Tigges Talk – Road Trip Day 5 & 6 September 2023

Discussion in 'Pit Buzz' started by MaineAlkyFan, Sep 26, 2023.

  1. MaineAlkyFan

    MaineAlkyFan Active Member

    Oct 8, 2006
    Likes Received:
    Friday night had been relatively cool. The tunnel focus you have in a traumatic situation, the stress masking adrenaline, your racing thoughts and not remembering to drink enough water combined to give me a fitful sleep with some cramping and chills. Saturday morning brought on the phantom pain of the wreck. Everybody around us had a car beside the hauler, we didn’t. The 66°weather was clammy with a low overcast. Claire popped out of the RV with a bright smile exclaiming ‘It’s a beautiful day!’ in a cheery voice. She was expressing her reality and thankfulness as she followed up with ‘I still have my husband.’

    Over sausage, eggs & hashbrown breakfast our focus was on what all racers obsess on, the details of what failure caused the event. Mark rode the scooter over to technical services & was told the car was impounded in the garage over at the NASCAR track. At 11:15 Fred & Mark drove over there with the laptop to download the run data (if possible) and clear the car for release. We remained in ‘hurry up and wait’ mode, with the pit ready for the cleaning and preparation of the wreck for transport back to the plant. It was plainly obvious the racing portion of the roadtrip was over.

    Mark & Fred returned with the news. The body was a total loss, the engine had the rods out of it, the chassis was bent, and every part of the car was either soot covered, melted, or etched by the caustic fire suppression chemicals. The run computer would not download. NHRA would be flat bedding the car over to us, followed by the body on a second delivery. Out on the track, they were running the second qualifying session of the alcohol dragsters, which had been cancelled after our wreck. We continued to wait & wonder which specific driveline part had failed.

    The chassis arrived on the flatbed. At a distance at the end of our pit row it looked like one of those trendy all black on black pro nitro car chassis. Up close, it was a broken wounded animal. As the ramp truck tilted to unload, a stream of methanol flowed down the bed, staining the pavement. I dropped behind the car to free the hold-down chain, careful to not make any sparks. We had already had enough fire.
    ‘Time to get dirty!’ was the call. With the car up on the stands, we started the filthy process of cleaning the acrid soot from the chassis & oiling all exposed pipe to arrest rust. We were amazed at the enveloping damage. From the clean hole in the bottom of the bellypan, bent right rear wheel & flattened right side header to the cauterized wiring and pneumatic tubing, from the delaminated, now soft carbon fiber timer box lid to the etched & dull tank restraint bracket that Mark had just the day before polished to gleaming perfection, all was affected by the fire or the chemicals used to extinguish it. The thought that there were burns through the first layer of Fred’s firesuit was sobering. Details matter.

    There were two basic goals to our work, identifying the weak link that led to the over-revving of the engine and arresting any further chemical damage while preparing the car for transport. Mark quickly found that one of the Lenco transmissions was pooched. The input shaft could be moved off axis about 10° and there was obviously blown-up stuff internally. Thankfully the case was intact, as Fred’s feet lay right beside it while driving.

    With that discovery, the focus shifted fully to preparing the wreck for transport while accessing the cost of damage. I dropped the ventilated oil pan to find that the engine had kicked out rods 1, 3, 4 & 7. The crank journals looked pretty good. The block had reparable rail damage & some substantial dents. Dave pulled the valve covers. There was no visible damage to the valvetrain, but extreme unloaded RPM, combined with the harmonic vibrations that come with that, make destructive bedfellows. All the blower studs were broken. The bolts that hold the top of the fuel pump on had ripped out of the housing, which caused the fogging methanol fire, which turned into the black-smoke oil fire. Only one of the four vibration resistant timer box mounts was still together. Bolts all over the car were loose. Dzus fasteners were ripped out of sheet metal & chassis mount tabs bent. In addition, just because a part looks undamaged does not mean it is sound, all parts become suspect and must be deemed safe to use or be replaced.

    The lost dollar value of the event piled up… there is a reason the mantra ‘What is the easiest way to make a million dollars racing? - Start with two million.’ exists. Nobody really races to make any money. Hidden to most is the emotional value keeps pace with the financial loss. One of the showpiece parts of the car is the titanium bellhousing. It is a work of fabrication art, the smooth satin grey metal, pristine welds and silky exterior feel make you feel good. The day before I had thoroughly cleaned it, admiring its beauty. There it sat, dull with an orange peel finish etched into its surface which couldn’t be cleaned off. It was and remains depressing.

    The body showed up on the ramp trick. It is a total loss. While we purchased the body used, new replacement costs for an equivalent body are in the range of $35K. The only salvageable parts are the inside tin work and the body trees which can be modified to fit a replacement body. It took six people to move it as the heat of the fire had delaminated the carbon fiber. Lifting it like we normally do with four people, one on each corner, would simply fold the car at the base of the windshield. It took some work, but amazingly we were able to get the rear mounts pinned into the chassis and drape it like a death shroud over the chassis for transport.

    It had been raining on and off. We had eaten hot dogs & slaw for lunch & cooked up brats with chopped ground beef beans & the remaining slaw for dinner. The decision was made to fully load-in and be all ready to drive early Sunday morning. Since fully loading in effectively eliminates the crew sleeping quarters, we picked up another hotel room. Load in was quick and efficient, even in the drizzly rain. It was during this process I started to perceive the smell of burnt racecar. It doesn’t leave you.

    It had been a long exhausting day. I headed up to the stands thinking they were going to run the second round of alcohol cars after the pros, but that didn’t happen, another disappointing moment. Dave left for his short trip back home, lured by the promise of a delicious looking pineapple upside down cake his wife had made for him. Sorry I missed your exit Dave, eat a slice for me! Rick & I took the dually over to the hotel where I stayed up well into Sunday morning writing & posting day 3 & 4 of this travelog while Mike & the Tigges’ stayed at the track.

    Sunday was all travel all the time. After a good solid 2-1/2 hours of sleep, Rick & I headed over to the track, picking up some ice & drinks on the way and we all hooked up the trailer. We drove out of Z-Max Dragway at 8:10 Sunday morning. Virginia - 10:23, West Virginia - 3:08, Maryland – 3:30, Pennsylvania – 3:41, New Jersey – 6:55, New York – 8:15, Connecticut – 9:37, Massachusetts 11:14, Holbrook 12:36. 999 miles in 16:26 for a 60MPH average. Unlike the trip down, the traffic was good. It was rainy, but with just stops for refueling, walking the dog and driving food (excellent sandwiches Claire!) we made great time. The Duramax still required some key resets but did not leave us stranded. Every time we visited the trailer for drinks in the cooler you found yourself tasting burnt racecar 10 miles later. Conversation was almost random, how to fix the damage to the car, stories of the past, wonderings about the future, laughter filled alternative lyric sing-alongs to the radio, keeping up on what was transpiring back at Z-Max. Late into the trip it was just talk to stay awake.

    Back at the plant, the emotional release of making it back barely masked the exhaustion of the trip. Six days on the road, two thousand travelled miles, close to that in the cost of travel fuel, all for one very expensive pass down the track. The bellhousing never even came off the car. Strange people, alcohol racers. We do this for fun.

    Congratulations to Phil Esz for his first National event win in Funny Car & Julie Nataas for her win in the long cars.

    I’ll be continuing these posts until I get home. I plan on staying over a few days here at the plant to help with teardown & jigging of the chassis for repair.

    Chris Saulnier – Team Tigges
    Mechanic Falls, Maine
    wayne310 likes this.

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