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Ken Trough's On the Road Adventure with the Suck Amps Racing Team

Wednesday January 21, 2004

8:30 pm It's 8:30pm and we are finally loading "Gone Postal", an amazing monster race car with 3 giant electric motors into the trailer for the long road trip to Vegas. We hope to hit Idaho before we stop for the night.

"Gone Postal" is an all aluminum postal van that has been converted to an all wheel drive, three motor monster. It has two of the giant 2000A Zilla controllers with a slick custom liquid cooling system. The rear single axle has been removed and an independent suspension system has been installed. Really beautiful work.

The producers of "American Chopper" are shooting a pilot show called "Sucking Amps" on Roderick Wilde of Wilde EVolutions and a hand picked NEDRA team building this first electric monster. On Saturday they race her for the first time in Vegas. The pilot is supposed to air on Discovery sometime between March and June of this year.

Build phase filming ended yesterday, and last minute shop work started at 7:30am this morning. We were supposed to hit the road by noon. We didn't get out until 9pm. That's a long nine hours of unexpected wrenching. Lots of drama. Think 11th hour at Monster Garage. The motors have all been tested (up on jack stands), but this thing has not been out on the street with all systems running yet. There was no time for tuning or road testing. The NEDRA race on Saturday will be the big test. It might break a world record, or a motor might fireball in a blaze of plasma! Everything is on the line, no one knows how it's gonna turn out, and Discovery will be on hand to film the results for television! Can't ask for more drama than that.

I was honored to be an off camera shop lackey this afternoon and helped install the NEDRA required external emergency power cutoff and did some minor electrical work on the cooling system and general wiring cleanup.

All I can say is that the work that has been done so far is absolutely incredible. I can't wait to see what happens on the track! See you Saturday in Vegas, baby!

Thursday, January 22, 2004

5:46 pm Whew! I just handled driving duties from 11pm last night till 6pm today so that Father Time could get some much needed rest. From Washington, through Oregon, the fat part of Idaho and into Utah. 690 miles in all. Woo hoo!

Roderick is a day behind us, and he won't have time to post, so he told me to go ahead and share the juicy details of last night's drama! Now that I am back in the passenger seat, I've got some time to write. Apologies if I get any of the specific details wrong. I was trying to help with minor detail work, pay attention to what everyone else was doing, while at the same time staying the heck out of everyone's way. 8^)

When I arrived in the shop at the scheduled departure time at noon on Wednesday, the front motor had been tested, but not the rear twin 9"ers. The monster battery packs (20 for the front and 20 for the rear) were getting wired in with monster cable. The dash was torn up. There was wiring left to finish, seats to install, and some much needed testing to perform.

After the wiring was done at about 5pm, we put her up on jackstands in the rear, and put the tranny in neutral in the front so that we could test all three motors. "Gone Postal" is wired up so that the front and the rear can be tested (or run) independently. The front had already been tested once before, so we knew that part of the system was functional.

Turned the key, energized the front controller and hit the gas pedal gently.....Nothing! No go on the front motor.

That was a huge setback and frustration was high, to say the least. After a few minutes of contemplation, Roderick realized that a front case had just been screwed down, so he checked it and sure enough a hard to see wire up under the dash had gotten pinched by the case. A quick removal of the case and a replacement of the wire and the front drive system was back online. Whew!

Now on to testing the rear drive. These dual 9" ADC motors mount onto a custom gear box that allows them to drive each rear wheel via dual herringbone pattern drive belts. Two belts to each wheel. In addition, a chain geared coupler sits between the driven half shafts so that the rear wheels can be locked together like positraction. With the rear wheels up and everyone out of the way, we energized the rear controller and tapped the throttle. Both motors spun, but the right rear wheel didn't spin and the left stopped abruptly after the throttle was released indicating excessive drag. It looked like the right axle was broken. That would be a killer as there was no replacement on hand.

Upon close inspection, we discovered that it was only the CV joint that was busted. Double whew! We had a spare. It looks like it was a weak CV joint to begin with and it broke when the car was geting pushed around a corner in the yard with the posi chain engaged.

That was another setback but a minor one. We had a spare CV joint. They quickly disassembled that side of the rear drive and replaced the joint. Back to testing. First parallel mode, then serial mode. Both functions worked, motors spun and wheels spun with them. Smiles quickly turned to frowns when we noticed that aluminum shavings were falling out of the rear gear box. At first it looked like it was just left over drill leavings, but at a second glance we cound see that one of the gears was rubbing against the face of the aluminum box.

Roderick then dropped the BOMBSHELL of the day. He noticed that the posi coupling gears were misaligned. They had been perfectly aligned before the test. The drive belts on the left side were also tracking wrong. The drive shafts enter the gear box through a specially ordered set of bearings. These were supposed to be super strong FIXED bearings, and part of their puurpose was to insure proper gearing alignment inside the gearbox. Apparently they were not fixed,m but rather self aligning bearings and things were moving all over the place as a result.

I can't really describe the mood at this point. This was a total deal killer. Without those bearings, the rear drive system would tear up the gearbox, the belts, the posi chain, etc. There were no spares for these bearings, and we couldn't even buy any as they were a special order item. In a valiant "Hail Mary" play, Roderick and Father Time put there heads together and added a spacer between the misaligned drive shafts and bound them together with the posi chain. Alignment was reachieved and we held our breath for the big test.

Turned the rear controller back on, and gave it some juice. WHAMMY. The idea didn't work. The self aligning bearings shifted some more and we had gears gouging aluminum again.

Now we were truely frustrated. All this amazingly beautiful work, and it was all going to heck because a vendor misrepresented their product. Roderick, ever the positive optimist, said we could take it to the track, do a couple of runs on the front motor so that Discovery cound get their footage, then reinstall the temp fix in the rear and see if she makes it down the track in one piece.

We finished most of the rest of the detail work in quiet somber, and loaded her into the trailer at about 8:30pm, hitting the road at 9. Lots of drama for sure, but not the good kind. Also, it is kind of funny because this was the critical moment for this rig, but the Discovery crew had decided to stop filming at the end of the day Tuesday.They missed the real drama! Oh well. "Reality TV" isn't really all that real

I was riding with FT and Tim, and Father Time took the first driving shift of 2 hours. FT is a good driver, but he was physically exhausted, mentally drained, and very disappointed with how things had turned out. The whole gear box design was his baby, after all. I took over driving duties at that point, and as I said, I kept driving and driving and driving so that FT cound have a much needed break.

It's a good thing I did, because somewhere on the road, FT awoke from a deep sleep with a start and said "I know how to fix the gearbox! I dreamed the solution!" Needless to say we were excited. The only problem was we were now on the road and the parts and tools to solve the problem were at home in FT's workshop, and we were somewhere in Eastern Oregon by this time.

We stopped for breakfast Thursday morning and discussed options. Looking at ourroute on the map, we decided to stop in Boise and try to find the materials and tooling we'd need to install this fix in Vegas. After checking with a couple of tool stores, we were finally steered in the right direction. A business park with raw materials, tool suppliers, and even a machine shop as well! One stop shopping!

FT hit the machine shop and told them in exacting detail what he needed, and they fabbed it right on the spot in less than an hour, delivering a custom bearing mount complete with installed FIXED bearings, ready to install in Postal's gear box! We lost maybe two hours in Boise in all. Couldn't ask for better than that.

Talk about elated! We are on cloud nine!

This new bearing housing will replace the posi-coupler system, mounting in the center of the gearbox, keeping the drive shaft ends aligned from the inside. There is no need to remove the self aligning bearings on the outside, as they are still good and will be held in true by the new custom bearing carrier.

So now we are back on the road with a reenergized FT driving again somewhere in the heart of Utah. We're back on track for success, and excited as heck about what this baby is going to do on Saturday!

Forget the Discovery channel, Baby! I've got you covered for the REAL story and the TRUE drama.

Super cool that Vegas NEDRA video is going online! If anyone wants to send me a copy of their footage, I'll put together a CDROM video (and will of course fully credit the respective photographers). I'll figure my costs and sell it for cost plus shipping. There will be full coverage online (for free) and in print (for fee) at V is for Voltage.

Whew. Time for a much needed nap. Peace out. See you all on Saturday!

Friday, January 23, 2004

12:00 pm We pulled into Vegas at about noon today, and immediately contacted Richard Furniss who graciously offered his garage and tooling for some
last minute critical wrenching on "Gone Postal".

We took out one of the rear axles and the internal gearing in preparation of installation of the new custom machined alignment bearings and carrier.

Rod checked the new part, and discovered that the bearings were 1/8" too small on the ID. This is a huge deal as these are standard inch bearings and most of the manufacturers only offer metric bearings. We need to find two new double sealed heavy duty ball bearing with a 1 1/4" ID and a 2 1/2" OD in order to make this fix work.

Father Time doesn't like our chances....

Richard Furniss comes though in the clutch again, not only providing our much needed wrenching location and critically needed tooling, but he found a local source for the much needed bearings as well! Go Richard! Richard has run off to pick them up and work continues apace on "Gone Postal".

Stay tuned to this channel for more on the spot reports from the Sucking Amps racing team!

Race Day Eve Another hard day of wrenching. Let me just say that Richard Furniss was an absolute saint today. He was gracious enough to allow all the amp heads to invade his neighborhood and utilize his space and his tooling for last minute wrenching on Gone Postal. We got there in the early afternoon and were supposed to be done by early evening so that we could all go get some dinner together.

When we last left our story, the flash of inspiration that Father Time had to fix the self aligning bearings in the rear end was having problems. First, the ID of the bearings installed in the fabricated carrier was too small by 1/8th inch. Richard Furniss was able to find the right bearings from a local source and picked them up. These old bearings were removed from the carrier and the new, correct sized bearings were pressed into the carrier. Now all we had to do was get the solution installed, test it, test the code on the twin Zilla controllers, and start to condition the battery pack for tomorrow's racing.

Getting the new carrier into place was extremely difficult. The carrier had to be securely supported right in the middle of the gearbox. The plan was to run two large threaded shafts through the carrier into the back of the box, and another large threaded shaft up to the top of the box to secure the carrier with three strong legs. Father Time spent WAY too much time on his back and on his knees on a cold concrete floor trying to sort all this out.

The legs to the back of the box were difficult, but doable. The top leg turned out to be another story. As work continued, more and more amp heads showed up including Otmar and Brian Hall.

Little things were moving forward, but the top bolt on the carrier remained a stubborn challenge without an obvious solution. Much frustration ensued as the Sucking Amps team have been pushed to their limits and WELL beyond.

Father Time had another burst of inspiration. What he really needed to make this work was an S type offset bolt. The problem was that not only was the hardware store long closed, but also that the S type offset bolts he needed haven't been invented yet. Undaunted, he invented it himself!

Father Time. When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. You rock!

With this huge hurdle apparently overcome, all that was left was reassembly and testing.

Power was carefully applied first in parallel mode to test the new rear end design. Everything functioned as it was supposed to with both independently driven shafts rotating freely, their alignment held solid by the added bearings.

Otmar whipped out his handheld computer and patched into the Zillas to check the configurations. They were set at 800A each (tuned down from 2000A each for break in and initial run). Otmar then explained some of the finer points of his controller's settings and made some suggestions on configuration changes.

Get this! The two 2000A Zilla controllers on "Gone Postal" were set up independent from each other. One to handle the front 9" ADC, and one for the dual 9" ADCs in the rear. This way each system can be tested separately, and they have the option of running on just the front, just the dual rears, or both. What we discover from Otmar is that the controllers can talk to each other too. This way when the front transmission is put into reverse, the rear motors are deactivated automatically. Put the front transmission back into a forward gear and the rears come back online. Otmar also set up automatic series/parallel shifting which picks the best points and changes modes when appropriate.

A couple more power tests with the rear end up on jack stands and Otmar confirming the various expected functions, and fine tuning like the electronic surgeon that he is. So cool.

After this was done it was time to drop it off the stands and try it in the street. Rod hopped in and slowly backed it down the driveway and into the street. He slooooowly hit the power pedal. Going Postal eased forward then started rolling at about a fast jog speed. That didn't last very long. Not with Rod behind the wheel. After about a quarter block, the tail lights suddenly started getting quite a bit smaller as Rod rapidly disappeared down the block. About 4 minutes later he turned back into view and came back to where he started. The drive system was working... At least for now. It was just the first lap after all. Rod seemed satisfied though that they finally had it mechanically. He was ready to hand it off to Madman Rich for much abbreviated battery pack wake up, initial cycling, and pack tuning. Otmar wanted to confirm that the controllers were talking properly with a last spot check on whether the rear drive system powered down when the front tranny is put in reverse. A small wiring glitch was spotted and corrected, and the system worked perfectly.

It was now 10pm or so. Most everyone was bone tired and most everyone just wanted to crash.

Madman Rich, Tim the Plasma Boy Wonder, and myself stayed to tune the pack and put it through a few cycles as that's all we had time to do. At 12:10am, under unbelievable acceleration at a mere 1/3 throttle and only 800A per controller, the Mad Man was quoted as saying "oh my GOD this is fast". I'm just glad I took a leak before we left, or I'd have turned the beautiful blue racing bucket seats green, if you know what I mean. Our faces are sore from all the smiling.

We were supposed to be done in the early evening, but of course things didn't work out that way, and we ended up working past midnight. Richard Furniss is an early to bed, early to rise type of guy, so this was WAY beyond the call of duty. Thanks again Richard! Along with so many others, you really helped make this project possible.

Race Day, January 24, 2004

8:00 am (no sleep again last night) We're finally ready! Finished putting on giant logo stickers on the trailers. Waiting for Discovery to show up for filming, then on to the track! Stay tuned for breaking news as it happens here on you internet dial.

9:30 am Rod had a sprocket slide off a shaft and a belt was thrown on the road between the hotel and the strip. He collected the parts and it looks like there was no major damage. The new bearing collar is just fine. FT is going to put it back together, Discovery is doing a bunch of filming (of course) and we're getting set up in the pits.

12:00 pm High Noon on race day!

FT and the guys got the rear end put back together. This time they dimpled the drive shafts so that the set screws could get a better bite. There were a few minor burs on the sprocket that was dropped, and these were filed off to keep the belts from getting cut.

Craig Uyeda (deafscooter) has PASSED INSPECTION and is staged and ready to race. They looked at his scooter and thought it was so slow, that they didn't even require him to have a leather jacket. Good thing because Craig didn't get his special order racing leathers in time for the race. Instead, he's wearing welding gloves, a dirt bike helmet, and some sort of field hockey shin guards. I am very surprised they let him race, but I am very happy he is. Craig wil finally have an official NHRA sanctioned time slip to prove his monster's ability. If Craig tears up the track, they may only let him do one run. We'll see. He thinks his modified hill climber can hit over 80mph. The time slip will tell.

Discovery has stopped filming in the pits as the repairs are complete, inspection is passed, and Going Postal is ready to race. There are about a hundred hot rods, drag bikes, sports cars, and dragsters all wanting to race as well, so the staging lines are immense. It's gonna be a while before Gone Postal is on the track.

Good news! They let Rod and Gone Postal cut straight to the front of the massive line up. It looks like he'll be going head to head with a tricked out Dodge Viper!

I am literally a foot from the side of Rod's lane about a third of the way down the track. Discovery has cameras on both ends of the track... Check that. He got a solo tune up run.

17.338 seconds... This run was just to wake up the batteries and to make sure nothing broke. Nothing did and everything is looking good. Now they are starting to turn up the controllers for a really fast run.

Craig ran a .811 reaction time, and a 23.659 second quarter mile at 46.6mph. Very respectable for his very first drag race ever. His time for the 1/8 mile is what counts in his voltage class, and he ran about 45mph for his 1/8 split time. He'll have to get that up to 65mph if he wants the NEDRA record in his race class.

Otmar ran a 14 second quarter mile in his electric Porche.

Father Time ran about a 45mph quarter on his yellow mini cycle.

Otmar is starting to tune the power levels up on Gone Postal for the next run, and the track says that we get to cut to the front of the line every time we want to run.

Lots more racing action to come. Stay tuned!

3:00 pm More racing news for all you electrophyles

During the first run, Rod said that the van actually got STRONGER on the second half of the track. This is the first time he has ever experienced that in NEDRA racing, he says. Going Postal went from 62mph to 84mph in 6 seconds on the second half of the track. When he shifted the front tranny into 5th, it felt like the NOS kicked in. This was when the motors switched from series to parallel. Remember that for the first run, the controllers were turned down to 800A each.

For Gone Postal's second run, Rod got distracted on the line and didn't get a clean start. His numbers were actually slower on the first couple of data points. For the second run Otmar powered up the controllers to 1200A, so by the time he was halfway down the track, he was rapidly making up lost time. Then down about 3/4 of the track, one the rear belts tracked off and caught (but thankfully didn't get damaged). When the belt caught it grabbed the motor momentarily, causing the controllers to go into seize mode, shutting down power to both the rear motors.

Rod's metrics for the second run were:
9.05 reaction time
15.87 seconds for the quarter mile

They're wrenching now, turning her up all the way to 2000A for a spectacular twin attempt at both the world record and eating a hopped up Viper for lunch. We only get one more run so it's all or nothing on one last big race!

Will Rod and Gone Postal nail the record and have nasty Viper for dessert, or will he leave a trail of broken parts and broken hearts all the way down the track?

It doesn't get more dramatic than this! Stay tuned!

3:55pm Heartbreak Hotel! Gone Postal at full power was too much for the drive shaft locking keyway. Both shafts twisted, shearing the keys in half and losing all horsepower at the wheels...The track closes at 4:30pm. It looks like the end.

On a more positive note:

Rod says that the second run of "Gone Postal" was a new world record even though they didn't hit their 100mph target.

Brian hall hit 99+mph in Otmar's Porche, and the Thunderstruck crew got into the 12's with their dual etek baby zilla 192V 100A cycle for a second new world record!

The Silver Bullet also broke a world record today for a total of three in all! (but I don't have the times on that run)

Roderick and Father Time have sent for parts and are currently trying to bodge something together for a possible one last run at the record. Unfortunately we are battling the clock and losing at the moment. We think the track closes at 4:30 (only 35 minutes from now), and I fear that such a bodge job resurrection is all but impossible.......

4:28pm Rev Gadget (ace fabricator who is best known perhaps for his stellar performance on "Monster House", and reputation for unusual burning man projects) showed up today to witness the record and is currently under the car welding the shafts together in a last ditch effort to get on the track for one last run. We just didn't have time to get any parts or to get anything machined.

4:42pm The Discovery channel producer sweet talked the track officials into giving us a couple more minutes. We've got it all back together and are heading back to the track for one last chance...

Rod launched out of the hole pulling hard against the Viper. About halfway down the track, SNAP! He snapped one of the herringbone drive belts. Rev Gadget's welds held admirably, but in the end a lack of time to properly tune the vehicle was what kept us from achieving all our goals.

While the evening ended with the defeat of "Gone Postal" at the hands of a super modded Viper, we ended the day with a drivable vehicle and we can sleep easy knowing that we all gave everything we had and a radical EV monster was brought to life.

You'll all want to watch the show when it airs on Discovery. We've been told it will air between March and June, but the rumour is that it will be March.

So now we all pack our tools, our toys, and our electric racing machines back into the trailers for the long ride home...

Unless the threat of defeat is very real, victory is utterlymeaningless. This was no phony baloney "Reality TV" event with an assured happy ending. This was life at its most real... and compelling. What a fantastic day.

Monday, January 26, 2004

8:14 am Holy Crap guys! We stopped for a couple of hours in Woodland, CA at the Motel 6 for a nap and woke to find one of our two trucks/trailers stolen! It happened between 2:20am and 7am this morning.

This was an older red Suburban, pulling a black enclosed trailer. Inside the trailer was FT's race bikes, the Silver Bullet, and a crapload of gear.

Both rig and trailer have Washington plates.

In the cab was my computer, backup computer (containing a few year's worth of my LIFE, my website, my magazine data, etc, etc.), three or four hopped up scooters, tools, gear, etc.

Cops are on the way, and we've checked with the hotel managers and it appears no one had it towed.

If anyone in the area can take some time and look for it, that'd be really helpful. If you don't have time to look, but happen to be in the Sacramento area, please keep you eyes peeled. Call 911 if you think you see it.

We've got a very narrow window of opportunity to spot this thing before it is gone forever.

I'm just SICK.

3:00 pm Don't have details yet, but the truck & unopened trailer was found in Sacramento. When spotted, two kids jumped out and ran off.

More details to follow as they come in.

4:26 pm We're in the unstolen truck and heading for the pass near Shasta. Snow and snow and snow through the passes. (Rain was predicted only hours ago).

6 wheels on the ground, a trailer full of toys and chains required. We're watching the madman turn white.

Tuesday, January 27th

4:00 am Just rolled into Port Townsend Washington, shedding riders over the last hundred miles or so. The passes in California and Oregon were crazy, with visibility about two feet at times. At this point, everyone's home and asleep but me. Even Rod and the Gone Postal van. Me? I'm waiting on a 6am ferry so that I can meet my wife and drive the last hour and a half across beautiful Whidbey Island, across Deception Pass, and back home up to Bellingham.

I've got some time to make out a list of missing equipment from the stolen truck. The rig was recovered along with the race car and race bikes, but my computers, cameras, gear and so forth were not. I practically sat on that bag all weekend, and only dropped my guard for a second. That's all it took, of course. Oh well. Live and learn.

All in all, it was a fantastic, if exhausting trip and I wouldn't have missed it. It'll be good to get home and sleep for about 30 hours straight. It's been great!

Discovery is currently planning to air the pilot "Sucking Amps" on March
22nd. Check your local listings for airtimes.

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