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Speed Week 2016: Changes to the Challenger 2

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:

Clutch Package:
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. 

Gear Ratios: 
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. 

The Shocks:
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). 

Bodywork:
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. 

Fuel: 
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

Speed Week 2016: The Crew

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 Baird
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 Baird
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 Bern
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 Brown
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 Brown
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 Darien
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 Gibson
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 Hadley
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 Hanrahan
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 Hegman
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 Hoeing
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 Holmes
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 Johnson
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 Kurtz
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 Lara
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 Martin
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. 

Holly Martin
Photographer extraordinaire. Press wrangler. Dry lakes, desert, and Bonneville driver. Holly’s been a major contributor for years now. 

Mike McGuire
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 Menne
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 Rutherford
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. 

Judy Thompson
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 Thompson
Travis handles our media relations and begs me not to swear in interviews.

Valerie Thompson
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).

 

 

Dave Despain Show Appearance

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!


2014 Year in Review (Video)

As you've probably heard, the 2014 Bonneville World Finals were cancelled do to rain. It was our last opportunity for a full course record pass, which means our plans will be delayed until the 2015 season. Were we disappointed? Absolutely. That said, 2014 was a tremendously successful year for us. As far as we can tell, we reached the 400mph mark faster than any other piston car ever. To celebrate that, our friends at Mickey Thompson Tires put together this fantastic video. See you next season! 

The Challenger II Will Run at Bonneville World Finals (edit: Cancelled due to Rain)

Hi everyone. I'm pleased to announce that the Challenger II's final runs of 2014 will take place at the SCTA's World Finals event in Bonneville, Utah. The meet begins Saturday, Sep 27th, and goes until Friday, Oct 3rd. This year's competition has been expanded to a full "Speed Week" size event, and should be a great capstone to what has been a fantastic opening season for the restored and updated Challenger II.

The car has only run three full course passes so far, but has already achieved a speed of 419mph. We hope to keep building on that strong foundation to set a new AA/FS record before the end of the season. That said, we are well aware of just how difficult that is, and will continue with the steady and methodical approach that has served us well up to this point. 

I'd like to take a moment to thank all of our major sponsors, including Mickey Thompson Performance Tires, Galpin Ford, Hoenig Concrete Plants, and Airaid®. I'd also like to extend my sincere gratitude to the many other companies and individuals who have supported our efforts through product consideration or individual contributions. A full list is available here. As always, the project is hungry for addition funding. If you'd like to contribute personally, or know a company that would benefit from the unique exposure we can offer, please have a look at this page.

Finally, the project has been generating a lot of attention across all forms of media. If you missed out, Ann O'Neill wrote an amazing piece for CNN, Deepa Bharath put us on the front page of the Orange County Register, and Hot Rod Magazine did a great in depth profile of the project. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Thanks for sticking with us!

Danny Thompson

World of Speed Update 4: Bad News

Hey guys. This is a relatively short entry that will be updated with more detail tomorrow evening. The short story is that we didn't get the record. The car left the line harder than it ever has before. It was a rocket ship start, but when I hit 6000rpm, one of the clutches failed. The car dropped into neutral and I navigated safely away from the course. We're very disappointed, but not discouraged. This would have been the car's third full run ever, so it's still early days. We haven't had any major issues up to this point, which is sort of a miracle in this sport. 

The initial plan was to fly in parts for Cook's Shootout, which was supposed to start on Friday, but I'm hearing that it may be postponed a few weeks. If that is the case, we'll head home and prep the car for more runs next month. I'll keep you up to date as I learn/figure out more. Thank you for all the support. 


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World of Speed Update 3: 419mph

What a great day for the Challenger II and the whole THOMPSONLSR team. As of this moment, we have qualified for the AA/Fuel Streamliner record. We averaged 419mph during the final mile and went a bit faster out the back door. To make things official, we have to back up today's run tomorrow morning. If we are successful, we're in  400mph club and the record books. 

We started out a little later in the day than I would have liked, which gave the salt time to warm up and soften. That said, the surface was much better than yesterday, and the car felt more composed during the run. Going that fast that quickly was an unbelievable thrill. The mile markers were blazing by.

The streamliner is currently in USFRA impound. We got four hours to work on it after the last run and we used every second of it. I'm delighted to report that everything checked out well. The engines were strong, the fuel system is holding, and the tires are ready to roll. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, and getting the record is by no means guaranteed, but we're all feeling good and ready to go after the big number with everything we've got. 

More news tomorrow. See you then. 


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