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Bristol Dragway and The Busted Transmission- Part One: September 2010

To everyone reading, it took me awhile to put this post together. Truth is, this whole turn of events that I'm about to share with you just stung too much for me to talk about. I guess the car and I both had to heal before I could spill the whole story. Heck, I laugh about it now, but when it happened, I was pretty bummed!

I'm a casual on again/off again fan of the NHRA, always have been. But there's one drag race I never missed - Bristol. There was just something about the track that appealed to me. I think it was the placement of the stip between two big mountains. It looked incredible and the abundant oxygen given off from the trees in "Thunder Valley" makes the top fuel and funny cars run faster! My dream was to run at this track one day.

Well, it took a long time, but I finally got the chance. Months before my trek to the track, I had read about a popular program called the "Bristol Street Fights." This was a series of street-tire only events that were run like a test and tune with some other fun stuff thrown in to draw spectators. For those that don't know, Bristol Dragway is pretty locked down. They have regular bracket races, but not much else. That makes it tough for the average guy like me to get some runs in. Are all NHRA tracks run this way?

I started off after lunch, as the ride would take at least a couple hours. It was a perfect summer day and the mountains on I-81 were spectactular. Since it was a Thursday, there was little traffic, which made for a calm, relaxing drive.

I made much better time than I anticipated, which put me first at the gates. The Bristol Motor Speedway was quite a spectacle looming on the horizon. Although this extra time at the gate allowed the car to cool down, it was a little unnerving. I found myself going through all of the "what-ifs" checking and re-checking everything. It got me a bit nervous, but the whole aura of the place has that effect on you.
Bristol Dragway

The gates finally opened and I headed to the pits. Since I still had some time to kill, I decided to walk around and take a few pictures of this drag racing mecca. Talon in Bristol Pits

Everything was big and intimidating here. Look at this timing tower! I'm used to small cinder block shacks next to the burnout pit, you actually drive through this monster. Thunder Valley Building

Here's the million dollar view. This really got my heart pumping and I couldn't wait to give it a go! Bristol Dragway starting line

After a long wait while the event got underway, they finally called us to the staging lanes. I was about midpack, which allowed me to watch some other folks run. I was ready, the car's tune was set to 'kill' and I was ready to post up a nice, low number on the giant MAC Tools sign at the end of the track.

I pulled up to the line, drove around the water box and staged. I brought the revs up and left the line with a perfect launch. All four wheels bit the the track hard and even spun a little, but it never felt better. First gear was over in a blink and at 9500 rpm I banged second. The car was pulling very hard and as I went to get third gear, the shifter felt strange and with a nasty thwack, there was no third gear for me to grab. My mind raced, I tried fourth - nothing, then I was able to slide it into fifth and finish my run. I drove the car down the long return road while diagnosing the transmission issues. After a quick asessment, I had no first, second, third or fourth gear. Damn. 130 miles from home and only 5th gear to get there.

Talon in car

I parked the car in the pits and took apart the console to see what was going on with the shifter. It was loose and sloppy and it was all because of a cheap little plastic bushing at the shifter pivot point. Was this the reason for the broken transmission and botched run? It's possible, but sending 500+hp through a stock 200,000 mile transmission for years probably had more to do with it. With the sun quickly heading toward the horizon, I rigged up a zip tie to serve as a bushing so I could attempt the drive home.

I knew the ride home would be tough on man and machine. I waited for rush hour to pass and then headed out of Bristol Speedway. I had a feeling it would be a long time before I had the chance to race here again, which made leaving with a heavily wounded car and a bad timeslip a tough pill to swallow. It was tougher than I imagined.

I made it through town while managing to hit every red light from the speedway to the interstate. I was relieved to finally make it to the interstate - my clutch was hot and angry, and my mood wasn't much better. Ever drive a car with just 5th gear? Well, try it sometime - and you guys with V8s who have 300lb/ft at idle don't count! :-) Sunset Ride Home

The drive home was exhausting. Everything was going great, just tooling along in 5th gear in the slow lane until I spotted a construction sign that read "road work next 10 miles right lane closed." This was very bad for me, as stop and go/single lane traffic would almost certainly mean a trip home on the flatbed.

As I came to the construction, the traffic was heavy- nothing but 18 wheelers as far as I could see. Turns out this was a blessing. These guys know how to handle construction and eased along at 10-20mph instead of the typical stop/go that most traffic jams enjoy. This saved my bacon and even though it was helpful, I was riding the heck out of the clutch to keep the car moving in the tall fifth gear. The smell coming out of my transmission was stronger than I'd ever experienced. The 10 miles of construction felt like 100.

I was so relieved to finally see my exit sign! I couldn't believe I made it this far with a transmission that was literally on its last leg. I got off the exit, ran through an yellow/orange light and took back roads home. I've never been so happy to see my house. Dash View Night

Sometimes you need to walk away from a car project, just to calm down and think about your next steps. So that's what I did - I parked the car and didn't think about it for about a month. After that, I had renewed energy and looked forward to fixing this and getting the car back on the road. So I put it up on jackstands (some call this the natural position of the DSM automobile) and tore into it. To see what happened next, check out Part Two! Talon in the garage