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Leaving It on the Table in Las Vegas

Leaving It on the Table in Las Vegas, Las Vegas Nationals, April 5-7, 2013

Sometimes the best-laid plans just go up in smoke.  No, the Litton dragster didn’t smoke the tires, but it didn’t hit the numbers during the Las Vegas Nationals this past weekend. Tuning one of these nitro beasts can be like throwing the dice at a craps table – you take your best shot and hope for the win.
Nitro=Liquid Horsepower!

But just one week after the Litton crew put a major notch in their belt at the Las Vegas Regionals (5.43 at 260 MPH during a test run), there were still mysteries to be solved.  Crew Chief Anthony Dicero felt like an ignition problem lingered from last week’s regional runs, and he was determined to find it and fix it.  “It was the kind of week where you felt like you left so much on the table that you can’t not take everything apart on the race car and inspect every nook, cranny, wire and plug-in.”

The crew started by looking closely at the crank triggers to see why the mags were dropping off and not firing.  They also replaced various other components in an attempt to solve the fluctuating timing problem.   Their tune-up was enough for Litton to qualify in his first run on Friday, but the stats were disappointing with a time of 6.004 at 237 MPH.  It was a major kick in the gut for the crew.  Dicero was highly frustrated:  “It appears that we took our 5.43 race car and lost it.  And now we’re forced to find our way back, and we’re scratching and pulling at anything.”   But he knew that nitro cars present a unique challenge in hot weather and high altitude because they have no blower like blown alcohol cars to compensate for the poor air quality.  Consider the fact that the Vegas track temperature heated up to 125 degrees at 2200 feet above sea level and you begin to see the picture.

Ready to rumble…

The crew pulled out the mags and the clutch and serviced some other parts in preparation for Saturday’s second qualifying run.  But Q2 didn’t go as planned.  The car didn’t drop any cylinders and the ignition problem seemed to be fixed.  But Dicero said, “In this hot air and altitude, we’re having a hard time making power.  We made some drastic changes in compression, clutch, tire size, timing, and fuel.  And somehow we drove off so far away from our tune-up that it’s kind of disheartening.”  With a 5.94 at 251 MPH, they were still in the running.  Anthony was keeping his fingers crossed that the engine gremlins would take a road trip somewhere else.

First round of eliminations proved that the gremlins hadn’t left, and they hadn’t been identified either.  Litton lost with a 5.93 at 249 MPH, with Ray Martin taking the run with a 5.40.  Dicero was baffled.  The car “runs like an old Ford pick-up truck with the choke stuck on, where you took off before you got the choke off.”  So they brought over some experienced pros for a look – Donny Bender, Steve Boggs, and Jerry Darien.  Everyone thought the crew was headed in the right direction, but there were no real answers to bank on.

Why are we missing a "G"?
Why are we missing a “G”?
Dicero had more perspective the next day, and ruminated that the problem could have been the accelerator pump acting up in the desert elevation:  “It may very well be that the accelerator pump wasn’t as big as it needed to be.  One of the things you do when you go to altitude races, you have to take some fuel away from it because, with the altitude, the motor won’t run on the same amount of fuel that it does at sea level.  I think with our ignition problem making us nervous, we backed up the fuel so far that once we got the ignition fixed, we left ourselves on the lean side.  That old Ford pick-up truck didn’t want to take off.  It needed a bigger accelerator pump.”


Waiting for the time slip.
Waiting for the time slip.

 So the crew’s tuning calculations chased an ignition problem that may not have been an ignition problem; it may have been a fuel problem.  Chalk it up to another item on the “lessons learned” list – one that the crew and driver will store away for future reference next time the car ends up in bad air.  Driver Bill Litton added some perspective:  “You win a few and you lose a few, but you suit up for all of them.”  Still standing by 5.43 as his personal best in last week’s test run, his consistent scores in the 5.90s on the track are an impressive feat when you consider he’s only suited up for nine races.

And those proverbial dark clouds did have a silver lining – or should we say bronze?  Despite the numbers, the crew did come away with a trophy!  The Litton Racing Team was presented with a mini-Wally for the “2013 Best Appearing Crew.”  Hopefully the Litton car’s beauty and brains will translate for the next go in Chicago at the North Central Regionals June 7 – 9.

Litton Team with their mini-Wally for "2013 Best Appearing Crew."  Eric Anderson, Brian "Coop" Cooper, Jube Walker, Driver Bill Litton, Asst. Crew Chief Warren Weber, & Crew Chief Anthony Dicero.
Litton Team with their mini-Wally for “2013 Best Appearing Crew.” Eric Anderson, Brian “Coop” Cooper, Jube Walker, Driver Bill Litton, Asst. Crew Chief Warren Weber, & Crew Chief Anthony Dicero.