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Behind the timeslips — an interview with Rod Harvey and Terry Bowden part two

6 January 2015


Back on January 1, 2015 we brought you part one of the interview with Rod Harvey and Terry Bowden. Get yourself comfortable because you’re about to embark on part two

NZ Performance Car: So testing went well?

Rod Harvey (RH): Yes and no. We still didn’t quite get what we wanted, as the changes to the car had an effect on how it felt to me driving it, and I was having a bit of trouble in the braking area.

Terry Bowden (TB): It’s doing some incredible mile-an-hour now, which these cars were never designed to do. The Celica is probably one of the oldest cars that races in Factory Extreme, as it was built in 2003. Sure, it’s had quite a few upgrades, but these vehicles were only ever made based on a Pro Stock car to run in the high six-second zone at 200mph, and here we are approaching 240[mph] [386kph], and the car was becoming quite unstable in the braking area, which was whipping a bit of Rod’s confidence away from him.

I got in touch with Rick Jones regarding the issues, and it has tentatively been resolved with a change in parachute sizing. The parachutes were too big, so they would have a big build-up of air, then dump it, and one would dump it more than the other, so the car would go sideways.

RH: I was having more fun down the end trying to keep it off its roof. So, everyone is giving me a hard time, saying I’m not driving the car out the back door, but all I’m thinking about is how I’m going to keep it off its roof in the braking area. But you’re sort of committed at that speed. The car with the changes that Terry made felt different to me to drive — not in a bad way, just something a little bit different to get used to. And then when I was driving it out the back door, I was conscious of what was going on in the braking area.

I was very tired that day; we’d worked right up until we left, and, once we got there, we were on a tight programme. We went out for the final, I think, at [a]quarter to 12 at night Australian time, and we’d woken up in New Zealand time, so we were two hours ahead of everyone else, anyway. So, I ran the final at that time and won, and got off it early, still running a 6.28. I probably could have driven it out the back door on that round. Glenn had slowed the car down as much as he could, and we’d made a few changes, and we were conscious of the track temperature cooling down.

TB: There’s only one car in Australia that has gone quicker than 6.28, and that was in perfect conditions, and here we are doing it at quarter to 12 at night in the cold, getting off it early.

Before the Datsun, the team ruled the roost in Super Stock with this Ford Mustang powered by a 498ci big block Ford, with a best ET of 8.7

You must have known then that you had something good?

RH: We knew that whole weekend that every round it was feeling good. If I drove it hard out the back door, it went fast.

TB: We know that when it ran the 6.12, it was seven o’clock at night; in the second round of elimination, the track conditions were going to go downhill from there. Glenn was putting fuel into it, to slow it down, and I pulled a bunch of clutch out of it. We knew we weren’t going to go any quicker, but it was still an animal.

RH: Before that, it ran a 6.16. I got off it early, and it only went through at 222mph, so I came back and I was kicking myself that I didn’t drive it through. But from the day prior, I was just conscious of what was happening in the braking area. So, the 6.12 at 238[mph] [383kph] was only because I drove it out the back door. The 6.16 could have been the same, and the 6.2s we did on the same day were the same deal, but I was getting off it early.

Can you run us through what goes on in the car?

RH: I’ve been in that car a long time, and I do a pretty set procedure, which I try not to differ from; it’s almost like I’m a robot. I just try to do the same thing every time, and, at the moment, the car is just getting quicker and quicker. Give me another half a dozen passes at 6.1, and it’ll be like running 6.3s or 6.4s; you get used to it. The car to me at this very moment is obviously the fastest it’s ever been, and, man, it feels fast. I know it’s fast, and I know it’s angry, so there’s no margin of error, set-up, driving, anything — it’ll bite you in the arse pretty quick, and I’m very conscious of that. But 238mph is getting the job done in a car like that. Everything is still the same, just a lot quicker. When I went 6.19 at the Winternationals just two months prior, I had to drive through tyre shake, but I drove it out the back, then, when they gave me the timeslip, at that point, I knew [that] if we sat down and could work out why it shook and sort that, I knew it was going to go fast.

While there’s essentially the two of you that run the car, there is obviously a few more people involved as well. Could you tell us about them?

RH: Obviously, the tune-up is Glenn’s deal. Ironically, we hadn’t taken him with us this year prior to the Jamboree, for the simple fact that we needed to get in front of our deal. Glenn can change the power at the press of a button, and we don’t really know if he’s given us another 50hp [37kW] or another 200hp [149kW]; we don’t know. So, Glenn hadn’t been with us for the whole year while Terry was working on the boost and that sort of stuff, which, in hindsight, is pretty cool. Then, when he came over for Jamboree and saw what we’d done, which he thought was pretty cool, he was almost under strict instructions to be there, but to not touch anything yet. We’ve been in that situation before — where you make a small change, and, all of a sudden, you end up going backwards and lose a meeting because you thought something was going to work and it didn’t. So, we stuck with our programme. Glenn’s very clever with what he does, and he’s saying to us at Jamboree, “Do you want me to hot it up now?” And we’re saying “Na, na, na; we’ll tell you when we’re ready for that.” So, in his mind, he’s got things he can do yet, but Terry hasn’t finished with what he wants to do — when we get to that point, we’ll let Glenn go. Then see what we can get out of it.

TB: Unfortunately, the emphasis on being the first to run a five is probably what will hasten a few things up. It’d be cool if we did it — Grant Downing was the first to run a six in an import, and he’s a Kiwi [American based], so it’d be nice for a Kiwi to run the first five, and nicer still if it was us!

So, that’s the immediate goal?

TB: We’re in a pretty good position. Ironically, I said to Rod when we raced at Sydney and ran the 6.32 [that] we’re probably going to miss out the 20s, and go straight into the teens. And we did — we ran a 6.19 at Jamboree, so we took a huge chunk off in one hit, and, hey, the Puerto Ricans can do that in one hit as well — they’ve done 6.23; they whack a few tenths off that, [and] they’re in the zeros. When we go testing, we should be able to get four runs out of the way, and there’s a couple of things in the car I want to change, one thing in particular, and, if it doesn’t work, we’ll revert back to how it was at Jamboree — but it has to be a good track as well. If it’s a greasy track, we’re kind of stuffed. There’s a lot of adjustable adjustments, shall we say, that can make the car go faster, and we’ve found that through trial and error and we’ve done it without any outside help except [from] Ben and Vic.

One of the team’s first trips to Australia running the SR20-powered Datsun at the Brisbane Jamboree

But you’ve got a bit of a team that helps on race day?

RH: My wife Natalie is always with us, and a couple of the local boys, Tony Markovina and James Kirkham, come over and help us with odds and sods, and hang out and be part of it.

TB: When we did the 6.19 at the Winternats, it was Rod and I and our partners, that was all.

RH: We’re going to go testing in a few weeks’ time, and it’ll just be me, Terry, and Natalie.

TB: On one of the forums, there was a question about why this team only has a few people on the start line, where[as] some of the other teams have more than what NASA had to get a man on the moon!

Where to from there, then? There’s a lot of hype locally about who will be the first to run a four in a Top Fuel dragster — have you thought of doing anything like that?

TB: We’re not that stupid.

RH: And don’t have that much money! We’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing, and see what happens.

So, no thoughts of doing a new car?

RH: Not at this stage.

TB: What we’ve got is pretty good. We’ve changed a lot of things on the car to suit our particular needs. You watch Pro Stock on TV, Greg Anderson had a new Camaro built, drove it for a couple of meetings, and went back to his old car. So, new cars aren’t necessarily the better way to go, either.

Do you think your involvement with the car has helped your business, Terry?

TB: It gives me the opportunity to work on a few different cars. What the Toyota does for my business is it allows me to pass my knowledge on to people like Trevor Smith [Top Doorslammer Holden Statesman] and help other teams out, like the Gary Bogaart deal, Jeremy and Cory Abbott. They’re cars I built, but there’s an awful lot that goes into getting them down the drag strip that the average idiot doesn’t understand — like the back wheels are the only thing on the ground for the first 60 feet, so the only thing that’s steering the car is how well that rear end is set up.

A lot of people would like to see you come back and race in New Zealand. Is that a possibility?

RH: It’s neat to race at home, but the cost for the gain just doesn’t work out. When we brought the car home, there was so much rain, we had one good meeting that we ran a 6.71 at 208mph [334.7kph], and, ironically, [at] every other meeting it rained or looked like it was going to, and it wasn’t the ideal conditions to run that car in. 

You’d be the quickest if you ran in Top Doorslammer though?

RH: Yeah, at the moment we would be!

TB: The advantage the doorslammers have over us over here is they’ve got weight on their side. We’re faster in Australia than what they are here, but that’s because we’re lighter. Our power-to-weight would be similar to what Wayne Yearbury [New Zealand’s quickest top doorslammer] has got.

How secret is what you’ve done to the car? Would you let the opposition look it over at all?

RH: Nope.

TB: There’s stuff on that car that we’ve got over the other guys. Where do you think the mile-an-hour has come from? We’ve also got Glenn, which is probably our biggest weapon. His ability to tune stuff like that is great, and because he hasn’t come from a drag racing world, as he’s a circuit race–type guy, he’s fresh. A lot of the other tuners that mix it up in the drag car world, that’s all they do. Glenn has learned along with us, and because he doesn’t do any other drag cars, he’s focused. Whereas you get someone like Shane T[ecklingberg], who does a bunch of different cars, and splits his focus between them all.

But I know there’s things on the car that other teams would be interested in. We had the opportunity when we built the billet block to go to a bigger stroke, but we did a bit of research and found out that the 3.2-litre is the ultimate for rpm and producing torque.

RH: There are a whole lot of little things that make one good thing, if you know what I mean. No stone is left unturned, we’ve been through the whole car. If there’s a little thing that you think can be improved, it doesn’t just get left. If you think it’ll make it better, you do it.

TB: Everything’s got to be 150 per cent all the time.

Shane T was out here recently tuning Reece McGregor’s cars — did you talk to him at all?

RH: He was pretty forthcoming with talking to us; he’s an approachable sort of guy.

TB: Obviously there’s a connection with Heat Treatments, as Rod and I help Reece out, so we were talking to Shane about that car.

RH: His train of thought is similar to ours, the way he might get to the same result may be slightly different, but we’ll all get to the same thing. 

How did you end up helping McGregor?

TB: We’re both Kiwi teams racing in Australia, and they’re not a threat. Rod and I have found a few things on their car that should help them now also. Back here, years ago, they were competition, but not anymore.

Since you’re playing with race cars at this level, you must have some cool street cars as well. What have you got?

TB: I’ve got a nice Falcon … I think it’s an AU or something; could be a BA, I’m not sure. No air con though. [Laughs]

RH: Not really, not anymore. The problem is, when you’ve got a race car like that, it soaks up all your time and any money you thought you had, so it leaves you not really having anything else, just the normal cars you drive day-to-day.  

What motivates you to keep going?

RH: The competition to race someone doesn’t really drive me to race; it’s more going fast and bettering yourself. It’s a pretty addictive sport. You can have a bad day at the racetrack and think, “never again”, but you’re back there the next day to sort out why you didn’t go fast.

TB: Then, when you do go fast, you’ve got the excitement of wanting to go faster. There’s a huge amount of exhilaration when we ran the 6.12.

We ran a 6.32 at 232mph in Sydney and Markovina was like f*ck, check it out, and I was like, meh, whatever. But when we did the 6.19, I thought that was pretty cool, though there was only us to celebrate. I thought it was alright, but it wasn’t 6.13, which we needed to break the record, so it wasn’t something to jump up and down about. But the 6.12, that was worth getting excited about.

RH: I suppose being the fastest in the world has more drive than winning. Terry said to me a few meetings ago, “Do you want to go fast, or win the meeting?” And I said I want to go fast.

TB: But when we’re in competition, in Super Compact, it’s a Group 2 class, so you’ve got qualifying to go fast, but you go fast in rounds and you shoot yourself in the foot with your index. So, when we did the 6.32 at Sydney, that was in the first round of racing; it was the quickest we’ve ever gone, and we still got knocked out. We were 0.9 under our index, but [Dominic] Rigolli was 1.2 under his index. So, it was the fastest it had ever gone — you can’t get any better than that — but we still lost.

RH: So, I guess the motivation is the passion to keep bettering myself, and I guess being number one in the world is pretty cool.

TB: The five-second mark is the carrot though. You can appreciate these things have got a lot of data acquisition at our f
ingertips, and that’s the only reason we can exploit what we’re doing, whereas some Top Doorslammer drivers run on the seat of their pants without data, and they’ll be stuck on the seat of their pants till they move with the times. So, you can appreciate the data we’ve got; I’m deciphering it all now. Why did it only run a 6.22 in the first round of racing? I’m going through all the data to figure it out for when we go back. It’s all good and well going testing, but you’ve got to have a plan when you do it, and we will. 

Makes sense. You must have a big list of people to thank?

Engine Rebuilders, Franklin Cams, Pro Coat, Leading Edge Cylinder Heads, Prowear, Team Bray Racing, Dodson Motorsport, Terry’s Chassis Shoppe, GCG Turbochargers, 6Boost, C&M Performance, Tony Markovina, James Kirkham, and everyone else who has helped us out along the way. 

Thanks for your time, and best of luck to be first into the fives. We know we aren’t the only ones cheering you on!