Seven Seconds – Part 1

Seven seconds. It doesn’t sound like a long period of time, does it? Think about it for a minute. Seven seconds. It actually takes longer than seven seconds to even write out the words “seven seconds.” It takes me longer than that to unlock my truck, put on my seat belt, and start the ignition. But in the short span of just about seven seconds, the Banks Sidewinder S-10 drag truck has gone from a dead stop to over 180 miles per hour and is over a quarter of a mile away from you. I’m still putting on my seat belt.

It’s an obvious fact that the Banks Sidewinder S-10 is impressive. It takes talent, not only to engineer the mechanical parts, but the computer control systems, the engine tuning, and the nitrous control systems as well. It also takes some serious talent to drive this beast. I could go on and on about how quick it is or how fast it is. I could even try to describe to you how it sounds, or how the thumping of the engine can be felt inside your chest. The problem is that the Sidewinder S-10 is a lot like the Matrix; no one can be told what it is, you have to see it for yourself. So I set out to do just that.

The NHRDA second annual Desert Diesel Nationals would be our latest test for this amazing truck and her crew. The event took place in Wittman Arizona on March 7th, 2009 at the SpeedWorld Dragstrip. We’ve been to this track before and made some really good runs, even setting the official NHRDA record at 7.87 seconds. Not too shabby considering it was cold and raining off and on, but that’s another story. I should take the opportunity to point out that I have never seen this truck in person before. Sure, I’ve read about it in magazines and saw the videos on YouTube like many of you. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into though. We arrived the day before the actual event for a “test and tune” session. Here’s a little play by play of my first trip out with this hard-working race team and one amazing race truck.

It’s Friday, March 6th and we have the track to ourselves for a few hours. First, the hard work, getting everything unloaded. I’ve been told the truck is “light”; let me tell you, anything that weighs the better part of 3000 pounds doesn’t feel very light, especially when you have to push it on and off the trailer. We’ve also got to get the gear unloaded, well, actually the crew got the gear unloaded I just tried to help where I could. Judging by how fast they’re going, they’ve obviously done it two or three hundred times. The guys have a specific layout of where to put what, and I had no idea what it was. It’s probably best to just stay out of their way. The truck is up on the stands and the crew is going to work.

The calibration engineer has started plugging in, not one, not two, but three laptop computers into the various ports scattered throughout the race truck. I’d be lying to you if I told you I had any clue how this truck is set up, but I can tell you that one computer is for the BankSpeed engine management, another is for the BankSpeed nitrous controller, and the third is for the data logger.

Our race teams crew chief just hopped behind the wheel of the Sidewinder, activated the fuel system, and the S-10 roared to life! Now I don’t mean that figuratively, I mean that literally. People in the next county are probably wondering what that noise was. I knew there was something up when one of the crew handed me a set of earplugs. You don’t just hear the engine, you can actually feel it. The crew spent the next few minutes doing a full system check and warmed the truck up to its normal operating temperature.

Ok, now that all of the boring stuff is out of the way, it’s time for the fun part.

The driver of our little red S-10 is Wes Anderson. Now I can honestly say that he’s a far braver man than I. Anybody who’s willing to get behind the wheel of that monster deserves my respect. Wes is suited up and just hopped in the mighty Sidewinder and idled over to the staging lanes. I was surprised how quiet the truck was at even a small distance away; up close it vibrated the air so violently it felt like you had heart palpitations. I stood in the left lane with the race crew, while Wes did his first burnout of the day in the right lane. By this point, one of the track officials had to tell me my mouth was hanging open and I was drooling on my boots.

Holy smokes! I’ve never been that close to something that powerful in my entire life and this was just the burnout. Wes staged the truck, waited for the green, and the Sidewinder shot off the line like it was fired out of a cannon. Wes’s eyeballs should have been bouncing off of the back of his head by this point. Then, almost as soon as it started, it was over. The timing tower isn’t turned on so the track official had to yell our times down to us, “8.11 seconds and 173 miles per hour” he shouted. Now here I am, the “new guy”, congratulating the crew on a great run. Our crew chief looks back at me with a “are you kidding me” kind of look on his face, “It’s only the first run” he says “it’s going to get better”. Better? Really? We head back to the pits so the crew can crunch on the numbers from the data logger and try again.

After Wes drove, yes drove, the truck back into the pits, the crew got back to work. The calibration engineer plugged his small army of laptop computers back into the S-10 while the rest of the crew got to work changing fluids, refilling the nitrous bottles, checking tires, and a thousand other things that needed to be done. At the rate that they were working, you’d think we were between rounds at a national event, not just a testing session. One of the first things they did was pull a plug under the right bedside. Upon removing it, a whole bunch of boiling water poured out into a catch bucket. The crew chief explained to me that this was once the ice that was packed into the fluid cooler box for the truck’s torque converter. The Sidewinder S-10 uses a Liberty transmission and a Hughes torque converter. The converter takes the place of the clutch with this drive system. The issue is keeping the transmission fluid that’s in the torque converter from burning up while the truck is staged. No air-to-air cooler can keep up with the massive amount of heat generated by this engine and transmission combination, so the crew constructed a sealed box to house the transmission fluid coolers. Before each run, it’s packed full of ice, and by the end of each run, only hot water remains.

It’s at this point our calibration engineer is telling me the tuning is a little too “fat” so he’s going to change it some and try again. Wes suits up again and he’s off for run number two. Once again I’m standing next to this monster during the burnout just in “aw” at what it’s capable of. At least I’m not drooling anymore. Wes stages the truck again, waits for the green, and the truck fires off the line again. I can’t help but compare it to an airplane launched off the end of a Navy aircraft carrier, but it doesn’t need a nuclear reactor and a catapult to do it. The track official is telling me my mouth is hanging open again, bummer.

Once again the timing tower isn’t turned on so the track official again yells down “7.91 seconds at 181.7 miles per hour”. I’m at a loss for words, it’s a diesel, it’s not supposed to go that fast! Driver Wes Anderson was impressed as well and actually pulled the parachute on that run.

Wes drives back into the pits and the crew pours over the truck again. I’m getting tired just watching them. All of the ice has been turned into hot water and the truck went through about a gallon of diesel fuel. Our calibration engineer is telling me that there is some slipping occurring in the middle of the track. It seems the track can’t handle the immense amount of horsepower the Sidewinder S-10 is capable of delivering. He tells me he’s going to take some power out and they’ll try again. The sun is starting to go down and the wind is still blowing, we also have some high clouds and it’s causing the tracks temperature to drop. This can make traction harder to find the cooler it gets. This will be the last run of the day.

Wes stages the truck for the third time today, waits for the green light, and he blasts off the line like it’s rocket-powered! The track official sticks his head out of the timing booth again, this time with a big smile on his face, “7.83 seconds and 177 miles per hour!”, he shouts. The crew is all smiling at this point. That is this truck quickest time today and it’s faster than the current NHRDA record, which was ours already. The next morning is race day and the crew is ready for battle. This is going to be fun.