Tigges Talk - Atco Regional - August 2023

Discussion in 'Pit Buzz' started by MaineAlkyFan, Aug 7, 2023.

  1. MaineAlkyFan

    MaineAlkyFan Active Member

    Oct 8, 2006
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    Atco At The Grove – August 2023

    In the ongoing battle of the dollar, we have seen the fortunes of dragstrips across the country either prosper or bend then snap to the advances of profit. The basic fact is that land value, especially in urban areas, is worth more developed than as a palate of speed. How that transition occurs can be jarring.

    A few years ago, the oldest dragstrip in New Jersey, Atco, bent to the pressure of progress, almost closing before recovering to the delight of the racers. This year the breaking point was reached, brought to the world by an internet post declaring Atco was ceasing operations immediately, a mere 10 days before our Northeast Regional. This time it was reality, with the grandstands going up for sale shortly after. The brothers will need to find another venue to wager on junior dragsters.

    I was hoping to leverage this announcement to go see the super modifieds at my local circle track, Oxford Speedway, but NHRA quickly shifted the regional to the close by Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania. This is the very facility where we missed our first race of this season due to rebellious Duramax environmental electrons and also won our first NHRA event back in 2014. This location shift did not affect us very much as the travel distance to both tracks is about the same, so off we went to the races, looking forward to the glassy smooth all cement racing surface at the Grove. Atco will be missed in a nostalgic sense, but we won’t miss the left lane ski jumps.

    Rick & I converged on the plant in Holbrook Wednesday morning, helped load in the car & the Tigges caravan hit the road around 10:00. The trip down was more or less uneventful, with the pesky electrons in the Duramax demanding a few key on/off sessions & a fresh check engine light, but we arrived at the Grove before six where we met up with Dave, who had arrived from South Carolina before us. Mike showed up from Albany a little later & we got about the business of setting up the pit.

    The electron rebellion spread to various batteries and even managed to mask the bad gas in the Honda generator and Dave got a pretty good leak going in his finger while putting up the awning, but we were all set up in a few hours. After perfectly cooked burgers & beans & some catching up with fellow racers, we all turned in around midnight.

    Thursday was a long, slow, almost tedious day. We got the car fired up, checked timing then went over everything with a fine-tooth comb, taking advantage of the time to put a lot of eyes on the car. Hoosier extracted $1,500 for a new set of slicks from the team till, a barrel of methanol was delivered, there were test sessions watched, bench sessions raced, & raucous discussions about the absurdness and injustices of life. It was not overly hot, but thickly humid, and my body was loving the goldenrod pollen so prevalent in this area. As usual, the rain cells came & went, looking like WW2 bombing runs on the radar, targeting the racetrack. Keith, King of Salem, rolled in from New Hampshire late in the afternoon & the full team contingent was complete.

    Thursday had two events that reminded me what is so great about our sport. One was talking with dragster racer Mark Albert, whose horrific crash right here at Reading in 2006 was the impetus for my current involvement in top alcohol racing. To watch him blast down the same track again that caused him so much pain then spend a few minutes of thankfulness together was really special. Keep at it Mark, next time you will be on the right side of the bump. The second was the family feeling of the alcohol racing community. Sharing challenges, successes, tales & technical expertise together is common, both within the team and throughout the class. Then there is the food, from Tommy Pickett’s lubricated licorice to Claire’s veggie platters to Dave’s steaks & the Queen’s shrimp & potatoes. We hit the sack with hope that we would be able to get at least two of the scheduled three sessions in between the projected Friday thundershowers.

    Why? Why? What if? Amazingly, the cells of thundershowers parted ways around the strip on Friday and we got in all three qualifying sessions. We all had high hopes for substantial improvement from our numbers at Lebanon Valley, as the super tight, mirror smooth, all concrete racing surface was offering unbelievable traction under an all-day cloud cover. Our first two passes had us scratching our collective heads, a disappointing 5.81 & 5.78 that left us qualified fifth out of the six funny cars on the property. These passes were not what we expected & practically laid on top of themselves on the computer graphs, down on power across the entire run. Everything looked fine on the car.

    We were pitted beside Mick Steele’s beautiful A/Fuel funny car,[​IMG] which I was really excited to see and watch. They have been struggling with that rocketship of a car putting out cylinders & it appeared that the pesky electrons jumped ship from us to the Steeles for those first two rounds. The answer to the ‘whys’ of the first two passes was found in Fred’s right foot, as the throttle was not wide open during the passes. Fred stepped right up to fix that problem in our third qualifying pass, a definite ‘what if’ pass.

    To the casual observer, our 5.80 pass was just another sub-par performance of a struggling team, but as Fred said ‘I gotta admit, that one took me by surprise!’ The short numbers on the computer were amazing, and the first 80 feet of the pass were on career best level. The car was right on the edge and during the effort to keep it straight Fred’s high gear shift happened way too early, flattening the performance curve of the pass. Even with that, we were almost a tenth better to the 330-foot mark than our previous pass. We were all encouraged & looking forward to Saturday eliminations.

    One of the strengths of our team is awareness & cross training. Everyone has been able to step up and fill in in various tasks that been juggled because of Mark’s wrist injury, which is healing well but still limits what he can do. This juggling presents challenges that affect everyone to some extent. An example would be me forgetting to take the pins out of the wheelie bar after the second qualifier or the fresh air bottle being inadvertently drained because of procedural mistakes. The team shines in the fact that the car comes back dry, happy & safe after most every run.

    Elimination day started early, with us checking the rod bearings, planning the tune-up decisions based on the hotter track surface the hazy sun and 80° air temperatures would offer. Old timeslips from good passes here at the track were consulted & appropriate changes made. It was fun to have some of my local relatives visit the pit & see the glow on young Caleb's face
    as he sat in the car and watched the warm-up. We towed up to the lanes at 12:00 and soon enough were staged across from eventual race runner-up D.J. Cox.

    At the hit of the throttle, the weekend that Fred calls ‘my worst race ever’ came to a clutch blistering end as the car left in a cloud of clutch dust laboring against high gear instead of first. The clutch can was literally smoking ten minutes after the run, and I was unable to leave my hand on it an hour later. To toss salt on the wound, D.J. was making a wheelstanding on & off the throttle pass in the other lane with his 5.82 advancing him through to round two.

    No words can really express the frustration of being so close to a goal and missing it, but the unspoken image of Mark embracing his dad at the top end spoke volumes to me. Working with the Tigges’ continues to be a pleasure for me win or lose, but when you are competitive, work hard and have turned on the win lights a few times the losses definitely hurt. In any case, the car came back to the pit dry, happy & safe, although the clutch was very annoyed. We prepped the car for transport, had a late afternoon meat-a-ball dinner then pulled down & packed the awning.

    Everyone stayed over for pack-in on Sunday morning & we all headed our different ways. Leaving the track at 8:30 we plugged through the weekend traffic & a few more electron rebellions, arriving back at the plant around 5. We offloaded the car into the shop, got it up on the stands, pulled the transmission & took a look-see at the clutch. The discs were toast & floaters got hot enough to turn white, but the hat & flywheel facings looked better than expected. We will have a shop work session before our next outing at the end of the month in Epping, New Hampshire.

    Congratulations to Matt Gill on his funny car win and Tony Stewart for taking the Wally in the dragster class. Till the next time…

    Chris Saulnier - Team Tigges
    Mechanic Falls, Maine

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