Taking on the Domestics
"Don't bring a knife to a gun fight," they warn.
Maybe I just didn't know better. Maybe I was just too stubborn to listen. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn't aiming to win when I decided to enter an import in a domestic drag racing event.
Since I am always looking for new ways to test what I have built, I was intrigued when some friends of mine with a 9-second Pontiac Firebird suggested I enter the "True Street" competition at Maple Grove Raceway during the NMCA (National Muscle Car Association) event. The NMCA is a national Hot Rod & Muscle car group. We talked about this event for a few months and it finally happened on August 28, 2005.
The NMCA had a variety of racing classes going on that weekend, but the one that interested me was the "True Street" class. This class requires that the car drives 30 miles, in a group with police escort, on public roads and returns to the staging lanes for a 20-to-30 minute cool down. After the cool down, the driver is required to make three back-to-back passes. During this time, the only adjustment the driver can to the car is letting tire pressure out. They can not add tire pressure, fuel or oil. You aren't even allowed to open the hood!
The drivers "score" is the average time of the three runs. If the driver fails to: keep pace with the group over the 30-mile cruise, make all 3 passes, keep their hood closed throughout the event or return immediately to the staging lanes after each run, they are disqualified.
Although this is a Hot Rod & Muscle Car event, the rules clearly state: "True Street is a racing class for mildly modified to heavy modified high performance street vehicles that are street certified and able to drive over a 30-mile distance. All model years and engine types and power adders permitted.Class is designed for stock-chassis or back-half type vehicles running true 10.5" wide tires. Vehicles must be registered, licensed, and insured. There will be trophies and awards for not only the "King of True Street" (quickest average), and runner up but also for the fol lowing: Closest averaged ET that is not quicker than the following - 10.00, 11.00, 12.00, 13.00, 14.00, and 15.00. True Street racing will be conducted at a number of PRO drag racing events to be specified. PRO True Street does not have a points system. P RO True Street is not eligible for contingency."
There is nothing to rule an import out of the game, so I entered. I did call the lead tech, Ron Ward, prior to the event to make sure I was okay to run a Toyota. Actually he was very excited about me coming out.
The car with the fastest average over the three runs gets a 6-foot trophy, $100 and some new MSD ignition wires. Since the car that typically wins is usually in the 9-second range, I realized that I was not going to be winning the overall top dog prize. However, they also offer prizes to the fastest car in each 1-second increment. So when we first started talking about this event, my intention was to turn boost down and try to win the 12-second trophy. After making 440 rwhp on the dyno the week prior t o the event, I decided to go for it and shoot for the lowest 11 sec average.
At 8:00 a.m. on August 27, 2005, I rolled into Maple Grove amongst a huge array of American iron. Needless to say I got a lot of interesting reactions, but I was pleasantly surprised that 99% of them were positive or curious. Only one person sort of snubbed me (just happened to be an editor of one of the national hot rod publication).
I was in the middle of tech and this editor came over and said, " Interesting car, whatdja drop an LS1 in it?"
I replied, "Nope. I am running a beefy 122 cubic-inch engine in there."
He questioned, "But it's a domestic made engine. Right?"
I said, "Nope." And Ron, the head of tech, said, "He doesn't have to be. The rules allow any make and model. He's welcome to race with us."
Ironically, I then failed tech for not having a horn (long story), but some extremely nice people in an F-body Firebird offered to take their horn out of their tow vehicle. So we grabbed their horn and we wired it up to Hyde and I went up to tech, "tooted " and got signed in. How's that for domestic/import relations?!
There were 35 cars (a record for them) entered in this "True Street" class. At least two were in the 8s, two or three more were in the 9s and there was a pile in the 10 s and everyone else fell backward toward the 15s. The cars entered were Camaros, Firebirds, Mustangs, Monte Carlos, Grand Nationals, Chevelles, some old street rods, a Lightning, some Novas and one Toyota MR2.
During our 30-mile cruise, our 35-car field plummeted down to 30 cars. I was astonished that five cars could not complete a 30-mile drive. One of them was actually last year's overall winner. He overheated 2 miles from Maple Grove's gate.
Rain delayed us going immediately into the staging lanes so t hey parked us out in a big field so they could watch us and make sure we made no changes to the car. We were only allowed to add fuel and change tires pressures. We were on a strict "no hoods" rule. They had to be closed at all times. Open your hood and y ou were out.
Two hours later, 29 of us rolled up to the staging lanes. A Grand National could not get started so the field went down by one more. There was a leakdown on the track so we were held up another hour in the staging lanes. After that hour, one of the older Camaros had died in the lanes and could not start. He was forced to open his hood and was immediately disqualified. So we were down to 28 cars when we actually started racing.
Another Camaro was disqualified for having dealer tags and an old Chevelle was disqualified for having tires on the front that were not "allowed for highway use" although they were DOT. That brought us down to 26 cars competing and one of them failed to successfully make all three passes so there were only 25 cars that made it through the entire event. I'm shocked that we lost 10 out of 35 cars, but that's racing.
My time slips were posted at 6:51 p.m., 7:01 p.m., and 7:16 p.m. We were originally scheduled to start our class at 2:30. You have to love weather and breakdowns.
My first run was against a white Mustang. I tree'd him with a .4 reaction time to his .7. He was faster to the 60-foot mark with a 1.60 to my 1.64. He caught me at 1/2 track just when 3rd-gear full-boost kicked in and I walked away from him. I went 11.95 @116 (21 psi) to his 12.1@106.
My second run was against the same white Mustang. The announcer identified my car as an MRZ on this run. My 2-step did not start popping immediately, so I was late on the reaction. He tree'd me with a .4 to my .7 (we swapped R/Ts from the previous run!). He out 60-footed me again with a 1.63 to my 1.67. By 1/2 track he had a good 3-4 car lengths on me and then 3rd-gear boost kicked in and I started reeling him in hard, by 4th gear I was consuming the ground between us and I too k him be a few car lengths right at the finish. I went firstname.lastname@example.org (22 psi) to his 12.2@106.
After this run, the Mustang driver gave me a nod and a smile. It felt really good to get props from him since he was mostly ignoring me up until that point. I am sure he was shocked when I went flying by him right before the finish. It really looked like he had that race.
Now I was faced with a dilemma. Hyde was really under performing from our expectations and there was no way in hell I was going to get the low 11- sec ET trophy and prizes. So I made one of the toughest decisions I have ever made. I decided that on run three I was going to hit the brakes at the 1000' mark to aim for a 12.2 ~ 12.3 to bring my average of the three runs to as close to 12.0 as I could g et. It was more important to me to try to take a win in this event than to run my best possible time.
On my third run I was racing Laura, the girl with the F-Body that let me use her tow vehicles horn. I raced her many times years ago when I was running 12. 8-13.2 and she was stuck in the mid-13s. I beat up on her many times and it was time for her pay back. Since we last saw each other, she put down over 500 rwhp and added a 100 horsepower shot of nitrous on top of that. Her first two runs that day were 10. 9 and 11.0. She was shooting for the low 11-sec trophy that I had hoped for. \par So I roll up and do one of my signature sideways-smokey burnouts and pull up to the line. I'm not sure why, but when Hyde gets sideways in the burnout, I always run good and I get really pumped. Since I knew I was planning on hitting the brakes at the 1000', I decided to concentrate on the tree and the launch.
I tree'd her with a .28 R/T to her .40 and I devastated her with the fastest 60' of my life. I hit a 1.56 to her 1.63 putting me .3 ahead of her, but she reeled in 1. by the 330" mark and 2 more tenths by 1/2 track. I had the best 1/8 of my life with a 7.4 and we were dead even. In my mind I realized I was keeping pace with a 10.9/11.0 car, I knew this was the best run of my li fe and like the stupid fool that I can be .... I still lifted when I saw the 1000' box and as I approached it I jumped on the brakes ... and she went flying by. On the tape you can hear the announcer say, "And she has had enough of that little Toyota."
I rolled through at 11.84 @ 101.36. I am still shocked. If my foot would have stayed floored, that would have easily been an 11.3-11.4 @ 120 mph. She went 11.0 @ 124. That 11.84 killed the chances of getting the 12 second trophy. She won the low 11-second trophy and she deserved it! She's truly an awesome competitor. The guy in the Mustang ended up winning the low 12-second trophy.
Back in the pits, I was pleased that I was given a lot of respect. One of the Camaro guys came over and seemed surprised that my car was just sitting their idling fine. He even questioned if I realized the car was still on and I explained that I was going to be leaving soon. Apparently the idea of driving 30 miles, doing three 1/4-mile passes and driving home is a foreign concept to some people.
The good news is I ran solid 11-second runs and I had, consistent, great launches. Hyde is extremely exciting to drive for the first 330 feet now.
Ron indicated that he would love to see my car come back again next year to compete and I suspect that I just might take up that invitation. It was really a fun day racing on the other side of the fence. I realize that I am not the Rosa Parks of the import drag racing world, but I like to think I made a difference in breaking down the walls between the domestic and import racers. I truly believe that both sides will excel when they start comparing notes instead of timeslips.