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February 2013 Pilot Injection

Don’t Try This At Home

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When I took over the reins of Diesel Power, one of the first projects I inherited from former editor David Kennedy was to oversee our attempt at towing a travel trailer faster than anyone had before. Initially, I wondered if this was Kennedy’s attempt to get out of explaining to management the loss of a staff editor on the clock. Fortunately, our team, lead by Associate Editor Jason Sands, already had all the pieces in place to make our attempt a complete success.

After nearly a year of preparation, we assembled at El Mirage Dry Lakebed on a beautiful and still August morning. Because of the exceptional groundwork and planning, the actual event lasted less than a day and ran smoother than I expected. By lunchtime, we had set a new world record—with a speed of 141.998 mph—without any blown engines or wrecked vehicles.

A year of planning and preparation had paid off. We announced the new record at the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, and on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E0LYU0AYG8). Having given our news a few days to go viral, I thought it would be interesting to read what others had to say about our effort. I visited various websites and got a kick out of the comments, which ranged from “I’ve gone that fast empty, how hard could it be?” to “I have a flatbed trailer that could go that fast!” and “Not that impressive!” Clearly, there were misconceptions about the magnitude of our accomplishment.

What our friends commenting don’t realize is how much power is required to overcome the immense drag created by the trailer. Consider that the amount of air resistance you experience as you increase speed is not linear, and the more drag you have, the more horsepower it takes to overcome. In very simple terms, every time you want to go twice as fast, it takes as much as eight times the horsepower—or more with poor aerodynamics. This is why the argument of, “I tow at 100 mph all the time, what’s another 40?” isn’t valid.

We also saw a lot of conjecture about the trailer we chose. Many people wrongly suggested all the different types of trailers that we should have used, but the rules from Guinness were very specific:

Guidelines For ‘Fastest Caravan (Trailer) Tow – Production Car’
1. The course must measure at least 50 meters long.

2. It is not necessary to make two runs in opposite directions, but the track surface must be level.

3. The caravan/trailer should be a completely standard model and none of the standard equipment should be removed or modified.

4. No ballast is to be added to the caravan/trailer and no towing aids or stabilizers are to be fitted.

5. Any car may be used for this attempt, any modifications are allowed.

Furthermore, the “caravan” as defined by Guinness, stipulated that an average-sized man be able to both stand up, and lay flat within the confines of the trailer. So, while we could have potentially pulled a flatbed or teardrop trailer to greater speeds, it would not have qualified for the world record.

So, let’s say you happened to have the right trailer; you’d still need a vehicle capable of towing a trailer at these speeds, the right support team, the right location, and the right conditions. So many things need to line up perfectly to be successful, and don’t forget that in addition to all this, we had to have course timers, EMS, a camera crew, insurance, and permits.

Even before we ever turned the key for our first test run, we had to make calculations, modify and prep the tow vehicle, set the tongue weight and rake of the trailer, assess risk vs. reward, and mark off our endless checklists. These are all things that soak up a tremendous amount of time and command attention to detail. Eventually, we were able to complete enough test runs to ensure to our satisfaction that we could pull off the attempt safely. None of this was taken lightly, and no one breathed easy until everyone had completed their assigned tasks and was safely back in the pits.

The point I am trying to get at is that if this were easy, the previous record wouldn’t have stood for almost 10 years, with many unsuccessful attempts in between. In fact, the hoons at Top Gear famously failed to top 125 mph with their attempt when they blew up the 700hp engine on their Mitsubishi EVO tow rig, right after one of the sides of the trailer ripped off due to the high speeds.

At the end of the day, we were able to assemble all the right pieces to make this happen. However, none of this would have been possible without the support of our friends and partners in the industry, so I’d like to personally thank Pacific Performance Engineering, Carson Trailer, Toyo Tires, BMF Wheels, and Nitrous Express for supporting us and believing in our crazy plan.

For a more in-depth look at how we accomplished our record run, I encourage you to turn to page 70.

Moving On
I’d also like to take this chance to wish Feature Editor Jason Thompson good luck in his future endeavors, as he recently left Diesel Power to pursue other opportunities. In the next few issues, we’ll be introducing a new staffer to the pages of this magazine, so stay tuned.

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