|Back around the middle of September, there was some talk on the forums at www.Cal-Look.com about the new show, PINKS, on SpeedChannel. Someone made the comment, “I wonder who’ll be the first VW person crazy enough to go on that show…” From that comment I had a thought, “Why don’t we, the VW performance community, throw in whatever parts, cash, and labor we can to build a drag bug that we can compete with on the show? Then if we win, we’ll raffle or auction off both cars and send the money to some charity.” Since Hurricane Katrina had just hit the Gulf Coast and I was days away from being sent to the disaster area for work, (I work on emergency backup power for the telecommunications industry. Big battery banks, generators and such for companies like Bellsouth, AT&T, etc…) hurricane relief came to mind. I told Lester about my idea and he thought it was pretty cool; so, I emailed Steve Pullin at www.pinks.tv with my idea and literally, within minutes he emailed me back and told me he loved the idea. I put the word out on all the favorite VW sites such as www.Cal-Look.com www.TheSamba.com and www.ShopTalkForums.com that we were going to try to do this.
Once the word got out, people really started getting excited about it for a couple of reasons. One reason was the possibility of helping a lot of people who needed it. Another reason the community was getting excited about this was the chance to promote our little corner of the car hobby to a much broader audience. VW’s have been used in drag racing in the US since the early 60’s, but it’s always been a fairly small group of enthusiasts racing them. After all, this is the land of the Detroit Muscle Car. Here was an opportunity to show a broader audience of racing fans that a properly built VW can run like hell, even if the car was built out of donated parts, new and used!
Right away, Joel Mohr offered up his old drag bug as foundation for the project. KCR Transmissions followed with an offer of a mild race trans and various other people started offering motor parts, cash, and encouragement. Still, we needed more parts to make a complete engine that would hold up and not break on the show. We didn’t want to lose the race. That is where the phone calls started.
I called Rick Tomlinson, the owner of CB Performance and explained what we were doing. He liked the idea and sent us a brand new crankcase, crankshaft, rods, flywheel, and some rear suspension parts. I then called Jason Lauffer over at VW Paradise to see if they’d be willing to help by assembling the motor. Jason said, “Fuck yeah”, so all the motor parts were routed to VW Paradise. Once the word got around more about what was going on, even more motor parts flowed in. It was amazing! A complete turbo system from Staggs Racing, a set of killer 044 heads from DRD Racing Heads, various chassis and motor hardware from EMPI, G Serranos, BMD Pulley and Blimp, and a set of 8 X 26 slicks from James at JayCee Enterprises came our way.
Things were going awesome, but we still had major issues to sort out. The transmission that was offered to us was very good, but maybe not good enough for the 350+ hp we were planning on making with this motor. Another issue was that there was major rollcage/chassis fabrication to be done. Last, we still needed GOOD rear brakes, back rims, and some cash in the “piggy bank” (Account set up at Paypal ProjectPinks@LoCashRacing.org) for buying those miscellaneous little things you don’t think to ask sponsors for.
To help raise money for the Pinks Piggy Bank, Dominic “The Burnout King” Carollo donated a jacket signed by the whole crew at CB Performance. He gave this to Ray Iddings at VolksBash Radio and Ray came up with “Project Pinks Friday”. He encouraged all listeners to skip lunch that Friday and send the money to our Paypal account. At the end of the project, a drawing would be held to give the jacket to one of the donors. It worked amazingly well! People started sending in money and my stress over build cash was relieved.
Somewhere in this time frame, PINKS called me asking for performance specs on the car and some pictures. They were concerned the car wouldn’t be fast enough (yeah right)!! I didn’t want them to know how incomplete the car was because I felt that if they knew the truth they would have kicked us off the list believing we’d never make it in time. I sent in some old pictures of the car from the 80’s and told them that we should run mid to high 11’s at worse. Maybe faster, but it’s hard to say without all the parts being accounted for yet.
In an effort to scrounge up some better internals for the transmission offered to us by KCR Transmissions, I called Rancho Performance Transaxle and told the owner, Sam Shackelford, what we were doing. At first, I think Sam thought I was another TV producer jerk looking for free parts to do another car show. I thought I was going to get hung up on; but once I explained that I was a VW geek myself and that a bunch of us were looking to build a bad ass drag bug to kick ass on PINKS, Sam thought the idea was really cool. He offered to supply us with a complete, ready to race MENDEOLA MD4S! He offered us the best, baddest drag race transmission there is for VW applications! WOW!! I told Sam that KCR had already offered a trans and that I felt like it was KCR’s call to go forward or let Rancho step in with the help of Mendeola. So, when I told Kevin at KCR what was offered by Rancho, he said cool, and to let him know if he could help in any other way.
Now that we had a bulletproof transmission lined up, we still needed that rollcage fab work to be done. At that time, the 2005 Baja 1000 was coming up along with the Thanksgiving 4 day weekend, which is a HUGE thing for the sandcar & dunning community. Bottom line: All chassis fab shops that had the ability and tools to help us were up to their ears in customer projects. Everyone I called either “politely declined” or never called me back. One shop said they were all about it, but after 3 weeks of not returning calls or emails, I just gave up. This wasted so much time I thought all hope was lost. I was literally on the brink of “pulling the plug” because of this until VW enthusiast, Jim McNear, from Werksberg Products offered to do what he could for a roll cage. Jim, who is not a drag racer, looked at a few VW drag bugs to see how they were done and then went to work building us a cage. Once most of the cage was in, the car went over to AJ Sims shop for various chassis hardware like fuel tank, spring plates, steering, etc. All of this got us back on track and I started feeling pretty good about the whole project.
A phone call to Blitzkrieg Racing got us a set of race quality JAMAR rear brakes, ERCO back rims, and some cash for the piggy bank for those overlooked items. Then it was over to Rancho Transaxle for the transmission install. Sam’s guys had it in and out the door in about an hour. Awesome service!!
As all this was happening, Jason Lauffer had the long block to the motor assembled and Marty Staggs had the turbo system done (header tubing donated by A-1 Muffler). Numerous VW fans added cash to the piggy bank to buy things we forgot and that really helped! Once the turbo system was installed on the motor and was ready, the motor was installed in the car so that the fuel system plumbing and final wiring could be finished. Keep in mind this was Wednesday, January 11th, just 4 days before filming! Due to regular business still going on at VW Paradise, it was the next day before those items could be done.
On Thursday January 12th, Lester and I flew into Ontario, CA and then set a new land speed record down to VW Paradise. We rolled up, pulled the toolbox out of the rental car, and jumped in there with Jason who was working on the shift linkage. We thrashed on the car until about 11pm that night then drove an hour north to Anaheim and our hotel.
On Friday the 13th, we grabbed Dyno Don from his place and took him with us to work on the car. We spent part of the day adding a single stage nitrous system to the car for a little extra pounce, in case we needed it. In early December, I had been advised by the show that we’d be facing a mid 11 second drag car; I figured, if the guy says mid 11’s that really means mid to high 10’s in street racer speak. We wanted to be prepared!
Finally, Friday night we got her up on the dyno at VW Paradise to make some pulls and start making adjustments. She made 320-wheel hp without the nitrous. We were really happy with that! Around midnight, we made the decision to go to an eighth mile track the next morning and see how the car launches. Good thing we did because on the first “pass” the throttle cable fell off at the starting line! The second pass, Jason nearly ripped the rear fenders off it stood up so hard! Then, on the third pass, it lifted hard, but was more manageable…sort of. With several trips to a full quarter mile track, we could make this car lay down numbers like a clock, but unfortunately the filming was less than 24 hours away…
Lester, Don, and I rolled out to Phoenix while Jason, Scott and Phil Brown took the car back to VW Paradise for some final chassis tuning. We had committed to making Don Bullita’s cook out in Phoenix, and I didn’t want to miss those beans I’d heard so much about! We hung out for a while, eating and drinking with the crowd. All night thrash sessions have a funny way of making you feel your true age. In serious need of sleep from the previous night, we went to the hotel.
The next morning before leaving the hotel, I told Lester “Let’s put a teaser pic up on Cal-Look. Put up the one with the big wheelie from yesterday”. So, Lester did. This would later prove to be a bad idea.
When we revealed our car at the filming, the film crew from PINKS was amazed. The car looked fast just sitting there. When the competition came out, a Honda built by HASPORT Performance (lead by Brian Gillespie), it was quickly realized that the cars were not very evenly matched. The Honda had a mostly stock H-22 VTEC motor installed in a late 80’s CRX with a 2 stage nitrous system. It turns out they were contacted at the last minute by PINKS and asked to come on the show. It seems the “mid 11 second” car we were supposed to race chickened out and the PINKS team had to scramble to find us a race.
Because I had said high 11’s (at worse) and the PINKS crew had no concept of VW drag racing performance, they matched us up with a car barley capable of a 12 flat quarter. Since we were all committed at this point, we tried to make the best of it, though it likely would not make for a good episode.
The HASPORT team was really cool, and we were very lucky to have them as our competition. It turns out that Brian, the leader of the Hasport team had found all of our build info on Cal-Look.com a few days earlier. He knew he was out gunned in a big way so this gave him a chance to work out his strategy. It’s amazing what Google or Yahoo can dig up!
Since they knew we were planning to raffle the cars for charity if we won, they decided to do the same thing if they won. Their charity of choice would be the American Diabetes Association. So now, no matter which team wins, the cars will be used to support a good cause.
Race 1.) We gave the Honda a 10-length lead. Jason came out hard and won by 4 lengths.
Race 2.) We gave the Honda a 10-length lead and removed our nitrous. Jason won by 1 length
Race 3.) Rich said the Honda team could have anything they wanted, so they asked for half-track! AJ Sims, our negotiator argued that this was the first time the car had been on the track (shhh!!) and we’re still dialing in the car. At that point, Brian pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and showed it to Rich. It was the big ass wheelie pic Lester had posted at Cal-Look just a few hours earlier…DAMMIT!! They got their half-track and, needless to say, we lost that one!
After race 3, there were a lot of questions and accusations about our car’s capabilities. Someone even suggested that our car was capable of 8-second passes! Things got very heated and we were even accused of being cheaters for bringing a car that was WAY faster than I said it would be. To level the playing field, Rich flat out gave a free win (Race 4) to the Honda team leaving us with only one race to decide the winner.
Race 5.) Honda team gets 390 foot lead, but with no burnout. We start on the line, but get to use the nitrous this pass. Jason comes out hard, but the tires chatter badly and the right axle breaks sending the car towards the right wall. Jason barley lifts (no one actually knows about the broken axle yet) and keeps it off the wall, then hits the nitrous in third gear. The car got really loose and started to sway back and forth getting really sideways and nearly crossing into the other lane. Unfortunately, with all this happening, the Honda beat us to the finish line to take the win, and our car. While Brian was happy to win and help ADA, he wasn’t very happy with how everything went down. I told him not to worry about it and that it was all for a good cause no matter who won.
When I got back to Florida on Monday, I started to get online and calm the firestorm that had been brewing on line. Since Ray Iddings of Volksbash Radio had covered the filming live, about eighty thousand VW racing fans had listened in and they were pissed about how things had gone down in Phoenix. Just as I sat down, Rich Christensen from PINKS called me. First thing, he said, “John, we have to shoot the whole thing again. You guys built the 'baddest', most professional car ever for PINKS, but because of the way things went, the film looks like crap.” I said that I agreed and that Brian at Hasport probably would too. Rich then went on to say “I never took the VW seriously,” so I said “Rich, that’s where you fucked up. VW’s haven’t been taken seriously in racing for 40 years and that attitude has fostered a go big or go home attitude in the VW world. I’d love a chance to do it again, so I’ll call Brian and see what he thinks.” We then agreed make the rematch news public on Volksbash Radio and that would build excitement.
Two days later, Rich Christensen, Brian Gillespie, and I were scheduled to be on VolksBash Radio to talk about how things went with the filming. Rich said he felt really bad about how things went and that the episode didn’t look so good. He offered a solution to make things right on all sides - a grudge race rematch. Brian’s team would need time to make the Honda faster and we would need to have our car back in order to make repairs. Brian and I agreed that the rematch was a great idea and would be a lot of fun. We agreed to the repair conditions and the rematch. A rematch date of March 3rd was eventually set.
The following weekend, Jason Lauffer went to Phoenix to pickup our car from HASPORT Performance. Once we had it back, we worked out a plan to make the car safer, quicker, and more reliable.
We planned on pushing into the low to mid 10’s this next time around, so a few things needed attention. First would be some improvements to the roll cage. What we had was good and got us to the first filming/race; but, after Jason nearly crashed the car on the last pass, plus our plans to run harder this time, we wanted a better, safer roll cage. In addition, Jason’s mom and dad, no strangers to fast VW’s, insisted upon it. Mike from 407 Speed Shack stepped up to the plate and donated a full roll cage rebuild, new front beam and steering gear. Once the cage was done, Mike Leighton, along with Joel Mohr, and the crew from Mohr Performance, fabbed up a new aluminum firewall.
While the cage was being reworked, the transaxle was pulled and Harold Carter at Transaxle Technology installed a set of new axles and gave the box a thorough check up.
Mike Herbert at Rancho Transaxle advised us to change over to a Kennedy Stage 1 pressure plate and a Black Magic disc, so one was ordered from Geers Engineering.
To help get off the line a little quicker, Lyle Cherry sent us a set of wheelie bars and some mounting hardware. To help with more top end power, we received a custom-built turbo from Turbos Direct and Performance Express jointly.
Once again, the car went back together in barley enough time for the second filming.
When we arrived at the rematch, the Honda had a different motor with a very nice turbo system, bigger slicks, and a different driver.
1.) Heads up, turbo to turbo (no nitrous for us). Honda wins by 3 feet
2.) Heads up, turbo to turbo. We won by a length or so.
3.) Heads up, but without our wheelie bars. Part of the intake came loose and we barely made it down the track. Honda won by a lot.
4.) Since Honda had 2 wins already, we took 2 lengths as a safety net and still no wheelie bars. We won by 2-3 lengths, so that was a good move.
5.) We gave the Honda a ½-length lead and still no wheelie bars for us. Jason came out hard, and the car never really settled down. The car was lose all the way down the track, then halfway through 4th gear, the car suddenly swerved left and hit the guardrail just barely missing the Honda. Jason got out okay and everyone was relieved.
In the end, the damage wasn’t all that bad. The cage installed by 407 Speed Shack took no damage at all. After some repairs already done as of this writing, the car presently needs passenger side wheels, a battery, and some minor repairs to the turbo header.
Brian from HASPORT initially intended to split the proceeds from the cars between both charities in a 66-33 split because of all of the work both teams had done to get to the second filming. He wanted both charities to benefit after all of this. The crash changed that thinking though. The VW wouldn’t get as much money in its broken state resulting in the charities losing, not winning. I offered that if our team took the car, fixed it, and took charge of the raffle for both cars (printing tickets, etc…), then maybe we should just go ahead and split the proceeds 50-50 between both charities. Since the VW community was (now for the third time) going to invest time, parts, and money into this car, Brian agreed; but he took the bashed up front-end as his prize for winning the race. The Honda community was happy, the VW community was happy, the American Diabetes Association and Hurricane Relief will both benefit evenly from the hard work of both teams! What a great ending to an awesome story!
None of this would have been possible without help from the following:
407 Speed Shack
BigWig Race Cars
Bill & Steve's
Bonaco Inc Performance
Dyno Don Chamberlin
DC Performance Carbon
DRD Racing Heads
John A Swingle
John Blunt (Jacket Winner)
Judy & Dave Kawell
Mendeola Transaxles Inc
Muffler Mike Shelden
No Dollars Racing
Saint George Printing
Silver Bugget Racing
T&T Auto Service
T. Brothers Tile
Troy & John Palmer
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