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Building a Hand in Las Vegas

NHRA Nationals
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
October 24-27, 2013

20131025_LITTON-145-resizedAfter an almost two month break between the NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis to the Las Vegas Nationals, The Litton Racing Team arrived at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway hoping to shake off the cobwebs and throw down some good numbers in the first round. The weather in Las Vegas was in the mid 80’s with very low humidity and a slight breeze.  Due to Las Vegas being at a higher altitude combined with the warm weather, the density altitude was magnified, which can be a problem for injected nitro cars.

There was a somber moment in the pits on Saturday night when Duane Shields held a memorial for one of his crew members, Ralph Freeman. Ralph was a fixture at NHRA events for many years; he worked with many drag racing teams, and had a great love for drag racing. He passed away in his sleep at the age of 52. Ralph lived in San Diego and caught up with the team all around the country.

20131025_LITTON-309-resizedThe first qualifying run was on Friday around noon, the hottest time of the day. This turned out to be the best run of the weekend for The Litton Team at 5.64 and clocking in at 245 mph.  According to Crew Chief Anthony Dicero “The car launched really strong and faded after halftrack due to some fuel pressure irregularities. If this was any other place with 5,000 feet of air in Las Vegas, then we would have been rock stars, but it is too much fuel for this much air.”

The second qualifying run was on Saturday around noon again as the temperature was at its peak for the day.  The car launched very hard with the fastest 60 foot time out of all of the injected cars. The car was on a great run until about 1,000 feet when the engine mysteriously quit. According to Chief Anthony, “We originally thought the crank shaft broke, but it ends up we sheared the keyways off the crank shaft. And shearing the keys off the crank shaft happened to be a blessing because it didn’t tear up anything in the motor.” The team regrouped, including a motor change, in preparation for the upcoming night qualifying run.  “That was an interesting twist for me as a driver because the car launched really hard and was running strong, but between 1,000 feet and the finish line, the engine just stopped making noise. I had not felt that before,” stated driver Bill Litton. The second run showed a lot of progress with a 5.66 at 225 mph…in spite of coasting the last part of the run.

20131026_LITTON-123-resizedThe third run was Saturday night, with cooler temperatures, which is better for injected nitro cars when the density altitude drops. The final qualifying run is when all the drivers pull out everything they’ve got. With the drop in temperature the air tends to be better and a lot of changes can happen. Crew chiefs and drivers refer to this last chance, nighttime qualifying rounds, as the hero runs. “So we pulled out what we thought was a strong tune up and we ended up tuning it too much. We blew the tires off at the step… It just jumped up and smoked the tires,” cited Dicero.  That put The Litton car on the trailer for the weekend, but the team left with more data that can be used next weekend when they race again back in Las Vegas at the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Regionals.

20131026_LITTON-173-resizedBill Litton’s final thoughts of the series, “The complexity of tuning and getting one of these nitro machines to the finish line can never be understated. Jack Beckman won the Funny Car Championship last year and has not been able to win a single race this year. The team was really happy with the data that we collected. It should help us improve our performance next weekend.”