The second Swedish Top Fuel Tour kicked off at the Midnight Sun Internationals at Pite Dragway on 14th-16th July 2000. I was again privileged to spend the weekend with Top Fuel Dragster racer and 1999 Top Fuel Tour Champion Peter Lantz and his team.
THURSDAY AND FRIDAY
When I arrived the PLR pit was already set up and the car was up on jacks and being attended to. The immediate differences from the last time I saw the car (at last year's FIA European Finals) were the Optima Batteries stickers, and the new fuel tank. Optima Batteries have come on board as sponsor in what amounts to Peter's farewell tour, as he plans to retire from racing after the last Top Fuel Tour date in Malmö this season. The new fuel tank is a lot closer to the front of the car, to aid weight distribution after Peter pulled some spectacular wheelies last year.
Peter was not happy with the chassis of his Top Fueller and was working on some adjustments on the back end. It was thought that one of the wheelies last year may have introduced a small kink. "The chassis needs work", said Peter. "I don't mind making crazy runs but I'm not into killing myself".
On my first wander around the pits I encountered Top Methanol Funny Car racer Leif Helander, who was at Piteå to put in a best-of-three match race with fellow TMFC racer Ulf Leanders. "What the hell are you doing here?", asked Leif, "Did you get lost?". "Took a wrong turning", I replied. "I'm here to test my new mag and make some money!", said Leif. "I bought this mag with the money they are going to pay me for this weekend". He confided the modus operandi of match racing. "We flip a coin to see who wins the first run, the other guy wins the second run, then we race for it in the last round". I tried to contain my amazement.
Pro Modified racer Håkan Nilsson invited me into his pit to show me his new pit set-up. The rig has been freshly kitted-out and one of Håkan's crew has constructed a very neat clutch grinder. This is Håkan's first season with the ex-Alan Cook '63 Corvette. "I'm starting to make some changes to the car", he explained. "It's the engine from my old Mustang. I've had to add weight but that's good because I can move the weight about from race to race to get a good balance". I commented on how small the cockpit looked. "It is a lot smaller than the Mustang cockpit", said Håkan. "I have changed it as much as I can so that it is like the Mustang. I will have to change the seat because I can't sit all the way back. And when I am in the left hand lane I can only see the first amber light, of course that's all I need to see!".
Further along in the Pro Modified pits I met Anders Magnusson of Leif Helander's TMFC team. He was at Piteå assisting Pro Mod racer Jan Bränvall with his car's blown-alcohol engine, and explained that it was beginning to come together after problems last year. Leif introduced me to Super Gas racer Pelle Anderson, and advised me to go and take a look at the new injection system which Pelle had designed and built for his engine. And indeed it was a very impressive piece of kit and entirely designed and built by Pelle. "I designed the inlets and the distribution with the help of CAD", said Pelle. "It has an uninterrupted flow right the way down to the valve stems. The inlets are made from billet, in all it was three months' hard work but it worked first time on the dyno!". I asked if Pelle had thought of selling the new system. "Well, I could market it but I want to keep it to myself for the time being!", he replied.
Back in the Top Fuel pits, I found Knut Söderquist's Carbon By Design Top Fuel Dragster pitted next door to Peter Lantz. Alan Jackson was originally to be crew chief on the Carbon By Design team for the weekend, but just before he left England for Sweden he heard from Knut that booked driver Jens Nybo was not going to Piteå and that he was back in the hot seat. Knut was not happy. "I haven't heard a thing from Jens for a very long time", said Knut. "I haven't had answers to my phone calls or faxes and I just couldn't wait any longer. It's a long way to come and not have a driver. Jens was meant to be bringing his crew with him and so I've had to get a crew together here in Sweden in a few days. But we'll get by. As I have said before, Alan is one of the best Fuel car drivers around so we don't have any problems there". The CBD team was bolstered by the attendance of US tuner Bill Schultz, and watching the crew working together throughout the weekend it didn't look at all as if this was a scratch combination.
Although the weather was distinctly dodgy on Friday, everyone carried on as if they were running to normal scedule. The CBD team were the first to warm up their car on Friday. The engine would not start despite several attempts, and a problem with the mag was suspected. The offending item was changed, and the engine was started and run on methanol for a short while, sounding fine to me.
Peter Lantz's first warm-up on Friday had the fans backing off as the tear gas filled the air. The car sounded very aggressive as the nitro kicked in. This for me is one of the best sounds in drag racing, a Fuel engine purring on methanol like a contented cat and then suddenly crackling and banging: it's as if the smile disappears and the car grows fangs and becomes a monster before your eyes. I love it, and I am pleased to report that the closer you stand the better the effect. I commented to crew member Johan Gustafsson about the severity of the tear-gassing. "It's my fault", he said, "but this is the first time we've fired it up this season". "We just have to make some minor adjustments" added fellow crew member Manne Makinen.
When I found Pelle Lindelöw, he was very happy about the way his season was progressing. He had stolen a march on Monica Öberg, Peter and Alan by competing in the FIA Championship round at Alastaro in June, which he described as a test and tune, and new sponsorship from Red Line Oil had helped. "Everything is coming together", he said. "We have new mags, a new flywheel, and we have made some adjustments to the clutch. It was the flywheel which caused all of our problems last season. This weekend we will be able to start the fine tuning; we have already dome some work on the clutch".
The CBD team started the engine for a second time. This was a classic warm-up: evil crackle, flames, the lot. There was a round of applause when the engine eventually stopped - it leaned out and then sprang back into life before shutting down. "That sounded sweet - in fact it sounded too good!" said Alan Jackson. "This is the life, isn't it", I said, looking around. "No work, just go drag racing". "But this is work", replied Alan.
Qualifying was called off on Friday after prolonged rain. As it happened, none of the Top Fuel teams had been planning to take advantage of Friday's test and tune session, preferring to wait until qualifying proper started on Saturday. Everyone worked into the night (i.e. slightly less broad daylight) to be ready for the serious stuff in the morning.
The weather was a lot better on Saturday, and the pits were heaving with spectators. The Top Fuel racers had three qualifying sessions in the schedule. "I'm all set", said Pelle Lindelöw. "It will be interesting to see what the track can take."
Monica Öberg, who is also in her last season before retiring from racing, wowed the fans with an awesome warm-up on Saturday morning. The engine sounded positively evil and shook the car on its stands, and the forest around the track threw the sound straight back. Peter Lantz was next, a brief run on methanol and then the nitro came on tap. Peter blipped the throttle and I think the whole of Piteå jumped. I went about eight feet in the air, came back down on one foot and thrashed around trying to regain my balance whilst some of the crew killed themselves laughing. "Did you not notice the sign that I was about to hit the throttle?" asked Peter afterwards. "No", I replied, "what is it?". Peter thought for a moment and said "I'm not going to tell you, I think I will leave you to work it out". For the record, I never did work it out all weekend and could still be observed doing the standing jump during every subsequent warm-up.
With a 25000 Kronor bonus up for grabs for the first four-second run, it was certain that everyone would be going for it from the get-go and the first qualifying session didn't disappoint.
Pelle Lindelöw went first. A straight and clean run and a new personal best for Pelle at 5.19 at 'only' 407 Km/h, lifting off the throttle just before the finish. "It felt perfect", said Pelle afterwards. "It's all in one piece - nothing is hurt at all. That's promising. I lifted off after 4.7 seconds, next time I'll go past the finish line. This run confirms what we already knew. My personal best was 5.29, so I've beaten that first time out and that's really good. We're going to run every session today, and take every chance we get to sort everything out."
Second in this session was local girl Monica Öberg. So popular is Monica at Piteå that she could have cycled down the track and brought the house down, but she was determined to give her fans something to cheer about. Monica appeared to be struggling to get the car straight as she backed up after the burnout. The tyres went up in smoke off the line, and Monica recorded 10.71/154 but still got a great reception. "I wasn't comfortable with the burnout", said Monica. "There's not enough power in the engine, so we are putting more power in."
Peter Lantz went third, pulling a huge burnout which went down very well with the fans. The burnout was to no avail, though, as the tyres smoked off the line, and Peter clocked 13.93/112. "Too much power", commented Crew Chief Morgan Svensson. "I thought I was going for a 5.0, and Morgan had it set for a 4.9", said Peter. "We'll soften up the clutch and put on the new injector. The nozzles are all the same size, and we have already run the new injector on Anita Mäkelä's car so we have a tune-up."
Alan Jackson went last in the first session. The car hooked up beautifully and shot down the track. There was a haze of smoke towards the top end, and Alan got off it a touch early but went straight into first place with a run of 5.07/438, the quickest run in Europe so far this season. The crowd went wild, this being the first of several signs over the weekend that they had taken the likeable Englishman to their hearts. "The tyres started to spin at half track", said Alan. "Then it got into a drift and I couldn't get it back. If the track had been a few feet longer I would have crossed the centre line."
The CBD team sat out the second of the day's three qualifying sessions. There were no problems with the car; the team just wanted to take everything apart and take their time over it.
Peter Lantz went first in the second round of qualifying. The tyres went up in smoke off the line, but Peter pedalled at just the right moment and the car hooked up and went, visibly accelerating hard towards the finish. A time of 5.39 was more respectable than the last pass but the speed of 456 Km/h, a new track record at Pite Dragway and the fastest run in Europe so far in 2000, showed that it was no optical illusion that the car was disappearing so quickly towards the end of the run. I complimented Peter on his pedalling job. "I just wanted to get to the end of the track", said Peter. "That's my personal best speed, and the tyres were spinning! We'll back it off a little before the next run."
Monica Öberg went next and blasted the other end of the Pite Dragway track record with a clean and straight run of 5.05/451, taking the 'quickest in Europe this season' title back from AJ. The crowd erupted and Crew Chief Dan Söderberg and the crew jumped up and down in and on their tow vehicle all the way down the track. "I'm seventy five per cent satisfied with the run", said Monica. "After one hundred metres the engine went too rich, so we'll have to make some small changes for the next run. But Dan is happy!"
Before Pelle Lindelöw ran, he asked me where I would be standing with my camera. "At about sixty feet", I replied. "OK, I will give you a wave as I come past on my burnout", he said. Looking through the camera's viewfinder as Pelle did his burnout, I thought I saw a movement from the cockpit but I couldn't be sure. The tyres went up in smoke on Pelle's run, and he eventually got off it just before 330 feet, recording 8.79/161. "It was a bit too brutal", said Pelle. "We stepped it up a little, but it was too much. I had terrible tyre shake, so we're now changing the timers so that they come in a little later. Still no damage. We don't even need to take the engine completely apart: we're checking the bearings, the oil and the clutch and we'll be ready to go out again. And did you see me wave?". When I got the picture printed, staring back at me were two fingers of Pelle's left hand sticking out of the cockpit (if you want to see for yourself, it's picture pelle lindelow 1 in the Piteå pictures on Tog's Drag Racing Page).
The final Top Fuel qualifying session took place late in the evening. After two sessions of single passes, this session was meant to be run in pairs. Peter Lantz was very pleased with the engine warm-up and told me that he wasn't bothered with whom he was paired in the session. "That sounds like a 4.97", said Crew Chief Morgan Svensson when the engine shut down after the warm-up. "Take your camera, this will be Peter's first four-second run" added crew member Vidar Engh.
The final session ended up consisting of two singles and one match-up. The first run was the match-up between Alan Jackson and Monica Öberg. Two great burnouts and then Alan red-lit, going up in smoke at about 100 feet for good measure. Monica waited for the green and put in a great run of 5.10/404, the crowd again cheering Dan and the crew down the track. "That was my first red light in five years!", said Alan. "I knew it was hopped up and I just couldn't wait to have a go!". That the car was hopped up was unarguable, since Alan recorded a 60-foot time of 0.837. More seriously AJ explained that his visor had misted up, and he thought that he probably went early because in the mist Monica's stage light looked to him like the ambers coming on.
Peter Lantz went next, the tyres going up in smoke at about 100 hundred feet - exactly the same place as AJ. Peter tried another pedalling job but it didn't work out this time, and he recorded 7.92/159 Km/h. "We took twenty grams out of the clutch, which is a lot", said Peter. "A 0.874 sixty-foot means that we're running too hot. We need to take some power out of the ignition tomorrow."
Pelle Lindelöw finished off Top Fuel qualifying by resetting both ends of his personal best, with a run of 5.15/453. This left the qualifying standings as follows: 1. Monica Öberg 5.05/451, 2. Alan Jackson 5.07/438, 3. Pelle Lindelöw 5.15/453, 4. Peter Lantz 5.39/456. So it would be Monica against Peter and Alan against Pelle on Sunday morning.
Sunday dawned wet and miserable, and for a long while we all wondered if the race was going to happen at all. I was already thinking about how far I'd come for a rainout although the fun I was having with Peter, his team and the other racers, fans and officials made it a lot easier to bear. The track crew put in long hours drying the track - and it shouldn't be forgotten that there's more to dry at Pite Dragway because the ex-military runway is very long indeed. Better weather was expected in the afternoon, and the SHRA officials assured the Top Fuel racers that they would not be sent out onto the track first and that they would be given an hour's notice before being called. This is exactly what happened, and the racers were very grateful for the consideration.
Peter Lantz's warmup on Sunday morning ended prematurely when the engine was mistakenly shut down after the timing was read. "I thought Peter was going to kill me" said Johan, but in fact everyone had a good laugh and then fired it up again. Peter was more worried about the wait. "When I got out of bed this morning I was all ready to go, but now I have to hang around", he said. I have heard this before from racers, most notably Fay Fischer who refers to the syndrome as "racer's belly". Morgan Svensson entered that day's combination on a spreadsheet, and asked me to suggest a predicted time and speed. "How about 4.92/480?" I said. Morgan raised his eyebrows but put it in anyway.
Two pits along, Monica Öberg and her crew had some decisions to make. "We burnt out a clutch pack on last night's run", she said. "I was desperate when I got out of the car and saw oil everywhere. All we've been able to afford this year are some springs and some clutch parts, we are very lucky because we broke nothing last year. Now we don't know whether to put the 5.05 combination back in, or whether to make it quicker if the track can take it". I asked what she thought about her first-round pairing with Peter Lantz. "It'll be like racing a ghost", replied Monica, "you don't know what they have in their suitcase!".
Working hard to help Monica was her fan club, who had a stall selling shirts, ear defenders and other items, handing the profit straight over. "The fan club began a few years ago", explained Monica. "I took a lot of pictures of kids in the car only to find that there was no film in the camera. So I sent some autographed pictures instead, and at the next race the kids collected all the empty cans from the camp site, cashed them in, and gave me the deposit money. That is how the fan club started, and they've been helping me ever since". Also helping out were Konsum Burträsk who provided Monica's groceries over the weekend.
The track dried, the first hour of racing took place as promised by the race officials, then we were ready for round one of Top Fuel. The first race was between Monica Öberg and Peter Lantz. Both drivers pulled huge burnouts which had the fans on their feet. A short staging duel took place, and Monica staged first (although she later said "What staging battle?"). It was all over on the green as Monica's tyres went up in smoke whilst Peter hooked up and went, recording 5.13/443 Km/h to Monica's 7.78/180. The response from the crowd was muted as they saw their local favourite go out in round one, and as Peter's crew went down the track to retrieve him, most of the applause was from a hairy, vertically-challenged photo-journalist who spent the rest of the day wondering if everyone would be waiting outside for him.
"The clutch was slipping all the way down the track", said Peter. "We took a lot of weight off the clutch and one and a half degrees off the ignition, but we still ran 5.13".
The second race saw Alan Jackson take on Pelle Lindelöw. Pelle pulled a huge burnout, whilst Alan took it a lot more conservatively. One of my Swedish colleagues at trackside gave me a questioning look, as if to say "Call that a burnout?". I just smiled, gave him a thumbs-up and mouthed "It's OK". On the green both cars hooked up but then about fifty feet out Pelle's tyres went up in smoke. Alan streaked away to record a 5.13, just as Peter had, and took the track speed record away from Peter at 457 Km/h, Pelle recording 11.49/155. The crowd gave Alan a big cheer, and I turned back to my trackside colleague and gave him a questioning look. To his credit, he nodded appreciatively.
"I turned the tyres from 800 feet again", said Alan. "But it was my fastest ever speed and we'd backed it down a bit!". "My engine got far too hot", said Pelle. "I sat waiting for too long. But everything is OK, we haven't hurt a single thing."
The final promised to be a classic, Peter Lantz against Alan Jackson, five thousandths of a second between them on their first round times. It was nice to be in a win-win situation, I would be hapy enough whether Peter my host or AJ my fellow Englishman won. There was also a third/fourth place run-off scheduled between Monica Öberg and Pelle Lindelöw, and both would want to make a point after smoking the tyres in the first round.
Alas, it was not to be as the rain returned not long after the first round. It came down very heavily indeed, turning the track into a river. Once it stopped, the track crew got back to work to dry the surface. But they were fighting a losing battle, and the Top Fuel racers were concerned about running at all on the surface even if the track had dried. Peter explained that the drivers felt that there was no way that there would be time to get the track dry, let other classes run for an hour, and then run the two remaining races before the nine o'clock curfew. The drivers met with the race officials and promoter, who also appeared to be minded to call the race rather than make everyone wait for hours without any certainty that the track would be dry in time. The race was called shortly afterwards, and the Top Fuel drivers agreed to run the final and third/fourth place run-off in the second qualifying session of the next Top Fuel Tour round in Stockholm.
Despite the rainout, the drivers were all very pleased with their race. "I'm very happy with my weekend", said Monica Öberg, "and I'm pleased with myself. It's nice to know that even though I am retiring I can still make it!".
"I'm satisfied", said Pelle Lindelöw. "I ran new personal bests on both time and speed. It proved that I have a working combination. I'm very much looking forward to Stockholm!".
"This weekend has been tougher than my last FIA round on the performance of the cars", said Alan Jackson. "It's been great, and I'm very happy. We had a fully-Swedish crew and everyone worked well together - they all did good." CBD team owner Knut Söderquist agreed. "The whole weekend has been excellent. I've been here at Piteå twice before, with Harlan Thompson, and won both times. The crew have been super, really good. Alan is very good, both as a driver and mechanically. He's very careful, and good when little things go wrong". Knut also enjoyed his first experience of the Top Fuel Tour. "The Tour is very good, and the track is great: if it had been as good as it was yesterday then there would have been a four in the final. Yesterday the track could definitely have held a four; we were getting loose in the top end but we had it covered in the first half".
Peter Lantz was also very pleased, but there was a hint of just how much hard work goes into a race weekend. "This was one of the toughest races I have been in, if not the toughest", he said. "The qualifying was just great with everyone running personal bests, for me it was a personal best speed. But the qualifying position doesn't matter that much, everyone is tough to race on Sunday. The four second bonus made everyone try a little harder, we tried a little too hard. We had to back it down for each run. But it's different on race day, we had to stick to the track so we backed it down a lot, and then we smoked a clutch but still ran a 5.13 which I think was as much as the track could take at that time".
Peter was also pleased for the fans. "A lot of fans waited for the final, but even with the rainout they saw the best Top Fuel racing in Europe so far this season. Once again the promoter and the officials ran a great event, everything worked to perfection. All the TF rounds ran on schedule, and they kept us informed".
I asked Peter to sum up. "It was a one hundred per cent great race", he said. "My team deserve a lot of credit. They not only worked hard and accurately, but they gave me a lot of fun and you can't ask for more! The next race, in Stockholm, will be my last on a quarter mile track. We know that Tullinge will hold a four-second run, and we will be gunning for it. All the cars are capable of a four, so if you are a Top Fuel fan then I'd say that Stockholm is the place to be, I'll see you all there!".
First and foremost I must of course thank Peter Lantz for inviting me back to Piteå to join him and the team for the weekend. Peter was the finest of hosts: he wouldn't let me open my wallet, absolutely nothing was too much trouble, and no question or request for a quote turned down even when he was in the thick of things. To Crew Chief Morgan Svensson, my thanks for patiently answering a lot of what for him must have been very elementary questions about Top Fuel engines, and for driving me from Kallax airport to Piteå and back. To Peter's crew: Vidar Engh, Manne Makinen, Magnus Olsson, Arild Bergsland, Johan Gustafsson, Christian "Pampers Boy" Petterson, and Linda Bodén, my heartfelt thanks for making me so welcome, and a special thank you to Linda for taking me under her wing and helping me out when my Swedish wasn't up to the occasion. To Peter's daughter Hanna and Morgan's daughter Johanna, I hope I didn't gross you out too much and I hope that the English I taught you turns out to be useful.
Grateful thanks to Monica Öberg, Pelle Lindelöw, and Alan Jackson for their thoughts and impressions throughout the weekend, and for allowing me to quote them.
At Pite Dragway I am grateful to Carina, Hans and Janne for their unending help with media access, and of course for the Midnight Sun Internationals T-shirt. Also many thanks to Björn the Pite Dragway track announcer for all the plugs for Eurodragster on the PA and for the interview, and to all the guys in Race Control for the friendly reception. And of course to all of the SHRA race officials and track crew for their help.
Finally, thanks to all the racers who accepted (or even asked for) Eurodragster stickers, and to all the racers and fans who took the trouble to introduce themselves and say nice things about Eurodragster.com. It's very much appreciated, guys.
I'll be back...again.
Further readingTop Fuel Tour 2000 web site