You want an example of what makes Shane Tecklenburg the epitome of a true racer?
Recently, he headed up the engine management tuning on ‘Speed Demon’ on the famed salt flats of Bonneville, Utah. By the end of the annual session, the George Poteet-driven vehicle had gone into the record books as the fastest piston-powered vehicle on the planet at 470.015 mph.
Even so, Tecklenburg isn’t satisfied; far from it, in fact. There’s plenty of room for improvement, he said.
“I spent the week going over the data,” Tecklenburg said, “and we have a list right now of … 82 things to make better for next year.
“It wasn’t perfect. We were struggling with a number of things all week. We knew the potential of the car was 470, 480. But things were not going our way. Things were breaking and falling off that we hadn’t expected, and we had to fix stuff. We had a problem with the engine, the wiring harness. We had to fix that and fix the engine and put it back in. Then we broke the (differential) immediately and had to fix that. So it kept tripping us up.”
Such is the constantly churning mind of a high-performance tuner. There’s always more muscle to be squeezed out of something, somewhere. There’s always another “what if we try this?” concept to brainstorm, implement and attain. Even with record performance as the end result, satisfaction is, at best, temporary.
Producing record-setting numbers is Tecklenburg’s forte, and ST Consulting in Huntington Beach, Calif., is the place where racers from a plethora of disciplines seek the edge that will put them ahead of the competition.
To list a few of Tecklenburg’s accomplishments:
With his input, Ed Thornton won the Pacific Street Car Association’s Pro Street title four times in a five-year span from 2003-07;
He had a hand in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championships won by Andrew Hines from 2004-06;
He has drag racing clients around the globe, as well as Grand Am and IMSA sports cars. His current NHRA Pro Mod clientele includes Steve Matusek, Erica Enders and Alex Laughlin.
He’s one of only three MoTeC factory-trained engine tuners in the United States and one of 10 in the world. (MoTeC is a manufacturer of engine management and data acquisition systems.)
He’s helped produce the fastest doorslammer in history for EKanoo; the world’s fastest four- and six-cylinder drag cars; America’s fastest street-legal Pro Mod, and the NHRA Pro Mod national speed record of 260.41.
The 71-year-old Poteet, who owns Speed Demon Racing, recently drove his Chevrolet-powered streamliner to a piston-powered, wheel-driven, land-speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. A resident of Memphis, Tenn., Poteet raised the bar with a two-way average of 470.015 mph.
The 555 cubic-inch big block Chevrolet in ‘Speed Demon’ burns methanol and gains boost from a pair of 88mm Precision turbochargers. The engine, which can produce 3,156 horsepower, was built by Ventura, Calif., ace Ken Duttweiler, who also serves as the crew chief on the vehicle.
Tecklenburg’s Bonneville experience spans more than a decade. As one record after another fell with the aid of his tuning expertise and input, more and more racers began using his services. At one point, he said, he “probably had 10 or 12 clients in all different classes” in action at Bonneville.
In 2007, Duttweiler asked Tecklenburg for input on the ‘Speed Demon’ project in which four-cylinder Dodge engines were going to be entered in different configurations for various class records at Bonneville.
That was about the same time he began fielding calls from drag racers in the Middle East, and he wound up flying to Bahrain to advise EKanoo Racing. That’s when an acquaintance at MoTeC pointed Tecklenburg to a Bonneville racer named John Rains, whose ’89 Pontiac Trans Am was outfitted with a twin-turbo V6. Together, they set a record at 286 mph.
“I’ve been hooked ever since,” Tecklenburg said. “So I started trying to build my clientele at Bonneville, and most of my clientele and business has been word of mouth. It’s like when I worked with the guys in the Middle East and things took off. …
“I always had my finger on the pulse of what the Speed Demon team was doing at Bonneville from the outside because my wiring contractor, Greg Pyles of GP Motorsports Wiring, does the wiring for them. So he would always be telling me about it and what was going on with them, what they were doing, what they were running up against. And if they needed help, they might call me or they might not. But I always knew what was going on with them.”
A testing crash in 2014 turned out to be an opening for Tecklenburg to join the Speed Demon team. When Duttweiler asked if he were interested, it didn’t take long for Tecklenburg to give them an affirmative answer.
“It was a no-brainer. ‘OK, the best team on the salt is calling you to ask if you want to be part of it. Your answer is obviously ‘yes.’ So when they built the new car, the Speed Demon 2, in 2015, I was a big part of that build.”
Normally, Tecklenburg said, he would insist on things being changed to suit his ideas. Not this time.
“They already were a successful team by that point,” he said. “They knew what they were doing. I had to swallow my pride a little bit and say, ‘Look, don’t come in there with no experience and try to wave your magic wand and get these guys screwed up. They’re already fast. Just take what they’re doing and try to refine it a little bit and look for problems that you can fix. Don’t create new problems.’
“So it was case of, ‘Look, you guys are doing it this way. We’ll keep doing it that way. But here’s something that we can make an improvement on. Let’s do this a different way.’ ”
In 2016, the team hit the ground running with the new car and “the thing ran 400, like, I don’t know, 12 times in a row,” Tecklenburg said.
“Obviously, they were building on what they had already done with the other car,” he added, “and like any car or project, the second, third, fourth, fifth time you do something, you’re way better than the first time. So they built a better car because they got to build it from the ground up. They knew all the pitfalls of the other one they didn’t want to have on the new one. They had an incredibly open attitude and still do to this day.”
A key to the team’s success is that it is chock full of extremely talented mechanics — people with experience in IndyCar, sprint cars, Midgets, NASCAR engine shops, and more, including the drag racing experience of Duttweiler and Tecklenburg. “A cross-pollination of just about every genre of racing,” the latter said.
If that weren’t enough to get a racer geeked about a project, there’s the history — and the setting — of Bonneville.
“It’s that feeling you get in your chest thinking about a place like Watkins Glen or Indianapolis, the history and aura that surrounds Bonneville,” Tecklenburg said of the site, which is about 100 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah, near the Nevada border.
The salt surface is a unique setting for those with dreams of setting land-speed records.
There’s no purse at Bonneville, only the passion of the racers connected to the 500-some vehicles in attendance each year. There’s little sponsorship and no TV coverage of the action, and no trophy to display at home. In fact, the best a racer can do in terms of hardware is a photo session with a trophy, a hat and one’s name in the recordbook.
“Being out there on the salt … ,” Tecklenburg said, pausing to try to find the most-accurate analogy.
“It’s like no other place on earth. It reminds you of the shots of the Apollo astronauts walking around on the surface of the moon because of the color. During the daylight, it’s literally white and flat — so flat you can’t even imagine. It’s so flat that the curvature of the Earth hides the car from you at the beginning of the run. You can’t see it.
“It’s hot and there’s a mirage and this and that and the other thing. Watching the sun come up over Bonneville, there is absolutely nothing like it. Bret Kepner, who had done the timing and scoring at Bonneville for years and only recently hasn’t been able to go, describes it as heaven — and I think he might be right.”
Tracking Poteet this year were: a push truck to get his ‘Speed Demon’ moving at 35 to 40 mph before he dropped the clutch; a retrieval truck with trailer that sets sail downcourse some 6 to 6½ miles; someone at the 3-mile mark and another team member — this year, Tecklenburg — at “the 5.” The team members’ four vehicles are equipped with extinguishers and the tools needed to get the body off the racer in case of fire.
As quickly as he could get to the stopped ‘Speed Demon,’ Tecklenburg accessed the data of the run from the car and began troubleshooting. The record run lasted 60.5 seconds from the time Poteet dropped the clutch until he deployed the chutes — barely a minute to blast across 5 miles of salt — and the vehicle was at full boost for 42 seconds.
“I start trying to diagnose if we’ve got a problem, where everyone needs to start thinking about focusing on looking,” he said. “We decided it would make more sense if I was at the 5-mile mark instead of the starting line like I had been in the past because it would take less time to get the data out of the car and make those decisions.
“At the 5, that thing comes by you at 470, 480 miles an hour, and you get to watch it right in front of you,” he added. “We’re all in a group of WhatsApp — everyone on the team — so we can communicate that way because phones don’t always work calling and the radios don’t always work. We use radios also, but mostly it’s that WhatsApp group. So the push truck will say, ‘Hey, we’re pushing him off.’
“The next thing you do is listen to the radio and listen for the times. When it gets to about the 2 or the 3, everyone’s obviously outside the truck waiting for it to come by. And it goes screaming by you and you jump in the truck and haul ass down towards it in case there’s a problem. If there is you do something; if there isn’t, then it’s just standard operating procedure.”
When Poteet deploys the parachute, plumbing in the vehicle takes the intercooler water and sprays it throughout the engine bay to begin a cool-down process.
Once the engine has been sufficiently cooled, the team loads ‘Speed Demon’ back on the trailer and heads to impound if the run has been good enough to qualify for a ‘certification’ run or to get certified. Or it could be towed back to the pits for repairs and to make preparations for another attempt.
‘Speed Demon’ is no lightweight missile; it tips the scales at 4,300 pounds. Weight at Bonneville isn’t the issue that it is to drag racing and other kinds of motorsports. It’s actually an asset to a point, Tecklenburg explained.
“You’re accelerating over a long distance with not a huge amount of acceleration, so there’s really not that much of a penalty for weight like there would be in a drag race car,” he said. “So whereas you might have a drag car that weighs whatever, 2,000, 2,500 pounds, this thing weighs 4,300 pounds. But we have five miles in 60 seconds to accelerate it to 480 miles an hour, not five seconds.
“You have to build it heavy, strong and thick because your other option to keep the car on the ground is aerodynamics. And the problem with aerodynamics is if you don’t understand it, it’s easy to make a mistake. And even if you don’t make a mistake with your design, when the car’s traveling down course and there’s a crosswind, the aerodynamics act differently than they do when there’s no wind.”
‘Speed Demon’ had the benefit of being built from the ground up based on what was learned from its predecessor. Steve Watt and his team at Maxwell Industries
In Ventura, Calif., leaned on a contact in Formula One with experience in aerodynamics to help improve the vehicle. Through that connection, they learned that the scoop that forced air into the engine on the earlier vehicle was adding more drag than the car could generate in ram air to the turbochargers. He found a high-pressure zone on the car’s sides that provided a better spot from which to pull air for combustion.
From the top, the vehicle looks like “two spoons facing each other where the rear wheels are,” Tecklenburg said. “So, not surprisingly, where that gets wider, high pressure’s on the side of the car. He figured out exactly where that was and said, ‘This is where your turbo air needs to go.’
“So not only did they have drag from the scoop over the top” on the other car, the scoop “screwed up the air behind it and made the air turbulent so that it wouldn’t provide downforce on the back half of the car,” he added. “So just by making that one change to the new car and a couple of other refinements on the body, they went from a car that had a lack of downforce and drag to a car that has more ram air feeding the turbochargers. That means it’ll make more boost, everything else being equal. Or it’ll more efficiently make the same boost, so there’s basically more power at the same boost, or you can go higher with the boost.
“They gained by having less aerodynamic drag from the scoop, and on top of that, they gained efficiency and downforce by getting rid of that scoop. So the air stayed attached to the car and pushed the back of the car down.
“So we have probably somewhere around 1,000 pounds of downforce on the back of that car at 450 miles an hour. So now you’re talking about a car that starts out on the starting line weighs 4,300 and it weighs 5,300 going through the lights. And that’s enough to let it accelerate pretty damn hard in the back half of that racetrack on that salt, which is pretty slippery.”
Poteet began the week with four major goals:
Most of all, to have a record of 450-plus mph at Bonneville;
To capture the record in AA/BFS record, as he already owned the marks in A, B, C, D and F;
To win the Hot Rod trophy (fastest time of the meet) for the ninth time;
To top the E/BFS record of 348 mph, which ended up being shelved and will now be one of the areas of focus in 2021 with the team’s 256-CID powerplant.
One of the interesting facets of Bonneville records is that one must first top the existing record with an average speed above the standard in the third, fourth or fifth mile to qualify for a shot at breaking it.
In Poteet’s case, he had to crack 417 mph. He did that Aug. 11 at 419.882 in Mile 4, then upped the standard to 450.311 in Mile 5.
That was followed by a trip to the impound area, where the team had a window of four hours to work on the car and prepare it for the next day. And the rules mean there’s no room for error.
“Your record-return run is the only run where you can’t have anything go wrong because there are no do-overs,” Tecklenburg said. “If you screw up your record-return run, it’s back in line and qualify again, go back to impound and repeat the process. … It’s hero or zero on that record-return run. One loose fitting, one leak, one small problem and you’re screwed and you’ve got to start over getting re-qualified. And then your record-return run is averaged with your qualifying-run speed in the mile in which you qualified. So if you only qualified in the fourth mile and your record-return run was slower but it went over the current record in the fifth mile, that wouldn’t count.”
Even with that restriction, Poteet exceeded the existing 417-mph record thrice during his Bonneville outing.
That said, Poteet’s quest to become the driver of the fastest piston-powered vehicle had numerous nail-biting challenges.
“It seems like four hours is plenty of time to fix all that’s wrong on something that just basically qualified 30-odd miles an hour over the record. But guess what? It took us 3 hours, 57 minutes to get that car ready because we found a leak in the exhaust system we had to fix,” Tecklenburg said.
But that wasn’t all that needed to be addressed.
The oil had to be changed. The water for the engine had to be changed, as did the intercooler’s supply. The fuel tank had to be refilled, and the team had to check “for stuff that’s loose, fallen off, fix all that stuff … anything that caught fire,” Tecklenburg detailed.
“Well, we had a fire on the 469 pass and had to change the engine wiring. So that’s happening, and I find an exhaust leak on one side of the engine, and that’s causing us to not get the boost we’re asking for. So we fix that, we’re changing the tires, getting the salt off it, washing it, and doing all the service that needs to be done to get it serviced to run again.”
And then, with about 20 minutes left on the clock, the team decided to go through the gears to make sure the transmission was good to go — only it wouldn’t make the move into seventh, or high gear. A transmission change in 20 minutes was an impossibility, so the remedy was what Tecklenburg called “a Hail Mary.” That involved bumping up the rev limiter, a gear change in the quick-change rear end and “hoping for the best because we don’t have time to do anything else,” he said.
But in the midst of the team removing the rear tires, Tecklenburg realized the vehicle was equipped with a Liberty transmission and that his experience has provided him with a potential fix — a remedy that did, indeed, work and that gave Poteet the full use of the gearbox.
“That was a thrash from hell,” he said of their final adjustments prior to leaving the Flats for the night.
Another potential, major problem appeared the next morning when one of the system alarms went off.
“There’s a button on the dash, all you have to do is press the button that says, ‘OK Alarm,’ and it clears the alarm. But no one knows this because normally I’m on the starting line,” Tecklenburg said.
With Tecklenburg 5 miles away, he wasn’t available to advise the crew what to do. Under the circumstances, the only recourse for Duttweiler and Poteet was to improvise.
“Duttweiler finally leans into George and goes, ‘Look, just shift it on the rev limiter. Run it into the rev limiter in each gear and then shift it. Because we don’t know if the shift lights are going to work.’ Because they didn’t,” Tecklenburg said.
“So … George runs it into the rev limiter a lot in every gear because he has no choice. … And it ran that 481. …
“And if he hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have made that back-up run — and there you go, we wouldn’t have had the record.”
Following Bonneville, Tecklenburg headed to Colorado to tune a Pike’s Peak International Hillclimb car for Wisconsin’s “Faster Pastor” and cancer survivor Don Wickstrum. That was a project that had to be shelved because of a crash in practice. Then he hustled to Cordova, Ill., to tune the “Sorceress” street-legal Pro Mod Hurst/Olds owned Rod Tschiggfrie and driven by Donny Speer.
But he’s already thinking ahead to Bonneville 2021 and the performance gains he envisions a year from now to reset the AA/BFS mark and add the ‘E’ to Poteet’s collection of alphabet records.
After all, Tecklenburg said, “All every racecar is is a series of problems that you have to solve.”