RUSH TEAM GETS THE WILLYS AT THOMPSON
Jul 6, 2010
Author: Bobby Martin
Frankensteinís monster goes to the edge. Jesus takes the wheel. Scary photos included.
50 is the new 40, brown is the new black, and Pro Mods are the Fuel Altereds of the 21st Century. That statement comes from the similarities between Pro Mods and those Awful Awful/Fuel Alterereds. Both feature a too short wheelbase and way too much power. A perfectly clean straight run is the exception rather than the rule. Iíve been sideways in a Funny Car, and Iíve driven to speeds approaching 260 miles per hour, but we made a run at Thompson that was scarier than anything Iíve ever seen from behind the wheel.
Thompson Raceway Park has a really cool show called Asphalt Wars. It features an 8 car qualified field of doorslammers with virtually no rules. Nobody weighs the cars, and they donít check the fuel. Blowers? Go for it. Multiple stages of nitrous? Come on in. Turbos? Be my guest. But whatís unique about this race is thereís also an ďOpen BodyĒ class for altereds, dragsters, and even Funny Cars. Way cool. They also had something they called ďThe 8.90 class.Ē But lest you think this is just another outlet for Super Comp dragsters, take a look. Itís street cars, heads up. Some really neat cars were entered for that.
We were trying to qualify for the Doorslammer category. 11 top flight door cars were on hand to put on a really big show. Our first run was a 4.67 (eighth mile) at over 148 mph. The Rush Willys was getting pretty squirrelly. I got a pretty good look at the left side wall and I was off the gas well before the finish line. Now, where I come from, that was a wild ride to the point that it may be cause for concern. But in the world of Outlaw Pro Mods, thatís just part of the game. In fact, that run Ė the first time I had actually staged the Rush Willys with a car in the other lane, by the way Ė put us in at number 4. We had a nice crew for this race consisting of long time Bobby Martin Racing veteran Mike Meeks, clutch guy Larry Radke (whoís job is made strangely simple with the Rush carís Rossler tranny Ė complete with torque converer), Kevin Wilhelms, who will just dive in and do anything on the car, and Spikeís buddy, Randy Eiler. The ladies, Christine Sterling and Lori Martin added some class to the procedings. In fact, Lori was on the track in front of the car on the backups, just like the old days with our Funny Car. The mighty crew checked out the car, and easily got it ready for another pass. Everything looked pretty decent and we went out for Q2 (second qualifying session).
Things got a little strange in the staging lanes. I was already in the car strapped in with the doors closed, so I couldnít participate. I could only listen. For some reason that still to this point only the Lord knows, I got a single run. The crew thought we had a single. I didnít and the track official didnít, but Ė and this never happens Ė he relented to the crew. A cool flat black blown 41 Willys was in the left lane. He ended up going down the track by himself, and I was in the right lane, and I went down alone too. I left the starting line right down the middle as usual. But I was on guard because the first half of the run was okay last time too. Everything seemed fine, the motor sounded nice and she was in the middle of the lane. Then suddenly (and there was never a better application for that word) the view in the little Rush Willys mail slot windshield changed and there was nothing in my view but the wall. Now Iíve been in this position before (literally and figuratively) in a Funny Car, but you can just whip it around and keep going. I was told that if you try this kind of manuever in Pro Mod, youíll end up in the opposite wall. Iíve seen it happen to Pro Stockers too. This was different in another way too. I thought it was gone. I now know why. That baby was up on two wheels, and I donít mean the front wheels were off the ground. Thatís a wheelie. No problem there. But it is a problem when both left side wheels have air under them. I remember thinking the next sound I was about to hear was this thing rolling over and making a lot of banging, metal bending, crashing sounds. I started in the right lane, and for the first time in my career, I crossed over to the left lane. I needed the whole racetrack to bring the car under control. Frank Hawley told me that if a Pro Mod wants to change lanes, you let it go, otherwise youíll end up heading the other way into the wall. Because I was on a single, I could use the whole track. If there had been a car in the other lane, it would have been ugly. And when you look at the times of our run and the black Willys run, I either would have crossed in front of him, or would have had to jerk the wheel to avoid hitting him and maybe roll over a bunch of times. As it was, we were all very grateful for Godís protection.
Let me take you back to the Thursday before the race. I was in the car preparing for my first runs in competition. I prayed to the Lord that he would simply bless that cockpit. That everything that happened in there that weekend would bring him glory. That all my decisions would be the right ones. That I would be prepared and alert. But sometimes in various circumstances in life you need more than just your own abiltity. You need the hand of the Lord. One moment I was looking at the wall, the next moment I was coasting down the shut down area without ever hitting so much as a timing cone. It really was a true-life story of answered prayer.
In examining video and photos of the run, it is apparent that the tires were rubbing the inner fenders. This obviously upset the car at speed. Itís also obvious that Spike Sterlingís Rush Willys is a great handling car. Heís going to get it fixed and the car should really (I hesitate to use this word here, but you know what I mean) fly. The Rush Willys is not a cookie-cutter car. Itís different. When you do things different you run into things that can only be solved by trial. We knew there was a clearance issue, but it was addressed and we thought we were good to go. Things act different at high speed. What I donít know is how long weíll be sidelined waiting to get the car back. All I know is itís great that we learned what the car needed without having to learn ďthe hard way.Ē Sheís still one of the prettiest out there. Click on PHOTOS to see Jesus take the wheel.