IIt’s the dream of many to head to the United States – the home of all things with cars – to compete in one of the many drag and drive events on offer throughout the year. I’ve been lucky enough to live that dream, jumping across the pond hot rod Drag Week several times now, and was eager to participate in this year’s Rocky Mountain Race Week 2.0, which was scheduled to begin on September 4 at Thunder Valley Raceway Park in Noble, Oklahoma.
First published in the December 2022 issue. Street Machine
However, international car freight is just ridiculous at the moment, so I thought I’d have a crack at finding a roller to get into the US and build in just 10 days to handle this event. will It was a huge task, but hey – life on the couch is slow and I’m always up for a challenge, especially if it’s bucket list stuff to do.
Years of racing in the States meant that my partner Tyson Monroe and I already had a place to build a car, with Dale and Marsha Wilkins at The Car Shop in Independence, Kansas to turn our world upside down for our ‘Mexican’. Happy to do.
We were ready for another test drive. While the small-block seemed happy and with a quick flick of the throttle, once out on the highway it revved to around 3000rpm in second gear, with an Air-Fuel Ratio (AFR) in the low nines. Read – extremely rich. It was now Thursday afternoon, and we were leaving on Sunday morning.
The carb company was very apologetic. They made such a meal of jetting carbohydrates and promised new air blood and jets overnight to save the day. We took the carb off and fitted the hat, and after rolling it up and down Main Street a half dozen times, with race tires looking to get it somewhere safe to eat.
We drove out to the local airport, and within a couple of hits, we had the small block at Gana. Even with the blower back to 36 percent overdrive, it boosted 22psi. The plugs were mint, a good timing belt and a bit of paint on the top of the plug – deal done.
From here, we thought it would be smooth sailing. We just had to head back to the shop, fit the carbs, test drive and pack up the car, order some Mexican and sink some colddies.
Then came the new parts for carbs – and they were all wrong. Even with the secondary fully off, the AFR was between 9.2 and 10.0 at cruise – terrible.
At 11pm on Saturday night, we called it quits. We didn’t have any other carby parts, but thought we might bump into someone at the event who, or if we could drive from Noble, Oklahoma to Ennis, Texas after the first day’s race, there A summit close.
We finally made it to Thunder Valley Raceway Park for the first day of Rocky Mountain Race Week 2.0, but struggled on the track. On the first pass, the Malibu scratched halfway through the injectors and went 11.5 @ 75mph. We added fuel before the lean, even though it looked rich at the plug.
On the next pass, he did the same thing at the 100-foot mark, so we got lean and he did the same thing again. It was now 10pm, and it became clear that the ignition was the problem now that the car was under full load. We had to take out some of the boost, as the MSD 6-BTM we installed couldn’t light up the mix, even after closing the plug gap to 13thou.
“It only took me a few days to get the small block up and running, but from the start it struggled to stay cool.”
We switched to carbs, got back to the motel at midnight, waited 30 minutes for Tyson to stop flirting with the young receptionist, and hunkered down for the night.
The next day we hit the road at 7 a.m., scouring the marketplace and the wider Internet for pulleys we could buy within a comfortable four-hour drive of Ennis, Texas, for two days of racing.
Aside from the carb jetting being junk, the car ran mint. The Sparco’s seats were comfortable, the back was quiet, and our last-minute wheel alignment meant the Malibu rolled down the highway like a gas-filled dream.
However, it wasn’t long before the alarm bells started ringing. The catch started to get real smoky on the breather, and a 20-minute drive with gear venders used about half of our 30-litre fuel tank and at just 3000rpm.
A trip to Ennis quickly became a trip to the gas station, and we added an extra 20-liter jerry can behind the seats. We cut a slot in the center of the front spoiler to feed some extra air to the radiator, but watched the temperature gauge slowly rise from 180 to 190 to 200, and at 205 the fuel pressure gauge read zero. .
We rolled to a stop, and after putting our 20 liters in, the car had a flat battery. Some other race walkers stopped and gave us a jump pack, and we made it to the famous Buc-ee’s gas station in Texas, which looked like the biggest servo on the planet.
“Drag-and-drive events are just brutal. A five-cent washer can bring the best-prepared team to its knees.”
We quickly discovered that our new alternator had already worn itself out, and our spare had given up the day before. We tried the old one, and it took us a few miles down the road before packing it up. Fellow Aussie racer Nick SW picked us up a new one for the bargain price of $700, and it looked just like the other Chinese-made junkers we’d bought for $160 each.
We kept fighting, but the car didn’t last long on the road. We bought a big battery and earth cables, which seemed to help, and after a 14 hour drive, we finally got into Ennis at 9pm. Throughout the day we noticed the oil pressure gradually drop from 55psi on cold start to just 25psi at cruise.
Exhalation smoke was coming out of the firewall like steam. We’d really hate to think how much we spent on fuel, but we averaged no better than three and a half miles to the gallon.
The battery was toast – Falcon fans had sucked the life out of it – so we headed to Autozone for a new battery, six liters of oil and a liter of Lucas while Tyson switched to methanol.
It was 9.45pm when we fired it up, and even with new oil, the oil pressure was only 25psi, even with a decent rev. The oil we dumped was full of fuel, and it diluted the oil throughout the drive, damaging the bearings.
There was no quick fix; We could go to the start line and take any time to stay in the event, but then we’d have to find a way to get the engine out of the car and put new bearings on for the next road leg, which was one. A slow 500 km
So we were out. Race week promoter Matt Frost was an absolute legend, arranging to drive us back to Noble to get our truck for his brother Brian.
We came back later that day, and when we fired up the car to put it on the trailer, the oil pressure was only 10psi. After watching the third day of racing in Tulsa, we headed back to the car shop and tuned the motor. Fortunately, a hone, a set of rings, an oil pump and new bearings would be all it took to fix it – the crank seemed fine.
Pulling off a DNF leaves you with an empty feeling, especially after so much thrash to build the car thanks to Tyson’s impeccable cooperation with Dale and his car shop crew.
Drag and drive events are just brutal. A five-cent washer can bring the best-prepared team to its knees in no time, to say nothing of battling extreme weather conditions, potholes, long days, dodging wildlife, mechanical breakdowns and 100 other things. For daily basis.
Sadly, only a few small things bit us on the ass this time. Nevertheless, we went back home with great memories. We had a bunch of laughs, met some awesome people and checked out a new drag and drive event. Living the dream!