The SFI Foundation started off its annual European Inspection Tour with a stop at Santa Pod Raceway on Friday 11th March. Eurodragster.com went along to Santa Pod Raceway in association with American Car Imports to watch SFI Foundation President Arnie Kuhns and inspectors Tim Hyatt, Murf McKinney and Eurodragster.com Home and News sponsor Andy Robinson inspect the largest number of clutches, bellhousings and wheels in recent years.
The US contingent of the inspection team were chipper, having flown in the day before and stayed in a hotel rather than coming straight from Heathrow after flying overnight as in previous years. Tim Hyatt was in some discomfort having suffered a back injury but didn't let it slow him down.
Whilst Tim and Murf were busy we asked Arnie about the SFI Foundation and how SFI specs are formulated.
Eurodragster: What is the make-up of the SFI?
Arnie Kuhns: There are ten of us, of whom three are part-time. I have got some very good people. Over four hundred manufacturers particpiate in our programme and we currently publish ninety five standards. Fifty five sanctioning bodies are affiliated to the SFI Foundation, each of which has an insurer to satisfy.
Eurodragster: Who formulates the SFI specs?
Arnie Kuhns: We are regulated by US Federal law on how to develop a specification. We have committees of manufacturers and outside experts such as engineers and metallurgists. For example Murf there, who builds race cars, is on the chassis specs committee as is your own Geof Hauser. Andy Robinson sits on the doorslammer and roadster committee. European companies who manufacture seatbelts, suits etc. are also represented. The committees meet every two years at the PRI Show.
Eurodragster: You meet every two years, but some new specs were available immediately after last year's fatal Top Fuel Dragster accident.
Arnie Kuhns: We don't formulate a spec unless a sanctioning body asks us to. We can meet very quickly in an emergency.
Eurodragster: How do you go about formulating a new specification?
Arnie Kuhns: Sixty five of our specifications are minimum performance standards for which we set testing procedures. For example, to test a bellhousing, we alter a flywheel so that it will self-destruct and then we blow it up inside the bellhousing.
Eurodragster: So if I decided to start a company to manufacture clutches or bellhousings, I would come to the SFI Foundation?
Arnie Kuhns: That's right. You would have to allow us to test your product and if it passed then you would become a participating manufacturer. You enter into a contract with us and you can use SFI stickers.
Eurodragster: So that's sixty five of your standards covered, what about the other thirty?
Arnie Kuhns: Fifteen of the remaining specifications are for chassis, and the rest are material specifications. For example we have published a standard for Head and Neck Support Devices. A lot of our standards apply across several sports - everyone uses seat belts - although some are unique such as a specification for a turbine blanket for turbine-powered boats. And NASCAR recently joined us.
Eurodragster: Did you get much dissent from NASCAR?
Arnie Kuhns: No we didn't, and we didn't expect it.
A large number of racers brought parts along for inspection throughout the day. After leaving Arnie to his administrative duties we spoke to as many racers as we could collar. Here is who we found to talk to, in the order in which we spoke.
Top Methanol Dragster racer John Parkinson said that a lot of his parts have now arrived and that he should be ready for the Easter Thunderball. "It's mainly a lot of little jobs", said John. "The chassis was originally going to run in Super Pro ET. I've had to find room in the cockpit for a second parachute lever."
FIA European Top Fuel Dragster Champion Andy Carter and his Crew Chief Ben Allum were already talking strategies for the Pro Fuel Shootout at the Easter Thunderball. "You've already got your game face on, haven't you?", Sharkman asked Andy. "Yes!", Andy laughed. Andy told us that he has nineteen associate sponsors this season. "I'm running out of space on the car!", he said.
Pro Mod racer John Ellis said that he was aiming to test at the Big Bang with his Calibra. "I've got a new anti-roll bar and prop shaft tune from Andy Robinson", said John. "I have two new clutches which should be good enough to get us into the sixes - the last clutch wasn't man enough. The engine is the same as last year, we have just freshened it". John added that he will be racing in Europe this season.
Steve Turner, Crew Chief of the Turner Racing Top Methanol Dragster, said that the team are still talking to potential sponsors. "The car is in primer at the moment", he said, "it will probably be the weekend before Easter before we know how it will look!". Steve said that the team had spent the winter freshening the engine and that they plan to contest both the FIA and British Championships this season. We asked Steve about an off-season rumour we had heard that Turner Racing had got a Fuel Altered. "It's true that we went to look at a Fuel Funny Car chassis in Sweden", said Steve. "We thought that we might run a Fuel Altered, take it to the track with the dragster and run it if the promoter wanted us to. But we decided to put it on the back burner until we know where we stand sponsorship-wise."
All of Top Methanol Dragster racer Lyndsay Deuchar's parts passed inspection and he hurried home to "nail everything together". Lindsay and his team have worked on the dragster's fuel system after suffering dropped cylinders and he said that they were confident that that particular problem was sorted.
Dave Bryant, Crew Chief and co-owner of the British Nitro FC Championship-holding Shockwave Fuel FC, said that the team had moved the engine forwards by three quarters of an inch. "We're not going to do anything crazy", he said, "we want to take up where we left off last year".
Returning Top Methanol Funny Car racer Steph Milam said that she, husband and Crew Chief Dave and the She Devil team have plenty to do if they are to make the Easter Thunderball. "We can't put the clutch and bellhousing in until after today!", said Steph. "Our new body is painted and the tinwork and windows are going in. We haven't even looked at the truck yet!". Steph added that as well as a new body the FC will be sporting a PSI blower this season.
Fellow Top Methanol FC racer Paul Wratten said that he was not sure about making Easter, but that the team would be testing at the Webster Race Engineering Test Day on 9th April", he said.
Top Fuel Dragster team owner and Crew Chief Rune Fjeld said that there was a lot of work left to do on Andy Carter's and Thomas Nataas' cars before Easter. "We'll be ready", said Rune. "I will be staying here until Easter now". I asked Rune how much one person could do to a pair of Fuel cars. "Plenty", he replied, "the clutch for example". One of the clutches which Rune had brought for inspection ran a 4.760 in Andy Carter's Top Fueller at Mantorp Park last year. Rune has a new crew member this year in the person of Ian Pellant who previously crewed for Smax Smith. "I'll be in Thomas Nataas' crew", said Ian, "we'll be fifty-fifty English and Norwegians."
Pro Mod racer Bill Weston is aiming to test on the weekend before the FIA Main Event. "The car is ready now, but my motorhome isn't!", he said. "I will be racing at the Main Event, the FIA European Finals, and one European event". Bill's Mustang is still powered by a nitrous-equipped ex-Al Packman 632 ci engine which he said has been toughened over the winter. "I need to get a handle on the clutch this year", said Bill, "I'm lacking experience."
Peter Knight, Crew Chief of the Canto Recruitment Top Fuel Dragster, said that the car has a new clutch can but that everything else is as it was when Jon Webster ran into the 5.0s last September. "We've got a bigger fuel pump which we've not used yet, now we've got a bigger 'bigger' fuel pump!", said Peter. "I'm looking forward big time to this year. The clutch and cannon are going off to Alan Jackson for a check-over and then we'll be off and running."
Top Fuel Dragster owner and Crew Chief John Wright said that a number of changes have been made to his dragster. "We have changed the wing, we have a taller and sharper body, and a digital ignition system - minus the rev limiter!", said John. "Everything else has been refurbished and we have made some safety modifications, and there are a few things I would like to test with aerodynamics around the cockpit. We have also moved the engine forward by two inches". I asked John if a two-inch relocation really made a difference. "Oh yes, if the engine is too far back then the back end digs in and the car bunny-hops", said John. "We have to get the car to launch properly. We have also moved some weight from behind the cockpit to in front. This car was set up for tracks which weren't very good but the track prep really has got better."
At the end of the day, thirty eight items had been inspected. Thirty seven had passed outright and one needed minor work to pass tech. "I think we've done more than ever", said Murf McKinney. "Everything Tim and I looked at passed, it was just one piece which Andy looked at needs some work. They are all good parts". "It's not like it was when we first came here", said Tim Hyatt.
The SFI inspection team are headed for Sweden, Finland and Holland before returning home: Arnie, Tim and Murf to the USA and Andy back to Berkshire. "I'll be following the NHRA tour plus any IHRA dates which don't clash", said Tim. I'm not home much but my wide Beth travels and works with me. Beth is also the President of DRAW which takes up a lot of time". "I will go to NHRA events to support my customers", said Murf.
Arnie, Tim and Murf all hope to attend the FIA European Finals in September.
For their help at Santa Pod we would like to thank Kjell Pettersson, Arnie Kuhns, Tim Hyatt, Murf McKinney, Geoff Martin, Mark Norton and David Lloyd-Jones. This report has been brought to you in association with American Car Imports.