Artful Dodgers: How crafty racers succeed

Artful Dodgers: How crafty racers succeed

By Alfie Bilk:

 

Mike Thermos: Nitrous oxide’s first apostle

Mike Thermos: Nitrous oxide’s first apostle

“I once saw a nitrous oxide system concealed within a brake booster,” says Nitrous Supply’s Mike Thermos. “The illicit charge was transmitted by way of the vacuum line and into the intake manifold. Another bamboozle I recall prevailed by delivering nitrous through the heater hoses.”

Twenty years ago, Rusty Glidden shook the drag racing establishment when he admitted illicit use of nitrous oxide in his Pro Stock Ford Probe. His father, Bob, had exhausted the NHRA’s patience with repeated accusations of nitrous use in the class, causing the sanctioning body to react. Accordingly, NHRA’s then senior VP, Graham Light, vigorously denied the allegations, proclaiming them as nonsense and fiction.

Then Glidden’s son, Rusty, presumably in an attempt to defend his father’s reputation and in so doing ruining his own, confessed that he, in fact, had been an offender, thus conclusively proving the point. According to racers from that era, Rusty also harbored deep suspicions of wrongdoing in Pro Stock, had urged the NHRA to investigate but had achieved not a thing.  In the end, he left no doubt as to how the deceit could be perpetrated, disclosing full technical details in the magazine Super Stock published late in 1995. It defined in unambiguous detail how the weight bar at the rear of the car had served as the nitrous holding tank.

“The nitrous line started there,” Super Stock reported, “went over the rear axle housing right up to the front. It ended at the motor plate, which was rifle-drilled. One of the supports holding the hood scoop was also rifle-drilled. This tall slender rod delivered the nitrous to the top of the hood scoop via a small stainless steel line that terminated with two jets centered over the carburetors. With those two 0.029in jets we made 120lb ft more torque at 7,000rpm and averaged 90 more horsepower.”

The disclosure’s startling immediacy is still an astounding thing to remember, the significance of what he’d done and how ingeniously it had been orchestrated. Father Bob Glidden later declared the nitrous oxide system was detection-proof.

To prevent a tech inspector from activating it by switching on the ignition and opening the throttle, a combination of events were required. “The shock switch had to be on, the computer switch on, the engine running and the throttle fully open. Trust me, this isn’t fiction,” Glidden concluded. Some regarded the affair as a heroic episode  while others realized it had extensively diminished Rusty’s star, which is the reason ensuing alleged offenders have been less forthcoming, confounding prying minds for years.

 

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Though the Jerry Eckman – Bill Orndorff Pro Stock nitrous explosion at Columbus, Ohio in the late nineteen-nineties couldn’t be denied, details of the Dodge Boys alleged transgressions remain unsubstantiated. In the Eckman incident, a nitrous cylinder had been concealed in the dry-sump oil reservoir, which, unsurprisingly, overheated and exploded—and with it Eckman’s career.

The most prominent indicator in the alleged deception of the Dodge Boys Pro Stock entries was the incident involving a flaming explosion that back-fired through the air entry of the hood scoop. “Well,” said Thermos, “I’d seen those back-fires many times over at the IHRA with the nitrous cars—they could shoot out four feet due to the volatile mixture of race fuel and nitrous. But Pro Stock back-fires were never as severe as that.”

Equally condemning had been Warren Johnson’s outspoken observations. Johnson, as intelligent a man as ever developed a race car, had calculated that the performance of the Wayne County Mopars in the high altitude conditions of Denver, Colorado was impossible for any naturally aspirated car at that time.

In addition it was also widely speculated that the Chrysler Dodge Corporation, who were active sponsors of the NHRA races, were informed of the strong likelihood that the leading Mopar cars were engaged in the illicit use of nitrous. Obviously, no corporation wishes to be embroiled in cheating.

To bring the matter to a head, it was alleged that the NHRA advised the team that they would be investigated at the next race. But the circumstances of the events that preceded the race shocked the drag racing world.

An audacious break-in occurred at the Wayne County Speed Shop premises where the Mopar Pro Stock cars were garaged. Jerry Eckman famously put it thus: “But they had a hole chopped in the side of their building with some really quiet chain saw or a bulldozer—or something really quiet like that—and went in there and damaged all the engines—but not the trailer, not the cars, not the transmissions, and not the machinery. Isn’t that strange?”

Of course, Eckman echoed the widely held presumption that the team knew their cars would not be competitive without nitrous and had deliberately sabotaged their own race efforts. Predictably they claimed the motors were too severely damaged to race, which ultimately led to their bowing out of racing.

Sometime later, though, the engines in question arrived at the New Jersey engine shop of drag racer Pat Musi. “The guy who owns my daughter’s Pro Mod car had them—I guess he bought them after the break-in. When I dyno-tested them they were down 70 to 80hp from where they needed to be.”

This didn’t surprise Musi for his old friend Bill Jenkins had alerted him years before of the inherent shortcoming of the symmetrical exhaust port—meaning “an exhaust port connected like a 440-style would be uncompetitive in NHRA Pro Stock.”

More interestingly still was the encounter of Musi’s senior engine assembler. “My guy, Robert, who has been with me since the early 1980s, was over at Frank Iaconio’s shop and on the day of his visit one of the Dodge Boys’ engines was being tested on Frank’s dyno. ‘Well,’ Frank told them, ‘you’ve got a number 16 or 17 qualifier here.’ The engine averaged 75hp down from pole-position power. Yet, at the next race they go to the pole!” exclaims Musi. “I’ll give them this,” he conceded, “within that container of engines and engine parts there must have been 200 camshafts and miles of exotic plumbing. So they were trying to make power but none of it was working.” Four of the Dodge Boys’ engines are now racing in Curacao, a Caribbean island off the Venezuelan coast.

In common with Glidden’s arrangement, nitrous on those winning Dodges most likely would have flowed up from the motor plate to the hood scoop via its rifle-drilled attachments rods. Where it might have differed, lies in the method used to transfer the nitrous from the rear of the car to the engine mounting plate. This was probably achieved by an artificial battery or battery box and cable with the copper wires removed to enable the flow of nitrous.

Says Mike Thermos, “It’s so easy to make significant power increases with nitrous oxide and, therefore, its elicit use has always been a temptation, particularly when competition is tight. A 0.030in orifice would generate an additional 50 to 60hp.” Nonetheless, it takes a person of rare perception to uncover a fraud executed by an exceedingly cunning mind.

 

Making substantial power with nitrous oxide is easy.  A 0.030in orifice generates an additional 50 to 60hp. Devious racers might use a 2lb bottle, a jet with a small-bore high pressure nylon line. Radio-controlled, the transmitter works in conjunction with a small battery-operated receiver concealed in the battery box.

Making substantial power with nitrous oxide is easy. A 0.030in orifice generates an additional 50 to 60hp. Devious racers might use a 2lb bottle, a jet with a small-bore high pressure nylon line. Radio-controlled, the transmitter works in conjunction with a small battery-operated receiver concealed in the battery box.

“Devious racers might use a 2lb bottle, a receiver, a jet with a small-bore high pressure nylon line much like an oil pressure gauge line,” says Thermos. “It could be radio-controlled, like a model airplane, and the transmitter would work in conjunction with a battery-operated receiver no bigger in size than a cigarette pack and concealed in the battery box.”

He goes on to suggest the line would run through the battery cable—the ground side as it connects to the intake manifold bolt. The bolt would be drilled and the tube would enter under the manifold and into the lifter valley area where it can be plumbed into the plenum. Of course the clever trick is having it discharged from a remote control—perhaps by someone in the push truck. The driver may be entirely unaware! Extra fuel would be supplied to the carburetor to enrich the nitrous mixture.

Subterfuge: Though it’s unlikely the professional would be duped by this layout, it is a popular ruse among street racers.

Subterfuge: Though it’s unlikely the professional would be duped by this layout, it is a popular ruse among street racers.

“The car would stage and the light would turn green,” adds Thermos. “Then the guy in the push truck would remotely activate the supply of nitrous. He might depress the button for three seconds. His sole objective is to put just a wheel or a fender ahead of his rival. The mile-per-hour component wouldn’t change; it wouldn’t be detectable. The way they are caught is when they run 10mph faster than the field.”

Alas, deception usually leads to resentment, ruptured relationships and much worse. Interestingly, Mike Thermos, an unusually pleasant, good-natured man, believes the position of his then fledgling nitrous business was similarly precarious. “Wrongdoing blighted our chances, too,” he maintains. “We had no desire to be the tarnished symbol of cheating.”

 

Unless you frisk him, no one would know. Some cunning racers conceal a tiny nitrous oxide cylinder within their fire suit. They route a small bore plastic line through the firewall and connect it to the PCV valve, which directs the nitrous to the intake manifold. Triggered by the red button, they will then withdraw the small-bore line, tucking it inside their fire suit when the run is completed.

Unless you frisk him, no one would know. Some cunning racers conceal a small nitrous oxide cylinder within their fire suit. They route a small bore plastic line through the firewall and connect it to the PCV valve, which directs the nitrous to the intake manifold. Triggered by the red button, they will then withdraw the small-bore line, tucking it inside their fire suit when the run is completed.

Though fraud persists in racing and its participants rarely escape its stressful nature, it’s fascinating how racers perceive it. Take Lance Armstrong for example. Armstrong, who lied unwaveringly for years, was stripped of all his racing achievements (7-time winner of the Tour de France) and condemned by the United States Anti-doping Agency as ring leader of “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program the sport has ever seen.” Yet Armstrong told the BBC in a 2015 interview that “If you take me back to 1995, when doping was pervasive, I would probably do it again.”

 

Mike Thermos is a keynote speaker at this year’s PRI show in the Indianapolis Convention Center, Dec 8-11, 2016

 

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