Monday, August 22, 2011

Bonneville 2011

Just as the dawn was breaking last Saturday, team Cannarozzi packed up and headed for the Bonneville Salt Flats.  We had originally intended to stopover in Elko for the night and make a quick jump into West Wendover the following morning.  However, the hotel in Elko was not ready to receive us and we just decided to run on through after Chris managed to score us a couple of suites at the Nugget for the night.

We dropped Randy's truck and the roadster at the entrance to the salt and headed back to the Nugget to get unpacked, grabbed a few tacos at Trinas and checked out the scene in the parking lot.  As always, there were quite a few legitimate hot rods to be seen.

The next morning seemed to arrive quickly after just a few hours of sleep. We made our way out to the pits, set up base camp and got the roadster over to tech for inspection.  The inspection itself was much smoother than expected and the roadster breezed through, however, before we were done Chris had to demonstrate an emergency driver bailout utilizing the Hans device.  Anytime you have to perform some procedure for someone else to approve it seems to bring back memories of being called up to the blackboard...uughhh.  Chris was as cool as the other side of the pillow and made the bailout look simple...we were clear to make a run at the salt.

Keith Tardel, proprietor of Rex Rods, flew into Salt Lake and met us out at the salt to see his handiwork in action.

Tow bar attached, the crew and the roadster made it out to the starting line of course #3.  This year, there were four courses - #1 was the long course for the big boys, streamliners and the like, #2 was a combo course with both 5 and 7 mile lengths and gets quite busy, #3 was a short course and we learned had a better surface than #2 and finally #4 was a super short course, 3 miles I think and was being used for rookie drivers for the first day or two only.

We made only a single shake down run on Sunday, but it was an encouraging...131.235 MPH, about 5 MPH faster than the car had gone before.  Fast, but not fast enough as the record stands at 153.603 MPH, set by the Flatliners Speed Society back in 1998.

The following day, we made three runs and made some timing/fuel changes to lean out the fuel injection as the effective altitude was rapidly climbing from the 4,200 ft. that Bonneville sets at up to about 7,200 ft. by the end of the day as temperatures rose. The runs were decent, 127.521 MPH,  131.388 MPH (our best yet) and 126.290 MPH but mysterious in that we were not making the gains that the car was clearly capable of.  It seemed that gearing was an issue, we needed different gears.  It seems counter intuitive to use shorter gears in a land speed car, but we couldn't get into fifth gear at all and decided that pulling 4th gear for 2 miles was not going to get us where we needed to be.

We encountered some difficulties pulling the rear inspection cover off the quick change...the top bearing set was very snug on the the spindle shaft and the bearings themselves didn't seem to spin as freely as one would think they should...but we installed new gears and marched forward.  We also had a run where the temp gauge spiked at 265 degrees so we decided that the next morning we'd remove the restrictors in the return pipes leading to the water tank.

Tuesday morning, we made some incremental gearing changes to the drop gears and removed the restrictors in the water tank and hoped for the best.  The first run was 129.710 MPH, the second was a bit slower at 128.100 MPH.  It was after that run that we realized that we'd blown the driver's side head gasket!

As half the crew tore the top end of the engine apart, the other half headed into Wendover to get some copper gasket sealer and lots of water to refill the tank with.  In short order, the gaskets were repaired and the engine reassembled...we'd rest for the night and see how things went the following day.

All fueled up with coffee and a renewed spirit, Wednesday greeted us with a sucker punch! After getting into fourth just after the 1/4 mile marker, the car was pulling hard when it all went to pieces, literally.  The bearings in the quick change disintegrated...sort of.  Chris let up and the car still pulled 127.134 MPH.  As she coasted to a stop at the pickup area, it was readily apparent that something major had broken.

The car was pulled back to the staging area for course #3 as well known and accomplished photographer Peter Vincent wanted to take some shots of the car and crew.  As a side note, you'd be hard pressed to find a better looking vintage roadster than the 312 anywhere on the salt.

Pics taken, the car was towed back to the pits and the rear end opened up...what we saw was horrific.  The upper bearing on the drop gears was, for all intents and purposes, gone!  The outer race was stuck in the inspection cover, the inner grafted to the gouged out upper shaft - oh, and the bearings, they had gone through the ring and pinon like coffee beans through a grinder and the end result was a slurry of bearing paste.  Think about that, the force necessary to grind ball bearings into paste.  There were a few stray bearings that survived by hiding, like the one embedded up to its equator in the aluminum inspection cover!

We were done and we knew it.

With amazing speed and efficiency, we packed in the pits, loaded the car on the trailer and headed back into Wendover.  After checking out of our rooms and collecting ourselves and our stuff, we had a nice sit down lunch buffet at the Peppermill down the street before embarking on a ten hour drive across the wastelands of Nevada.

Although we were disappointed in the end results, we were also encouraged.  The engine was clearly a monster, spinning up fast and hard to 6,200 rpms and making tons of torque at the upper end.  We talked about strategy, parts and the desire to get back on the salt before next way we can wait an entire year to see this beasty run again!  Maybe Bonneville again in October or El Mirage, we're not sure yet, but I'd bet dollars to donuts it will be somewhere running full out before next August.

We'd hardly made it back to Auburn before Keith advised that he has a new quick change being sponsored for the car!  That's the spirit.

The next day, we spent the better part of the morning cleaning all the salt off the vehicles, the roadster, and our gear.  The interior of the car, the water tank and such were pulled out and the car prepped to take to Keith to have the engine torn down for inspection and the new rear end figured out.

If anything, we are well determined to get this car ready for another run - watch this blog for updates, pics and videos as we prepare for another attack on the salt!

Want to help the cause?  Buy a cool t-shirt, just click the link on the right...

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