Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Bonneville Report, at last.

Crapcans Invade Bonneville
By Mike Meier and Steve Ward.

Bonneville, where land speed records are made. Where the fastest machines on Earth show the
rest of us what can be done with a motor or two and any number of  wheels.

Bonneville, historic, sacred, and on the bucket list for 78.6 % of all males in the western world
and 0.003% of females, (totally made up numbers) the remaining 21.4% of males are not “real
men” and the remaining females, well, not racing, unfortunately.

And then there was Bonneville in 2012, tainted by the participation of two crapcans, one ChumpCar and one LeMons.

On September 13 one of the ugliest crapcans to ever run a race rolled onto the sacred salt of
Bonneville. A field-find and former circle track racer, it had run only one race in the Chump series and was held in disdain by all who looked upon her. It was actually five different cars poorly welded together to make one, and was at least that many different colors, with liberal chassis lightening achieved by years of rust. But under the wrinkled skin lay a purpose built 2085 cc turbocharged engine. True, it was built to “Chump Spec”, with an intake manifold made out of square tube, water injection made from a garden mister, and a Chinese Ebay turbo. Despite the homemade parts, it was a beast. Regardless of its inglorious racing pedigree, the car, dubbed Karmen Electra, was here to make history as "The World's Fastest Chump"!

At 4 AM Utah time Team Tinyvette arrived with its 1969 field-find Compuware Corvette-themed Opel GT, further soiling the salt. Powered by a lightly warmed Opel motor that had received dual Weber side-drafts just the day before, it was also here to make history as "The World's Fastest LeMon"!

Whether coincidence or serendipity, two of the slower cars from the only two crapcan race series in North America showing up for the same event either marks the breaking out of crapcan racing
or the direction motor sports in general is taking. But that’s trivia for ESPN or SpeedTV to jaw
on about. The Ghia had just completed a 118.2 mph run and the Tinyvette, on its first run, turned in a 117.7. This was going to be a battle of Chump versus LeMons.

With Saturday's runs in the bag Sunday would settle things once and for all. Chump or LeMons?
Karmen left the line sputtering and coughing after idling a bit too long, then caught its stride and took off, but not before two track stewards ran about 40 feet down track to pick up whatever part had just fallen off the car. Apparently it was not essential. Additional chassis lightening, perhaps.

A few minutes later the Tinyvette takes off, wheels spinning a bit too eagerly, but otherwise a
good start. 6000 rpm, shift. 6000 rpm, shift. 6000 again and the Tinyvette was in 4th at about the
half mile mark. Hold that throttle down and let her just fly. Watch the gauges. All good. A/F at
12.9/13.0 and steady. Good. Turn off the fan to gain another 1/4 hp. Futile. Two miles. Hold it
from “2-to-Q” for the speed trap, then lift and slow for the turn-around that is a generous 3/4
miles ahead. The Tinyvette turned in a 117.2 mph. Everyone was slower on Sunday, and while
that result was not bad, it was not winning.

Back in line and comparing notes, a critical discovery was made. Karmen Electra was running in
the 130 MPH Club event, a standing 1 mile attempt to reach 130 mph. The Tinyvette was in the
150 MPH Club event, a standing 2 mile attempt to reach 150 mph. Karmen was doing in 1 mile
what the Tinyvette was trying to do in 2. The competition was over. Chump had won.

The day was not done, however. Both teams had more runs ahead of them and Karmen Electra
had a real chance of getting into the 130 MPH Club. The Tinyvette had no chance of getting into
the 150 MPH Club. It was running in that event because two miles sounded like more fun than
one and with LeMons-mandated safety it easily passed tech for that event. Chump cars would undoubtedly be able to qualify for the 150 mph event. Most street cars would qualify for the 130
mph event.

With the Chump crew trying to find the tune, Karmen Electra eventually ran 122.2 before using up its allotted 6 runs. Every attempt had some minor glitch that kept the goal of 130 mph just out of reach. Spinning tires too much, bogging the engine at the start, too rich, then too lean. Getting to 130 mph in one mile in a street car or crapcan is more difficult than it sounds, plus at Bonneville one has the altitude and the rolling resistance of the salt to deal with.

The Tinyvette went on to blow up in its third run. The pretty little thing started losing power at
about the 1 mile mark and finished with a 76.8 mph run. Smoking a bit and sputtering on acceleration it made it back to the staging area and then back to its pits. The engine was puffing smoke out the valve cover and when trying to drive the car onto the trailer it shot the dip stick out. The electrode on the spark plug was gone, melted, and Team Tinyvette was pretty sure they were going home with a porous piston.

Karmen Electra, representing ChumpCar World Series, had won this one, but more importantly they went home with the honor of being the “World’s Forever First and Currently Fastest Chump” and having beat LeMons in this impromptu inaugural crapcan competition. Team Tinyvette, representing the 24 Hours of LeMons, was going home knowing it was the “World’s Forever First and Currently Fastest LeMon”, and consoles itself with the knowledge that its title sounds better than Chump’s.

"The World of Speed" at Bonneville is a grand grassroots event. It's more laid back than August’s "Speed Week" and it includes the novelty events that open up the salt to regular folk and irregular crapcans. It does have a very serious land speed record section, however, and if you have never heard the Doppler shift of a 400 mph car streaking by, you need to. Your life is not complete.

Most of all, some of the friendliest and most helpful people in the world (Team Tinyvette had to
borrow arm restraints and a spark plug.) bring the world’s most impressive home built toys to see
if they can get their car into the history books, or at least a few autobiographies. Chump and
LeMons cars, with minor modifications, would pass tech for the 130 MPH Club event and add a
window net or arm restraints and the 150 MPH Club opportunity could be yours. To learn about The World of Speed go to