National Trails Raceway: It's Over|
September 30, 2001
Columbus, OH -- After several sleepless nights of preparing the car for the Columbus race, we were ready to embark on our final mission of the 2001 racing season. It would be an all or nothing, make or break race for us.
Tim and I departed for Columbus’ National Trail Raceway on Thursday morning. Upon arrival, we quickly set-up the Pelech Bros. Racing compound and departed for our hotel to take a break before picking up Jeff Prock, the Applied Nitrous Technology man, from the airport.
Friday’s schedule would have us making a test pass without the nitrous just to make sure the rings were seated. Everything went as expected and the vacuum gauge indicated that the rings had indeed seated. We were ready to open the valves on the nitrous bottles and head full tilt into the first qualifying session.
Once our class was called, we loaded two warm nitrous bottles in the car and headed for the staging lanes. It was cool out. The atmospheric conditions were very conducive to making big horsepower and the track was ready to take anything you’d throw at it. The combination of good weather and a sticky track would delay our run as several cars threw parts or fluid on to the track. Needless to say, by the time all of the carnage had been cleaned up, our nitrous bottles had cooled and they were down on pressure. No big deal, we’ll let’em go… The car should still run OK, but it might be a little soft.
I did the usual burnout and proceeded forward to stage. The good air had the car running very snappy. I hit the trans-brake button and stomped on the throttle. The RPM immediately jumped up and buckled the engine against the convertor. Wow! That’s cool… The starting tree was activated and I released the trans brake. The car nicely squatted on to the wheelie bars and fired forward. But for some unknown reason, the car drifted to the centerline shortly after the launch. When the front wheels were back on the ground, I gingerly tried to coax the car back into the center of our lane. No deal… The car wasn’t interested. I aborted the pass shortly after the 1/8 mile mark. No big deal… The car didn’t feel like it was on much of a run away. No big loss… My thought was that the nitrous pressure dropped very quickly during the run. We coasted to a 8.19 elapsed time for our first qualifier. That wasn’t going to cut it here and it certainly wasn’t part of our strategy for this weekend.
The on-board computer indicated that I stepped off the throttle 5.3 seconds into the run. Hmm… An 8.19 doesn’t seem all that bad considering I got out of it so early in the run. This thing must’ve been going quicker then I thought. Examination of the time slip confirmed this… 4.98 @ 142 to the 1/8 mile mark… Whoa! This thing was making a move! At that point, the usual irresponsible speculation began. How fast would it have been? Hmm… On our record setting 7.75 pass at Grand Bend, the 1/8 mile ET was a 5.04… So some simple math indicated that we were probably on a high 7-sixty-something or a very low 7-seventy-something pass. I’m an optimist so as far as I was concerned, it was headed for the sixties.
When we pulled the spark plugs for examination, the ground strap on the #3 plug had been partially burned back. It seemed minor and there didn’t appear to be any melted aluminum on the plug, so it was unlikely that the piston was burned. I guess we were lucky that I had to abort that pass, otherwise this thing may have melted a piston… But let’s not get all happy yet, we still need to do a compression test.
Uh oh… #3 is down a touch from the other cylinders on compression… It probably lifted a ring… Well what do we want to do? Pull the engine and re-do that hole? Or just tune that cylinder down?
After Super Mod strong-man Jim Huber, bested our ET record by .001 and Anthony Di Somma ran a 7.76, what we needed to do became abundantly apparent. We needed to have everything the engine could offer this weekend. It wasn’t long before we we’re pulling the engine out and removing the oil pan and odd side cylinder head.
We removed the #3 rod & piston to find basically nothing wrong. It just had a tiny piece of spark plug debris lodged in the ring land. If we had left it alone, it probably would have worked itself free. Better safe then sorry… We gave the #3 piston a new top ring and re-assembled the motor and car. We’d be ready to turn up the heat on Saturday.
The second round of qualifying was run after a short rain delay on Saturday morning. The car was re-tuned for Saturday’s atmospheric conditions and to compensate for whatever went wrong in cylinder #3. Basically Jeff Prock de-tuned the car. He took some nitrous away from the motor while leaving the fuel quantity in it for the larger jets. This was done just to assure that the engine would make it all the way down the track with no damage and just to find our feet again. It was going to just be a tune-up pass for the final session
We were somewhat surprised by our performance in the second round. We were paired with the current #2 qualifier, Anthony Di Somma, who had run a 7.76 in the first round. At the launch, Di Somma slightly slipped out ahead of us. We both proceeded down the track in rapid fashion with our car progressively passing him. Again, from the driver’s seat, the run didn’t feel all that incredibly fast, but this time I knew better. I had just went across the finish line ahead of Di Somma by a decent margin. So I knew it must’ve been a good run. The Pelech Bros. Racing squad posted a nice 7.71 to take the #1 qualifying slot away from Huber. Even though our 7.71 was fast enough to regain the record, we would still need to back it up within 1% to make it official. Jim Huber had just officially set the record with his 7.73 posting in the 2nd round. We needed to have the record as part of our master plan. Di Somma had just severely melted his engine due to a mechanical failure within his fuel system. He was now out of contention. It looked like it would be us and Huber duking it out for the record and #1 qualifier honors.
Our Crew Chief and Chief Tuner, Jeff Prock from Applied Nitrous Technologies, again massaged the fuel and spark for the 3rd and final session. He didn’t do anything crazy. He was just going to settle the tune-up, look for a little consistency, and for an indication of which direction the tune-up should go next.
The sun was beginning to hang low in the late afternoon sky as the call was made for the last qualifier. Ironically, we would end up paired with Jim Huber for final qualifying pass. We both staged and waited for the start. Our fastest pass ever would be the result. Our car ran a stout 4.96 at 144 MPH to the half track mark and ran 7.67 at whopping 182.21. We re-affirmed our #1 qualifying position, regained the ET record at 7.67, and also ran the fastest MPH ever for a Super Mod car. We hadn’t run fast enough yet to officially back up our 182 for the MPH record. We needed the 5 bonus points for setting that record so we’d attempt to do just that on Sunday.
Dan “Dollar” Bills, our first round competitor for Sunday’s elimations, had broke during a test pass on Friday. This would give us a bye-run for our first pass. Even having a solo pass, we didn’t let up. We still needed to back up our 182 for the MPH record and even though the quality of both lanes was about even, we wanted to make sure we had lane choice in case the surface conditions did change. Our car ran a nice 7.73 at a 180.02. Good enough for lane choice, but not good enough to back up the MPH record.
Round 2 would have us paired with the iron man of Super Mod, Jim Monson. Jim has been relentlessly and successfully working at improving the performance of his car. Knowing that Jim is not afraid to bet it all, we decided not to risk experimenting with our set-up. One slip and Jim would be all over us. We were running well enough to theoretically go to the final round, so we elected not to push our luck just yet. As we staged, Jim would have some difficulty with his trans-brake and would accidentally red light. We would end up posting a 7.76 at 180.02. Luckily, we would win another round and score another 5 points, but still no back-up for the MPH record. No sweat yet, we still have at least one more shot at it.
We’d now be racing against Phil Plestis in the semi-finals. Based on what was happening on the other side of the eliminations ladder, it looked as if Huber was in typical form and destined for the final round. Not only did we want to be there to race him; we wanted to beat him. Now was the time to step it up. The only problem was, we were quietly battling an intermittently functioning O2 sensor and our individual cylinder control hasn’t worked all season. We would obviously be taking a somewhat calculated risk. To make matters even more challenging, the car was sort of lazy to get on the convertor on the last pass. To combat this, I was instructed to ride the gas and brake pedals so that the RPM would already be up as I staged the car and hit the trans-brake button. Unfortunately, Phil double-staged. This made staging for me even more sensitive and difficult. Even more unfortunate, I had trouble controlling our car, due to the elevated engine RPM, during staging. I ended up accidentally sliding into the pre-stage and stage beams at the same time. Let’s just say that I wasn’t quite ready when the tree was activated. An un-prepared .620 reaction time was the duly deserved result. The chase was now on. I made like Roscoe P. Coltrain and I was in hot pursuit. We closed the gap with each passing mark on the strip. At about 900’ or so, Phil had been reeled in and our car was set to slip around him.
And then… Disaster.
I heard a loud bang as flames fired out of the hood scoop and from the back of the hood. Need less to say, I immediately stepped off the throttle and helplessly fell off the pace. It was a minor nitrous backfire. Nothing serious. The fire immediately vanished and with it, so did our chances for one last win.
According to the time slip, we were on another great pass. That was of little consequence now. The bad thing was, we never backed up our MPH record. And to make matters worse, we would also end up losing our ET record. None of that mattered now though. We we’re on an all or nothing cause. If we failed in any one arena, our goal of finishing in 2nd would not be realized.
And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it does. We would later learn that, in reality, there was no mathematical way for us to obtain 2nd place. Due to the NSCA handing out some “gift” points for the rain out/make up race from Union Grove, we we’re actually 11 points further in the hole then we believed. We would later have a discussion with a member of the NSCA staff regarding their un-orthodox points policy. The NSCA rulebook clearly states how points are awarded. Points are awarded for passing tech, qualifying position, and finishing position in eliminations. The rulebook also states that bonus points are awarded for setting the ET record or the MPH record. According to the NSCA rulebook, these are the only way to obtain world championship points. No where in the rulebook does it provide for scoring points by any other means. Earlier in the year, the NSCA gave out 11 points that are not provided for in their rulebook. The official did not see this matter as we did. We were very disappointed by the NSCA’s position on this issue. The official asked if finishing in third was really that much of a disgrace. No, it is not! But… Go ask second place the same question…
Had we known what the point scenario truly was, we would’ve completely re-evaluated our position and our strategy. We most certainly would have went defensive and not offensive. We wouldn’t have spent nearly as much money, time, effort, so forth and wouldn’t have taken ANY of the risks that we did. What disappoints me most about this situation is Tim & Myself, Tony Flosky, Jeff Prock (and Applied Nitrous Technology), and our entire crew wagered heavily on a bet that, as it would turn out, there was NO way to win. But in reality, there are no winners, only those who didn’t lose as much.
In a nutshell, this is how our season would end. We are very happy to have run as well as we did at Columbus and for that matter, the entire season. We are not at all disappointed by our #3 finish in the points. The way I see it, only two guys in the nation did better then we did. Not bad.
So now we head into the off season. Now what? Hard to say. Steve Mc Queen once said, “Racing is living. Everything else is just waiting.”
Now… I just wait.
Ted & Tim Pelech
Pelech Bros. Racing