Archive for March, 2012

Carrying on…

March 27, 2012

I’ve had nearly a month to mull it all over, and I’ve decided that I’m going to carry on with the dragster project. In the first few days after Mark’s death everything was overwhelming. I was torn between the thought of doing this without him making me feel empty and incredibly sad, and the thought of not seeing our project through and giving up making me feel incredibly sad. 

The first couple weeks of March were spent doing Mark-related things: making phone calls to friends who needed to know the news, sorting and packing Mark’s stuff with a couple of his friends to make it easier for his daughter and son-in-law to take it all back home with them, being the info center for the kart racing fraternity and rustling up photos to help with the memorial service. All this time the dragster was in the back of my mind, with me just going through this tug of war and trying to figure out what the best thing would be.

In the last two weeks, the answer I kept arriving at more often than not was to do my best to finish the dragster. It feels right.

While I know at times I will feel incredibly lonely while working on it without Mark, I also believe the build is a way to keep our friendship alive, and that friendship will always be embedded in the DNA of this dragster.

Logistically, this is going to be a big challenge since I’m working with no real budget, and it’s the biggest car project I’ve ever taken on. Rebuilding a stocker for the street is nothing compared to scratch building a race car. But a some amazing friends have stepped in and offered to help in ways that would otherwise keep me dead in the water. Roger Lee has offered encouragement and help if I need any weirdo parts made – which if what I’m thinking in terms of cockpit controls comes to frution, may have to happen. My good karting friend Michael is a race car welder and fabricator working with road racing machinery, and he has graciously offered his services, and my longtime dear friend Don has donated a nice ’74 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle for me to spruce up a bit, sort out the brakes, and sell to generate funds.

I don’t know that it will get the dragster finished, but I’m hoping that with careful planning and a lot of beating the bushes, it will get a running engine and transmission in the car. Then it will be saving and figuring out ways to get the safety equipment for both the car and myself.

The combo will still be modest- I’m going to build the engine myself – and I still have a target of 400-425 horsepower. I’ve done a number of stock rebuilds in the past, so this is not entirely new to me, although I’ll freely admit that I’m an engine assembler and not a builder in the way that race engine builders are.

But I am armed with a decent set of micrometers, a few David Vizard books, a desire to learn and to do this right, and a good relationship with a great machine shop in town. What I will need is some good, used, but usable engine parts – mainly heads, crank and rods. But I may be able to find some good used high compression pistons in the local sprint car world. Don is connected in that world and I know that the spec SBC engine they are using will be obsoleted at the end of this season as they move to a different engine package, and that could yield some good stuff for hopefully not too much money.

If you are reading this and you have, or know of anyone who has a good steel crank, rods that will work well in my combo, and either lightly-ported Chevy camel hump “fuelie” heads, or aftermarket heads, (both with preferably 2.02 valves and 64cc combustion chambers) that they would be willing to sell from cheap to reasonable, please get in touch. I have two ways I can go with the build, depending on what parts I can find- I can mimick Gene Kreuger’s build, or I have been in touch with Rick Holliday and he’s got a good set up for his first “mild” motor. In fact, if shipping wasn’t so darn expensive from Ohio to California, I’d probably just buy Rick’s engine, now that he’s built a hotter engine for his rail.  

I’ll also be looking for a used, but hopefully recently freshened up shorty powerglide and torque converter- with the Schneider 299 cam I’m still planning for, I would be looking for a 9″ converter with a 4500 RPM stall speed, or at least close to that. Again, if you have, or know someone that is moving up to more horsepower and wants to sell of their stuff, please get in touch.

I promise future posts won’t be a downer. I just felt that since without Mark this project would have never gotten off the ground, this was the forum for me to be honest about what his loss entails. I apologize if I made anyone uncomfortable. 

IN the mean time, I need to finish a couple of other smaller projects that are on the bench before I can get the Triumph ready to sell, but on the dragster to-do list concerning parts I have already I’ve got:

  • shorten the axles 1″ 
  • drill and tap the 3rd member for the anti-rotational device bolts
  • install spool, gears, bearings in 3rd member
  • fabricate brake master cylinder tab
  • fabricate brake handle
  • install disc brake setup
  • plumb brake lines
  • weld the M/C tab, brake handle pivot tabs, shifter handle tabs, and filler and drain bungs to rear end housing 
  • fabricate and weld the fuel tank mounts to the frame
  • drill out rivets on the chute pack tail section so I can clamp halves to the frame and figure out how much it needs to be widened
  • brace and fiberglass the tail section at the new width
  • sort out tail section mounting and weld dzus tabs to accommodate

I’ve already got everything I need in order to accomplish what is on my list so far, so it will be a busy summer and with the help of my friends, I can gather the right pieces to do the engine build this fall. I also need a Hilborn 150-A (or B) fuel pump, although the Enderle 80A will do, a drive spud for the fuel pump, a shut off valve, idle bypass valve, and a set of Hilborn 14AS nozzles. I have a full set of 20A nozzles in good shape to trade if anyone is interested.

Thanks for reading and being interested in this blog. The next post I make will actually cover progress made on the dragster. 

Be well-
Dean

For inspiration and entertainment, here’s a video of Gene Krueger’s US Mule dragster. This car NAILS exactly what I’ve always envisioned, and what I’m trying to do with Rocinante. Gene’s car strives to maintain the period look as closely as possible while still passing tech: it got a 135″ wheelbase (same as Roc!), vintage stack injected small block chevy on alky, plenty of engine dump, no wheelie bar, high gear launch with a powerglide, and runs the kind of ETs I want to run, so it is as close to being the blueprint for Rocinante as I could imagine. It’s perfect!

I’m writing this with a heavy heart…

March 1, 2012

I received a terrible phone call this evening to let me know that Mark Havery, one of my very best friends, and my partner in pursuing the dream that has been the subject of this blog, had passed away.

We last spoke on Sunday about shortening the axles and the Schneider camshaft I had researched for our combo. We were getting ready to order the engine and transmission in the next week or two, and as I had alluded to in my previous post, things were happening fast and furious and boxes were showing up on my doorstep almost daily with the goodies we needed to move forward. We spoke about the next step of fabrication and how we were going to do the cockpit layout. Our conversation ended with Mark telling me to call or email after I talked to Mike at Alkydigger about the Hilborn fuel pump he found for us, and after I called Schneider to get their opinion about the cam we wanted to put in the engine.

I made those calls Tuesday morning, and then emailed Mark. I didn’t hear anything back- which seemed odd- but Mark worked the swing/graveyard shift as a machinist and with the floating days on/days off, I could never keep track of what his schedule was. So I figured he must be sleeping in preparation for his shift later that evening. I kept checking email today during work, and still no reply. When I got home I called and left a message just asking if he got the email and making sure everything was okay.

Turns out nothing was okay.

Mark was supposed to touch base with a friend on Monday, but never called. This friend tried calling on Tuesday to no response either. When he called the plant later that night and they told him that Mark hadn’t shown up for his shift, he knew something was wrong and he drove over to his house. After getting no response at the door, he called the police and they discovered the awful truth. If there is any consolation, the coroner said that he was sure that Mark didn’t suffer or even know what hit him.

I got the phone call about 7:30 tonight, and I just feel completely heartbroken and devestated.

You see, as much as Mark liked the idea of building the dragster, I don’t think Mark had been to the drags since about 1974. Mark did this project because he knew it was a dream I’d had since I was a little kid, and I didn’t have any way possible make it happen on my own. He was that kind of friend. That’s a big reason the dragster means so much to me – because it exists as a testement and tribute to a sincere friendship. Mark saw that I’d been going through a rough 5 or 6 years, where it just seemed that life kept kicking me when I was down, and this was something he could do to help a buddy get through them and find a reason to get up in the morning and to keep on keeping on.

Mark never suffered fools kindly, and after getting to know him, I learned that he had a lot of good reasons to be guarded. We became friendly through vintage kart racing, but there was a sitution where Mark got roped into putting out a club magazine and the help he was supposed to get with it bailed on him. I had done some of this kind of work before, so I volunteered and we worked hard at putting out a great bi-monthly magazine, and we had to do most of the writing, editing, build the projects for the “how-to” articles and so forth. That’s how we came to be really, really good friends. I think Mark appreciated that someone had his back, so when this opportunity presented itself almost on a whim, I think he figured he’d return the favor…100-fold. That’s the kind of friend he was. He wouldn’t let many people in, but once you were his friend, you were his friend for life.

If I have any peace right now, it is two things:

The last day we hung out was on Sunday the 18th when we drove down to Roger Lee’s place to buy the fiberglass body he’d originally purchased for his Masters and Richter recreation. Now that he had a Dave Tuttle-crafted chutepack tail created, the fiberglass version was surplus, and he gave us a good deal on it. Mark had never been through the delta, and I’d been told about a great mom n’ pop restaurant along the river, so we took the long way home. Had lunch and Mark raved about how cool Giusti’s was and how he’s going to bring some other friends there, and then we drove through all the small delta towns on our way back. He was amazed. By the time we’d made it back to my place in Sacramento, he was talking about looking at real estate because he wanted to retire to Walnut Grove or Isleton in a few years. I felt happy that I’d been able to introduce him to something that brought such obvious joy. 

Secondly, I had discovered a video of Gene Krueger’s dragster on you tube last week and was really, really excited because he’s doing EXACTLY what we are trying to do. The same era, look, and approach (and even ETs). I forwarded this to Mark, and once again he shared in my giddiness. In our back and forth email exchange over how cool this all was and how we were setting the stage to make a big push on the dragster in the next few months, I just happed to write that I was so grateful that he is so instrumental in making this dream a reality, and that I would never be able to thank him enough.

So especially now, I am so glad that I was able to express my gratitude. I know that Mark knew, but he was never one for talking about feelings much (and if you are reading this, you can see that I don’t have quite the same filter) but at the time, I just felt the need to put it in plain English. So I am glad that I don’t have to wonder if he knew how much this all meant to me.

What will happen to the dragster now? I honestly don’t know.

This is all so fresh, and I know that now is not the time to make any kind of decision. There is a huge part of me that so badly wants to press on and finish this car as a tribute to our friendship, and to see this thing through in order to honor Mark.  But I am at a loss as to how to make it happen, and while I am confident in my mechanical abilities, I am no weldor, machinist, or fabricator, and so much of that work still needs to be done. I also wonder if working on the car without Mark will just make me sad, or if it will bring a sense of peace.  

So for the time being, I will not make any decision,. I will grieve and mourn the loss of my friend and wait and see if some kind of answer about the car presents itself in time.

Godspeed Mark Havery, you were one of the choice ones and I will miss you terribly.