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Open Sports Nationals - 25 27 August 2007

For the first time since the Easter Thunderball this year, we managed a whole meeting without a single drop of rain.

On arrival at Shakespeare County the place looked like a ploughed field. I guess with all the rain that has fallen over the "summer" the staff had done a good job in flattening what must have been a muddy field. Leaving at least a flat area to park the campers and assorted support vehicles. Even the general camping area seems to have suffered badly from the weather this year.

Once parked up we wait for the scrutineers to come round and check out the car. After the usual "cat-and-mouse" we get scrutineered, and the car is adorned with what must be the smallest sticker yet. So small in fact that when another scrutineer came wandering round the pits they failed to notice that we had already been seen to.

The schedule had promised us three runs on Saturday, and as the weather was perfect for racing, we hoped that we would indeed get out three shots. At around 1PM we were called to the pairing lanes, and lined up against Paul Knight. Both drivers pulled a cherry, and we broke out. At least both Andy and Paul have got the red lights out of their system.

When we get back to the pits we look over the timing ticket and decide on what to take out of the car to slow it down, and at around 5PM we are called to the pairing lanes for our second qualifier. Once again we happen to be up against Paul Knight, and once again we run under the index - still bottom qualifier.

As there is a 6 pm curfew on racing at Shakey, we are denied our third run of the day, so it is time to sit back and enjoy a couple of cold beers.

On Sunday, it is decided that a new rotation will be introduced for racing and that our "missed" round will be slotted in the middle of the day. So at around 1PM we are called to the pairing lanes. As the weather conditions are almost identical to yesterday, we take a bit more out of the car hoping to run a time just on the right side of the index. No such luck, still running too fast. To add insult to injury many of the other cars in the class are struggling to make enough power. I wish they could take some of ours!

We are told that our "extra" run will be slotted into the next rotation, so it is a quick trip back to the pits, fuel the car, reset the throttle stops to take more time out the car, and off we go again. Still no luck - another breakout.

Or fifth and final qualifying run of the meeting comes just before 6 o'clock, and again we broke out. We took so much time out of the car over the five runs and yet the car was still running almost the same. Our best ticket was 8.886 - just 4 thousandths of a second from the index, however it might as well have been 4 seconds, as in this class, under the index is no use.

Over dinner and a few drinks we think over the problems with the car. With the help and invaluable assistance of Zane Llewellyn who used to drive a Ford powered Dragster in the class, it is determined that the problem lies with the throttle stop mechanism. We decide to leave the car for the night and have a look in the morning.

Monday, and Eliminations dawn, more bright dry weather. We look at the throttle stop mechanism, and find that the throttle regulator is set far too high. When the car has been running we have seen what looked like the throttle stops coming in and out, but what has actually been happening is that the revs have only been dropping by about 500 - 1000, as opposed to about 2500 as we would expect. We readjust the throttle and put in a setup into the throttle stops - based more on guesswork rather than computer based predictions as we have so drastically altered the setup of the car.

We set off to the pairing lanes, and are paired against Shaun Lathan. Andy decides that the tune up in the car should allow him to race shaun "old school" and drive around his opponent, rather than rely on electronics.

The car stages, the lights burn down, and the car launches. The throttle stops come on, and shaun shoots into the lead. Unfortunately the throttle on Wild Child seems to take an age to come back on, and by the time it does, shaun has already won.

We get back to the pits and discover that the reason the throttle did not come back on again, was that the air bottle was set to deliver only 35 PSI and not the 90 or so we normally use. Oh well, another valuable lesson learned.

Next up will be the press day prior to the European Finals at Santa Pod

Danish Midsummer Nationals

Wild Child on Tour 2007

Summer Nationals - 16-17 June 2007

Arrive at the track on Friday afternoon, and get the camper in position in the pits. Despite all the recent bad weather, we look forward optomistically to the weekends racing.

Once the camper is hooked up to the electricity, we decide to tow the car down to the startline and round to scrutineering. Once we get our sticker for the meeting we push the car back to the pits and prepare dinner.

Saturday dawns, and guess what, it is raining. As it looks as though there will be no racing at all on Saturday, we decide to take all the panels off the car and give it a good clean and polish. Having cleaned down the rear of the car, we notice under what looked like paint flakes, that the chassis had started to get stressed where the engine mounts on to the chassis. In addition we noticed that at the front of the car, the extra cross bracing had started to crack.

Fortunately the race director called the day without a wheel being turned. The problems with the chassis, presenting potential problems for the trip to Denmark next week.

We approached Jon Webster, who was at the track with his own Street Eliminator car, and he agreed that the car needed welding and that he could fit it into his workshop on the Moday after the event.

Sunday dawned and at least the weather was dry, so there would at least be some racing. Given the cracks on the chassis, we decided that we would take not part int he meeting, and could spectate. Qualifying was decided on a single run and the meeting then ran to a conclusion, Well done to all thos organising the event, getting all the eliminations and a round of qualifying in over a single day.

In between watching the racing we decided to strip down the car prior to welding, so all the panels were removed and the electical systems isolated.

At the conclusion of the event we packed up the trailer and camper and followed Jon back to his workshop.

Early on Monday morning Andy pushed the car into the workshop, and the guys got to work fabricating the various bits to recitfy the problems. By the end of the day the car was back on the trailer, repaired and ready to race again. Many thanks to Jon Webster and his team at the workshop. You saved the trip to Denmark.

FIA Main Event – 25 to 28 May 2007

After wonderful weather for the previous few days, the forecast for the Main event wasn’t promising! However, it the reality could have been worse.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and already there were lots of competitors at Santa Pod.

There has been much discussion about when the throttle stop should cut the power in the run. The crew unanimously favour it happening later than has previously been the case; so that the car has a chance to launch, hook up, establish forward motion, pass the 60’ line (giving valuable data) and change gear before the throttle stop comes into play; but Andy, the driver isn’t so keen. He likes to have the power back on earlier so that he can run a more traditional race. A compromise needs to be found.

Cutting the power at three seconds and returning it at 5 seconds means that the power is back on just before the half way mark; however, this is only about 2 ½ seconds before the end of the 8.9 second race. This makes it feel to Andy as if he barely got the power back before he is at the finish line. On Friday various settings for the throttle stop to cut the power are tried. 3 seconds, 2 seconds and then finally 2.3 seconds is settled on.

Saturday morning dawns a little cool but dry. Now comes the clever bit - to calculate when to put the power back on. Weather readings, such as temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed and direction are taken into account and also the state of the track. All the team are very pleased with the results for this first attempt 8.9328 seconds and only beaten by Paul Knight (current in second place) by 1 thousandth of a second. This moves the team up from 15th place to 5th place. The team are gagging to get back up the track but are not scheduled to do so until 5pm. They use the opportunity to wander around like visitors to watch others compete and browse the many stands. Normally there just isn’t time for this.

At last we were called. Maggie had been running predictions using as a base our new throttle stop setting data for a while, so we were prepared for the run at short notice. The car had also been warmed up, surprising passers by with the noise and force that comes out of the exhausts. Action stations and off down to the fire up road to join our class and wait our turn to race. Maggie waited back at the pits running checks on the data using the changing weather conditions every five minutes so that up to date settings could be applied to the throttle stops just before the run. Vic, Dave, Pete and Tom went with Andy down to the start line.

There was a long pause. There was down time on the track, so all waited while the track was cleaned up. Then the racing restarted. However, a very black sky had rolled over during the down time. Then the rain started and the race director sensibly called the rest of the evening’s racing off. Everyone was to go back to the pits.

Then the trouble really started. Something was gushing out over the back tyres! It looked like transmission oil. The crew got the car back to the pits as quickly as possible. Andy, Pete, Tom Maggie and Pam built the large tent around the car to protect it from the rain, while Vic and Dave removed the back wheels, and then the radiator. The theory arrived at was that the transmission radiator was suspect. Proceedings were not helped by the electricity supply (which had been on and off all day) finally giving up the ghost. Although the camper van is designed to be totally self sufficient and has an on board generator, it had been rewired to use the electricity supply compulsorily paid for in the entry fee at Santa Pod (whether you use it or not). Generators in the pit area are no longer allowed to be used. This meant that there were no outside lights or power for such things as the air line to flush through the radiator and test it for leaks. The electric supply had been intermittent for the whole event and was now nonexistent.

After three and a half hours the crew gave up and went to eat their well earned dinner at about midnight. Still no electricity and the rain carried on steadily.

The next morning was just as miserable and still no electricity. Maggie went to speak to Darren Prentice, the race director, who took ownership of the problem and sent an electrician round to sort matters out. As an American outfit a 110 converter was used and had tripped out, probably towards the end of the previous day’s constant fluctuations in power. It had obviously done its’ job and protected the computer and other items. So, at last power was restored.

Work recommenced on Wild Child. Starting her up without the radiator showed that the shaft to the gear box was leaking and so further work needed to be done.

Springspeed Meeting
(round 2 of the UK Super Comp Drag Racing Championship)

5th to 7th May 2007

Friday 4th May
(Arrival and setup)
The camper and trailer arrive early in the afternoon, and are soon setup. The weather is currently warm and dry, however the weather forecast for the weekend is not promising. A good early qualifier will be important as we may lose qualifying runs later in the weekend due to the weather.

As is the norm at Shakespeare County, the scrutineers come to your pit as opposed to the situation at Santa Pod, where you take your vehicle to the scrutineers. The usual game of cat and mouse is played out between us and the scrutineers, but eventually we get scrutineered and get our sticker for the weekend. We are now ready to race, so we put the cover on the car and start celebrating Maggie's birthday.

Saturday 5th May
Super Comp is scheduled to run fairly late in the rotation of classes, so we have a leisurely start to the day. The remaining members of the crew arrive, and sign on, and we wait to be called to the pairing lanes.
As we are trying a slightly different setup in the car and therefore have no real base data to go on, we make some educated guesses on the setup and are ready to run

Run 1. 8.96225 at 156.03 MPH
Not a bad run, although the car did leave the line early and pulled a cherry (not a problem in qualifying), but at least it is on the right side of the index. The run will give us some data on which to refine the setup on the car for subsequent runs.

Run 2: 8.64675 at 156.32 MPH
Based on the first run earlier in the day we set the car to run ever so slightly faster - what we got was a bit of a surprise - a whopping breakout, at least this time the reaction time was better.

We were scheduled to get a third run on Saturday, but time ran out and we end day 1 in 3rd spot.

Sunday 6th May

The race organisers have decided to start where they left off on Saturday evening, so we have a reasonably early first run, and we should get three runs in today, weather permitting

Run 3. 8.76707 at 155.89 MPH
We wanted to take some more speed out of the car, to avoid another breakout, which we managed, we simply did not take enough out. Reading the conditions here is tricky.

Run 4: 8.83031 at 155.39 MPH
Allowing for the weather conditions we take more power out the car and head down to the startline. Just prior to the run there are a couple of spots of rain, so we are held for a short while prior to running. The run itself was better, if still marginally quick

Run 5. 9.77755 at 153.76 MPH
The last qualifier, and we are confident now that we have got a feel for the weather and track conditions- what do we know, we could have walked up the track quicker than this run.

By the end of the 5 rounds of qualifying we are sitting in 4th position.

Monday 7th May - Eliminations


We have hardly seen any rain since before the Easter Thunderball at Santa Pod, but it more than made up for it today. Awoke to find a steady, but wetting drizzle, with virtually no wind, so the prospect of any racing was not good.
Many of the teams decided that there would be no racing at all, but we decide to wait until the meeting is officially called off.
The track staff struggled valiantly and did get the track dried at about 11.30, when they got about 30 or so vehicles down the track, but then the heavens opened again, and the meeting was called.

Easter Thunderball
(round 1 of the UK Super Comp Drag Racing championship)
6th to 9th April 2007

Friday 6th April
Qualifying Day 1

An early start with the temperature still low at 54°F and humidity 62%. The air feels good and fresh so we expect the car to go reasonably fast. However, the new track surface for the first 60’ of track is reputed to be like glass and not sticky; so traction is likely to be poor and to spoil the launch.

When our class is called we head down the fire up road full of optimism for the first run of the season; the crew breaking out into a run for the last part as Andy is already near the start line and is waiting to be strapped in to the car.

The team launch into their well practiced routine as if we were only here last weekend rather than last September, over six months ago. Dave is regulating the tyre pressure down to 5.5psi which is a low figure for Santa Pod; to give added traction on the launch (we know that start line traction is down on last year). Maggie is loosening the retraining straps and Sandy is holding Andy’s kit and handing it to him: crash helmet, neck brace, arm restraints and gloves as Andy is doing up his fireproof race jacket that matches his trousers.

The steering wheel is removed to allow space for Andy to get into the car and elbow room to tighten the restraining straps: one up between Andy’s legs, two across from each side, which link into the straps on his wrists which restrict his arms and one over each shoulder. Then Maggie tightens the straps up so that Andy cannot move. Safety is paramount. She slots the steering wheel back into place. We are all set to go.
From this point the crew chief is in charge.

There are several crews at the start line and they confer, especially regarding the issue of the new part of track. The results of other race teams prove the point – traction over the first 60’ of the track is at a premium. The glue on the newly resurfaced part of the track is just pulling up with each passing race car. The track crew do a wonderful job re-laying the glue and putting down more rubber. Our first run wasn’t great, as the timing ticket suggested, the start line was not up to the usual standard, however, from run number 2 onwards the track had settled down and was providing good traction for the cars, even if it did not feel the same as last year when walking on it.

The crew secure ear defenders in place and from now on communication is done with hand signals. The marshal signals to the crew chief to move to the start line. The team again move into the well practiced roles to guide Andy into the correct position for Wild Child to do the burn out. Maggie goes ahead to make sure the wide sweep Wild Child needs to turn the 90 degrees to face up the track is carried out successfully and signals to Andy accordingly. Then shows him where the bleach box is to dip the tyres through to wet them ready for the burn out, and signals for him to hold the car at that point.

Andy watches for the starter to signal for burnouts to begin and off he goes. Maggie races after him to get ahead of Wild Child and direct him to reverse the large slicks at the rear of the car back into the rubber he has just laid down. Dave appears behind the car to signal to Maggie who signals to Andy from the front. Andy cannot turn his head and so needs his crew to be his eyes. Dave checks the tyre and track temperatures and removes the parachute safety pin while Maggie signals to Andy to wait, while she continues the process of looking and listening to the car for signs of anything going wrong. The marshals are doing the same and there are always fire extinguishers at the ready. These cars are geared up for a controlled explosion to launch them. The pressure on all systems is enormous for a short period of time. The more experienced the crew members become the better. Maggie gives Andy the signal that all is good for go and she and Dave move to the side of the track into the safe area.

Andy creeps the car forward to light the first lights. This is pre-stage. He then waits for his opponent to do the same. They then both creep forward to light the second set of lights. This is stage. Both cars bring the revs up to a high pitch, ready for the launch. The starter sets the lights and they signal to start. Both cars must have been keen because the both red light. In other words, the both broke the beam too early. This is a qualifying run, so it doesn’t matter.

The car does a series of hops, polishing the track at each one. The advice was correct. Wild Child is having difficulty gaining traction. However, once she grips, she is off on a good run which sounds sweet to the crew. 9.203 seconds; a bit slow, but that is to be expected, considering the launch. They are pleased with the rest of the run. The top speed is almost 157mph. A normal speed for Wild Child; so she is showing no apparent ill effects from the long winter months of inactivity.

Saturday 7 April 2007
Qualifying – day 2

The crew have been discussing the start line procedure. They decide to inflate the tyres to 6psi and start the burnout in the water in the bleach box. This should give a better burn out and get the tyres hotter and therefore more inflated.

Apart from the still low sun being in Maggie’s eyes so she had difficulty seeing Dave’s hand signals resulting in a rather sharp correction to put Andy back in the correct position for launch – all went to plan from the crew’s point of view. It was warmer than yesterday but still fairly cool, being 58.1oF and humidity was still fairly high at 54%. Andy handed his glasses to Maggie because they fogged up. He raised the visor on his crash helmet a touch because that too had fogged up. As he set off he had the wind straight into his eyes and then a stone or fly shot into his left eye. Not the best of things for anyone – especially if you are driving a dragster at 157.93mph, which was the speed at which Andy crossed the finish line. Apart from these minor hitches, the run went to plan putting the team up to 6th place in the qualifying. It is all to play for and they hope to shave off a little more to get to that magical perfect 8.900 seconds once again as they did at this meeting two years ago.

As always, the crew and friends join in the post mortem discussion on the way back to the pits from each individual’s perspective and Andy joins in when he returns to the pits. Everything happens so fast that this is imperative for maximising the information and a positive and interesting discussion ensues on what worked, what didn’t and what can be done better with everyone joining in. We all learn from each other and improve our already good communication skills further. When down at the start line we all rely on each other and have to read signals and body language. We need to be open and clear about what we are saying. This is an important and valuable part of drag racing. It sometimes includes members of other crews and much joking goes on about the sharing secrets.

Back at the pits the crew are pleased to see a family they met at the start of this meeting, on the Thursday evening. Most racers are keen to promote the sport they love so much and will spend time with people who ask questions and are interested. Andy had put each of the three children into the driving seat of the dragster and pictures were taken.

Lots of questions were asked and they were brought up to speed about what the crew had changed and why and what the outcome had been. They proved to be very observant and the crew were interested in their observations from the stand, which gives a different perspective again from that gained at the start line or further up the track. The crew are looking forward to seeing the family again as the meeting progresses.

Sunday 8th April
Qualifying Day 3 / Eliminations Round 1

As the class had more that 16 cars entered, a first round of eliminations was held on Sunday evening. Unfortunately for us, qualifying in 10th place we were drawn against Chris Issacs driving the Standard Vanguard, who had been running the numbers consistently all weekend. It was quite late into the evening when we were called to go down to the pairing lanes for the eliminations, so we checked the weather, and forecast that the temperature would drop, making the car more powerful. So we increased the throttle stop slightly. We waited for about 45 minutes prior to running, and unknown to us not only had the temperature dropped but the humidity had increased quite significantly as we were waiting to run. As a consequence the car ran slower than anticipated and never managed to catch Chris.

Congratulations Chris, you beat us again. Oh well back on the trailer – we will be able to watch all the racing on Monday.
Whilst we were hoping for a better result from the meeting overall, the car ran well, we just made the wrong tune up calls. We live and learn.