As the Mickey Ts spun in the burnout box at Gateway Motorsports Park, the Hemi in my Chevy misfired, belched smoke from both side pipes, and then covered the firewall in scalding hot motor oil. It was Day 2 of Hot Rod Drag Week and the team of Boshears and Finnegan (that’s me and Daniel) were dead tired, dead broke, and now had a dead engine. During the prelude to what should have been an epic quarter mile pass down the dragstrip, the intake valve in the Number 3 cylinder had broken in half and then smashed against the massive domed piston. The pieces of stainless steel were sucked upwards through the intake manifold by the rotors within The Blower Shop 8-71 supercharger and unceremoniously redistributed throughout the engine. The parts played ping pong inside of Cylinders 2, 4, 6, and 8. When the engine finally locked up solid, Number 3 had a giant hole in the piston, which was left cockeyed in the sleeve of the Bill Mitchell Racing Products aluminum engine block. It looked a hand grenade made love to a chainsaw inside of the Hemi. This was the last straw in a very long couple of weeks, which tested our ability to stay upright in the face of extreme sleep deprivation and stress. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Drag Week is an endurance drag racing event created by the masochistic mind of Freiburger. He wanted so-called street car owners to prove their cars were indeed streetable, not just by driving around the block but by surviving a thousand miles of unforgiving roads in addition to drag racing. His dream was for each car to make dragstrip passes at one track and then motor onto another. Four tracks raced over the course of five days would do the job. Drivers would have to avoid the highways, get stuck in rush hour traffic, cruise in the rain, and stand up to heat and the stress that comes with actually driving your fast car every day. At the end of Drag Week the world would know who really had the fastest street cars. I first covered the event for Hot Rod Magazine in 2009 and by Day Two I swore to myself that someday I’d build a car and compete with these legendary men and woman. I would share the same roads, the same strips, and the same sense of adventure that only the daring embrace and the foolhardy lament.
Frieburger and I, along with some very cool co-conspirators built Blasphemi four years ago as a radical street car and Drag Week Gasser class contender and although I’ve had fun with the car, it’s never been very fast or competitive. It’s also never been to Drag Week. I’ve been patient. Seven summers featuring the birth of my two sons, my 10 year wedding anniversary, and my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary passed before I finally pulled the trigger and signed up for the greatest spectacle in motorsports. Life is short. 2017 would be my year even if neither myself nor the car were ready.
A month before Drag Week, while filming an episode of Roadkill, the Hemi developed a pinhole in the Number 7 cylinder. This required a new short block. We handled it by rebuilding the engine on a picnic table. Two weeks to go and I bent the front leaf springs backwards while wheelieing my way to an NHRA competition driver license and running my first ever 9 second passes. The week before the event I was averaging about two hours of sleep per night as I worked feverishly to bring Blasphemi up to compliance with NHRA safety requirements. The night before Drag Week began my friends and I were running on empty. Nobody had slept as we battled ill-fitting parts and a schedule that would make most humans puke and crawl under the covers for a month. We hit the road from Georgia to Illinois, taking turns sleeping during the 13 hour drive to the start of Drag Week. Daniel Boshears and I rolled into the gates at Cordova International Raceway 15 minutes before registration closed. We spent the next six hours waiting to find out if we could get into the event as we finished welding the Hemi’s exhaust headers together. We had brought my welder, borrowed a generator from another racer, and connected the header tubes together on the tailgate of my truck. At 7pm we fired the engine for the first time in weeks, signed the paperwork signifying we were officially a part of Drag Week, and then passed out at a local hotel. We had won our first battle.
5 minutes into Day 1 our lack of preparation became obvious. We were missing the dumbest of items, a piece of wood to make our small floor jack tall enough to lift the gasser off the ground so we could fix the clutch that didn’t want to disengage. We borrowed some plywood, adjusted the throwout bearing and headed to the staging lanes of the dragstrip. A 9.56 pass was stout enough to give us the confidence to hit the road for track number two, which was 200 miles away. We drove through the afternoon and into the evening, making friends at every gas station along the way. The Hemi ran great. With Boshears behind the wheel I was free to work on the engine tune via my laptop. By the time we reached the hotel we had partied with the Australians, got yelled at by a cop who turned out to be a Roadkill fan, and watched the sunset while eating truck stop tacos. Life was good.
Day 2 was not so good. Our strategy was to make one good pass and then hit the road, a plan meant to get us to the next track before dark. Unfortunately, the car wasn’t on the same page we were. I was lined up next to NHRA Top Fuel drive Richie Crampton when my throwout bearing and clutch gave up again. Luckily we had made enough new friends that there was just enough time and qualified wrenches to pull the trans out of the car and service the parts before time ran out. We slammed the drivetrain back together with 5 minutes to go. I threw on my racing gear and we bolted the shifter onto the transmission in the staging lanes. I knew what the car was capable of if only the throwout bearing would stay adjusted properly. I pulled Blasphemi into the burnout box and that’s when our Drag Week ended. The entire engine, except for the fuel injection and supercharger, was turned into junk by a 12 year old intake valve that decided to quit on us.
Denial set in. I would limp the car to the finish line. I could disable the Number 3 cylinder and run her on the remaining 7. When it became obvious that the engine wouldn’t even spin and I realized finishing Drag Week was an impossibility, I got angry. I’ve never quit anything in my life. Then the anger faded and I decided to watch the rest of the racing action as we followed along in my pickup. By the time Drag Week ended I was smiling again and I had a new plan.
There’s only 360 days to get Blasphemi ready for Drag Week 2018. I may not win but I will finish. 🙂