March 23 – 24, 2013
They say practice makes perfect. That’s what Bill Litton and crew had in mind for the “Test and Tune” in Sacramento March 23 and 24, 2013 – one week before the Las
Vegas Regionals begin.The goal was to get in some good runs for the nitro dragster without the pressure of competition. Crew Chief Anthony Dicero was determined to mine the mysteries of the ever-evolving engine to learn more about what makes it purr like a proverbial kitten. The weekend brought three runs for the team, with a few unexpected events thrown in.
Crew members Warren Weber, Erik Anderson, and Brian “Coop” Cooper worked on the wind-up to the first run, which included the installation of a new barrel valve, new headers with braces, and some extensive calibration of the sensors and flow meter. Dicero wanted a half-track run first off to see how the changes to the car were shaping up. But before Litton could unleash the horses, a wasp flew into the cockpit as the car was being started and decided to stay on board for the burnout. After the burnout, as Bill was approaching the Christmas tree to stage, the wasp decided she had had enough and exited the cockpit in a way that threw off his timing at the starting line. Litton turned
on both stage bulbs and, since it was a solo run, it immediately started the timer for the green light not leaving enough time to properly stage the car. The Christmas tree lights came down before he was ready, and Litton reacted too quickly. He turned the nitro on full, let the brake go, took his foot off the clutch and slapped the throttle to the firewall. This was not the test run chief Dicero was looking for. It was back to the pits for inspection. Dicero said the clutch looked “crispy” but the motor looked fine. The crew concentrated on one more run for the day, and the Litton dragster ended up being the last car on the track for Saturday.
Litton was determined to get it right this time and he methodically staged the car. He turned on the nitro to the high side and waited for the engine to suck it up. But the car burned through the clutch, and Dicero was not pleased — the incremental times were not what he had hoped for. But he realized the problem was the same – something was amiss with the throw out bearing and the clutch. Solving that mystery kept the crew in the pits into the evening hours to rework the clutch and get it back in the dragster before the next day’s run. But Dicero knew this was what they came for: “It’s hard to be consistent without making the runs. That’s why we’re here. We want to run it to a level where we can head to Las Vegas with confidence.”
Blue skies brought a bit of a revelation to Anthony as Sunday morning dawned. “Maybe we’ve loosened up our parameters a bit lately, but now we have to tighten our belts. We need to get back to basics but also step up the game. We need to get it right.” Dicero had decided they may need only one more run to get the data they came for. He wanted Litton to keep the run nice and smooth to calm the car down before they traveled to Vegas. As Anthony noted, “The raw data we get from the Racepak (the car’s computer) is all we need today to get to Vegas. Bill needs to monitor the fuel pressure and keep it lean to keep the cylinder temps hot.”
A major crash on the track around noon delayed runs but thankfully both drivers walked away uninjured. The Litton car performed an excellent burnout on the track and Litton delivered on the third run just the way he was supposed to. It performed as planned. The car went slower than usual but with the clutch adjustment, that’s exactly what Dicero wanted. “Bill was good on the brake release, he was good on trimming the nitro. We got the data we needed.”
Although everyone went home happy and Dicero was satisfied that the crew and driver performed well, the NHRA Division 7 LODRS Western Regionals loom large next weekend (March 29 – 31). “You don’t get re-do’s in Las Vegas, Dicero noted. “But we’re going to swing for the fence every time.”