Chicken Choker Chronicles 2003:
Division 2 - Gainesville, FL
Big Snow! Dodging Bullets! Finally Got Hit!
By Len Cottrell
The 25" of snow we got four days before we were to leave for Gainesville should have been a clue as to how the race was going to be! Our first challenge was to dig out our trailer which was buried under 6-8' snow drifts. This required help from my old driver Mike Harbaugh to bring in a Bobcat front loader to uncover the trailer so that we could load it. We then had a (thankfully) uneventful trip to sunny Florida, arriving Friday afternoon. Our next bullet came in the form of needing a new chassis recertification which is required annually.
We then found out that due to new design requirements imposed over the winter, our chassis was not legal. The new requirements include a double loop roll bar affair on the front of the foot box to serve as an additional safety factor. The only complaint I had was that only chassis builders receive these new specs, so I was unaware. So we spent Friday night locating a local chassis shop to have the new pieces made up, which we accomplished by 10pm. After driving straight through, we then needed some food and sleep.
Saturday morning came early and we had to find a TIG welder and my buddy Jay Payne helped again by providing that. Then came our next bullet. As we were attempting to weld up our new pieces, high winds and heavy rain came in. Our crew man John Davis can weld anything, but he cannot weld in high winds, so we had to build a tent around him. When we finally finished all the design changes, got NHRA to recertify the changes, and got the car through tech inspection, the day was gone. Due to the continued rain, so was qualifying. NHRA then made the decision to have only one qualifying session early Sunday morning. This was risky as there were 15 National Event caliber entries entered for only eight qualifying spots, including Tony Bartone, Art Gallant, Jason Cannon, Mike Gunderson, John Haley, Bill Reichert, Doug Foley, et al.
Sunday morning came and so did another bullet. The rain was gone and we finally had a chance to get the car out of the trailer and fire it up. After we filled up the fuel tank we found a leak. Of course, it did not leak before we drained it over the winter! After we repaired the leak, we had one hour before we were to make our qualifying run. The next bullet was that the car started for ten seconds, then shut off and would not restart. With a little panic, I removed a fuel line, spun the engine over and found that it was not pumping any fuel out. We removed the pump, disassembled it and the fuel shut off, and found no problem. Next, we had to reassemble it, prime all of the fuel lines, and try again. This time it worked.
Now they are calling us to the staging lanes and we prepared to fire again. No such luck! Now, I am concerned. With nothing else but my years of experience, I had to make an educated guess and electrical ignition was my last option. As we no longer had a spare magneto, I again had to find my buddy Payne and quickly borrowed his spare, ran back to our car, installed it, hit the starter, and it instantly fired up! (Made a note to myself to go to church next Sunday). We dropped the car, pulled into the staging lanes, and took a big sigh of relief.
As we started our car for our sole qualifying run, the last bullet came and hit its mark. In all of our haste, we forgot to turn on the air bottle that controls the transmission shifters. The car left hard, no tire shake, and Fran tried to shift into second gear, but it was not to be. The car coasted through for a 6.48 ET, not bad for a low gear only run, but not enough to make the 5.79 cut off!
We then at least had a chance to return some of the favors to Jay Payne by helping him change his engine for the TAFC finals.
Always looking for the positives, the car is ready for the Gatornationals in two weeks and it is only four miles from the track at Denny Savage's (crew chief for John Haley's TAD) shop. Yeah, Haley is the car that beat us at Indy last year. The bad news is that in the second round, John got out of the groove, crossed the centerline and totaled his car. John is OK; the car is not. If anyone knows of an available late model Uyehara dragster chassis, let me know ASAP.
Until the Gators...