2003 Season

Round one at the Funny Car Classic - Photo: Marc Bradford

The Chili Pepper Makes the Final Round
Woodburn Dragstrip - Sunday, September 14th 2003

One Hot Chili Pepper may have been the most consistent Pro Nostalgia car at the track last weekend. She ran a string of mid 7.60's in varying weather conditions; 7.645, 7.655, 7.656, 7.657, 7.646 in air that varied from 1200-1800'. We've been running 55% nitro (50% by volume) for the last several events and not changed a single thing in quite a while now. The replay tach decided to start working, and I've found the best results happen when shifting at 6200 RPM (by ear) and she winds to exactly 6800 RPM in the lights with the 3.73 gears. As a result of the lower RPMs, the valve train is looking very happy. We did notice a few very small nodules of metal on the #2 spark plug. The nozzle was clear and we knew that richening things up a step would effect our consistency. We left it alone since it didn't look too major.

We pre-lubed the car before the warm-up with hot oil and found the pressure sender to be leaking a steady stream of SAE 50. We removed the sender and gave everything another turn to seal it off, but I had no oil pressure gauge for the weekend. Crew Chief Rich Dormer looked at the Mooneyes gauge on the front of the block after the burnout and made sure we had sufficient pressure. As usual, we were towed in style by Gary Powell and his flamed '41. Special visitors this weekend included Jeff & Shane Mueller, Kevin & Levi Higgins, Garry & Mindy Liddell, and Rob Louthan. Thanks for coming out and hollaring for us...it helps!

I cut an "ok" light (.455) in the first round, and our opponent Richard Clark ran below expectations in his blown '55 Chevy. This is the guy that I red-lit against at Seattle, so I was happy to make it past that one.

We ran nearly an identical pass to John Meissinger's injected FED in round two, our dial-ins being different by only .01. The incrementals were just thousandths different, and my light made the difference in a pretty close race.

Bill Huntington and his '23 T altered strapped a .413 light on me in the final round, and although I ran closer to my dial, he got the win light by half-a-car length. The Chili Pepper performed perfectly, but the driver didn't come through with the reaction time that we needed for the win. I get to re-live that one all winter long.

During 2003, we suffered 3 first round losses, but made a final and a semi-final round appearance. Although we didn't win many laps this year, we learned an incredible amount and are finally where we want to be: our parts are living and we are going nearly as quick as our car is legal to run. Changes this winter will be minimal and we should be very competitive next season.

Our plan for the next 5 months:

Complete engine tear-down and inspection (crank, rods, and block)
New rings, bearings, roller lifters and valve springs
Check the chassis for cracks
Clean & polish everything on the car
New layer of paint (possibly a new paint scheme)
New engine breather arrangement
Freshen the heads (Louthan Competition Cylinder Heads)
New slicks
Tranny inspection (Don Kalina)

If the motor checks out ok, we'll probably increase the juice to 60% next season and leave it alone. If the crank has not faired well, we may back it down a bit, or invest in a better quality forging. It depends on available cash and what the tax return for 2003 looks like!

Thanks a million to the following folks for being at the track this year to help The Chili Pepper pop: Rich Dormer, Gary Powell, Mark Woodruff, Scott Charters, and Ken McFadden.

Thanks also to the following people for helping out with parts, good advice, moral support, hard work, art work, shop access, etc.: Shelley Miller, Bob Thayer at London's Automotive, Bob Wright, Virgil Hanson, Don Kalina, Gary Eickmann, John Koegler, Bradd Dormer, Nancy McFadden, Rob Louthan, Andy Evans, Christy Nelson at Oregon Sign and Label, Dave Zuber, Kevin Higgins, and Inland Empire Driveline.

Pictures of the weekend's action are rolling in, and more shots of Seattle are coming in too. I'll put a bunch of photos on here next week. Even though the racing is over for this season, I'll be updating this site all winter as decisions are made and things are accomplished, so keep checking back. If you're a regular visitor, don't be shy! There's an email link over there at the left, and I'd love to hear from you.

The laundry out at Seattle - Photo by: NitroModel

Woodburn Dragstrip - Saturday, September 13th

We had a great time today at Woodburn's Fall Funny Car Classic. Each of our two test passes were new bests (see the timeslip links at the left). A 7.64 on one pass, and a 7.65 on the next at 172.57 MPH! Very consistent and scream'in all the way. We're set for eliminations tomorrow and hopefuly we can go a round or two. It's a bummer that we FINALLY have the car running strong and consistent and the season is over! We'll try not to screw it up over the winter.

Thanks a lot to Rich Dormer, Gary Powell, Bradd Dormer, and Jeff & Shane Mueller for the help today.

More tomorrow night after the action...check back!

Smok'in 'em at Seattle with Todd Ashwell in the other lane

In spite of less than a stellar season, we managed to finish #6 in the Pro Nostalgia points for 2003. This means we are invited to compete in the top 8 shootout at Woodburn on September 13th and 14th during the Fall Funny Car Classic. The Chili Pepper is running stronger than ever and with some dense air, she should be scream'in! This will be our last outing for the year, so the driver is hoping to have his act together.

Saturday & Sunday, Aug. 31st/Sept. 1st - Hot Rod Nationals, Seattle WA
A great big thanks to Ken McFadden and his wife Nancy for letting the Chili Pepper crew stay at their place near Seattle over the weekend. They are great folks and we sure appreciate all of their hospitality. Also, a huge round of applause is in order for the crew: Rich Dormer, Mark Woodruff, Ken McFadden, and Gary Powell. Gary drove his classy hot rod all the way to Pacific Raceways in Seattle to serve as crewman and tow car.

The corrected altitude on Saturday was 2600', and the best we could muster was a 7.77 to qualify 11th. Everyone was running about 6 hundredths off. The schedule was moved up to 11 am for the first round on Sunday, which surprised many of us. We found out at 10 am! The air was much better, and we knew it would run better. We claimed a 7.72 for a dial in and headed to the lanes.

The sun was behind me and I chose not to wear my sun glasses. I was really in the zone, concentrating heavily. I thought I really cut a great light on the .400 pro tree, and didn't see my .392 red bulb at all. As I neared the 1000' mark, I realized my opponent was nowhere to be seen or heard, so I lifted. Little did I know that the race was already over due to my foul start. I hit a 7.67...I would have lost anyway on a breakout! I lost at both ends of the track.

The good news is the pass yielded a new best ever ET (timeslip link at the left) and probably would have been a 7.66 or .65 had I stayed on it. If I had seen the red bulb, I would have kept her to the wood to see what she would do. The car is running stronger than ever, but not quite as consistent as it was. At the last race, it slowed a little and I cut a crappy light. This time, it sped up and I cut a crappy light. We'll hit it someday.

Hopefully, we are still in the top 10 in points and can attend the invitational in two weeks. Besides the top 8 finishers, the 9th and 10th place points earners will be invited to serve as alternates in case of breakage. The alternates will get to make passes too, so either way we'll be happy.

More good news...the Pro Nostalgia drivers voted to get rid of breakouts next year. The closest car to their dial-in (over or under) will win. No more winning on the brakes and dumping the pass to keep from breaking out. It will be safer and a lot more fun racing with that format. It was also suggested we race with an "instant green" start. No ambers at all, just stage and green light! I think that would be fun too. Of course those of us that have earned the red-bulb award this year all like that. No "red apples" on an instant green start. I'll have a few pictures in a couple of days, check back.

A distracting cloud of smoke begins from the right bank after staging

Sunday, August 10th - Hot Rod Nationals Eliminations, Woodburn Oregon

Just about every pass down the track was a new personal best, the car was running great! We made it to the semi-finals (final four cars), quite an improvement over the last two Pro Nostalgia events. Thanks Scott Charters for the photos from Saturday, and to Gary Powell for the photo above.

We dialed a 7.70 for the first round, which seemed funny since we've never run better than the 7.74 from qualifying the day before. The air was quite a bit better though, and knowing that the 7.74 pass had a very soft 60' time, we decided it was safe. Our opponent Mike Boertje broke a lifter on the pass and ran below his expectations. I looked over at about 800' and he was no where in sight, so I lifted. We turned in a 7.72 for yet another new best ET.

We were paired up with Rob Floyd and his injected nitro hemi FED for round two. We left our dial-in alone, knowing that the air was getting worse as the day progressed. I cut a decent light and she was pulling very strong. Again at 800' or so I looked and saw no one. I lifted, braked, and even pulled the chute early to hit our dial-in with a 7.709. It looks like it would have been a 7.67 had I stayed in it the whole pass. Just barely missed breaking out for the second round in a row!

Andy Frei and his injected nitro FED lined up with us in the third round. I thought my luck would run out playing the stupid top-end games, so I changed our dial-in to 7.68. I staged the car, hit the trans-brake, and when I brought the RPMs up, it coughed a big cloud of smoke out the right bank. It distracted me and my eyes shifted. Just then, the ambers flashed and I got caught sleeping with a .613 reaction time. The car turned in a lethargic 7.83, more than a tenth off what we had been running. I still could have won with a .427 reaction time, or...even with my snoozing light, we still could have won if we had run right on our dial-in. We were just not meant to win that round I guess.

I think the smoke was caused by some oil that built up in the breather tube that attaches to the rear zoomie pipe. The high RPM burn out probably spit some into the tube, and it settled into the low spot in the hose while backing up and staging. When I brought the RPMs up after staging, it must have puked it into the hot pipe. I've got to learn to block out that kind of stuff...CONCENTRATION!

I'm not sure why performance dropped off, we may have a blown head gasket or something. I checked the oil filter before we stuffed it into the trailer and it looked fine, so the bottom end seems healthy. Could be a partially plugged nozzle, the filter could be stopped up, the transmission might have slipped, the tires may have spun...could be a dozen different things.

Thanks to Rich Dormer and Gary Powell for the expert help and to Jim, Ruth, and Rose for hanging out with us for the day. Next stop: Pacific Raceways at Seattle August 30th & 31st for the next installment of Pro Nostalgia action.

Saturday, August 9th - Hot Rod Nationals Qualifying, Woodburn Oregon

The cam is a success! A big thanks to Jim Warko of Green Pond, South Carolina for turning us on to the Magic Nitro Bumpstick. And just when we needed it...

On the first qualifying lap, we turned in a new best ever ET of 7.743 to qualify 11th (see the new best ET link in the sidebar at the left). If we had been running the low 7.80's we were doing a couple of months ago, we wouldn't have made the field! The bump spot was a 7.78. If we were to couple our best 60' time of 1.12 with this new best pass, we would have turned a 7.69, so we know it's in there somewhere. The starting line technique dictates the outcome. Leaving from a dead idle produces phenominal 60' numbers, but the reaction times are horrible. If I leave with the transbrake from a couple of thousand RPM, the reaction times are great, but the 60' times suffer a little. Because we are competing and not shooting for a low ET, it makes more sense to try for a good reaction time and be consistent.

Another contributing factor today was heat. I started the car way too soon before the first pass and by the time I staged, the cylinder head temp was over 220°. Later in the day, we ran cool like we usually do (170-180°), and it slowed to a 7.77. So...more heat in the motor is needed, the nitro likes it. Since we are changing oil every lap, it can't hurt I guess.

There were 26 cars entered in Pro Nostalgia today, and they opened up a "B" class for the cars that didn't make the 16 car field. It's getting very popular! Thanks a bunch to crew chief Rich Dormer and to Scott Charters for the excellent help today.

We run against Mike Boertje and his blown altered tomorrow at high noon in the first round. Let's hope we can go a couple of rounds at least!

Sorry for the lack of updates, there have just been too many things going on over the last couple of weeks for me to keep up. We tested last weekend at Madras, and everything held together and performed well. Since Madras is 1/8th mile and the corrected altitude was 4200', we couldn't really tell if the new cam is an improvement or not.

We'll be at the Hot Rod Nationals at Woodburn dragstrip this weekend running in the Pro Nostalgia class. Two qualifying passes on Saturday and first round at Noon on Sunday. My goal is to just get past the first round this time.

Photographer Terry Knickerbocker stands behind a launching Chili Pepper at Medford.

If there is any good news to come out of our Oldies But Goodies experience (.001 first round breakout), it came when comparing the timeslip from the pass with our best ever. By looking at the incremental numbers downtrack before I lifted, it is easy to see that the car was on a solid 7.78 pass (a new "best ever"). The 3.73 gears look to be a major improvement, and even with 16% leakage past a couple of the exhaust valves, she was running strong.

In the past we have seen small gains with the cast iron Motown heads that we are putting back on the car. They perform a bit better on the flowbench than the aluminum Canfield's, and even though they weigh nearly 40lbs. more, they help the ET and MPH a little. We've been trying to stick with the aluminum heads just because they are easy to repair and less likely to cause detonation. We will also be able to run with less nose ballast using the Motowns.

The new magneto makes it more difficult to check the nozzles on the rear of the motor. Since I've been finding quite a bit of junk in them lately, I've decided to put a small screen-type high flow filter between the pump and the barrel valve. A plugged nozzle can mean a melted motor, but the $50 in fittings and filter is worth it even if only to save me from the contortions of checking the #7 & #8 nozzle for chunks all the time.

I'll make a new bellypan to replace the dented, sliced up pan we have now. The car has fallen off the floor jack in the pits twice now and its ruined. I've jumped up and down on it and hammered it flat, but it really looks bad from the inside. The new hydraulic jack (my "Pro-Jack" copy) is finally finished, but it experienced the catastrophic failure of two 3/8" heim joints on its maiden voyage. I've ordered new chrome-moly 5/8" rod ends from Chassisshop this time to beef it up. Among other details and preventative maintenance is a new Powermaster starter to replace the unit of the same that has worked flawlessly for almost 3 seasons. We've flogged it hard lately with our ignition problems and hard priming fuel system, and it will move to the status of "spare". After hearing of several cars crashing or burning due to failed high pressure fuel or oil hoses, I've decided to make a pressure checker to test my current and future hoses and fittings for integrity. I'm also replacing a few fuel fittings that are several years old.

Madras Dragway (under new management) is attempting to put on an invitational quick-8 race the first weekend in August that we may attend. The details are still sketchy on that. If it doesn't look like we'll make that, we may test on July 19th at Woodburn instead. Our next big event is the Hot Rod Nationals at Woodburn on the 9th & 10th of August.

The Chili Pepper Pops .001 Too Much

The rain really put a damper on things at Woodburn this weekend. It was one shower after another all day on Saturday. You could see the storm cells moving towards the track every couple of hours leaving just enough time to get the track dried out and a few cars down before the next shower. Finally at 6PM, Pro Nostalgia got to make their one and only pass of the day to try and qualify.

Almost everyone had problems of one sort or another getting down the track. On the launch, we hooked very hard to the left, but steered out of it and stayed with it for a 7.84 @ 168 MPH. The blown car next to me was so loud that I lost track of the RPMs and shifted way too late. Because the majority of the other cars had aborted passes, we ended up qualified in the top half of the field.

It was sprinkling Sunday morning when we arrived, but the forecast was hopeful. The Chili Pepper was to run against the blown FED of Rick New at high-noon. The scary looking clouds were rolling in fast, and we wanted to get our pass in as quick as we could. Rick and I jumped in line and were to be the first pair down the track for eliminations.

We weighed all the factors that would make the car speed up and slow down. In performance's favor, the fuel was a cool 55° making it about 56% nitro. I also planned to shift sooner which would yield a better ET. Against us was my strategy to bring the RPMs up a little higher at launch. It would make our reaction time much better, but our 60' time and ultimately the ET would suffer as a result. Also, the corrected altitude was now 600' and not the 300' of the evening before. Rich and I decided to be safe and dial a 7.82 to give it a little room to grow, but not be enough to really put us behind.

The 3.73 gears make the car burnout forever! With the 4.10s, the car would hook up after a few seconds and the burnout would be over. I did the longest burnout in Chili Pepper history today, and being a little embarrassed at the spectacle, bounced it to a hasty stop to backup. For some reason, Rick was very quick to stage and put both bulbs on before my crew chief even got our screen bag off the injectors. Since we were to leave first by a tenth or so, I was at a big disadvantage at the light. I knew the instant I set the transbrake, the tree would come down since Rick had already put all of his lights on. Sure enough, I stuffed the button in, and before I could even get the RPMs up, the lights flashed and I was outta there.

I never saw him the whole pass and figured I should get out of it to make sure I wouldn't break out of our 7.82 dial in and give it away. I let off, put the brakes on just before the 1000' mark and pulled the chute at the stripe. Just then, the win light came on in his lane and I knew I had broken out. CRAP! When I saw the timeslip, I couldn't believe it...we ran a 7.819. We broke out by a stinking thousandth of a second.

Had I not got on the brakes, we surely would have nabbed a new best ET and MPH for ourselves. At least that would have made losing not seem quite so bad. Had I been able to get those RPMs up at the tree, we would have killed some of our 60' time and probably would not have broken out. We could have done a better job of weighing the performance factors too. Oh well. Just as we got back to the pits, the rain began again. Later in the day, Pro Nostalgia was in the lanes for round two when it began to pour. We hitched up and headed home.

So...a whole weekend of work and sitting around for 2 passes. Wheeee. Looking at the bright side, we did get to visit with lots of folks we don't see too often. There were plenty of bullsessions under the canopies. We'll replace the aluminum Canfields with the iron Motowns and stick in a different cam for the next event in August. We may test sometime in late July, but at this point we haven't determined a date.

Thanks a million to crew chief Rich Dormer and #1 crewman/towpilot Gary Powell. Gary's flamed '41 Chevy tow car is a crowd favorite at every event we attend now. Here it is only June, and there are just three events left for us this year. Jeeeez. Why is there nothing going on in July?

Check back later in the week for a few more pictures!

Ready for the Oldies!

The Canfield aluminum heads are going sour again from the abuse we are dishing out. After Medford, all of the cylinders are leaking down a mere 1% except the middle two on the left side. They are at 9% and the wind is rushing out the exhaust again. The exhaust seats are moving around in the head, probably from all the pressure and heat that the nitro is making. Since it isn't too bad, I've decided to go ahead and run them this weekend at Woodburn's Oldies But Goodies, and then retire them from nitro duty for good. Louthan Competition Cylinder Heads has already prepared our iron Motown heads, and we'll put them back on after this event.

BHJ Dynamics fixed our balancer with the spinning inertia ring for nothing! Even though it was several years old, they turned it around for us in less than a week and had it back here in plenty of time. They rock.

Our regular supplier of Kendall SAE 50 oil has not been able to get any for us lately. In desperation, I called our buddy Devin at Carquest in Corvallis. Even though Carquest doesn't carry Kendall, he was able to get it for us so we'd have enough for this weekend. Thanks man!

Rich Dormer helped me put the new 3.73 gears in for this weekend. That is pretty much the only change we have made to the car for this event, so it should be obvious if they are a benefit or not over the 4.10s we've been running since day-one with the car.

Our internet buddy Jim Warko sent us a very interesting roller cam to try in the car. It was ground by Howard's and is supposed to be a special grind specifically for an injected nitro small block. It is very different from the alcohol grinds we've been running so far. When we swap heads next month, we may just give it a whirl and see what happens. Thanks for sending that to us Jim!

We are the defending Pro Nostalgia champs at the Oldies...everyone keep your fingers crossed for us! I'll be very happy to just do better than the first round loss we suffered at the Tulip race earlier this year.

Okay, more details about the Medford trip...

When we arrived Friday night, we decided to wait until dark to make a pass. That gave us a few hours to set up and get it fired up for the first time with the new Mallory Super Mag III. We did our regular routine, and I climbed in with muffs and mask to bring her to life. As I cranked, she snorted out the stacks and bucked and farted like never before. Not being familiar with a mag, I figured I had buzzed it in incorrectly. "Retard it some!" I hollared.

Gary Powell loosened the clamp ring and turned the upper portion of the mag. We kept this up for a few minutes with the starter and flexplate knashing teeth until it was retarded so far, the condenser on the side was finally hitting the injector stack. It fired up at last, sounded sick, and belched flames from the zoomies into Gary's armpit as he advanced it back where it belonged.

It sounded normal when set back to 38 degrees and I got it good and warm. The problem was, it would not start when set there! We swapped to the spare mag thinking that there might be something wrong with the new unit. Same problem. I yanked a valve cover to make sure we weren't 180 out or something stupid. We were on the right cycle, but the strange thing was, at 38 degrees BTDC, the intake valve still wasn't quite closed. "Hmmm. I don't remember noticing that before."

Since it was dark and we were running out of time, we decided to set it retarded to fire up and then Gary would set it back before the pass up at the line. For some reason, it wouldn't run at low RPMs either and kept stalling out when put into gear. We hustled up to the staging lanes and about 10:30pm, we finally fired her up. I kept her jacked up so she wouldn't die, and things were feeling good. Just as I came to a stop after backing up from the burnout, it died. Gary was there with the wrench, and got things set so she'd start again, put it back at 38 and I made a pass. 8.30 at 155 MPH. CRAP! What is wrong?!?!

I tossed and turned all night, and got out the laptop during breakfast the next morning. Rich Dormer and I looked at the cam card. It said that the intake valve should be totally closed at 89 degrees, yet ours was still without lash at 38. Hmmmm. I degreed the cam carefully, checked my work twice and everything looked good 3 weeks before. Did I put the cam in wrong? Miss a tooth? Did I put the large idler gear for the gear drive on the wrong side?

We got to the track Saturday morning, and I pulled the pump, balancer and cam cover. Everything looked perfect and aligned correctly. Fellow racer Lloyd Hamilton was looking on and noticed that the crankshaft key correctly pointed at the TDC pointer (in about the 2 o'clock position). When I held the balancer up to the crank snout and aligned the keyway, the TDC mark was on the bottom! Jeeeez, the inertia ring on the balancer was moving! We found TDC again and deduced that we had made the pass the night before with the timing set somewhere around 83 degrees. Ouch. Fortunately, nothing appeared to be wrong other than the balancer. I buzzed it in to the REAL 38 degrees this time, and it fired up instantly. YAY!

We made a couple of passes and found our 7.80s again. We tried the 1.68 rockers on the exhaust hoping to find a little more, and it made absolutely no difference. I cranked 3 degrees into it each pass, and the MPH quit gaining at 44 degrees. I set it back to 41 and we went racing.

We made it to the semi-finals on a good light and ended up paired with Todd Miller. He's a good racer, runs 7.60s in his altered, and all I had was the tree. I staged deep and managed a .415 light, but he knew I'd be trying to chop it down and nailed a .410 for himself. He had two car lengths on me in the lights.

Thanks a lot to Gary Powell, Rich Dormer, and John Koegler for making the trek down to Medford. Gary drove his hot rod down for the event and we were towed in style.

We plan to try the 3.73 gears again in 3 weeks at the Oldies But Goodies at Woodburn. We'll see what happens. The top-end popping and misfiring is gone now with the magneto, but it looks like the mysterious advancing and retarding was the balancer, not the MSD box screwing up. Although I miss the features of the MSD box, the magneto is so much simpler and more powerful, I won't go back. Magnetos rule!

We Have Ignition!

Thanks to our good friends, it looks like we will be fixed up and ready to go to Medford this next weekend. Gary Eickmann loaned us a Mallory Super Mag III that we can borrow for the rest of the season. He sent it off to Mallory to be reconditioned and fitted with a new base. Mallory will return it to us this week with a new coil and harness. Since it will be arriving at the last minute before we leave for Medford, Tyson Price loaned us his spare Vertex magneto and coil to take along in case the Super Mag doesn't arrive or doesn't work out for some reason when we get to the track. 230 miles is a long way to go without a backup plan, and now we don't have to. Thanks Gary and Tyson!

It appears that there will be a "Friday Night at the Drags" next week, so when we arrive at Medford and set up Friday evening, we'll be able to drop the mag in and make a pass or two under the lights before qualifying on Saturday.

Since the sick 7AL-3 box and all the associated junk has been removed, I now have to use the new replay tachometer to activate the shift light. In order to make the tach work with a magneto, I have to have a signal converter box which turns out to be as rare as a hens tooth. Devin at Car-Quest in Corvallis found one for us in a warehouse in Illinois and will have it here on Wednesday. None of the mailorder houses (Summit, Jegs, etc.) stock the Autometer converter device and no one could give me a ship-date. One more reason to buy from your friendly local parts man if you can.

Welcome Hot Rod Magazine readers! The June issue of Hot Rod mentions this very website (bottom of page 21), and suggests those who enjoyed the magazine's experimentation with nitro in the May issue visit our Nitro Notes. The OHCP site hit-o-meter is going wild!

I finally moved this site off of the little server in my basement to a web hosting service. I spent three evenings last week until the wee-hours trying to patch things together and keep things up and running. I'd rather be working on the race car than keeping up with security patches and fighting hackers. So, after several years of making this site available from my basement dungeon, it's now coming to you from somewhere in Iowa.

The wheels go way up at the 2003 Woodburn Season Opener

Woodburn Season Opener - May 17th, 18th

The weekend was a bunch of fun even though we didn't run well, and we discovered a couple of really important things about our setup. To start with, our ignition was malfunctioning the whole weekend, and it appears it hasn't been right for quite a while. The timing was moving around...advanced and then retarded as much as 11° between passes. It was cutting out and popping something terrible above 6000 RPM under a load. The needle on the new replay tach was jumping all over the place and at first we suspected the tach itself. We unplugged the tach and it did the same thing on the second pass on Saturday. We thought that the erratic RPM readings were probably caused by the ignition freaking out, which was also causing a huge loss of power. After talking with several people, we decided that the MSD 7AL-3 brain box was the problem. Others have experienced the same thing when the magic boxes start to go sour.

We couldn't find a unit to borrow for even one pass to diagnose the problem. One guy had a spare unit in his trailer but he wouldn't loan it or even rent it for a pass, I had to BUY it (full price). This tells me a lot about the reliability of the MSD boxes. He said he sends his in every winter for service and always has a spare. If I bought his (used but serviced), he'd have to buy another to replace it. Since the things are $530 each, I couldn't imagine sinking more money into such an iffy setup that isn't even really suited for what we are doing now (nitromethane). He doesn't know me very well, and certainly doesn't owe me any favors, so I'll just wish him better luck with his MSD units than I've had. I'll see if he wants to buy mine! If a spare is good, two spares are better, right? We changed out all the RPM chips and other little things that we could, hoping something little would cure it, but it was no help.

Looking back now, we had some top end popping problems at the end of last year and have been having trouble getting our timing stabilized for quite a while. We thought the popping was a fuel problem, but apparently not. This has to be the reason why we aren't going as quick as we should be. We're going to junk all the whizzy &@%#^@$# black boxes and get a magneto before going to Medford in 2 weeks. I think we're gonna go like crazy.

With all the ignition trauma, we didn't even bother to mess around with changing gears. I did experiment on the last pass though...I noticed last year that launching at lower RPMs made better 60' times. Our 60' times this weekend were dismal 1.24s. We are used to 1.16s pretty much all the time. I tried something different: instead of launching at full-tilt against the transbrake, I left from an idle. What a difference! We shed a whole .110 in the first 60' alone...1.13! If we put that with our best ET from last year, the pass would have been a 7.77. Of course after the motor hit 6000 RPM it fell flat and quit pulling (popping and missing), but it shows that the potential is there once we get the ignition problem cured.

We seemed to have an excessive blowby problem on the last pass too. I was afraid we had hurt something so I leaked the motor down. All cylinders were at 1 or 2% leakage thanks to gapless rings, and I'm still not sure why that was happening. The breather on the right side that vents to the rear zoomie-pipe was spitting oil everywhere. It has never done that before...maybe that breather is stuck open or the other is stuck closed or something.

Rich Dormer and Gary Powell did a terrific job as crew for the whole weekend. We were really lucky to have Gary tow us with his flamed '41 Chevy again. He definitely adds a bunch of class to our operation.

Thanks alot to Rich Bailey for inviting us, and to the folks at Woodburn Dragstrip for letting us run with the other alcohol cars. We followed the funny cars and top alcohol dragsters each round, so we had lots of rubber down and plenty of traction to go with the sub-sea-level corrected altitudes.

More on our ignition upgrade as it develops...

The motor is all together and ready with fresh heads and the cam advanced 4°. Our new replay tach is mounted and set to record a pass upon release of the transbrake. The wheelie bar is actually in the center of the car now too! Maybe it will decide to go in a straight line when it launches.

We will be making one pass this Saturday afternoon at Woodburn's Season Opener, and then the best of three against Rich Bailey on Sunday afternoon.

It'll be a blast and will help us prepare (read: get quicker) for the Medford event at the end of the month. The A/Altered class we run at the Gasser events is run on a 7.60 index, so we need all we can get! We haven't even cracked the 7.70s yet. We'll get our little motor there eventually.

A Saturday night spent checking piston-to-valve clearance.
The heads are freshened up and ready to go on and we put our good cam from last year back in the motor. I'll degree it in and check piston-to-valve clearance before putting everything else together. I ordered a new AutoMeter replay tachometer. It will record 90 seconds of action and will help us to know where I shifted and what our launch and final RPM are on each pass. Without this information, we aren't seeing the whole picture. There isn't room for it in the cockpit and I don't need to look at it, so we'll either mount it under the cowl or up in front of the motor somewhere. Cheap data aquisition!

It looks like we may get some testing in next weekend while match racing Rich Bailey at Woodburn's Season Opener. We are going to start out with the old 4.10 gears on Saturday and will probably change to the 3.73s at the track Saturday evening for testing on Sunday.

Scorch'in 'em at the Tulip Festival - Photo by Terry Knickerbocker
Interesting developments on the heads...it turns out that the valves were ok, but the seats were screwed up. We aren't sure if it's an issue with heat, pressure, the quality of the heads or what. The seats are moving around in the aluminum and the exhaust valves weren't sealing worth a darn. Since there is no guarantee that they won't do the same thing after another 6 passes or so, we are getting the Motown heads ready to go. The Canfields are fixed, and we'll put them on for Medford, but if the leakdown shows they aren't holding up, they will come off. We have about two hundred passes on the aluminum Canfields with alcohol and no problems at all. The nitro must be beating up on them.

A big thanks to Rob at Louthan Competition Cylinder Heads for getting our flogged Chili-Pepper-Parts back in shape so quickly.

It turns out we didn't miss much up at Seattle last weekend. Only a few passes were made on Saturday, and I've heard that the Pro Nostalgia guys that showed up for Sunday made a couple of passes, but didn't get to compete.

I cleaned the rubber stem seal junk out of the pan last weekend. Viton seals this time! I checked the bearings, and they look like brand new after 7 hard passes. The "full-groove, 50W, extra clearance, big pump, pre-heat & pre-lube thing" we are doing now is working great!

Rich Dormer and I will get the motor back together with the good old cam and get that new air-over-oil chassis jack finished up over the next few weeks. I still haven't had a chance to get the pictures from the Tulip Festival on here. I will, I will! I'll be spending this next weekend up at Mission, BC helping a friend with his Super Gas Camaro at the big divisional race.

Due to family events and things happening at the track, it looks like The Chili Pepper won't roar again until the end of May at Medford. Hopefully, the "Friday Night at the Drags" they have scheduled will happen this time, and we can get some testing in at night before the event on Saturday and Sunday. Last year in September we showed up to do some night passes before the "Hot Rod Gasser Fall Nationals", and the Friday night stuff had been cancelled. There is nothing cooler than passes under the lights in an open cockpit car!

After our fun at the Tulip Festival Event, our slightly bent exhaust valves are really leaking bad. We have as much as 30% leakage on one of the holes. Besides being a significant power loss, I don't want to risk damaging anything more severely, so we won't be at the Season Opener event at Seattle this weekend. It is to be event #2 on the Pro Nostlagia calendar for 2003. Too bad we didn't have those Motown heads in running condition, we could have just swapped them and been fine. While we have the aluminum heads fixed up, I'm considering having Louthan Competition Cylinder Heads fix up the Motowns too in case we need them later in the season. I have most of the parts, and it won't cost a bunch to have them on standby.

Rich and I tore it down last night. The rubber valve stem seals we used on the intakes this time around are NOT nitro proof...the fuel in the oil dissolved them and the rubber chunks are scattered throughout the motor. I'm sure the pump screen is plugged with the rubber crap. We'll be using the teflon seals exclusively from now on. The cylinders, pistons, lifters, etc. all look great. We'll be changing the cam back to what we were using last year to get those 7.80s. We also might try to hit a test day in mid May sometime to make sure things are looking good before heading to Medford. We are tempted to give the 3.73 gears another go soon too.

Amazingly enough, not a drop of rain fell all weekend on the inaugural Tulip Festival event at Woodburn. Quite a number of cars came out on Saturday, but Sunday was pretty sparse. There were a couple of jet funny cars, a few alcohol funny cars, and a top alcohol dragster there testing, along with the Pro Nostalgia field and all the usual good folks bracket racing.

We swapped back to the 4.10 gears for this event and proved that there may be some mustard in those 3.73s after all. It looks more like the new cam we are running is responsible for moving the power band to a place that isn't as usable for us. We bumped the timing up a bit this weekend, but the best we could muster in qualifying was a 7.96. Our ET and MPH are way off where they were last year.

The first qualifying pass for the day on Saturday had me heading left in a huge way. I lifted slightly and stayed in it when I could steer out of it, but it was a throw away. The next two hooked up and went pretty straight. We left everything alone and felt confident that we could be consistent for Sunday if we could hook up ok. Quite a number of the other guys had traction problems in that first session too, so we felt it was the track and not us.

First round on Sunday was almost identical weather to our 7.96 pass from the previous day, just a little bit cooler. When The Chili Pepper launched, it hooked hard to the left again and I feathered back for an instant. I thought I could catch him, but he strapped a .418 light on me (winning the Western Helicopter Services reaction time award for the event), and there was no hope. We were out in round one.

We got to looking things over and noticed that the wheelie bar is not centered on the car. It isn't even close! After the chassis work we had done last winter, I didn't think to put some marks on the floor and carefully measure and re-center the bar. It looks to be off to one side by several inches! Depending on how hard it hits the bar, that could cause a major course deviation during launch. Stupid, stupid, stupid. If only I'd have checked that, we might have gone straight enough to stay in it.

The Seattle event is only a week away, and if the weather holds, we will be traveling up there Friday. That only leaves a few evenings to unload, clean it up, leak it down, fix the wheelie bar, restock the supplies, and load up. Considering the question of performance...we will put last season's cam back in after Seattle and see what happens with it at Medford. We will then probably give the 3.73 gears another shot at the Oldies event in June. We made too many changes over the winter! The problem is, our schedule is so limited this year, there aren't enough test days and events to get through all the things we want to try one-at-a-time. We made our best guess, now we have to back off a few to get to at least where we were last year.

Thanks a lot to Gary Powell for bringing out his freshly flamed '41 Chevy hot rod to tow us on Saturday and for his help on Sunday too. Also to crew chief Rich Dormer for his help all weekend and my wife Shelley for coming out on race day. Mike Boertje and his wife did a great job organizing the Pro Nostalgia racers throughout the event. It was sure a lot of fun...I can't wait for the next one!

I have a ton of pictures, and they are still rolling in from friends. I'll post a bunch here later in the week when I get some time.

Woodburn - March 30th, the first outing for 2003.
The weather isn't looking too promising for this coming weekend at Woodburn for their Tulip Festival race, but we plan to be there. The Chili Pepper has three very slightly bent exhaust valves, apparently left over from our fun on the dyno a few months ago. I leaked the motor down and see that several cylinders are leaking significantly, and it's leaving out the exhaust. While most of the holes are at 2%, there's two at 8% and one at 14%. That'll hurt power output, but we can't fix it in time, so we're just going to run it.

If there is any action, I'll be sure there are lots of pictures here. My buddy Paul New has been laid up for almost a month now after a really bad car accident. He and his dad Rick won't be out with their blown FED to race in Pro Nostalgia with us until Paul is out of the wheelchair, hopefully by the end of June. Since he can't make it out to the track, I promised him a full report of the action and lots of photos.

Heal up fast Paul!

The rains finally let up and it was a beautiful weekend up at Woodburn. Rich Dormer and Mark Woodruff joined me for a nice, sunny, 74° day at the track. Thanks for all the hard work guys. In fact, my wife Shelley even made an appearance because of someone who forgot to bring their racing shoes (Thanks Sweetie!).

We tried a bunch of new things with the fuel system to see if there were gains to be had there...nope. The best we did for the day out of 3 passes was 7.94 @ 164 MPH. We'll go back to what we were doing last year with the main and high-speed bypass, and hopefully all the new parts will then yield some high 7.60s. It better! It isn't worth the hassle of running 50% nitro just to do the 7.80s we were doing last year. I think the combination will work, but we'll have to sneak up on it. Since today was experimental, I'm not surprised we didn't set the world on fire.

Today was mostly practice between rounds. We have a bunch more to do than before. The oil jug/pre-heater/pre-luber worked great. The new instrumentation worked flawlessy and the new tow rig was a dream to drive with Chili Pepper in-tow. I can't wait to get that new air-over-oil jack finished. We'll try to have that working before the first race on the 19th/20th of April.

It's supposed to start raining again tonight, so chances are slim that we'll get any more test time before the race in three weeks.

Another full weekend of assembly, and she finally roared to life. Bob Thayer from London's Automotive got the new rearend gears assembled in record time for me. Thanks Bob! Mark Woodruff spent the afternoon helping me wrestle the rear end into the car and assembling the brakes on Saturday. Rich Dormer spent another entire day here today with me on the final touches. My good neighbor Ken Miller appeared in time to help us with the first fire up. Adjust the timing, adjust the injector, check for leaks, spin the rearend, shift the gears...lots to do in a few minutes. We let it run until it hit 185° and then put her back to bed. There is a small oil leak at the front of the pan, but no other problems.

I'll retorque the heads, run the valves, change the rear end lube and polish it up for next weekend. The forecast is calling for rain, but things could change. No one has made a pass down the track yet this year, so there is no rubber on the track at all. If the weekend turns out nice, we will probably skip Saturday and go Sunday instead.

The new oil heater/pre-lube jug worked really well. We preheated the oil to 160° and then forced it throughout the motor at 50 PSI before firing up. The new Titan oil pump cranks out 80 PSI of oil pressure, even with all the new larger clearances. Let's hope she lives this time!

The Office. Click the image for a closer look.

The painting is finally done and I've started putting the car back together. The motor and tranny will go in this Saturday and most of the rest of the car will be assembled. The rear end with its new center section will go in the weekend after that and we should be firing it up. If the weather permits, March 29th should be our first test session at Woodburn. See the schedule for our preliminary plans for 2003.

I made a new dash panel with a new arrangment of instruments and controls. Digital oil pressure, cylinder head temperature, and transmission temperature gauges are nestled amongst the control cables for the fuel shut-off, chute, and fire suppression system. The shift light remains in the middle where it's always been. The starter and ignition are off to the right to be operated with one hand, and the reverse and burnout rev limit toggle are at the left. Since the Pro Nostalgia class only allows one rev limiter for top end RPM only, the burnout rev limit switch will be non-functional at those events.

It should look like a race car again after this next weekend...

The motor is finally together and all sealed up. We advanced the new cam as far as it would go while still having at least .080" clearance on the intake valves...only 2°. .004" clearance on the mains, .002" on the rods, more side clearance and a hurk'in Titan oil pump. The compression has been dropped to 11.5:1 for the nitro.

The coupler is still a pain in the butt. The broach-guy doesn't have a tool to spline the blank coupler for us, so he is going to hobb the splines instead. A bit more money, but it will still get done. Jeff at Inland Empire Driveline in Ontario, CA is being really good to me. He has run all over LA borrowing pinions and such for the cause. Thanks Jeff! When it comes back, it goes off to Mark Williams Enterprises for final heat treat. At this point, I would have broke even buying new slicks that were taller. Who'd a thunk it would cost so much to have a custom coupler made?

I've feathered all the big chips and places where the paint was burned off from welding and will spray the new tubes, cage and other stuff that shows in the next couple of evenings. Hopefully, by Sunday night, the car will start going back together.

The new oil heater jug is becoming reality. Straight 50W oil is mighty thick stuff on cold mornings, and the Titan guy said it needs to be prewarmed or the pump shaft or distributor gear are at risk. Instead of hauling oil pan heaters down the track with us, Rich and I are making a heater/pre-oiler jug. The heaters will be attached to the 7 quart steel jug and the oil will be heated in it. When it's 140° or more according to the attached gauge, it will be unplugged and a 30 psi nitrogen line will be hooked up to the top. The bottom will be connected to the oil gallery on the side of the block above the oil filter boss. When a valve in the line is opened, the oil will be forced out and fill the empty oil filter and lines, prime the oil pump, and prelube the whole engine. Before the jug runs dry, it will be disconnected, and the rest of the hot oil will be dumped over the valve springs. Since we will be changing the oil after every pass at least initially, we will be repeating this excercise often. Oil is cheaper than crankshafts.

A shot from early 2002 when the body was done and the new paint barely dry.

I finally got around to sorting out the pictures I took 2 weeks ago at Bakersfield. Sorry there aren't any captions, I just don't have time to do all that right now. The pics are all pit-shots. The few that I took from the stands or from the fence aren't all that great. The pit-shots are more interesting anyway in my opinion. Go checkout the 2002 Fuel and Gas Finals.

Photos: Gary Powell, Terry Knickerbocker, Mark Woodruff, George Adams, and Scott Charters

2001 Season Track Reports