Monday, June 16, 2008

HOT HOT HOT!!! Budds Creek wrap up

We had a reasonably successful trip to the IHRA Presidents' Club Nationals in Budds Creek this weekend. Butch arrived with the transport on Thursday, and had everything set up when we rolled in at 4AM on Friday morning after driving all night from Piedmont.

We were on a great pass on Friday night's qualifying session when we dropped a few cylinders just past half track, and I got pushed around so bad that I had to click it off. We went 5.29 at only 220, which ended up being our only qualifying run of the weekend as we skipped Saturday afternoon's session and Saturday night got rained out. Luckily it was good enough for the 7th spot.

I had someone ask me how it feels when you drop a cylinder and get pushed around the track, and best I can describe it is the like the feeling you get when you get passed on the highway by a big truck, and your car gets pushed over. Only in a funny car it's about 10x as intense. I had the wheel full left and I was still moving to my right toward the wall at 250+ so I had to shut off and coast through the lights.

Speaking of Saturday, we sat out the first afternoon qualifying session when the cars in front of us all couldn't make it down the track. The track temp was 147 degrees, which is about as hot as I've ever seen it. When tracks get that hot, all the oil and grease trapped in the track surface rises up and makes the track very slick. Air temp was 90, no clouds in the sky and just wicked hot. We run more pressure in the tires to get more contact area on the ground when the track is hot, and I can't remember ever setting them higher than we had in preparation for that round.

On Sunday we faced Matt Hagen in round one. Matt's in his first year of nitro funny car and is doing fairly well. They beat us in Milan when we lost our blower belt, so we felt like we owed him. We both lauched clean, but he started having traction issues a couple hundred feet out, and I was on a clean run until about 800 feet. At that point I heard the motor start to rev and the back of the car lifted up as we started spinning the tires. I had no idea Matt was having issues, so I pedaled the car by taking my foot out of the throttle for a split second and then rolling back into it gently. If you stomp on it when you pedal you risk a backfire, or worse, so I pedaled it gently and we went 5.40 which was good enough for the win.

In round two, we faced Mr Consistency, Dale Creasy, Jr. I swear we must be 0-10 against him, and he NEVER has a bad run when we're in the other lane. Of course, he ran a great 5.11 on a 140 degree track, and we only went 5.30, but made a clean pass. We just had it set up soft for the poor track conditions, and also drove through the clutch a little at half track. And of course, that 5.30 was faster than either car in the OTHER semi-final, just like at Rockingham, so again the breaks eluded us. We can catch a break here or there, but not string together a couple in a row. It's like the gods of drag racing are telling us that we aren't getting ANYTHING given to us, we have to EARN it.

I've talked about this before, but last year our problem was smoking the tires at the hit of the throttle. Hats off to Richard Hartman and the crew, because this now makes 16 passes this year and we've yet to smoke the tires. Now it's time to start throwing some more power at it and finding the fine line between a strong launch and a tire smoking disaster.

One of the best parts about racing is meeting the fans. This race we met David and Theresa Moore, and their 12 year old daughter Lacey. They are from Williamston, SC, which is the town right next to Piedmont where we live. They are such big drag racing fans they made the 8 hour drive up to Maryland to spend the weekend at the track. It's neat to meet families that are as knowledgeable of drag racing as the Moore's, and great to see them raising the "next generation" of fans. As all us racers know, if it wasn't for the fans, we wouldn't be able to race.

Next race is over the July 4th weekend in Edmonton, Canada. I hate to say this, but unless something changes (like we find some sponsor help) we may have to skip this race. It would cost us over $6500 in diesel fuel for the transport, and about $5000 in airfare to get the crew to the race. Since we usually drive, and since most races are alot closer, that's about $10,000 more than we usually spend to go racing. So if you know any companies that could use the marketing exposure and promotional opportunity a race sponsorship could bring, and have products/customers in Edmonton, Canada, let us know!!

Monday, June 9, 2008

New Body in Budds Creek

Getting ready to head out to Budds Creek, MD for the Presidents' Cup Nationals. For those of you who can make it out to the track, you'll see us debut our new '04 Camaro body. It's all black carbon fiber and looks tough. We busted our tails all weekend to get the fitment right but now have it ready to go. So be prepared for a "new look" from Kelley Motorsports.

I also gotta say that I respect how difficult it must be for IHRA President Aaron Polburn right now. With the NHRA's testing ban (resulting from the nitro shortage), he's been faced with the prospect of an influx of NHRA nitro teams to IHRA events in order to get their testing runs in. On one hand, I'm sure he'd love to see some of the popular big money teams show up. I mean, the presence of a John Force, Ron Capps or Gary Scelzi would virtually ensure a sellout of the event and bring more attention to IHRA nitro racing. And as a business manager, I'm sure Mr. Polburn would love the increased gate receipts and publicity.

On the other hand, he should be applauded for his long term view of what's healthy for the IHRA. Teams like ours depend on the earnings we get by qualifying and going rounds to fund our operations and allow us to make it from race to race. Unlike the big teams like JFR, Schumacher, Snake Racing, etc, we don't have seven-figure sponsorship deals that allow us to tune our cars to the limit, run fresh tires, etc... It's all we can do to simply cover our expenses and make it to the next race. If a bunch of NHRA teams came to Budds Creek I'm sure it would make for an exciting event. But most of us IHRA regulars would get shut out of the purse which would constrain our ability to run subsequent events. Maybe the NHRA guys would come back one more time, maybe not. But in a year where nitromethane prices have doubled and diesel fuel prices have done the same, it costs us over $2,000 more per event to compete for the same purse. And in the current economic climate, sponsorship dollars are tougher to come by as well.

So while the rumors that IHRA has turned down some NHRA racers from participating in the Budds Creek race may or not be true, I have a renewed respect for a man who, unlike many in the business world today, has shunned short term profit for long term stability.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Match Race in Bristol

Well, we're back from our match race against Bob Gilbertson in Bristol on Friday night. I gotta say, I was very, very impressed with the crowd they had up there. To be honest, I was a little worried that since the NHRA was just there a couple weeks ago, turnout would be low. Wrong. We were supposed to make our first run at 7PM, but due to the huge turnout and long lines waiting to get in, we didn't make our first run until after 8PM. And the fans were great. I must have signed over 1,000 T-shirts. All I can figure is that there is a big unfulfilled demand out there for Top Fuel drag racing.

Anyway, we took advantage of the match race opportunity to test a new cam, and all I'll say is I think we'll go back to the one we'd been running. First pass we were running well, but pushed out an intake gasket at half track and had to shut down. The second pass we ran a 5.30, but I shut down at 1000'. The car just felt sluggish past half track and I didn't want to push it and have another "roman candle" (as the announcer in Milan put it). But I'm glad we had a chance to get some data on this alternate cam in case we need to run it in a pinch later this year.

Aside from the technical stuff, Bob and I put on a great show for the fans. We did long burnouts before our runs, past the 330' markers. The track is beautiful, the facility is great, the track management is first class, and the fans were awesome.

Next up is the IHRA Presidents' Cup Nationals in Budds Creek, MD the weekend of June 13-15. With the NHRA going through a nitromethane shortage, and outlawing Monday test sessions, the rumor is that some of those teams may come out to Budds Creek and use the IHRA event as a test session. Should make it fun!