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I'm going back to Bristol: September 2010

If you've read my other post that details my first experience at Bristol, you might wonder why the heck I would ever want to go back? Well, it's the feeling of unfinished business that pulled me back. It was out of my hands - I had to turn this around and triumph over what was a disastrous first visit. As I said in my other post, there are qualities attached to this track that lure me in. I've narrowed it down to three things: the history, the scale of the place and the experience. It's drag racing at its finest.

So I decided I was going back to Bristol. As I was getting my car and myself prepared, an old favorite of mine - LL Cool J's "Going Back to Cali" was playing over and over in my head. Here's the video of that great song - a unique video for its time too. It had a great cinematic quality that few (if any) rap videos had at the time. There was also a part of the video that MTV censored - which was a big deal way back then. Mild stuff compared to what you see in any given video today!




Just as I did on my last fateful visit, I started off after lunch, as the ride would take at least a couple hours. Here's the route I took - an easy drive with great scenery to pass the time.


This time around the weather was looking nasty as I got closer to the mountains.



It rained hard from that point on. It started to lighten up a bit as I got closer to the track, but when I pulled in the place was soaked! The chances we would actually race that evening were slim as far as I could tell. I checked my weather.com app and the radar showed clear skies right behind all of this mess.



Within 20 minutes the skies cleared and the gates to the track opened. The crew quickly got to work drying the track. Bristol Dragway


While the track was being dried, drivers slowly started making their way to the staging lanes. The evening weather just kept getting nicer - and as time went by we were treated with a beautiful sunset behind the enormous Bristol Motor Speedway. Bristol Sunset


As we waited in the staging lanes, I took a moment to check out some cars and talk with some folks. The best thing about this event is the relaxed vibe and the great mix of cars. Many people were interested in my Talon. I was surprised by this and enjoyed answering everyone's questions. The most common thing I heard was - "You drove that thing all the way from Knoxville? Are you crazy?" I guess it is a little nutty to drive a 19 year old high horsepower import this far for a night of abuse at the dragstrip, but isn't that what a good street car is supposed to be able to do?


After allowing the excellent crew an extra hour or so to get the track prepared, the event got underway. Suddenly, they called us to our cars and almost instantly line was moving! I've raced at a few tracks and they don't mess around here, the event was run extremely well.

As I drove around the water box to pre-stage, I looked up to my left at the towering grandstands. I saw a giant sign that read "Legends of Thunder Valley" and to the left and right of it were some of the greats who had raced here before me. Let me tell ya, that was both intimidating and a little spiritual at the same time.

Before I could stage, the starter pulled us back. The car that ran in front of me dropped a bit of metal (what it looked like to me) on the track and the crew went to clean it up. This time was akin to 'icing' the kicker in pro football. It gave me too much time to think! So I took the picture you see here to remember that tense and overwhelming moment that felt like an eternity.

On this first run, I brought the revs up and feathered the clutch as I always do to ensure a good, smooth launch. Instantly the engine was banging off the rev limiter and the car was sliding sideways! I had no traction as all four tires were spinning at around 45mph! I took a second to regroup, threw it into second and completed the run. My timeslip was terrible.

Since there we tons of cars at this event, I headed right back to the staging lanes to cool down and wait for my next chance.

Bristol Dragway race

After talking to lots of folks in the pits who seemed very impressed with my four wheel burnout, I decided to take it much easier on my second run. As I pulled up to the line, the nerves had calmed down and I eased the car off the line. I took it easy throughout the run by shifting slow and short shifting and ended up with a decent 12.1@120mph. Not too bad, especially since I've sized down my turbocharger since the last time I raced it. I was running about 20psi of boost and had lots of room to turn up the wick. So I returned to the staging lanes, let the car cool and got out the laptop for a quick look at the datalog. Everything looked conservative, so I turned the boost up 5psi and removed fuel throughout the RPM range. I wanted to get deep into the 11s (maybe even a high 10?) and this was the night to do it.

There was quite a sizable group of people waiting to see my next run and I definitely gave them a show! I pulled up to the line, brought the RPMs up and instantly the tires were all spinning. It was literally like being on ice! Then...just watch the video to see what happens next:





So if you just watched the video, that nice sound of a gunshot inside the car was the wimpy 3 bolt rear differential meeting its maker. I checked it out in the pits and saw some of the blood red Redline gear oil on the outside of the housing and decided to try to get it home. It was deja vu from the last time I raced and broke stuff here! I drove it out of the track very gently, listening closely for any weird noises and preparing myself for any other loud noises, or worse.

As I came to the highway, it started to rain. Let me rephrase that - rain is gentle and soothing, this was a Tennessee monsoon. This picture just captures a moment where I wanted to pull over, but was afraid the car might not roll again. I had no choice to keep going. Oh, and I had to pee really bad! Dash View Night


Finally the rain stopped! Yes! I can relax a bit. Wll, nope, not tonight, as a mile later the construction crews were out and had the highway shut down to one lane. After a two and a half hour ride that felt like an eternity, I pulled into my garage and shut the car off. Once again my trusty Talon had brought me home after what I would consider major driveline breakage. I was thankful to have made it home and was already planning on swapping in the stronger 4 bolt rear that I have had in an old bin for the last five years. construction crew at night





By the way, here's the timeslip from my second (and only clean) run. timeslip

Thanks for reading!

-Tom