Chris Matheson #380
The Gap, Queensland
|2004||2003 Suzuki Hayabusa||MPS/G 1350||167.837||192.250|
|2005||2003 Suzuki Hayabusa||MPS/G 1350||173.235||204.603|
|2006||97 Ford Thunderbird||C/GALT||196.461||218.512|
Chris Matherson and Mark Bryan
Mark Bryan and Chris Matherson at start line waiting for the all clear
Australian Team Runs 213.450 mph at Bonneville Speed Week 2006
Chris Matherson at speed
Pits at Bonneville
In the late 90's Motor sport saw the introduction of the American Nascar to the circuits of Australia. It was a bold move to bring these 3000lbs monsters to run the Supercar circuits including Sandown, Gold Coast Indy and the legendary Mt Panorama. Whilst the Bob Jane Thunderdome was ideal, unfortunately the limited numbers of cars and the fact that the main game rivalry between V8 Supercars Holden and Ford was more relative to the local Australian die hard fans. Despite legends such as Jim Richards, Bowe and Jones competing in spectacular battles in these thunderous 750 plus horsepower "Tanks" their days ended in 2001and the cars were parked.
I guess as they say out of bad comes good and fortunately I spotted one of these monsters sitting in a shed slowly being ratted for its tuff American fast bits. The car was originally built in America in 1997 after successfully competing as a front running car in the top series in the states. The car found its way to the famous Australian Wanless stable, better known as speedway champions, where it successfully ran in the Australian series up until 2001 when the series ended.
The car is a 1997 Ford Thunderbird with a regulation spec Ford Motor Sport 358 cube V8 engine, a Tex 10 box with a 9 inch Locker Diff under the boot.
After experiencing Salt Fever in 2004 and 2005, I saw the Nascar as a great way to go fast without destroying the cars history or ability to go back to circuit racing in the future or trying to reinvent the wheel. The car was built for speed, designed to crash and has been proven at over 200mph on the domes of famous tracks such as the brick yard in California on many a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Admittedly, the salt through up new challenges, however, we knew we had the basis for a big fun factor challenge. We basically only had a couple of months to find sponsors, to get the car spec to meet the DLRA regulations and freshen up the entire vehicle. The car hadn't fired a shot since 2001 and was still set up for Queensland Raceway, which was its last appearance placing 1st, 2nd and 4th before early retirement.
As luck had it, a close mate Paul Bushell from Bushell Engineering specialised in race fabrication and had been around go fast machines for many years. Better known for his drag racing efforts, Paul was taken aback when I delivered the Nascar to his shop on the back of a tilt tray. First visual was good however the other side of the car had been" T-Boned" as a result of the last race. Fortunately it was "cosmetic" as Paul "only" had to replace the side of the car! Now that's a typical drivers comment if you ever heard one! Again, fortunately, the roll cage was unmarked and it was a matter of removing the side skin and reshaping it on the floor of the shop and tacking it back in place. Sounds easy, however, this was not a job the local panel beater would or could attempt.
After a paint job (thanks to Advanced Auto Accident Repair Centre) and an engine freshen up from Kurt Davies of KD Engines (Nascar guru), now based on the Gold Coast, we headed for the salt at Lake Gairdner in South Australia.
Speed Week was excellent, we went through tech, and then we did our licence passes and chute pull, with virtually no real problems. The official end result was a 196 mph, which was excellent for the cars first attempt and out performed one of the super car teams who competed the year prior. We were happy and keen to step it up!
After returning back to Brisbane we aimed for the next step up and set a goal to run at Bonneville, the home of speed in Utah USA.
I'm not sure who set the goal, but it was an ambitious one, needless to say a good one. I think "The Worlds Fastest Indian" movie had been an inspiration to us all. We had hatched a plan, so we set about getting the team together and putting what experience we had and modifying the car to achieve a goal of 200 mph at Bonneville.
As the meet was in August we had to get the car sorted, finished and loaded on the ship in June. We gathered a crew of "experts" including Paul Bushell Fabricator, Andrew Atkins Super Car mechanic to the stars, Gary Lambert film producer and head decision maker, Andrew's wife Cassie to make sure we behaved, although she does make a great sandwich. Last but not least, two mates from Narrogin in WA, Derrick Borgas and Graeme Turner, who are well known around the salt as the holders of the Australian Gas record in the AA Class. The Narrogin boys no doubt were keen for a look and I suspect out for some ideas to keep ahead of the bunch in AA. I was the unfortunate test dummy and team owner who paid the bills and generally got in the way when work was to be done!
Three months was not a lot of time, however a champion effort from all the team saw us get the car in the container with time to spare. Now the agonising wait until the team flew to USA and hopefully the car didn't get damaged or lost on the way. After a visit to Hollywood and the famous Peterson Race Museum in LA, we arrived the Thursday before with scrutineering set to start the following day and racing at 12 noon Saturday.
The pits were enormous with almost 500 entrants for the meet, which was the biggest in history. A mixed field, with low budget to obscene budgets, such as the English JCB team, who were fielding a twin engine diesel stream liner, including tractor push vehicles, two transporters and a catering staff that mere mortals could only fantasise about.
The event was run with the precision of an orchestral symphony, on time no fuss and in absolute harmony across the whole event. An enormous number of officials, volunteers and Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) members were all on hand to help and went out of their way to make our team feel at home. Team Thunderbird was the only team from Australia with a crew from NZ and the JCB team from England rounding out the international competitors.
After setting up the pit and firing up the Ford "first hit I might add" we ventured through scrutineering without any problems and then headed to the short course for a shake down pass.
We ran a 184 mph at the 1 mile marker, then blew a tyre and spun out, no damage just an increase in the pilots heart rate as the car looped and looped and yes looped. The Nascar, whilst was a big heavy tank, did have a piece of engineering which I am extremely fond of being "roof flaps". The flaps open as you spin to ensure the car does not fly, as the aero is reversed, as was all too common in the pre 1997 Nascar's, resulting in some spectacular crashes.
Naturally, as driver the first thing on the check list before a run is WD-40 the roof flap, cables and hinges so they open easily, just in case! After the spin we changed the tyre and checked the car, refueled, re-oiled the flaps and headed back to the short course to qualify for the long track.
The short course was timed at the maximum distance of 2 miles, so we had to get up to speed quickly, which is difficult in itself trying to get 800 plus BHP to the ground through 6.0 inch land speed tyres on slippery salt. I can still recall sitting at the start line about to go, thinking to myself we made it to Bonneville and we are about to run 200 mph, what a feeling. The Ford fired up like a crack of thunder and sung through the gears, in a blink I passed the two mile marker and backed out of it, wishing I could have left the hammer down for another mile. 202 mph, sensational first time and a special feeling to achieve it at the legendary Bonneville speedway. The team was elated and I think we were all a little relieved as we had achieved the goal.
We now had to step up a notch and back up our 200 mph pass and see if we could improve. The long course will allow us to build more revs and hopefully get more speed as we could only just get in the engines power band on the short course at 6500 rpm with a red line of 9500rpm!
The Nascar's were built to run for 10 hours straight on 95% noise, usually at around 9000 rpm. We wanted to keep the reliability in the engine so we could keep the fun factor high, as opposed to rebuilding broken engines between runs, which takes out the enjoyment in my book. After a couple of Cassie's famous salad sandwiches, we decided to tweak a couple of things on the car and hit the course again. 211 mph and feeling good, however, we only had one more day as the container was being picked up on the Friday for the voyage home. Conditions were still good and the line ups were starting to thin as engines blew, or cars wouldn't run any harder so they were put in the trailers for the home leg.
The next run was a 213.4 mph, with another pass that day at 213 mph against a 6 mph headwind. We could only manage 8100 rpm with 9000 being the target for March 2007, back home at Lake Gairdner. We had run out of time, knowing the car still had further potential, however had excelled our goal of 200 mph and did it at Bonneville.
The Bonneville Speed Week is a huge event that provides racers and spectators with a memorable experience, which we were fortunate to be a part of.
At the end of the meet some interesting stats for thought;
- 490 entries, 469 were pre- entries, 2018 timed runs, fastest bike 338.379 mph, fastest car 410.997 mph, 4,500 spectators and participants.
- Racing starts at 7am, salt closes at 8 pm. Two tracks, one short, one long, staging lanes comprise two lanes, everyone is suited up three cars back from the start "no chalk board".
- Staging lanes close at 5pm, cars are left in their positions overnight.
- At the end of the week we had run five passes, four of which were over 200 mph, the fastest 213.450 mph and flown the Australian flag at the famous Bonneville Speed Week.
Special thanks to all the team, our sponsors, the SCTA officials, volunteers, racers and teams who made us welcome throughout our visit to Bonneville.
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