By Annie Sam of Moto-IQ
Photos by Joe Lu and Sharry Lai of Moto-IQ
After three years of building and chasing a dream, MotoIQ’s Project 240SX Land Speed Racer claimed the Southern California Timing Association’s (SCTA) H/PS class land speed record for El Mirage at 165.5 miles per hour. The old record of 135.712 mph was set by Doug Kruse of Kruse Technology back in 2010.
H/PS Class: H stands for the engine class for motors with a displacement of 1 to 1.5 liters and PS stands for Production Supercharged. Production meant it had to be a stock bodied production vehicle with little to no aerodynamic modifications aside from very minor changes, such as removing rear view mirrors and trim. And in this case, supercharged means any forced-induction system.
Driver Chuck Johnson knew he left some speed on the table, acknowledging that he probably had another 10 mph he could have added to the record. But to err on the side of caution, Chuck decided to not flog the motor that day on the Mojave because he didn’t want to risk blowing it up before Bonneville’s Speed Week. This was a good decision on his part, as too many people spilled too much blood sweat and tears for this racecar. Divorce papers were probably being drawn up, and breakups were being caused to the people who were involved in this home wrecker of a project. Not making it to Bonneville was NOT an option.
Showing up to El Mirage that Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m., you wouldn’t have suspected the chaos which had ensued the nights before getting to this point. The stillness that usually covered desert mornings was charged with anticipation as racers buzzed around the pits, waiting for the drivers meeting to finish so that they could get back to setting up their cars.
Mother Nature could not have been more kind to us this July meet. The weather was a partly cloudy 97 degrees, with winds hovering around 5mph. This was quite a blessing, considering that the June El Mirage meet was cancelled due to winds which were clocked at over 30mph in 102-degree heat.
Watching the team gel together as they unloaded the race car and equipment, all team members were in sync. You never would have suspected that I only slept an hour the night before the event, or that Nick Hunter slept probably a total of 5 hours that entire week leading up to race day. This is why if you ever notice when race car drivers speak, you hardly ever hear them say “I” when discussing a race or a racecar. Driving is just one of the factors that make a successful race endeavor. The “we” is what makes it happen. Not to sound cliché, but without the help of Nick Hunter of 5523 Motorsports, John Kuchta of Specialty Cars Fabrication and Chuck’s right-hand man Sean Rossi, or the sum of so many others which had volunteered along the way, this car would not have made it out to the race, let alone covet a record.
This was one of many 3:00 a.m. moments where we were exhausted and on the verge of just walking away from it all.
The two weeks leading up to this event were hell for the entire team, with Nick and John bearing the brunt of the load. Chuck had the hair-brained idea of de-stroking a 2.0 liter engine down to 1.5 liters and essentially creating an “SR15VET 20V”. Nick and John took the pieces of Chuck’s vision and turned it into reality. With the chassis pretty much ready to go, it was the engine that became the focus of our build this time around.
Stuff like SR15VET 20V engines are born when an engine builder (Nick Hunter), a fabricator (John Kuchta) and an engineer (Chuck Johnson) spend too much time together.
You see, this chassis had already run 186.4 mph at Bonneville last year. But semantics caused the rules to be interpreted differently, and this landed Chuck in a different race class than what he was prepared for. The options were to either A) stay in the class he was bumped up to which would require a massive overhaul to remain competitive, or B) de-stroke the motor down to 1.5 liters. Neither option was to be taken lightly, but option B was definitely the lesser of the two evils. Since Chuck will be writing an article specifically on the build of the SR15VET motor, we’ll skip the details of that build here.
This was also probably at around 3 or 4 a.m. Nick Hunter of 5523 Motorsports aka the Nissan Doctor contemplates what the hell he got himself into.
The team saw several sunrises during the last few weekends prior to race day. Chuck, Sean and I worked on installing the engine and wrapping up loose ends while Nick focused on completing the installation of the new Full Race Motorsports/Borg Warner EFR turbo system. Once the majority of the turbo system was installed, John pulled a few long days to finish up the plumbing for the intercooler piping and Turbosmart external wastegates.
John Kuchta of Specialty Cars Fabrication pulling a 14-hour day here at our house. Are there any labor laws we’re violating here? Or does it count when we pay in beer?
The team pulled a huge favor with Clark Steppler of Jim Wolf Technology, somehow convincing him to open up shop on a Saturday and do a last minute tune. Any guess on how much power and torque the little beast made?
At the end of it all, everyone still made that final push on race day, voluntarily leaving their homes at 4:00 a.m. to make it to El Mirage in time to help unload and use every last minute we had to tie up the loose ends which still hadn’t been completed.
On the lake bed at around 9:00 a.m., we were still installing the gauge cluster and piecing together the dash.
Back to Sunday morning, now 10:00 a.m. The car was prepped and ready for tech inspection. Breezing through tech, we took the car straight to staging where we waited in the sweltering heat for our turn to run.
Fortunately for the event, there was only a slight breeze blowing under 5mph. Unfortunately for us, this meant that we were stuck in a stagnant 100-degree heat surrounded by revving racecars billowing hot fumes.
Getting strapped in is a pretty big ordeal. Window net. Center net. Helmet, HANS Device, gloves, shoulder belts, lap belts and arm restaints all needed to be in order at least three cars in advance. In the event that the car in front of you couldn’t run for any reason, they wouldn’t have to waste any time sending the next driver out.
At the launch, you could see the 240SX fishtail as it struggled to gain traction. Through the entire mile, Chuck would find himself making corrections to ensure that the car didn’t get too sideways and cause him to spin. Towards the last quarter mile, Chuck got more aggressive and accelerated harder causing him to cross through the timing lights in a somewhat impressive 165 miles per hour drift. Luckily for Chuck, he had the parachute to pull him straight and prevent a spin.
Chuck described the course as being extremely loose. After several racecars made passes, the surface of the El Mirage dry lakebed was basically composed of a very fine dust. Think talcum powder. Although the dusty surface made for an impressive rooster tail measuring over ten feet in height, Chuck reported that El Mirage’s dirt surface was exponentially more difficult to drive on than Bonneville. Add in that El Mirage requires a driver to accelerate a lot more aggressively being only 1.3-miles long and it becomes even more challenging to drive.
As we chased Chuck in the recovery vehicle, we heard the speed announced over the CB Radio: “165.5 miles per hour… we believe that may be a new record” Hearing those words made the last two hell weeks worth it.
In all of the bustle, Nick seems to have been the only one that was able to get a shot of the actual timing slip before we turned it in to SCTA to confirm the record. This sheet is the only validation we have of our run.
We took the car to impound where they performed class validation to officiate the record. This included testing the gasoline to make sure that we weren’t running alcohol, and to make sure our motor had been properly inspected and sealed for displacement prior to running.
Sean Rossi collects a sample of the ERC A8D Race fuel for testing.
Last thing they asked was “Do you want a trophy, or a jacket?” Chuck chose the trophy… the thought of a jacket in 100 degree weather just wasn’t appealing.
With the shakedown of the new powertrain complete, we are now even more confident that we can break the H/PS record of 168 MPH at Bonneville next month. And the original goal of entering the 200 MPH club? That’s looking even more obtainable. Stay tuned!