Bill Hoddinott: All right, Betty, would you tell me about that 2003 adventure now when you set the 263 mph competition coupe record and got yourself into the 200 MPH Club!
Betty: Sure, Bill! This lark arose out of our family's close friendship with George and Gretchen Fields. We call them our "Texas Cousins". We're not related by blood but we sure feel like they're family!
People who know George know he's a cutup, a joker and a real go-getter! It's a laugh a minute when you're around him.
Bill: I know George has been around Bonneville for a while, and he was in the group that went to Australia in the '90s and appears in the film "Thunder Down Under" with Al Teague and other stars. What's his background?
Betty: He started up and runs his own manufacturing company which builds conveyor tracks and other food-processing equipment for big-time food companies. That's why he's the "Trackmaster".
George went to Bonneville to watch in 1988 and '89 and got the bug.. Not long after that he came out with his well-known Chrysler Hemi-powered competition coupe. We share the love of the Bonneville racing Chrysler and its derivatives, such as the Donovan!
George had some trouble at first with his home-built coupe doing blowovers, and after the second one, which he styled "World's Tallest Coupe" since it was standing up straight in the process of crashing, he decided to ask our Tom if he could help him get better stability.
Tom did, using what he had done with our Datsun, so George didn't have any more blowovers, but he told us the car wasn't as much fun!
Anyway, George and his sidekick Dave Casteel have a bunch of competition coupe records in the book.
Bill: Right, I see between them four blown and unblown fuel and gas records up to 305 mph in that class. VERY impressive. But the E/BFCC record from 2003 stands today at 263..887 to Betty Burkland in the 2009 SCTA Rules and Records. How did this come about?
Betty: After Speed Week in August '03, George called up and said, "Betty, how about driving our car at World of Speed next month and getting the E record? We've got a blown fuel Chrysler with pistons only on the left side, and we can use that. Runs like a charm!" E Class, you understand, runs up to 260.99 cubic inches which suited half of one of his big engines.
I liked the idea, so I said okay. September 19th we're all out there. Never been in the car before. I needed a booster chair to fit in the seat. Made one practice drill on the escape get-out process.
George had a hand clutch lever in the thing since he only used that to start - it had air-shifter knobs to pull to get second and high gears. I COULDN'T PULL THE LEVER, it was too stiff! So Tom worked on that a while to get it so I could pull it. With an effort.
Fired the engine up to get the feel of it and the vibration was phenomenal, compared with a V-8. The Chrysler - actually it was an aftermarket aluminum block and heads derivative - didn't like having just four pistons, especially on one side. Vibrated like mad. And George told me to watch out for the steering since it tended to drift to the right from the exhaust blast out the left at full power.
Bill: I imagine you felt pretty excited getting into a strange car after many years without driving, since the Datsun period. And trying to drive it over 250 mph...
Betty: Bill, it had been 14 years. But after SO MANY years of hard work on our Bonneville programs, I felt that it was finally MY TURN, my chance to get a record and I was going to GRAB IT!
I had a lot of faith in George, and since Tom had helped him get the coupe right, I knew the car was okay. I planned to STEP ON IT!
Okay, first run the Starter told me to take it easy and get used to it after so many years not driving fast. But I stepped on it anyway, and did 241 mph in the first mile, on a 250 record held by a Chevy. Slowed down and only ran down through the 3 Mile, which I did at 199 mph and popped the chute and turned off.
Next day we're out bright and early, got the car ready, our turn came and off I went. Got it into top gear and heard a POP! The fuel delivery was faulty, the engine had leaned out and blown up. You understand the whole engine was there, and the blower on top, but it was just supplying the left bank of cylinders. So there were some issues about the airflow inside the manifold, and some cylinders not getting what they wanted. This engine had port nozzles on the fuel injection, but the distribution was not happy.
Anyway, I heard the POP and knew something was wrong, so I pulled the chute, shut the fuel off, pulled the second chute, and headed for the return road. That's when I got my nickname "Flaming Betty" because unbeknownst to me, THE CAR WAS ON FIRE! First I knew of it was that four pickups were rushing towards me on the return road when I was still coasting up it. They skidded up and stopped and everybody jumped out, rushing around hysterically. Tom said later it looked like a Chinese fire drill!
I said "What's wrong?" and they shouted, "You're on fire, get OUT!" So I did, unharmed, and they squirted their fire extinguishers to put out the bit of oil fire there was. From the engine blowing up well and truly.
On post mortem the following was found:
One piston in the oil pan.
One beatup piston still in the block.
Two rods in pieces in the oil pan, with more pieces in the belly pan.
Oil pan with a large hole in the corner.
A block with one small hole (a window) in its right side and one very large hole (a door) in the left side.
Two badly scored sleeves.
One broken valve..
One scorched belly pan.
One partially burnt vane on the rear spoiler, and
One cracked hood panel.
The survivors included the blower, the cylinder head and the crankshaft.
Bill: Omigod, Betty, that's quite a list! Now what?
Betty: George said, "Betty, we'll take our junk home and put in another engine, and be back out here October 15 at World Finals for another shot at the record. Okay?"
So I said, "Sure!"
Bill: George and company must really have thrashed to get it all rebuilt and back out in about three weeks!
Betty: They sure did. Anyway, comes October 15 and we're all out there. One thing I have to tell you about George is that he has an overpowering urge to keep upping the percentage of nitro. I wanted him to hold it to 50% since we already knew we had some problems here we didn't fully understand, but if I didn't watch him like a hawk he'd be mixing up 60%!
So we made our first run and sure enough, it popped again and we lost the piston, rod and sleeve of #4, and the cylinder head! Same syndrome, it had leaned out in the second Mile.
George had brought plenty of spares so they turned to and rebuilt the engine overnight.
October 16 dawns and we're ready to go again. We'd slowed down the blower some. Off I go, 243 mph in the second Mile and EXACTLY the same thing happens AGAIN! Except that it's only the piston, rod and sleeve of #4 this time. More overnight rebuilding.
October 17, after more discussion about the jetting for the top hat nozzles and whatever, I qualified the car at 265 and it didn't hurt itself this time. I was stepping on it, holding the throttle flat and pulling the gear knobs. The vibration was terrific but I was able to hold the car on the course as it kept blowing to the right.
Saturday October 18th, we made our last pass and the car held its speed from the day before, so we got our 263 record! But you see it didn't come easy. Actually, in the middle mile I noticed something that looked like water getting on the windshield. Then a lot more of it so half of the windshield was covered. But there was enough left so I could halfway see where I was going and keep the car on the course. You realize I had learned to drive looking through the side window with the Datsun since it had such a big hood bump.
Bill: What was that, coolant?
Betty: No, the vibration was so terrific the front drive cover on the blower loosened up and oil was coming out of it, and getting up on the windshield.
Anyhow, the word came that not only did we get the record, but I was being taken into the 200 MPH Club.
So later on we had a big celebration and they gave me my 2 Club Hat and Tee Shirt. Then everybody was yelling for me to put on the shirt. So I put on the 2 Club shirt over my other tee shirt, and someone helped me hold it down while I slipped the other one off, down and out of it. So I had the last laugh.
Bill: That's a good story, Betty! Congratulations on that achievement. A hundred years from now it will still be on record that all three Burklands got into the Bonneville 200 MPH Club.
Betty: Thanks, Bill. I was a month short of my 63rd birthday, and, I think, the oldest woman to get into the 2 Club so far. It's never too late to have a happy childhood, ya know! I'm glad I did it then, because by now I think I would have been a little too cautious to take up that challenge.
But before ending this story, I have to recognize with thanks all the friends who helped to crew on this adventure - George and Gretchen Fields, Dave Casteel, Fred Dannenfelzer, Bob Richards, Paul Madsen, Mark Johnson, Alan Fogliadini, Bob Theiler, Kenny Morsk, Ed Stuck, Tom Tajak, Mel Sudweeks and of course, Tom and Gene Burkland.
Copyright © 2009 Bill Hoddinott