In this podcast update, Danny discusses the full extent of the front engine failure, the condition of the course, and his plans for the SCTA World Finals event in October. If you'd like to see things as they happened, the videos of the unsuccessful backup run are now available on our YouTube channel.
Stay up-to-date with our progress.
In this podcast update, Danny discusses the unsuccessful return run, the preliminary diagnosis of what went wrong, and when he expects to race the Challenger 2 again.
In this podcast update, Danny discusses successfully laying down the Challenger 2's fastest run ever, the roughness of the track, and how the SCTA impound process works.
In this podcast update, Danny discusses his plans for the first day of Speed Week, the time of day he prefers to run, and an unexpected problem the team encountered during today's start-up.
To listen, click on the play button (the triangle) above. 👍
Our Pre Speed Week podcast is here. Danny answers your questions about superchargers, aluminum panels, his 2017 competitors, and more. Listen below!
I’m happy to report that the upgrades and repairs to the Challenger 2 are proceeding well. Most of the work has been completed here in Colorado, but I’ll be headed back down to California in early July so that the team and I can fully tune the liner prior to Speed Week. Like last year, we’ll be based out of Mike Chrisman’s shop in Santa Ana (thanks Mike!) until we head out to Utah for the events.
I recently returned from a trip to Montana, where Rex Svoboda spun all of this season’s tires to 520mph. Rex is a great guy, and he’s built the only rig in the United States capable of achieving those speeds. The tests were illuminating, and I learned a great deal about how the tires behave during the acceleration process. It’s interesting (and a little scary) to note that they don’t really achieve their ideal shape until at least 200mph, which may help explain some of the variability we observed in the performance characteristics of the C2 at different points during the runs. Overall, I can say with confidence that I’ll never race an un-spun set of tires on a record pass again, and I recommend that anyone eyeing 400+ speeds pay Rex a visit if they can.
In terms of the work that has been completed, the drive lines are done, as are the transmissions. Steve Chrisman fixed the rear end, which involved building a new bearing carrier. This version is made out of 7075-T6, which is a significant upgrade relative to the previous iteration (which was destroyed by the broken drive shaft). Terry Hegman was able to repair four of the body panels we lost last year, but four others were beyond fixing and required replacement. I made those myself. They turned out nice, but man was it a challenge. The fact that the original 1960s crew was able to complete the whole car in six months is ever more mind-blowing to me. The panels themselves still need to painted, which will happen once the car gets back to California, along with some touch-ups to the lettering.
Speaking of the drive shafts, the new safety “hoops” are actually quarter wall steel tubes. The broken shaft that escaped the vehicle really did a number on the car last year, so this feature is being as overbuilt as is feasible. The next thing on the agenda is the addition of fire doors to the body, part of a new SCTA safety mandate. They’ll be flush of course, and held in place by a single zeus button. Obviously I’m hoping that nobody ever has to use them, but if disaster is impolite enough to pay us a visit, they’ll be there.
I’m often asked what my speed “goal” is, and the most honest answer is simply this: faster than last year. So much depends on the condition of the salt, and we really won’t know what that’s going to look like until we get there. We are increasing the nitro load to 85% this year, which should yield an increase in horsepower, and we’ve made some aero changes that we hope will allow us to transfer that increase to the ground without additional wheel spin.
On a less technical note, we launched a new wristwatch in collaboration with the Ball Watch Company, the gorgeous Road Master GMT. Made in Switzerland, it’s racing ready with an Amortiser anti-shock system, 100 meter water resistance, self-illuminating micro gas tubes, and a diamond like carbon coating. The third watch off the assembly line will be auctioned in support of Save the Salt, and if you’d like a Road Master for yourself, you can pick one up at authorized Ball Watch dealers later this summer (be sure to ask for the special "Bonneville Edition" NATO strap).
On a final note, I think 2017 is going to be a Speed Week to remember. I’ll be taking my last big shot this season, and I’m happy to say that among my competitors will be more 400+ capable cars than there has ever been in the history of the sport. George’s new Speed Demon is back, as is the Turbinator, Project 550, Carbinite, the Ferguson car, and several others. It’s going to be the greatest land speed showdown Bonneville has ever seen, so you shouldn’t miss it!
First things first—the Challenger 2 will return to Bonneville in 2017. The team and I will be running Speed Week (August 12-18th) and Cook’s FIA Shootout (September 20-24th). As many of you know, I had planned to retire the car after the 2016 season, regardless of the result. That was probably the right decision, but after capturing the SCTA AA/FS record at 406.7mph, the team and I thought ending things now would mean leaving too much of the car’s potential on the table. So we’re going to give it one more try in 2017 before packing things up for good.
Over the next few months we’ll be attempting to raise enough money to attend both events. As those of you who are racers know, this is very expensive, so finding more great partners will be necessary. We’ll use Speed Week to test some upgrades we plan on making (detailed below) and will also try to bump our current 406.7mph record if conditions allow. We’ll then travel back to the salt for an attempt at the current 414mph FIA record. As always, the overall goal is to become the fastest piston car in history. That is a lofty ambition, and achieving it would require two back-to-back runs over 444mph (the current record holder is George Poteet’s Speed Demon, which has set an incredibly high bar in terms of both performance and consistency). Do I think that’s possible? Yes. Will it be easy? Absolutely not.
How much more speed does the C2 have in her? It’s hard to say precisely, but during the FIA meet we were going 415mph at the 4.25 mile mark (according to our onboard instruments) when the problem occurred. Official timing starts at the 5, but we were certainly well on our way to the record with 1.75 miles of course left to go.
Now that we’ve had some time to investigate, I’d also like to explain what we think went wrong during that last run. As best we can reconstruct things, the rear u-joint in the driveshaft broke during the shift between second and third gear. The joint took out the rear track bars, which caused the nose of the rear end to drop. Meanwhile, the driveshaft broke the safety hoops and drove the transmission yoke into the case. It then took out the left rear tire, causing the car to enter into a long slide. The shaft actually exited the vehicle briefly, but then reentered through the side and damaged the breather tank and several more panels. It then broke free again, this time making it more than 200 hundred yards before bouncing to a stop. I was fine obviously, but it was one hell of a ride.
In order to address this failure, we are planning on upgrading the front and rear driveline assemblies. The previous shafts were 1350 series, so we’re stepping up to the 1480 size. Both transmission and rear end yokes will be made of 4340 and the u-joint cross will be made of 300m. Rear end track bars will be sized up from 1” 4130 to 1.375” 4130. The drive shaft hoops will be redesigned to more effectively retain the shaft should we run into another problem. We also lost eight body panels, the overflow tank, and the left rear air jack. Those are currently being reconstructed. Additionally, we’ll rebuild both rear ends and go through the engines. In short, there is lots to do between now and Speed Week.
Bottom line—the team and I feel like we’re half finished with what we wanted to achieve. It’s a big goal and a big dream, so we’re taking one more shot at it. As always, thanks to all of you for following along and for your support.
I'm pleased to announce that ThompsonLSR has the support of UnitedHealthcare, the company I've chosen for my Medicare Advantage plan and to help me live a healthier life, as we prepare the Challenger 2 for its final set of record runs tomorrow.
Steve Nelson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, said, "Danny is proof it's never too late to fulfill lifelong dreams. Danny's pursuit of land speed records is an inspiration, and we wish him success and good health as he joins others like him in redefining aging."
I am pleased to announce that BALL Watch Company is now the official timing partner of THOMPSONLSR. One of the most respected and established watch brands in the United States, BALL's storied history reaches back to the days of the great American railroad pioneers. As we prepare for our final set of record runs, I couldn't imagine a more appropriate partner.
I'm going to include a brief portion of their mission statement below. It really resonated with me, and I knew the moment I read it that we would make a terrific team. I'd like to thank them for their support.