Or how I learned about nitrous……..The hard way.
Or how I learned about nitrous……..The hard way.
Lassiter Mountain is a dragstrip in Birmingham, Alabama that has been in existence since the early Sixties. At one time the track had been a full quarter mile, but that had proven to be dangerous as there just wasn’t enough room to safely shut down. Sometime way back when, and in the interest of safety, it was shortened to 1/8th mile. It has been operating as an 1/8th mile track ever since.
Calling Lassiter a dragstrip is a relatively loose definition at best. After becoming used to the NHRA/IHRA sanctioned tracks I had frequented in the midwest, ( ThunderValley S.D., K.C.I.R., KC, MO. And Scribner, NE.) my original assessment of Lassiter was that they had paved the bottom of a river bed.
I mean literally. The staging lanes are all on a progressive downhill grade that “levels out” in the burnout area. There are no guard rails, except at the starting line (to protect the Christmas tree) and at the big end of the track, where they show up around the win lights ( supposedly to protect said win lights from 3000 lbs of out of control future scrap metal traveling @100 plus MPH). The pit side lane is bordered by a grass covered wall of dirt that ranges in degree of steepness from cliff at the starting line to about the 330 (just past the bleachers) to a much less aggressive steep incline from there to the finish line.
The spectator side lane is just a wall of dirt with these really big assed rocks still sticking out of the wall of dirt, about 20’ high, capped by a chain link fence at the top of the wall to keep spectators from falling off, and onto the track . It eventually “mellows” out to a similar to the pit side “grassy knoll” at the finish line, which is bordered by woodlands with 60 year old hardwoods as “impact barriers” for the rest of the shutdown area. ( I think the guard rail runs the length from the win lights to an accepted “safe” distance past that in the shutdown area, but I was never paying much attention to the guard rails at the big end of the track for some reason or another).
Sounds like a fun place right?….I thought so too.
Here is an old pic of the place. (you can stop imagining now)
The one thing that was significantly different about Lassiter ( besides the dirt guard rails) was that it was a fun place to hang out, and “Run what you brung”.
They always had a bracket program running on Friday night, but I never went there to bracket race. Alternatively, you could pay your entry fee and grudge race between rounds. On most any night, you could get in 6-7 passes.
It had been two years since I decided that the “responsible father” in me no longer needed childish diversions and sold the black and white Mercury Zephyr I called Hurricane. I quickly came to terms with the fact that this new addition to our family, didn’t have to mean the subtraction of my only hobby. And despite the division of our disposable funds, I could get back into cars by multiplying what I could do for money. (Pretty nifty word play on those mathematical terms don’t you think?)
In other words, I got an extra part time job.
Now that my wife couldn’t use the “taking candy from our baby” excuse anymore, I set out to build a replacement for the car I sold a few years back. After a couple of failed attempts/ and half started projects, I finally got back in the drivers seat of an 80 Mustang Coupe.
The car ended up like all of my previous projects, as I pride myself in the little details. It was painted in a “3 toned” paint scheme w/ this gay pinkish silver Cadillac hue as the main color, w/ a dark maroon back half that started at the rear of the roof and covered the trunk down to the body line. I can’t remember the 3rd color, but it was just a transition divider between the silver and the maroon in the form of a ½”small stripe.
The interior looked just like the Zephyr's, only in dark red instead. This car had an 8 pt cage.
The car had Weld Rodlite wheels. They kind of looked like old school slotted mags, but were polished spun aluminum and had a center cap that completely covered the lugs that had a three bar spinner. I called them “Ben Hur spinners”.
( For those of you that have seen the movie, I won’t go into a lot of detail. But Ben Hur was this Hebrew slave that had to race a chariot for his Roman master at the end of the movie against a bad egg that had these really sharp blades attached to the centers of his chariot wheels that shredded his opponents’ wheels)
My Ben Hur spinners weren’t sharp blades, and they weren’t there to shred my opponents wheels either, I just thought they looked cool.
What they weren’t, was S.F.I. rated. An omission I became painfully aware of later.
The car had a 9” rear and a C4, again built by me. I decided that I would learn how to rebuild a transmission on the last project, and a C4 is about as easy as it gets, so I had become comfortable w/ the thing and now had all of the modification secrets to help them to survive the abuse of drag racing. It had the case where the bell housing bolted directly to it as opposed to the pump. Down here that C4 was called a C5. In the real world, I think it was just called a heavy duty or truck C4. As you sit here reading this, you should be asking yourself “Did Ford actually made a bell housing to bolt a C4 to a 460”? and I’m here to tell you that “yeah they did“. And I found one here in Birmingham.
So now that I had a transmission that bolted to a 460, it only made sense to use an engine that fit it.
I built a 460.
At the time, (1993) there was nothing from the aftermarket available for a 460. Again, like the last project the few manufactures that did make anything were obscenely expensive. I had to go w/ what was available. That meant a stock crank, and rods, forged, dished TRW pistons, Ported Stock heads, a Weiand Stealth intake and a flat tappet hydraulic lifter cam.
I decided on a hydraulic cam because there were several companies touting their lifters as “anti pump up” and capable of similar RPM capabilities to a solid camshaft without the required lash adjustments. I had never had one before, and decided what the hell, I’d try it.
I got the engine back after only 6 months this time, while still an eternity, it was twice as fast as my last engine they machined for me. I used an actual engine hoist to install it as opposed to my cedar beam this time because the 95% cast iron 460 weighed a little over 700 lbs. Coupled to the C4 I was going to have to lift close to ½ a ton over the radiator saddle. I wasn’t taking any chances on another mishap. ( See, I only have to be told twice to do something, after trying to do it the first time my way)
I started the engine a few hours later,…and promptly wiped out a cam lobe.
The wiped out cam took the oil pump and bearings right along with it. After cussing and spitting out words that resembled American English Slang for over an hour, I set about the task of pulling the junk back out of the car.
It was on the floor in an hour. And back at the machine shop the next day.
The machine shop felt so badly, that Roy worked all day Saturday polishing the crank, honing the rods, disassembling/reassembling the heads and generally flushing the remaining metal out of the engine. I had it back completely remachined, and ready for reassembly that late afternoon. I put it together on Sunday, and this time, stayed in my comfort zone and installed a solid lifter camshaft.
Monday night it was started again, only this time the 20 minute break-in yielded a perfectly running engine, capable of idling at 800 RPM.
What I had learned about grudge racers here in Birmingham was that Nobody came to a race expecting to do it all on the motor. It didn’t matter how proud you were of your N/A engine, if you came to a race w/o nitrous, you were gonna have your ass handed to you. And in a lot more pieces than you usually preferred your ass to be.
What I knew about nitrous in 1993 could be summed up as simple as this:
1. Buy a system
2. Install the system
3. Push the button
4. Go fast
So I decided to buy 2 systems and stack the plates. I learned a little more:
Now I knew:
1. Buy the system(s)
2. Install the system(s)
3. Push the button
4. Go fast(er)
I had two super power shot systems stacked on a 460 w/ a dual plane intake manifold.
The pill assortment they came with were like: 50hp; 75hp; 100hp; 125hp; 150hp; and 175hp. The way I saw it was all those other pills were worthless, I threw the small junk back in the box, and installed the 175ers ( Phazers set to kill, Mr. Sulu)
I took my new Ford Chevy slayer to Lassiter mountain for some testing and tuning that next Friday night.
All of my newly acquired Chevyboy friends were watching as I brought the car from the staging lanes into the burnout box. I decided nothing too fancy on the burnout, and would run the car for the next several passes on the motor until I got the thing sorted out.
The first pass netted a 7.15. The next, a 7.07 and the 3rd a 7.03.
Needless to say, I was now firmly a converted 385 engine affectionato. It took a 125 shot to get my Zephyr only a 10th faster, and I considered it a much better engine than the heavy assed cast iron stocker that just laid down a 7 OH. I am grinning from ear to ear when I come back w/ my last time slip.
My friend wanted to keep tuning the motor to see if we could get it into the 6’s on the motor, and we probably could of, except, I was ready to spray it.
As a side note, It’s really interesting when as car guys, we know how easy it is to pick up a second or more over stock when we start modifying a car to go fast. Initially big numbers fall off the E.T as the first substantial modifications are made to a car. The faster you want to go however, the more money you spend and the less the gain for significantly more dollars invested.
(kinda sounds like a crack addiction huh?)
The point of the above rambling was that the ride that comes as the E.T.s lower don’t quite thrill as much as each little .10 shaves off after each new modification. As a spectator, It’s easy to gauge how fast a slower car is/was just by the way it went down the track for instance it’s easy to just about guess when a car makes an 8 second pass, while more difficult, predicting the E.T. for a 7 second car can still be done reliably by someone who watches enough races. Harder still to determine is when the car clicks off a 6.
The one thing everybody knows is that a 6, almost any 6 second 1/8th mile is fast.
I grabbed the button at the top of first gear, and held on for the rest of the ride. I had never been that fast, I knew it before I even got to the time shack. Once there, I yelled at the top of my lungs.
YEAAHHHH! The car had just went a 6.55. On one kit. I hadn’t even tuned the motor for a motor pass to the full potential, much less a nitrous tune, and it went 6.55. And I didn’t even spray the thing the entire 1/8th.
Now for the reality check.
I didn’t know anything about a “nitrous tune” I was running an engine tune that was based on making a couple of timing adjustments.
That last pass was while running 37 total degrees timing on 93 octane pump gas.
A spark plug check? …..“Yeah all 8 of them are still there.”
Fuel pressure? “The gauge says 6 psi”
Bottle pressure? “ It has to have stuff in there…. it comes out like mad when you open the valve!”
That was the extent of my nitrous knowledge at the time.
I made two additional passes using exactly the same technique as before, and was rewarded with a car that was now running consistent 6.50’s. I was happy as anybody could be. I put the thing back on a trailer and drug it back home for the night.
I called Dominic the next day. ( You remember, the Vietnamese kid w/ the Nova that I wanted to beat so badly in the last story)
Dominic had sold his car to a local guy for an obscene amount of money considering it was a ratty, 1970 Nova, that was hack built . All of that didn’t matter to the buyer, who paid Dominic 12k for that junker. The only thing that mattered was that on the bottle, it ran 6.40’s.
All day long, every day of the week.
You might say that I was obsessed with that car. It really stuck in my throat. What made it all the worse for me was the fact that his car sold for 12k because it was fast.It didn’t matter that it was Rusty, cobbled, Noisy as hell and it rattled like mad, My Zephyr was the exact opposite, and I had to give it away for 5500.00
I told Dominic that I had something for the new owner of his car, and whenever he felt like getting his ass handed to him, he should look me up.
He did. The next day. The race was set for the next Friday night.
I arrived at Lassiter early. I intended to use the second kit this night, and had the first wired on a microswitch to activate at W.O.T..I Had a button on the steering wheel that allowed me to drive w/ both hands while holding that button in my left.
I get set to make my first full on 350 HP nitrous pass. Sprayed off the line, the car leaves w/ a violent BRAAAAAPPP! and slingshots forward. At the 1-2 gear change I grab the second button. As quickly as I do, I’m aware that I’m no longer going straight and I am starting to drift towards the center lane. I lift, fishtailing from side to side and barely recover and manage to get to the first turn off to the return road in one piece. As I drive down the return road I notice steam rising from under the hood, I make it back to my pit, expecting to see a blown hose or worse. Only the hoses were still intact. Water was still dribbling from under the header, so I crawl underneath. What I found was that I was now one freeze plug short of a full set.
I realize that some of you may find it hard to believe but for some reason I seem to attract attention to myself. ( I know,…I still find it amazing as well)
I had a huge crowd surrounding the car, all evidently interested in solving the incredible leaking car mystery. After discovering the missing freeze plug, I sent someone to get me an expandable replacement from the local autozone.
I know what you’re thinking…..”an expandable freeze plug! What was this guy thinking??!!“
When you put a 460 in a mustang, using a stock K member, things are a little tight. Further cramping my undercarriage were a set of 2" primary Hooker super comps all up under there as well. There was no way in hell I’d get any hammer to drive in a new one, and besides, I had a race to prepare for. (Had I been a fly that night, and able to pay attention to the crowd reaction, I would’ve noticed my decision to put in an expandable freeze plug did not meet with the favor of my “court”.)
On second thought, it probably was a good thing I wasn’t a fly though, I’d never been able to reach the pedals on my car.
The runner returns from the “zone” w/ my new expand-a-plug, and I install it, get the motor filled back up w/ water and start it and check for leaks……good, sealed up just in time. My Opponent was just pulling through the gate, and they were just getting the last of the anti-freeze that I sprayed all over the pit side lane cleaned up. How convenient.
Guess that about now It needs to be said that I’m not running any tubes in my new M/T drag slicks. Nor am I running any screws to hold those new tires onto my pretty new rims either.
The race is set and we get lined up I get a stern warning that if I ever come back here w/ antifreeze in a motor again it’ll be my last. I apologize for my ignorance, and roll into the staging lanes. I choose the same “pit side” lane as before ( Actually, I was forced to take it because I fouled it )
We have asked for a .500 pro tree and both cars leave on the first hint of yellow. It was a good start for both of us. Well, not as good for the driver of the Nova, I’m a car length out on him at 60’.
That is about where the 1-2 shift occurs. I remember thinking get ready to say goodbye and grab the button.
Slooowwww ….Motionnnn..tiiime nowwww
As it did before, The car violently swerves the instant that button is pressed. I am now completely perpendicular to the track, and going to cross right in front of my opponent. I am thankful that I was beating his ass at this time for two reasons:
1. I was now in his lane,….sideways
2. He had the ability and reflexes to swerve into mine and avoid the T bone that was about 1 second away.
Unbeknownst to me, the car now sliding sideways, had broken the bead on my “New tires” from my “pretty new rims” and now the car was steering itself. After swerving violently to the left, it rebounds enough to avoid a direct collision w/ the dirt cliff that makes up the spectator lane wall swerves right and proceeds to scrape the wall for another 60’. I remember lifting off the gas and trying to avoid standing on the brakes, so I wouldn’t have to deal w/ another fishtail, but the eyewitness(s) all later recounted how it looked like I never slowed at all. Full gas to the end.
So here I am, probably traveling along at 50-60 MPH. Raking in enough dirt through my open window to bury myself in, when I see it coming: A big assed rock.
Right about face high, is this bolder hanging out of the spectator side wall of dirt. I’m confronted by it a second later when it stops me,….dead. The driver side A pillar had taken the full impact of the bolder and the car lifted 4 feet in the air as a result of the impact. It spun 90 degrees and landed in the middle of the spectator lane. Once stopped, my door was now perpendicular to the track again. I was watching as my friends and a group of “concerned onlookers” race to where I am. My friend Steve is the first to arrive. “You alright?” “Yeah, I’m fine.” “How bad is the car””?
He gives that little laugh followed by a “pretty bad”. I knew that I didn’t have to see it to know it was totaled. .
We drag the car back to the pit area to assess what had happened that night.
I crawl under the open floored trailer to discover that another freeze plug had pulled an Elvis and “left the building” When I announce my discovery that a freeze plug had blown out of the block I hear “serves him right for putting in one of them cheap assed rubber freeze plugs”
I casually stand and state to the audience “For the record, the freeze plug that I replaced is still there, a different one, on the other side of the motor is now gone. Do I still deserve the “serves me right comment”?
No comment from the monkeys
Do you think you know what happened? Do you think you know why?
I do, ….Now. Completely.
Put on your detective cap and figure it out. We can turn this stupid story into a learning exercise.
The correct answer gets a cookie.
I’ll follow up with an epilogue after your answers