Speed Week 2017
2017 was meant to be a big year for Rapid Performance at the Dry Lakes Racers Australia Speed Week which is held on Lake Gairdner in South Australia. This is a 150km long salt lake, 230km from civilisation.
Preparations coming down to the wire for the Rapid Performance supported Barnes Auto Co Lakester, the last and probably most important part, the engine, wasn’t quite ready in time. A new 542ci Ford SVO topped with a BDS 8/71 Blower sucking down Methanol was being bolted together, but a few hard to come by pieces of the puzzle i.e. the Magneto and drive, did not arrive in time. As well as a back injury to the engine builder only weeks out from the date the engine needed to be done by to allow the rest of the assembly to go ahead, and with no time to put “the Tank” back to its aspirated 2016 configuration, the call was made to pull the cover over it, (have a collective cry into our beers) and settle for running the car next year.
The show must go on, and with another three other cars from all over the country still attending, Shaine, our Performance Sales Manager, had his hands full.
For this year, the main focus was on Mike Davidson’s beautifully prepared “Streamliner” called “Flatattack” which is powered by a pair of Flathead V8s assisted by a Rotrex centrifugal supercharger. We’d never even laid a hand on the car until the Saturday of Speed Week, and were then given the task of getting the car into race-trim. Setting the car up for Kurt Dunn, who has never driven the thing, posed a challenge due to the compact nature of the car and the roll-caged installed, the driver can’t actually see out of the windscreen and see the salt in-front. To get around this, Mike had previously made a periscope, which looked good but wasn’t quite right. So with a bit of ingenuity in the middle of nowhere, and using what we had available, we were able to adjust the scope to suit Kurt, and we were ready to make some noise.
Pulling a car like this up to the start line is a bit of a surreal experience for the un-initiated. Even with all the prep that has been done, you still have a laundry list of checks and procedures that have to be carried out, even before you put a driver in the car. After all the work has been done, you strap the driver into the car and fire it up. Everyone on the start line stops when one of the “big cars” fires up ready for its run, but this time was extra special. The car was ready for its first ever full pass.
Pushing the car off the line, the cheers from the crowd was something that is reserved for only a few, you keep accelerating trying to make your gear change as smooth as possible. Kurt gives Flatattack a rev to match the engine to the output speed, the push-car gives a dab on the breaks to clear the car and it’s off in a cloud of black smoke and salt spray. We drive down parallel to the track with the trailer in tow to retrieve the car after its run, intently listening to the radios in the car to hear the mile speeds as they are read out by the officials.
As the final speed of 150mph was read out, we could see the chute deploy from the car and it started to slow. Celebrating the run in the chase car, we could see everyone in the pits doing the same. This was a 10 year build, which despite all its problems over the years had finally done what it had been designed for. Recovering the car from the return road, we had to get a few photos of the car with is Builder/designer Mike Davidson, and driver Kurt giving the “finger” to all the people who said the car would never complete a run.
Getting the car back to the pits, the main body work was removed to give the car a full check over. All checked out well, except for having a rear tyre going down caused by a tyre valve moving under the extreme centrifugal force. With the wheel removed, we broke the tyre bead, re-positioned and re-tightened the valve and the car was packed up for the night, ready for an early start in the morning.
As most mornings start, we were up before the first ray of sunlight came over the horizon. Everything is quiet and dark (because the closest town is over 200km away), except for the flash from the rotary beacon on the push car. We hook the trailer up and head down to the start line ready for another big day. Groundhog Day is a good way of describing life out on the salt. With only a few variations, Tuesday turns out to be fairly similar to Monday. Unload the car, fill the intercooler with ice, strap Kurt into the car and then fire-up, push the car off, head down the course, retrieve the car bring it back to the pits and check it over. This time the car runs as well as Monday, with the speed being a little higher at 176mph. Every new car has to do “licensing” passes with 25mph increases to prove the car and driver are safe at ever climbing speeds. Upon checking it over, we now found that the other rear tyre was flat with the same tyre valve problem. Quickly carrying out the repairs, Dean and Alistair were able to turn the car around and get it ready to head back down to the start line for its next run.
The afternoon run was to be the best run of the week with the car heading down the course at 230mph, setting a new Australian Land Speed record for the XF/BGS class. Getting the car back to the pits after its run, the tuner gave the fuel map a touch up to avoid a lean out in part of the run. The next two runs for the car were successive runs of 208 and 207mph with the car leaving the line blowing black smoke and over fuelling.
We didn’t quite make Mike’s target of 250mph, but the car finished the week in one piece, and ready for a few upgrades before Speed Week in 2018, which can’t be said for a few of the other cars competing during the week. Everything from torched pistons and blown turbos for some of the faster cars, it was a real mixed bag of results.
During all the fun and games with Flatattack, Shaine also helps out on two other cars, the D&D Racing Belly Tank of Mark Dunn, who’s Kurt Dunn’s father, and Norm Bradshaw’s Ford AU Falcon Taxi. This makes for a very busy week, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
2018 will see the Les Davenport and Marlo Treit bring the 52ft long Target 550 Streamliner from the USA to attempt to be the first wheel driven car to complete a pass at over 500mph. This will be a history making event, and should be on every petrol heads bucket list to see a car like this run down the salt at such great speeds. It will also be there year that John and Shaine can hopefully get the Barnes Auto Co belly tank through the 300mph mark, and maybe topple John Lynch’s record of 301mph.
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