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Exclusive interview with Roger Goring
Roger Goring became involved in Jet Car racing when his friend Martin Hill announced that he was giving up motorcycle racing and looking to buy a Jet FC from the USA, and asked Roger if he would like to be involved. The Fireforce jet car was acquired, and Roger got the chance to drive when Martin took a season out due to work commitments.
His time in Fireforce made Roger realise that driving a jet car was what he wanted to do. He mentioned the fact to his close friend Colin Fallows, driver of the Vampire Jet Dragster, who immediately offered Roger his support and expertise in any project he wished to start. Colin meant what he said, working unpaid for weeks on end with Roger in Bob Jinkens' workshop in New Jersey, USA.
The Northern Flame Jet Funny Car was the result of this collaboration. The car was debuted at York Dragway before being severely damaged in a top end crash at the 1998 Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway. Roger was only slightly injured, and immediately started making plans to finish his almost-completed second car.
Eurodragster interviewed Roger via e-mail in April 2000, with his new Jet FC built, painted and almost ready to go. We asked about the demise of Northern Flame, about the new Jet FC, and what every fan wants to know - what on earth does it feel like to drive one of these beasts?
Eurodragster: Roger, the last we saw of you was an afterburner flame disappearing into the darkness at Santa Pod, and then the safety crew flying down the shutdown area after you. Tell us about that.
Roger Goring: The car launched really well and was going arrow straight, I came out of it early but the moment the chute deployed I was in trouble. I don't know if I caught a side wind or something but the car was really out of shape, I fought it all I could but in a split second at 240mph it was in the barrier, over the barrier and up the banking! Rumour had it at the time that I crashed because the chute failed to open but this was not the case.
Eurodragster: You suffered very minor injuries indeed, but how badly damaged was the car?
Roger Goring: The build quality of the car prevented me from getting hurt. Everything worked as it should do, the crumple zones crumpled, the roll cage did not budge and the driver's compartment did not sustain any damage at all. Unfortunately the rest of the car was very badly damaged but repairable. I did not realise a fibreglass body could break into so many pieces!
The praise for me walking away from the accident must go to Bob Jinkens Racecars of Jackson, New Jersey. Bob is one of the most talented chassis designer and builders in the world. If Bob Jinkens had not built us such a safe chassis the story could have been very different.
When I told Bob about the accident he said (and I quote) "I'm really glad you are not hurt, but now what you gotta do is take the job I've been offering you for two years and while you are here we will either fix up the Northern Flame or finish the second car". It wasn't quite that simple to just pack and go, but after about six months and with the car still in pieces it became apparent that this was by far the best and only solution. So with the support of Helen, good friends and family that's what I did.
Eurodragster: So did you repair the car or have you built a new one?
Roger Goring: The 2000 car is new. It was eighty five per cent built when I crashed the Northern Flame. That is because we were trying to put together a two car team. It worked out cheaper to finish the second car rather than repair the Northern Flame, but the Northern Flame is still sat in my container patiently waiting its turn. Without any major sponsorship, it takes time to earn the money for this type of project, that's why we have taken quite some time to come back.
Eurodragster: What's the body this time around? Does it still have those radical air intakes?
Roger Goring: The body is still the tried and tested Firebird with the radical air intakes. I know it looks strange but you would not believe how well it works! In wind tunnel testing that design flowed forty per cent more air than a conventional jet car.
Eurodragster: How easy is it to buy a jet? You can't exactly pick one up in Tesco's (although we're not so sure about Costco).
Roger Goring: The easy way into jets is to buy a used car. That's not the route I wanted to take, I wanted to build a new state of the art jet funny car but I soon found that this route is a bit of a minefield. I think that we achieved our goal but you really need a sense of humour to build and run a Jet Funny Car! Trying to buy a used jet engine suitable for a Funny Car (at an affordable price) is enough to make a grown man cry!
Eurodragster: I understand that even when you get a jet you have to build your own afterburner?
Roger Goring: Yes. There are very good reasons for this, the first reason is that the aircraft afterburner system is so complicated and expensive. It is totally not suitable for drag racing. The second reason is that the aeroplane afterburner does not produce enough power!
Our motor is from an F5 fighter aircraft but it now produces about thirty five per cent more power than it did in the aeroplane.
Eurodragster: You're probably sick of being asked this, but as a jet fan I've always wondered how it feels physically to make a run in a jet car. Could you tell us what the physical sensations are on a jet car pass?
Roger Goring: I cannot explain fully the jet car sensation but here goes! A modern lightweight car like the Northern Flame launches very hard (not like Fuel Funny Cars but still hard)! The moment it leaves the line it's accelerating hard like any other race car, but the farther down the track it goes the more air it is pulling in, so it is accelerating faster all the time. By the time it reaches the quarter mile it's accelerating so fast, it's absolutely incredible. You had better be quick with the chute lever and fuel shut off or you will land on the M1 someplace!
Eurodragster: And whilst all that is going on, how aware are you of the outside world – how far down the track you are, and so on?
Roger Goring: You are very aware that the scenery is going past very quickly, but you have to keep focused on the end of the track. The quarter mile marker comes at you very fast indeed and you had better be ready.
Eurodragster: What you often hear said of jet cars is that they really pick up in the second eighth – could you vouch for that?
Roger Goring: Yes, the word "ballistic" springs to mind!
Eurodragster: Can you set a jet car to run a certain time and speed? Or are they on-or-off and nothing in between?
Roger Goring: Yes and no. We can set the motors to run their best in certain conditions. However just like any other car or bike they will run better on a cold day than they will on a hot summer's day, but when you light the afterburner it's off or on, so you go very fast or very slow.
Eurodragster: Although a jet car effectively only has one moving part, it must need maintenance. What do you have to do to the car in the pits between runs?
Roger Goring: Most of the work we do in the pits involves the safety aspect of the car. The safety systems (particularly on the fuel side of the car) must be checked and double checked then checked again by two crewmembers. I always have the final check and pack my own chutes. Someone has to go into the jet pipe and thoroughly check the turbine blades for cracks; the rest of the work is just the same as any other Funny Car, but without the motor tear downs.
Eurodragster: Jet cars are nowadays seen as exhibition vehicles, but they originated because some racers just wanted to go as fast as possible – the show came later. Would you describe yourself as "show" or "go", or both?
Roger Goring: Unfortunately jets are classed as exhibition vehicles. But if you talk to jet drivers, ninety five per cent will tell you they want to race, me included. The other five per cent do it for the wrong reason but won't admit it.
I like to think that we can show and go. We have a lot of work to do on the fireshow, but its five hundred per cent better than we had. So we are hoping it will be a bit special, fingers crossed.
I have also done much work on the afterburner system and I'm hoping for good times and speeds in the 2000 season.
Eurodragster: What is your current personal best time and speed?
Roger Goring: The best time and speed so far is 6.70 248mph. But last year, working at Bob Jinkens Race Cars in New Jersey, I learned an awful lot about jet car racing, jet car people and AFTERBURNERS!! 'Nuff said?
Eurodragster: And what is the new car capable of?
Roger Goring: We are obviously hoping for a very fast car this year, time will tell I suppose but as always I will give one hundred and ten per cent to try to make it happen.
Eurodragster: What's the plan for this season?
Roger Goring: We have a lot of testing to do; we are very late through lack of funds and lack of sponsorship. We are trying our best but much water has to go under the bridge before we can run the car to its full potential. It's brand new and will have teething problems like any other car or bike. With a little luck there won't be too many problems.
We will take it one step at a time, and hopefully very soon it will be sorted. And when it is sorted, get ready!
Eurodragster: Oh, we're ready. Thank you very much for your time, Roger, we look forward to seeing you out on the track this year.
Additional message from Roger:
"We would like to take advantage of this opportunity to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way, all the people who have been mentioned above and a few who haven't so here goes...
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