UR­BAN WAR­FARE

> ARBY’S 2018 HOT ROD DRAG WEEK AD­VEN­TURE DIDN’T QUITE GO TO PLAN

Street Machine - - Contents - MARK AR­BLASTER

WE ALL need a good ar­se­kick­ing ev­ery once in a while, and I guess this year’s Hot Rod Drag Week was my turn to cop one.

Go­ing into the event I was con­fi­dent, as my POR440 VG Valiant’s per­for­mance had un­til that point been al­most fault­less across two con­ti­nents.

What­ever in­spired me to pull a near-fault­less car apart in the weeks lead­ing up to this year’s event is be­yond me. Well, that’s not en­tirely true; at the back of my mind was that gnaw­ing de­sire to go quicker and bust the car into the eights, and I felt I re­ally needed to pull it down as it had done a lot of work and was due for a se­ri­ous heath check.

In two years it had never even had the plugs changed, as ev­ery time I pulled a cou­ple they looked as good as the day they were fit­ted. The only thing it ever got was a new squirt of Cas­trol Edge oil.

At the end of 2017 I left the car in the States, even­tu­ally send­ing it to Holz­man Race Cars in Wi­chita, Kansas to have a few small jobs done. The main item on the to-do list was to re­place the small log ex­haust man­i­folds that I knew were chok­ing the mo­tor and stop­ping it from mak­ing more power. The car’s PB of 9.1@150.8mph and its weight in­di­cated it was mak­ing 980hp at the fly­wheel, but as much as we tried we just couldn’t crack an eight on the stock-bot­tom-end 5.3-litre LS.

A lo­cal Syd­ney Valiant en­thu­si­ast ap­proached me about do­ing a sim­i­lar LS con­ver­sion in his Valiant, so I sold him the mo­tor and the trans from POR440, which meant I needed to reload an­other mo­tor.

Af­ter a quick thrash on the in­ter­web and a cou­ple of calls to Lil John’s Mo­tor­sport and I had all the bits I needed to slam an­other 5.3 in the car, but this time with a pair of AFR 220 heads that of­fered bet­ter clamp­ing pres­sure for when I wanted to up the boost to­wards the high-20s.

The other sig­nif­i­cant change was ditch­ing the 3.0:1 rear-end ra­tio for a 3.9, to al­low the car to launch much harder. I also picked up a sec­ond-hand Gear Ven­dors over­drive that I sent to Rick John­son to check out. That would al­low me to keep it nice on the street and gave me the op­tion of hav­ing the legs to run over 160mph on a lit­tle tyre.

In the weeks lead­ing up to Drag Week, the new mo­tor, the spare trans I pur­chased last year and the Gear Ven­dors all got shoe­horned into the Valiant at The Car Shop in In­de­pen­dence, Kansas, and plans were made to lug it to Hal­tech in Ken­tucky to turn out some big num­bers just a few days be­fore Drag Week. All sounds good, right?

The boys at the Car Shop, who have al­ways helped us Aussies out, did a bunch of work fill­ing in the gaps on the car, and Dan Nis­sen, last year’s Spirit of Drag Week winner, ar­rived with ‘Dorothy’, our su­per-cool 1969, fac­tory big-block D200 Dodge tow ve­hi­cle, all the way from Havre, Mon­tana, so we could get on the road.

Af­ter a 14-hour tow across to Lex­ing­ton, Ken­tucky the guys at Hal­tech had us loaded up on the dyno and ready to make some steam in no time. We were tun­ing re­motely, so while I drove the car on the dyno in Ken­tucky, Mitch Smith tuned from the couch back in Syd­ney.

There ap­peared to be some­thing dras­ti­cally wrong with the tim­ing. It be­came clear the re­luc­tor wheel on the crank had moved for some rea­son, and would not pick up a sig­nal for TDC where it should be. This took a huge amount of time to re­solve, and we started adding a few de­grees of tim­ing. Ev­ery time we did the mo­tor ran bet­ter and bet­ter, but ul­ti­mately how much tim­ing it had was un­known. But we ended up

with 580rwhp on 6psi and pump gas – a per­fect street tune.

The next morn­ing we loaded it with E85 and strug­gled with a re­cur­ring miss that ended up be­ing a faulty coil, be­fore ex­haust­ing the spring pres­sure on the waste­gates with 850rwhp on 16psi. So not the 1000-plus horses we were af­ter, but the car as run­ning well, we were out of time to find stronger springs or add CO2, and had a day to do two days’ worth of driv­ing to At­lanta for NHRA tech.

The day be­fore Drag Week was hot­ter than hell in At­lanta, and the traf­fic was like noth­ing you have ever seen. We waited all day for the track to try and cool off and we went out and blew the tyres off it twice.

Sud­denly it’s Drag Week proper, and on the first pass we left on 8psi at 3800rpm with a lean spot at 2800rpm, mak­ing it mur­der to try and get up on boost. Sure enough, we blew the tyres off, ped­alled it and drove out the back door for a 9.8@148mph.

The ser­pen­tine belt was shred­ded, and af­ter thrash­ing to get it changed, and with talk of a thundersto­rm hit­ting just af­ter mid­day, we de­cided to hit the road out of At­lanta. Our goal of an eight-sec­ond av­er­age went straight out the win­dow, but aside from start­line is­sues the car had run well, with the prom­ise of bet­ter times to come.

On the road to the next track – Dar­ling­ton Drag­way in South Carolina – the prom­ise of rain even­tu­ated, with a thun­der­ing down­pour for end­less miles. We were lucky enough to have a/c and Win­dex, though the wipers had a hissy fit and baulked at the chal­lenge.

Dar­ling­ton was a killer track, and we left on the same boost and clicked off a 1.4-sec­ond 60-foot – one of our best – and the car was on a mis­sion un­til it shut off at three-quar­ter track and rolled through to a 9.72@122mph.

The Hal­tech dat­a­log­ger later re­vealed that the en­gine pro­tec­tion had been ac­ti­vated by low oil pres­sure of 30psi, more than likely from the oil be­ing pulled away from the dip­stick. We added an­other 800ml and queued for what seemed like an eter­nity in the blis­ter­ing heat and hu­mid­ity.

With 400 cars en­tered, you re­ally need to be on your a A-game, get a good pass in, sit in the stands for a few hours to watch some rac­ing, then hit the road. That plan was crum­bling though, as we were down the end of a very long line at 2pm.

On our next pass the track had gone off, and we blew the tyres off and the en­gine shut off again at three-quar­ter track – the belt let go,

GO­ING INTO DRAG WEEK I WAS CON­FI­DENT, AS UP UN­TIL THAT POINT MY POR440 VG VALIANT’S PER­FOR­MANCE HAD BEEN PRETTY MUCH IM­PEC­CA­BLE ACROSS TWO CON­TI­NENTS

THE CAR LEFT LIKE A WET BLAN­KET, WITH THE EN­GINE STRUGGLING TO GET UP ON BOOST. THEN LIKE CLOCKWORK, THE EN­GINE SHUT OFF AT THREEQUART­ER TRACK AS AN­OTHER BELT TURNED INTO A PILE OF SPAGHETTI

the volt­age dropped and the ECU shut off. We couldn’t win!

Be­ing able to race a ZMAX Drag­way at Con­cord, North Carolina was a huge tick off my bucket list. Where else in the world do you get the chance to run on a four-lane drag strip with a mas­sive NASCAR arena just be­hind? Boy oh boy, do th­ese guys know how to build a drag strip, with seat­ing that looked to hold 100,000 peo­ple.

Overnight we had tried once again to fix our belt is­sue, but straight-edge rulers, laser lights and the naked eye had been un­able to shed any light on the mis­align­ment is­sue. Out of ne­ces­sity, we spaced the al­ter­na­tor for­ward, as it was the only bracket that wasn’t GM- or ma­chine-man­u­fac­tured.

We wound the boost back a few pounds and im­me­di­ately re­gret­ted it on the start­line, as the car left like a wet blan­ket. The en­gine strug­gled to get up on boost, but once it got in the zone it was sure to at least get us into the mid-nines and help us main­tain a mid-ni­nesec­ond av­er­age for the week, de­spite not be­ing able to get a sin­gle clean pass so far.

But like clockwork, the en­gine shut off at three-quar­ter track as an­other belt turned into a pile of spaghetti, and we rolled through for a bot­tom 10-sec­ond pass.

With no ob­vi­ous fix avail­able, and af­ter a de­layed start in the morn­ing due to heavy fog, we were faced with a mas­sive line in the stag­ing lanes and no prom­ise that the next pass would be any dif­fer­ent, so we de­cided to head on to Bris­tol, Ten­nessee, where we hoped a night of trou­bleshoot­ing would come up with a so­lu­tion.

The drive through the moun­tains to Bris­tol was spec­tac­u­lar, and with the odd shower it was re­fresh­ing to be out of the bak­ing heat. Although Google Maps promised only five hours of driv­ing, it was an­other eight-hour haul. Af­ter dis­cussing our sit­u­a­tion in a lo­cal bar, we de­cided to be in the first few cars down the track in the morn­ing, in case we needed a sec­ond pass.

Sure enough, fel­low Aussie Ben Neal and I were the first rac­ers out at Bris­tol Drag­way on Day Four. The car didn’t set any records leav­ing the line, and at three-quar­ter track I heard a noise un­der the bon­net that sounded like a belt let­ting go. The en­gine was still run­ning, so I didn’t lift un­til I saw a splash of coolant run out the edge of the bon­net.

I shut the car off, fig­ur­ing it was just a head gas­ket. We pushed it back to the pits and got the com­men­ta­tors to round up a set of gas­kets. With my trusty co-pilot and span­ner­man, Nigel Williams, we had the head off in about 25 min­utes, only to reveal the ex­tent of the dam­age – a mas­sive hole blown out the side of the head where the cylin­der had gone lean. To make mat­ters worse, it had torched the deck of the block, which would have stopped us from us­ing an­other head and re­seal­ing it. We were done. Our first DNF. Fark.

The grav­ity of our sit­u­a­tion be­gan to sink in: we were on the other side of the world, a day’s drive from Dorothy, with a busted car and no lo­cal con­tacts. For­tu­nately com­men­ta­tors David Freiburger and Brian Lohnes got on the mi­cro­phone and called out to the crowd, and a lo­cal mo­bile me­chanic came to our res­cue, picked the car up, stored it in his shop and we paid him to de­liver it to the docks a week later – af­ter the series of hur­ri­canes that were rav­aging that part of the coun­try sub­sided.

Luck­ily the Street Ma­chine boys found a spot in the back of their lux­ury van and gave us a trip back to At­lanta with the Esky at the ready to drown our sor­rows.

Day Five at At­lanta was our most en­joy­able day. Af­ter seven years of Drag Week ad­ven­tures, the crowds were the small­est I had ever seen due the un­sea­son­ably hu­mid weather, with tem­per­a­tures on av­er­age 10 de­grees hot­ter and con­stant 95 per cent hu­mid­ity. It was great to fi­nally sit in the stands and ac­tu­ally watch some rac­ing, with the Aussie con­tin­gent pick­ing up three tro­phies be­tween them.

By the time this goes to print, POR440 should be al­most home, and it’s go­ing to be good to get the en­gine out and fix the re­luc­tor wheel is­sue so I know ex­actly how much tim­ing the mo­tor had got. We’ll weld the head up and check out why we lost one in­jec­tor.

Tak­ing on a USA rac­ing ad­ven­ture can­not be done with­out help, and I want to thank Hal­tech for their phe­nom­e­nal back-up ser­vice, Dale and Mar­sha from The Car Shop, Dale Heiler and Nigel Williams for their help in the USA, Rick John­son from Gear Ven­dors, and the team from Cas­trol Edge.

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