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As told exclusively to
Sunday 14th December 2008: Visiting the US.
Although we only had a couple of days to visit the US, Gerda and I had a great time. Before we went to Pomona, we drove to Gary Burgin to collect our gate tickets for the weekend. We think it's more convenient and thanks to Gary ordering them in advance so we don't have to worry about it anymore. It's always great to meet Gary and his wife and talk about the past and future. The next day, I had an appointment with a doctor to get me through the annual tests for my NHRA TF license. After we had done the tests the NHRA demands, we took the paperwork and drove to the NHRA headquarters to make sure everything was there to issue my 2009 driver license. After we had finished our business we went to the track to see qualifying and racing.
It was good to meet and speak with our friends that we had not seen for a long time. The unstable economic situation has had an effect on most teams and drivers, but some are happy and have everything in place for the 2009 season.
Gerda and I presented a workpiece made by Gerda's dad to John Medlen. It's a 18 x 18 centimeter wooden Bible with a cross. After Mr. Medlen lost his son Eric in a tragic testing accident he found strength in his religion to continue with his life and try to find why he lost his son. Each year when Gerda and I visit the US we pay Mr. Medlen a visit and bring him a present to let him know we don't forget his son Eric.
We agreed to meet Saturday evening at his pits and when John Force didn't need him for the rest of the evening, the three of us would go out for dinner. You should think that there would be enough work to be done before Sunday's eliminations, but all the John Force teams were happy and Mr. Medlen was free for the evening. That gave us the opportunity to select a place to meet and eat. Gerda and I found it really awesome to have a date with Mr. Medlen who is a monument in our sport. As crew chief he was top qualifier in Funny Car for the event, something which made our appointment extra special.
On our flight back home Gerda and I looked back at a wonderful time in the US with friends and fans. It was a great experience to find out they are looking forward to the moment that we will start continuing our racing endavours at their tracks.
On behalf of our team I want to wish all our loyal fans a fantastic Christmas time and a safe and sound New Year's celebration.
Wednesday 15th October 2008: Driving a Top Fuel dragster, Part One.
Because the season is over, I thought it would be an idea to tell you more about the ins and outs of driving a Top Fuel dragster. I will go through all kinds of routines that need to be done just before a run and how I approach things. These blogs will be posted in several parts and are written from my point of view. Some of the details you read are personal, and other teams or drivers will not necessarily use the same routine or tactics to achieve their goals.
The burnout in a nitro car is done for a couple of reasons. In the early days, when the tracks were not prepared as they are nowadays, you needed to put heat into the rear slicks to create a rubber surface, or pad, that brought extra traction when the car was launched. After the car came back from the burnout, one of the crewmembers applied traction compound to the track just in front of the rear slick and then the driver was signalled to move forward, then some short hops were made by the driver to get the slicks sticky. The dry hops were always well received by the crowd, watching the cars hopping towards the startline.
Nowadays, with direct drive systems, there is no gear to choose other than forward or reverse, and the clutch cannon monitors the amount of clutch applied to the rear slicks; this means no hopping any more.
Also nowadays, we make a burnout to get heat in the tyres and to clean them or rub them in when they are new. We also try to make a rubber pad were we put the car on when we come back from the burnout. This pad will assure maximum traction and a clean track.
Another reason for me to do a burnout is to check out my car. If you watch closely, you will know most times Iím the guy that makes longer burn outs. This is not only because I love to make them long because the crowd love it, but also I use them to check out my engine, to see if it's running on all eight cylinders with no vibration or oil pressure loss. Also I get a good feeling if the tyres are balanced properly and I can get a final look at the track. Sometimes this can be helpful when conditions are changing during a session. The fuel system can be checked for leaks by my crew when the car is back in the start line area. All this is preparing me as a driver for the run I have to make. It's like working through your list from A till Z each time you're out to make a run. It is important to keep your routine the same on each run you make. The amount of fuel thatís used each second will change the weight of the car; when your pre-race activities are longer then normal, the weight in the front will be less, so the car will be out of balance, and when the procedure is shorter, then you obviously have more weight to carry.
At the last race in Mantorp, there was an incident with the timing equipment. Joran Persåker had already made his burnout and then had to shut off because the track crew had to fix the problem with the timing system. At the end of the session, Joran was signaled to make the run; his crew chief told him to stage the car without a burnout and the car left the line without any problem.
Before the burnout is made the ďthrottle stopĒ is attached to the car between the throttle cable near the injector, this device is set in length and gives the driver only half a centimeter of throttle movement which is enough to make the burnout and prevent the engine over-revving during the burnout. The poster of Chris Andrews over-revving his Top Fuel dragster in a burnout after something went wrong with the throttle stop is often seen; the big fireball around what used to be the engine says it all.
During my first year in Top Fuel, when I was running a rental deal, something went wrong with the throttle stop as well; during the burnout the stop snapped. My right foot had no tension from the stop any more, and at the same time I felt something went wrong. Luckily I could catch the motor and with ďonlyĒ 9000 RPM damage was limited. The normal RPM for an engine in the burnout is between 5500 and 7000. When there is less then 5000, the weight on the clutch will be not enough causing the clutch to start slipping, something that will bring heat and ware in the clutch and that is something you need to avoid.
Before the car is started prior to the run I check if the throttle stop is in place. I push the gas pedal down and I feel it being stopped by the throttle stop, now I'm sure that when I want to use the stop, it's in place.
Sebastian gives me the signal we are going to start the engine without ignition and fuel. This is done to check oil pressure and clean the engine in case any fuel is trapped somewhere in the lines of combustion chamber. Then we wait for the signal from the track marshal to fire up. The ignition is switched on together with the data logger. Arjan puts petrol into the injector and the starter motor is switched on.
When the engine starts running on the petrol I take the fuel lever to the on position, somewhere between a quarter and a half of the complete distance. Basically the engine is running on the "low side" of the fuel pump delivery. I set the lever to the amount of gallons and/or pressure Seb and I agreed on, then Seb adjusts the motor's RPM to the exact point we want to have it. This can be done by putting less or more air into the injector by special air bleeders. More air gives a leaner condition so the RPM will go up and less will give the opposite result. When the RPM is set, I get the signal to drive through the water box, Gerda, who is standing at the track around the 1/8 mile, gives me signals to get me in the middle of the groove on the track. When the front wheels of the dragster are half a car length from the startline, I push the gas pedal to start the burnout. This is done rather gently, because you don't want to hit too hard resulting the rear tires losing contact with the track or when making too much RPM on the rear wheels, the car will go start side ways to the left with the result of no rubber being in the groove. I feel how much RPM the engine is making and when the car is going straight I leave it like it is, going towards the 1/8 and, when I see Gerda close by, I abort the burnout and start applying the brakes. I normally don't use the throttle stop in case I need some more power because for example the track conditions are changed or other problems occur.
When the car has come to a stop, I put the shifter in reverse and I let the clutch pedal come out. The car starts moving backwards, Gerda is giving me the signals to drive back choosing the middle of the groove to keep the tires clean; Seb is standing in the start area to give Gerda signals so the car will be at the right spot for the launch. When I am back in the start area, then forward gear is selected and the car will move slowly forward so the crew can clean the tires in case dirt has been picked up from the track. I check the oil pressure and fuel readings and at the same time Seb makes the last adjustments to the RPM, Arjan takes away the throttle stop and some other routine jobs are performed. The car is now ready to go in pre stage.
I hope that I have answered some of your questions; next time we will go through the procedure from pre stage into the run. Thanks for reading, Lex.
Saturday 13th September 2008: European Finals reflection.
Being in the Final round for all the races I have attended this year except one was not enough to clinch the Championship; thatís the outcome of my 2008 season.
Looking further back, the figures speak for themselves. This was the fourth year of Lex Joon Racing contesting the Top Fuel Championship as an independent team with a score of first, fourth and twice second places at the end of each season. I think you may say that we have the best scoring team in Europe. Of course the aim is to win Championships, thatís why we travel all over Europe attending all the races, spend every dime there is available and use every day in our private and daily life to work towards the ultimate goal.
Last year (2007) we missed the Championship by two points. You can imagine this was difficult for me to accept but thatís racing, we had a fair chance but didnít finish it. our own mistake. Our 2008 season ended differently. We had a good chance to clinch the title but ended up with a one point deficit between us and the Champion.
Our chances were so good because we had lane choice. We found out in qualifying that the right lane was not good enough to hold the power a Top Fuel dragster develops. I had to pedal the car and hold the brake lever to get it down the track during our one and only Qualifying run, something none of the other competitors achieved. Looking back, this qualifying session cost me the Championship because Andy Carter got the one point lead after qualifying no.1 against our number two position.
In the first round we had Stig as our opponent. At first we thought we would take the right lane again; this was because we had the information from the previous run and we had no data from the left lane. However, in the run before me, the track had still not come around and we decided to take the left lane. With a soft set-up to around the 1/8 mile, we managed to run a 4.9 which was enough to get into the semi finals.
Micke was the next car we had to deal with, but first Andy had to square off against Tommi. I donít know what happened with Tommiís car (although Anita told me there was no oil in the motor), but for Andy it was his lucky round when his chute came out around the 1/8 mile and Tommi was still at the startline; then the Finnish driver left the line but it was too late to catch the Lucas Oil team.
For me the mission was simple: win the round and set a lower ET then Andy had done to accomplish lane choice. Things worked out great, we ran another four second run and defeated Micke, everything was ready for a final that the European Drag Racing scene was eagerly waiting for.
Then things moved into different direction; the rain came back and it's obviously not possible to run on a wet track. The track crew did a splendid job the whole weekend, and when the rain stopped after 15 minutes we all knew the track should be dry in time and, in case we couldnít make it, the race director had room to extend racing until 22.00 as he told us during the drivers' meeting.
The race was canceled around 19.50!
I would like to thank my sponsors, crew and, above everything, my wife Gerda who had to put here life aside for the last half year to make this all possible.
I'm very proud of everything we achieved and nobody can take that away. Thanks for reading, Lex
Saturday 6th September 2008: European Finals prospect.
This blog entry was written while the track was being dried on Saturday prior to the following heavy downpour. Lex is pictured signing a limited edition canvas print of an Ivan Sansom photo of the MPM Oils Top Fueler at the Easter Thunderball.
The current situation is that we may get a qualifying pass if the track is dried on Saturday. If we do and Sunday is a washout, it is important that we get low ET because if Andy gets this he gets the additional five points and the championship. If however Urs or Micke get low ET and there is a rainout on Sunday we would only need to be in the top half of the field. We want to run low ET but know that Andy can run 4.6s, so the best approach is to attack. As there are eight cars present (Janne Ahonen withdrawing after chassis damage at Hockenheim) we know we will qualify.
If Saturday is rained off and Sunday allows racing, qualifying is required so then we are in an unrealistic situation of needing to complete the event but still with adverse conditions. Any elimination rounds run would require us to go rounds and still try for low ET as long as Andy or Micke are still in play.
We don't know how the track will do. The team have done an awesome job of clearing the water, but with so much rain having fallen, conditions will have to be marginal. The track will undoubtedly be clean but if there is water under the rubber that we drive over it may come out and we will lose traction. The result may be a lottery.
We will need to decide how far to detune the car for eliminations - to go from a 4.6s setup to 4.9 is taking about 2,000 horsepower out of it. We could put in a 4.6s tuneup and be prepared as always to pedal. Both Andy and I have run a 4.8 after pedaling.
The whole championship could come down to one qualifying run. It may seem unfair but that's racing. You spend more energy waiting constantly to see what the situation is. Every change, every rain shower means you have to change the strategy as you wonder whether you will run. So we're busy doing nothing.
Gerda and I made a presentation of one of our prints to John Price to say thank you for all the years he has been announcing the racing here since we started coming to Santa Pod in the early 1980s.
Friday 5th September 2008: European Finals preview.
What can I say? Everything is in place to have a tremondous weekend but the one thing we cannot control is holding us back from racing. It started to rain early this morning and it never stopped. The water is everywhere, the camping near the race track looks more like a dirt track and I'm wondering how the cars and campers can leave the place after the weekend is done.
Anyway racing was cancelled for today but we are told that there might be a dry slot tomorrow between 9:00 and 13:00. We are ready to start racing, the car is in perfect shape. Nothing can hold us back from continuing the performance we have been displaying this year except...yes, the weather, but for now we believe that we can even beat the weather gods.
Monday 1st September 2008: European Finals preview.
The Battle Of The American Tuners At Santa Pod; thatís one of the headlines you could put at the top of the page talking about the European Finals.
Take a look at the teams that have a chance to clinch the 2008 Top Fuel title. They all have one thing in common; they all use American tuners to help them to succeed in their quest to become the Champion. We knew Urs and Micke were already hiring help from overseas and now the Lucas Oil team have joined them with hiring Jim Brissette as consultant for the last race, which already is filled with drama before it's even started. One exception needs to be added: the MPM Top Fuel team is still working with a pure Dutch think tank.
I believe we have a good chance to make it to the final round on race day with what we have right now. The car and team have shown a lot of consistency, running fast and solidly through all the events we have participated in this year. During the year, we have had the chance to develop the car and our tuning to what it is right now and I really hope we can show you all what our car is capable of and that we donít need an American tuner to make this happen and thatís cool. Resetting the Hockenheim track record to a 4.77 is cool and Iím really wondering what our night session run would have given us when we lost the belt at 900 ft out and still running a 4.9 at the 1320. The bottom line is we are fine doing what we are doing and I believe we can pull this thing together with our fans in the grandstands.
Talking about fans, the whole scenario has never been as good for the public as it is right now; we have to push everything to the limit, no question about that and Iím sure the hard core race fan know something special is going to take place.
See you at the Pod or otherwise we will keep in touch through my daily blog updates written from the track as it happens.
Saturday 23rd August 2008: NitrolympX in retrospect.
Sunday's race day blog is something I wanted to write on the day but never made it on to the computer because we were tremendously busy. The night show was almost perfect, running the first four second pass during the Hockenheim night show is something I'm really proud of; the only bad feeling I had was that we were on a 4.6 second pass and just on the 1000 foot the blower belt left the car, leaving us with a 4.9 on the scoreboards. Shit happens but at least it was a nice goodbye gift for Rico, who has sold his interest in the NitrolympX to the Hockenheimring.
Race day started with a couple of decisions needed to be made. Being number one qualifier means you have to decide to be the first or last pair in eliminations. Andy Carter who had been on pole for, if I remember correctly, at least the last five rounds of FIA Championship racing, is always used to go as thelast pair. I thought about changing this and coming out as first pairing. Sebastian and myself had a good feeling about what we were doing and we needed no more information regarding track or other race related issues. The fact that the sun was beating down on the track and would not make circumstances any better as time went by. We had a setup in the car which we knew would work given the situation, we had solved the problem with the broken blower belt and we took first paring.
Some people doubted our lane choice but when the numbers came on the score board everybody was convinced we had made the right choice. Running a 4.77 in the first round of eliminations was really stout; we bettered our track record by 0.02 and it left us in an even better position to get the fastest ET of the meet which is good for an extra five points in the Championship.
With the Championship stakes as high as they are, five points can be the difference at the end of this years racing, I know that better than anyone else after finding ourself two points short in the Championship.
That we did a good job in the first round became more clear when Andy and Urs didnít win their race round; perhaps they tuned up their combination when they saw my new track record or something else went wrong, but you can imagine that this was my chance to make up for lost ground.
The second round was a difficult one, Tommi Haapanen is a good driver and his team is showing good form with Sami Lehtimaki as the tuner. I know Sami pretty good because he worked for me for one year doing the heads etc. We knew the race would be very close because the track conditions became more difficult every hour with the heat. The ETs were very close, 4.900 for Tommi against my 4.9004, withtyres spinning towards the end. The difference was at the start line; my reaction time was better which gave me a 0.10 margin at the finish line. Winning on a holeshot gave me a great feeling although I felt sorry for Tommi, but he thatís also part of the deal.
Knowing the traction was fading away because of heat and oildowns, we decided to detune the car for the final, with the setup we knew would work from the previous runs during the heat of the day. The car left the line pretty strong and we were ahead of Micke, then one of the tyres lost traction, sending the front end of the car towards the wall. I tried to pedal it but it took me too long to get the car back in a straight line, Micke in the meantime was on a good pass and for me there was nothing other to do than call it a day. For team Kågered, it was a great weekend winning the race and having a car that is getting back in form again. Congratulations guys! For the Championship it is good we lost in the final, it will guarantee a full house in the final race of the year.
We had a great weekend with a lot of highs we good share with our sponsor and their clients, being number one qualified, running the first and only 4 second in the night show, running the only 4.7 of the event, lower the track record and take it home again, winning on a hole shot in the second round just after I explained my guests what winning on a holeshot means, being in the final of such a strong field, and taking the lead of the 2008 Championship back again from Andy. These are just a couple of things that can also be mentioned, we didnít hurt any parts we only lost 3 sets of rear tyres (thanks Tommi for lending me a set) and one set of front runners.
Right now we are working at the shop for the thriller in two weeks time, I will keep you posted, thanks for reading.
Saturday 16th August 2008: NitrolympX: Day Two.
This is only a short update because it's really busy for us now. After qualifying third in Finland and second in Mantorp, we earned the top spot here in Hockenheim. Our second qualifying run, after we smoked the tires before 60 ft, showed us the track was not quite there yet. Then, on our third run of the weekend, in the heat of the day, we managed to set low ET of 4.827/455.09.
The nightshow was awesome; running a 4.905/387.94 at this gave us the quickest timeslip of the evening and the first four in the Hockenheim night show ever. If it wasn't for the blowerbelt breaking at the 300 meter mark, we would have bettered our personal best.
Our guests have had a great day and we hope to continue in this spirit today. Thanks for reading.
Friday 15th August 2008: NitrolympX: Day One.
Although we were heading towards a first qualifying day without racing, due to wet conditions, we managed to put in one round of qualifying at the end of the day. The track was green as it was the first day, and the amount of rain didn't help either.
Our approach was to get into the field with a four second pass. We put a real smooth tune-up in the car to figure out the track conditions and to earn a good spot in the qualifying ladder. Things worked out great; although we lost the blower belt 100 metres before the finish line, we still ran the first four second pass of the day (4.988/405.03) which gave us the second qualifying spot. Tomorrow (Saturday) we will add power to go after the number one spot. That's it for now.
Wednesday 7th August 2008: NitrolympX preparation.
The NitrOlympx is the next race on our calendar. Gerda is working to get all the dinners ready for the crew, each day another menu. After the diners are ready, they go in a big freezer, ready to be warmed at the right time. Most of you don't realize how much work there is involved to attend a race event. Preparing the car and all the parts consumes a lot of time; ordering parts and going through all the details of the car to see that nothing has been forgotten on the parts list.
For example, yesterday, FedEx delivered parts that Gary Burgin sent, but there was only one box. I asked the lady who processed the order when the rest of the boxes would arrive. She told me there was only one box; I told her there should be more then one, she checked the box and then she said "You are right, it's a 7 and not a 1 printed on the box. she made a call to the office. The outcome was that the other six boxes were still in Indianapolis and that she had to take the box with her to keep the shipment complete otherwise there could be problems at the customs. The shipment would be delivered the next day, something that did not happen. Going after it is the only way to get the parts in time.
The shortlist Gerda always makes before each race event is one A4 paper long. Being team manager seems an easy job, but there is no room for errors. Imagine if the ferry is not correctly booked, or the crew van we always rent is not at our disposal? G Max needs to know how much fuel to send to the different tracks, what if the fuel is not delivered in time? I can tell you there will be no racing without fuel!
There will be around 400 MPM guests attending the NitrOlympx, some people ask me if it's not giving me extra stress with all those people around the pits and track. I think it's great to have so many people around that are cheering for you in the grandstands. I know we have a great race car and with a little bit of luck, which we did not have at Mantorp, it must be possible to have a great weekend.
The Championship is still open, but we cannot have any hiccups any more. At Alastaro we qualified third, atMantorp second, so I think it's time to go after the number one position in Germany. I know Per and Karsten are hard to beat and Wayne Dupuy has his work cut out, but we are still own the track record and I have the intention to take it home again. We need all the points we can get and low ET will give an extra 5 points, so no explanation necessary I should think.
On Saturday we need to run three rounds, two of them are qualifying and the third one is for the night show, which will not count for qualifying because of permit reasons.
I will update my blog from the Hockenheim circuit on a daily basis, hope to find you there! Thanks for reading, Lex.
Sunday 27th July 2008: Veidec Festival, Sunrday.
It's been a difficult day for the MPM Top Fuel team. It was a close race against Urs but we suffered a problem from the start line. We lost one cylinder on the hit. In spite of this we had a better 60ft time than Urs but then we lost some ground. In the end we lost the race ...A head gasket came out as a result of there being more fuel pressure in the cylinders with one out and then we had only six cylinders alight. We have never dropped a cylinder from the start line.
this weekend has been a new chapter in our tuning handbook. If it had happened before the run against Urs we would have corrected the dropped cylinder problem. It was good to qualify second and Urs was not as successful as us in qualifying. We really shouldn't have raced Urs that early in eliminations as we are both championship contenders, but we told him it was his fault that qualified seventh we had to race in the first round. But it was good he was in the field because we don't want to win the championship by default.
The championship is wide open. Andy carter and his team with Carsten Andersen and Per Andersen are doing a great job. Last year showed that anything can happen. Qualifying is important to the championship but also winning races round-by-round is crucial.
My team have done a great job this weekend in difficult conditions. We ran four four second passes. The car is ready for Hockenheim - we spent the rest of the day getting ready, putting in a new engine and firing it up. We need to do some work on parts and ship in some new parts. The Driver is ready for Hockenheim too.
Our five runs this weekend gave us more information that will suit the car in these type of conditions and will be of benefit in the future. At Hockenheim we are playing host to 300 guests of our primary sponsor MPM Oil who will be sitting in the grandstands. Also Gerda's parents will be visiting the Nitrolympx.
This was our bad weekend and we are ready to go on with the remainder of the championship.
On a different note, it was great to see two Dutch teams in the Pro Mod final. Robert Joosten is a worthy event winner - he is serious about what he is doing and is very competitive. congratulations to him and to my son Martjn who is on Robert's crew. Before the first round of eliminations in Alastaro, Robert asked me about tuning and I gave him some advice which he used and it worked out for them. His car's performance has come on strongly since then. Winning in Sweden is special because of the depth of the sport here.
Saturday 26th July 2008: Veidec Festival, Saturday.
Overnight, Sebastian and I had a long talk and we decided to change a lot of things on the car. We had problems arising from the condition of the track. The startline was ok but the traction varied down the track considerably. We needed to tune the car to track conditions.
To do this we firstly inspected the track from start to finish. Then we took the data from our run in Alastaro to see what changes to make and what effect they would have. We changed the ignition, clutch timing, clutch weight and fuel management to what we thought would work. The result was a new combination that we had never run before. We wanted to see what would happen by using it. You can easily get a combination that will take you from A to B but we wanted to get a certain ET to qualify and the window of possible ETs was small and getting smaller. If we ran a 4.1 we would qualify so that was the time we aimed for.
It was later in the day when we ran than had originally been scheduled. The track temperature had risen to 120 degrees and so conditions were against us and some of the other teams were already safe.
The burnout was good and the car left well and then it started to shake as the power was applied to the track. If the shake got much worse I would have needed to pedal it or apply the brake. But I decided to leave it alone as I could still feel the full force of the acceleration on my body. The run always seems to take hours as you are waiting for the car to do something like blow the tyres off. When I went across the finish line I realised we had run a good time (4.1179/465.78) and went crazy on the radio as we pulled the chutes, braked and cornered at the end.
Back in the pits we found no oil. We had found it easy to read the 1000ft mark as the track was painted red and the centre line had been widened which was good work by the Mantorp crew. At that point on the track we were travelling at over 450kph which felt really good. So at last we were happy.
If you take out too much clutch it can lead to dropped cylinders as the car fails to accelerate as much as the engine wants to. That can in turn lead to engine damage and a couple of cars suffered that as a result. We did as much as we felt the car could stand. The car was designed to run 4.4s and we had to make it run a 5.0 equivalent. The new combination will be good for Hockenheim where we expect there to be similar weather conditions.
By our last run the left lane had changed from what it had been on Friday. We had minor problems on the pass and suffered wheelspin by the finish line. We also lost a head gasket but we still ran 4.2258/404.42. Now we know which lane to run in.
We face Urs in the first round. He struggled in the first three sessions of qualifying, just as we did last year. It will be a tough race as he has a good team, but we have the better car on the strength of the passes we ran today. I was also able to work on my reaction time in the last session and had a 0.08 time which is good for Top Fuel.
So we are feeling good. We have checked everything on the car and will warm it up at about 8:00pm.
Friday 25th July 2008: Veidec Festival, Friday.
The track we were running on today is in a state that we haven't seen before and some of the surface is still green. The conditions we ran in have been really difficult with the heat too.
With these factors, we tried to slow the car down. On the first run we went up in smoke on the hit and ran it for 100ft to a 6.2020/261.36. We had both clutch and traction problems. It was the same setup as Alastaro but it definitely didn't work.
So we took more power out but on the second pass it ran for 100 metres and then went up in smoke. We then pedaled it and still smoked the tyres. It smoked so much the team couldn't see the timing boards from the start line. On the second run it did a 4.8258/310.95.
When you see that the 4.1s the quickest cars were running translate to a 5.0 in the quarter mile, this tells you something about the performance potential Top Fuel Dragsters had today. For tomorrow we will take more clutch out of it but hopefully leave the driver in. We ran 4.7s at this track previously and expect our performance to be better than it has so far.
We need to find a way in the tune-up to calm the car down. The conditions are to the benefit of the less powerful cars in the class. We can't compare these conditions with any we have run in before. They are extreme, like Easter but in the other direction. The questions we need answered are:
1. Is a reduction to 80% nitro enough or too much?
On the second run the car destroyed seven pistons and cracked seven sleeves on the run. What happens when the car smokes the tyres is that unburnt nitro washes oil off the pistons causing them to overheat. As well as replacing these parts, minor work is needed on the cylinder heads and we will fit new tyres to ensure we are ok.
Our sponsors MPM and their clients will be visiting us tomorrow as MPM sell oil in Sweden. So there's no pressure then...
Sunday 20th July 2008: A game plan for Mantorp.
Time flies and not only when you are having fun; when you have a schedule that doesn't leave much room, time is ticking away very fast. We managed to get our MPM Top Fuel Dragster and inventory ready for the third round of the 2008 FIA Championship. After we returned from Finland, we had a lot of things to go through. Winning a race is great, but it also means the car has made a lot of rounds. On my way back from Finland I e-mailed Gary Burgin with an initial list of parts I needed and I told him there another one would follow after I was home. I have mentioned this before, but without Gary it would be impossible to race and perform as we do. He is ships all the parts we need in time to our shop whereas most companies in the USA are not interested to ship outside their home country.
Leading the Championship is also great, but I know this won't be any guarantee of being the Champion at the end of the season. I remember how as last year developed, I led from race one and was still leading when we went into the last round at the Finals, losing the Championship by two points. But here we are again, my name is at the top of the list and now it's time to consolidate and keep this momentum going.
This winter, Sebastian and I took the time to evaluate our tuning and we decided to take a different approach. The Easter and Main Event gave us no valid data but the Alastaro race showed us we are on the right track. The car is giving us valuable information each round we run and this will benefit our quest for our second FIA Top Fuel Championship. Winning Finland was huge for me and the team. Now we have won a race in every Scandinavian country in Top Fuel, Gardermoen in 2006, Mantorp in 2007 and now Finland in 2008. Since I have run my own Top Fuel team we have won one FIA round each year; I think it's time to make a change in this sequence and start it in the next race on the calendar.
For Mantorp we have our game plan ready. It will be interesting to see how things work out. Our first qualifying run in Finland gave us a guaranteed spot in the field. At Mantorp, we are running with 14 teams for a eight car field in Sweden so the outcome will be that six teams will have no spot in the field on race day. It will be important to realize a quick and fast run early in qualifying to have a good starting point for eliminations.
The decision to make it a 1000 ft (300 meter) race is a good call from my point of view. Safety is the most important issue in our sport. Our fans want to see us racers in good health with race cars in one piece, they don't ask us to take any extra risk. We will have to take a different look at our time slips; you will see low 4 second passes being described as a good run. Last season at Santa Pod (Easter) we managed to run 3.9 seconds at the 1000 foot for what basically would have been a low 4.6 for the quarter mile. You will therefore understand we are aiming for 3 second passes but track and weather conditions will play a major role in accomplishing this quest.
My fellow competitors will give all they have to take over my spot at the Championship ladder. The teams of Micke, Andy and Urs are capable of going a long way because they are professional racers and have a greater financial backing than most of the other teams. But those other teams can also play a big part as spoiler; with Mantorp, Hockenheim and the Finals still to be decided, a lot of points are still up in the air. Most European Top Fuel teams are using the same hi-tech cars and parts so anything can happen. You could say that the last couple of years Top Fuel has changed for the better, and the fans love it.
In cooperation with Eurodragster, I will update my blog at the end of each day coming weekend, thanks for reading.
Saturday 12th July 2008: To the victor...
Well what can I say, there is so much to tell, the most important thing is we won the Alastaro race with a car that finally started showing its real performance. By the third qualifying round we were the only team who managed to run in the 4 second range with a 4.89 ET time ticket, giving me the feeling things were coming together.
Skipping the fourth qualifying round was something I have never done before in my racing career but there were a couple of good reasons to watch the last round from the sidelines. Seeing teams who are struggling to make the field is something else compared with taking part of that 'survival of the fittest' last round trial.
Going into the first round of eliminations I knew we had a good chance to make it to the second round, but everything needed to go perfectly. That was indeed the case; with a 5.0 on the clocks, we managed to beat Finland's home favorite Janne Ahonen, I understand it was a disappointment for the home crowd but it was great to see how the public was cheering for us when we towed the car back to the pits after our victory.
The second round became interesting when we found our opponent was going to be Urs Erbacher, the current European champ just returned from the USA and tuned by famous American tuner Wayne Dupuy. To win against Urs would not only give us a great advantage in the Championship points but it would also deliver a message like "if we can beat those guys we show the world we are really up to something." Again the car made a solid run until 1100 ft when the blower belt came off; despite that we ran another low 5 second ET enough to get our ticket into the final round.
Micke Kågered managed to make the second round even more interesting when he beat Andy Carter, who seemed to be on a mission but failed because of a lack of consistency. It was a long time ago since Micke made an appearance in the final round and I looked forward meeting him just like the old days when we were running Alcohol Funny Cars.
We didnít have any tyre shake The whole weekend up until that round, but car started shaking in the final round the and I had to give it a pedal to straighten things out; again we managed to run a 5.0 ET, enough to make it to the winner circle.
Iím very proud on my crew regarding the accomplishment we made, winning in Finland is really special. Itís the most difficult track we have to run in the Championship and to win here and show the consistency as we did is really awesome.
We have finally got our car running and Iím really looking forward to the next race in Mantorp. Thanks for reading.
Sunday 6th July 2008: We slept well.
Yesterday's last qualifying round was for some racers a do or die situation. A scenario I know very well from last year when we had to fight our way into the field in the last qualifying round. You can imagine that I was very happy to experience the other side and that we could decide to drop the last round because I knew we were qualified. The chance that Urs would take away our second spot was a calculated one. The conditions changed, it was a lot cooler, and because of that it was possible to step up with the tune up. We decided to save parts and time so that the crew could take a break and have a good night's sleep.
Our 4.89/492 kmh in the third round was the only four-second pass that round. In the heat of the middle of the day this gave me a great feeling and I am very proud what my team achived to get the car to start running the way it is. It has started responding to the tune-up chancgs which you need to go rounds! Let's go racing.
Saturday 5th July 2008: Ready and waiting.
After we serviced our car yesterday evening and put on a fresh blower everything is ready to go after the number 1 qualifying spot. Urs, who took over our second spot yesterday, will go after the top spot as well with his American tuner Wayne Dupuy attending the Alastaro race. Andy Carter, who ran the first ever 4.7 here in Finland, will also try to improve. What will be interesting to see is if the drivers who didn't make it to the finish line yesterday can put some numbers on the boards.
Finding our race tune up for tomorrow (race day) is our main task for today. We will keep in touch, out for now.
Friday 4th July 2008: Goodnight Finland.
Our first day of qualifying went pretty well. After the Main Event we changed a couple of things on the car and tune-up. For Sebastian and myself the task was to start with a baseline to get the car from A to B. The car left the line with a 0.90 sixty foot which was not really fast, but the idea was to make a pass under full throttle conditions to gather information and data for the rest of the weekend. The outcome was a 4.93 ET at 463 kmh.
This was our first four-second run in Finland and the first of this event. Finally we have our baseline back which we lost after the Easter race in 2007. You can imagine we all are in a good mood!
The second round we ran today gave us a 0.89 sixty foot but around the 200 foot mark the blower belt broke which ended this run. At the moment we are getting the car ready for day two of qualifying...thanks for reading.
Friday 4th July 2008: Good morning Finland.
It's a sunny morning here at the Alastaro race track. It's something we are not used to dealing with the last couple of races. As far as I know there will be eleven drivers to qualify for an eight car field. I inspected the track last night at around midnight. The fun part being so far north in Europe is that it stays light when it's midsummer. I must say the track has never looked as good as it does now. The track temperature today will be the main factor to decide which tune-up to use because it seems that it is going to be really hot according to the people who live around here. Stay tuned and have a nice day!
Monday 23rd June 2008: Too short a track.
This blog entry was written by Gerda following Scott Kalitta's fatal accident at an NHRA event on 21st June.
As many of you have already read on Eurodragster or the NHRA website that Scott Kalitta tragically died in the fourth qualifying session this weekend in Englishtown New Jersey. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Kalitta family, friends, crew members, and everybody who knew Scott. Personally, we had not met Scott, but we know his crew chief Glenn Mikres. We had diner with him and his friend Tom Hoover while we were in the USA. And, as many of you will remember, Glenn tuned Urs Erbacher's car last year. Every time he was with Urs, he always stopped by our pits to talk about how things were going in the USA. Of course, he talked a lot about Scott as well. And you could feel the respect Glenn had for Scott. The relationship they had was more than driver and crew chief. They were buddies.
We also think about Connie Kalitta. We have no idea what it must be like losing a child. The people who do know include John Medlen and Doug Herbert. John Medlen lost his son Eric last year during testing in Gainesville, Florida and Doug Herbert lost both his sons in a high speed accident in January this year. To deal with his grief, John Medlen made it his mission to make the race cars safer. Doug Herbert has launched a new program called BRAKES. Be Responsible And Keep Everybody Safe. You can check out the website: www.putonthebrakes.com.
So, let's talk about that. Be responsible and keep everybody safe. One of the things that we saw and heard yesterday during interviews with other drivers at Englishtown was the concern about the length of the shut down area at that race track. The track was opened in 1965. Of course the track has been improved during the years but the length is still the same. And, looking at the ESPN2 shots, the shut down area is very short. Then there was a sand trap, but Scott's car never went into the sand (well, actually it is gravel and not sand) because the gravel is higher than the race track. The trap was made to stop a car travelling at 60-80 mph. When your car is still going at 200 mph and hits an object like that, the car goes airborne immediately. So he never went into the sand trap but flew through the safety net into a concrete wall. That race track was built when race cars were running 200-250 mph, not 330mph like they do now. Although the shutdown area should have been modified for this, it was not possible because there is no space.
Looking at our tracks in Europe, Mantorp comes to mind first. Everybody knows that it is potentially not safe to run for ľ mile on that track because the shutdown area is very short. I can remember that every year we have been to Mantorp, at least one car went into the sand at the and of the track. Think of Andy Carter, Susan Callin, Henri Joosten and many more. Lex was lucky last year. In his last qualifying run against Stig Neergaard Lex had a single run because Stig could not get the car in reverse after the burn out and coasted down the track. Lex made his run and lost his blower belt at 1000 ft. Thank God he did, because looking at the data after the run Lex was running 317 mph at the 1000ft. His parachutes worked and he knew that Stig was not in the other lane, because Lex needed every inch to make the turn at the end of the track. After he pulled the chutes, he felt how high his speed was. So he went from the right lane to the left lane to have more space to make the turn, and he just missed the sand trap by an inch. After the car stopped ok, he knew he was very lucky because if his chutes had not worked or if Stig was in the other lane, things could have been a whole lot worse. I know that things can go wrong and you donít always have to think worst case scenario, but, as a former promoter of drag racing events, we know what the risks are and I think you always have to consider the worst case scenario. What will happen if...? I think that is one of the reasons why Mantorp Park runs a 1/8 mile race for the Top Fuel Bikes. I know spectators want to see ľ mile racing, but no spectator wants to see any racer getting hurt or killed.
After Eric Medlen died last year, one of the many conversations Lex and I have is regarding safety. I also email a lot about this with Eric's father John Medlen. And sometimes all the safety changes donít make any sense. We are still allowed by the FIA rules to run any Top Fuel tyre we want to. But we have to make so many changes to the car for next year it basically means we have to buy a complete new chassis. And that is fine by me, as long as all the safety aspects are used. You canít run a Top Fuel car with the newest chassis specs on tires that were allowed 5 years ago. If you start asking questions about this, the answer you will get is 'We donít run the same ETís and speeds as they do in the States'. The FIA has chosen to copy the NHRA rules and make them mandatory one year after they are issued in the USA. The idea itself is questionable because the circumstances are different but the real danger is that not all rule updates are carried over for whatever reason. The effect is that not all the components that should protect the driver are working together. This can create a dangerous situation. The problem is that there is no FIA representative that has enough authority to understand what it means to apply the NHRA rules the way that it's done at the moment.
The other thing is that we as a race team have to make many changes to the race car regarding safety. But what about the race tracks? Donít they need to adjust to the higher speeds that we are racing at today? Or does somebody first have to get killed before any adjustments are being made? I think that every driver, crew member, track owner and fan should be responsible to keep everybody safe, no matter what the consequences should be. If it means that we have to run 1/8 mile at Mantorp, so be it. As long as everybody goes back home again in one piece.
Monday 16th June 2008: The hard economic truth.
If you follow the news or read a newspaper, the price of fuel is one of the main stories right now; another subject that's not difficult to find in the headlines of the news in the drag racing world is a global shortage of nitromethane.
The NHRA has already asked teams racing in the USA not to use any nitro for testing because there is a serious shortage of fuel and there is a real chance there will not be enough for all the teams who want to contest the NHRA series. There is a lot of politics and interesting issues going around with this subject; most of them are USA-orientated though. At this point, I want to take a look at what the impact will be for us who are racing in Europe and use nitro as our main fuel for racing.
Eurodragster.com published a a statement issued by G-Max stating there will be enough fuel for their existing clients. For me, this is a relief because I'm using G-Max fuel, but there could be a problem for teams that are using a different brand. I understand the policy of G-Max to help their loyal customers first, but at the same time understand that there is a real problem concerning the supply of Nitro.
After I made some inquiries with Antony from G-Max, the message is that the price of our favourite fuel will be at least doubled and there is no real chance it will go back again to the price we used to pay. The reason for the increase is an economic one; the demand for nitro in the sport is rising, and economic laws dictate that when there are suddenly more buyers for a certain product, the price will go up.
One of the bigger factories that makes nitromethane is located in China. Because the Olympics are being held in China, there will be no shipments until the games are over.
Okay - the issue we are looking at right now is this: the price of nitro fuel will be at least doubled. The fact is that this exotic fuel is already priced on a level most of you may not believe and that the new price tag will be astronomic. The price of a warm up will be the same as for a normal road car using fuel for a month. Our trucks are using diesel fuel; when we have to travel to Finland, like we will do for our next race, we have to travel almost 4,000 kilometres in total. With all the price increases from the last couple of months, the bill is going to be a lot different than we thought it would be when we made our financial plans for this year.
The crew has to fly to Finland. The amount of fuel surcharge we have to pay on top of the normal ticket is more then the actual ticket price. Gary Burgin told me the price of a crank will be doubled as well as a lot of the other parts we have to use. This is a logical step, because the companies who are making the parts have to buy their imported commodities for a higher price, because they the dollar they are paying with is so weak.
Top Fuel is a form of racing you have to do from a business point of view, or you have to be a millionaire and you can pay the bills from your own private account. The amount of money that needs to be spent to run these kind of cars cannot be paid from your household wallet. Most of the European Top Fuel teams are running their program with a business as the background. Some of them are even professional racers. With all the bad weather we have to deal with the last 1 1/2 years, a lot of sponsors are asking themselves what kind of return they are getting on their investments. Other things like television airtime are not really working for most of us and for me personally, the fact that we don't have any racing in my home country is a huge hurdle to jump. Saying all this, you will understand that it's not a sound environment to do business in and, looking at the constant rise in costs, things are really not looking cracking.
On top of that, the FIA is preparing some new rules for the 2009 season forcing us to at least back-half our chassis and in some cases even throw away our current chassis in favor of a new one.
They also are thinking of penalising Top Fuel teams after an oil-down starting with a 500 dollar fine with a rise in fine when it happens again. All these rule changes are copied from the NHRA rule book and are made with cars in mind that are running at least 125 runs a year at tracks that can hold 4.4 second runs. The NHRA schedule of oil-down fines is not equal with the prize money we are getting after a weekend of racing, something that in my opinion should also increase with all the rules changes we have to deal with. I'm the first one to look for safety, remember when I was running a HANS device when nobody else in Top Fuel was using one, used padding in the cockpit that's mandatory now? My point is that when the FIA keeps copying rules without asking the question if it's really necessary for our type of racing, there will be a point at which teams will simply drop out. The same question could be asked concerning the rules that are not applied from the NHRA rulebook, because of a reason that is not technical. It's not safe to apply just a part of the rules and leave the rest out, without knowing what the effects will be on the complete car.
I think we have to find a solution for the rising costs; not only the promoters have to pay more for the fields they run at their venues, but also other opportunities have to be explored to keep our sport healthy and alive. The first step should be a rise in the round money. We still get paid according to a schedule that was put into place more than ten years ago, and I don't have to explain racing has become a lot more expensive since then. Thanks for reading.
Monday 26th May 2008: Main Event 'Raceday'.
This event has been the same as a year ago. The weather has taken out one qualifying day and there has been virtually no racing on eliminations day. We did have two qualifying rounds, but it has not been a good weekend for the sport, the fans and in particular the promoter, who has once again lost a lot of money. Racers benefit when events are profitable, but this weekend is one of those things you have to deal with.
Once positive point about this weekend is the supply of electrical power. We had no problems at all and the new guys from 11th Hour Events did a great job. We had all the power we needed and had no issues even when it rained. Their people were nice too, they made up a special cable for us in fifteen minutes flat.
We have also been happy with the trailer; we do so much work in the trailer, the extra space is really welcome. Even the kitchen is tidier.
We also had no parts failure this weekend. On Sunday Sebastian and I worked until well into the evening. There is always something to do in running one of these cars and there were some issues after qualifying that needed to be addressed. We went through the data to find a tune-up for race day but only had one decent run this weekend to use data from. We fired up the car a couple of times to check things were in place. I hoped we would benefit. Running a Top Fuel car is a constant operation - you are never finished and there are always things that need to be looked at.
The next race is in Finland. We haven't finally decided how to get there. In the past we drove to German port Travemunde and took a ferry to the south of Sweden and then take the Stockholm to Finland ferry. We might take the route through Denmark. Whichever way, it's a five day journey with the car. The crew fly to Helsinki and drive to Alastaro. We should have two more cars competing in Finland - I understand that Tommy Haapanen's new car is almost ready.
The championship will always be close. There are not enough rounds to allow for poor performance at any one event. You have to get to the semi-final at each event and have some luck along the way. We wanted to win our first round against Stig Neegard. His performance has been very strong at the last couple of events, but I have more experience as a driver and we have more data. I am confident we would have had a good chance against him, but I will have to wait for another opportunity to race him.
Sunday 25th May 2008: Main Event Arrival and Qualifying.
The MPM Top Fuel team arrived at Santa Pod on Friday morning. We took the ferry over from the Hook of Holland with Stena Line. It is a reliable service. Several teams had problems with the strikes affecting the port in Calais and were unable to use the ferry that they had booked.
On the way over we had a lot of people looking at our new trailer combination as we drove along. Other road users were flashing their lights and hooting at us and I hope this was as they liked our trailer rather than because of my driving. Of course the attention is good exposure for my sponsor MPM who make this all possible.
My new firesuit arrived just in time on Thursday morning from Simpson. This also has MPM logos and looks really smart. It is lighter than my previous firesuit which was made for Funny Car use - there is more room to move in.
The car was scrutineered and the first question from Geoff Martin was "Have you changed the shoulder belt to the new specification?" As I have mentioned in my last blog the change to the rules on these belts was not entirely clear, but we made what we thought was necessary to meet the regulation. So I felt the scrutineers were hoping that we had made the change and, sure enough, they told us that three competitors had been disqualified for not changing the belt.
We set the car up for the first qualifier. The engine has a new PSI supercharger on it. This made the setup a bit of guesswork. We were against Urs and in the left lane. But when I saw the green the car didn't react as it should. It felt as if a big anchor had been attached to its back. The car shook, I pedalled it and it run six seconds, but it was not right. The problem became clear in the pits that the problem was to do with the new blower - there was no pressure and the fault was inside the casing. We fixed the issue and went out for the second run.
The data from the first run was useless. Also, with alternate lane qualifying, we were running in the right lane which yesterday was not as good as the left. Usually we favour the right side as the left one has a slight dip at 330ft that can cause us to go towards the barrier. But a build-up of rubber on the right side was the potential problem. At the green the car responded well and the 60 foot time was a respectable 0.87. By that stage I was on a mission and prepared for a good run. But then the car hazed the tyres and I had to pedal it. It then picked up the front wheels so I had to pedal it again. I decided to stay with it, though, because we anticipated the weather would be poor on Sunday and I wanted to put a number on the qualifying lists. It was only a low six.
In the pits our data showed we had been a little too aggressive with the clutch. We were wanting to find our setup for the race, yet our second pass was really only the initial one. So today Sebastian and I will be behind the computer screens for most of the day, deciding on a tuneup that we hope will win us some rounds. Some of you might think 'why can't you use data from last year to put a 4.7s tuneup in the car?' It's not that easy. The conditions change, there are new parts on the car and we have to find a setup that will work with both the car and the conditions. The margins are very small - we will try to adjust the ignition and the clutch to make it less aggressive.
Incidentally, if you look at the ESPN coverage of NHRA events, the slow motion shots of fuelers show graphically the effect of changing conditions and also of cylinders going out. This will steer the car - you can steer out of one cylinder going out but losing two cylinders is too much to correct - the effect is worse on Funny Cars.
Tuesday 13th May 2008: Midnight Oil.
Reading the comments of my fellow competitors, my story is more like burning the midnight oil to get the trailer ready for the Main Event. Perhaps something MPM can add to their already huge program of products. "Midnight Oil": I guess they are not really interested.
Our team exists of volunteers who have their daily jobs and, because they already need a lot of days to go to race meetings, there is not much time left for other tasks like putting a trailer together, which needs many things done. It leaves a lot of work to be done by Gerda and myself. This is why you don't see a lot of blog updates. All our time, besides our regular job, is spent on getting the trailer ready.
The finishing touches to the trailer are in their last stage and will be finished before the Main Event. It's looking really awesome. After we used our new trailer at the Easter race, we decided to lower the roof to the maximum height of 4 metres which is standard here in Holland. After we received the trailer back from being altered, we had to go over the interior completely so that it matches the new height.
Also, the race car needed our attention; after the Easter THunderball we found some repairs were needed and updates regarding the belt that goes over the shoulder. After I couldn't get an answer from the FIA regarding the belt situation, we needed to take the necessary steps to be sure the car will pass tech at the Main Event. This coming Saturday, we will perform some burnouts in Erfurt (Germany) during the 'Speeddays 2008' event, which will give us the opportunity to make final checks before we go leave for the Main Event.
Today (13th May) my wife Gerda is celebrating her birthday, have a great day wyfke and I'm looking forward to the delicious home made cake!
Sunday 20th April 2008: Trailer for the new season.
There are a lot of things that need my attention at the moment so the blog entries are not sent in as frequently as I would like. If you attended the Easter Thunderball, you would have noticed we were using our new trailer, but without any signage on the outside. A plain yellow trailer is not what you expect when you are looking for the MPM logos on our trailer. When you come to the Main Event, you will be able to find our team again. Here are a couple of images of how our new truck and trailer will look like. The work to realise the design has already started and will be finished in time to serve us in the soon-to-begin 2008 season.
People ask me how many Top Fuel cars will enter the Main Event. The first entry list has been posted on Eurodragster; it's hard to tell how the list will look after the closing date (25 April) but I reckon we will see more than eight cars battle for an eight car field.
One of my main tasks is to get everything into place to have a strong start to the season. The 2007 season was a really tough one in many ways. There are some things I can not handle or steer - I mean things like weather conditions are something you have to deal with the way it's presented by the weather gods. Track conditions can be different because of weather or oil downs and donít forget the track preparation. The condition of the Santa Pod track is relatively easy to predict, not least because we make the most runs of our year at this track, but also because the track crew has a consistent way of preparing the track. When you go, for example, to Alastaro and the temperatures are above 30 degree Celsius it can be a real problem to find a tune up that will get you down the track.
Saying this, all the other things that can be organised up front need to be handled with greatest care; my main concern now is to get this preparation done so we start the season with a 100% prepared car and crew. The new Fully Synthetic MPM nitro oil we used during the Easter Thunderball has been analyzed in the lab and the outcome is awesome. This product will be one of the innovations we will use this season to go after our second FIA Top Fuel Championship.
Monday 31st March 2008: Snow phobia.
We got back home safely after our first outing of the season; we are now thinking making tee Shirts with a message like "Easter Thunderball '08 - we were there." Looking at the calendar, it will be a very long time before the Easter is again so early in the season, so the chance of snow during a race event in future is now narrowed big-time.
When I was sitting in the car, strapped in and ready to fire up the engine, one of the track crew members started spraying the bleach box with water, something that's always done to help the tires start spinning before the burnout. My first reaction was to stop this guy; I didn't want to take the chance the water would turn into ice before I could start the burnout. It will give you some idea of what kind of conditions we had to deal with.
I bet no Top Fuel team in the world can say they had snow lying beside their pits during a day of racing. Don Jackson, one of our advisors from the U.S., gave us a short, sharp answer when we asked him what he would have done under the given conditions: I would have left for home on Friday, he said, and probably he was right. There were many people that asked me during the weekend if we were planning to go home; the best one was as we took the car out the trailer Sunday in the afternoon, one guy came to me and asked me if we were leaving seeing all the action we were undertaking. I said 'No sir, we just are taking the car out of the trailer to make it ready for tomorrow!
We couldn't leave the track crew alone in their quest to get things ready for racing. We often say the track crew did a awesome job during a race weekend; I can tell you this time can't be bettered. Starting at 6.30 in the morning, fighting against elements that are not mentioned in the drag racing dictionary like snow, ice and blizzards was difficult but they didn't give up and the race was finished as it should. I don't know all these girls and boys who make it possible for us racers to have a safe track at our disposal, but when I say a big Thank You to all of you, probably the message will come through.
One man I do know by name is Ian Marshall; when he told Gerda she wouldn't have to worry about the safety because he wouldn't allow us to run our cars when it was not safe, it was for me the signal to make the rounds as we did each time on Monday, you are the man Ian, great call!
My birthday was a very special one because not a lot of people can say they celebrated their birthday at Santa Pod making pictures with a snowman. I want to thank all the people who stopped by to say hello and wish me well, two names I want to highlight, the Tramm and Webster families did an extra awesome job making my birthday a real special one, thank you all.
The three rounds on Monday gave my new crewmembers an idea of what racing will be going to bring them in the future, especially after the second round when we found out we were running the final and there was a 75 minute window to service the car. My crew made it in time, something I'm really proud of especially taking in account the conditions they had to work in, with temperatures just above zero.
The last thing I want to share with you in this blog is a news scoop not a lot of people know about yet. The Easter Thunderball was for us the first time using a new product from our sponsor MPM. During the winter break MPM manufactured a new high tech motor oil especially made for Top Fuel engines. It is a full synthetic motor oil made in a laboratory; it is made out of the latest products available and will mark a new era in motor oils for street, high performance and race applications. Our findings with this product are really awesome; despite the difficult conditions around freezing point, the oil worked perfectly, with no problems in lubricating any part of the engine and a much longer bearing life despite he tricky track conditions. More news about this latest MPM product will be released when available.
That's it for now, thanks for reading and let's start looking for that suntan lotion. Perhaps it will help us to forget our snow phobia.
Monday 24th March 2008: Running in the cold.
We were the runner up in the final of the Pro Shootout to Jari Halinen. I gave it a shot but it's hard in a car with all the latest equipment to detune and get down the track in such cold conditions. It's always good to win the race but we came up short, although we were travelling 20mph faster and passed him just after the stripe.
The car left pretty good and our 60 ft time was 0.86 which is great for the conditions. By 330 foot I had lost traction as the car was shaking hard. It's difficult to see where you are with tyre shake, let alone being in the dark as well. So I lifted and saw that we were close to the centre line. I also saw that Jari was close to the centre line. I gave the throttle another hit to cross the finish line but he was there first.
Looking at the day positively, if you had asked me this morning how many runs we would make today, I would have settled for one. The fact we ran three is not only a tribute to the track crew but also good for the crew who had the opportunity to turn the car round twice between rounds. We've a few new crew members this year and it's important for them to get used to the routine at races.
Next for us is to go home and prepare for the Main Event. Everything is working on the car and it was good to get on track and run passes again.
Saturday 22nd March 2008: Potty-mouthed at the weather.
What would have been for us the first day of racing in 2008 ended in a game of who can make the bigest snowball. This kind of weather gave me another view of the portable toilets we can rent here at the Pod. Did you know when it's in the middle of a snowstorm, the snow enters the toilet through the ventilation holes? Don't be suprised when you see somebody stepping out of a portable toilet and he or she is covered with snow. I don't mean during the summer, of course, but the conditions we are experiencing this weekend are 'good' enough to create a snowman-exiting-the-loo situation.
Also, did you notice inside those particular toilets, there is always a sticker attached with the address to contact the builder? Probably they rent out a lot of them to contractors, but I always have to laugh reading those words. The picture of a builder sitting on the toilet and reading those words is somehow funny.
As you will understand by now reading all this none racing-related related crap, is that we didn't do any racing, or related activities, today. Hopefully I can report some more interesting things later this weekend.
Thats it for now, going to find some snowboots.
Sunday 16th March 2008: Full throttle ahead.
After we finished our last race in 2007 (the European Finals), it seemed to be a pretty long time before we would return to the Pod for the first race of the 2008 season, the Easter Thunderball. Well, as you probably know, its just a couple of days away. After spending some time in the U.S. at the end of the 2007 season to work for my sponsor MPM and going after the latest stuff in nitro racing, we found some small items on our programme that needed to be changed; we ordered the parts and have updated the car accordingly. In January, our new trailer arrived, and most of our free time has been spent updating the trailer to make it suitable and ready for the demands of Top Fuel racing in 2008. Looking at the parts and equipment we need nowadays to make these Top Fuel cars run, a well organized trailer is a must. Another important item on our trailer is a lounge to welcome guests and sponsors, also there will a location to accommodate our computer centre, where we can monitor and collect all data from the race car. You can imagine you need more than 24 hours in a day to get all these features fitted into a trailer, when you have to combine this all with your daily job.
After a rather disappointing end of the season, Sebastian and myself worked through all the details from each run we made in the 2007 season. We found the reasons why the car did not respond the same as it did at the Easter race which we won. At that point, the car was running really strong and it needed just some minor changes to get it right where we wanted. After the Easter 2007 race, the car never came back to the potential it showed during our first outing. You can imagine that we as a team and me as the driver don't need much encouragement to get out of the gate to see what the car will run, now it's back to its previous tune up. We will add some power where the car likes it and when the conditions are there, we will try to make some big improvements in our ET and speed. I have already told my crew I want to give myself a special birthday present this year, and guess what, my birthday will be this Easter weekend.
When people start talking about Easter and testing, you have to understand that when a nitro car is fired up, the first time after a long break of almost half a year, it needs something like a shake down to see if everything is responding the way it should. The first run will be at Easter; we cannot change this, because that's the way it is. After that first round, things will be in race mode, because we don't have any opportunity to test whatsoever during the season, and each run is like a final. When you want to win Championships and events like the Easter Thunderball, you need to go full throttle, and that's what I always do. Aborting a run sometimes looks like a driver is saving some money, for me getting of the loud pedal is because safety is forcing me to do so. Forget all the talk about testing. We will be there this weekend to run the numbers and win the event. It won't be easy looking at the competition but the sweeter the victory will be if we do win it.
The big picture for me this year is winning my second FIA Championship; our team may not be the most well funded team, also we don't have American tuners on board to assist us, but I believe in our strength, will power and, last but not least, our partners from MPM to get the number 1 back on our car again at the end of this season. Winning rounds is not done in a weekend's race, it's a ongoing process of working on your programme each day of the year, and that's something we at Lex Joon Racing understand and what will bring us success.
Saying all this, there something else what will give me the faith and help to be successful; most of you won't realize this, but when it's March 23rd and I celebrate my birthday, at the same time it will be exactly a year ago that Eric Medlen past away in a hospital in Florida after the accident in his Funny Car. Talking with his father John last November, I felt there is more than we humans can see; I know Eric is watching from above and he will help me through the difficult moments that will occur, the same he did last year when I had my share of problems qualifying for each race in the last qualifying round. I never had any doubt, because I know people like Monique Pels and Eric Medlen are there and will help me through these moments.
The racecar will have its maiden run in its new colors and outfit during the Easter event; our truck and trailer will carry its new colours at the Main Event; please stop by when you are at the Pod this weekend, and if you don't have the chance to come to the first race of the season, you always can check my blog which will be updated each day after racing is done.
Saturday 1st March 2008: A new look.
"Eurodragster is our lifeline to European drag racing", said one of its many daily readers and, for me, that's a good and simple way to describe the feeling I have celebrating the 10th birthday of Europe's premier web site dedicated to drag racing. Each day the first thing to do after the computer is switched on is to check Eurodragster's news page to see whether the news for that particular day has been loaded by Tog or Simon. After that I check the other sites like the NHRA website. Sometimes Tog has too much "daily" work which means the update will be done later that day; the short message that can be read on Eurodragster to explain why the news will be updated later that day says enough about the dedication this team of people have to their work. Although I think work is the wrong word to use, because Eurodragster is run by volunteers who perform an awesome job informing the world what's going on in our drag racing community.
The first time I came into contact with Eurodragster was through Tony B; he was the driving force that helped me to realize my first LJR website. You can't imagine how proud I was that my website was powered by Eurodragster, and it is a perfect way to keep my fans informed. My blog is another example of the opportunities Eurodragster has given me and the fans to keep in touch with whatís going on besides the quarter mile.
Eurodragster has become a media institution and I can not imagine what European drag racing would be without those boys and girl!
After three years running with the same colours and paint scheme our MPM TF dragster will have a new look for the 2008 season (see right). Our main sponsor, MPM Oil Company, changed their logo at the end of last season and now it's time to get the new style image on the Top Fuel machine as well. After the race car is finished, our new trailer is the next in line to be fitted with the latest logos and colours.
Our new crew shirts are already finished (see left); they replace the old ones that serviced our team for five years. The shirts are made in the USA by a company called Dirty Girls; they are specialists in making apparel and clothes for all kind of sports.
Although drag racing in Europe is still in hibernation, looking at whatís going on at the tracks around the world and especially in the USA, things are in full swing again.
After the accidents last year of the Funny cars of John Force Racing, a lot of rule changes have been made to make the cars safer. A lot of these changes are mandatory immediately for the Funny cars that are running here in Europe. In most cases, the FIA adopts the rules set by the NHRA one year later for the European rule book; this gives the teams time to make arrangements to get things organised. This new approach to implement chassis rules immediately is just something that for us race teams have to deal with; the FIA board makes a decision about which rules to adopt and when t oadopt them, and they will be mandatory for all teams. In the USA there a racers' organization exists (PRO) that communicates with the NHRA about safety issues amongst other things.
The opinion of the FIA is that the performance shown by the race cars in Europe is at such a high level that rules set by the NHRA need to be followed. It would however be preferable to have an European PRO organization to protect the interest of the racers.
Sunday 10th February 2008: In the field.
It's Sunday morning. Qualifying for the first race in the U.S. season at Pomona has come to an end. I'm looking at the NHRA website and I take a look at the final qualifying lists. Our European Top Fuel ace Urs Erbacher managed to slip into the field at position 16. This must have been a hard battle looking at the comments on the net from the U.S. reporter. Going into the last round of qualifying as number 17 means you are not valid to go into the race on Sunday. I know what Urs must have been feeling at that moment. Not only have I had my share of not being qualified last season, but when I was at Pomona in 2000 I tried to get into a 23 car Top Alcohol Funny car field and being kicked out as number 17 just before I had to make my run.
Reading further on, what was going on during Urs' last qualifier, I understand the crew had to push Urs back to the startline after he made the burnout. That's not the way you want to start your last attempt to get into the field, pushing the car back will take more time than when you can just use the reverse to drive it back. The outcome is that the engine will idle longer then its supposed to and it consumes more fuel than is preferred. Luckily, there was no opponent and the Swiss team was on a single run, otherwise the starter would have ordered to stop the motor and abort the run. Your opponent is not required to wait when the guy in the other lane has a problem. Urs managed to get the car off the startline but the engine did not make it to the finish line; probably the fuel tank was empty causing the engine to expire. But the mission was accomplished and Urs made it into eliminations for race day, Sunday.
This brings me to a trend for investments that European teams are making to step up in performance. Urs who was the first to hire a tuner from the U.S. and this has forced other teams who are getting behind in the field to find solutions. Micke Kågered announced this week that he has hired Lance Larsen, a top tuner from the U.S., to oversee his racing operation and in particular the tuning of his Top Fuel dragster. Team Kågered was always a major player in the Top Fuel ranks but, with more cars and tuning aid from the US being introduced in to the European Top Fuel scene, Micke was getting behind in performance and something needed to be done to get back to the top of the playing field. I send Ňsa and Micke my congratulations on this step forward for team Kågered; my opinion is that with more US tuners involved in the European drag race scene, the higher the level of racing will go to. Also, the recognition of what we are trying to achieve will be better displayed, because before we started importing our cars and Urs started using the service of Glenn Mikres, European Drag Racing was a virtually unknown thing in the U.S.. This recognition is important to acquire sponsors and get our racing parts made and ready in time.
Hopefully Wayne Dupuy who is the US crew chief for Urs will find the tune-up to get Urs around the #1 Qualifier he has to face today; a drag race is decided at the finish line and that's why even the #16 has a chance to make it to the winner circle; it's been done before.
Saturday 19th January 2008: Trailer for the new season.
Happy New Year! The kick off of the 2008 season is getting closer and closer, especially with the Easter Thunderball scheduled at this year's early Easter Weekend on 21st - 24th March. I bet some of you are anxious to start breathing Nitro fumes again. Every year we run up against the same dilemma; what I mean is that the off-season is way too long. At least half a year without professional racing is the punishment you have to accept when you are a fan of under five seconds quarter mile racing.
Some of you probably think we have an easy agenda during the six months away from the track; well I can tell you our racing programme keeps me busy every day. The last couple of weeks have kept us busy going after a new trailer to transport the Top Fuel car and all the spare parts and tools we need for race events. Our search brought us to Bob Inglis; he had an advert on Eurodragster's Swap Meet with a trailer for sale. Bob helped me really well with all the information I needed to make the right decision. During our frequent contact more and more trailers were becoming available. I told Bob that before it took me three years to find a trailer, and now I could not make a choice because there were so many available. Life can be difficult sometimes!
When things go according plan the trailer will be available at the end of January. First, Bob will take it to the workshop to fit side doors. Yes, side doors; why? These trailers come in a cargo application without anything but rear doors and a lift. There is a lot of work to be done to convert a cargo trailer to a multi-functional unit with everything in place to serve a modern race team. After the doors are fitted, the trailer will be sent to our work shop; there will start our job. To get everything in place before the Easter Thunderball is not going to happen, but we will give it a go and, after we have spilt blood, sweat and tears, we will have our new home ready enough for its first trip to Santa Pod.
The next thing on my to-do list is to find a suitable truck to haul our new trailer, another challenge because most of what I think are interesting trucks are exported out of Holland. I will keep you updated when we start working at the trailer with pictures and reports.
If you are a regular visitor to the NHRA website you will have noticed the withdrawal of Evan Knoll as a sponsor from approximately 12 professional teams in US dragracing. This news is a significant blow for the teams sponsored by Knoll. Some of those teams are actually owned by the the man behind Torco Racing Fuels. In the next couple of weeks the actual circumstances of this shock will be translated into the number of teams entering the first race of the season at Pomona. The question is, will there be enough teams to ensure full fields? The NHRA is running 16 car fields, and at most of the races last year there were between 18 and 25 cars qualifying for a 16 car field, keeping some of the big names out of competition. To be continued...
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