A Jewel Wrapped Up In Chrome

Episode 71

September 7, 2015

BB Bellytank crew prepares for another run at Loring Timing Association Fall Event HTF Motorsports photo

Blonde Bitch  Bellytank crew from Pennsylvania prepares for another run at Loring Timing Association Fall Event. LTA starting line official Marvin Ouellette on left awaits word from the track personnel to release for it’s run. HTF Motorsports photo

This Car and Crew Impressed Me!

One of the things that I enjoy the most in motorsports is the people and their stories and the skills needed to build racecars. This team, the Welker family from Gratz, Pennsylvania, have both a good story and a unique vehicle built to extremely high standards.

The car was built primarily by Andy Welker the younger of the brothers at the Loring Event. He estimated over 1000 hours have gone into the building of the bellytank racer since 2007.

The Welker family team prepares to move from the paddock to the starting line at the Loring Timing Association Harvest Event. Standing in the driver's seat is builder/owner/driver Andy Welker. On left is his father Rick. On right is brother Steve. HTF Motorsports photo.

The Welker family team prepares to tow their racer from the paddock to the starting line at the Loring Timing Association Harvest Event. Standing in the driver’s seat is builder/owner/driver Andy Welker. On left is his father Rick. On right is brother Steve. Steve’s son Brock is in the previous photo on the far right.HTF Motorsports photo.

Both brothers Andy and Steve are mechanical engineer graduates of Bucknell and work for Manugraph DGM located in Millersburg, Pennsylvania. They design printing presses. According to the brothers this is probably the only US company still producing printing presses.

The car is like a jewel with intricate detail that becomes more apparent as one peers into the inner structure of the car. Andy designed the parts and pieces to fit inside the tight confines of a World War II belly tank. The tank was a Navy surplus item that was used by the Corsair, Hellcat, or Albatross aircraft.

Welker purchased the tanks in 1997 when a friend of a friend decided to sell them.

The passion to build a belltank land speed racer was explained by Steve Welker. He said,” One of the most famous bellytank racers of the 1950’s , the SoCal Speed Shop Special was found in the early 1990’s in the rafters of a barn.”

“They restored it to it’s original condition. There were articles about it in Hot Rod Magazine as well as other publications. While we were still in high school at the time, we thought that was cool as crap!”

Though purchased in 1997 the actual building began in 2007. Welker utilized CAD to design the interior including mounts, pedal locations, and other details. This was a real challenge due to the limited amount of room available.

Welker wanted to maintain as much era specific detail as possible including not stretching the car length to make room for his six foot plus body. When the covers are off you gain appreciation for the clever design work that went into component location, size, and functionality.

Continuing with the 50’s theme meant a Flathead Ford V8 would provide power. After procuring a 1946 edition of the vintage engine, they had machine work done by Schwalm’s Babbitted Bearings in Strasburg, Pennsylvania.

1946 Flathead Ford with Hillborn mechanical fuel injection, Vertex magneto, homebuilt upswept headers, Edelbrock heads, and bored to 286 cubic inches from the stock 239 cubic inches. HTF Motorsports photo

1946 Flathead Ford with Hillborn mechanical fuel injection, Vertex magneto, homebuilt upswept headers, Edelbrock heads, and bored to 286 cubic inches from the stock 239 cubic inches. HTF Motorsports photo

Power runs through a modified G-Force 4-speed transmission to a vintage Halibrand quick change rear end with 1946 brakes. Everything is plated or sprayed with gray chassis paint from Eastwood adding to the authentic look.

The team went to Bonneville in 2012 where they ran speeds in the 150’s and 190’s on the salt. After Bonneville,  Andy took a couple years to prepare for their next assault on the Utah Salt Flats. When the 2015 Speedweeks were canceled due to poor salt conditions they decided to come to Loring and try their car on the “:shorter” mile and one-half track.

The results at Loring were satisfactory for the Pennsylvania family. Their speed in the mile was 154 and 166.08 in the mile and one half.

Their goal all along has been to go 200 mph in the bellytank matching the speeds from the 50’s when the Flathead Fords were fed mega-doses of nitromethane to obtain speeds of 200 miles per hour. After competing at the Ohio Mile September 26 & 27, 2015, Andy plans to build a more powerful Flathead Ford this winter to help accomplish that goal.

What I liked was the fit and finish of all the parts the photo of the roll cage welds are an indication of the quality of workmanship exhibited throughout the whole car.

Typical welds on the #2255 bellytank racer. The car was built in Andy Welker's garage which is less than 500 square feet. HTF Motorsports photo.

Typical welds on the #2255 bellytank racer. The car was built in Andy Welker’s garage which is less than 500 square feet. HTF Motorsports photo.

Also accompanying the team to Northern Maine was Andy’s wife Kim and daughter Cora. For more detailed photos of the Welker build go to www. VonWelker.com

Fastest motorcycle at the Harvest Event belongs to Scott Davis of Ontario, Canada. The former New Brunswick man went 259 mph. Photo courtesy Stacy Robey

Fastest at the Harvest Event belongs motorcycle racer Scott Davis of Ontario, Canada. The former New Brunswick man went 259 mph. Photo courtesy Stacy Robey

 

Lakester driven by John Okaly of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey turned in the fastest speed at the Harvest Event 2015 with  251 mph. Photo courtesy Stacy Robey.

Lakester driven by John Okaly of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey turned in the fastest speed at the Harvest Event 2015 with 251 mph. Photo courtesy Stacy Robey.

Barn-Built Lakester Takes Top Speed Honors for Cars at Harvest Event

John Okaly of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey with help from his long-time friend Rich Molinaro from Branchburg, New Jersey (seven miles away) built the fastest car at the LTA’s Harvest Event 2015. Interestingly the lakester was built in Okaly’s barn.

A retired machinist, Okaly said the homebuilt car, designed and constructed for 300 mph at Bonneville only cost about $30,000. Once it reaches the target speed he figures the cost per mph will be only $100, relatively cheap in the world of motorsports.

“We got rained out at the Bonneville events, poor salt conditions and wet weather. We’ve been dying to get a little action, said Okaly.

“We made a lot of changes in the car this year. We put a small motor in it. It has twin turbos, the turbos more than made up for the size of displacement.”

“Through proper tuning we were able to go out an accomplish our mission which was to get it over 200 mph. We had run 175 here with transmission problems (2014). We came back mechanically right. We ran 225 mph in the mile and 251 in the mile and one half.”

“I kinda feel we can run at least 280 here. We’ll be back to show you.”

Loring Timing Association Director Tim Kelly in center congratulating the team with the fastest car of the Harvest Event. Crewman Rich Molinaro on left and  owner/driver John Okaly on right. HTF Motorsports photo

Loring Timing Association Director Tim Kelly in center congratulating the team with the fastest car of the Harvest Event. Crewman Rich Molinaro on left and owner/driver John Okaly on right. HTF Motorsports photo

“Beep! Beep!” Road Runner Sighting at Loring

Rod Pelkey, a retired autobody repair shop owner and antique hot rod collector from  Caribou looking over Peter Dunsworth's 1970 Plymouth Road Runner at the LTA Harvest Event. HTF Motorsports photo.

Rod Pelkey, a retired autobody repair shop owner and antique hot rod collector from Caribou looking over Peter Dunsworth’s 1970 Plymouth Road Runner at the LTA Harvest Event. HTF Motorsports photo.

Peter Dunsworth a retired motorcycle shop owner from Halifax made the 7 hour trip to Loring with two of his friends from Nova Scotia to try their cars at the 2015 Harvest Event. I failed to get the names of the owners of the V8 Chevrolet Vega and 2015 Dodge Hellcat.

Dunsworth owns a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner and described it this way, “This originally came from somewhere in Missouri. It has been in Canada for about 15 years.”

“I took it down to the metal. It looked like it had been in a demolition derby at one time once the paint came off.”

“I put it together again using a few reproduction parts. The engine is original as is the transmission and rear end. The engine is a 383 with 335 horsepower. It has a four-speed transmission with a pistol grip shifter on it.”

“Right around 1970 they started getting ‘gimmicky’. Dress up items as opposed to pure performance things.”

Dunsworth has four Road Runners, an old pickup, and a VW Beetle at home. He does most of the work at home except paint.

When asked about the Loring experience he replied, “We are mostly experiencing it. We don’t really plan on becoming ‘pro-like’ guys. I beats a day cutting grass.”

As I was heading south toward Speedway 660 on the TransCanada on Sunday morning around 11 we passed the three cars heading back to Nova Scotia.

Rick Saucier, unknown crewman, Austin Theriault and Steve Theriault roll the #57 Super Late Model known as "T-Rex" to begin their quest to win the Irving Blending and Packaging 250 at Speedway 660. HTF Motorsports photo

Rick Saucier, unknown crewman, Austin Theriault and Steve Theriault roll the #57 Super Late Model known as “T-Rex” to begin their quest to win the Irving Blending and Packaging 250 at Speedway 660. HTF Motorsports photo

My First Speedweekend 250 at Speedway 660 in the Geary Woods, New Brunswick

Spud Speedway owner Troy Haney and his girlfriend Julie offered to give me a ride to the race at Speedway 660 Sunday. I accepted since I wanted to catch up with Austin Theriault and have never been to the track.

I discussed the race and other events with Theriault at the track after he finished third in his qualifying heat. There were 32 cars at the track and all would start the event.

“Everybody is in,” said Theriault. “It was going to be icing on the cake if we could have won the heat race. (Theriault finished third in the heat won by eventual 250 winner Cassius Clark). There’s a lot of good drivers in this race.”

“It is the car we’ve raced since 2012. It’s got a lot of information. There’s a lot of notes. We made it better last year. (Theriault finished 3rd in 2014).”

“We want to get a little better every time we race. This car hasn’t raced in a year so its about time to take it out again. We started right where we left off last year.”

When asked about the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series  dirt track race at Eldora he replied, “Ask Brad he was the driver I was just watching. It’s different. It was like a short track race in a foreign country.”

Those dirt track guys grew up differntly in some respects. We don’t realize it as much but there are parts of the country where dirt is number one. You have the dirt series then NASCAR. The dirt drivers transition pretty good.”

Last weekend the Fort Kent native was a spotter for team-mate Tyler Reddick at the Camping World road course race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario. “It was really cool. It’s a different atmosphere than circle track racing,” said Theriault. ” It (road course driving) will be a learning experience. I’d want to do some testing or go to a road course school.”

Theriault will be getting back into the #29 Brad Keselowski Ford F-150 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 18. The race can be seen on FoxSports 1 at 8:30 pm.

He will be in the Cooper Standard truck for the remaining eight races this year  concluding with the Ford Ecoboost 200 November 20th at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

I will have a chance to see Theriault in action at New Hampshire Motor Speedway at the UNOH 175 at 1:00 pm September 26th. I hope to be accompanied by former student Jason Griffeth of the Boston Red Sox.

Fort Fairfield's Kirk Thibeau pushes his #28 Ford to the line in preparation for the first heat at Speedway 660. If you look closely in the background you will see heat race winner and winner of the 250 Cassius Clark from Farmington. HTF Motorsports photo.

Fort Fairfield’s Kirk Thibeau pushes his #28 Ford to the line in preparation for the first heat at Speedway 660. If you look closely in the background you will see heat race winner and winner of the 250 Cassius Clark from Farmington with the King Motorsports #13. HTF Motorsports photo.

$30,100 to the Winner Again!

Irving 250 winner Cassius Clark center with Craig Slaunwhite third place on left and second place Johnny Clark on right. Photo courtesy Speedway 660

Irving 250 winner Cassius Clark center with Craig Slaunwhite third place on left and second place Johnny Clark on right. Photo courtesy Speedway 660

Last weeks’ headline was that Glen Luce wins $30,100 at the Oxford 250. Cassius Clerk matched that number by leading 246 of the 250 laps of the Irving Blending and Packaging 250 Sunday evening. The winners check was $15,00 plus lap money of $15,100 thus a $30,100 paycheck for the Farmington man who dominated the race.

Clark held off early challenges from D.J. Shaw and last year’s winner Travis Benjamin until both were involved in a melee in-between turns one and two just before the halfway mark.

Austin Theriault lead a couple laps before Clark swept to the front again after a pit stop. Hallowell’s Johnny Clark provided some late race competition for Cassius until he was forced off the track by Clark in turn two. Johnny Clark recovered and drove an inspired race to get back to the front but never got close enough to mount a serious threat to the #13 car.

The race was slowed by 22 caution flags and one red flag and took over three hours to complete. The stands were packed and racing, when it was run without stoppage, was as good as anything I have seen this year. I thought Fort Fairfield’s Kirk Thibeau a two-time winner of the event, did exceptionally well finishing 7th after running in the top ten the whole race and steering clear of a multitude of on-track incidents.

Spud Speedway Season Finale 

My racing season in Senior Champ Karts comes to an end when Spud Speedway holds the season finale next Sunday September 13th beginning at 1:30 pm.

The raceday will include extended lap races in all classes as well as a demolition derby. Then plans for next year at the Caribou track will need to be made. What the future holds I do not know, however, I do know the track does hold some place in motorsports events in 2016.

See you at the track.

Let’s Go Racing!

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing.