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Records tumble at Bonneville

Aerodynamic tweaks tested in the UK's MIRA wind tunnel during 2005, a hot new motor and a fearless driver put the Thacker & Shine roadster in the 200 Mph Club 

24.8.06. What most people don’t know is that to become a member of the elite Bonneville 200 MPH Club, you have to actually break a record at over 200 mph - not just go 200 mph. It isn’t that easy!

According to members of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), more people have been into space than are in the ‘2 Club.’ That fact alone shows you how  exclusive it is and how difficult it is to become a member.   That said, getting in to the ‘2 Club’ has been the goal of partner Jimmy Shine and myself since we first teamed up in the Thacker and Shine Roadster in 2001.

The idea was to do it the old way, drive the car the 700-plus miles from Los Angeles to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, pull of the silencers and race. We did that twice and eventually hit an initial goal of 201.821 mph in 2004 - not bad for a street roadster. This year, we were on a mission as we knew the existing D/BSTR (D means a 261 to 305 cubic inch motor and BSTR means Blown Street Roadster) record held by Lange and Stirneman was what they call “soft” having stood at 203.057 since 2001. We also knew that other racers had that record in sight. We had to be on it!

New Bill Mitchell 302 produces exactly 800hp

Our first call was to Bill Mitchell at World Products for another of his bullet proof motors. Bill had previously supplied one of his 427 small-blocks which we drove to Bonneville in 2002 and with a single carb went 182 mph. We were sold! The new motor was a 302 small-block to which Jimmy attached an intercooler, an 8-71 Mert Littlefield blower and Enderle mechanical injection. On John Beck's new Pro Machine dyno in Chico, Calif., it produced around 800 hp -exactly what we knew we needed to hit the magic 200.

Bonneville racing begins at noon on Saturday and this year there was a record 500-plus pre-entries, plus a reported 25,000 spectators. Jim’s first run was aborted. At first we thought it was a blower belt but in the pits we found that we¹d blown a radiator hose and somehow burned a piston.  Thankfully, Bill had sent a spare so the team, including Robin “Silky” Silk from the SO-CAL Speed Shop, ripped the motor apart and soon had the new slug hand-honed into place. Meanwhile, GM’s Jim Minneker put the GM HHR on its roof at 249 mph and walked away -testament to the workmanship of Robin and co-builder Pauly Rivera and the rest of the SO-CAL crew.

Monday morning, ready to run. We went to get the ‘”record certified” fuel at the ERC tanker where they also seal the gas cap, only to find that the day before they had taped over the tank breather -no wonder the motor leaned out and burned a piston! At least now we knew. With the motor sounding super strong, Jimmy ran a best ever of 208.008 qualifying us for the record. At that point you have just one hour take the car to impound. You have 4 hours from the time of check in at impound to work on it, change fluids and performing maintenance, etc, but not replace the engine.

Chevy's HHR rolled out of competition at 240mph-plus

The next morning, we were on the salt before sunrise which is an experience in itself. The sunrises are just awesome and watching the pits come alive with tense people getting ready for their return runs is like watching ants build a colony -everybody scurrying on a seemingly random but predetermined course. Eventually, the little hand is at seven and the big hand reaches 12 and we all move out to the start.  Jimmy’s tense as only a guy under so much pressure can be. It’s all down to him, how the motor went together and how he puts the pedal to the metal.

There's a new menace about the roadster with that blown motor in place

Bonneville is a bit like drag racing in that you can’t go until the track is clear - and it isn’t!  I can see Jimmy getting super tense because he knows heat is building in the motor and that maybe spells death – an on-the-salt rebuild with a hand-held honer can only be so good. Finally, the starter gives Jimmy the thumbs up and Ernie Ladner floors the big diesel push truck. Salt flies and it’s all down to Shine.

Ready for the off

The rest of us rush to the end of the course, five miles away. On the radio we hear the speeds: 189.108 in the quarter, 195.043 in the first mile and, 204.901 in the second. With the two runs added together we averaged 206.454 bumping the previous record by 3 mph, enough for a record and the coveted $14 red hat for breaking 200mph! With no speedo, Jimmy, of course, didn't know and had to be told that he’d made it. Then it was back to the impound to have the fuel seal checked along with the capacity of the motor, just to make sure no cheating went on.

As we sat waiting to be inspected, our friends Todd and David Hass rolled in. Todd already holds the G/BFR record at 210,881 mph after driving his car to Bonneville in 2004. Uncle David was behind the wheel this year but had spun twice, a butt-puckering experience at any speed, let alone 200 mph. This time, David had spun the Ecotec-powered  '34 Roadster at 199 mph and taken out the 5-mile marker and the timing lights. Nevertheless, David set a new G/BFMR record at 196.106 - going backwards! Now, that’s a record.

The GM/So Cal salt flats line-up for 2006

Later in the week, driving his streamliner, but only using one of its two motors, David bumped the B/GS streamliner record from 262.196 to 308.816 mph. Wait ‘till he fires up the other motor - 400 mph anyone? Also, alongside us were good friends the Brauer family who put their A/FR in the record books with a staggering 252.555 mph run at the hands of Mike Brauer. Way to go Mike. Then there was the Harris Family who, like fellow New Zealander Burt Munro of World’s Fastest Indian movie fame, travelled up from New Zealand and chased a record he’d been trying for over the past 20 years. Auto maker Lincoln set the C/GR record at 229.308 mph with a Ford Racing motor. Texan Jim Jard got in the 2 Club with a speed of 233 in the Contrivance Special. Then there was HOT ROD Magazine executive editor David Frieburger who took an old Camaro up to 249.640 mph. Also setting a record just under 250 was GM’s Mark Dickens in the Chevy Cobalt at 246.849 mph. Likewise, Ecotec powered, Ron Main’s EcoFire set a new record at 325.934, yes, 325 mph with George Poteet at the butterfly. In all, the 200 MPH Club gained 19 new members while four entered the 300 MPH Club.

As of Thursday, Aug 24, the JCB Dieselmax had gone 350mph - there may be more to come but the team already have the record  

Fellow Brit and World’s Fastest Man Andy Green (763 mph) was driving the new, twin-engined JCB Dieselmax, diesel-powered streamliner that went 317 mph. However, they stayed on the salt and extra week and went 350 mph to comfortably beat the old record.

JCB team got the job done with 'mister supersonic' at the wheel - Andy Green  

Land speed racing, like any form of racing, takes a team effort, and the Thacker and Shine boys have a lot of people to thank, especially World Products, who have now supplied two bullet-proof motors that have run at Bonneville. Others who have helped include: AutoMeter, John Beck Racing Engines, Nathan Bugg at BDS, B&M, Boss, Brauer & Sons Racing, BSM from Ohio, Callies, Chopper Dave’s Casting, Crane Cams, Crow Enterprises, G&J Aircraft & Competition, Fender Musical Instruments, Jesel, Ladner Trucking, Manley, Mooneyes USA, Moroso, MSD Ignition, Robin “Silky” Silk, SO-CAL Speed Shop, Specialized Powder Coating, Taylor Motorsports Products, and Total Seal Piston Rings. Also to thank are the Falschlehner and Thacker families, without whose support there would be no team at all.

Hi-tech and low-tech are all welcome as shown by this lovely old '55 Chevy 

Thanks entirely to the Save The Salt campaigners who have for years worked to replenish the salt that has been mined away.  This year the salt was the best people had seen it in years. Unlike last year, when it flooded, the rain held at bay and gave us one of the most glorious Speed Weeks ever with a record number of racers and a record number of spectators.

Now, mark you calendars because 2008 will be the 60th anniversary event and you wouldn’t want to miss that now, would you?

Story & Photos: Tony Thacker & courtesy SCTA

150 mph-plus on a bike?  No thank you

One seriously cool roadster - check out that slick engine fairing

Flip-top roadster was chasing the BF/R record 

Bonneville is not just for thumping V8s as illustrated by this four-banger Ghia

One seriously hammered Studi

EightinaRowRacing with Jerry Cleland at the wheel, bumped up the XO/STR record by less than 1mph to a new high of 149.450 

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