Part 2 of Running the 55 Fairlane during the Fast Fords Drag Race at Dragway 42!
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
The Hot Rod Reverend holding a tech inspection sheet for Fast Fords at Dragway 42
Even as I lay out this second installment of my report on the Fast Fords at Dragway 42 wekeend the event organizer and my good friend, Tony Fritz, has already solidified a date for 2022! Along with some other key people I have been asked to give feedback on the weekend and begin the effort to prepare for next year's race. The dates are again on Father's Day weekend, June 17-19 (Friday through Sunday).
Part 1 of this blog post left subscribers with a promise to introduce a few of the Y Block crowd who were at the event and to also pick up with the Saturday schedule. The Y Block racers, their families, and crew members all parked in the same area. Because of my plan to hold a church service on Sunday morning at the finish line just about underneath the scoreboards, I was the only Y Blocker not to park with the rest of the crew. There were some well-respected builders and drivers who showed up for Fast Fords.
Royce Brechler standing beside his Warbird - an altered Tbird that was quite fast!
Dan Bauer in his 55 Ford RanchWagon that he drove to the track - towing a camper!
Gary Burnette, a fellow North Carolinian and Y Blocker, in his 56 Thunderbird
Bob Martin, Bob Bell, and Harry Hutten (in suspenders) inspecting the drive shaft...
Space does not permit all of the details such as specifications for the vehicle builds and engine preparation. This blog post would reach the size of a small book should I tell the whole story on the conversations, new friends, backgrounds, and the help that these dear people gave me at this event called the Y Block Shootout. One story I will relay from Sunday afternoon has to do with the photo above of the drivers standing around a broken drive shaft. Take a closer look...
Bob Bell, owner and driver of a very hot 1957 Ford Ranchero, was moving on up in the elimination rounds quite steadily when during one otherwise normal trip down the strip he experienced catastrophic failure. From my vantage point as a spectator we could not see everything but we did hear the twisting of metal and saw parts come flying out from underneath of the Ranchero. Bob was running in the 12's all day with this car! At any rate, my friend Chad and I saw that there was automatic transmission fluid down the track and that Bob had shut it down and coasted around the exit trying to roll back to the ET booth. The car did not make it and finally came to a stop. We hopped in the golf cart to give Bob a ride and later on we picked up the parts for him after the car was towed back to his hauler. Yep, the drive shaft has twisted completely in two tearing up quite a bit underneath. We felt quite sorry for him - the tail shaft of his transmission was marred up pretty good and although he had a hoop installed for the drive shaft there was still quite a bit of damage. Even the parking brakes were out of commission! The general consensus was that on a shift from 2-3 in his C-4 the tires just really hooked up and the torque of his built Y Block snapped it in two.
But back to the Hot Rod Reverend's personal mishaps and experiences... The title photo up top at the blog post does indeed show a technical inspection card. Early on Saturday morning I decided that I would run in the bracket racing during the Y Block Shootout scheduled to take place later on that afternoon. Now mind you, I came to Fast Fords to help my friend Tony Fritz, spend time with my dad, and to help people spiritually. Before my arrival, I only had fleeting thoughts of running the 1955 Ford Fairlane on the track. I just figured I would sit in the stands, visit the pit area, and learn as much I could in preparation for next year. I will have to admit that by 9 am Saturday morning I had been "bit by the bug" and had decided that running the car would be the best way to get my feet wet. For all the things I had ever seen and heard about drag racing I was skeptical on believing that I would have what I needed mechanically to even take the car down the track. Men such as Bob Martin and Dan Bauer were extremely helpful and encouraging in walking me through the process. It may be best if I just relay what I learned and give the rookie experiences from my own perspective:
The technical inspection card looked quite thorough...
Every vehicle that runs down the track must be inspected by a track employee and certified for safety reasons. My tech card had a quite a bit to review, but suffice to say the faster your car goes the more safety-conscious the inspector and the requirements become. For instance, since my car was deemed to be quite slow I did not need a helmet. (this tends to the most often asked question) It is my understanding that once you hit the 12's you do need a helmet. The other items that may have seemed odd to owners and drivers of stock cars would be that every car must have an overflow tank for the radiator and every car must have a 2 throttle return springs for the carburetor. I run with these items every day so that was not a problem. Ahead of time I had already removed the hubcaps (didn't want any hubcaps flying off down the track) and had even removed any loose items from the car (various tools in the truck, spare tire, etc). Of course, the hood had to be raised for the engine compartment to be checked for safety (battery held down, fuel and coolant lines leak-free, normal mechanical condition ship-shape, etc). Once the Ford passed inspection I was handed my "run card" and a car number was assigned. The official wrote the number on the front passenger side window with a bottle of temporary paint.
Waiting in line for inspection
Inspection included an examination under the hood of all mechanical equipment...
While some of these things may sound mundane, even veteran racer Bob Martin did not pass tech! The 1956 Mercury he had brought to Fast Fords experienced a failure during inspection. The engine would not shut off when the key was turned to "off" on the switch! Bob said this had to do with some new wiring setup for his alternator but obviously he was not allowed to take the car down the track. Later on he just decided to put the 312-powered Merc back on the trailer.
After passing the tech inspection I received a "run card" from the official. This small ticket-sized piece of paper was to be shown to the track staff in the staging lanes so that they knew that the 55 Ford was safe to take down the track. So, the next thing for me to do was to listen for my group to be called so that I would know when it was time to enter the staging lanes (Dragway 42 is quite large and has 6 lanes) and take a practice run. Most tracks will make announcements over a PA system but the tower at this track also used an FM radio station. Of course, this made it quite simple to be in or at your car and hear what was going on no matter where you were located.
Not too long after I passed tech (about 15 minutes) we heard the call for Y Block powered vehicles so away I went. The thing I was most concerned about did not include the car or its performance. What kept running through my mind was staging, the light tree, and following procedures. I had very little idea of what I was doing even though I had watched quite a bit the night before and guys had explained to me the electric eyes, how they worked at the starting line, and how to leave with a green light with a low reaction time. (Easier said than done!)
For my first ever run, I lined up opposite Dave Fuszner in a real hot Y Block powered 57!
The feeling I had in the staging lanes is hard to explain. A part of me was quite nervous. Here I was, in an otherwise stock 1955 Ford Fairlane that I had put together in my basement and in my cramped, residential garage, lined up against a group of guys who knew what they were doing.
"Just don't red light, Jessup," I muttered to myself.
Well, as you can see in the photos I got paired with a 1957 Ford owned and driven by Dave Fuszner. I recognized the car and the name immediately when I pulled up beside him. Over the years I had read a number of Y Block magazine articles that either he had written, someone had referenced the car in some way, or the article in question had discussed his engine build.
When it was our turn to go down the track for a practice run, I drove around the water box to the staging light sensors while Dave did a burnout in the water box. When we both crept up to the sensors I ended up pre-staging first. (Top light lit up on my side) Dave pre-staged next. In all of the excitement I had forgotten that I needed to roll forward just a tick to trip the next electric eye to fully stage my lane. I just sat there - scared stiff not to red light. Well, Dave just rolled forward a little, staged up, and waited. What I didn't know was that after 7 seconds of either lane fully staging (top 2 lights in the lane lit) if the other lane did not stage fully that lane would get an AUTOMATIC red light. Yep - I got a red light. Frustrated because I had made a mistake in forgetting to completely stage, I hit the gas and went down the track hitting 80 mph at the finish line. First lesson learned!
About 30 minutes later it was time for the Y Block powered vehicles to run again for another time trial. (Remember that in bracket racing you are trying to see what your ET is going to be and later on during elimination rounds when it really counts you try to hit the ET you have chosen ahead of time.) When I got up to the staging lanes there was another 55 lined up in the other lane - Dan Bauer's RanchWagon! We stopped, waved, and both snapped a picture of each other while waiting for our turn.
Dan Bauer's RanchWagon and the 55 Ford Fairlane Club Sedan in the staging lanes
This time I felt I was more prepared. We both hit the sensors for the pre-stage lights, staged, and then waited for the lights to come down to show green. I did not want to be caught off guard this time and sure enough - I saw the lights flash in sequence down the tree. When I thought it would hit green I floored it and dropped the clutch!
Yep, this time I was prepared alright and a little over-zeaulous too. I did not red light but I hit the gas so hard that my street tires just lit up. I could feel and hear my rear tires squealing and watched Dan Bauer start to pull away. I got a little excited and hit 2nd gear but I was so wrapped up in the pedal to the metal scenario that the tires just continued to spin and squeal. About 1/3 of the way down the track I wised up and let off a tick to let the tires bite and then played catch up to try to beat Dan to the line. The slip at the ET booth read 20.2523 for Bauer and a 20.0095 for Jessup! A slow ET because of all the tire spinning but the Fairlane had just made it to the line in time to take the win in a heads up race.
Unfortunately the rain began to fall just before the 3rd round of time trials so the weather halted all runs until later on in the day when it began to dry out. Even with the rain coming down (you can see the puddles on the pavement below) my dad and I were surprised with how many die hards there were who stopped by to look at the Club Sedan, swap stories, talk about old cars, and pay many compliments. It was all a truly humbling experience for me. When the rain stopped and most people had gone back to their pit areas we still had guys hanging out trying to make introductions and talk to us about the car.
The Y Block Shootout is really bracket racing, not heads up fastest Y Block powered vehicle racing. So in that scenario each driver has "dialed in" their vehicle to a pre-determined, specific ET down to a hundredth. Since I only had two rounds of time trials and had experienced problems in both runs I was still guessing what a real ET would be for the 55 Club Sedan. I scurried over to the main gate shop to purhase a bottle of the temporary window paint so that I could write down on my windshield the ET I expected. I did some guesswork and wrote down a 17.25 on the windshield and hoped for the best.
The way that elimination rounds work is that each pair in the staging lanes races against their dial in times on the windhshields (without going faster than that time but you obviously want to be closer to your dial in ET than the car in the other lane). Each time all the cars in the group run, the best of each pair advances to the next round.
I waited at my car for the call from the tower for the Y Block Shootout to commence. When I heard "Y Blocks to the staging lanes..." there was a special announcement made. "Dan Jessup in car 6528 will get a bye in the first round..."
Now, I had very little idea of what that meant. Having coached and played in both high school and college athletics I always assumed that a bye meant that you just skipped to the next round. I thought about it for a few minutes and just decided that I did not go through tech inspection to get a bye - we did all that to go down the track. (of course, later I discovered that a bye meant that I would need to go down the track by myself getting the automatic win) Scurrying off to the staging lanes just a bit behind all of the other Y Block racers I enter the lane that seemed to have the fewest number of cars and trucks. When I pulled up to the last car in the line, one of the track officials was already making his way over to me.
"Hey, what's going on?" I said.
"Ummmm, we miscounted on the Y Block Shootout. You don't get a bye the first round since we have an even number of cars," he replied.
"No problem here, I came this morning to run the car so let's go," I said back to him with a grin on my face.
"Alright, alright, reverend," the official chuckled as he pointed to the lane beside me. "We are going to pair you with this altered T back here."
Immediately my grin turned to a look of disbelief. I nodded at the official and just rolled my window back up. "Run against this altered?" I said to myself. "Are you serious? This is my first elimination round, I'm not even sure of what my car will really do yet, and I gotta go up against Ted Eaton?"
Thankfully I was running an in-car camera and my friend, Chad Robinson, also recorded the video from the bleachers. In this article I will not say what happened - you will just have to watch the video.
Hot Rod Reverend vs Ted Eaton!
In part 3 of this series about the Fast Fords weekend at Dragway 42, we will show you what happened on Sunday. The Hot Rod Reverend is both "Hot Rod" and "Reverend" everywhere he goes and the Sunday of a race weekend is no exception. Plus, we will give you an opportunity to get a free copy of the Fast Fords program - the shipping is on me!
The Hot Rod Reverend
aka Daniel Jessup