I'll be doing a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) at 6PM Pacific time this evening. If you've got any questions about the record (or anything else), I’ll be happy to answer them there. I’ll update this post with a link when it goes live. Update: Here's the link.
Stay up-to-date with our progress.
We did it! On Sunday morning the Challenger 2 was released from impound and made a 402.348mph return run. Averaged with yesterday's 411.191mph speed, that gave us a new AA/FS record of 406.7mph!* This was an achievement fifty years in the making. Bonneville put my dad on the map, but he was never able to get an official 400mph plus record out here on the salt. I'm proud to say that this weekend my crew and I were able to take care of his unfinished business. A massive thank you to my family, my team, and to all of my sponsors. None of this would have been possible without their committed and steadfast support. God knows we've run into obstacles along the way. They were always behind me, and I'll remain grateful to them for that until the day I die.
In terms of the actual run, it was much smoother than yesterday. The SCTA officials moved the track approximately 80ft eastwards, and the surface felt much nicer, especially towards the big end. The shutoff area was also much improved. Additionally, we were able to run very early in the morning compared to Saturday, which meant a firmer surface. We made plenty of traction and the Challenger 2 handled superbly well. Compared to yesterday's somewhat squirrelly run, today's drive was a pleasure.
So why didn't we go faster? We had an issue with the rear engine. A screw in a barrel valve responsible for distributing fuel vibrated out, which flooded the engine and caused it to run very fat. In some of the video's posted online you can actually see the fuel being blown out of the headers. Consequently, we were way down on horsepower. But even with that problem we were able to surpass the 400mph mark and backup our record. I couldn't be happier with that result! More updates tomorrow, and another huge thank you to my team.
*For those of you who are historically minded, that's 0.1mph faster than my dad's un-backed-up 1960 run in the Challenger I.
I won’t leave you in suspense—we went 411mph on our first run today. That is well over the current AA/FS class record (the engine category in which our car completes), so the Challenger 2 is now in impound awaiting a backup pass. In case you’re unfamiliar with the system, the SCTA (Speed Week’s sanctioning body) only grants two-way records. This means that all speeds have to be achieved twice (on subsequent days, with no runs in-between) in order to count. Simply put, if we want the official record, we have to do as well tomorrow morning as we did today. The car and the crew have both been performing like champs, so I feel like that is probably achievable.
The quality of the salt surface is decent, particularly when compared to the last several years, but conditions are not ideal for full speed runs. The big end of the long course in particular is quite rough. We were planning to run an 80% nitro blend, but stepped back down to 72% in hopes of maintaining traction. That said, it’s terrific to be back at Bonneville, and I’m confident that we, as well as many of our friends and competitors, will continue to lay down more epically fast runs over the course of the weekend. A huge thanks to all of the SCTA folks for their hard working in preparing this event.
We’re back on the salt after two years and man oh man it feels great to be here. The team and I are busy setting up the pits, prepping the car, and reacquainting ourselves with the race course. My initial impression of the track is that it looks pretty good (anything is better than a lake!) but I won’t know for sure until I get a chance to drive out there and have a closer look tomorrow. This post is going to be quite brief (busy busy), but I’ll do a quick audio update about how we’re setting up the car later this evening. Holly will get some pictures up as well. Everyone is pumped and we’re looking to go very fast this weekend!
Economists, in case you haven’t noticed, tend to get things wrong a lot. Anticipating this, they like to end their formulations with a particular latin phrase—ceteris paribus—that basically says, “Hey, if this thing doesn’t work out, my numbers weren’t wrong, the world was wrong.” The literal translation, roughly speaking, is “all else unchanged,” and it’s actually a great way to go about building a fast race car. If you only make one change in-between runs, it’s easy to isolate the precise effects of that change. By taking this slow and steady approach, you’re able to avoid the classic mistake of fixing something that isn’t broken, and you don’t end up with the racing equivalent of New Coke.
But here’s the thing. We’ve been rained out for two years in a row, and we’ve had a lot of extra time on our hands. So we ended up making five major changes and some other minor ones. Is this the most conservative approach? Absolutely not. But what can I say? No one has ever accused me of behaving like an economist. Here’s the rundown on what’s different for the Challenger 2 in 2016:
This was the only mandatory change. The original clutch layout didn’t allow for enough free-play travel in the candlesticks. Each run caused them to wear slightly, which eventually resulted in the blowout we experienced on our 419mph backup pass. If you’re trying to picture the problem, imagine only letting the clutch of a street car halfway out while slamming your other foot down hard on the accelerator. You’ll definitely go forward, but there’s going to be a lot of heat, and probably a burnout. We fixed the problem by repeatedly re-machining the original parts, eventually removing a total of .625 thousandths of material. This increased clearance should prevent component rub going forward.
Unlike a lot of the other cars that race Bonneville, the Challenger 2 runs dry blocks. Their optimal power band is somewhere between 5300-5600rpm. Last year, when we exited the final speed trap at 424mph, our computers measured both engines at closer to 4700rpm. We’ve modified the gear ratios in order to boost this number. This should result in faster overall acceleration, which is absolutely essential on a fixed length course, because we only have so long to get up to our maximum speed.
We didn’t experience any problems with excessive lift last year, but it remains my biggest safety concern. The Challenger 2’s shocks are custom made for us by King, and we worked with them to change the rebound control to keep the front end sucked down as much as possible. This was more of a fine tune, but it also gave me a chance to add a blow-over light to the cockpit. What’s that? A potentiometer monitors the position of the shocks and tells our RacePak data systems what changes are occurring to the car in terms of ride height in real time. If that number increases past a certain threshold while the car is going over 300mph, a bright red light on the dash will start flashing, letting me know to cut the engines (and hang on).
It’s hard to see unless you know where to look, but the Challenger 2 now has wings. Or winglets at least. We’re talking inches rather than feet. Two small front canards, one of either side of the nose, should provide additional downforce to the front of the car. For the rear, we’ve added an under tray. This will create a zone of negative pressure, helping to evacuate mixed-up air from the sides of the car. Why is that necessary? The exhaust from our headers is confusing the air flow in that area a bit more than our aerodynamicist, Tim Gibson, would like. This should address the problem. Finally, we added some reverse louvers to the bodywork in order to expel more of the internal heat generated by the engines. It was getting pretty warm in there, and we didn’t want to risk damage to the electronics.
We increased the percentage of nitromethane in the blend being fed to the engines by 5%. That means we’re now running 80%. Vroom vroom.
That’s where things currently stand in terms of the car as we pack up for Speed Week. There are some other changes of course, including replacement of all the decals with hand-lettered artwork from Dennis Jones. Listed below this post you’ll find the scheduled dates for the 2016 Bonneville season. We’ll share more here as we get closer, but in the meantime you can follow us on basically all forms of social media with our crew handle, thompsonlsr.
2016 Bonneville Dates:
- SCTA Speedweek August 13-19
- USFRA World of Speed September 10-13
- Mike Cook's Shootout September 15-20
- SCTA World Finals September 27-30
We’re eighteen days away from Speed Week. Given that its been 587 days since the Challenger 2 was last on the salt, that doesn’t seem like a very long time at all. One major difference this season is that we’re no longer based in Huntington Beach. Valerie and I moved back to our home in Colorado last year, and of course we brought the streamliner with us. I tried to bring the crew along as well, but there wasn’t enough room in the barn, and VT thought some of the boys might scare the horses. So instead we’re having to coordinate with everyone remotely.
The Challenger 2 project is a predominantly volunteer operation, but it’s just as complex as any other large racing program. Between the engine crew, the mechanics, the fuel team, and all of the support personnel, we’ll have 25 people coming to Bonneville with us this year as members of Thompsonlsr. I’m very grateful to the crew for their support, and I wanted to write a brief post about them prior to out departure. Here’s a quick look at this year’s team, presented below in alphabetical order.
Lou “Dog” Anderson
Lou is a top notch fabricator and will be our car chief for Speed Week. He was one of my original full time guys and is responsible for a lot of the upgrades to the Challenger 2.
Larry is our CAD wizard and general computing expert. Before anyone else started working on the project, Larry was drafting the intake manifolds, axels, and a bunch of the other mechanical stuff I needed to get things started. He’s also a professor at GWC in Orange County in case you feel like failing a class.
Warren is a Baja 1000 winning off-road mechanic and co-driver. He built my first Chevrolet stadium truck and will be handling far-end support for us. He owns a company called Precision Four-Wheel Drive up in Fresno.
Danny is helping us set up the pits this year. He’s also in charge of my air and breathing systems. He’s an underwater diving and SCUBA gear supplier and can often be found in Mexico, making sure people make it back up from beneath the waves.
Cherico is my niece and will be running the hospitality operation for us. I think people often underestimate how important keeping everyone well fed, well hydrated, and generally as happy as possible is to team cohesion, and she does a great job of that out on the salt.
Jason is Cherico’s husband, and will be our pit captain, as well as the head honcho of radios and communication. He’s an electrical expert that works for Prevost, and in addition to all of his pit duties he helped us rewire the Challenger’s trailer last year. It works now—a major improvement.
Richard “RC” Catton
RC, along with Craig, is our main engine guy. His shop, RC Performance, is based in Huntington Beach, and he’s involved in everything from hot rods to sprint cars to fuel engine and drag racing. His work is immaculate and his engines perform fantastically.
Jerry’s background is A-fuel dragsters, and he came up with our dry block engine combination. He runs an NHRA racing team and is responsible for training the daughters of John Force as well as a whole lot of other top notch drivers.
Tim is our team engineer. He’s handled everything from vehicle aerodynamics to redesigning the front end steering system. Tim has an intimate understanding of all aspects of the car and has been an integral part of almost all our updates. A former top fuel driver, he’s worked for Dan Gurney, John Force, Kenny Bernstein and many other leading lights of the industry.
Dave is a master machinist and engineer, as well as the namesake behind our notoriously tricky Hadley Box system. All the gorgeous billet work on the C2? That’s Dave. Whatever Gibson could design, he could build. A long time supporter of the project and a good friend.
Frank was my first full-time hire and has been with the project for more than three years. A fantastic fabricator and former sprint car driver, he can build anything you throw at him and his hands are behind many aspects of the rebuild.
Terry is a virtuoso metal shaper and hot rod builder. His beautiful Mercury was recently featured on the cover of Rodder’s Journal. He’s an old school talent, and is responsible for all of the hand formed additions to the Challenger 2’s external aluminum skin.
Eric is our main man. He’s handling fuel and logistics for us this year, as well as anything else we can think to throw at him. He's a former Indianapolis guy who now builds hod rods and concrete plants up in New York.
Matt is our all-around-guy on the salt. He sculpted the C2’s new nose for us last year. He’s an artist, modeler, and mold maker at The Disney Company.
Craig is in charge of the front engine, and along with RC is responsible for the engine package as a whole. He’s been the lead engine builder at Shaver for many years, and is responsible for all of Tony Stewart’s sprint car engines in addition to a gallery of other fire-spitting performance monsters.
Rich is our bottom end engine guy. He’s the one under the car between runs dodging drops of boiling oil. He works with Catton and has a background in drag racing and funny cars.
Ray’s been with me from the beginning. 45 years of dealing with my nonsense—I should probably give him a medal. He’s a friend, a mechanic, and will also be in charge of our team’s security this year.
Ron’s Mr. Super-Enthusiastic. He’ll be helping out with our pit operations and anything else we throw at him. When he’s not burning rubber, he’s pouring concrete slabs as part of his day job.
Photographer extraordinaire. Press wrangler. Dry lakes, desert, and Bonneville driver. Holly’s been a major contributor for years now.
Mike is one of the original Challenger 2 team members from the 1968 runs. How cool is that? He’s been involved with the car for more than 48 years, including touring it around the country. He’s our semi-driver, vehicle prepper, and all around go-to guy.
Martin is a photographer, logistician, and head of our air force. He’s also a dry lakes driver, record holder, and member of the dirty 2-Club at El Mirage.
Reid is a Baja 1000 and Mint 400 class winner. He’s a member of the safety and support crew and will be our top end guy at the eight mile mark. The decorated proprietor of Fines Doubled Racing.
My mom, and also our team mom. She was there when my dad went 400. She was there when I went 400. Now that I think about it, this is probably all her fault.
Travis handles our media relations and begs me not to swear in interviews.
VT is our team manger, master organizer, and head of merchandizing. She can handle anything I throw her way (which is handy, since in the last 28 years of marriage I’ve managed to throw quite a bit).
Listed below you will find the scheduled dates for the 2016 Bonneville season. They may be subject to change. This post will be updated accordingly.
Danny will be Dave's guest on tonight's episode the of The Dave Despain Show on MavTV. It premiers at 8:30pm ET/PT, and will repeat later in the evening. A teaser is embedded below. Be sure to check it out!
Danny discusses the delays at Bonneville, the condition of the salt, and answers questions submitted by fans.
Big news! AT&T U-verse is airing a 3-part special on our quest to break the land speed record with the Challenger II. You can watch part 1 free online at this link: http://uverse.com/tv/show/challenger-ii-breaking-the-land-speed-record