was the right decision for us and really great sportsmanship.
The car left fine and ran another 0.8s 60ft time, even quicker. It then shook and spun and I lost traction. I took my foot off the throttle and the car which was not straight by that point, straightened up. I hit it once more and it pulled incredibly hard. At 1000ft I lost my blower belt and at that stage after 4.4s I was travelling at 318mph. The engine made a lot of power and the track held it; but it used so much fuel there was damage - the burst plate came off, we lost the belt and burnt some pistons. It was also dramatic in the shutoff area. It had cost me time to shut off the fuel and by the time I had the chutes out and had slowed down, I was almost in the field.
I had hoped for a low five. I couldn't believe it when I saw I had run a 4.816 and during that time I was off the throttle for 0.4s.
I told the guys they owed me a couple of beers and I think I saved the day. You have to do your duty as a driver to get from A to B, but most times its not a simple game. I can be proud of my driving job and the fact I was capable of getting the car into the field after the problems. It gives me more confidence. The only downside was having to change the motor. Austin Coil once said "Motors are like soldiers. You take them into the battlefield. Some come back and others die."
Friday 27th July 2007: First qualifier.
So, something happened today; after the rain, the weather came round very quickly. It seems the more north you go, the more sudden the climate changes. The track conditions surprised us and the numbers that came up today indicated that we were going for it, particularly in the first 330ft.
You could see it coming as the other classes had run decent numbers. On our run, we left well and it felt good as the 0.860 60ft time showed. It then started shaking which was not a surprise; you have to quickly make the call as to whether you pedal it or stay on it and I went with it. then we dropped one or two cylinders on the right hand side. This had the effect of the left hand bank of cylinders giving us thrust towards the right hand side of our lane - and we went to the outside edge of the right hand lane, close to the guardrail. I tried to steer out of it and had my hands crossed on the wheel, but it still moved to the right, so I pedalled once to get it away from the guardrail. It was still close, too close and tried to pedal to correct again and again. On the third pedal it had not moved over and the additional fuel from the throttle input broke the blower belt.
I still ran a 5.3, but it was a close call although I felt everything was under control. Drag racing should be about going from A to B in a straight line. This time it wasn't, but I knew that if it rains on Saturday I may not be qualified. We do have three runs planned tomorrow so in reality it's not a big issue, in spite of the weather's unpredictability.
The reason we dropped the cylinders was that we were too close to one side of the tuning range. But the motor has been very reliable. In fact we have had the same engine in the chassis for 17 runs without changing the crank, and everything looks fine. But you cannot be sure, so we are changing the crank. We will need to run the numbers to keep in the championship chase.
It's up to the driver whether to run all three qualifying passes on Saturday but we definitely want to as it is track time. We've got the parts, no problem. We were a little conservative with the tune but I didn't expect the track to be so good. You have to make the judgment about how much the track will hold before you get into the pairing lanes but especially be careful not to overpower the track on the first run. Each track is different and conditions change, so it is no secret that we are constantly on a learning curve and need to have different setups for each set of circumstances. That is why you need to be aware of the conditions and also have the data to adapt to them. The more data you have the better chance you have of having the right setup for the next run.
Some were upset with the run but you have to deal with that. It's quite a wide track, but it's not good to be out of the groove. Nevertheless, the tyres still stuck to the track off the line, which is a good sign. We want to run a 4.7 tomorrow and go from there. This means getting the 'sweet spot' on the setup to run the numbers.
I am proud of our guys for the reliability this season. It's a contrast to last year when we lost parts on every run. Having spare blocks and only needing to dust them is fun. The car is capable of running great numbers and we are getting close to that objective. We launched well today in spite of not much ignition or blower and only 84% nitro.
But like so many things in life, you can only learn by doing it. Every run is like opening a Christmas present. You don't know for sure what's inside and all you can do is adjust to what happens. The paramount thing is to keep the car together.
Thursday 26th July 2007: On arrival at Mantorp.
This blog was written by Gerda on Thursday of the Veidec Nitro Festival, the day before the first Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled.
We left our base in Holland yesterday morning and arrived this afternoon after a smooth trip. We took the ferry from germany to Sweden. The set-up has also been straightforward.
Our car is healthy. I have been impressed by the small number of parts that it has consumed - apart from routine maintenance the only breakage has been one spark plug and a slightly singed valve.
The track here at Mantorp Park is not only short but also the heavy rain in the last few days has left it rather green. The track preparation team are the best in Europe and I am sure they will do whatever they can to bring it round. Likewise, Ian Marshall is the best starter in Europe. I recall a time when we raced our Top Methanol Funny Car with another starter at a track I won't name and sat on the line with the engine at full revs for five seconds, which felt like an eternity. Ian knows precisely how much time we need, for instance Top Fuel Dragsters need to spend an extra length of time in pre-stage when the driver activates the second fuel pumps in preparation for the run. We are then ready for an 'instant green'.
What happens here at Mantorp is crucial for the Championship, although it is also likely that the final winner will be decided at the Finals. Most drivers currently have a chance to win the Championship, but how well they do in elimination rounds will be a key factor as more points are available for eliminations to widen the gap. For instance to win the event would give a racer 100 points but to be a first round loser is only good for 20 points.
The team mood in MPM Racing is good and I feel we have never been as close as we are. After all, to drive 1300km in one bus with eight people on board, you can only get closer.
Tuesday 24th July 2007: Thoughts before Mantorp.
Our contribution to the tractor pulling event in Putten, Holland was a big hit. The MPM Top Fuel team was invited by the organisation and, with the help of the MPM Tractor Pulling team, we had a great day. This was the first time for most visitors and teams that entered this event to see a Top Fuel Dragster live. At the end of the day we ran the engine, first on Methanol and then we switched over to Nitro. The crowd loved it; some of them asked us if it was possible to put tractor tyres on our rims so we could make a pull with the Dragster; that would have been fun.
Everything is ready and set to make our journey to Mantorp. If it all comes together there will eleven Top Fuel cars at the event, but even if there are ten, it will be interesting to see how qualifying proceeds. Looking at the weather forecast, we have to be ready for a worst case scenario; a lot of rain is predicted, but I really hope things will turn out for the better when we start racing.
With just Mantorp and Santa Pod left for this season on the FIA calendar there is no room for any error whatsoever. An interviewer asked me why the good start to our season did not translate into better numbers during the season. The answer is not so difficult when you look at the conditions we have had to do our job with. The Main Event gave us only two rounds of qualifying and if we had had the opportunity to continue racing that weekend, I am sure that our pass would have been the same or even better than that at Easter. Alastaro is a completely different track and we needed some time to get our tuning sorted out, but our second position at the end of qualifying showed we were on our way. In the first round of eliminations we bettered our time, running a 5.0, which considering the fact I had to pedal the car three times is not too bad.
Okay, Mantorp is our next stop; this track is more our cup of tea; we have made some pretty decent runs in the past and I know for sure we have our game plan sorted out. I hope we get the chance to spread our tune up during the four qualifying sessions that are planned in the program. This will be good for the Championship and our sport in particular, we need exposure and the way to achieve this is making runs down the quarter mile. Extra attention is always given to the parachutes and the systems to control them when we go to Mantorp; you don't want to put your car into the dirt at the end of the track.
We will update this Blog each day of qualifying and at the end of race day. See you there.
Saturday 14th July 2007: FHRA Nitro Nationals at Alastaro. I promised in my last Blog to send updates from Alastaro; a bad connection and a lack of time in which to solve the problem prevented this. Anyhow, we had a roller coaster weekend from which I will share some of the more interesting moments with you.
The first qualifying session was scheduled on Friday morning with the weather forecast predicting everything except snow. It was important to set a decent ET right off the trailer. The car run by Ahonen did a couple of laps on Thursday providing the team and the spectators some information regarding the track conditions. Speaking of the track, its preparation looked better then ever before.
Our first qualifying run gave us a 5.50 ET which was good for the no. 3 spot behind two of the Rune Fjeld cars. In the second qualifier, something weird happened and the car throw us a bone. We spent the rest of the day and evening looking for any broken or unreliable parts that caused the problem we encountered. Nothing was found; we have a good car but we needed to be sure that nothing was biting us in the back. Sebastian and I changed the tune up a little to see if this would solve our problem. The third qualifier gave us no more information than we already knew; we were too aggressive and we smoked the tyres before 60 foot. Meanwhile our position was down to six in the qualifying ladder, so with only one session to go things became a little hectic. There were nine cars entered for an eight car field and to get pole would give you a head start to Mantorp, but to be lower down the field would be interesting but not good if you have Championship aspirations.
We were the first car to run in the last qualifying session so we had to go for the numbers because we did not know what the competition would run, not that this would make a big difference anyway, because you have to deal with these kind of things for yourself and not depend on what others might do or not do. We worked out a tune-up that would provide us a solid qualifying spot; the only thing that kept bothering us was the challenging track conditions. During the first two days of qualifying, a high oil down count had made the track hard to read.
After the burnout I backed up the car towards the start line; there were a lot of people on the track looking for fluid spots and some of them were lying on the track. I never have experienced this before but there is a first time for everything.
The car left the line with a 0.890 60 ft and I knew we were on our way towards the eighth. It's always tricky because the clutch comes in and its possible to lose traction, but the car made it through and around 1000 ft it started to nose over. I clicked it off because I knew we were safe in the field and I didn't want to hurt any parts. It gave us the second qualifying spot, good enough going into eliminations. The rest of this qualifying session was awesome; all the Top Fuel cars that elected to attend the session made it down the track under power without spilling any oil; great stuff.
Sunday started with some light rain, more drops than real rain. At a certain point the Pro Modifieds were called to the start line and racing started. However, after the first two cars left the line, the rain started to become a serious issue. The race was stopped, and it looked at that point like it was a closed case.
Around three it started to become dry, the sun was warm and within 90 minutes racing was on its way again. After Pro Modified we were called to the staging lanes, first Andy and Micke made their runs with Andy running the first four second run of the weekend, and then it was our turn. We were paired up against Joran who ran very decent qualifying time. The MPM Top Fuel car left the line a with a 0.870 60 ft, but when the car hit the 330 ft point it started spinning the tires. I pedaled it and the tyres hooked up again, and around the 660 mark it started again so I gave it another pedal, resulting in wheel spin again, another pedal and the car started to make speed again. I clocked a 5.0 despite all the pedalling. Joran was close behind me but I had won the round and that is what counts.
The semi finals promised to be really interesting because Andy and Urs had to battle it out, while I had to race against local hero Ahonen. This was interesting for the Championship because Thomas had lost to Ahonen and was out in the first round, and with the Andy and Urs matchup, anything was possible. We serviced the car and were ready to go into the semi final, but then the announcement was made that the crew of Ahonen needed another half hour to get their car ready. In the meantime the weather gave up on us again, this time so badly that we had no chance to race again.
Everything added up, it was not too bad; at least we made it without losing too many points and are still leading the Championship. I hope Mantorp will give us good weather and a chance to make it to the finals. Thanks for reading!
Tuesday 3rd July 2007: Repaired and ready.
After the damage we experienced from the weather during the Main Event, everything is fixed and in working order again. Our awning is fixed and can be attached to the trailer again. Will Giling from Custom Body and Paint repaired the dragster's bodywork; he did an excellent job and the car looks better then ever.
The second round of the 2007 Championship will be more important then ever. With just four Championship events this year, each round of racing is really important. A mistake could be really expensive in the Championship points chase. Although I said this before, that this Championship needs more rounds, this does not mean that I don't like these kind of conditions. I know we have to have a program to pull this deal through to a good conclusion at the end of the season. With nine cars entered, every driver knows he has to run certain numbers to make the eight car field on Sunday. Last year, we saw some pretty upsetting non-qualifiers and we know for sure that everybody wants to race on race day. Until now, Alastaro is the only track on which I have never hit the four-second zone. I have a good feeling that this will change next weekend, at least if the weather works for us, although the forecast is not that good.
We are planning to keep you informed from Alastaro by updating the Blog after each day of racing, till then, thanks for reading.
Wednesday 20th June 2007: Finland, Finland, Finland.
Although it seems a long time between The Main Event and the next race in Alastaro, things are moving pretty quickly right now. Gerda has made all the arrangements to get the crew and race car to Finland, a job which takes a lot of energy and dedication. Not only all the flights need to be booked but the time schedule must be workable for all the crew involved. Besides the fact that all my crew have day jobs we need to be careful with the days they have to take off work. As I mentioned in my last Blog the ideal world would be a full-time crew, something my boys would agree right away. Nothing better than making a living out of a hobby that you love the most.
The truck and trailer, with Gerda and myself behind the wheel, will leave on the Tuesday morning early before the race weekend. First we will drive to Travemunde in Germany to take the ferry to the south of Sweden. From there on we drive through Sweden almost 800 kilometres to the next ferry just north of Stockholm. This boat will take us to Turku, almost a two-hour drive from Alastaro where the track is situated. The crew will leave early on Thursday morning to arrive in Helsinki in the afternoon. Gerda has made arrangements with a car rental company so that our boys can continue their journey with a rental van. At the end of Thursday afternoon the crew will arrive at the track, in the mean time Gerda and myself are busy setting up our pits and getting everything ready as far as possible.
Friday will be the first qualifying day, this means that everything must be ready by the end of Thursday evening. This is one of the reasons why we try to work ahead in the shop: when the car and parts are unloaded from the trailer in Finland it must be ready for action.
When racing is over at the end of Sunday the ferry will be waiting at 10:00 in the evening. This will not give us much time to load our stuff should er make it to the final. The crew will fly back on Monday and if things go the way we have planned we will arrive at our shop on Tuesday evening. Yes, that's right, we left on Tuesday morning the week before, that is what it takes timewise to attend the race in Finland.
When people start talking about vacation and holidays we always ask what they mean. For the crew, Gerda and I all our free time is spent on racing. But hey, I can't picture myself sitting at the beach doing nothing, it would be a waste of time anyway. Happy holidays!
Thursday 14th June 2007: Getting to the next level.
After the Main Event, the first FIA European Championship round of the year, it's a long wait until the next race takes place. Thinking about this issue, you might wonder how we can make more use of our race equipment.
After the cancellation of the Norway round, at least for this season, we have in total just four race meetings to decide who will be European Champion in the FIA classes. The first round, held in the UK, was a rain off after only qualifying had taken place. The next round of the Championship will be held in Finland. We all hope the weather gods will be good for us so we can race at the track instead of looking at the sky for a window of sunshine to dry the track. I think we are at a point that we have to face the reality of the necessary steps that need to be taken to upgrade the number of FIA races organized in one year.
Is it realistic to keep all these race cars and, I presume, bikes just in the shop, garage or other facilities where they are just sitting doing nothing? Think about the amount of money that has been invested in these race programs. Another problem is the crew; we cannot hire them on a professional basis, because you cannot pay them a full time salary for four or five races a year. I understand there are people who already have their hands full with the number of races we have at the moment, but I believe we need more races to get our sport to the next level. We have healthy classes, the public is coming through the gates: we need to keep this momentum alive.
The bottom line is that most of the professional teams can only survive and grow when they can attract sponsors. More displays are indispensable for achieving this goal. The problem is that when you own and run a race team, most of your time is already filled with keeping your day-to-day business running. We, as race teams, need people who help us to get drag racing to the next level, so we can keep doing what people pay for when they enter the gates. At the drivers' meeting during the Main Event, I was confronted with the fact that drag racing is not even in the top 100 of known sports.
I think, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to change this disappointing score! We can do better.
Sunday 3rd June 2007: Shock and awe.
Maybe you have heard about it already, but race day at the FIA Main Event was not only a day of rain, but we also lost the awning which was attached to our trailer.
At 7:00 in the morning a kind of whirlwind hit our trailer lifting the awning, and with a tremendous amount of noise it ended up on the roof of our trailer. Gerda and I always sleep in the trailer during race meetings so we had an unusual wake up call that morning. Our pit looked like it had been hit by a tornado. Our hospitality tent was still way up in the air - the wind was keeping it in the air. A couple of the big aluminum poles had fallen to the ground. One of them had damage the nose of our Top Fuel dragster. It is good that we always wrap up the car before we go to bed because the car was now sitting in the open air, as the roof of our pit area was completely gone. I was fighting to get our hospitality tent down on the ground again and Sebastian was helping me by cutting the tent lines from the poles.
Our crew had spent the night in a hotel because their sleeping facilities could not stand up to the weather gods. They could not believe what they saw. Before arriving at the track they were making bets whether a certain sail would still be attached to the pit awning. You can imagine the looks at their faces when they found out what happened just before they arrived. We had a lot of work to get everything safe and sorted out. My guys asked me how we could continue racing without a roof above our head. I told them that as long as it was raining we didn't have to worry about it, and that when the conditions changed and things dried up we were ready to race anyway because the car was ready to rock.
As you all know the event was rained out and we were able to catch the evening ferry back home. Although the margin was not big, our strategy worked: we Santa Pod in the lead in the Championship.
I want to thank all the fans I met and spoke to last weekend. It's awesome to know that there are so many people reading my Blog and following our quest to become Champions again.
Sunday 27th May 2007: Main Event Rainout.
This blog entry was written after Sunday running was cancelled at the 2007 Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway.
I have never known weather as bad as this at the Main Event. There are some things you don't always get time to do at the race track and a rain delay has given an opportunity to do them.
When we were scrutineered yesterday the scrutineer said the front wing on the dragster, which should be no less than three inches from the ground, was on the margin of being too low. The car nevertheless passed scrutineering.
The reason for setting a minimum height of the front wing is that it should not trigger the staging beams. As it became clear that time would be available, I asked Jon Webster what would be necessary to raise the front wing. It's not a matter of a simple adjustment and it involved a welding job on the front of the chassis, which a member of Robert Joosten's team kindly carried out for us.
Commonly in Top Fuel, The front wing can trip the beams at the top end due to rear tyre growth and chassis flex during the run. As a result, the wing can get lower in height. But I believe that at the start line at Santa Pod, we always trip the beams with the tyres. Gerda always makes sure of this, as she signals me into stage carefully.
Our no. 1 qualifying position is important for the championship. I am a strong believer that the driver that comes away from the Main Event with the points lead has a good chance of winning the championship. With the likely rainout of eliminations, there are only nine rounds of eliminations remaining. The championship is always hard fought and has usually gone down to the last race.
This is my first time on pole and I was looking forward to being interviewed on the start line in front of the crowds. I was also looking forward to racing on Monday as the changes we have made to our tuneup should result in a run at least as good as the 4.788 at Easter. As the slogan for MPM Oils says, we are moving things forward.
Sunday 27th May 2007: Main Event Qualifying.
This blog entry was written after the second qualifying session at the 2007 Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway.
On my first run this morning I had a lot of tyre shake after sixty feet and I clicked the motor early. I don't think I have ever had so much shake; I thought my head was going to come off my neck and I felt about two inches taller than usual when I got out of the dragster.
The tuneup we put in for that run was the same as at Easter and we thought that this would get the car down the track, as it had worked then. But conditions were different and we found we needed to tune the car to the track. The other teams all struggled as well, but we needed to solve our own problem.
Sebastian and I thought after the first run that we needed to go one way with the tuneup but after more discussion ended up doing the opposite. Our first thought was to adjust the power level downwards as there was too much power at a certain point. Then after looking at the data we went for a different approach and put more power into it as we felt the track could take more. The run was not picture perfect but I could drive through the shake and didnt need to pedal. When I got to 1000 feet the car started to swerve and I had a bit of a handful, but I could tell it was on a good pass. It was going towards the centre line though and I had to click it at that point as I didn't want to get disqualified.
The run was a 4.842/277.62. The early lift had again hurt both my ET and speed. The car was in good condition, but it was running a little lean at 1000ft and we will need to adjust the fuel for next time.
I would like to go for a better time, but the weather is looking to be a spoiler for this meeting and in all probability this run will be the no. 1 qualifier. This is good for the championship as there are additional points for qualifying top and being no. 1 counts on race day. In the event that race day is rained off, there will be five extra points for quickest ET of the event. Every point counts, particularly as with this year, there will now only be twelve rounds of racing in the championship.
Tuesday 22nd May 2007: Top Fuel FAQ #4.
In March 2007, Blog readers were invited to send questions or subjects to Lex. This week, we present the final questions and Lex's answers.
What is the advantage of a set back blower and does it generate more power? (Kevin Maguire, UK)
Lex: There are a couple of reasons for running a set back blower. When racers ran an unlimited nitro percentage, in the early days of the sport, the blower did not have such a large effect on power as now. It was a nice device to hang the starter motor on to fire up the motor, the overdrive then was around 25% and servicing of the blower was basically a once a year job. The power was mainly made through the amount of nitro used as fuel. When the corrected altitude rose, the amount of nitro was increased to make up for the loss of air. Then somebody decided the nitro cars were running too fast, safety became an issue and the rule became mandatory to run with a maximum of 90% nitro in the tank. The blower became more important at that stage because we needed more air to make up for the loss of nitro. So the overdrive percentage was raised and 50% became common on most Fuel cars. After the teams and crew chiefs did some homework, the nitro cars started running quick again. The NHRA responded by deciding to drop the nitro percentage to 85%. This made life really difficult. Other ways had to be found to make up for the loss of power.
When using the old style blower set up, you will find most of the fuel goes in the front of the motor; cylinder 1 and 2 are receiving a lot more than, for example, 7 and 8. This is because the blower has the tendency to push it towards the front. Running big jets in the front of the motor compared to the rear was the only way to get an even temperature in all cylinders. The down side was that the motor was running unbalanced because of the different amount of power made in each cylinder. The most popular way to get this problem solved was to lower the compression in the front of the motor by lowering the piston or rod. Less compression means less power.
Back to the 85% issue, when the teams in the USA were facing this rule change, they needed to run even more blower on their motors, something that was not really possible. There were some manufacturers who made state of the art blowers, but still it was not possible to make up for the loss of nitro.
Mounting the blower closer to the rear of the motor made it possible to get a more even flow of fuel to each cylinder, and this gave a much better balance to the motor making it possible to put more load on all rotating parts.
Special intake manifolds and blower snouts were made to make it all work. I was the first to run a set back blower on a car in Europe, basically because the car came from the USA running on 85%. I wanted to have it on the car anyway because of the mechanical advantage. Our team is still running 85% here in Europe although it's allowed to run 90% under FIA rules. In the meantime, other teams are using the set back blower, Urs, the Andersen team with Andy Carter driving this year and Rune made the move as well, putting a set back blower on Thomas's dragster. Patrick Pers was running a set back blower on Knut's Funny Car at the Easter Thunderball.
Imagine what kind of performance advantage we should have with our current engine setup by putting 90% in the tank again!
I hope this will give you a better idea why the setback blower has become popular with most of the Fuel teams.
How is it possible to work on an engine between rounds, when the components are red-hot? (Glyn Pearson, Coventry, UK)
Lex: When the car comes back after a round of racing everything is still at running temparature when the car enters the pits. Because we only have ninety minutes to turn the car around the crew has to deal with parts which are still hot. The heads are one of the parts that are still hard to handle but the worst part of the car as far as heat is concerned is the clutch. The clutch guy wears special gloves with long sleeves. This gear is normally used by craftsmen in the welding industry. Although we have all kind of protective clothes for the our clutch guy he still has some burn spots on his arms and fingers. The other crew members who work on the car know how to work with hot parts and usually get their job done without hurting too many body parts.
Before we fire up the engine after the service the engine block still has some heat in it from the previous run. When we check the valve clearance at the end of the service we have to make a calculation how to set them because the heat will make the engine block longer, perhaps an item for another Blog.
Should Top Fuel effectively be unlimited in terms of the technology and construction rules, examples being wing angles, nitro percentages etc, or would you rather see more controls introduced to reduce the dangers, breakages, costs and to increase the number of teams ? (Phil Sweeney, UK)
Lex: This question is rather tricky to answer. It is in Man's nature to live without rules, at least not too many if possible. If we skipped the rules Top Fuel would become pretty dangerous, not only for the drivers but also for the spectators or the people who work at the race track.
I think that the way things are organised right now are pretty good. We have seen an increase in TF teams over the last couple of seasons. Also the quality of competition is getting better. Records are broken on a regular basis and the crowds in the grandstands are growing all the time. Of course this is not only because the TF class is getting better but in most (FIA) classes we see rules being changed not to favour a performance gain.
I must admit that it would be interesting to run a TF car without the limiting factor of rules, but saying that, we all have to live according the same rules and that is beneficial for close racing.
Why do the crew and driver wear a gas mask when firing the car up in the pits, but not at the start line? (Claus Hansen, Denmark)
Lex: When we fire up the car in the pit area we are pretty enclosed, so the Nitro fumes will stay under the awning making it inpossible to breathe. When we are at the start line we are working in the open air, this will give the crew better opportunity to breathe, although every now and then when the wind is blowing from the wrong direction some of us will grab for a gas mask anyway!
Thursday 10th May 2007: Top Fuel FAQ #3.
In March 2007, Blog readers were invited to send questions or subjects to Lex. This week we present the third pair of questions and Lex's answers.
With the apparent resurgence in Fuel Funny Cars, and I remember reading somewhere that your heart lies with Funny Cars, would you ever consider selling the Dragster and moving back to a fuel flopper? Or perhaps, if the sponsors are feeling rich, a two car team, dragster and funny car? (Chris Eyre, UK)
Lex: It's true my heart lies with the Funny Cars, and I have never made this a secret. As you probably know, we have tried to campaign a Fuel Funny Car with no luck. It almost took my life and from that point on, I have promised my partner to stay on the safer side of things. For me, this means I need to have enough knowledge and good people around me before I start racing Funny Cars again.
A Top Fuel dragster uses the same components that a Fuel Funny Car does, and that will give us a good baseline to start working from whenever we want to make the transition. The people around me are getting better all the time and I’m confident they can do the job; whether it's with a Dragster or Funny Car doesn’t matter.
Sponsorship is another issue. I will need to sell the concept to potential sponsors, but at this moment it's really hard to get it done for a Top Fuel car. So it's not difficult to guess that for a Funny Car team as well, it’s Mission Impossible, although I hope in time there will be a complete sponsor-funded Funny Car team hitting the European tracks. Selling the Dragster is not an option, but, who knows, renting out the Dragster and driving a Funny Car myself could be a possibility some day!
Roughly what does it cost your team, or any top fuel team, to compete in the FIA series; also it sounds like the new electronic timers will make the fuel cars more reliable, and, as you have mentioned you would like to run a Fuel FC one day, will it help them significantly as well? (Andrew Bamford, UK)
Lex: To establish the running costs of a Top Fuel team in Europe is rather complex. As I explained in an earlier blog, the European teams are semi professional, this means nobody gets any payment for the work they do and time they invest in racing. Our sponsors make it possible to get our program on the road. In the early days, it was possible to run a Top Fuel operation from your household budget, but I can tell you those times are long gone. As you will understand, it's not possible to state my financial position on the internet, but a general rule of thumb for the cost of a run is around $4,000. This is not including traveling, transportation, food and all other kind of costs. You can do the calculation.
The electronic timers are much more reliable then the air operated ones We felt really sorry that the FIA told us we had to wait until the 2007 season to start using these devices, especially because it will give us a much safer car to drive and less down time on oil downs. The rule change also helps Fuel Funny cars because they use the same systems as the dragsters.
Thursday 3rd May 2007: Top Fuel FAQ #2.
In March 2007, Blog readers were invited to send questions or subjects to Lex. This week we present the second pair of questions and Lex's answers.
What is the function of the scoop on the body just between the front wheels? It is taped up for the burnout and then just before the run you remove the tape. (Jamie Dodd, Purfleet, UK and Martin Wilson, UK)
Lex: Underneath the scoop, the fuel tank is mounted between the frame rails of a Top Fuel Dragster. To keep as much weight as possible at the front of the car the best place for the fuel tank is also at the front. Generally a tank will hold around eighteen gallons of fuel, you can imagine what kind of weight is involved. The scoop covers the air intake of the tank and is designed to get as much air in the fuel tank as possible. The rules don't allow pressurised air in the tank, but the extra benefit of using air which blows by during a run can be useful. The tape removed by Gerda just for the run is to prevent dirt getting into the fuel tank during pre-race activities.
Why are we not running as quickly as our counterparts in the USA? Is it funding, lack of testing, or track conditions? Also, should we not have the same regulations worldwide, for example nitro limits? (Roger Cyster, UK and Peter Roat, Norfolk, UK)
Lex: Although the ETs and speeds are getting closer to what our peers run in the US we still are a couple of ticks away. Right now the lack of runs is the number one reason why we are behind. Each run we make will give us valuable data that will help to understand what the car needs and how it reacts to changes. Sometimes you have to find out which way to go before you can make the final adjustments. We have no real possibilities to test, at least not as they do in the US where after a weekend of racing its really nice to get back on the track on Monday to see where you are and what to chance to make it better.
Funding is something you need, as you can imagine if you have testing opportunities then you need to have the financial backing to make the runs. Most parts we use are made in the US, the cost of shipping and the taxes that the government want from us are huge. The crew members we have working for us are all volunteers, the amount of time they can spent is basically dictated by the amount of holidays they have from their jobs. The bottom line is that most of the US teams are working full time on their racing business, something we would like to do as well and would certainly give us a performance advantage.
The NHRA tracks are famous, the track conditions are the best you can find. When we have to race on a track like that we have to adjust our tuning because you need to throw more of everything at it to make it to the finish line. This track advantage is not because the guys here don’t know how to prepare a track, its simply about money. People like Kjell Peterson know how to prep a track and I always say most of the European tracks can hold better ETs than some of us think. Running 4.4 in Europe will be a Utopia but I’m sure we will see some nice records set in the near future.
Regarding the regulations, you need to be aware that any regulation change means the teams have to spend extra money. For example the nitro regulation you mentioned, when you change the percentage from ninety as is allowed in Europe to eighty five as is mandatory in the US, the teams who use ninety per cent have to completely rework their motor set up and spend lots of money to get it to the same level of horsepower as ninety per cent. Because most of the European teams are amateurs or semi-pros it would kill the class if a rule like that was enforced. We have decided to run our car on eighty five per cent because we could be racing in the US at the end of the year, but that’s our decision.
Friday 27th April 2007: Top Fuel FAQ #1.
In March 2007, Blog readers were invited to send questions or subjects to Lex. This week we present the first two questions and Lex's answers.
I've been watching the slow-motion film of both the FIA and NHRA coverage of Top Fuel on the TV and noticed how much a Top Fueller seems to flex during a run. I can understand torque twist but it appears that the car actually arches from front to rear. Is this the case or is it an illusion, and if yes then what causes it and how is the chassis designed to withstand it? (Dave Jones, Wilnecote, UK)
Lex: Looking at slow motion images of a Top Fuel car creates a lot of questions. It is sometimes hard to believe that what you see actually happens. The way you have formulated your question proves there are a lot of questions to be answered. The answer is yes, a Top Fuel chassis arches. The motor is making so much power that it wants to send the front end to the sky. The trick is to have a good balance between horsepower and clutch to keep the front wheels on the ground. A Top Fuel Dragster chassis has a wheelbase of 300 inches. The ideas behind this is the longer the chassis the more power you can apply before the front end will lift. The chassis is built in such a way that it can bend and flex without breaking. If it was rigid and stiff it would easily break.
A Top Fuel chassis is front- or back-halved when it gets older to prevent breakage. This means that the part of the chassis behind or in front of the driver's compartment is renewed to keep it fresh and reliable.
With the introduction of electronic timers in Top Fuel this year, how will European scrutineers be able to verify that the timers are preset in advance, and not modified during the run by a wheel rotation sensor, thus providing traction control? (Tethys, UK)
Lex: The question you have is basically about working around the rules. There are many ways to create an illegal advantage which would not be easy for the scrutineers to find. At each race we enter the car is checked to confirm that everything is in place according the safety rules. After each round of qualifying or eliminations the cars are checked for weight and percentage of Nitro. I can remember one other time when we were checked because of a performance advantage situation: this was in Alastaro when the wing angle was measured.
Regarding your question, the electronic timers are used for the fuel and clutch systems so that they react at a fixed set time during the run. There is no real advantage to gain if we interfered with these systems with a wheel rotation device or other system to create traction control. When you use these systems to create traction control the damaging factor to the engine would be around 100%, for sure.
The MSD systems we use on modern Top Fuel cars do have a device built in which can detect certain forms of traction control. When this system measures something that is out of the preset factory range a red light will start blinking and the scrutineer knows that he has to check the data from that particular run to see if there is any traction control system in use. After the information has been gathered the system can be reset by the people from MSD.
This same system has a rev limiter built in to slow down the MPH at the end of a run. When the motor is making more than 8250 revs three seconds into the run, the ignition is retarded to take power out of the motor. This means that you want to set up your tune in a way to stay under 8250 before three seconds in the run. In the USA it is mandatory to use this system, in the rest of the world it is still optional.
Thursday 19th April 2007: Victory at Easter.
After we returned home from the Easter Thunderball, it took me a couple of days to realise what we had accomplished. After the 2006 Euro Finals, Sebastian and I had started talking about our 2007 plans. We proved at the Thunderball that we could bring a car to the startline that was still in one piece when it past the finish line, something that is easier said than done. This was obvious looking at the several oildowns during that last weekend of racing in the 2006 season. If we had the same kind of competitions as they have in the USA for the team with the less downtime on the track, my crew would be the number 1 in the Full Throttle Pit Crew rankings. But Seb and I agreed we were heading in the right direction anyway; what we needed was a consistent running car that would be fast and respond to tuning changes.
We put the car and its components back on the drawing board and designed a plan of what to change and modify to achieve our goal. Also we agreed we would have a NHRA legal set-up in case we should go the USA at the end of the 2007 season.
Going out for the first run of the year is always special; we had a couple of new crew guys who had never been at a drag strip before and we also implemented our ideas into the several systems of the car, had the new type of tyres etc.
After the burnout, the car idled 500 rpm higher than intended; at that point it’s not possible to select reverse because the clutch won’t give you a neutral to select the reverse gear. I tried to get the rpm’s down by pulling the throttle toward myself, something that didn’t work out. Then I pulled the fuel lever to the high side, thinking more fuel will lower the rpm, and this worked. I just dropped the rpm enough to get the reverse gear.
The amount of fuel coming out of the headers told the story, but we managed to get into stage. On the first run we made it to the 330 ft to check out all the systems and to be sure we had done our homework correctly.
When we came back and checked the data, everything looked within the margins we set and aimed for. Asking the new crew guys how they did at the startline, they told me they were shocked when the car left the line; we were the first pair out, so they had no reference. They looked at the other crewmembers and when they acted cool the new guys supposed everything was okay. Is this fun or what!
On the second run, we decided to take it further down the track to see what the data would tell us; after I clicked it of at 700 ft, we still ran a 5.0. This gave us an opportunity to stay in competition and a stepping stone to a full pass.
Monday was our third pass. Seb told me it would be possible to go the full 1320. There were no signs of major problems, the only thing that was not clear was how the track would do. Each day we ran, the track became better but still it was tricky to read.
We were paired against Thomas, and after I left the startline I never saw him again. Although Thomas ran a decent 4.8 we managed to run the first 4.7 at an Easter event. I had to click it off at 1000 ft because the car was getting to close to the centreline because of shake and I didn’t want to take the risk of damaging parts or getting into Thomas’s lane.
I must say the car was really on a run, 3.9 at the 1000 ft has never been performed at the Pod and I think never in Europe. When we looked at the data after the run, it appeared it would have been a run under a 4.65.
The final against Urs was something we were looking forward to. Urs went out at a high in 2006 and was the man to beat, especially with Glenn Mikres tuning the car. Imagine, beating a USA tuner would be something.
We managed to run another 4.7 pass. This time I clicked of at the 1000 ft again; the car did not feel good and it started to nose over, so I called it a day. We won the event for the first time, great stuff.
After we came home and analyzed the data from the last run we found the problem of the early shut off. Our fuel tank was running empty; when staging the cars for the finals we needed some extra time for the camera crew that was filming Urs’ run; this amount of time was just enough to have nothing left at the other end of the track. The fuel tank will be replaced for a bigger one before the Main Event, just to be sure we can sit out any kind of intervention, we will then be bullet proof and ready for the 2007 battle when we come through the gate at the end of May.
On another note, in case Gary Scelzi is reading our blog, I must say Gerda is not pleased to read that he is quitting at the end of the 07 season. I hope he will change his mind in time because otherwise she will let him know before the season is over.
Monday 9th April 2007: Monday at the Easter Thunderball.
This is the third time we have entered the Pro Fuel Shootout and this is a race that we wanted to start winning. Now we have.
In racing, it is important that you do it the right way or not at all. I know that some have criticised us for this, but to succeed you have to be serious about this sport and to take everything step-by-step. We have come away from the meeting knowing more about the car and have given the rest of the Top Fuel entrants in Europe something to think about. After we ran this morning, Roel Koedam came up to us and said “It was so good, don’t take it apart.” But of course you have to.
What hurt our speed and prevented us running quicker was that I lifted at 1,000ft when I knew we had the race won. Our computer data showed us that we were travelling at 304mph when I lifted.
We are running a current NHRA-spec car. We ran 84% nitro this weekend. We had to change the tyres because the previous set had blistered. But we’ve other tricks up our sleeve.
We’ve struggled in the past and that’s why we have made changes to the team. The two new members have been on a learning curve this weekend. They have studied engineering at college, but have never been to a drag race before. They were blown away by what they saw and are a great addition to the team. The guy on the clutch had to redo the first two turnarounds because something was wrong when he finished but the next two were perfect. That is all part of the learning process.
When we saw their application letter, we noticed they wanted to work on a team with the most noise and power in motorsports. One of them pointed to his stomach and said ‘I feel it here’.
My congratulations go to Robert Joosten for winning the first Round of the MSA Pro Modified championship. He was able to run the car straight every round. Before the round against Andy Robinson he asked me ‘Shall I go for another ET record’ and I said ‘If you want to win the event you will have to go down the track reliably.’ It’s all part of the strategy. You set the goal and go from there. You can’t be too greedy and the record will come when it comes.
Vincent Pels visited us in our trailer. This has been a difficult weekend for the Zodiac team as it is their first race without Monique. We all had a tear in our eye when Roel ran the Zodiac bike for the first time on Saturday. I have a sticker in memory of Monique on the front of our car and Vincent said, “When you win this round Monique will be there first and will always be in front of you.” I saw him again when we were being towed back and he said “I told you she would be there first.”
Sunday 8th April 2007: Easter Sunday at the Thunderball.
We have had a lot of fun today, seen a lot of people and everyone is in a good mood with the great weather. The track is coming around, the car stayed together, I clicked it off after 800ft and still ran a 5.0. So I believe we are on the right track.
We are second in the standings for the Pro Fuel Shootout with another qualifier tomorrow morning and I hope we can make it to the final. Other people have said they’re really impressed with what we are doing and how much in command of things we are. There is no breakage and the car is responding. It’s a good curtain up for the season.
We’ve invested a lot of time to approach our race programme for this year, how to set the car up and be flexible concerning track conditions. We’ve got to be careful not to overpower the track.
Urs is taking an aggressive approach to tuning and are coming to it from the other side. If we meet in the final it will be interesting as I believe we will be on the same level. I am hoping we will run a 4.80 in the next session.
This is a very useful testing session for the Main Event. We’ve got a lot of data from the weekend, but the data you receive is only valid if you keep your foot down on the run. Once you pedal the car the data is not of any use. You do need data for a basic setup and this will help keep the engine in one piece. I’m so pleased that we’ve done a good job since the Euro Finals and have had no parts breakage. This is as important as going fast.
I am really proud of my team. Everyone is doing a great job, and I’m pleased with that. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow. Even if we don’t make the final I want to run twice.
Saturday 7th April 2007: Saturday at the Thunderball.
We had a good day today. We planned to run a 330 foot pass to check out the new fuel management system on the car, including the change to a slide valve for fuel regulation. It worked out well. We fired the car up then burnt out. After the burnout, the revs were higher than planned and I could not select reverse. I put more fuel into the car which had the expected effect of dropping the rpm so that I could select reverse. When I got back to the start line we adjusted the rpm again.
We completed the 330 foot - the numbers were not particularly good, but we met our objective which was to get to 330 without blowing the tyres off the car. It means that we have got valuable data to work with. This will enable us to do the adjustments that we need to do to run a full pass tomorrow. The track is coming around and all the racers are running better and better numbers, so I’m really looking forward to it.
The car had hardly any damage after the run, only broken one valve spring which I think had just gone too long without use over the winter.
The new guys on our team are doing really well. It was a shock for them as they had not been drag racing before and the first Top Fuel car they saw go down the track was mine today.
I want to congratulate my countryman Robert Joosten on an excellent 6.24 in the Pro Mod Corvette. It’s good to see him so competitive in the class.
Fans who inspect our car closely will see that we are carrying the stickers produced in memory of Eric Medlen.
Friday 30th March 2007: Gerda's thoughts on Eric.
This week I offered to write Lex’s blog. So here we go.
First of all, I have to say something about what happened to Eric Medlen. Racers, crew members and even fans know this is something that can happen to anybody who steps into a race car. Personally for me, it is my biggest nightmare. Every time Lex steps into the car and is on the start line there is this little voice in my head saying: “This could be his last run because you never know what might happen”. And with the big fire at Shakespeare in 04 and the wheelstand at the Main Event in 05 I think that he was close both times. But as he would say: “It wasn’t my time yet”.
When we heard what happened to Eric, the first thought that came to our minds was the conversation we had with John Force a couple of years ago. It was the season that Tony Pedregon left JFR to start his own Funny Car team. John Force was pretty upset because he and Tony had become very close in the previous couple of years.
Then we started talking about Ashley and her first season in A/F Dragster. Force said she did ok but still had to learn a lot. Then of course our next question was: “Will she race a TF dragster in a couple of years?” And the answer he gave us was something to think about. This is what he said: “No, she will never race in a TF dragster because they are not safe. If she is going to run in a Pro class it will be in a FC, because they are so much safer. The driver has the engine in front of them, so if you hit the guard rail the engine will absorb the biggest hit and the rear tires are like airbags. If something happens with a tyre of a TF dragster, the rear wing will break and you are no longer in control. (Think of what happened with Darrell Russell in 2004). But if the tire of a FC blows it won’t hit the rear wing or damage the car as much as with a TF dragster”.
We always thought he had a point. So when I was reading the NHRA website Wednesday evening about the funeral I cried because this was one of the things that John Force said: "One time Eric had girl troubles, and he came to me. I walked him out in the shop and said, 'Look at that car, Eric. That car will always love you. It'll fix you when you need fixing. I said it will always protect you, and I was wrong. For that, I'm sorry, Eric."
I sincerely hope that we will have a one minute silence next weekend for Eric Medlen, his family, friends and everybody who knew him because as Reverend Larry Smiley said so beautifully: “Life is fragile. We become familiar with those around us. We expect them to be at the next race. We expect them to answer the phone when we call. We expect to read about their superhuman exploits on the racetrack. What we don't expect is for them to die”.
But after that one minute silence, the engines will be fired up and life continues. And for the Easter Thunderball next weekend, there are still a lot of things that need to be done, although I am very proud of all the things we have already achieved. There have been a lot of changes made to the car and our checklist is getting smaller and smaller. The good thing about checklists is you can remember all the things you want to be done without forgetting them. (I am still blond you know). In most years, I begin making my checklist around January. Then, the holidays are over and the New Year has started, so the new season will begin in a couple of months. Every race has its own file. Besides those files, we start with about five checklists, things that still need to be done; now, only one week before the first race, there is only one left on our desk. As you may remember, I wrote a blog last year as well and put in all the things I do before a race. But once again, here are some of the things I do before we drive the truck to the races:
At the first race of the new season, especially, you are always afraid you will forget something because a lot of things have been out of the trailer.
This season we have a couple of new crew members. I really can’t wait to see their faces this Sunday when we fire up the car in our shop for the first time. They only know drag racing from the television, so that will be a lot of fun. I know Lex is also excited about going back to the office again. But there is still nothing better than being on the start line when two TF cars leave the line. And that little voice in my head? I think it only is a sign that I care a lot about the things we are doing and the people we are doing it with.
See you all next weekend at the track!
Monday 19th March 2007: New parts, new rules.
With only a couple of weeks to go before Easter, things are falling into place. The Easter Thunderball is our first race this year and will be the start of a new season with a lot of changes to our programme. During the off season, which, by the way, takes far too long, Sebastian and I spent most of the time investigating which parts we wanted to keep, or change to get a better performing car. After ordering parts from different suppliers in the USA, we took some time to get everything in order at our shop. As I explained in a previous Blog entry, most Top Fuel cars look the same, but when you take a closer look, there are plenty of things that are different on each car. Most parts that we order are custom made rather than off the shelf.
Gary Burgin was able to send us the required parts a couple of weeks ago and so the time had come for us to start with the modifications on the car.
This season, we are allowed to use electronic timers instead of air operated ones. When you visited our pits last year, you could find Sebastian working on the air timers for the clutch or fuel system. This was always a time consuming undertaking because these timers were affected by temperature and weather conditions.
The sound of timers going off each time the start button was activated will be missed, but the time we gain is valuable and can be spent on other things. Why? Because now Seb can just choose a channel (timer) he wants to alter and with a push of a button the deal is done. Long live the new technology. Another good thing about these electronic timers is the fact that they are much more reliable, no fancy plastic hoses any more that can break or get lose during a run, causing all kind of freak breakage of engine parts. This is the reason the NHRA gave their approval to use these electronic devices, to shorten the down time following oildowns.
Another rule change has to do with the safety around the cockpit of the driver. The roll cage shroud that has been mandatory for a couple of years now needs to be extended. For us, this means it is time to replace the injector on the car. The shroud interferes with the air that needs to go into the injector, with extending this shroud more around the cage this interference will become more of a problem. The answer is to change the height of the injector to overcome the turbulence of the shroud.
Another thing we wanted to change on the car is the fuel management. Until this season we were working with a management system that used sixteen valves and timers to manage the amount of fuel going into the motor during a run. It’s a really nice system that worked for many years and is still used by teams in Nitro racing.
We have however decided to replace this system and we will start using a slide valve to monitor the fuel management. This valve is a more compact device and built for the demands and needs of tuners nowadays.
This week we are offering Blog readers the chance to send Lex questions or suggestions for a Blog subject. Send your question or subject to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pass it on to Lex.
Saturday 24th February 2007: Calling the shots.
Looking at the calendar, it's clear that the season is getting near. As I said in my last Blog we have a lot of parts on the way. It may be for you non-racing people that the winter is taking far too long, for me it will be a race against the clock to get our car ready. But we will get our programme organised in time - we have to, considering that we're going after the #1 plate this year. Each pass down the quarter mile in race trim will give us the necessary data and information which will give us a basic set-up for our car - just think about a road with two white lines at the left and right and one in the middle.
Looking at a Top Fuel car there are a lot of variables. When you take a stroll through the pits you will see that not one single car is identical to any other. We are using a McKinney chassis, so do the Andersons, Tommy Möller and Urs Erbacher, looking at different pictures of those cars they look the same but even these cars come from the same chassis builder they are not equal. The height and position of the engine will be different for example, something that will have an effect in the settings which the Crew Chief puts into the car. Things like engine position, four, five or six disc clutches, setback or regular blower are examples of things which are decided before the start of a season.
With that out of the way we have to see which parts of the car will affect the performance of the car during a run and which are used by the tuner to adjust the car to make it faster down the quarter mile.
"We'll change the timing for the next run" is a sentence commonly used by tuners, but what does it mean? Most Top Fuel teams use a device made by MSD which I call the 'Game Boy'. There is a graph on the screen of this box which displays the setting of the ignition set by the tuner during the run. By touching the screen you can change those lines. For instance, we know the car will leave the start line with a sixty foot of 0.870 because that what it did the run before. We pull the car to the start line and maybe we have to wait for two hours because it's drizzling a little bit. After it's dry and the track is OK there is a oil down in front of you. The track is getting cooler and at a certain point it's getting under the point at which we think it is not good enough any more. The tuner will take his Game Boy and within boy minute he will take a couple of degrees out of the ignition. This can be done for the whole run, but it is also possible to change only the first second of the run, or when the pulldown of the clutch sets in and we are afraid we will smoke the tyres because of a lack of traction.
Two or three degrees of change in the ignition can be the difference between a 0.870 or 0.890 sixty foot time. This figure is affected by how much fuel you put into the motor. More fuel is more power in Top Fuel, less ignition is less power because there is not so much ignition to light all the fuel. Taking out too much ignition will cause the motor to drop a cylinder causing the car to into tyre shake. So playing with the ignition sounds easy, but it can have a lot of effect on what will happen on the track.
The blower ratio we use is decided in the pits. Early in the morning when we start working on the car to make the final preparations we monitor the weather conditions every half hour. Temperature, air density and humidity have a great effect on the performance of the motor. To correct the weather conditions to what we want from our motor we can use different blower ratios. By changing the top or bottom pulley we change the amount of air going into the motor. An hour before we go to the start line we make the decision which combination we will use. After that we keep monitoring the conditions to be sure we won't be surprised by sudden weather changes.
In the early days when the Top Fuel class was free to use any nitro percentage the weather issue was not a big one because the amount of pure nitromethane would make up for weather changes. Now a days we are limited to 90% in Europe and 85% in the USA. This 85% made it necessary to lean on the blower more to make up for the lack of oxygen.
Clutch settings are basically made in the pits by the tuner after looking at the data from the previous run. Things like taking out or adding weight in the staging lanes is very tough, but the thing you can change is the speed of the cannon. The faster the cannon is travelling, the quicker the clutch is engaged. If track conditions seems to be different at the start line when it's your turn to run, the tuner can decide to alter the speed of the cannon. Slowing the cannon will give less clutch because it will hold the car slipping for a longer period of time.
The fuel system has to work in combination with the ignition and clutch systems. Essential is the amount of fuel and the timing and volume of its delivery. In a Top Fuel car the rule of thumb is that the more fuel you can burn the more power you will make. But there is also a downside because at a certain point you are close to dropping cylinders when too much fuel fills the motor. Taking out fuel will slow the car down, but the engine needs enough fuel to cool the motor. A melted engine is, most of the time, the fault of a lean engine. When the track is better then suspected and the clutch is dragging the motor RPM down you want enough fuel to cool the engine and stop it from eating itself. The fuel pump is connected to the camshaft, this means that when the engine RPM goes down during the clutch lock-up the amount of fuel will drop as well. The fact is that at that point you need fuel to make the power because the clutch absorbs everything there is. For that reason we have extra tuning aids in the car to allow the tuner to compensate for the loss of fuel pump RPM. Altering the fuel amount just before a run is too much of a risk and in my opinion should not be done when you have just a limited amount of time.
Some teams will try to gain more traction by changing the tyre pressure of the rear slicks. Goodyear advise that you should keep the pressure above a certain level and not go under their recommendation. This doesn't leave a lot of room for changes.
I hope this gives you a little bit more of an idea what goes on in the staging lanes just before a run.
Saturday 10th February 2007: Seat changes.
This weekend, the season-opening CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals attracts the attention of the international drag racing scene.
Regardless of whether you are a fan, competitor or involved in another way, the fastest sport on earth is booming business.
In the nitro classes, a couple of major driver changes have been made. Whit Bazemore has made the transition from a Funny Car to a Top Fuel Dragster seat. Reading his blog was, for me, a little bit like going back in time. The way he described his feelings about driving a Dragster and the fact that it’s a lot more difficult than people say who never have driven a car like that, was a familiar thing for me to read.
Most eyes however are set on Ashley Force, the daughter of John Force, who will debut in the Funny Car class. She is driving the fourth car out of the John Force Racing stable and should be capable of winning races, considering the car and crew she has at her disposal.
Driving Funny Cars is basically a man’s world, and I can tell you this, these guys don’t like to lose to a lady. It will be pretty interesting to see what will happen when John has to race against his daughter, but first she has to qualify, although I have the feeling she will be ok.
For us, the preparation towards the start of our season is moving ahead. After doing our homework, most of the parts were ordered and are now almost finished and ready to be sent to our shop. With the extra cars that are competing in the NHRA, the demand for parts is bigger then ever. You have to realise that, for each car entering the NHRA field, a lot of parts need to be ordered by the crew chef for the new season. Most teams have at least one back-up car and double or triple quantities of most of the parts used by the crew are carried in the trailer as spares.
This, and the fact that a lot of manufacturers don’t have a big stock, has a certain effect on the lead time for parts.
Andy Carter surprised me when the news came out that he will change both his driving seat and team to create a better position for himself in his attempt to win the 2007 Championship.
The 06 Champion winning car driven by Håkan Nilsson in combination with his owners and tuners has proven to be successful and certainly in the hands of Andy, capable of running the big numbers. Anyway, it's good to have the Danish team back on track and I am looking forward to seeing Andy in the other lane in a competitive car.
Tuesday 23rd January 2007: Shock of the season.
It was with disbelief that I read the news on Eurodragster.com about Håkan Nilsson's decision to retire from racing. With a Championship under your belt, the challenge is there to go for your second title in a row. I must admit that the explanation that he gives as to why he is retiring is understandable. For the outside world, though, it's hard to understand why you should give up a seat in Top Fuel car, especially when the circumstances are as good as they are for Håkan Nilsson with a great team, car and sponsor.
The thing is this: Championships are not won just like that. The general theory is that when you have the equipment, things will go your way. Of course, when you have a good up to date car, it can make life a lot easier, but it still is just the first of a long list of factors you need to succeed in. Money is one of those; without a good cash flow, it's basically impossible to run a Top Fuel team that can compete for the Championship. The cost of parts, fuel and travel are huge. The crew has to eat, and need presentable uniforms etc. This money has to come from sponsors, or as they should be called nowadays, partners. Potential partners won't call you, you have to find them. This sponsor finding is one of the hardest things in racing and, as I said before, without money there is no success. After you find your partners, the next thing is to keep them happy and involved in what you are doing. Hospitality is the key to success; if you look at the NHRA Powerade Championship all the bigger teams have more pit space that is used for their guests, including their cars and bikes.
Here in Europe, most of the drivers have a regular job from 9.00 to 5.00 (or longer). Although the racing activities consume a lot of time, they won't pay the bills. In most cases, racing consumes more than just time. You know the sentence: time is money; it explains a lot anyway.
When your own business is an issue most of the time, it means you can not split yourself in two pieces. Your company needs your attention although your race program needs to move on as well. A solution could be to find the right people around you to help you in your quest.
This takes patience; look at John Force for instance, becoming fourteen time Funny Car Champion is only possible because of the people he knows, hired and worked with. The real life soap that can be seen on USA television (and from next week, on UK's Biography Channel - Blog Ed) is called Driving Force. This driving force is what made John Force one of the most successful people in NHRA history. This force is what makes the difference between hoping to win or the knowledge you have to go the complete quarter mile and you will be successful at the end no matter what.
When you feel you don't have this driving force, its better to look in the mirror and ask yourself the question which way you want to go. Professional racing means you live with the knowledge that everyday you wake up, you will face new tasks and issues that need to be resolved. Your family has to deal with all kind of situations because of your driving force, you need their co-operation and understanding; without this you are in trouble.
The energy this takes from your body and mind are tremendous; as long as the challenge is there the energy can be found. When you lose your drive the fun is gone and with that the desire to be the best at the end of the race.
With Håkan stepping out of the seat, it's interesting to speculate who will replace him as a driver. It would be good to see Kim Reymond back behind the wheel; with most of his old crew still around and his name already as sponsor on the car I would not be surprised if he is considering a comeback. At least I hope it will cross his mind.
Friday 5th January 2007: A New Challenge.
Happy New Year, yes we have made it. 2006 is history and a new challenge is ahead of us. The points standings are back to zero, everybody involved in any class of racing knows he has the chance to make a difference and get on top for the Championship. My experience of championships is that getting on top from day one is very important.
The '05 season is a good example; we won the Man Event and kept the lead until the last race. It's probably hard to understand when you have never been in a leading position, but to defend your position requires a different approach than when you are in a chase for the top spot.
When you look in the history books of European Top Fuel racing, you will see that, most of the time, the winner of the Main Event has won the Championship that year.
The '06 season was an exception; one of the reasons for this is the growing competition. Each Championship round in '06 gave us a different winner, something that is good for the sport and will attract even more fans to come to the races.
For us as teams, this growing interest is a tool to attract (more) sponsorship. Saying this looks easy, getting it done is one of the most difficult parts of current drag racing.
There are many things that need to be in place to find the partners that will invest their currency in your race programme.
Because our sport attracts teams from all over Europe, the conditions the teams are working in can be different. One of the biggest handicaps I found is the fact that, here in the Netherlands, we have no dragstrip or accommodation whatsoever to promote our team or our race car.
One of the most important points to sell your programme is media attention, something you won’t get without a proper place to race. The question “where do you race” is one of the most difficult things to answer. People who are interested in our programme or the sport are forced to travel to another country to see with their own eyes what it's all about. Seeing two Top Fuel cars leaving the start line live is something you have to experience; television is good to understand what’s going on but the feeling of live action is unbeatable. I will never forget the faces of our guests when we did a demo run at Drachten during the MPM Internationals, people just didn't stop talking about it.
This said, you can understand that for Dutch drag racing teams in general, the challenge is not only at the track but also behind the desk. Finding the people who are interested in creating a permanent facility where we can practice our sport is the main key for success for the near future and beyond.
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