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All Systems Go!

I know the salt this year didn’t live up to the hype, but the hype and anticipation of racing is half the reason we do what we do. Here’s how I prep for a week out on the salt.

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I know the salt this year didn’t live up to the hype, but the hype and anticipation of racing is half the reason we do what we do. Here’s how I prep for a week out on the salt. 

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We travel 1,652 miles from Houston to get to the Bonneville Salt Flats. My crew and I have invested countless hours this past year, after working our regular jobs, to prepare two land speed cars to run at Speedweek. We have to organize the equipment, tools and supplies to load into two enclosed car carriers to make the trek. The cars had to be completely disassembled for cleaning and inspection, since we ran at Bonneville last season. 

Due to the fact that we campaign both cars only once a year and travel so far to participate, both engines were pulled in my shop last August, once we returned to Houston. They were crated and sent to our respectful professional engine builders to be gone through and freshened up. We trust Keith and Jeff Dorton at ASI in North Carolina to handle the needed maintenance on our blown 259 cid Chevy engine in our 1953 Studebaker, and Jim Gray at Venom Racing Engines in Illinois to service the naturally aspirated 369 cid LS engine in the 1998 Camaro. 

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The transmissions and rear ends are pulled and inspected, as well, in order to be prepared for this moment. All of the body panels and suspension are disassembled and inspected. Corrosion takes its toll on all of our electronics on both cars and it is a priority to be addressed immediately. We take nothing for granted!

On the salt in Utah, the starter motions for my crew to bring me up to the line. Although it is quite hot today, I have been suited up for a while and strapped in, anticipating this moment. Being extremely claustrophobic, it takes me a few minutes to get centered and to control my breathing. I can hear the beating of my own heart, pumping in my ears. I have dreamt of running the Bonneville Salt Flats since I was a little boy and again this year, I’m living that dream! 

My wife, Karen picks up on my rapid breathing and sits in the doorway to calmly talk to me. I feel the push truck nudge the roller on the rear of my 1953 Studebaker and Karen stands, touches the back of my hand, as we move into position. The crew scurries about, disconnecting the oil heater and charging system, as we approach the starting line. Karen steps directly in front of the car and displays the four pins from the fire suppression system and one from the parachute that she removed, to let me know that they have all been activated for this run. She blows me a kiss and gives me a thumbs up as she takes her place in the push truck.

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My crew chief “pulls” on the power switch and gives me the signal to fire the engine. I flip the power on the CPU, electric water pump and fans. I prime the mechanical fuel injection system and push the ignition switch. The little blown, Keith Dorton-built, 259 cid Chevrolet small block roars to life and my pulse quickens. 

My crew chief walks up to the driver’s door, gives my harness one more tug, checks my arm restraints and the straps on my HANS device. The starter walks over to the driver’s door and sticks his head into the cockpit to say hello and ask how I was doing. He smiles as he takes up what seems like another two inches on my harness, making it even more difficult to breathe. He slaps me on the chest and tells me to have a great run. 

My crew chief gives my gauges one last look, pulls the window net into place before closing the door. He does one more walk around the car for final inspection and then crawls behind the wheel of the push truck. My son, JT, will also be in the push truck for the ride down to retrieve me and gather up the parachute. The starter steps back into position in front of my car, gets radio clearance that the course is clear from the tower. He motions for me to lower my visor on my helmet, points to the crew chief and presents the course. I say a little prayer and focus down course. It’s time! 

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In the previous three years, in spite of all of our proactive efforts, we have been to impound five times. Out of the five times to qualify for a record, we have only secured two new land speed records to our credit! The salt is hard on engines, tires, parts and especially crew!  

We are here today to finish what we started last year…

I slide the transmission into first gear, increased the rpms as the push truck gets me up to speed…it’s go time!

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