Carrying on…

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-

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!


3 Responses to “Carrying on…”

  1. richard lawson jr Says:

    Hey do you still have your digger I hope so. I to can feel your pain as a father of two boys with a wife that don’t work I find it very hard to fund my front motor car but some how I do. I do exactly what you said I lean on freinds and family for help on and off the track. I have put myself in the poor house a few times spending money on the car I didn’t have but every time I fire it up and run down the strip its worth it.

  2. rocinante rides again Says:

    Thanks for the note and the encouragement Richard. I do still have the car, although not a lot of progress has been made on it since I got the 327 for it. I’ve got it stored up at a buddy’s place so I can do some motorcycle side jobs to earn some extra money. I hope in the next few months I can find a used shorty glide and pick up a converter for it. Slow but steady I’m hoping. Thanks again- Dean

    • richard lawson jr Says:

      Awesome glad to hear you still have it you’ve come to far to quit now.the devil is in the details though took me two yes to build my car and I worked day and night did all the work myself in a two car garage. Worked two jobs and sold whatever I didn’t need my friends think I’m crazy but they just don’t get why I love it. Its not a hobby its a way of life good luck to you and your build.I have a spare glide but I don’t think its a shorty and it would need gone through I bought it for spare parts.I don’t run a trans brake either I foot brake with a warmed up 350 with hillborn on alky best so far has been a 9.90@133 I don’t get to get it out often so I’m still working on the tune

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