Archive for September, 2007

Bonneville Trip 2007

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

On the Salt  

Bonneville  Trip

Hi all,  WOW! What a trip! It was just another great adventure in the lives of Rich Libassi, Butch Kenny, Jimmy Hanson, and Street Rod Steve. I started prepping for this a whole month before leaving. It was still a lot of last minute jamming but finally we were ready to leave out on Saturday, August 4th. Butch met me right on Butch time, but it didn’t matter because I could not get the A/C to come on in the new coach. I had the whole dash apart. Rich, Chuck and Ron Wendt, and several others came by to wish us luck and see us off. After working a couple of hours on the A/C, I decided to leave without it. (It came back on before I hit Cromwell and worked perfectly ever since) Butch and I made it to Canandaigua, NY the first night, just as the Chocolate Chip Cookies played out. Rich and my friend Jimmy would follow in the airplane at the end of the week. We had dinner with my younger brother and his family that night. It was a treat for me. The Coach and Stacker

The second day was uneventful, thank goodness, and we camped in Illinois that night. We made it to Gothenburg, Nebraska the third night and Laramie Wyoming the fourth night. Laramie is a real neat town with a special restaurant that I like a lot. It is called the Altitude and has excellent food. We washed the coach and trailer in Laramie and unloaded the 56 Chevy to ride around in. As soon as we unloaded it, it down poured. We cruised on up the WYO Tech. to look around. What an awesome school. They teach it all there. They even teach Street Rod Fabrication, upholstery, mechanical, and body shop. It was very impressive to say the least. We set out early on Wednesday morning for Wendover. As we crossed the Continental Divide, the temps were high. The right rear most tire on the trailer gave out with a scream. This caused a little delay as we changed the tire and straightened the fender. We cruised on into Wendover, UT and left the trailer at the tire shop, at the entrance to the road to the salt flats. We took the Coach and 56 into town and set up. It was time for my Marguerita for sure and Butch’s snack stash was running low. The temp was only in the 90’s so it wasn’t too bad yet.

Truck Hooked to StackerBonneville Salt Flats Sign

Thursday morning we met my Chevy truck out at the tire shop. Two nice young friends from Maine had driven it out for me. I hooked the stacker trailer up and proceeded to lands end. When I got there, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The Great Salt Lake had migrated from Salt Lake City to Wendover. I could have made an advertisement for Chevrolet when I towed that huge stacker trailer through the lake and out onto the salt. I wish I could have gotten a video of that. I met up with the other two race teams from Maine out on the salt and two other friends from Connecticut called me to meet us. They were Rich Foreman from Wallingford and Tim Baravski from UPS in North Haven. We all set up together in the pits. I was very lucky to be part of the ECTA. They gave us awesome front line pit stalls. We unloaded and set the huge CSRA easy up up. 

  CSRA Easy-up

 (Did I say easy? Luckily I had a big trailer) we set the tarps out and unloaded the racecar. Butch hooked the towrope on and we went to Tech. I was nervous, as this was my first time. (I was a virgin again). We flew through Tech with many compliments on the car and what I had done to it. My head was swelling and my face was beaming. We went back to the pits and pulled the 1034 Ford Coupe back down to Tech. It went through with flying colors too. In the mean time, my friend Gary Gustafson took the 306 Corvette through easily. WOW! Three cars through Tech. a day early.

 1034 Coupe306 Corvette

We all helped each other so it went smoothly. We went back into town to wait for Rich and Jimmy, but it seemed that every flight into Salt Lake was messed up. They didn’t get to Wendover until late Friday afternoon. Thursday night was kind of dead at the Nugget, the old State Line Casino. We met friends and ate though. Friday, we pre tripped the car once more, fired up the engine, and had it ready to roll for early Saturday morning.

 Rich and Butch and me all went to the drivers meeting and then to the Rookie meeting. The Maine crew took my car to the line for an early start. We all received rookie stickers and returned to race. It was at the rookie meeting that they informed me that I had to make at least one rookie pass on the short course below 150 MPH. This is because I had never actually driven on the salt. I made that pass at 176 MPH, but who is looking?

 We went back to the line and I was nervous as a cat. When I took off, I forgot all about being nervous and just had a wonderful trip down the track. It was almost like a Sunday drive, trying to go so slow. I got back in line feeling real good about the car and my crew. We were all focused. It had gotten a little hotter by afternoon and the salt started getting a little soft. My friend, Gary, came over and told me his Corvette was slipping all over the place and he was going to change his weight. I finally got to the line on course #1. I had decided to try running short the first time. I left the line with flying colors but I got loose right away. I back pedaled it and hit second. It got loose again, so I did the same and hit third. I passed the 2-¼ mile marker at 199 MPH and I started to get loose again. I thought maybe I could hold it, but it came out from underneath me. We did two 360’s at 199. It was now nicknamed the “E” ticket ride. The safety crew put a sticker on the car and we went back to the pits for a safety check and a retech.

 spin out sticker

 We checked everything with a magnifying glass and touched up a few things. We wanted to get it reinspected that day so we could run early the next morning. We put the car down off the jack stands and tried to roll it back. OOPS! The transmission was locked up tight. It seemed to roll ahead ok but locked up going backwards. General consensus was that the 1-2 Sprague clutch was either welded together or just broken up and jammed. We pulled the transmission dipstick and the oil smell was sickening. We jacked it back up and ran it on jack stands. It seemed to have only one gear, which we assumed to be high gear. After considerable deliberation, we decided that we would try and push it over 70 MPH and run in high gear only.   

 The NuggetThe NuggetThe Nugget

 That night was a wild time in at the Nugget. Every shape, size and type of rat rod was there. Most of the cars like this that we see were actually built recently and just depict what went on in the early days of hot rodding. Most of the cars out here were actually built in the 40s and 50s. There are 4 bangers, inliners, and flat heads abound. If you saw overhead v-8s, they were Olds, Buick, Hemi or Caddy motors. There are very few small block Chevy motors. The early speed equipment is all obsolete stuff or one off home made stuff. This is a must see for any hot rodder and it goes on every year.   

 Ready and WaitingBilly O’Connell

 Rich and I had the car reinspected early Sunday morning and headed for the line. All of a sudden there was no extra help. Billy O’Connell and his friend Don showed up at the line and tried to help where they could, but it was basically just Rich and I. We pulled it off though. It seems everyone thought someone else would be there. When we got to the front, Rich buckled me in tight and squirted the fuel in. The engine fired and I warmed it up. He ran back to the truck and pushed me off. We flew off the line. Rich felt me shift into gear and leave. He kept his foot right into the old Duramax and I got off around 70 or so. I now realized that I was in second gear, not high. I kept the revs at 9,000 and hoped for the best. At the 2-mile marker it shifted into high gear and we were off. We went through the traps at 203.332, which qualified me for my “A” license. I could now run any track or anywhere I wanted. We ran one more time that day but only pulled a 198.797. I pulled out too early that run, but I had a better feel for the transmission. That better feeling just meant that I didn’t have a clue what it would do next. 

Sunday night was spent at the KOA campground, where we were camped, at the Inliner’s party. They fed us ribs, sausage, salads, etc. Great bunch of hot rodders. They asked for a small donation only. 

O’Dark 30

Taking Off Taking OffTaking Off 

The next morning we were on the salt at 0 dark thirty, (No margarita’s last night). Jimmy was all set to push hard. When it was our turn we took off to the left sideline. At 70 MPH both vehicles were getting a little loose. I grabbed a gear and tried to leave, but it bogged. It was in high. Jimmy knew I didn’t leave so he floored the Duramax again and I shot off. I banged the shifter backwards and found second gear. I up shifted the transmission at 9,000 RPM again, but it didn’t shift. Just as my stomach turned, it banged into high all by itself, somewhere after the 2 ¼ mile. I just held it to the floor and drove. The car drifted only slightly as I crossed the 4. I pulled the chute after the 5. The tach was reading 7,000 RPM and I knew I had it. We picked up the timing slip and towed to impound. 210.925 MPH! We had broken all records in this class.

In ImpoundTony Thacker and IImpound

We checked the car all over in impound and relaxed the rest of the day. We left the salt early. We went to the coach and all showered up. You get kind of sweaty when the temp is over 112 degrees.

 Hop-Up PartyHop-Up PartyHop Up PartyHop Up Party

That night was the party at the bend of the road sponsored by the Hop Up Magazine people. It was pretty much the same menu and just as tasty. Everyone was congratulating us on the record run. I even had to sign a pair of valve covers that would be auctioned off for charity. No margarita’s for Steve this night either. We arrived at the track on Tuesday morning at 0 dark thirty again. All the record setting cars get to run first, so that was us. There were a few cars in front of us and we had to wait longer than usual. I had butterflies in my stomach for sure. The starter motioned for me to get buckled in so I did. Then a guy pulled three motorcycles out of a truck and put them all on the line in front of me. I had to wait for five bikes before I could go. I was hot, nervous, and fading fast. The three bikes all had to be push started, warmed up, and they only ran under 100 MPH. It was awful waiting there. It was finally my turn to fire up so Rich squirted in the fuel. The engine fired and stalled. Another squirt and a little dribble and she came to life. I warmed it some but it was still a little fat. No time to clear the plugs, we were off. I banged the shifter in gear again, looking for second gear. It went in second but up shifted too early into high. That was OK, I thought I could clear out the plugs and pull it off. She started to climb at the 2 and even better at the 2 ¼. Just as I neared the 3, a big cloud of smoke covered the windshield and me. A sickening feeling came over me. I had forgotten to turn on the water pumps at the line. I turned on the pump but the smoke got worse. I pulled the chute and aborted the run. We had failed our back up run miserably. That night was a dismal night in mudville. We caucused in the truck on the pull back. We decided that we had enough fuel to jump back in line as soon as we could. We spent 3 ½ hours in line, fixing the radiator hose and checking out the motor and got another pass in. This time I ran out of fuel at the 3. You know what thought did. We fueled it up and put it back in line for early the next morning.

Wednesday morning was another early one. We were just a few cars from all the impound cars from the day before. By now I had confidence in my engine and fuel system but the transmission was junk. We went with the same game plan. Fire the motor on the line. Warm it only a little, and push as fast as we dared, try for a gear and hope we lock up. This was our last chance to break the record again. Rich was the wheelman again as Jimmy had left to catch his plane back to Maine. When I felt the car swaying I jammed the shifter back. It went into high. I hit it again and it went into second, but then right back into high. Oh Well! Floor it and cross your fingers. The RPM’s were coming up slow. At the 4 I saw 6500 RPMs, not fast enough. All of a sudden, something big and black flew by me on the right side. A quick check of the gauges said everything was ok. The engine was still pulling. Then the car started shaking badly. I thought I had a flat tire but it wasn’t pulling to the side. It was just shaking. I couldn’t coax any more RPMs out of it, so I just held it to the 5 and pulled the chute. We managed to pull a 206.567, but shredded the R/F tire and the left didn’t look too good either.

  R/F Tire Shredded End of Racing

We towed it back and loaded up. No 200 MPH club banquet for us that night. We loaded the car and pulled the trailer back across the lake, which had gotten considerably deeper with all of the traffic across it. We all said our goodbyes to the Maine crew and Butch, Rich, and I headed east. We made Wyoming the first night and Lincoln Nebraska the next night. We headed out across Iowa and Illinois on Friday, intent on beating the Chicago traffic by early afternoon. BANG! Another blown tire on the trailer, just before we crossed the Illinois border. This one liked to rip the fender clean off the newly painted trailer. We changed the tire, but went into town to get two new ones. After three tire stores, we got two mounted and put on. We got back on the highway, figuring that we might just get under the Chicago thing. As we rolled up to speed, an Illinois State Trooper had other ideas. He was hiding in front of a big truck doing 55 MPH with his radar pointing backwards. He explained to me that the law in Illinois for trucks and RV’s pulling trailers was 55. He detained us sufficiently and gave me a warning ticket. We actually made it through Chicago with only a little pain due to a couple of accidents. By now the good snacks were running low, but the pepperoni and cheese was still holding on. Butch really knows how to buy food.  We hit the Ohio border around 10:00 PM. three hours later than planned. When I tried to get the ticket it said I had an over weight axle. Can you believe they had me pull two “U” turns and run through a different toll lane? It still wouldn’t let me have a ticket so the toll guy gave me a hand written one. We spent that night in a truck stop. We finally arrived in Wallingford around 6:00 PM on Saturday night. We missed Derek Pesco’s party but it sure looked busy when we drove by. I am already making plans to go back next year to try for the record again. It’s in my blood now. I am forever grateful for my wonderful wife Judy, and all my friends that showed up to help me, Butch, Tim, Jimmy, Rich Foreman, Lyle from Meriden, Billy “O” and Don and all my Maine friends, and most of all Rich Libassi. He has been there for every race and never let me down. He can do every job to get the car off the line and we proved we could do it together. I want to get him to drive it soon. Save The Salt Steve  “Street Rod Steve”  Van Blarcom