The BME Bulletin
GETTING INTO THE COMFORT ZONE
After starting the 2008 season with a new driver, a new race car and a new setup, the Bill Miller Engineering Okuma/Red Line Oil Top Fuel team is getting into the groove. With five races under its belt in 2008, the team is starting to operate like a well-oiled, 8,000-horsepower machine. Strong qualifying performances at recent events in Las Vegas and Madison, Ill., combined with driver Troy Buff's first round win of the season, show that the BME team is picking up speed.
Two Firsts in Las Vegas
The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the site of the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, is the home track for the Nevada-based BME team. The BME/Okuma /Red Line Oil Dragster posted a 4.744-second elapsed time in Friday's second qualifying session, thereby earning a spot in Sunday's eliminations under NHRA's new qualifying rules. A quicker 4.716 at 314.53 mph in the first round of eliminations put Rod Fuller on the trailer and advanced Buff to the second round for the first time this season. Buff then took on the powerhouse Kalitta team, coming out on the short end of a tire-smoking contest.
"The race in Las Vegas was the first time we've qualified in the top 12 on Friday, which guaranteed us a spot in eliminations on Sunday," said Buff. "I think I like that qualifying format, but it depends on which side of the top 12 you're on!
"In the opening round I raced Hot Rod Fuller, and he smoked the tires," Buff continued. "Our 4.71 was a really nice, smooth run, and one of the quickest times in that round. We hoped to repeat that success in the second round against Doug Kalitta, but the track conditions were getting worse because of the heat. When my car started to smoke the tires, I lifted and grabbed the brake to settle it down. I started to gain on Kalitta, but couldn't catch him after I had to lift.
"What was really cool was that Kalitta told me afterward that I had a car length on him before we lost traction. If it hadn't smoked the tires, we could have been in the semis--but that's a big if."
The Las Vegas race also provided an opportunity to fine tune the clutch management system.
"One of the key changes we made for Las Vegas was a larger radius on the clutch lock-up levers," Bill Miller explained. "This new lever design allows us to control the engine speed better and still have enough clamping load on the clutch to gradually bring up the axle speed until the clutch locks up. Changing the radius on the levers made a significant difference and the clutch and engine are now working together the way they should.
"The BME Dragster ran 4.71 in the first round, and the run was as smooth as glass to the end of track," Miller continued. "We knew the track surface would be hotter in the second round, so I delayed the clutch engagement for two tenths of a second. But I didn't push it out quite far enough and the car started spinning the tires at 300 feet. Meanwhile Kalitta's car had dropped a cylinder, so we missed an opportunity because we could have beaten him."
Momentum in Madison
The BME Team stepped up the pace in its next outing at the O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals in Madison, Ill., qualifying with a 4.603 at 308.28 mph.
"That was the best I've ever felt the car run from the starting line to the middle of the race track," said Buff. "It had me pinned back in the seat. The engine started to hurt itself so I shut it off early, but the incremental times were good enough to have run 50-something on a full pass."
The black-and-yellow BME Dragster faced another member of the Kalitta clan, Hillary Will, in the first round of eliminations. This time there was drama on the starting line that determined the outcome.
"The car wouldn't go into reverse after the burnout," Buff recalled. "After four tries, I got on the radio and told the guys that I couldn't back up. They ran out and pushed me back, but by then I'd put so much extra heat in the clutch that it smoked the tires as soon as I stepped on the throttle. The bad part is that as soon I shut off, Hillary smoked the tires. You always have second thoughts, but I probably couldn't have caught her."
Despite the early exit, valuable lessons were learned in Madison.
"We've used safety wire for years to retain the reverser cable without a problem, but after the mishap in the first round, we now have a new method of retaining it," Miller reported. "We had also observed that with the stiffer chassis we're now using, the wheelie bar was hitting the ground hard on the launch. We raised the wheelie bar to help set the tires, and the car now accelerates much faster.
"The Madison track was exceptionally good, and that works the clutch pretty hard," he continued. "There's a point just before lockup when the heat is so intense that it just about welds everything inside the bellhousing. We need to keep the clutch from overheating, so we're going to try thicker floater plates that will act as heat sinks."
The BME team's next race was the O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at famed Bristol Dragway in the hills of Tennessee on May 16-18. Buff scored a win over Dave Grubnic in the first round. Look for the details in the next edition of the BME Blog.
"I think Bill has a handle on the tuneup with the new chassis, and I'm getting much more comfortable in the car," said Buff. "I was a little nervous at first, but now I'm starting to really enjoy the experience."\
BME RACE RESULTS