THE 2017 Hot Rod Drag Week is done and dusted. Wow, what an epic event this year; a record 387 cars stepped up to the daunting challenge of five days and over 1000 miles pounding the blacktop across America. Just trying to run all those cars in a sixhour window each day was a feat in itself, let alone the valvetrain-pounding, high-rpm haul on the roads.
For my VG Valiant, POR440, the sorting-out period had started well in advance over the course of a year in Australia. Once in the US, we drove cross-country from LA to Illinois in the lead-up to the event, and aside from a few overheating issues crossing the desert between LA and Las Vegas, it was pretty smooth sailing given the conditions and distance travelled. We were lucky enough to be able to stop at The Car Shop in Independence, Kansas, and give the car a good look-over before driving another 550 miles to the start of Drag Week in Cordova, Illinois.
The car was entered in Street Race Small-Block Power-Adder, one of the most popular classes with over 45 cars this year. With such a massive roll-up, it was crucial we got to the track early on Day One. That way, if things didn’t go to plan, we’d have time for another pass before reloading all our tools and gear and hitting the road.
It’s tough to make a tuning call at the start of the week; if you throw everything at it from the outset, there is a chance that you may hurt it and not make Friday. If you think you will be a class contender you really need to chase the perfect ET every day, regardless of what time you want to hit the road. In our class, for example, Jason Doisher in his turbo LS-powered Mercury Marquis could reel off constant 8.50s. So with a bunch of other guys ahead of us, we decided to back the timing off a few degrees, pull a few pounds of boost out of the combination and run it as-is.
We ended up incredibly consistent that first day, with a 9.74, 9.75 and a 9.74, all around the 142mph mark. We had been experimenting with the launch with the new Gazzard Bros shocks and had run a previous best of 1.52sec in the 60ft. Each pass, we slowly increased the launch boost from 15psi all the way to 21psi while on the 4200rpm two-step. We had yet to crack the 1.4s, but the week was early.
After a 250-mile drive for the overnight stay at St Louis, Missouri, we arrived at Gateway Motorsports Park for Day Two. The data overnight had looked good, and as we were still not turning the tyres off the startline, I decided to lift the two
step on the stock 5.3L LS to 4500rpm, to try and get the car launching harder. The plan didn’t work; the car actually went a little slower, and felt really sluggish in the first 100ft. The data later revealed that it was turning the tyres and activating the torque management, which in turn dumped timing out of the engine. We backed the launch right off, but the track just wasn’t there for us, so we retired for the day with a 9.9@142mph.
Another 280-mile drive saw us head further north to Byron, Illinois. The track at Byron Raceway was reported to be in awesome shape, so after emptying the car and changing to the 235 radials, we were eager to make our first run.
With the torque management turned off, I was looking for a big number, but we rolled through to a 10.1 at just 133mph. The 60ft was our personal best, with a 1.44 after leaving on just 15psi of boost, and all the increments to the 1000ft mark were our quickest so far. As it was difficult to judge where the finish line was, I figured I’d just messed up and got off it early. But the next pass was almost identical to the first, so we headed back to the pits to look at the data.
We had bought four drums of race E85 with us, but the last drum we had tipped in the car only measured 60 per cent ethanol at the flex-fuel sensor instead of the usual 81 per cent we had been seeing. Consequently the ECU had pulled the boost back to 14psi, so to run 10.1@133mph on just 14psi was actually not too shabby. Still, it wasn’t going to get us the 9.7 weekly average we were chasing, so after dumping the fuel, we headed back out with a fresh load to click off a 1.45sec 60ft, and 9.71@142mph. Job done, next track.
Day Four at Great Lakes Raceway in Union Grove, Illinois, saw us repeat our 9.70s at 142mph, although we found ourselves sent to impound for the day. The upside was that we could make as many passes as we wanted. We had worked out that the car had run its best 60s on a cool track before the sun broke. First pass was a 9.72 with a 1.45sec 60ft, so we quickly backed up to try a harder launch, as the track was good. I left on a 1.44 60ft and was a full tenth quicker to the 660ft mark and a tenth-anda- half quicker to 1000ft – only to have no time recorded due to a timer malfunction!
We made one more pass but couldn’t improve in the heat of the day, so after a nine-hour drive to Cordova that had us as lost as you could ever be, we rolled into our motel having travelled 120- odd miles further than the route dictated. We were knackered, but with the last day looming it was time to go all-in with whatever the little 5.3L stock-bottom-end deal could produce. I had weighed the car at Gateway and it came in at 3680lb – anything but a lightweight. A late-night conference call with Mitch Smith at Haltech saw him stay up until the wee hours to pull out our previous best tune, where the car had gone firstname.lastname@example.org.
We got to the Cordova track early, only to see racing start later due to it being the last day. It was hot, real hot, and I was doubtful of anything miraculous. But our first pass saw a email@example.com on a 1.44sec 60ft. Not bad considering it was 40°C in the shade.
The staging lanes were a mess with cars, and it was great to see Dave Schroeder seal the deal in the Unlimited class in his 870ci Corvette. Following the passing of long-time friend and tuner, Monte Smith, it was a fitting tribute that the humble Canadian took the overall win.
Our next pass was a near-identical run with a 9.45@146mph; the little 235 tyre was revelling in the scorching conditions while the big-tyre cars struggled.
We finished with a 9.71 average for the week and 11th overall in the class; pretty awesome for a near-stock 5.3L LS in a heavy car on a small tyre – especially when you compare it to some of the turbo big-blocks on a bigger tyre.
For POR440, Drag Week was pretty easy.
We only had to change a battery and two serpentine belts that wanted to walk off the front of the a/c compressor. Aside from that, the car ran mint and could back up and do the whole deal again. The success of the venture lay with Castrol lubricants in the motor, trans and diff, and generally speaking surrounding ourselves with all the best people.
If you have ever thought of doing Hot Rod Drag Week, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The racing is great, but the people involved, from the staff at Hot Rod magazine to the other competitors and spectators, are just so awesome. I say with total sincerity that I will struggle to ever take on a better journey with my car. s