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Exclusive interview with Rob Loaring
When we last spoke to engine builder, tuner and Crew Chief Rob Loaring in January 2000, he told us about ICE Automotive's involvement with Tim McAmis' Pro Mod operation in the USA. On June 13th, ICE announced that this development work would no longer be taken forward. We spoke to Rob to get the low-down.
Eurodragster: Rob, we noticed that Tim McAmis qualified 14th in Ontario a couple of weeks back, but then he disappeared. What happened?
Rob Loaring: The engine was damaged after the last qualifier and they didn't bother to fix it.
Eurodragster: "Didn't bother"? As far as I remember this was the first time that Tim had qualified in IHRA this season, there must have been a pretty serious reason behind that decision.
Rob Loaring: It's the blower situation. After Rockingham the whole team were pretty depressed about the pace of some of the blower cars and after Hahn ran the 6.17 in Canada it just put the brakes on everything.
Eurodragster: So how far had ICE got with the development work on Tim McAmis' nitrous engine?
Rob Loaring: Didn't even start. I spent 5 weeks over there getting up to speed on their current equipment and that's as far as it got.
Eurodragster: That's all she wrote? The end of Tim's season?
Rob Loaring: We don't know if that's it for Tim but our involvement stopped after Canada. Roger Sanders pays the bills and with the best will in the world he can't see how we can get a nitrous car on that kind of pace in a reasonable time frame.
Eurodragster: From the fans' point of view we get onto Summitracing.com and see Pro Mods running in the 6.1s and we think "Alright!". But from what you are saying, the nitrous PM racers don't see it that way do they?
Rob Loaring: No, they're all down on it at the moment. IHRA tech got a lot of calls after Canada and they have openly acknowledged a problem exists but no one knows what's going to happen just yet. I've got some fairly strong opinions about it all but so has everyone else.
Eurodragster: I'm not at all surprised to hear that you have strong opinions about it; as someone with direct experience of being on the receiving end of the blower phenomenon, what do you think about it both from the racing aspect and from the business aspect?
Rob Loaring: As a business based in the U.K. we're not really affected by it. The blown Pro Mod thing never took off over here so we stuck with nitrous engines. From a racing standpoint I think the blower guys are getting shafted. It's a pretty complex situation but basically nitrous 'engine' development has gone nowhere in the last 5 or 6 years, the last significant step forward was the use of Pro-Stock type heads. You can credit a handful of talented tuners for taking it this far but now the performance gains have dried up and they have to rely on IHRA to slow the blower cars down. The nitrous stuff needs development time and that means money, nobody's going to find much more in the jet box.
Eurodragster: I think this is the first time I've ever heard the blower cars defended in this way. As you say, all you hear is "Do something to slow 'em down". Time to split the class up do you think?
Rob Loaring: I don't think that's going to happen, it takes away the magic of Pro Mod. If you run a nitrous car with IHRA and you want to qualify you buy an engine from Gene Fulton. Gene seems to have just about everyone at the moment so until someone else comes up with a better package why should he spend any money on development. When the atmospherics are good the blower cars fly and the nitrous guys complain that their stuff isn't competitive so I.H.R.A. have to slow the blowers down.
Eurodragster: Spending money on engine development was what Roger and Tim were doing with your company ICE wasn't it?
Rob Loaring: That was our understanding. As I stated earlier, Hahn's 6.17 changed things somewhat. When we discussed this last winter low 6.30's and high .20's were competitive but the blower cars have stepped up again and Roger now feels the mark is too high and to be honest, in the time frame we have, I agree.
Eurodragster: You said earlier that you had only really done a few weeks' work on this assignment. Did you come up with anything development-wise which could be applied to Pro Mod either here in Europe or in the USA, or did you not get that far?
Rob Loaring: We have our own package that I took out last year which at present is part finished. The five weeks I spent between Darlington and Rockingham was a stop gap to try and make their existing stuff competitive while we finished the new piece but it was to far off. So I'd have to say no.
Eurodragster: Can you see any realistic circumstances in which the work with Roger and Tim recommences?
Rob Loaring: Not right now, they need a quick fix and we don't have one. Unless IHRA slow the blowers down considerably I think that's the route they'll go.
Eurodragster: Do you think that blown-alcohol is going to be the quick'n'dirty cure which everyone takes? Could we be looking at the slow - or quick - death of nitrous Pro Mod?
Rob Loaring: IHRA will find a way to keep the nitrous stuff running. Pro-Modified is the best show they've got and the blower vs nitrous thing is a key ingredient in it's success.
Eurodragster: It does make you wonder, though, whether IHRA's Pro Outlaw class is conveniently situated for the transfer of engines by disaffected nitrous Pro Mod racers. Could you pull out a nitrous Pro Mod motor and hook it into one of the Pro Outlaw dragsters and immediately run on the money?
Rob Loaring: When the class first started maybe you could but I'm not so sure now, i'ts become quite specialised.
Eurodragster: With a potentially-lucrative "in" to the Pro Mod market in the USA having evaporated you're commendably free of bitterness (maybe there's an opening in the market, to teach the rest of us how to take adversity so well). What's the future for ICE now? Have you any comparable arrangements?
Rob Loaring: Business as usual. The deal with Roger has caused some scheduling problems during the early part of June but apart from that it's not a big issue. Nick and I are discussing what we should do with the parts we still have at our shop that were destined for Tims car, whether or not to continue developing them on the Cutlass or push them through a band saw, we'll have to wait and see.
Eurodragster: Your many fans would naturally say continue developing them on the Cutlass pending the arrival of Bert and Gus' new cars - and of course the European Finals when there are scores to settle with our Scandinavian friends! But then it's not us paying for it, so it's easy for us to say.
Rob Loaring: This stuff will take 60 to 70 runs before we can run it hard and even then we don't know what it will be worth. If we could find someone to take my role on the team then it might be possible, I need to get away from the track and back in the workshop. As for the European Finals, don't get your hopes up.
Eurodragster: So you've told us what the future is for ICE and it's great to hear that it's business as usual. What about Rob Loaring himself? Say I came to visit you in a couple or three years' time, what would you really like me to be interviewing you about?
Rob Loaring: I don't know really but it'll be something to do with Drag Racing. I can't believe I'm saying it but I just can't see me getting out of it, Christ it's tragic.
Eurodragster: We're all trapped, why should you be any different...Thanks very much for filling us in on the story about the USA assignment, Rob. Sorry it didn't work out how we all hoped it would but we know for sure that it wasn't for the want of trying.
Rob Loaring: No problem.
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