Here I sit, on June 29, 2009, attempting to
put something on paper that will explain my quietness since making my last
posting on the web site last September with a report on the World of Speed Meet.
We had made the needed repairs, replacing
the damaged rocker arm, and purchasing extra ones so we would not be caught
short if and when another rocker arm failed. It seemed that we were prepared to
post good times at the World of Finals in October. As often happens, the
unexpected interrupted our plans. The meet was canceled by wet salt, not
unusual, certainly a disappointment, but as it turns out, for me, a blessing.
It was a good thing that I was not on the
road to the salt. Early Wednesday, October 8, a little over four miles into my
five-mile bicycle ride, I was struck with a severe headache. I finished the
ride, ate breakfast and then went back to bed for the day. Next day I went back
to work feeling pretty good. Things started to deteriorate about seven that
evening. The next day I entered the hospital for what became a ten-day stay. I
had bleeding between the skull and the brain, which appeared under control, so I
was discharged and came home. Just overnight things were rapidly getting worse.
It was back to the hospital before noon and surgery performed to relieve
the pressure in my head. I woke up from the surgery with a “blank page”.
It is kind of like losing the hard disk on your computer. Everything was
I want to thank everyone who contacted me through cards and telephone over the months. All of this has changed the way I look at things. Life is precious and nothing lifts you spirit like know that others are concerned. God Bless each of you. I love you all.
Because of the health issues, the Tom Thumb Special had to
sit out the November ’08 meet. In May, I was able to assist with the
preparation of the car and my sons, Jeff, Dan and Barry took on the driving
chores, getting the car to and from the dry lakes. As for the last three or four
years, Barry has had the opportunity of shooting for the Dirty “2” Club,
however, he is still coming up short. The record, which I set in 1995, has
remained secure due to various reasons, which I am sure is partially the fault
of my tuning. This year I have made some moves in the right direction, but the
course is not cooperating.
Our first run, on Saturday May 16th, just into high gear
found Barry pitching one way and then the other, which brought the chute out. On
Sunday Barry did make it all the way through on our second run of the meet with
a 200.011 mph speed. The course is just too loose even to handle our meek HP. I
saw from the results from the June meet that only two cars exceeded 200 MPH with
top car going 210. If there isn’t
some major rain between now and November, I think there will be no good passes
made there either.
We didn’t get the speed we wanted, but I think we have
made some decisions about the tuning. I have been fighting various fuel mixture
problems since 2004, sneaking up on the speed we want at W.O.S. ’08 (yet
woefully lean). Hopefully, we will get brave enough to engage the nitrous
sometime during Speedweek. Still I really want it able to qualify again without
the nitrous and give Mary the chance to go after the record.
Looking forward to a great week in August!
This has been a few days of
mixed emotions. We all know the risks that are involve in what we love to do,
but Barry’s death was a case of circumstances that are unexplainable. The pain
that comes with the loss is being borne by many people that had their lives
touched by Barry. The outpouring of support and grief that they bore is
Last Thursday, Barry and I towed our racecar to Wendover NV, leaving Redding CA and going by the way of Sacramento because of the fire that was closing Hwy 44 periodically. I drove to Lovelock NV and on the way Barry and I conversed about many things in life that brings joy and challenges to each of us. We stopped in Lovelock for fuel and food. At the restaurant parking lot, while we were checking how things were riding in the trailer, a squall hit with high wind and horizontal rain, but it only lasted about five minutes. After we ate lunch, Barry took over the driving chores and we headed for Elko. West of Winnemucca a storm hit us with more severe weather. The wind was very strong and the rain came. We kept our fingers crossed keeping the speed down a bit continuing toward Battle Mountain. Along the way an 18-wheeler on the westbound side was laying on its side, having succumbed to the wind. When we finally got to Elko, we fueled and I got under the wheel again and arrived in Wendover @ 7 PM.
After a good night’s sleep, Friday morning we worked our way to the salt and unloaded the car on the racecourse side of the pits in a spot that the Shasta Roadsters of Redding CA had saved for us. In relatively good time we prepared the car and presented it to the inspection process. There was a small problem with our arm restrains (a change in the rules that required dated restrains) so I purchased a new set and finished our entry procedures.
Dan, my son, and Tim, grandson (both had joined the Bonneville 200 MPH Club in this car #216 in 2003 & 2004) were there for the weekend. My brother Gary, and nephew Ron, was due to arrive late Saturday and Jeff, eldest son, was coming in on Sunday. This would put six of the seven 200 MPH family members on the salt together for fun again. I had entered the club driving the Pierson Coupe in October 1990, but all others had enter in #216. (October, 2004 nephew, Ken Smith was the last to set the record in #216).
Saturday morning we arrived at the driver’s meeting at 9:30 AM just in time to get the important information. After the meeting, Barry and I, as well as many others, drove down the course to the 5 mile and found it a superb, smooth and hard with no pressure ridges to prevent turning off the course anywhere. The best salt I have seen! We went to the pits and prepared the car and put it in line.
The plan was for me to make the first pass, as is usual, to check the car out and then put Barry in the car. Since my eyes were watering and were quite irritated it was not that important for me to drive so I decided that we would gave Barry my ride. He was anxious to get going anyway. At about 3:30 PM he made the first pass. It was a very lazy run, but he stayed on it for the full 5 miles running out at 192 MPH. A quick check of the computer info found that #6 and 8 cylinders didn’t produce any heat from the start. Since I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer it seems, after checking everything we could think might be wrong, Dan did check the firing order at the distributor cap and #6 & 8 cylinders were crossed. What tripped me up was that we are very careful, double-checking that the wires were in the correct position at the plug. I still don’t know how this happened, but between the May Lakes Meet and August I had cross the wires in the cap.
It was too late in the day to get another run so we went to town. Sunday morning at 9:15 AM we made the second run. Still not a strong motor and Barry shut down at the 4 mile since he was smelling some smoke. Everything was looking pretty good, but it was getting oil on the headers coming out through the breathers. There was quite a bit of alcohol in the oil so went did a good service on the car, changed the oil, did some repair to the under pan on the nose, went up a gear and advanced the timing to 41 degrees BDTC where it had run well in the past. The second run of the day was 3:30 PM with better numbers although the course was a bit slippery on the low end giving us a 205.582 ¼, 213.167 mile 1, 228.863 mile 2, 234.651 mile 3 and 235.906 exit.
The car was still not delivering what we had hoped so I went .002 richer and we got in line for our third run of the day. It was beginning to look like a good run, (he had trouble hooking it up on the low end of the course) then we got the 1/4 time of 203.565 MPH, mile 1 at 211.147 MPH then silence…I was not wanting to believe what I feared watching the car with a trail of salt behind it, I saw a ball of salt in the distant and thought to myself the chute must have created what I saw. Glenn, head timer, was giving some very calm instruction about a situation, which I did not totally understand. Of course, when we stopped to pick up our timing slip, we were confirmed that he had crashed. We continued toward the scene, got permission to go across to the car and then we could tell this was really bad.
I took a quick review of the scene, they were taking Barry out of the car, I could tell he was badly hurt and I didn’t dwell on anything, but just moved on by the car. I hadn’t seen him, but Rick White, Nolan White’s son, embraced me and held on for a while. Almost seven years earlier, October 2002, I had been asked by Nolan to push him off on the 1st leg of the FIA Record he was seeking (he said that I had pushed him off when he joined the 200 MPH Club). I was privileged to spend more than an hour visiting and laughing together with him and Rick prior to his last run. At Speedweek 2005 I lost another dear friend and competitor to an accident at the end of the course. I was deeply concerned for Barry.
Stunned by the events, I was reviewing in my mind what had taken place in this car the last 17 years. In general, the car had been stable. Jeff, my eldest son, had crashed the car at the 1997 World Finals after spinning it on the two previous events. Our problems were because of an unbalanced car and very soft salt. The car was not badly damaged and Jeff received a bruised elbow, minor considering that he averaged 185 MPH through the middle mile going around twice and over twice. As we rebuilt the car I added skirting that gave good ground effect and installed a spoiler. Since this time, there were not handling problems. Actually, six family members have joined me in the Bonneville 200 MPH in this car and each has exceeded 240 MPH. It was easy to drive and one of the safest cars on the salt, I believe. Also Mary West received her “A” license at 212 MPH in 2006.
I am still struggling with this incident. Have seen a series of pictures and the news coverage that show the horrific results of the crash. The officials that evaluated the accident and the car have convinced me that the car was not at fault, but the severity of the crash was such that Barry could not have survived. Barry was an excellent driver, always responded to strange odors or sounds, respected the car, was cautious and had no problem of aborting a run if it didn’t feel right. We all know there is risk involved in this sport and there have been many spins and crashes, but rarely does it end this way. He was doing what he loved most, not comforting, but that and knowing that he was prepared to meet God helps to get through this. He was loved by so many that it is staggering!
I will always hurt and my heart is with each one that continues to pursue this dream. There likely will not be a race car in my future, but if I can help anyone that might be building a new one, mentally, I am at your disposal.
Tom, Redding CA - #216 D/FCC
Last Updated: 09/09/2010