Article and photo by Jim Kerr
Alternate fuels are generating a lot of discussion right now. A couple years ago, when Kevin Therres was sitting at a table with friends talking about farm tractors and Biodiesel, he had no idea how hot the interest in alternate fuels would become. Instead, he went home and began wondering if Biodiesel would work in a race car too.
You see, Therres has been using an alternate fuel for years, with many seasons of running the Eat-More alcohol-fueled funny car at dragstrips across North America. His plans started to develop for a new Biodiesel fueled car for the 2007 season. This year, Therres, owner of Prairieland Motorsports, will drive two vehicles. The first is a new Alcohol Top Fuel car that will feature a 2003 Dodge Avenger body and a 526 CID Hemi engine producing 3000 horsepower. His best quarter mile run is 5.90 seconds at 246 mph. His second vehicle will also be a crowd pleaser – the “007” Corvette Jet-powered funny car, operating on 100 percent Biodiesel.
Therres’ experience with tuning alcohol cars was transferred to his new jet car. Fuel comes from Milligan Bio-Tech, one of Therres’ sponsors and a developer and producer of high quality Biodiesel fuel from Canola seed. The kinetic viscosity of the fuel was measured at 80 degrees F (a nominal trackside temperature) to calculate flow rates. Finer injection nozzles were used in combination with boosted fuel pressures to produce a fine fuel spray mist for best combustion. The engine is a J60 Pratt and Whitney jet with a custom built afterburner that boosts the power of the engine significantly from 3000 to 5000 pounds thrust. The heart of the jet car is the FCU – a mechanical Fuel Control Unit. The FCU controls the amount of fuel by measuring intake pressures and internal pressures to deliver the proper ratio. Too much fuel and you could melt the engine down. Too little and you don’t get enough power – it’s a fine line.
Learning to drive a jet car takes a while, but previous alcohol car experience has helped. The first step is to “drive” the car on a stationary platform. Then short powered runs are done on the track. A 900 foot burn has pushed the car through the quarter mile in 6.46 seconds at 210 mph. Therres will qualify for full track runs in May and you can expect to see much faster times and impressive flame shows.
At the starting line, the red and black levers for the main fuel and afterburner fuel are pushed forward for full fuel delivery. When the green light comes on, Therres hits a button on the steering wheel to launch. You are at the end of the track in an eye blink and another lever is pulled to cut fuel at the FCU, return the throttles and activate one of the two parachutes. Therres then counts to three and if nothing happens, he pulls another red lever to mechanically cut fuel and open the second chute. Can you imagine doing this at 240 mph with only one hand on the steering wheel! As they say, don’t try this at home!
Therres and his team call Humbolt, Saskatchewan their home, but his sponsors are from across the country. Bayer CropScience produces InVigor high performance Canola seed. Agricard is a leader in agricultural financing. Milligan Bio-Tech produces fuel conditioners and penetrating oils from Canola as well as quality Bio-diesel. The Alberta and Manitoba Canola Producers organization, representing producers of Canola seed, support innovative uses of Canola products. These sponsors not only help Therres keep his car on the track, they enable him to travel to schools and communities with his “Racing against Drugs” program.
Children of all ages are able to get up close to the racecar, feel the big tires, marvel at the powerful engine and even sit in the driver’s seat. I have witnessed the sparkle in their eyes as Therres talks to them about the car, the importance of being able to say “NO” to drugs, of completing their education, and being part of a “team” just as Therres wouldn’t be able to race without his important team. It’s a high impact personal message strengthened by the down-to-earth humour and credibility of Therres as he meets youth everywhere.
Public interest in a Biodiesel race car has far exceeded Therres expectations. Canola biodiesel offers advantages over other sources of biodiesel, such as a lower cloud point which enables it to flow at lower temperatures. This spring as you drive by a field of pretty yellow flowers, you may be looking at the source of fuel for the future.
For additional information about Kevin Therres’ biodiesel-powered Corvette racer at PrairieLandMotorsports.com.