Wet and wild, Baca fails to make Memphis field MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Aug. 19) -- Under the best of circumstances, Memphis Motorsports Park can keep crew chiefs up at night as they try to figure out how to get 8,000 horsepower down to what is usually a...
Wet and wild, Baca fails to make Memphis field
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Aug. 19) -- Under the best of circumstances, Memphis Motorsports Park can keep crew chiefs up at night as they try to figure out how to get 8,000 horsepower down to what is usually a hot and greasy racetrack. It's a game of finesse, but one that must be tempered with a touch of aggression because the best tuners in the world are always trying to one-up each other.
Rick Henkelman, the veteran crew chief of David Baca's Mach 1 Air Services dragster, has wrestled with many a tricky racetrack in his day, but even he admits that this year's version of the 19th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals has been tough.
"There are lots of us that have been out here for a long time, but very few people have ever seen conditions like this," Henkelman said. "It's been a real balancing act."
After being greeted with energy-sapping 100-plus degree temperatures Friday afternoon, Henkelman suddenly had to change his plan of attack when a four-hour rain storm washed the racing surface clean and lowered temperatures into the 80s. At the same time, he had to adjust his supercharger to deal with soaring humidity percentages.
"Without getting too technical, one molecule of water displaces two molecules of oxygen," Henkelman said. "Normally, we'll see 50 grains of water per cubic foot of air. It would be over the top to see 100 grains. Here, we've had to deal with 160 grains. It's unreal. Basically, we're feeding the motor water instead of oxygen."
If all that wasn't enough, Friday's qualifying action was reduced to one make-it or break-it session and the car that ran directly in front of Baca oiled-down the racetrack from the 200-foot mark through the finish line. The later session, usually the best one of the weekend, was cancelled.
"The transition area here, where the concrete turns to asphalt, takes you from a decent track to no track at all," Henkelman explained. "The water in the air is knocking the motor down so you have to spin it harder down low. Then the heat makes it slippery, especially at the transition, so you need to de-tune it there. It's a real chore to tune here."
Calmly, Henkelman took what the track would give him -- a 4.771 at 297.61 mph -- to get the car in the show after the opening day of action. But the time wasn't enough to hold the team in the field and Baca will not race on Sunday for the first time this year.
"My hats off to Rick and the entire Mach 1 team," Baca said. "They're dealing with extreme conditions like pros. To do what they're doing for our sponsors, Mach 1, CSK ProShop, and National Tire and Battery, tells me this is a very determined bunch. It's very disappointing to all of us to not make the cut but now is not the time to beat these guys up. The fact we ran into some bad luck has nothing to do with the work these guys put in this weekend.
"We'll just have to regroup and get ready for Indy. These things happen, although thankfully not very often, and you learn to just put it behind you and move on."