Drag Week Blog 2009

(This blog was originally posted on the FE Forum in September 2009)

Drag Week 2009, Test n Tune, Muncie Dragway, September 13, 2009

Yesterday Joel and I left Minneapolis at 6:30 AM and headed across the country to Muncie, Indiana for Drag Week 2009. The trip was largely uneventful, and we arrived at our hotel in Muncie around 8:00 PM local time last night. This morning we were up early for the trip to the track, and were waiting at the gates when they opened them up at 8:00 AM. The Galaxie was mostly race ready when we pulled it out of the trailer; I just had to install the vacuum pump belt and the injector stacks, and we were ready to go. Here's a photo of the car just off the trailer:

DW09 Galaxie1

Earlier this week, I had finished installing the "secret weapon" on the Galaxie, shown in the following photo:

DW9 Trunk Monkey 1

For those of you who are not familiar with the trunk monkey, here's a link to a short video:


I originally found out about these videos from my partner Joel, who sent me a link to them a while back, with the comment "Am I your Drag Week trunk monkey?" Obviously, he was a glutton for punishment, so I took advantage of the situation by installing and labeling the fake button. Here's a photo of the trunk monkey preparing to go to work:

DW09 Trunk Monkey 2

Unfortunately, after being called the trunk monkey all the way from Minneapolis and again today at the track, I think Joel was starting to get tired of it. He began threatening to fart whenever I pushed the trunk monkey button! So much for the trunk monkey fun...

After getting the car ready we pulled the Drag Week trailer out of the back of Joel's truck, hitched it up to the Gal, and got in line for event registration. As usual, this took a long time, more than an hour and a half, so as we stood in line we took time to get re-acquainted with some old Drag Week friends. There was a black '57 Ford running around the pits, and it turned out to be TomP from the forum and his friend Mike, so we got a chance to meet them and chat for a while. The scuttlebutt from some of the other racers was that some of the notable entries didn't make it; in particular Jeff McConnell in the Malibu who was leading the SB/NA class last year until wrecking his front end with a giant wheelstand was not able to get his car ready in time for the event. Also, Eddie Miller, who won the overall title in 2006 and the Pro Street PA class last year was not able to make it. But there were definitely more cars this year than last year, so it was looking like a good turnout.

At the registration tent we got a look at our competition in the class, and there looked to be three other cars in Modified N/A, two second generation Camaros and a GMC pickup. The other racers had all estimated their ETS at 10-11 seconds, but of course that meant nothing; we will see how they actually run.

After we finally got registered the track opened up for the test and tune, and I took the Galaxie up to the line to test run it at the track. Previous testing last weekend had yielded a 6.23 in the eighth at 114.5 - 115, and in all three passes I had thrown the alternator belts. Last week I had replaced the stock crank pulley with a March pulley that was smaller in diameter to slow down the belt speed, so I was anxious to see if this would solve the problem. After getting strapped into the car I rolled down the staging lanes and went right to the burnout box because no one was in front of me. I had set the computer up to do the datalogging but in the excitement of getting to the line I forgot to hit the start button, so my pass was not logged. At the starting line I concentrated on how to shift the car because that had given me some trouble last weekend, and was waiting for the countdown of the lights when all three flashed and I got the green. I hadn't expected a pro tree, but reaction time doesn't really matter here, so I mashed the pedal and headed down the track.

I got the shifts right and the car felt pretty good; I let off after the finish line and was coasting through the slowdown area when all of a sudden my low oil pressure warning light lit up! That hadn't happened last weekend; I looked down at the gauge it was reading only 5 psi! I had almost reached the end of the shutdown area, and I let the engine continue to run for a few more seconds, but as I went around the turn the gauge still hadn't come up, so I shut the engine off and coasted down the return road. I went as far as I could and pulled off to the side, and sat for about a minute, thinking about why this would have happened. The only thing I could figure was the vacuum pump had sucked the pan dry, and the oil had not returned to the sump yet. I started the engine again, and sure enough the oil pressure popped right up to its normal value. I drove the rest of the way down the pit road and grabbed the time slip, and as usual didn't look at it until I got parked back in the pits. When I did, I was totally blown away by the time: 9.48 @ 143.3 MPH! This was a good two or three tenths faster than what I was expecting. The car had hooked pretty well on this track, with a 1.38 60 foot time, and a 6.06 @ 114.7 in the eighth mile. To say I was pleased would be an understatement. A quick look under the hood showed that the alternator belts had also stayed in place, so that was more good news.

However, the oil pressure issue has me concerned, and I may have to back off the vacuum setting on my pump to mitigate that problem, which of course will hurt the ET somewhat. Also, that was a pretty good pass in terms of the car going straight, and my shifts being crisp and timed correctly. So, I may not go that fast again; we will see...

Joel and I got some track food for lunch, and then spent the rest of the afternoon either sitting by the car or wandering around the pits. We saw three different Unlimited cars run seven second ETs, including last year's winner Larry Larson who ran a 7.60. Larry's car has new paint and is no longer pink, and I think he still has a lot left in it. We met Myrrl (sp?) Morris and Aaron Benham from the FE Forum and had some nice discussions with those guys; they both seem to be really nice guys and were very interesting to talk to. Later in the afternoon I bumped into the guy who ran and won with the white Chevelle at DW07 in my class; his name is Curtis and he's here this year with an S-10 pickup running in the Pro Street NA class. His friend Mike with the yellow S-10 pickup who won in 2007 in Pro Street PA is also here, with a funny car style cage in his truck and running 8.20s; he's also a very nice guy. He was looking forward to thrashing Eddie Miller, the guy with the purple Duster, but Eddie didn't show for the event, so I think Mike is a little disappointed LOL!

One of their friends is running a second gen Camaro in my class; they are staying at our hotel, and I bumped into him in the lobby and asked him about his car. Apparently he has a 990 HP big block Chev in it, and of course his car is lighter than the Galaxie, so I think he is probably the favorite to win the class. He is having some problems though, because it is a new combination and he hasn't got it worked out yet; I guess he just got the engine two weeks ago. He told me he plans to do some work on the car tonight, so we will see if he can get it working for Day 1 of Drag Week tomorrow.

Overall it was a great day, and meeting Tom, Myrrl and Aaron was a lot of fun. It was great to catch up with all my old Drag Week pals, and the car really ran like a champ. We will see what the first day of Drag Week brings; I'll have an update tomorrow night from outside of Martin, Michigan.

Drag Week 2009, Day 1, Muncie Dragway, September 14, 2009

Drag Week kicked off this morning with the drivers meeting at 9:00 PM. Hot Rod announced that there would be live streaming video at all the tracks, so if you want to see the cars run, go to the Hot Rod website when the tracks are open. Tuesday we will be running at Martin from 9:00 to 2:00, Wednesday and Thursday we will be running at Norwalk and National Trail from 12:00 to 5:00, and Friday we will be running back at Muncie from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

After the drivers meeting we got the car ready to go, and waited until a few cars made their first passes before I took the Galaxie to the line. We watched some of our competitors run before we did; my class has ballooned to six cars, including a pickup truck, three second gen Camaros, a 1988 Mustang with a BBC installed, and yours truly. By the end of the day one of the second gen Camaros had either dropped out or switched classes, so there are now five competitors in my class. Brad Dyer's Camaro with the new 990 HP BBC is apparently having some issues, maybe the car is just not set up right at the moment, and he ran a 9.96 this morning. The truck and the other Camaro are running mid 10s. The Mustang has turned out to be the major competition.

The car is owned by Red Johnson, who I believe is Curtis Johnson's dad. Curtis is the guy with the white Chevelle who won the BB/PA class in 2007 that I ran in. They are here with a group of guys located near the Byron drag strip in Illinois, including Brad Dyer and Mike Thompson, who runs a yellow S-10 pickup in Pro Street PA. One of the guys is driving Red's Mustang; I think his name is Roger Tangorra. Anyway, they are a very experienced group, and they are also nice guys and a lot of fun at the track. Without even seeing the Mustang run I figured that car would be competitive.

I finally got up to the line for my first pass around 10:30 or so. While waiting in the staging lanes another car (a Firebird I think) had developed a fuel leak and caught fire when the leaking gas sprayed onto his exhaust system. Three guys with extinguishers couldn't get it put out, but finally the track fire truck arrived and got it under control. Needless to say that poor guy is out of the competition.

Up at the starting line this morning the Mustang was a couple of cars ahead of me, but I was slow getting strapped in so I didn't get to see it run. When I got to the line my laptop froze up again, so once again I didn't get any EFI log data. The burnout was fine, but I was a little nervous, and when the light went green I inadvertently shifted into second gear right at the launch. I also held too long after the shift light and hit the rev limiter; the pass was only a 9.58, a tenth slower than I had gone yesterday. On the return road, the car quit; I think that fuel sloshing around in the tank caused my fuel pump to suck in a bunch of air, and the engine temporarily ran out of fuel. After getting it restarted I headed back to the pits, rather dissatisfied with my first pass. The good news, though, was that the oil pressure problem had gone away; I had added an extra quart and a half of oil to the engine this morning, and so it appears that this was enough oil to prevent the sump from becoming uncovered at the end of the shut down area.

When I got to the pits Joel told me that the Mustang had run a nearly identical time, 9.57. I decided to let the car cool a little and make another pass. Unfortunately, my driving skills deteriorated even further at the second pass. I launched in first gear this time, but I waited too long to shift and hit the rev limiter pretty hard. Then, I did the same thing in second gear - again! That motor sure wants to rev, and I am finding it hard to keep up. Second pass was worse than the first, 9.68, but this time at least I got the log data. I waited a while longer and then ran one more time, this time getting out of first and into second correctly, but inexplicably my hand slipped off the shift lever when I tried to go from second to third, and I hit the rev limiter hard, for a good second, and only ran a 9.87. Clearly, my driving needs to improve if I'm going to do better tomorrow.

After handing in my time slip we got the route, which took us through a bunch of state roads 210 miles to Kalamazoo, MI. The car ran with no trouble, but we about two thirds of the way through the starter started acting up a little, kind of grinding as it was engaging. I figured the bolts were starting to come loose. Also, the alternator belts started squealing in first and second gear. After arriving at the hotel, Joel and I had dinner with Keith and Tonya Turk, two of the organizers of the event (well, at least Tonya is one of the organizers; Keith's job appears to be to harass the racers, and bring food to Tonya). They are both really nice folks and we had a nice time talking to them at dinner.

After dinner Joel and I went back out to the hotel parking lot to try to work on the starter and alternator belt problems. The starter did not appear to be loose, but I was able to get a quarter turn on the bolts, and when tested it seemed to be working OK again, so hopefully that problem will not recurr. Also, the alternator belts had worked their way loose, so we tightened them up and the noise went away. We are good to go for tomorrow.

A couple of other updates on some notable competitors. Mike Wood is back with his turbocharged Duramax diesel Mustang. Apparently he blew his old engine running a standing mile competition in Texas; his new engine ran the car to a 10.34 today. Six cars were registered for the unlimited class, and all six broke according to the scuttlebutt, but Larry Larson, last year's winner, apparently has parts coming and is planning to run tomorrow. Curtis Johnson is currently leading the Pro Street N/A class with his S-10 pickup, ahead of Doc McEntire, who has won the class the last couple of years. Mike Crow, last year's SB/NA winner, is leading the pack again this year, and Jon Huber with the turbocharged 4 banger is leading SB/PA running 9.34 today, and pulling the front wheels 100 feet down the track as usual.

Tomorrow should be a fun day, with some of the guys from the FE Forum coming to the track, and then an FE Forum get together in Plymouth MI tomorrow night, assuming we make it to Plymouth unscathed. With luck my driving will improve, and the car will run faster tomorrow; we will see. I will post another update tomorrow night.

Drag Week 2009, Day 2, US 131 Raceway, September 15 2009

It's very late so this will have to be an abbreviated report, but I have a bunch of pictures to share that I hope you guys will enjoy. I only made one pass today, but it was a pretty good one, 9.53 at 141 MPH. My close competitor in the Mustang had trouble on his first pass and could only make a 9.71 on his other pass, so I'm now leading the class by a tenth and a half or so. We will see what happens tomorrow; I don't think I can count the Mustang out, that's for sure.

We got directions to the next track and stopped for the night in Plymouth Michigan. The checkpoint was in a place called Hell, Michigan LOL! The road to Hell was not paved very well at all, and Joel and I did not see any good intentions along it. The jokes were flying fast and furious; today we went to Hell and back, its hot in Hell, but not as hot as we thought it would be, the people in Hell WERE drinking ice water, etc. etc.

Tonight we got together with many of the FE Forum members in the Detroit area for dinner and drinks, and afterwards we went back to the Drag Week host hotel to hang out and bench race. John Vermeersch brought his SOHC Starliner to the dinner and the hotel, and it was pretty cool having two cammer vehicles parked next to each other in the same lot.

Tomorrow morning we drive another 150 miles to Norwalk, and start racing there at noon. The Hot Rod guys want to take some photos of my car tomorrow, so we need to hit a car wash along the way because its covered with bugs and dirt. The car has been running fine with the exception of the starter, which is still acting up and may need to be replaced tomorrow. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Here are some of the photos that I downloaded from my camera, from the last couple of days. First is a picture of the Drag Week stuff unloaded in front of Joel's trailer:

DW09 Start

Here's a shot of the car that burned next to me in the staging lanes:

DW09 Burn

Our first checkpoint after day 1 was this restaurant called Mr. Weenie; see the sign in the background. Joel felt right at home here:

DW09 Weenie

Our second checkpoint was a hardware store with some giant in the front of the building:

DW09 Hardware

Joel is doing his "Captain Stabbin" routine, where he tries to push the steel rods that lock the trailer lid in place through the holes in the trailer top in one push. He is becoming quite accomplished at this feat, and has managed to eat free every night this week as a result of our friendly wagers. I like the trunk monkey better than Captain Stabbin.

DW09 Captain Stabbin'

Welcome to Hell:

DW09 Hell

Here's a shot under the hood of John Vermeersch's SOHC Starliner at the hotel tonight:

DW09 Vermeersch SOHC

And a rear 3/4 shot of his '61 Starliner:

DW09 JV Starliner

It's been a long but very fun day, and I'm looking forward to going down the track tomorrow. I will post again, hopefully with a little more detail, tomorrow night - Jay

Drag Week Day 3, Summit Motorsports Park, Norwalk OH, September 16, 2009

After last night's festivities Joel and I didn't get to sleep until nearly 1:00 AM, but we were up early anyway and on the road to Norwalk before 8:00 AM. I was facing this trip with no small amount of trepidation, because it was the drive between the second and third tracks last year that first revealed the valvetrain problems with the Galaxie. Nevertheless, we had pulled the valve covers and checked the lash and timing chain tension at Martin on Tuesday before leaving the track, and hadn't had to touch anything, plus we had driven 150 miles from Martin already, so things were looking promising at least.

The big issue for us was the starter. For some reason I am having trouble keeping starters in this engine. When I installed it I put in a brand new RobbMc starter, wired as per the instructions despite my misgivings about running a continuously hot wire down between the header pipes. It lasted only about 100 miles before failing to engage properly and grinding on the flywheel. After removing and replacing it several times, I put in a Powermaster starter instead. This Powermaster starter had worked flawlessly on my 504" SOHC (the Hot Rod engine) for 700 miles in my Galaxie, and it worked fine when I installed it on the 585" engine. However, by this morning when it took me at least five or six attempts to get the starter to engage the flywheel long enough for it to start the engine, I knew its time was limited. I brought along a second, brand new Powermaster starter as a backup, and figured I might have to change it at the track.

On the road the Galaxie ran flawlessly for the next 150 miles to Norwalk. We had a few problems with Hot Rod's directions (this is normal; I almost think they screw them up on purpose just to try to throw the competitors off track), and we had to stop for gas a couple of times, but we just left the Gal running when we stopped, and didn't have to use the starter again. Our first checkpoint this morning was at a Cabela's, where we had to take a photo of the car in front of this big statue of two bears:

DW09 Bears

Fifty miles later we checked in at a bait shop called the Happy Hooker:

DW09 Hooker

A few miles later we found ourselves driving along the southern coast of Lake Erie, and we stopped to get this photo with the lake as a backdrop:

DW09 Lake Erie

Shortly afterwards we rolled into Norwalk. Rob Kinnan and Wes Alison from Hot Rod had asked me to get the car cleaned up before coming to the track today, so they could take some pictures for a short feature on the car. Joel has been to Norwalk before (I haven't), and he knew the location of a self service car wash, so we rolled in there and vacuumed out the interior and washed the exterior of the car, all while it sat there running. The engine idles between 750 and 800 RPM at 160 degrees, and seems like it will just go on forever; it has turned out to be very reliable from an idle and off idle performance standpoint. After 25 minutes at the car wash, we headed for the track and got there around 11:30.

Rolling along the service road before turning into the parking lot I spotted LarryK's blown black Galaxie in the pits, so when we came into the lot we drove over and parked next to him. It was really cool to see these two big black Gals next to each other in the pits, one with injector stacks and one with a blower. I think even the Hot Rod guys were impressed.

Racing was scheduled to start at noon, so Joel and I started to get the car into race trim. Across the pits our competitors in the black Mustang were getting ready to run. While we were still getting the Galaxie in race shape the Mustang went out for a pass, but had some problem and had to abort the run. Next time they went out they ran a 9.62, and according to one of the guys who saw it there still appeared to be some traction problems. As I was just getting ready to take the Galaxie into the staging lanes I noticed they had the Mustang up on four jack stands, doing something to it.

My first pass was quite forgettable. Once again I had problems with the 1-2 shift; the car leaves so hard that my hand on the column shift lever wants to jerk it into second gear immediately. I have to guard against that, but this time I failed, and the car went straight to second gear on the launch. I had the shift light set at 7200 RPM, and wanted to shift at 7500, and I was quick on the shifter this time when the shift light came one, but I still just barely bounced off the limiter before hitting third gear. The pass netted me a 9.66, which I found rather disappointing. Also, when I had started the car to go out for the pass the starter had acted up badly again, so when I came back to the pits I decided to take a little break and then try to solve some of the car's problems.

Joel and I pulled the starter out and found the flywheel to be in pretty good shape, but the gear on the starter to be badly worn. We took some measurements of the starter gear engagement depth and found that the Powermaster starter did not push the pinion out far enough to completely engage with the teeth on the flywheel; it only got engagement of .225" - .240", where the gear is at least .375" thick. Another guy who came to see the car at the track (I forget his name, but he has a couple of SOHC engines) told me he had the same issue, called Powermaster, and basically got blown off. I know the dimension to the ring gear from the block plate is correct because I measured it when I had my RobbMc starter installed, so I am at a loss to explain this issue. Nevertheless, I grabbed my spare starter and after filing on it in a few places for clearance, stuck it in the car.

We thought it would be a good idea to change plugs, so Joel took care of that. I also leaned out the EFI a little on the top end because with all the black smoke we figured the engine was running rich. Finally I changed the shift light trigger RPM from 7200 to 7100 to give me a little more time to make the 2-3 shift.

I got ready to run again, and it sure was nice to have the starter actually start the car with no problem. I got strapped in and headed down the staging lanes, but just as I was coming up to the end of the staging area some guy comes running out and stops me. He was a camera tech from Hot Rod, and we wanted to put a windshield mounted camera on my car and record the pass down the track. So, I let him into the car to install the camera, and after a minute or so he left and the track guys waved me to the starting line.

I tried to concentrate a little more on the 1-2 shift, and this time I got it right. Also the 2-3 shift was good, although for some reason the car seemed to hesitate just briefly at the shift point; I don't know why. But on the coast down I knew I'd had a pretty good time, and sure enough the time slip read 9.500, the fastest I'd gone since the test and tune at Muncie.

Turned out the Mustang had run 9.52 a little earlier, so I picked up a measly 2 hundredths on the day. Tomorrow should be very interesting; I know those guys will be doing their best to step it up, because they sure don't want to go into the last day of Drag Week needing to make up a couple tenths.

After turning in my time slips and showing my photos to the girls from Hot Rod, Joel and I got the Galaxie put back into street trim. Before we removed the injector stacks, though, Larry and I parked nose to nose for some photos, like this one:

DW09 Galaxies

By the way, I really enjoyed meeting Larry and checking out his car; it sure is a beauty.

After I removed the stacks and installed the air cleaners the Hot Rod guys wanted to take the pictures of my car, but as I tried to drive over to a building where the photos were to be taken the day's final gremlin appeared, in the form of a non functioning fuel pump. Luckily I was able to get to the bottom of the problem pretty quickly by wiggling the wire connections on my Aeromotive fuel pump controller; this caused the pump to come on and off, and I found the faulty connector and crimped the terminal so that it would make good contact.

After Wes Alison took the pictures Joel and I packed up the trailer and hit the road. The drive to our hotel in Akron was uneventful, and only about 60 miles. We have a 180 mile trip to make tomorrow morning before we make it to National Trail, so we will be up early and on the road, hopefully with no problems. I'll post another update tomorrow night.

Drag Week 2009, Day 4, National Trail Raceway, September 17, 2009

Joel and I had a pretty good day today. We kicked it off early by hitting the road about 7:15 AM in the Galaxie, and followed the event directions to the first checkpoint, Summit Racing, just ten or fifteen miles away. Summit opened early for us at 7:30, and had their parking lot blocked off, but as the Drag Week cars entered they pulled away the cones and let us inside for a Drag Week only parking area. A group of the Summit employees were standing out in front of the building when Joel and I rolled up in the Galaxie. We parked in the lot and came back up to the front and chatted with them for a while. One of the executive types asked, "What kind of times do you run?". I told him I was running 9.50s. He said, "Oh... you are running the eighth mile?" I told him quarter mile, and he just got this puzzled, dumbfounded look on his face LOL! Joel and I giggled about that all the way to Columbus. Moments like that are why I just love to build sleepers!

Walking into Summit Racing was like walking into a speedshop on steroids. I think I counted 55 different carburetors on one shelf. Here's a photo of the outside of the place, and one of the inside:

DW09 Summit 1 DW09 Summit 3

Never seen a speed shop with a couple of dragsters hanging from the ceiling before. While we were there I took the opportunity to buy a backup starter and an extra set of plugs for the Galaxie. We grabbed a little free coffee provided by Summit, and then hit the road for the next checkpoint.

The directions for this section of the route were completely screwed up. After managing to make our way through most of it, we finally came down a road where the required turn simply did not exist. A group of 7 or 8 Drag Week cars were running around here in different directions, and they all started following me (like I had any idea where I was going!) Finally I pulled over into a driveway on the road and everybody else stopped there too, we all got out of our cars and were trying to make sense of the directions. After a couple minutes a lady rode up on a John Deere four wheeler; she lived there, and had correctly surmised that we were lost. We were all looking for route 43, and she was able to steer us in the right direction, and we finally got there using her directions.

We were driving around in eastern Ohio on the county roads, and everything was two lane with a lot of sharp turns and up and down hills, so it seemed to take forever to get to the next checkpoint. It turned out to be in a town called Cadiz; it was a cool old building used as the courthouse. Here's a photo of the Galaxie in front of the building:

DW09 Courthouse

After leaving Cadiz we ran another 50 miles or so on the winding roads, and finally hit the interstate for the drive to National Trail. With two stops for gas and the 20 minutes we spent at Summit Racing, it had taken us five hours to make the trip. We rolled into the track and they were racing already. Trying to keep an eye on our competitors, Joel and I got to work swapping the car to race trim. We took our time today; my strategy was to make one pass, and make it count, to minimize wear and tear on the car. We had already covered over 200 miles earlier in the day, and had no trouble, and I didn't want to push my luck.

Our competitor in the Mustang seemed to be having some problems today. On one pass we saw he only ran 9.80, with a pretty slow 60 foot time; we talked to Roger about it and he said the car was bogging off the line for some reason. Sometime during the day when we were not watching he managed to get a 9.66 pass off, but we saw a couple of late passes where he just had to shut the car down after a few hundred feet. Later he said he was having some fuel problems, and had changed carbs to try to solve them, but with no luck. They were going to try to make the drive tonight with the car the way it was, and run again tomorrow.

There was tech at the track today, so after getting the Galaxie ready to go I went on up to the staging lanes and got teched in. The staging lanes were empty, so I pulled into the left side burnout box, did the burnout and staged the car. When I left the car felt like it spun a little, and according to Joel it didn't pick up the front wheels, but despite this it felt like a pretty strong launch. I got out of first early and clean, and had a good clean 2-3 shift also. The car ran to 7500 through the traps, with no problems in the shut down area, but at the end of the track the tech guy waved me to a stop and looked in the car to make sure that I was wearing my neck brace (which I was). He then congratulated me on a good pass, and I drove on up to the timing shack. The car had gone 1.379 in the 60', which was pretty good given the tire slip, and ran 9.52 at 141 MPH. I was pretty happy with the pass, and went on back to the pits.

Joel and I sat on lawn chairs in the pits for a while discussing the racing with a few other people, then grabbed a little lunch at the snack bar. As we were eating by the Galaxie we suddenly noticed a flatbed truck approaching, and we were very disappointed to see the 57 Ford on it! It was TomP and Mike, getting towed into the track after breaking on the road. It turned out that just after the checkpoint in Cadiz, the car started making a terrible racket, and removal of one of the valve covers revealed a broken valve spring and bent valve. Bummer! Mike had been figuring out how to drive the car and seemed to be running pretty consistently, and may have been a factor in the bracket race at the end of the event. The broken spring took them out of the competition. It had been cool seeing the 57 bomb down the track, and a lot of the other racers had positive comments about the car, so it was a shame that it had to withdraw. Mike and Tom are going to try to get a lift back to Muncie tomorrow to pick up their truck and trailer, stay around for the last day of Drag Week, and then head back to National Trail to pick up the car. I can really sympathize with those guys, because I was dealt the same blow last year. I hope they come back next year and make the complete circuit.

I spent the afternoon trying to decide whether to run again or not, because the first pass had gone so well, but towards the end of the day we decided to pack it up and head to the hotel. I turned in my time slip at the tower and got the directions for the next drive, which was about 200 miles, back to Muncie. The hotel was only about 10 miles away, so we drove there and went out to dinner. Joel was nice enough to buy tonight, even though he claimed I still owed him for one of our Captain Stabbin bets. Its hard to feel sorry for a guy who is complaining about spending 90 bucks though, when he just sold his Auburn boattail speedster so he could buy his Duesenberg.

So, for us Drag Week comes down to tomorrow. I think we have about a three tenth of a second cumulative lead in our class after today, meaning that the Mustang has to beat us by three tenths tomorrow to win. The Galaxie has been running great, and Muncie was a hookin' track last Sunday and Monday, so if we can make the drive I think we can pull off another 9.50 and put the win away. We'll be on the road by 9:00 tomorrow running for the track. Wish us luck, guys - Jay

Drag Week 2009, Day 5, Muncie Dragway, September 18, 2009

First I have to say I'm blown away by the congratulations on my earlier post. It really means a lot to me to have so much support from the FE Forum, and I'm glad you guys enjoyed following along with the event. Thanks for all the kind words, guys!

Friday morning on the last day of Drag Week Joel and I got up a little later; Muncie would not open until 3:00 PM, and we only had about 200 miles to go, so we didn't get out to the car until around 8:00 AM. After Thursday I had about a three tenths of a second cumulative lead over Red Johnson's car, which put me in a pretty good position for Friday. All I really had to do was make it to the track, and put in a solid run to lock away the win. As a result, I woke up paranoid about the drive to the track, and had decided the night before to pull the valve covers and check the lash to head off any potential problems. I got to work on that right away after going out to the car, and after checking all the valves, and the tension on the timing chain, I found that I didn't have to make any adjustments at all! The valvetrain was really hanging together well.

After re-assembling the car, Joel and I hit the road. Our first stop was only a few miles away, at a local Jegs store. Here's a photo of the Gal in front of the checkpoint:

DW09 Jegs

We had used our last quart of oil at the previous track (the car had been going through about a quart for every 250 mile drive + track), so we went into Jegs and picked up a few more quarts of Valvoline 20W-50, and then hit the road.

Following the directions we drove along a bunch of state roads in Ohio towards Dayton. Along the way a maroon 2008 or 2009 F150 pulled up next to us, and the guy in the passenger seat leaned out and took a bunch of photos as we were going down the road. They then followed us for 30 miles or so; I figured maybe they were photographers with the event, or maybe FE Forum folks, but eventually they disappeared as we continued on. We drove through a bunch of small towns, and then ended up on the interstate for a stretch. I was sitting on pins and needles the whole way; waiting for the stutter in the engine or the chassis noise that would indicate a problem, but it never came. We crossed into Indiana around 1:30 and headed for the second checkpoint, a bowling alley called the Rose Bowl. Here's a photo of the car in the parking lot:

DW09 Rose Bowl

Back on the road we had about another 45 minutes worth of driving, and then we recognized that we were on the road heading to the track. As we pulled into Muncie it felt like the hardest part of the week was behind us. I always knew the car would run well at the track; to me the real test this week was to see if the engine would survive the drive without the same problems I encountered last year. But it ran like a million bucks all the way, and as I pulled into a spot at the track the engine settled right down to the 750 RPM idle it had at the beginning of the trip. It sounds just like a 390 with a truck cam in it at idle, just a little bit of a lope. 900 HP, and it idles like a truck! What an engine.

As we got out of the car Joel and I were greeted by a bunch of well wishers, from the FE Forum and elsewhere. Seems like everybody is watching this car. Earlier in the week, a guy came over to me in the pits and introduced himself as the editor of Super Chevy magazine! He was blown away by the Galaxie. As I was standing there talking to him, Rob Kinnan from Hot Rod and Rick Johnson from Gear Vendors also came over, and we chatted it up for a little bit. Rick Johnson commented that he loved the fact that the car had a bench seat. I said, "Yea, with that big cushy bench seat and the bright red interior, it kind of feels like you're driving around in a bordello!" They laughed and laughed, and Kinnan threatened to use the quote in the magazine. Ruh roh...

After the car was ready to go I went off to change into my racing clothes, and on the way I ran into Roger Tangorra, who was driving Red Johnson's car. He told me they had found the problem with their car; the distributor clamp was not locking down the distributor, and the timing was changing after they set it! On Thursday they had run a 9.62, then a 9.80, and then a bunch of shut down runs because the car kept running slower and slower. They made the drive on Thursday night, then found the problem on Friday morning. I wondered how they would run with the right timing in the car...

After changing into the race clothes I came back to the car to make a few final checks. I was nervous, and very intent on making a good run on the first pass, to just get a good one in the bank for the day. Up at the line, Roger staged Red's car, and I watched anxiously for his results. He ran a 9.46, his best pass of the week! On his way past my car in the pits I told him he was making me nervous, then I got ready to go in the Galaxie.

All reports were that the tracking was hooking great, so I rolled up into the staging lanes and shut the car off to get ready for the pass. Joel came up and helped me get strapped in; we decided to go into the tower lane for the pass. I restarted and went up to the front of the lane, and got waved up to the burnout box right away. I did a long 2-3 burnout, and went to the line focusing on my 1-2 shift. The lights came down and the car launched, and it seemed like it took off harder than I'd ever felt it before. My 1-2 shift was clean, and I had to adjust a little going down the track, and then the shift light flashed and I was late, and the rev limiter popped twice before I made it into third; damn, that was going to cost me a few hundredths. Through the traps the car felt really strong, and rather than waiting to get back to the pits before looking at my slip like I usually do, I took a quick peak right after I got it. 9.495, the best pass of the event, and almost as good as the 9.48 I ran at the test and tune! Then I saw the 60'; I'd been running 1.37 and 1.38 all week, and this pass was a 1.33!

Back in the pits Joel said it was the first time he saw the car really hook right all week, and Wes Allison, one of the photographers from Hot Rod, said the car pulled the front wheels a foot and a half off the ground. Unfortunately, nobody I know got a picture except Wes, so I didn't get to see it. Later after the awards ceremony I talked to Wes and he gave me his card and told me to email him for a copy of the photo. I can't wait to see it!

Now I felt pretty secure about the win; I calculated that Red's Mustang would have to run a 9.131 to beat me, and I didn't figure that the car had a run like that in it. The only thing that I wasn't real happy about was that Roger had run faster than I had. I decided to let the car cool down for a while and then make another pass. Joel and I got out the lawn chairs and sat down in the shade of the hood of the car and talked for a while with the rest of the guys who were there. Curt Johnson came over and offered his congratulations, and we talked some about Drag Week 2007, when Curt's Chevelle pretty much stomped my Mach 1 in BB/PA. On Tuesday that year Curt blew his Turbo 400 on his first pass, and didn't get a time. Fortunately, the track was Great Lakes Dragaway, and Curt lives in Rockford Illinois, so he called a friend and had him bring a spare trans to the track. They slammed it into the Chevelle just in time to make another pass before the 2:00 PM deadline. The car broke this trans during the pass too, but it kept going and recorded a 10 second ET, keeping Curt in the race. Last time I talked to Curt that day he was headed home in the Chevelle in second gear to rebuild the transmission that night. He told us on Friday that on the way home the rear end started going out, so that night they rebuilt the Turbo 400 and slammed a different center section into the 9" in the Chevelle. Then, on the route up to Wisconin International Raceway at 2:00 in the morning, the bolt that holds the alternator on the engine broke off, and the belts started squealing like mad! The car had no charging system now, and the bolt was broken off behind the motor plate making the stub in the head impossible to grab. Apparently some guy in a pickup came along and offered to help, took Curtis to his place and set him up with a drill and a drill bit. They came back to the gas station where the car was, managed to center drill the bolt without going off into the aluminum cylinder head, stuck a Philips screwdriver in their and got the stub turned out. They replaced it and went on their way, getting to the hotel at 3:00 in the morning. I love hearing those Drag Week war stories, because I've been there and can really sympathize with what a competitor has to go through. Curt earned the win that year, that's for sure.

By around 6:00 the car had cooled sufficiently for me to make another pass, so I got ready to go again. Joel and I went through our routine in the staging lanes, and I pulled into the water box right behind Jim Neuenfeldt's wagon (Jim is the guy who won SB/PA in 2005 after Steve and I tipped him off that his competitor might be getting on the trailer). We had talked to Jim at the host hotel the previous evening, and he figured that on Thursday at National Trail he'd hurt the engine. He had already made one easy pass and the car seemed to be OK, so he was going for it on this one. As I watched from the burnout box Jim got 200 feet down the track and then a big cloud of smoke came out from under the car, and it disappeared from sight. 30 seconds later the smoke cleared, and the car was gone! It was like some kind of a magic trick, except then in the distance I saw it coming back down the return road.

The track guys had me shut off while they went out to check the track. Fortunately it had not been oiled down, so after a couple of minutes they gave me the burnout sign, so I fired up and did another long burnout, hoping for another good hook. The car left hard again, and it felt like I hit the 1-2 shift perfectly, but suddenly the car was on the limiter! I glanced down and saw the shift lever indicator in the correct position, but no second gear! I let off and coasted down the track. At the end I went through the gears and everything was fine, except that I noticed I had to pull the lever a little harder than usual to get into second, so I figured right away that I had a cable adjustment to make on the linkage. The time slip said the 60 foot time was 1.35, another really good time for the car, I was probably in the middle of a good run when I missed second. Oh well, I parked the car in the pits.

After thinking about it for a while, I decided not to make another pass. I think the car would have run better if I just adjusted the linkage and tried again, but I was ready to call it a day. I turned in my time slip up at the tower, and then with the help of a bunch of the guys and a couple of trucks Joel and I got all our stuff together and drove over to the other side of the track to put the car on the trailer and pack up all the spare parts and tools. By the time we were done with that, they were running the daily driver bracket race, so we came back to the pit side of the track and watched the race for a while.

Finally after the track closed at 9:00 all the racers gathered in the stands for the awards ceremony. They had set up some cameras and banners in front of the stands, as well as a table with all the prizes on it. Joel was getting chilly, so he took off back to the trailer with one of the guys who came to watch to get our jackets. While I was sitting there in the stands the phone rang, and the caller ID said it was home. It was my wife and daughter, informing me that I was on live streaming video at the Hot Rod web site! I looked up, and sure enough there was a camera pointed almost directly at me. Glad I wasn't picking my nose or scratching my ass or something LOL! I promised my wife to say hi to the kids when I got up to the front, and hung up.

A few minutes later Joel got back with the jackets, and shortly thereafter the awards ceremony began. They called me up as the winner of the Modified NA class, and I said hi to Katie and Max to the camera, then went to get my prizes. I won a $1000 gift certificate from Gear Vendors that could also be redeemed for $500 in cash, some Rustoleum garage floor paint, a neon Nitrous Oxide Systems clock, and a case of Amsoil. Kinnan also mentioned a gift certicate from Summit Racing, but I think I have to call to get that one. I also get a winner's jacket, and the Hot Rod folks took my size and will mail it off to me when it is ready.

We said goodbye to our friends and hit the road back to the hotel. Joel and I had a late breakfast at IHOP, and then were up early Saturday morning for the trip back to Minneapolis. It felt pretty good riding home as the winner this year; I remember how tough the ride back had been last year after breaking the car, and how I had vowed to get to the bottom of the problems with the engine and solve them. It was time well spent, and the results this year proved out the combination.

Having a little time to reflect in the truck on the way back yesterday, it was abundantly clear why I keep running this event. It has become a real racing fraternity, and it is like a big social gathering of people with the same attitudes during the week of the race. I love seeing all my old friends from Drag Weeks past, and meeting new ones too. This year we really got to know the guys from Rockford, Illinois, and they were just a blast to hang out with at the track. They were great guys and great competitors, and we really had fun together. Saw all my old pals from Drag Week years gone by, and missed all the ones who couldn't make it this year, including David Freiburger from Hot Rod, who was stuck in the office in CA putting the latest issue of Hot Rod Deluxe together. I sure hope David makes it back next year; its his event really, and it just doesn't seem quite like Drag Week without him there.

We rolled into Minneapolis at 8:30 last night, unloaded the car and trailer, and Joel took off. I was in bed and asleep almost immediately, being completely worn out. Today I'm looking forward to giving the car an oil change and a bath, and cruising around a little just for fun. Wonder if I'll meet any other mid 9 second cars on the cruise LOL!

Thanks again to all you guys from the FE Forum who offered support and encouragement during the event, and especially to the guys who showed up at the track. I really appreciate the support. I'm already thinking about next year....