Well, put a stamp on it and mail it…the 2011 race season ended for me last weekend at my home track. I guess that technically speaking a track that’s a 4-1/2 hr, 250 mile one-way tow to another state, wouldn’t be considered “home” by most standards. BUT, Montgomery has been awful good to me over the past year and a half as 3 of my 5 race wins in the Outlaw 5.30 Index class have come at MMP. The track always seems to work well, and the competition is fierce, but for the most part friendly….therefore Alabama truly feels like a “sweet” home to me.
Such was the case Friday afternoon as my good friend Mike Freeman and I arrived at the track in time to do our routine maintenance, and take a test lap before the evenings single qualifying session. As fate would have it, our lane assignment was in the lane that NO fast cars had been down all night long…the left one. You see, when testing began, the very first car out on the track was an outlaw pro-mod who went in the right lane, and nailed down a 4.0 pass at nearly 200 mph with seemingly little effort. So all of the other cars tested in the right lane right up until qualifying…accept us. So in a “green” lane with very little traction I set out to get some type of barometer of where we stood for the ensuing qualifying session. What a ride. Left, right, left, and right again spinning the tires all the way through the 1/8th mile for a 5.42 pass, and to add insult to injury, I hit a 55 gallon drum smack square, dead-on in the pits on my way back to the trailer. Apparently somebody was thoughtful enough to sit it out in the dark in order to save a parking place for one of his buddies. I got out of the car wearing my full gear, including helmet, and just sat alone inside my dark trailer for about 5 minutes trying to piece together what just happened. This sure didn’t feel like home…
After a quick sulk, Mike and I set about making a series of adjustments over the next half hour or so and managed to make the best of the bad conditions by putting a 5.34 pass on the books in that dreaded left lane which qualified us somewhere in the middle of the pro ladder. Live to fight another day was my mantra, and I was just happy to come through without any noticeable wounds to man or machine.
Saturday was an all day long tuning struggle and after it was all said and done, we’d slightly improved upon our qualifying order with a 5.32 pass. While it was an upgrade, it still seemed like miles apart from the string of nearly perfect 5.30 passes that I’d watched my competitors make. As I was sitting strapped in the car, I swear that I saw no less than 4 cars run the number. Oh well, if there’s anything I’ve learned about this stuff it’s that while qualifying at the top can definitely help your odds, it certainly won’t win you races…you have to show up and do your part every round.
On this particular weekend it didn’t appear is if we were going to win much of anything. However, my daily devotion that morning encouraged me to “press toward the goal” (Phil. 3:14), and not look behind me. While this was great advice, I couldn’t help to notice what was actually in the lane directly in front of me…..a JET ENGINED DRAGSTER! Now, I’m as big a fan of fire, smoke and mayhem as the next guy…but not when I have to drive my temperamental race car right behind it in a lane that’s now been essentially oiled down with kerosene.
Looks like I’d have to make my own traction and hope that it would be enough. So I did a burnout from the water box to past the 60 ft marker feathering the throttle on and off in an attempt to lay down some rubber and burn off some kerosene. While the crowd certainly enjoyed it, and John Force himself would’ve been proud, I wasn’t so sure it would work until I saw my win light come on. Whew! Press forward…
5 rounds later, and without the benefit of lane choice all night long, I found myself in the unlikely position of another final round appearance. Sweet Home Alabama again! However, a victory just wasn’t meant to be as I had the better reaction time, but was late to get on the brakes and gave it up on the other end of the track, breaking out with a 5.297 or by 3 thousandths of a second. Of course I wanted to win badly, but Mike and I both agreed that even though this mess had fallen just short of a masterpiece, it was still a strong outing and a nice way to end the season.
If you’ll recall, last year I raced right on up until Turkey day weekend in an attempt to capitalize on the racing momentum that seemed to be going my way. This year, even though I’ve gotten a small streak going, I’ve decided to end things a little earlier as my battle proven Camaro is in dire need of a freshen and some upgrades in order to be competitive next season. The plan at this point is to; take the engine apart, upgrade the internals from a 565 CID to a 598 CID, add a second nitrous kit, lighten the car with fiberglass components, re-do the chassis and 4-link components….and paint the entire car. Basically, the only thing we’re going to change is everything, lol…in an attempt to run the 4.70 class. Seems pretty ambitious, but we’ve already gone from 6.0 to 5.30, so why stop now?
As for the blown alcohol nostalgia funny car, we’re making progress there too.
So far I’ve gotten my block and heads from Dart, valve train components from Comp, crank from Lunati, wheels from Holeshot, and tires from M&H…now that the racing season is over, it’s a matter of finding the time and parts needed to make the 509 CID combination come to life. Hopefully we’ll be on track for the track sometime later next spring.
Finally I’d just like to say thanks again to all of the old and new sponsors & friends who have hung in there this season and helped through all the lows and highs, the list is long and God is at the top. Without praise going up in ALL situations….the blessings can’t rain down (thanks Andy). Next is my wife, and crew chief Amber, Corky Coker of Coker & Phoenix race tires, Jack McInnis of Dart Machinery, Chris Douglas and crew at Comp Cams, Stanley Poff at TCI transmissions, Marlene and Joe at Holeshot wheels, Steven Farrow of Farrow Motorsports, David Leach, Mike Freeman, and my pastor Ken Clark of Oakwood Baptist.
Let’s do it again in 2012!!!
Often times at the races the difference between a good day and a bad day is just a state of mind. Lately I’ve had to keep telling myself that just getting to the race track and having somebody with me that’s willing to help out is a victory. Such was the case Saturday morning as my wife and I loaded up and headed south to Steele, AL for an outlaw 5.30 class race. I think that both of us still had fresh memories from a couple of weeks back of the hot Georgia sun and the whipping we took on our minds. So as we rolled down the road, I started to feel really selfish and bad knowing that this too, was going to be another long, hot day and if things kept going the same way they had been, then it probably would be a less-than-spectacular result. We drove across the scenic Alabama countryside and I watched couples on jet ski’s having fun out on the lake, we drove past a shopping mall where families were eating, and going to movies….a little further down the road a camp ground and a picnic. Amber never complained, but I kept feeling smaller and smaller as I observed all the fun things that everybody else was doing with their Saturday mornings.
We got to the track, unloaded, and got ready for the day. As I was putting the finishing touches on the car, my buddy Mike (“the scooter guy” from AL) rolled up and he instantly brightened up my day. We visited, talked, and then he looked at me seriously and asked “how’s your walk with the Lord?” I told him that I felt like I’d been in a spiritual drought and had drifted, but that I’d been trying earnestly for the past month to turn it around and turn everything back over to God. I told him about feeling creepy and selfish for even being there…so we prayed together and I came to the conclusion that everybody present was there for a reason, so I decided that I’d better do my part and show up when it counted.
My first pass down the track was a 5.47, with a hard left turn just past the 60 ft. cone, and without my nitrous system engaged. I got back to the trailer and at first I didn’t even know what to do or say…but all I can say now is that somebody else must have been praying too, because after a couple of adjustments to the car and a revised strategy, I went 5.308 and qualified #1!! The next part of the challenge came in the form of a 3 hour rain delay, and a 25 degree change in temperature. Not to worry, my trusty crew chief and I made the most of it by taking a golf cart trip over to the Pilot truck stop across the street where we fueled up on Subway and coffee, got back to work on the car, then went right into eliminations running another, 5.308, 5.312 and 5.320 (that one was on the brakes) taking us right on through to the final round against fellow Phoenix tire competitor and friend Tim Jones.
Tim had lane choice, and lined up on the left which was fine by me as I’d been running right lane all night…as I glanced to my right I couldn’t believe my eyes as there were still people seated in the stands at 3:30 in the morning! At this point, regardless of the outcome, we’d had a great day in more ways than one…but the icing on the cake came in the form of a 5.304 pass and my first outlaw 5.30 class victory of the 2011 season!! The smile on Amber’s face as she met me back by the trailer, and the post-race congratulations from “scooter guy” Mike (who stuck around for the final…because he said he knew all day long that I was going to win, lol!), told me that everything had worked out just the way that it was supposed to. While it didn’t have all the hype of an ORSCA or ODRA win, it was BY FAR the most meaningful and my favorite one so far.
So last night I’m talking over a couple of racing-related things with the Mrs., like what service needs to be done to the camaro in the off season, where we should race, how the nostalgia funny car deal is coming together, etc., and after having a couple of good “Talledaga Nights” style, “I’m a driver’s wife”…laughs, it gets pointed out to me that I should step it up and run 5.0 or 4.70 in the camaro next season. Oh man – sounds like the speed bug has bitten somebody else……and suddenly I don’t feel so selfish anymore!!
Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
I don’t believe that a person can excel in motorsports or in life without genuine, honest to goodness, always got-your-back type friends. I’ve got a few in racing that I truly cherish and my fellow 5.30 class competitor, Paul Baxter, is one of them. I met him about 3 years ago when I was first getting started at the drag strip. He came up from Atlanta to test and tune one Friday night in the fall of 2008 at my home town track here in Chattanooga. At the time he was running 5.0 seconds in the 1/8th mile, and for somebody like me who had never gone faster than 6.40, it appeared as if they would have to put asbestos down on the track after words to keep it from melting from the sheer exhibition of speed. At the end of the night he came over to where I was parked, introduced himself, then proceeded to tell me what a nice car I had and encouraged me to stick with it. I became an instant fan.
In March of 2010 I was down in Montgomery, AL where the ORSCA season opener had just gotten under way. After the first round of qualifying, I was sitting on the floor of Steven’s trailer stunned by what had just happened out on the track. It was my first attempt at running the 5.30 class with a brand new engine/transmission/suspension/nitrous/everything combination that had just been completed the night before…and my car went up into SEVERE tire shake, ripped into the body panels and headed right towards the wall in mid-flight. Paul came by, and made the comment that that looked violent – I responded by saying that he should have seen it from the inside. He offered up some veteran advice and encouraged me to stick with it. I went on to have a season that FAR exceeded my expectations, while he suffered set back after set back and never really factored into the overall points standings.
Early April of this year, I was back out at my local track for the “Battle of the States” 5.30 class race, and I was struggling….2010 ended on such an incredible high note, that unfortunately there was only one direction to go, and it wasn’t a lot of fun. It just seemed like there were a lot of distractions, drama, and stuff going on that just didn’t have anything at all to do with racing…and I was discouraged to the point of considering hanging up my helmet for a while. He encouraged me to stick with it, and told me that he was going to pray for me, and that he would help me anyway that he could. I think he qualified #1 that weekend, and it was his race to win, but unfortunately he suffered an early exit.
Fast-forward to this past weekend at the Saturday night shootout 5.30 race in Reynolds, GA. Paul called me earlier in the week to make sure that I was going, and to offer my wife and me a place to sleep if we needed it. I got to the track Friday and gave him a call to see where he was. He’d had to work a little later than expected and was running late. So I saved him a spot and went on out to the track to test. Right off the trailer I ran a 5.31, and things were looking pretty good…..Paul’s situation was a little less optimistic. After getting unloaded he had a thrash on his hands with trying to get ready for qualifications. I pitched in the best I could and we both sweated it out in the blazing sun and upper 90 degree heat to make the necessary repairs needed to get him on the track. For the rest of qualifying he was never really close and ended up seeded 24th out of 25 cars. I had my struggles as well, but fared better with a 9th place position. I was fairly confident that my first round opponent would be what’s known in racing terms as a “duck” ala “sitting duck,” and that they would be ripe for being picked off.
The elimination ladder was completed and it was posted that the #9 qualifier would be racing #24, therefore Paul would be my first round opponent. I walked up to his trailer and broke the news to which he replied, “Well, I hope that whatever happens will give God the most glory.” We had one of the closest races of the night, my .003 reaction time vs. his .007, however I couldn’t run the number and Paul put up a superb 5.302 E.T. for the win. I couldn’t be upset, it was just a good ole drag race between a couple of buddies, and I was on the losing end. Paul went on to slice through the rest of the field like a hot-knife through butter, and won his first race in 4 years.
It took me a couple of days to let his words sink-in about God’s glory, and what my role in all of this is….but the best I can figure is that it’s to share this story with others about how somebody who lives with a Christian attitude has impacted me directly and a lot of other people indirectly. It’s true that racing is high-visibility and that somebody is always watching, but the true measure of a man is what they do when nobody is looking.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
So far, 2011 hasn’t been the racing season that I had hoped for. Even though we’re really only about 1/2 way through it, seems like I’ve been in a drought in a lot of ways. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve raced 4 different classes this year with the same car and it’s been tuff. The other day I tried to relate the complexity of this task to a co-worker here at Coker tire where timed, multi-staged, vintage rally car racing reigns supreme. I told him it would be the equivalent of trying to race a rally event with a different set of rules, competitors and crew members every day for the duration of the event. Suffice it to say, it’s been difficult to get a rhythm going. The real struggle has been to maintain a positive attitude and not get lost in the constant re-shuffling. Why all the jumping around you ask? 5.30 Class racing just hasn’t been as available this season, not without a lot of travel anyways, and in order to be a contender in the 5.0 class, I’ll need another stage of nitrous, and a couple of suspension upgrades, which I’d like to add in the off season. So, we’ve been trying to the best we can with what we’ve got by slowing down and running 6.0.
So what exactly does that mean, and what are the benefits? Say you finish first place at something, haven’t you really just isolated yourself from everybody else that competed? Is that the desired result? Is it healthy? Well, after 2 races this year I haven’t had to worry about it…but man I sure have had a good time losing. Sounds crazy, but without the stress of going after a championship, I’ve really enjoyed seeing old friends at the track, meeting new ones, introducing co-workers to the sport….and really just the sights and sounds of my hot rod and others getting rowdy on the race track. No I haven’t lost my desire to win, not at all. After last season, it’s probably worse than ever. Just ask my girlfriend Amber, she could tell you all about. However, I’m really trying to savor the experience of the process rather than the end result.
Well the days are starting to get longer, and old man winter appears to be loosening his grip a little more each day. That means spring is right around the corner and with it the start of a new racing season. I’m tired of watching, reading, writing & talking about it…I’m just ready to start doing it.
Last season was both awesome and disappointing at the same time. It was awesome from the standpoint that my friend Steven and I put a car together just two weeks before the first race, and ran it all year without a single mechanical mishap. We also won a lot of rounds and had enough momentum to be a serious threat for a championship in ORSCA. Disappointing from the standpoint that the series folded a month before the end of the season and we never got a chance.
The approach to this year will be much different. Rather than chase after rainbows with outlaw series championship gold at the end of them, I’m going to stay a little closer to home, do some local races, and continue to build upon my dream of running a nitro funny car. The goal is to use my time and racing resources wisely, and providing that everything falls in place, run a full time nostalgia funny car program in 2012.
My first race of the year will be at my hometown track; the Brainerd Dragstrip in Ringgold, GA. Last year I missed out on the “Outlaw Reunion” race, and after much hype, I hear it was quite a show with racers coming in from each of our surrounding states and also as far away as TX, NY, FL, etc. However, this time it’s all systems go for us at “Battle of the States” in 5 weeks.
A couple of weekends from now I’m going to pull out my tried and true battle-axe for a little spring time repair and restoration. Along with regular service/maintenance, a new steering rack will be installed in an attempt to shed a few pounds and hopefully fix the current grocery buggy handling/steering characteristics. I also hope to get in a day of testing between now and then….if not, the battle of Brainerd will just have to be fought on the fly.
Finally, I’m very, very, very proud to announce that all of our sponsors; Coker Tire, Dart, Comp, Royal Purple and Hole Shot wheels are back on board for 2011 and are stepping up to help with the funny car program in a major way. Much more on that in the months to follow…
As of November 2010, Project 5.30’s first season was officially on the books…and magazines. Below is a link to RPM magazine which ran a three part series on the Outlaw 6.0 class to Outlaw 5.30 class metamorphosis that took place last season. The official tally was 9 races total with; 3 wins and 4 semi-final appearances. Not bad for someone who gets accused (unfairly) of putt-ing around town like an old lady in my pick-up truck…
Scroll down to “E-Tech”, and you’ll see the “It’s 5.30 Somewhere” articles written by Tommy Lee Byrd, which hit the highlights of what it took to put rubber on the road last season. Click each cover and enjoy.
So, what’s been going on this winter? So far, a lot of this…
…and a lot of funny car homework. Army Armstrong is up in frozen PA at the Funny Factory putting the final touches on our ’69 Nova, while further south the game plan is being finalized to run a big block Chevy on nitro methane. This is without a doubt, one of those situations where the more you learn…the more you realize how little you know. It’s humbling to say the least and it’s a good thing that there are good people willing to help out. Jack McInnis at Dart Machinery turned us onto Sean Belt, who has successfully run a BBC/Nitro combo and been more than willing to share tips of the trade. Also huge on the help list is Chris Douglas and Dean Harvey of Comp Cams, who selected the perfect cam/valve train combination for our unique needs.
There will be MUCH more to follow on this build…but for now just know that there’s a “It’s 4.30 Somewhere”…project in the works.
Stay warm and God Bless,
As of last weekend, my sophomore racing season is officially on the books, and what a ride it has been. For those of you that haven’t heard the information first hand (which is practically everybody) ORSCA is now officially a bust, and with it are my dreams of a championship season. It’s a shame. The premier outlaw series in the country has inexplicably pulled the plug on its last 2 races without awarding class champions. As you may recall from the last post, we were uniquely positioned for a chase at the title after winning the last race…too bad we won’t get the chance to see how it would have all played out. (more…)
Ola mi drag racing amigos! Whoa what a minute….last week was when the international spotlight was on dragracetires.com, this week things are a little more home spun, biscuits & gravy style. So after powering down a couple of Hardee’s finest, I got on the road again with my buddy Mike Freeman and headed up to Knoxville, TN for a little 5.70, IHRA “Quick Rod”, style racing. The rule book on this one says that throttle stops are legal, and with no minimum weight limit or tire rule, basically anything goes. If you can start it, you can run it. High dollar dragsters vs. door cars, vs. altereds oh my! (more…)
After experiencing PA’s hottest stretch of the summer a couple of weeks back, only to come home to similar conditions in my home state of TN, I thought how much hotter could it get? Well, I found out. My a/c at home decided to go on an untimely strike for a couple of days (it was repaired last minute or I would’ve been staying at home in Memphis’ kiddy pool with him; ed. note – see dog in pool pict.), so we decided to pack up and head further south into the heart of Dixie for a little outlaw racing. Saturday it was 90 degree’s at 8:30 in the morning…and it didn’t get any cooler throughout the day, staying above 100 for most of the afternoon. OK, OK, enough about the weather. It was just something else we’d have to deal with, and it was the same for everybody…but man it was hot! (more…)