Tom Thumb Special VII
For eleven years (1980-1991), we campaigned the Pierson Coupe at Bonneville and El Mirage. It had been a great adventure! Running this car had been an exciting experience. It gave me my first official ride in excess of 200 MPH at Speedweek 1986. It would be a few years before we were able to qualify the car on the 205 MPH Minimum, however. During the mid eighties, I was going head to head with Burklands with Betty doing the driving in their Datsun B210 Comp Coupe and Gene and Tom tuning. They were running a supercharged 1/2 Chrysler four cylinder on nitro. Fortunately for me, they had major head gasket problems that prevented them from making an average speed for record. Betty did have a qualifying run in excess of 222 MPH.
I had been fighting an injection lean out problem that had taken much too long to sort out. We were carrying a NOS system on board for a few years, but were unable to apply it because of the basic mixture problems. Finally, in 1989, I removed the high speed by-pass from the injection system and it began to run as it should. Now, however, the ignition would not support the new cylinder pressures. After returning home from Bonneville, I replaced our old Hayes Ignition with a MSD box and went to the November Lakes Meet. On our second run we captured the record in D/FCC at 202.085 MPH, gaining myself entry into the "Dirty 2" Club.
In 1990, I gained membership in the Bonneville 200 MPH Club by setting the D/FCC record at 217.236 MPH eventually raising the record to 221.898 MPH by weeks end. Just before Speedweek in 1991, I received a call from Bob Bauder, a car restorer in Big Bear CA, inquiring about purchasing the coupe. I told him that the car was not for sale, but he kept pressuring me, saying that he had a client that wanted the car badly. I finally threw out a figure that I thought would discourage any further discussion. He said he would talk to his client and get back to me. We went on to Speedweek and set the D/GCC record at 206.409 MPH.
I had dismissed the conversation from my mind, thinking that there would be no further contact from Bob Bauder. I was wrong! A couple of weeks after Speedweek, Bob called and asked when they could pick up the car. I had to inform him that I still had the rest of the season to run and was not giving the car up until the 1991 Season was completed. We did run the rest of the season posting our best mile speed, 224.697 MPH and an exit speed of 227 MPH, in D/FCC.
I delivered the coupe to Bauder's Shop in Big Bear in January 1992. I was now without a race car!
On the way back home from Southern California, we stopped by to see Dick Williams at Poli-Form to purchase a 1934 Ford Coupe body for our new race car. I had decided to stay with the '34 Coupe and build a more streamlined "Pierson Coupe". Before releasing the Pierson Coupe, I made a template of the top chop to be used in the construction of the new car. The Poli-Form body came with a 3" chop, but to match my template, required lowering the top by six more inches.
In the past I had always built my own cars, however, this was a car which had possibilities of going considerably faster than anything I had built to date. It seemed wise to get some professional help. I talked to Dale Caulfield, a street rod chassis builder in Red Bluff CA, about my project. He agreed to build the chassis. I had already acquired a very used Halibrand Championship Quick Change (4.11:1 ratio) that I repaired as needed and narrowed to specs. The rear wheels on this car would be tucked into the deepened wheel wells to put the outside of the tire at about the body line in front of the wheel well. The front wheels were to be covered and set 18" apart. The wheel base would be 155".
The body of the car in front of the cowl would be manufactured from fiberglass and the body would require a chop of 6". Bill Schroyer, a friend from Southern California that had located in Redding and opened a Body & Paint Shop a few years previous, would help me with the fiberglass work. Bill had painted the Pierson Coupe for me in the early eighties.
Serious work began on the new car in February 1992. Dale suspended the chassis on four coil over shocks, using a four bar linkage in the rear and a unique cantilever four bar system in the front to keep the body line as low as possible. (I had envisioned using torsion bars). I received the chassis from Dale, with the basic body mounted in place and the doors hung. The challenge now was to get the top chopped and to build the body forward of the cowl. Since the rules have no restrictions on the streamlining forward of the cowl, we did our best to get the car into the air as efficiently as possible. The car is just over 20 feet overall with the nose extending 50 inches ahead of the front axle.
We used the engine (304 cu. in. Chevrolet) and Direct Drive Powerglide we had run in the Pierson Coupe. I purchased Centerline wheels for the front and mounted 15" M&H front runners, for the rear, we used "wide five" bolt pattern steel wheels and mounted the 8.00X15 Mickey Thompsons that we had run on the previous coupe. Safety Equipment, belts, chute and fire system was from Deist.
We made our first run with the car on Thursday at Speedweek 1992. The best speed for the week at 190.587 MPH. At the World Finals we ran 232.949 MPH in D/FCC with an exit speed of 237 MPH. In November 1994 at El Mirage we set the record in D/GCC at 191.090 MPH, in 1995 set the El Mirage D/FCC record at 211.085, and in 1996 set the Muroc D/FCC record at 204.155 MPH.
1996 saw a change in my racing style. Up to then I had done most of the driving, but my eldest son, Jeff expressed an interest in driving the car. He had last driven at Bonneville in 1976 in the roadster at about 170 MPH. At this point, I had already joined the Bonneville, El Mirage and Muroc 200 MPH Clubs, so I decided to give Jeff the opportunity to be the designated driver. We got some of his licensing accomplished falling just short of an "A" license at 199+ MPH. He could return in 1997 with no restriction on speed, qualified to drive in excess of 200 MPH.
The 1997 Season started at Muroc where Jeff raised our record to 219.892 MPH giving him membership in the Muroc 200 MPH Club. The rest of the year was a steep learning curve for Jeff. He spun at Speedweek, then again at the World of Speed, both times in excess of 215 MPH. We did some serious analyzing of our car after the second spin. In talking to various experienced "speed merchants" at the Salt, it was determined that we had a "Center of Gravity/Center of Pressure" imbalance. After carefully diagnosing the chassis, we found that 500 lbs. of lead was required just behind the front axle to bring the car into balance.
We arrived at the Salt for the World Finals with a balanced car. The salt was not good, very soft and loose. Since I had more experience at high speed, I thought it wise for me to take the first ride. Just as before, the car was losing traction with the nitrous on. The car was moving around on the course, but no hint of the rear wanting to come around. In my estimation, the car was fixed. Jeff made a couple of runs, 208 & 213 MPH, short of the needed 221.898 MPH record. On the second run he hit a hole in the turnout area and broke a suspension arm on the front end. (I had not replaced the springs when I added the weight causing the spring to bottom out which broke the arm). We unloaded about half the weight, had the arm welded and returned to the race course. This was the mistake of the week! The previous two spins had been snap spins. This time we were not so lucky. On this run Jeff turned on the Nitrous at the 31/2 mile, the car immediately drifted to the left, and when he corrected, it snapped around to the right into a long slide, then back to the left again spinning around a couple of times, into another long slide and then rolled over. It was timed through that mile at 191+ MPH while spinning around two times and rolling over once. It went over two more times after exiting the mile, coming to rest on its wheels. Jeff was not injured, and the car received less damage than I had expected. This was an experience that none of us want to repeat.
1998 was not a good year for us either. We burned some pistons at Speedweek and had to sit and watch as John Beckett captured both our gas and fuel records. The new records, D/FCC at 226.470 MPH and D/GCC at 226.527 MPH . Wet salt kept us in check the rest of the season.
We reclaimed the D/FCC record at the World Finals in 1999 with an average of 234.393 MPH putting Jeff into the Bonneville 200 MPH Club during the process. In 2000, my youngest son, Barry became the driver. Our mission was to regain the D/GCC record and put Barry in the 200 MPH Club. Since the rollover, besides fixing the damage, we had added a spoiler to the rear of the car. We had now also removed the extra weight. 2001 saw us still chasing the record in D/GCC, falling short by .5 MPH of qualifying. For 2002, we made some major changes in the car, moving the engine ahead about 6" for more cockpit room and better balance. We were able to achieve our goal of reclaiming the D/GCC record @ 228.843 MPH, giving Barry his red hat. A couple of days later, my brother Gary raised the record to 229.737 MPH and also gained membership in the Bonneville 200 MPH Club.
We had been in the process of building a new 18 degree head motor for about three years. Since we were nearly done, we focused on getting it ready for the November Lakes Meet. For the last couple of years, we were trying for a record over 200 MPH at the Lakes to gain Jeff his third 200 MPH title. The new engine should give us an edge. We ran 198.494 MPH for a record in 2000 and 199.852 for a new record in 2001. In 2002, we were able to make the goal with a 206.792 MPH run and new D/GCC record.
Our next project is to get my middle son, Dan, into the 200 MPH Club. He was the driver for the roadster the last two or three years that it ran. Except for one ride in the Pierson Coupe at the Lakes in the mid eighties, he hadn't driven a LSR car since we retired the roadster at the end of the 1981 season. During the late eighties and early nineties, he spent some time at Circle Track racing, running first in the Street Stocks and then running in the Super Stock class. Dan was in our coupe at the World Finals this year posting a speed above 229 MPH, but under the 229.737 MPH record. He will be in the car for Speedweek during the 2003 season, with the new engine. I have faith that he will accomplish our goal.
The car is not, and may never be, finished, although, I believe that we are finally near to finished changing the body configuration. We are still in primer after 11 years of running. This will be our 12 year in competition with the Tom Thumb Special VII. .We are hoping to get paint on it this year, but time will tell. In my view, performance has always been the priority, appearance is secondary.
Dan did make his goal with a 242.934 mph record at Speedweek 2003. We then switched to alcohol for the next two meets. I set a new D/FCC record at the World Finals at 241.022 MPH. 2004 gave us two more records and entry into the Bonneville 200 MPH Club for my grandson Tim at Speedweek with a record speed of 243.502 MPH. And at the World Finals, Ken Smith, my nephew, became the seventh family member to get into the Club with a 244.260 MPH record speed.
We will be doing maintenance and making some changes for 2005 and hope to keep building speed.
Last Updated: 09/09/2010