11s in ’07…Timing is Everything! (pt 2)

Hello to All,

The above title now seems at odds, as I finally get this part 2 post out. The timing for it sucks. By now, everyone knows that another EVent has come and gone (Wayland Invitational III) and I should be writing about ‘it’ instead. Oh well…chalk it up to being over-the-top busy the past three weeks, chalk it up to just being plain wrung-out from all the ups and downs of putting on a major racing EVent, chalk it up to being worn-down from weeks of constant media attention more fitting of a visiting Hollywood super star than some Greek geek playing around with his electric car. On the other hand, to fully appreciate the July 13th & 14th weekend’s track numbers you really need to know the build-up to the Wayland Invitational III, which our racing from June 29th was very much part of.

Anyway, here it is at last, part 2:

Friday’s (6-29-07) weather was exactly what one doesn’t want an out-of town writer/book author from one of the nation’s leading newspapers, and the team of a local Emmy Award winning producer/reporter and videographer/editor, to arrive to. It was cool, dark, and often times punctuated with heavy downpours throughout the day. There were a few sun breaks in between the rain, but it was looking like the Friday night racing would have to be canceled :-( In addition to my weather worries, I was still not fully convinced that all was well with the motor’s new advanced timing. I had written:

I stabbed the pedal down a bit to see how the acceleration would be, and smelled a not-so-good electrical burning smell. I had hoped it was only the fact that the brushes weren’t seated yet…

After the above initial early road testing incident, the car had behaved perfectly, but then again, the throttle was never hammered down since and was only driven easily at fairly low road speeds. I had a knot in my stomach wondering what might happen under a hard launch on a sticky drag track. It was entirely possible that whatever caused the burning smell might raise its ugly head again, and under the full 2000 amp series mode launch, the car might just fireball right off the line and that would be it. There was also that new low frequency vibration I had noticed and so I was also concerned about that as well. It might keep getting worse with speed and cause a whole new set of problems at the track, too.

Everyone arrived pretty much on time at around 1:30-2:00. The first arrival was John Fialka:

http://vocations.luther.edu/vocation_visitor_program/john_fialka.html

It was great to finally meet Mr. Fialka. If one does even a small bit of Googling ‘John Fialka’ you’ll quickly realize this guy is a well respected, well known, highly acclaimed reporter/author. He didn’t waste any time, and seated in my living room together with his pad and pen in hand, the interview began. I expressed my concerns about the nasty weather, and explained how others would be arriving soon and started to apologize for the chaos that I was sure was eminent. None of this seemed to phase this obviously seasoned writer, and he reminded me that he and I had planned for using Saturday as a rained-out back up day for racing and that he was going to be in town for the weekend. Mr. Fialka was very focused and his questions about ‘how it all began’ in reference to NEDRA and the whole crazed EV drag racing thing, told me he was really into writing quite a story.

Perhaps a half hour after John had arrived, the OPB duo of Vince Patton and Michael Bendixen arrived with all sorts of high end audio-video equipment stuffed into the back of a minivan. Vince is one of the producer/reporters for the highly acclaimed series ‘Oregon Field Guide:

http://www.opb.org/programs/ofg/about

Oregon Field Guide has been running for 18 years now, and it’s one of those shows that’s always a must see type of thing…great camera work, great commentary, great information, and very entertaining to watch. I had asked Vince previously, why Oregon Field Guide was interested in electric drag racing. After all, it’s normally a show about the great Oregon outdoors…white water rafting, get-aways to quaint places far in the country, scenic tours of the Oregon coastline, wildlife stories, snowboarding in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, fishing on the Mighty Columbia River…you know, stuff like that. What on earth were they doing following ‘us’ around? Vince explained to me that there are three criteria for being considered for the show:

  1. It must be environmental
  2. It must be outdoors
  3. It must be recreational

As he told me the reasons why they were interested in all things White Zombie and about what Oregon Field Guide (OFG) was all about, our little Plasma Boy Racing bit ‘did’ seem to fit in perfectly with their agenda…what could be more environmental than a small group of Oregonians trying the change the world’s view of the electric car so as to reduce air pollution? Drag racing is certainly an outdoor recreation, so the that nailed the other two points as well. Curious, I asked Vince how he found out about us, and his answer was very interesting. He told me how he was on a flight going somewhere a few years back, when he reached into the seat pocket and found one of those in-flight magazines. Perusing its pages, he stumbled onto a story all about NEDRA and its made-in-Oregon Woodburn drags. Evidently, it planted some kind of seed that has been fighting towards germination ever since.As Fialka and I continued with our interview, Vince and Michael were outside in the rain ferrying all sorts of equipment into my backyard EV shop. By 3:00 or so, things began to look more ‘EV’ for my media guests when Marko Mongillo rolled up in his rad ’59 dumpster green electrified Fiat 600 sedan ‘Fiamp’.

I had switched my attention to the OFG guys and we were now in the shop while outside another dark cloud had parked overhead and was dumping copious amounts of rain. Around 4:00, Tim Brehm arrived to find things humming and a frantic Plasma Boy trying his best to keep the media guys satisfied in spite of the nasty weather daring us to go racing.

After a brief charge-up of both the high voltage pack (393V static post charge-up) and the 12V battery, a check of the tire pressure (we run them at 35 psi for the street to get the best range, then drop them to ~15 psi at the track), and after loading up the work service truck with all the chargers, power distribution equipment, and other stuff, we left for the track during a quiet spell weather wise, as there were hints of clear skies looking west towards the ocean where pretty much all our Pacific Northwest weather comes from. As has become standard now, we took the route going due north from my house up 122nd Ave. a few miles to one of my favorite roads, Marine Drive atop the dike along the Columbia. On the way to the track, WZ seemed like a fifty-year old who had suddenly become 30 years younger…it was full of energy and even the slightest blip of the throttle brought a sense of athleticness to its step. I could tell the 15 degrees of advanced timing on the Siamese 8 was going to make a big difference at the track…I was certain about it. I found the low frequency vibration I had been concerned about was going away…possibly flat-spotted tires from sitting so long in the shop? As I drove west towards the track, yet another grey cloud mass darkened the sky and the Zombie’s windshield was being peppered by rain…not quite enough to require the wipers on, but just enough to taunt me….geesh! As I continued on, the Enersys batteries, all 60 (844 lbs.) of them seemed ready for the task, too, even after sitting since March pretty much unused. The twin packs’ voltage hung at around 375V or so as I drove along at 45 mph and declined as the miles piled on, but not unreasonably so. By the time we reached PIR, the rain had stopped again, this time accompanied by sunlight blasting through the clouds. Looking east (where we had come from, the sky was very dark and stormy, looking south, the sky was very dark and stormy, and looking north too, the sky was very dark and stormy, but right where the track was and to the west, the gods of racing seemed to finally be smiling upon the Plasma Boy Racing crew! Were we really going to get a break? (this was the beginning of the fairytale night I mentioned in pt. 1)

As we rolled into PIR at around 6:00 pm with a writer, a reporter, and a camera man from both the Wall Street Journal and Oregon Field Guide, I was once again all wound-up inside when to my horror, we were one of just three cars getting ready to race! Man, we finally seem to get a break in the weather and ‘that’ issue seems to be behind me, and now I’ve been dealt this…an embarrassingly low turnout of drag racers! PIR looked like a ghost town! I had previously told all concerned that PIR really packs in the racing crowd and how there are sometimes 100-150 cars racing. Yeah, this is going to make a great story…’EV drag racer races…nobody’! Keep in mind, John Fialka has traveled all the way across the country to see an electric car take on and beat classic muscle cars, and at this moment, there’s a non descript pickup and a stock looking small sedan at tech-in!

We teched-in anyway then went over to set up our pit area near the track’s power boxes as usual. The OFG guys seemed OK with things and were videoing all the prep work and charging we were busy with. In addition to all the audio-video gear on tripods and such, they wired me up with a clip-on mini-mike and a belt clipped transmitter. One of their coolest toys in their arsenal of video gear was their ‘suction cam’ that they at first, stuck to the hood of the car facing forward to catch the view of what Tim sees as he is propelled at speed down the track.

Meanwhile, unnoticed by me at the moment, some 25 more drag racers had filtered in and though the total ‘numbers’ of cars to race were not all that impressive, the caliber of the cars that did show up, was. We suddenly had a pristine bright yellow late model Vette, a couple of hot Camaros, an assortment of Mustangs, a group of the requisite ricer import tuner cars, a BMW M3 euro hot rod, a rare Buick Grand National turbo (300+ hp V6), and many other examples of classic muscle cars. It was just what John Fialka had hoped for, and they all rolled in right on cue, ready for the taking :-) The fairytale evening was beginning to unfold.

Our first run down the track was going to be interesting, as the only real change to the car since our first-of-the-year outing back in March, was the change in motor timing while the Siamese 8 was being rebuilt after its fireball incident at said races. Yes, Jim did some updating inside the motor with beefed up connections and heavier duty conductors, but it was the extra 5 degrees of timing that we were all hoping was the right move. In the past couple of years I’ve been pretty careful to only make one big change at a time with the car, so as to actually know the results of that change.

With such a small turnout of racers on this night, there was no track official directing like-performance cars in their respective segregated pre-stage lanes as is the usual way of doing things, so it was kind of a random sorting thing. This allowed me to pick and choose the cars we would run against on camera. I was able to meet and talk with Roger, the guy who owned the showroom immaculate yellow 2005 Vette, and I asked him if minded to be paired up with our electric Datsun. He was way cool about it, even after I told him our electric car was running mid-to-low 12s, that the run was being videoed, and that we would more than likely beat him. In fact, he seemed jazzed about the prospect of having his 405 hp Vette taken out by an electric car! And that’s exactly what we did :-)

Again, we were nervous about the changes in timing. Had we gone too far? Would the hole shot result in arcs & sparks? If it didn’t spit out glowing brush pieces right on launch, would the loss of torque (advancing timing helps high end power and reduces arcing, but takes away from the bottom end) ruin the car’s established killer 60 ft. time? What would a soft launch do to the 1/8th mile?…and what about that burning smell I had experienced on the street? What if we blow the car up only weeks before the Wayland Invitational III and make it so that there’s no White Zombie at theses races – races a lot of folks are traveling great distances to see? These questions were all going through both Tim and my minds…

From Tim Brehm:

With a full charge, I pulled up to the water box for the first burnout since the brush timing change. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was worried about arcing or loss of some torque from the 5 more degree advancement of the motor.

It was 7:30 pm, and White Zombie was in the burnout pit. Without incident there was once again that familiar electric blender on steroids sound, the sounds of tires being roasted, and a good amount of billowing white smoke that told us ‘all systems go’…the Zombie was back!

>I eased into the go pedal, the tires immediately spun up and turned into rolling >balls of white smoke. I thought to myself “Wow, the car feels like it has more torque, the launch should >be interesting”.

Now staged at the tree next to the 405 hp yellow Corvette, it was time to see what the effects of the advanced timing would be. When Tim nailed it, the nose lifted but the crazy lofting of the front wheels 4-6 inches off the ground bit wasn’t there, replaced by a more business like take-off. The car then simply pulled up the front a bit and sailed down the strip without any problems at all. The results surprised all of us. The first positive surprise was that the all important 60 ft. time had not been lost and was pretty much the same as before the timing advance at a decent 1.681 (pre-advanced timing 60 ft. was anywhere from 1.61 -166). Evidently, the small loss of bottom end torque we did lose by advancing the motor timing, was only ‘extra’ torque that caused the car’s nose to be jerked off the ground, and it seemed that there was still enough left to get the same kind of strong take-off. The second surprise was the strong 12.433 @ 101.99 mph run! This was the quickest first run of the night we’d ever had with not-yet-warmed-up batteries, and it was the first time we had ever gone over 100 mph on the first run of the night, too. It was a harbinger of better runs to come. Roger and his beautiful 405 hp Vette turned a 13.252 @ 109.28 mph, but the Vette’s higher top end trap speed wasn’t enough to make up for the Zombie’s quickness off the line! It was all caught on camera by the OFG crew in hi def! Using my recently purchased digital camcorder, I also managed to get a video of the run, plus some bonus footage of John Fialka interviewing Roger right after the race…it’s very entertaining! Roger was a good sport. You can see the video here:

http://www.plasmaboyracing.com/videos.php

I wanted to pick on one of the high 12 second Camaros as our next victim, purely to add variety for Fialka’s sake, but the second run ended up being against Roger and his Vette again. Roger told us he would switch his traction control back on to improve his run. It was 8:04 pm. The OFG guys had repositioned the suction cam to just behind the Zombie’s passenger door seam and had it aimed at the right rear tire to capture the eruption of the BF Goodrich drag radial during Tim’s next burnout. We would later get to view this awesome footage that looks more like a top fuel dragster burnout than an electric car’s burnout…I only hope this gets into the final cut of the OFG show due to air this Fall.

With the batteries warmed up a bit, we expected the ET to drop. What we didn’t expect, was that the ET would drop so low that it would eclipse the 2005 world record ET of 12.151 @ 105.25 mph! But that’s what Tim pushed the Zombie to, making the run’s ET of 12.140 a new world record for a street legal EV! Even more shocking was the trap speed of 107.06 mph. It was the first time White Zombie has ever hit 107 in the 1/4 mile, and it did it on just the second run of the night! Clearly, the extra 5 degrees of motor advance had dramatically changed the car, and it was running without any trauma. I was starting to feel like Cinderella! Roger’s Vette posted an improved 13.139 @110.64 mph…White Zombie out-ran the Vette by almost exactly 1 full second!

We were feeling like the next run might by our chance to finally dip into the 11s. Both Tim and I were also starting to relax a bit over our concerns about…well, everything. The night was one of those to savor, for sure.

The car was recharged again and back on the strip next to a euro bad boy, a BMW M3 hot rod…time, 8:29 pm. Sporting a 350 hp in-line six, the Beemer was a good match-up…or so its owner thought :-) One of the more hilarious moments came when the OFG producer Vince, had stuck the suction cam this time on the Zombie’s driver’s side quarter panel looking directly over to the next lane to capture the BMW during the race. Tim was his usual quiet self when he very matter of factly said to Vince, “Uh, you might want to angle it rearward instead.” “Why?”, asked Vince. “Because he won’t be next to me very long!”, replied Tim. Vince then readjusted the suction cam as Tim suggested. Once again, White Zombie reset the record with a low 12.037 @ 108.56 mph pass. The Beemer? He got a little excited, turned off his car’s traction control, and lit the tires up so bad that the 60 ft. time was nearly 3 seconds at 2.770. The Beemer finally hooked up about 1/3 the way down the track and managed a dismal 15.950 @79.71 mph. The suction cam’s view showed the Beemer looking like a vanishing spec in a matter of seconds as the Zombie rocketed away.

The 12.03 run, was one that was a mixed bag. On one hand, the car had just turned the quickest ET of ‘any’ street legal electric sedan and had also gone faster than it ever had, now breaking over 108 mph in the 1/4 mile…on the other hand, both Tim and I at the same time, felt it was going to turn out to be the run that got soooooo close to the 11s. We had seen this before, that is, we get pretty close to the 11s, then something breaks or the car simply hits a ‘performance wall’ and can’t go any quicker. Anyway, the sad truth is, that’s what we both thought going into the fourth run of the night. We resisted turning up the Enersys (Hawker) pack past the 1000 amps we’d been running, and left it there and with our fingers crossed hoping the fireball monster would not return. After another flawless recharge and with the pack now pretty well warmed up, Tim cruised back to the staging lanes.

Thinking that we would run up against a hot Nova, Camaro, or maybe a 12 second Honda for our fourth pass of the night, we were instead asked by Gary, the Beemer guy, if he could have another shot at racing the electric car…something about turning ‘on’ his traction control this time :-) And so, the battery Datsun and the tweaked Beemer would go head to head once again. The track announcer was into it, and had some positive comments over the PA system, something about how the car was close to breaking into the 11s. Time to dial 911, because at exactly 9:11 pm, history was made when Time took off in White Zombie (1.66 60 ft.) and flew through the traps at 11.948 @ 109.75 mph!!!!! The BMW ran a 14.284 @ 100.96 mph. You can see the record-setting video here:

http://www.plasmaboyracing.com/videos.php

After two l-o-n-g years of trying, we had finally cracked the 11s, and we did it without a hitch, too. The extra 5 degrees of motor timing had dramatically changed everything. We also ran into the 11s leaving the battery pack restricted to just 1000 amps, even though the twin pack of batteries is capable of up to 1500 amps. Jim Husted’s handiwork had reassembled the Siamese 8 into an 11 second hot rod motor!

Though ecstatic about hitting the 11s, I was thinking we should make our only 11 second run, the last run of the night, and that we should pack it all up, count our blessings, and head back home with the car intact and ready for the July 13-14 races. Tim however, was raring to go back for another run, and I could see it on John Fialka’s face, that he hadn’t got to see that perfect match-up of White Zombie against a ‘classic’ muscle car. Oh sure, Roger’s ’05 Vette qualified as a muscle car, but it is ‘today’s muscle car and not something on the order of a ’69 396 Chevelle big block, a Hemi Cuda, a Boss 429 Mustang…or maybe a classic GTO? A BMW M3 is a fast machine, but it’s just not the same as a roaring, snorting muscle car.

I decided to temp fate with one more run, hoping we would not break the car. This, from Tim Brehm:

Wayland was ready to leave the track (I know, I’m not sure where this voice came from, the Wayland I know doesn’t have a “voice of reason” (um, we blow things up, so you don’t have to???) It took some convincing< from some fans, but he agreed to let me have one more run. Without a second thought I jumped in the car and hauled ass to the starting line before he could change his mind.

This time, it was the Wall Street Journal’s John Fialka who would use the fairytale analogy. Remember my posts from 2005 when my immediate boss at work, Steve Schrab, or Schwabby as we call him, became ‘The Taunter’ when he picked on that guy with the Mustang that we beat when first breaking into the 12s? Since those days, whenever he’s at the races with us, Schwabby takes it upon himself to mingle amongst the muscle cars as he looks for the best car to challenge White Zombie in the 1/4 mile. He usually comes up with exciting vehicles for us to race, and on this night he really found the perfect one. It was a indeed, classic muscle car…in fact, some call it ‘the’ icon of the muscle car…a ’64 Pontiac Tempest stuffed fender-to-fender with a bodacious 455 cid big block. The ’64 Tempest is ‘the car’ that spawned the Pontiac GTO. Painted in a hot orange color and sporting a flat black hood with a large cowl induction type hood scoop (for clearance of the BIG 4 barrel carburetor atop a factory high rise manifold), and with it’s rear end packed full of fat Mickey Thompson drag slicks, it screamed ‘badass’! Yup, it was as muscle car as you can get! It wasn’t some watered down wanna be either, not this loping cammed-out big block. When queried by The Taunter as to what his ride ran the 1/4 mile in, the Tempest dude replied quite confidently, “Mid 12′s.” Steve replied, “OK, you’ll do!” Pontiac dude, “What do ya mean? What are you running?” The Taunter, “An electric Datsun 1200.” Pontiac dude, “Oh, that ‘thing’! You’ll probably beat me, I’ve seen it run…man, what a hole shot!”

At 9:38 pm, again, with cameras rolling, Tim in the Zombie and the guy in the Tempest were in the burnout pits lighting up the tires and getting ready for the run. The tree clicked down and Tim nailed a 1.68 60 ft.time while the big block did what big blocks do, and also hit a good 60 ft. time of 1.84 seconds. White Zombie started to pull away from the Tempest in the 1/8 mile with a 7.54 vs the Pontiac’s 8.01, but at the 1000 ft. marker the Tempest had made up for lost time as the monster V8 came on hard with a strong 9.85 that was actually better than the Zombie’s 9.92…the race was on! Seeing the thundering orange muscle car catching up to the Zombie’s rear quarter panel had me saying out loud, “Oh-Oh”, but then something happened that we all were not yet used to when our electric car began to pull again near the end of the run (thank you advanced timing). White Zombie simply began to put distance between it and the Pontiac as it flashed across the finish line in 11.960 seconds @ 110.14 mph, the fastest trap speed ever for a street legal electric car! The Tempest never got past us with a 12.523 @ 108.70 mph run. Check out the video here:

http://www.plasmaboyracing.com/videos.php

After both cars had returned, we invited the Pontiac guy to bring his car into our pit area for photos and interviews…again, all of it was caught on video by the OFG crew. As I was talking with John Fialka, he explained to me why he was grinning from ear to ear over what just happened, saying, “You may not believe me on this, but on my plane ride across the US to Portland I was fantasizing about my vision of the ultimate shootout between White Zombie and a muscle car, and in my mind’s eye I saw a hot orange early 60′s GTO with a big block as the ultimate opponent. It’s just incredible that this car just happened to show up to race us tonight…incredible!” He then said, “What a fairytale ending!”

I guess I can’t say it any better than that :-)

See Ya…John ‘Plasma Boy’ Wayland

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4 Responses to 11s in ’07…Timing is Everything! (pt 2)

  1. Martin says:

    That’s great John!

    The best part (for me) is that this is still the beginning of what you can do.

    I look forward to seeing you break though into the 10′s and lower.

    ;-)

  2. Ed says:

    Great story.
    Great writing.
    Ed

  3. Ted says:

    You guys are the best. Screw the conventional. Make the naysayers eat their words. EV’s will rule the tracks someday in the near future. Anymoreit’s just a matter of having an EV at the track to rule.

    New developments in battery technology are bringing recharge time down to unimagineably short minutes (not hours). In fact, it now looks that recharging will be done as briefly as filling the tank at a gas station. The volatile materials in batteries is being reduced greatly and battery power retention and service life is potentially well over a decade, maybe considerably more.

    Electric has SO MUCH to offer. We better all be smart and embrace it. It is clearly the best way to propel a vehicle.

    I’ve been a motor head all my life, but when something better comes along, recognizing it and embracing it (not literally, most of the time) is the difference between smart and stupid.

    Great site. GREAT car.

    More power to you
    Ted

  4. Hey John,

    Congrats… I’m very excited to see you still cranking the brushes on the White Zombie.

    Let’s connect in the coming weeks. I’ve recently launched an online media broadcast engine, and I’m looking for a few electric car “reality stories” to push into the most valuable places on the web.

    Your stories are always world-class.

    Let me know your thoughts.
    best,
    Mark Alan Effinger
    http://www.RichContent.com