Here is the story of the Spirit of Sunshine's 2013 Speedweek at Lake Gairdner in South Australia between the 18th and 22nd of February 2013.
As always the preparations for Speedweek were manic. We’d made several major changes to the car in the three years since it had last run and although that is a long time, it never seems like long enough. There was a new rear end courtesy of advice from our friend Bill”Sparky”Smith in Phoenix, and the top of the roll cage and drivers compartment had been redesigned in order to accommodate the new rules regarding head restraints. There was also the new motor. Similar in many ways to the motor that was demolished in 2010 it had spent three days on the dyno but we still had not been able to find whatever it was that prevented it from revving beyond 6400rpm. In a way it had been a godsend that 2011 was cancelled because with the same 2.77 final gearing and an although more powerful motor we weren’t going to go any faster without being able to exceed 2010’s 6400rpm.
The prep also included the new tow car a 1976 F100 bought from Morwell in the Latrobe Valley, a 302 4 speed short wheelbase that had been set up as a tow vehicle with heavy suspension and long range tanks. After discovering our tandem trailer was completely rusted out we decided to use Pete Quick’s , the car had traveled there in 09 and 10 in the trailer behind Pete’s Toyota Troop Carrier, this year though the Troopy was dead, the trailer though had been cut down into an open car carrier, a quarter ton lighter.
I picked Pete up at the airport on Thursday night after a work trip and we hitched the trailer at his place, I took it home and spent Friday getting the car on and working out the pack. Pete arrived Friday evening and we had a few beers. Saturday we knocked off the last few things and were ready to roll by 9am, the trailer was too low. We flipped the hitch and decided to leave the wobble bars off.
It’s a left turn at the end of my street and then eight hours of 60mph driving to get to Adelaide.The first hour is to Ballarat and that involves the climb over the Pentland Hills that start at Bachus Marsh , I waved at all the spots where previous cars have broken down. The trailer pulled well, the truck sang. We stopped in Beaufort for a coffee, my brother and sister in law saw the car as they drove past and stopped in to wish us well. It was hot, and dry out there as we headed west. We arrived at Port Wakefield where we hoped to stay at 9.45pm to find there was no room at the inn, or the caravan park…we had a terrible steak sandwich at the roadhouse( yeah, the BP) and decided to push on for Port Augusta, 209km’s away. At Port Augusta we found a spot in the big truck stop on the edge of the park and set up beds beside the trailer, it was 1am we were stuffed. We got up just before sunrise, moments before the sixty billion flies that live at “The Gutta”.
We fueled up, checked everything and went for the last few bits of shopping.
It’s sixty klms( 35mile) to the turn off at Iron Knob, that’s where the dirt starts. The road was in great condition and rather than Saturday afternoons when it tends to be busy we barely saw another vehicle on the way in so it wasn’t too dusty, Pete drove, I had a bit of shut eye. Pete was keen to stop at the station for a refresher, me?...I woke up cranky and couldn’t understand why we weren’t heading for the lake at lightening speed, Pete’s good like that , he gets things done in a way that doesn’t involve my usual flapping around like a trapped wild animal, it was blisteringly hot, that weather calls for gentle movements and lots of fluid.
We hooted when we first saw the salt and within minutes were at the entrance blowing the dust off the rig before we drove on, the salt looked great, not as stark white as some other years but the crunchies were low and it was hard, hard, hard.
The Silverton crew had saved us a spot , we found Tiny ( GeneratorShovel here) in no time and got to unloading. I drank two and a half litres of water in the first half hour that we were there, it was extreme. We got the pit sorted and the car reassembled, race tyres, harness, a wash out, fire bottles and a general check over done. We fitted the push bar and the new trail bar made from and Anglia wishbone. We gently trialed the bar to find it worked a treat allowing us to tow the car without a driver inside. We pushed the car up to tech to leave it in line overnight and headed to the campground to erect the “Casa del Canvass”. The Casa has always provided some amusement, it’s a biggish tent with an unusual pole arrangement. We’d just met Jon Bennett from Brisbane who is building the single engined bike-liner and we were to camp with he, his son Dave and Ross Brown another bike liner builder from Brisbane, I already knew I was going to like these guys.
First thing Monday back on the salt, we let the guys behind us go through as we tooled around with a few small items. The car cruised through tech except I’d left my new boots and gloves at home and had to borrow some that would pass the 200mph rules. I did the bail-out in no time, we got the sticker.
We decided to put Grumm through his 125mph license on the GPS track, we lined up behind every single person who thought they’d like to try landspeed racing, and some other people I think who saw a line and joined it just in case there was something fun happening, after about an hour and a half I heard that marshalling for the main track was bare. I went and asked Animal the race director if we could run a 125mph license there, of course we could. We arrived at the main track pre-stage as the track closed after an incident.
I have been trying to convince Grumm to drive for years, for various reasons he hasn’t but this was to be the year . When we arrived at the main track we found it was very sparsely marked at the start, in fact for the first half mile there were no cor-flutes, no cones, no bollards…..just one solitary black flag and as the wind was blowing straight down the track it was all but invisible. We suited the Colonel up and shoe-horned him into the car. He wandered a bit as I pushed him off, then began to track right, finally running off the track and shutting down. He couldn’t see. There was another problem, the car is built for the Reverend and I and Grumm being slightly wider and shorter couldn’t get his arm to the shift when fully suited and harnessed, it was a very low moment. Grumm just said, “nup, that’s it, can’t see, can’t shift that’s it for me” , I was terribly disappointed that I couldn't share this thing he'd put so much into with him, I’d been dying to see his face at the other end after a run, but it wasn’t going to happen. We dragged it back to the pit where I worked on sorting out a fire system line in the elbow area which had given him grief, I could flip the fitting and get more room there that would help me too.
It was Tuesday before we got the car back to the start again. As we were staging we realized that the new steering wheel boss had a problem when assembled the quick release fitting had been attached backwards leaving the shaft proud and unable to lock into the fitting, Jon Bennett disappeared with it, twenty minutes later we were ready to run, he'd effected a perfect repair not a bodge up. It was lucky Grumm hadn’t left the line the day before with the wheel in that state.
I had been as anxious as it was possible to be, I’d felt like vomiting for the previous few hours and was getting sharp powerful cramps from electrolyte depletion, in my legs, back, feet and hands, it was really really hot.
The new engine combo sounded brutal, a manic bark and loopy idle got people’s attention. …My legs felt weak and the clutch in the car is unforgiving. I was in, the canopy down and I was waved away….the F truck pushed and I fumbled with the 1-2 gear lever, it felt like rubber again, again, again nothing. I grabbed the 3-4 it didn’t feel much better, once , twice, three times, I thought about pulling off the track, clunk , I was in third, I looked up the track which had received several hundred cor-flutes since our complaint the day before was ahead of me , my leg buckled and I stepped into it. There was a whiff of clutch and the car shot off. There were a few seconds as I thought “FMD , here I am” I centered the car and collected myself as I realized I had a bit of space under the throttle, I decked it and the car pulled hard, real hard. I settled in aiming down the middle and listening to the motor, my first glance showed 154mph on the GPS, just past my 150 shift point, I missed the first poke but she dropped into fourth on the second push. The car seemed to accelerate harder again in top. I looked down 185, back up as the car shook violently and skittered on the track, 194 , the track was narrower and the cones were getting closer together, 199, this was taking forever but in reality 8 or ten seconds had passed. The next time I looked it said 206, then 207 , then 206 I passed the four, then it seemed like no time and the sign said six, I buttoned off and rolled. I shifted back to third at 140 so it must have been the eight that I turned off at as I didn’t see the “adequately” marked turn out at the seven. I made a few hundred yards before losing the return road and hitting the crunchies, clunk, clunk, clunk silence.
I popped the canopy and stood up fumbling with my gloves I finally got the helmet and HANS off, it was dead silent……
“I F***** DID IT” !
I screamed with all my lungs, once twice, three times and then a few more times just for good measure, “ I love you little car” …..I patted the top of the cage and laughed , and then yelled a bit more. As I stepped out I noticed oil, lots of it, coming out of the cowl, the tail….
It was three or four minutes before Grumm, Pete and Damon in the F truck arrived,
” you ran 205”we all shook hands and grinned like five year olds, “but that’s as fast as it will go….” I said
….we slid a tarp under the car and grabbed a spade to collect the oiled down salt and hitched her up, we drove back to the pits elated.
Opening her up we found oil from a-hole to breakfast time, but it seemed to coming from the front. A friend of Tiny’s son called Damon had hooked up with us. A diesel fitter from Broken Hill he’d followed the SOS’s fortunes on the net and was keen to help, we needed it. It turned out the front seal had blown out, we pulled the balancer and there it hung. It was glued back in and punched for good measure.
Then there was the other issue. We’d run the 2.56:1 rear end and I’d run the same speed for 3 miles, we had the same rev limit, 205.088 was 6375rpm. We decided to change the ratio. That meant hoisting the car and removing the tub and tail. Not long after the run a guy had come up to congratulate me, he seemed every bit as happy as me…. ” Mate, Andre’s my name, I love that car, congratulations, what are you gonna do now?” He followed me back to the pit, when we said we were going to change the ratio he said” I’m an engineer at a factory, I’m kind of mechanically minded, been around cars my whole life…” he was a diff whiz and took control of the job. We had people come from everywhere, the car was hoisted, the tail and tub came off, the exhaust, the fuel tank, the tail-shaft scatter shield….the pinion was loose. We had to hoist the engine to get the tail-shaft enough room to come out of the pinion yoke, we got a half inch. By the time the back-plate came off we could see that the pinion had been colliding with the carrier and had taken about a desert-spoon full of metal off it that had collected on the magnet in the housing. Andre looked over everything and decided we were good to go, we didn’t have a bearing for the 2.28 and the 2.41 had been set up in the housing so that was the job. In just over three hours we had the new gears installed and everything buttoned up again, in the process we’d replaced the crank-angle sensor which had been bothered by it’s close contact with the seal housing.
It was 10.30am Thursday as I sat on the line again. Luke Zietara who had come to my place to shoot some footage for a 3D doco he is putting together set up at the line filming. This time I wasn’t anxious, this time I was ready to give it a real kicking, everything went together better, I felt more focused, they pushed me off, the motor sounded great, I’d decided to leave in third again, I slipped the clutch, the motor stalled, I pressed the button, nothing, I dropped the clutch, nothing, I turned out at a hundred yards. We quickly dragged the car back around and requested to be added to back of the group. The cowl came off, it was the crank angle sensor. Both Grumm and I had brought a are, because it looked cleaner Grumm had decided to use the one I brought….it was cleaner because I has taken it out of the holder and cleaned it, when I put it back it wasn't adjusted properly…both our faults. We took her back to the pit, pulled the balancer and replaced it. We then joined the back of the enormous line at pre-stage/marshalling, our final run would be Friday.
We were in the second group of ten on Friday, this time I felt at ease, completely focused.
I would leave in third, change at 150mph , and see what happened. We had Nat a journalist from Australian Geographical Magazine and her photographer in the push car, this had better work I thought. I felt great, the track looked wide and welcoming, I felt great in the car, I was itching to go, I did. I didn’t wait for the three toots as I was pushed off, I bounced the clutch and the car shot forward, I dropped it and eased in. I got the car settled in the middle of the track and stepped into the throttle, it was really pulling hard and it felt great, there was no wind and I could choose where I wanted it on the track rather than steering to keep it centered. There was a plume of smoke hanging in the cab, and I’d swallowed about half the clutch compound in the launch, yhr stench was so bad I could almost chew it…., I could tell the smoke was diff oil ( spilt on the exhaust during the ratio change)by the smell and I figured that they way it was sitting there that the canopy was leaking because normally smoke gets pulled straight out, but there it was hovering in front of me I could hear the cam coming on and looked down to the GPS, it took a couple of goes to focus as it was a little low, 148mph, I changed in a clean shot and floored it , The front end started to chatter, each wheel alternately at a pretty high frequency, I was worried I just watched it go , it subsided, then started again, I could tell it was due to the track and it didn’t upset the car so I stayed in it hard. Now we were boogeying, next time I looked it was 185, then 194, then 208. I forgot about the GPS and concentrated on the track, next thing it was the six mile, I let it off and rolled, at 154 I shifted back to 3rd and had a toe on the brake. I hit the seven mile turn off at a hundred ,m the car had stalled as I turned out, I pressed the starter nothing, I tried a few roll starts, nothing, the car was slowing quickly …… I rolled as far as I could and got out as the Rescue team raced toward me, I stood on the car and gave them a double thumbs up. “Are you OK?”….”yeah, I’m fine I yelled back”….they had huge grins on their faces “YOU RAN 215!” they shouted as they jumped out of the truck to push me away from the course…. My legs were like jelly but they mustered and we pushed the car another couple of hundred yards clear, they shook my hand and radioed through….
”Northern Rescue to timers, little bellytank 374 clear of the course”
As they drove away I laughed , all the anxiety, all the hard work, all the hiccups? They were gone, the little tank that could was on its way………the offer we’d had for help with a stand alone ECU was going to make this thing a contender, she’d pulled the 2.41 just like the 2.56…….we just needed more revs.