Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth

When I roll the Beal Racing nitro funny car into the stage beams for Q1 in Houston April 29th, I’ll mark the end of a marathon and the beginning of a sprint.  The marathon that included wholesale upgrades to the race car will make way for the sprint of the race weekend.  To the lay person the car will look slightly different.  A new design, and a few new sponsors.  To the trained eye the Beal Racing nitro funny car is a completely different animal.

Tyson Porlas and me celebrating my pro licensing

Me and cousin Tyson celebrating my pro licensing

When I earned my competition funny car license in June 2015, the team and I marked the end of a long licensing journey.  As owner and crew chief, Chuck Beal’s goal through that journey was to provide me a consistent race car that I could learn to drive.  As such, Chuck built the car on a tight budget with mostly second hand parts from the bigger teams, and tuned it to run around 4.35 seconds at 290 mph to 1,000 feet.  The training wheels were on, but the process wasn’t without its challenges.  In the nearly 30 training and licensing runs, I experienced tire shake, tire smoke, broken blower belts, blackened crankshafts, clutch malfunctions, and more.  When we finally got our groove Chuck and the crew delivered a consistent race car.  The last 5 runs I made to get licensed were straight down the race track without a problem.

Once I earned my license it was time for us to shift focus and develop a strategy for competition. We decided to use the last two races of the 2015 season, Vegas 2 and Pomona 2, as a proving ground for our parts and our tune up.  The lessons learned at those two races would help us develop marching orders to build a more competitive car in the offseason.  We predicted our existing setup could run 4.10 to 4.20 if we hit the tune up perfectly, and our goal for 2016 is to run consistently in the 4.00-4.10 range, with the occasional 3.90.  Did the car have to be completely overhauled to get there, or were there a couple areas to focus on that will make the biggest difference?  We would find out in Vegas and Pomona.

Thankfully we described that vision to AutoAnything and they believed in us enough to come along for the ride for those first two races.

In the immortal words of a sage of my generation, Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth.” We only made two runs before it was time to make upgrades.  Vegas qualifying went something like this:

  • Q1 – broken blower belt at 60 feet
  • Q2 – broken blower belt at 400 feet

Lesson number 1: our 8mm blower drive setup would not handle a more aggressive tune up.  We changed the blower drive setup for a 11mm blower belt after Q2.  (8mm and 11mm is the distance between the teeth on the belt).

  • Q3 – flawless pass next to one of my mentors from long ago, Jack Beckman, but a measly 4.30 seconds at 291 mph
  • Q4 – the car dropped a cylinder at the hit of the throttle and KABOOM at 600 feet – my first funny car fire
What KABOOM looks like

What KABOOM looks like

Not the best outing.  To pour salt in the wound, a 4.30 would have qualified at every race in 2015 except Vegas 2, and every race of 2016 thus far.  Brutal.

Pomona qualifying wasn’t much better:

  • Q1 – smoke the tires immediately – clutch malfunction
  • Q2 – ignition malfunction causes crossfire, break two connecting rods, send them through the side of the motor

We weren’t sure what caused the ignition malfunction, so Friday night and into Saturday morning we changed every component of the race car’s electrical system.   We left the track at 2:30am Saturday, and showed up at 7:30am to continue the work.

  • Q3 – missed because the car wasn’t ready
  • Q4 – smoked the tires at ~300 feet

2 races, 2 DNQ’s.  By the end of the Pomona race we had already found our first two weaknesses: the blower drive and the electrical system.  After the season ended Chuck analyzed the parts, the data from our onboard data recorder, and spoke to trusted confidants among the top nitro crew chiefs.  He developed a game plan.

STEP ONE: Upgrade the data recorder. The foundation of a championship-caliber nitro funny car is good data, so we invested in the latest Pro III data recorder that Racepak has to offer.

STEP TWO: Make more power! We need to upgrade to the best parts and configure the car as close to everyone else’s as possible.  It’s hard to discuss tuning ideas with friends if our parts and setup are completely different.  This meant the following changes:

  • Upgrade clutch, fuel, and ignition management
  • Bigger fuel pump
  • Upgraded fuel system components
  • Switch to setback blower (new intake manifolds and blower drives, new piston and rod configuration)
  • Upgrade blowers to AJPE
  • New injector hat
  • Upgrade cylinder head from AJPE Stage III to Stage VI
  • Switch engine blocks to a more common crankshaft main journal dimension
Configuring setback blower

Configuring setback blower

STEP THREE: Inventory = consistency.  Crew chiefs work hard to minimize the variables they have to deal with.  We need enough new parts to eliminate the extraneous variables caused by recycling parts for too long.  That means:

  • New floaters for every run
  • Mix in new clutch discs on every run
  • More of everything – spare rear end, spare body, 5 sets of cylinder heads, spare blocks, and enough bearings, pistons, rods, spark plugs, Maxima oil, toilet paper, and whatever else we’ll use up at each race.

STEP FOUR: Get the work done!

Looking at the scope of our offseason changes, Chuck decided to give us time to implement everything.  Our crew is made up completely of volunteers who work nights and weekends, so we need to keep the workload manageable and set them up for success.  Chuck decided to start our season in Houston at the NHRA Spring Nationals on April 29th.  We are now toward the tail end of that process and we still have a mountain of work ahead of us.

You may have noticed that everything I listed above costs a metric buttload of money.  My number one goal over the offseason was to secure enough sponsorship funding to make the plan possible.  I’m happy to report we executed on that plan, and will be announcing all of our 2016 sponsors throughout April!  We’ll build toward our primary sponsorship announcement right before the Houston race.  Stay tuned for that announcement, and for future blogs about sports business.  I find the process of making a business justification for a company to finance my dreams to be fascinating.  We’re proof that it can be done and I’m excited to show you how!

On Sunday my pastor hit me hard with the wisdom that happiness is the byproduct of a meaningful life.  So here are words to live by from psychiatrist Victor Frankl:

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.”  

Find your meaning!