Our Pre Speed Week podcast is here. Danny answers your questions about superchargers, aluminum panels, his 2017 competitors, and more. Listen below!
Stay up-to-date with our progress.
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.
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. Always do what you are afraid to do. Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.
BALL Watch - Since 1891, accuracy under adverse conditions.
The Challenger 2’s next race will be Mike Cook’s Land Speed Shootout. It takes place September 15th-20th, and is an FIA sanctioned long course event. This means that the track will be approximately eleven miles in length—about three more than we were able to get at last month’s SCTA meet. Course conditions disposed, this will allow the streamliner to achieve a higher maximum speed.
The shootout is a private meet focused on maintaining a top notch course, so the total number of participants is very limited compared to some of our earlier races. We’re expecting four to five streamliners and a similar number of motorcycles. It’s open to the public, but the promoters are quite strict about where spectators are allowed to be relative to the track, so if you do plan on coming, make sure you follow the directions that they provide closely.
FIA rules are different from those of our previous competitions. In order to claim a record, we have to make two complete runs within a one hour period. Assuming nothing goes wrong, that means running once, turning the car, removing the body work, adding 50 gallons of fuel, swapping four tires, changing the oil in both engines, replacing 32 spark plugs, adjusting the valves, and then running again a second time, all before the time elapses. If it sounds tricky, well, it is. The crew did several dry-runs during Speed Week, and will be practicing again once we get out to the salt.
What are we trying to achieve? Well, our class record is 414mph, and it’s currently held by Charles Nearburg and the Spirit of Rett. The overall piston record is 439mph, and it’s currently held by George Potent and the Speed Demon crew. We have a huge amount of respect for all of our competitors, and to be frank, it won’t be easy to exceed either of the marks that they’ve set. That said, I believe strongly in the potential of both my car and my crew, and I do think we have a shot. I couldn’t be prouder of all that we’ve achieved so far.
On a final note, this event will be the last time the Challenger 2 runs in competition. The car will be retired after September 20th—hopefully with a couple additional records to its name. If you'd like to follow along with us in real time, we’ll be posting live to our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts throughout the meet.
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.
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!