When we last left our
Time goes by for many
reasons. In a project like this one, there are excuses of work and
illness and weather and distance. But the biggest one of all is lack of
funds. Building a fuel funny car on zero budget is rather frustrating.
When Chris Stinson let me
know the tin was completed, I tried everything from begging racers who
might be going by, to trying to rent something, to trying to work deals
with local folk with trailers. Ron Miller, who has been patiently
awaiting the car's departure, was trying to come up with a plan to
deliver it last fall - just about the time fuel costs skyrocketed.
Last year, I was finally
able to replace POS Mustang. Many of you will think I've lost my head
when I tell you that I was able to talk Honda into selling me a new
Element, but it is so. I looked at new and used, and this funky little
"box" seemed to fit me best of all, right down to it having no
carpets. It took awhile to get it because I insisted on having AWD and a
stick shift. I finally told the dealer that I didn't even care what
color it was just as long as my two main parameters were met. Anyway,
though they really didn't want my nearly 200K Mustang, they took it as
part of my downstroke.
One of the reasons I wanted
this car was that my 90-year-old mother lives about 500-miles away and I
need reliable transportation year round. A drawback is the lack of
towing capacity - set at 1500-pound maximum by Honda.
Soon after I took delivery
on the Element, I ordered a hitch and a wiring loom. The former bolted
right on, and though I followed the instructions by removing a great
deal of the right side interior panels to reach the supposed plug-in, it
wasn't there. It seems they had sent me a loom for a 2004. I returned
all the interior panels to their proper locations, and the loom to the
Now, before you ask, the
ramptruck bus is still sitting, awaiting my complete overhaul of the
brakelines and hydravac system, Plus, it would be cost-prohibitive to
drive it roundtrip Carson City to Winslow to pick up a 600-pound
That said, we now have our
algebraic equation. I needed a trailer that weighs less than 1,000
pounds so that the 1500-pound GVW of the Element is not exceeded. I
searched and asked. I looked in backyards. I scanned utility trailers,
dollies and all manner of snowmobile-jetski-motorcycle trailers. I
searched the classifieds. I inquired at commercial lots. I thought,
conjured and dreamed. Should I buy an axle and build what I needed?
On the way back from LA
after the holidays, I thought a great deal about just how to go about
this - I could not allow this dormancy to go even another month. My trip
was delayed a day due to avalanches that buried Highway 395 near the ski
resorts at Mammoth Mountain, and I was forced to take an alternate route
that took me through several small towns. I spied small trailers and my
mind churned. Just a few miles from home, I spotted an old boat trailer
in what had been a car lot and placed it in my memory. A day or two
later, I drove back there and made inquiries. I figured if the owner
wanted less than $500 I would consider it.
Well, it was one of THOSE
stories. The property was adjacent to a transmission shop. The owner,
John, told me that a guy had once leased the property and done OK with a
car lot but was long gone and had left him with a few derelicts. And
though the trailer owner was now somewhere in Mexico, he called in from
time to time.
Several calls later I heard
what I wanted to hear - $250. I bit my lip knowing that the real owner
might be impossible to reach and told John since I didn't want all the
rollers and other boat associated junk, I'd go $150. John said he
thought that would be enough so I drove out and gave him a $50 deposit
with the proviso that he would call me the instant someone removed those
rollers and other items off the trailer. Two weeks later, I hadn't heard
a thing. So I drove back and John told me the owner of the trailer had
some sort of local handyman trying to clean out the old car lot and that
guy didn't think I was serious. I wondered aloud why I had made a
deposit, and once again told him to call me the instant the rollers were
removed. That was a Wednesday, the call came Thursday and I raced up to
finish the transaction.
After doing that, I went
on-line and purchased the correct Honda wiring loom. Instead of $28 like
the previous pieces, it was $168! That included overnight shipping.
Hmmmm. These folk really don't want people towing trailers! I had
delusions of completing the trailer and heading for Winslow Saturday.
I then went to DMV. When
the lady at the counter heard I was rebuilding a boat trailer into sort
of a utility trailer, she issued me a 30-day temporary permit and told
me to bring it back when I was finished. OK.
With temp in hand, I headed
for the trailer and towed it to T&D Machine sans lights - those had
somehow been borrowed on the no-return plan.
OK, so Friday was going to
be the day. Get and install the loom in the Element. Find lights and
wire for the trailer and install same. All would work perfectly and I'd
head for Winslow at 5:00am Saturday. Great plan.
I called around to see what
was available as to wiring and light "kits" for trailers. By
7:30pm Thursday, I was no further. On the way home, I went to Lowe's and
looked at what they had and hated them.
Friday, I found that NAPA
had so many choices I couldn't make up my mind. I then went to work and
further inspected the trailer. The wire and "flat-4" connector
still remained. So, I really didn't need a "kit," just some
lights and stuff. Back to NAPA. Lights, reflectors, shrink tube, clips
When shipping arrived, of
course the loom wasn't there. An email, a returned call, an apology and
a promise for Saturday delivery sent me back to the trailer. After
months and months, what was another day?
With borrowed drill motor
and soldering iron, friend Sheldon Miller (part of the T&D sales
staff) and I fell on the trailer. In not too long, we had it completed.
But there was another problem. Although the tire treads looked adequate,
I showed Sheldon the extensive weather checking in the sidewalls and he
shook his head. The wheels are 14" and appear to be from a 70s Ford
midsize, maybe a Torino.
Keep in mind that this
trailer is an interim tool to recover the car and little more. To invest
heavily in something I'm going to "off" quickly seems rather
The last time I bought a
trailer tire was in about 1979 - they were 8- or 10-ply real trailer
tires and cost me roughly $40 for the pair. Enter the year 2006. I
figured I'd roll the tires into the back door of Wal-Mart and for $29
each, have some tires. Hahahahaha. Without telling exactly how many
places I called, let me say that bias-ply trailer-spec tires are
unavailable locally (I found them on the internet for $75 each), and
that my phone search took me into about noon Saturday.
Yes, the loom arrived and
one look inside the box sent my non-electrical head spinning. I had
heard the term "plug & play" and this was far beyond that!
Another of the group of
T&D personnel, long time lakes and Bonneville racer Bob Beattie, and
I headed first for Carson City Used Tire & Wheel, where for a mere
$64.80, I would be handed two size-matched used F-78x14s, but they
couldn't mount them until Monday. I shook my head and went to
Pic-n-Pull, paid my $1 admission and began to scrounge on a very windy
Saturday afternoon. Of course I was searching for two mounted Ford or
Mopar rims which got me nowhere.
Finally, I stared at a late
Camry that had encountered some sort of immovable object.
Surprisingly, it had 14" tires and the rears looked good. The right
rear had a wow in the wheel but the tire looked unblemished. Then I had
to scrounge for a lug wrench. That took awhile but Bob found a T-wrench
a few rows over. We wedged another tire under the one I was wrestling
and off came the lugs. Bob found a 15" mid-50s Ford truck rim that
he needed for his pair of 32 Fords - one roadster and one 5-window - and
we were off.
Of course there was an
argument at the pay window because the tires I was getting "looked
new." I quoted the posted price of $14.99 for 14" tires and
wouldn't budge, also said I didn't want the wheels and would bring them
back. I was charged $3.99 each and hoped they would actually take them
back and give me cash.
Back to T&D and we
transferred all the wheels/tires to Bob's truck and he headed home. It
seems he has a tire machine in his backyard and I was to meet him Sunday
afternoon to help with the mounting.
I went home and paid bills.
Sunday, hours before I was
to head for Bob's, he called and said they were mounted and would I meet
him at his storage unit. So, I called Sheldon, explained the complicated
loom and he said come on.
Bob had mounted some skinny
radials on Cragar S/Ss and wanted to bolt them on his 5-window. His
storage unit is two doors from mine, and we arrived less than 90-seconds
apart. I transferred wheels/tires from his truck to the Element, kind of
helped as he bolted the wheels on his 32, then was glad I'd hung around
for a few minutes because the built flathead refused to light.
"Outta gas," shouted Bob, so I pushed, and back into storage
the coupe went. Then I headed for T&D to download 14-pages of
instructions for the loom and headed the 40-odd miles to Silver Springs
where Sheldon and his little family live.
He looked at the
instructions and the number of pieces in the box and rolled his eyes,
but once we turned to, it went relatively fast. The only thing we didn't
accomplish was routing the pigtail out through an OEM grommet which
entails removing the rear bumper! Later.
Between plugging and
tracing wires, I roughed up the wheels and gave them a coat of the hot
rodder's friend - flat black.
|The modified boat trailer has about $400
invested, frugal but functional. What looks like haphazard
lumber is actually the "deck" already bolted down. If
I keep it for any length of time, it'll get lowered.
With most of the
ingredients in place, I headed for home. On Monday, I emailed Ron Miller
with an update and a request for some Nova dimensions. Within a few
hours, he sent them back and I mentally designed a simple deck for the
trailer. Tuesday, I bought two 2x8 planks 12 feet long, some carriage
bolts and safety chain and other necessary items. After work, Bob and I
drug the trailer inside the back door of T&D and I bolted the planks
to the trailer, as well as several shorter 2x6 planks where the rear
tires of the Nova would sit.
After a couple hours of
drilling and tightening bolts, I was pretty well done. The only problem
I had that night was that the bolt I purchased to retain the safety
chain was too short but that was cured the following morning with ease.
The "buddy hubs" were packed with grease, I plugged the
trailer lights into the car and suddenly, I had a way to go after the
car! I grabbed straps and things out of the big truck, hooked everything
up and headed for home. I threw a few items in a suitcase, went to sleep
and the next morning at 5:50am, I was underway.
I rolled south on Highway
50 and happily discovered that the trailer towed well. I checked
everything in Fallon at 7:00am, turned onto Highway 95, and ate a quick
bite in Hawthorne at 8:20am.
|Just after dawn near Fallon, Nevada, I
passed Top Gun Raceway. Look carefully, those blurry buildings
are around the starting line.
The first fuel stop was in
Tonopah at 10:20am, and all was still going fine. I passed through
Beatty at noon, then continued on down what I have nicknamed "The
This is a lonely part of
the world. When the government began testing munitions in the 1920s,
they used this very area. When they needed to test nuclear bombs, it was
right there. When they needed secret military bases, well, you're
getting the picture. Ancient mining towns are just about the only lumps
you see. It is not a place to have a breakdown, unless your greatest
desire is to have some USAF fighter pilot choose you for strafing
practice. Most of this desert is part of Nellis AFB, and as I cruised
toward Indian Springs, I was entertained by the Thunderbirds who base
and perfect their act right here.
I was cruising along at
69mph and had the little "rig" over 80mph a couple times
passing semis with seemingly no problem. One of the things that
concerned me as I rode along was that I built the trailer deck to load
the FC going forward, and since it had no windshield, would the giant
"scoop" slow me down considerably?
My plan had been based on
making it from Carson City to Winslow in one day - 12 hours driving time
was my estimate. When I reached Las Vegas, it was mid afternoon. I had
been concerned about what route to take so involved both my good friend
Buzz Baylis and my brother-in-law Tim Perman in hopes of one of them
getting back to me. Both did, and both told me, "easy deal, 95 to
515 to 93." I never saw signs to 515. Whether the massive
construction projects covered the signs or I missed them in heavy
traffic, I missed them.
I proceeded right across
town on the 15 knowing full well I was headed west and would need at
some point to head south or turn around. I finally found the 146, which
put me back over to where I needed to be - on the 515/93, but in stopped
traffic. By the time that cleared up, I figured I must have lost a full
hour. Of course, it might not have been avoidable but nonetheless, I
felt I was running behind. Then, in Boulder City, I got stuck in the
wrong lane and was forced to go through town instead of circumventing
it. Another 15-20 minutes.
Soon, I was driving across
the top of Hoover Dam for the first time in my life. What a truly
awe-inspiring engineering marvel.
|Many hours later, I rolled across Hoover
Dam. There were hundreds of tourists - I wish I could have
The next leg was about 70
miles to Kingman, where I fueled and called a friend who lives nearby.
Peter Broadribb is the guy who is restoring Gene Moody's 55 Chevy, a car
he has shared with gasser fans throughout the country. We chatted, he
invited me to come back out to his place, but I passed and after
checking everything on the trailer again, headed on.
It was leaving Kingman and
talking to my sister Shari on my cell that I felt fatigue. She insisted
that I stop soon. It was nearly 6:00pm, I had surpassed my twelve-hour
estimate and I was still quite a ways from where I thought I should be.
When it became fully dark, I really began to fight sleep. So, at the
first town on I-40 that had a motel, Seligman, Arizona, I pulled into
the Canyon Lodge. Dinner was a salad to go from a restaurant a block or
so away, and I settled in for the night. I did not set the alarm
figuring whenever I woke up I'd head out.
At 2:30am, I sat straight
up. There was something going on outside. The noise was bell-like, so up
I sprang and peered through the window. It was the Seligman Fire
Department. Lovely. The bell was the back-up alarm on the truck as the
driver went forth and back. I put on my slippers and my jacket and
checked to see what was up. No fire. A false alarm set-off by wind ...
or something. I went back to sleep for a bit but was wide awake when 5am
came so I got up, grabbed some coffee and hit the road.
I pulled into Winslow about
8:00am and decided to tour the historic little place. Once, it was a
major railhead for Burlington-Northern-Santa Fe, and still is a
switching and crew-changing spot for east-west freights. It was once a
romantic stopover on Route 66, with colorful Indian ruins and souvenir
sales. Of course now, few of us know no more about the place than a
lyric written by Jackson Brown and performed in a tune called "Take
It Easy" by the Eagles.
|As I hopped out of the Element on Friday
morning at Ron Miller's, I found my Nova peeking out of the
I found some breakfast then
headed for Ron Miller's place. It was 9:00am and he was making a slow
start, so I took the opportunity to wander his tiny wrecking yard.
Although it has been cleaned up some since my last visit, it is still
overflowing with interesting vehicles, including several old racecars
that once frequented Winslow Dragstrip, a place Ron helped organize and
run during the 50s and 60s. The site of the strip is literally a stone's
throw from Ron's Racing.
|Ron's own 60 Chevy awaits a 409 and some
restoration to get back on a strip.
|His backyard holds a number of ex-racecars
from the Winslow area, including the "Arizona Shaker"
Chevelle and "Shopping Cart" 55.
|The treasure trove holds at least two Henry
Js, and a great many other dream starters.
|This Model A pickup once held an injected
sbChevy and ran B/A. You can ask but I doubt Ron will sell.
|By comparing the FC and that Camaro body, it
is readily obvious how truly narrow the Nova is.
Ron's idea was to back the
Element up on ramps, then use a pair
of his own golfcart ramps to load the car. When we got the Element in
position, I borrowed wrenches to check the hitch and ball and was
shocked to find the ball was hanging by a couple threads! Potential
disaster narrowly avoided.
Shortly, I was backing the
little trailer into position, airing the rear tires on the Nova, and
pushing it right on the trailer! I was pleased that the improvised deck
built to Ron's dimensions fit the car so well. I stared at the car on
the trailer, grit my teeth and said under my breath,
|With the Element up on ramps, the Nova met
its towing partner. The nose of the body is propped up while the
chassis gets strapped down.
Helping us out was Derron
Sheets, crewchief on Charlie McCall's AFC, also based in Winslow. He was
a far better Boy Scout than I when it came to strapping and tying, and
was much appreciated.
Soon, the car was strapped
down and we wrestled to fit a second set of rear tires/wheels onto the
trailer tongue, and load the rest of the various items that go with the
car. Just about 1:00pm, goodbyes were said and I was back on I-40,
headed west, easing the load up to speed. It wasn't long before I
settled on 64mph - not too bad.
|A few miles of towing and I pulled over at
famous Twin Arrows, Earl Watts and I had stopped there after
stretching the body and parked right by the arrows. If you
compare photos, you'll note that the once great tourist stop on
Route 66 has been totally closed off to motorists.
I stopped in Flagstaff,
fueled and had a really nice lunch with Laurie Watts who drove the hour
or so north just to rendezvous. I hadn't seen her for nearly two years.
By the time I left there it was after 4:00pm and I was back to facing
fatigue. I hadn't gotten much sleep the previous night and things were
made worse by my driving straight into the sun. So, I stopped in Kingman
at a Motel 6 and called Peter again. He said, "Hey, it's Yvonne's
birthday, we'll take you with us to dinner."
|Laurie Watts came to see me in Flagstaff.
She has now forsaken her little dragster for Motocross
photography and is doing extremely well.
I took a shower (loading in
Ron's driveway had gotten us all pretty dusty), and walked a few blocks
to try to find a birthday card and to work out some
too-long-in-one-position leg kinks. I failed on the first item. Dinner
was at Chili's, and although a couple of the dinners were messed up,
overall it was a fun evening with Madbrit and his friends.
|Morning in Kingman found
the FC a wee bit shorter than They had been the night before.
It was a no alarm night
again and this time, I awoke about 6:30am. When I went out to the car, I
found that the rear tires on the Nova were flat. Not down, flat! Hmmm.
When I had all my personal stuff loaded, I slowly crawled to a station
where I found air, then fueled and was under way by a little after
|I like this view of Hoover Dam, taken
Saturday morning. Note Chris Stinson's wonderful firewall.
|There is a new section of Highway 93 being
constructed to move traffic off of the dam. I'm glad I got to
I stopped near the dam to
try to get a picture or two, then chatted with several racers headed for
a test-n-tune at Las Vegas. I handed out a few business cards and hope
to hear from them for their rocker arm needs.
|I found these folk parked near Two Gals
restaurant in Boulder City.
When I got to Vegas, the 93
naturally turned into the 515 and traffic on Saturday morning was far
easier. But as I rolled across that city, I began to worry about the
trailer hitch ball. Had it come loose again? After all, it had more load
on it. I decided if I saw a store that had tools, I'd try it. Or, if
there were a tire store that I could borrow tools, I'd pull in.
I spotted a fairly new Home
Depot but it was difficult to see how to reach it, then of course, I
took the wrong exit. When I got on surface streets, they were all under
construction and blocked by delineators of all kinds. I thought I could
see the route to reach the store but once again, I was trapped in a
wrong lane. I had a choice of forcing a left turn or to merge onto
another freeway. There was a really wide no-mans land lane that I pulled
into and thought I had nods and OKs from the first few drivers in the
actual turn lane. So, I eased myself over to the left and figured
everybody saw what I needed to do.
Suddenly there was an idiot
on a motorcycle in the "hole" at a high rate of speed. He
turned on the wick, and wiggled himself around the length of my rig. OK.
Keep turning. I checked the mirror and was horrified to see a little
white car about to try the same trick as the rider had. He was too wide,
the gap was narrowing by the arc I was making, and at the last second
the driver stood on his brakes. In retrospect, I was totally in the
wrong, stupidly making a left turn from the right lane and hoping
everybody would give me room. This fool was weaving through
construction-restricted traffic at about 20mph too fast and was about to
run into the back of the Element. I stabbed the throttle, turned the
wheel to the right and watched his right fender and the left fender of
the trailer miss by less than a foot. He got stopped in a cloud of tire
smoke, I opened the door and tried to motion an "RUOK?" then
made my turn and headed embarrassedly on to the Home Depot.
I bought an adjustable
wrench and slip-joint pliers. When I was able to check, the ball was
tight, and I sat on the corner of the trailer and shook for a solid ten
minutes. I knew I had been extremely lucky. Then, I snuck back onto I-95
By 11:00am, I rolled into
Beatty and fueled. There are a couple nice looking Casinos, but only a
run-down Mexican restaurant. So, I bought a mini pizza at the gas
station (made fresh) and went on.
|We added to the Art Car Park in Goldfield
for a few minutes.
|I shot this for Gordie Bonin. Just outside
Mina, Nevada, is the Wild Kat Ranch. While working for his
friend Bob Pearce in Bull Head City, he helped carve those Roman
columns out of
The next leg might have
been the worst of the whole trip. I began to wish I could wiggle my nose
and be home, you know, the way Elizabeth Montgomery used to do on
"Bewitched." I had to stop a few times and take little walks.
I wanted so bad to be done, to get out of the car and just be done with
the trip. Like race drivers who experience those last lap jitters, I
began to hear noises and come up with theories as to what might be
wrong. When I reached
|The major military base that surrounds
Hawthorne has these great bunkers that I'm told house munitions
of all kinds.
Hawthorne, I bought some
grapes, double checked everything on the trailer and re-aired the tires
on the Nova. Most of you who have been around racecars know that when
the rear tires deflate, all the straps are very loose. I was trying to
out think this thing. Up the road and sort of patting myself for
catching that before it got worse, I realized just how rummy I truly
was. I was nearly out of gas! I really had something to worry about
Should I go back to
I tried to check the map
but these aging eyes must use cheaters for map reading. I could not
remember a gas station but knew of a tiny town up ahead, so I forged on.
I stopped once more, at a
strange landmark on I-95 - a tree loaded with shoes! I took a few
pictures of it for my friend Betten Hoover, Tom's wife, who has for
years collected shoes she finds on roads and streets. Strange, but it is
her hobby. There are plenty of strange things I do - like collecting
teddy bears - so I won't say things about someone who collects cast-off
My trepidation was eased
when a tiny gas station in the edge of Schurz hove into view. I poured
five gallons in ($13.00), chose not to stock up on illegal fireworks
being sold inside (firecrackers and gasoline seems like a good combo for
a store), and drove on.
|Can you tell how rummy I was getting? I
decided that my 65mph shadow looked cool and tried to take a
picture of it.
In Fallon, I called Sheldon
and asked if he'd like to bring his two boys out to see the car as I
went by. He picked a spot and I waited there for about 15 minutes before
they arrived. The boys, Dallon and Sheldon Jr., crawled all over the
Nova with smiles on their faces.
|The sunset Saturday was really great.
They needed to drive to
Carson City to get parts for their dually, so we agreed to have dinner.
Then, while driving the very last leg with about ten miles to go, we got
stopped in the midst of construction. While waiting for the pilot car, I
nearly fell asleep. I called Sheldon and told him I'd changed my mind. I
headed for home, which I reached at 7:15pm.
The trip had been 1570
miles. While reclining on my own bed, I went to sleep three times during
televised qualifying for Pomona. Imagine that.
The following morning, I
aired the FC tires at U-haul, poked the car into my storage unit, still
on the trailer. On the way back home, a little light on the dashboard
told me that the five gallons I'd purchased in Schurz would not last
|The whole unit slid right into the storage