Well, it started fairly innocently. Ron Miller and I wanted to fulfill a part of our ‘Bucket List’ and visit the Bonneville Salt Flats. In August of 2008, Ron and I flew out to Salt Lake City (Ron’s 70 years old and had never flown before!), rented a car and arrived, same day, to the Salt Flats. Ron owns “Ron’s Machine Shop” in Shandon, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati, and has been restoring “A”, “B”, “T”, and other engines for 35 years. He performs his own babbitt work and cranks out between 100 – 150 engines per year. He was also recently inducted into the Speedy Bill’s Racing Hall of Fame. He actively raced in the AARA in the Midwest for many years. In 2001, he won the “Montana 500” in a 1926 Model “T”. I am a mechanical engineer with a lifelong hobby in antique cars (got my first car in baskets @ age 14).
So, we arrive at the Salt Flats in 2008, get a pit pass, and go into mental overload. To anybody reading this that hasn’t been to Bonneville, you absolutely must visit at least once! We met a young racer in the pits, Doug Adler (our future driver) from 1000 Oaks, California, who tells us that his crew had to go back home early to return to work. He asks us if we would like to “crew” for him and the hook was set during the next 2 ½ days. We stayed the entire Speed Week, met tons of great people, and went back home to put a plan together. Ron and I then rented part of a building next door to his machine shop to build our Salt Flats racer. We paid $200/month for about 1,500 square feet and the four of us, Ron, me, Steve Butterfield (head machinist for Ron), and Larry Schneider (a good friend), started to research what kind of car class/engine class that we wanted to compete. Obviously, we would stay with what we know (or think we know) and build a VOT/V4F car. Our first endeavor to “build” this car was to look on the internet and purchase an old racer car and modify to comply with the rule book. We bought an early 60’s “Silver Crown” car from a guy outside of Indianapolis and brought it to our shop. After a thorough examination of this car, we came to the ugly conclusion that we had made a poor selection and that we would need to select another car to modify to comply with the SCTA rules. Our next purchase was a home-built 1930’s sprint car with a “B” Model OHV Gemsa engine. This was a beautiful racer and the builder was very active in it with the AARA. We thought that this would be closer to the VOT with a flat head slapped on the motor. I picked this up in St. Cloud, MN in February of 2009 and, again, we deemed it too complicated to modify to comply with the Salt Flats rules. We did, however, keep this car for “street” use. So, after two failed attempts to take this “easy” way out, we hunkered down and realized that we would have to build our VOT from scratch. Ron found a Dreyer frame from a friend in Kalamazoo, Michigan and we proceeded onward with our third attempt. A local sprint car fabricator, Josh Shaw, made all of the running gear mounts, roll cage, and body work. Ron and Steve worked on a unique engine by boring four intake ports and installed stainless steel sleeves. Since the Gemsa engine had Weber DCOE side-drafts, I thought that this would be cool to run on the race car. We worked our asses off building the car, and having purchased the frame in November of 2008 we wanted to race at Speed Week 2009. We often emailed progress photos of the car construction to Doug Adler so that he could have the SCTA Committee chairperson, Keith Allen, render his opinion about our construction and safety techniques. This was invaluable for us to have this help from Mr. Allen. As many of you can attest to this, we literally got the car running and on the road for a quick test the night before we left for Bonneville. The engine was still hot when we loaded it on the trailer!
It takes a hard, 2 ½ days of driving to get to Bonneville from Cincinnati, but we went directly to the pits and set up. Doug Adler and his family arrived soon after and were of great assistance helping us navigate through technical inspection. We spent about one hour through tech and it resulted in several “minor” modifications to the car. How in the hell do you spend a solid 9 to 10 months building a race car and forget to install steering stops? Racing at Bonneville is both a pleasure and a great deal of work. We would put in 11-12 hour days and like many other endeavors, you get out of racing what you put into it. We had several issues with our engine, such as a continuous lean combustion that we couldn’t fix. I finally purchased (in the parking lot of Car Quest) a pin drill kit to bore out the carb main jets to remedy this problem, but had limited results. We only realized our problem after we returned home as a warped intake manifold. We ended our first season at Speed Week setting our class record of 94.025 mph. Not bad for our first visit to Bonneville. This year, which was our third season, we are on our third motor and we have increased our record to 110.092 mph. Many improvements have been made to our engine and car and we look forward to future Bonneville land speed racing.