Bonneville World Of Speed Part II: 200 MPH or Bust!

Project LSR Bonneville World of Speed
Project LSR Bonneville World of Speed

By Chuck Johnson
Photos by Joe Lu

Project LSR spin at Bonneville World of Speed

In our last update, we left off having just set a new Bonneville H/PS land speed record at 184.1 MPH.  (Click here to read about part one of our Bonneville World of Speed adventure) On the second of the two record passes, Project 240SX LSR and its 600 plus horsepower 1.5 L engine, had recorded a fastest speed of 191.9 MPH.  With more than enough power on tap, our goal of pushing the record to over 200 MPH seemed well within reach.

Moto-IQ Project LSR Bonneville World of Speed at start line

Since we had pushed the record to over 175 MPH, Project 240SX LSR was now qualified to run on the “long course.”  This meant we had several more miles to work with to achieve our 200 MPH goal.  Before the next pass though, we dialed more toe in into the rear suspension in attempts to tame Project 240SX LSR’s tail happy attitude.

With more toe in dialed into the rear suspension, we headed off to the starting line.  Check out the video below.

While you’re checking out the video, keep an eye on the mountains in the horizon and use them as a frame of reference.  In doing so, you’ll begin to understand just how much of a handful a high horsepower rear wheel drive car is on moist, traction-less salt.  

Project LSR spin at Bonneville
If you watched the video carefully, you may have noticed the digital GPS speedometer reading 193 MPH right before the spin.

Just a month before World of Speed, Bonneville was completely covered in water resulting in the cancelation of Speed Week.  Although no longer covered in water, the salt was still super moist and in all around terrible condition.  This made accelerating more of a fine ballet requiring a combination of precise footwork and delicate steering wheel inputs.  Was the poor traction what caused the spin at 193 MPH though?

Bonneville Time Slip Long Course

Although we spun the car, we still managed to cross the last set of lights at 184.1 MPH.  If that speed sounds familiar, it’s because it matches the record we just set earlier in the day.  So the question is, did we qualify for a new record?  

Bonneville World of Speed Project LSR

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After doing the math, some old timers joked with Nick and I about how close we came to qualifying for a new record.

Without rounding, the speed of our last pass was 184.12438 MPH.  Again, without rounding, our record was 184.12483 MPH.   In other words, we missed qualifying for a new record by .00045 MPH!  We were told by Dan Warner that he had never seen someone come this close before in his 51 years of land speed racing.

Project LSR at Bonneville World of Speed on salt

Screw the record, I was just grateful to have walked away unscathed from a 193 MPH spin. Unfortunately though, Project 240SX LSR was damaged during the spin.  When Project 240SX LSR rotated sideways at over 190 MPH, the pressure build up underneath the hood caused it to buckle.  If the hood hadn’t buckled and relieved the high pressure, the car would have likely flipped.  The would have been disastrous to say the least.

Parachute damage Project LSR

In addition to the hood, the parachute mount was also damaged.  When the parachute deployed during mid spin, its tethers wrapped around the parachute mount and almost ripped it clean off the rear bumper.

John Kutcha fixing parachute bracket
Although cracked and mangled, John Kuchta (aka: The Sheet Metal Whisperer) was on hand to massage the parachute mount back to life so we could make another run. This guy never ceases to amaze me.
Along with the parachute mount, the tether also caught the kill switch and ripped it clean off the rear garnish.  Although the course workers scoured the course, this was the last we ever saw of the kill switch and all it’s little components.     

After the repairs were completed, we took Project 240SX LSR through tech where it was scrutinized. By the time we got through, racing had shut down for the day.  Since we were one of several cars that spun consecutively, the USFRA felt that the course conditions were responsible and decided to move the course for the next day of racing.

Setting alignment Project LSR 240sx

For good measure, the next morning Nick, Sean and John realigned the car using jack stands and a random spool of spot tie.  Previously, we had only used toe plates to adjust the rear toe which are not as accurate as string a car.

Project LSR 240sx waiting in line World of Speed Bonneville

After verifying the toe again, we got back in line and waited helplessly for hours as a storm lingered in the distance.  A downed motorcycle rider and shortage of paramedics would bring the event to a complete halt for the next several hours. There were only three ambulances for the entire city of Wendover, and with the motorcycle accident taking one out of commission and the other two suddenly in use due to emergencies in town, the officials couldn’t continue the event without a ready ambulance present. Meanwhile, the winds began pick up and rain could be seen in the distance.

Bonneville World of Speed start line Bonneville

When we finally reached the starting line, we looked over to find ourselves staged next to Danny Thompson, the son of Mickey Thompson.

Danny Thompson Challanger 2 at World of Speed Bonneville

For those of you outside the LSR community, this was a small piece of land speed racing history. Picking up where his father left off, Danny Thompson is out to capture the record for the fastest piston engined car at over 400 MPH.  His weapon of choice, an AWD streamliner powered by a pair of 2,000 horsepower nitro fueled Hemi V8s.

Danny Thompson 419 MPH land speed record pass World of Speed
We’d be witness to Danny making an incredible 419 MPH pass. Now it was our turn.

After walking away unscathed from the previous day’s 193 MPH spin, I’d be a damn liar if I said I wasn’t concerned about making another attempt at the 200 MPH mark.  The team had worked too hard for me to get scared and quit now.  Visions of the car hurling through the air like the infamous Racing Beat RX-7 filled my mind as I waited on the starting line though.  Finally, when the starting line official gave me the signal, I said “Screw it!” and mashed on the throttle tattooing two black lines across the salt’s surface.       

Watch our second attempt at 200 MPH above.
Again, at precisely the same speed (193 MPH) the Project 240SX LSR would veer off course and enter a spin.  There’s a certain sensation of weightlessness that comes at that moment. Recognizing it, I was able to activate the chute faster this time around.
Chuck Johnson Project LSR 240sx after spin at Bonneville

While reaching for the chute, a string of profanities so vulgar it would have made a sailor blush spewed from my mouth.  I was grateful to be alive but absolutely disgusted.  I walked away frustrated and helpless.  We’d struggled for months to get here and found Project 240SX LSR’s terminal velocity.  We had literally built a car so fast, we couldn’t keep it on the ground anymore.  Without being reckless, there was nothing more we could do.

Bonneville Time Slip Long Course Project LSR 2nd attempt

We had qualified for a new record with our last trap speed of 185.9 MPH.  By this point though, the storm had caught up with us and getting the car to impound was the least of our concerns.  

With wind gusts over 25 MPH, rain traveled sideways and pelted us in the face. EZ Ups and tarps were flying everywhere.  The pits were complete chaos.  With lighting now striking in the distance, the crew frantically tour down the pit and hastily loaded up the truck. With one record in the bag, we decided to throw in the towel and head for home.  

The video above examines the aerodynamics of a second generation Mazda RX-7 using a scale model.  Having a similar silhouette to that of our S13 Nissan 240SX, one is left to wonder if the two chassis share the same problems.

After examining the videos and consulting with the nerd herd, we hypothesize that the shape of Project 240SX LSR makes it prone rear end lift at speed.  Since we must maintain a factory silhouette in the production class, we are left with only a few options to test in hopes of keeping Project 240SX LSR on the ground.  On the list of modifications to test are the USDM waffle spoiler and the complete JDM 180SX type X kit.  In addition, we’ll be experimenting with the rake of the car as well as the addition of several hundred pounds of weight.  To validate our testing we’ll be measuring and logging shock travel using our AEM Infinity EMS. 

So did we reach 200 MPH? Unfortunately, we did not this time around. But as the old saying goes, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Stay tuned.