Twin Turbo Terror
The long, low Corvette slowly edged into the staging beams, moving carefully forward until first one and then the other top bulbs on the tree winked on. With the revs coming up, the powerful turbocharged powerplant under the hood barked loudly, sending short, searing bursts of flame from the exhaust headers. Suddenly, with a cat-like pounce, the big car squatted for a split-second on its huge rear tires and then was gone, heading on its smooth and eerily quiet way to the top end of the quarter-mile.
Once back in the pits, the sight of long blonde hair spilling out from under the driver’s helmet could mean only one thing. The ghost-white apparition which just made another successful test pass was the latest, and arguably the greatest, in a long line of powerful doorslammers driven by one of the most popular and hard-working women drivers in the sport of drag racing, Annette "Pink" Summer.
Summer, of Aiken, South Carolina, who describes herself as "a housewife with a God-awful habit," first made a name for herself in the Pro Street ranks, winning two NMCA World Championships, finishing second on two other occasions and setting numerous ground-breaking performance records before moving up to Pro Modified several years ago. After a stint behind the wheel of a nitrous-injected ’57 Chevy, she is now in the process of making yet more history.
A few years back, close friend and fellow Pro Street champion Bob Rieger also made the move to Pro Modified, but after a season of running a supercharged ’57 Chevy, he started the long process of attempting to convince sanctioning body officials that the turbocharged combination should be allowed in the class along with the nitrous and blower configurations. Having won his Pro Street titles with turbocharged hot rods, Rieger replaced the blown powerplant in his "shoebox" Chevy with a twin turbo-equipped piece, and set about to get the word out to anyone who would listen. In spite of some early success, however, most of Rieger’s attempts to build enthusiasm for the turbo Pro Mod combination fell by the wayside, and he left the sport soon after to concentrate on his business life.
The issue wasn’t completely dead, however, and in early 2002 a backer stepped up who wanted to provide Annette with the opportunity to drive what was envisioned as the quickest and fastest door car in the country. This person wanted to put her in a turbocharged Corvette that she could take to every quarter-mile track possible and attempt to blow away all their respective Outlaw Pro Mod and other quick doorslammer performance records, hopefully earning recognition for her and the potential of the turbocharged racing engine in the process.
The big plan was to not only gain notoriety in the Outlaw ranks, but to also pick up where Rieger left off by reinforcing the concept that turbo cars were worthy of being included in mainstream Pro Modified competition.
When Annette’s backer first approached her about the project, the car was already in the early stages of construction, as she recalled.
"The chassis for the car was in the process of being built by Jim Geese of Vanishing Point Race Cars in Pennsylvania when I first heard about the whole deal," Annette said. "My backer e-mailed me pictures of it and just wrote ‘here’s your new car.’ He told me that while it looked like a typical ’63 Corvette Pro Mod car from the outside, it was going to be something totally new."
"We wanted this to be the strongest and most bullet-proof car possible, considering the performance potential the people involved in the project were talking about," Summer continued. "One of the most important things they did in the early going was utilize numerous Top Fuel-type components in the car, including a Mark Williams modular 11-inch rear-end, and Weld 16 by 15-inch wheels on the rear of the car."
"We went with the Weld Top Fuel wheels primarily because of the growing number of incidents where Pro Mod racers were breaking the centers out of the wheels they were using, causing wrecks or major damage to cars. What they were doing was overpowering a wheel basically designed for Pro Stock, and we wanted to increase the margin of safety as much as possible."
Once the chassis was finished, the car was sent to Duttweiler Performance in California where it was plumbed and fitted with a twin-turbo powerplant by the master himself, Kenny Duttweiler. Duttweiler was the man behind Bob Rieger’s success in Pro Street, and in fact the engine put in the Corvette was one of the 447-inch pieces originally built for Rieger.
Once completed, the car was sent back East, where it made its first appearance at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida during a test session attended by a contingent of well-known California racers. Rieger was there to wring out his now-turbocharged ’57 Chevy, as were engine builder Duttweiler, Pro Mod competitor Danny Rowe and Pro Street racer Mike Hayden. Chassis builder Geese was also on hand that September in 2002, fine-tuning the new ’Vette in preparation for its maiden run down the track. Annette wasn’t present that weekend, but husband and crew chief Vernon Summer was there to help get the new machine up and running.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned on that first test weekend, however, as nagging problems with the brakes kept Rowe, the driver scheduled to shake the car down, out of the seat for an extended period of time. Later, with Hayden behind the wheel, the new machine very nearly ended its racing days prematurely when it went out of control on the burnout and crossed just in front of the Christmas Tree, coming to rest just shy of the guardrail in the opposite lane. No real damage was done, however, and the car was loaded up for the trip to its new home in South Carolina.
After that first outing, it became pretty obvious to Annette and Vernon that record-breaking performance wasn’t going to come without a price, and in the months that followed the Corvette with the potential to be one of the premier doorslammers on the planet has undergone a number of substantial changes, both cosmetically and mechanically. In the process, just about everything from the nose to the Top Fuel-style rear wing underwent major modifications in order to make the car fulfill its original mission plan.
In the beginning, the aforementioned cosmetic changes we not necessarily planned, but mechanical modifications forced the issue. For the first year or more, the aesthetics of the car suffered greatly as a result. The original configuration for the 447-inch engine saw the turbos located low, just ahead of the cowl and drawing in air by way of large diameter flex tubes running from the nose of the body. With that combination, the front of the car featured a huge cowl induction-style hood scoop, not the worst looking thing in the world, but pretty hard on the Corvette’s classic sleek profile.
That incarnation didn’t last long, however, as it was determined that with the low positioning of the turbos the car was serving as an effective track vacuum and not a whole lot more. The dirty and hot air being drawn in from just above the asphalt was not at all what the engine needed for optimal performance, so a redesign was definitely needed.
The second version of the car saw the turbochargers relocated to a higher position, with fabricated ducting running over the top of the engine to the intercooler, which was located in the nose. This effectively put the turbos in better air, but the "plumber’s nightmare" created by the new ducting resulted in the need to fabricate a new front-end for the car which would clear all the tubing. This front-end, which quickly became known as the "upside-down rowboat," was rather unsightly. No, actually, it was just plain ugly. It may have served the purpose, but looks have to account for something.
While all these evolutionary steps were taking place in South Carolina, Duttweiler was busy creating a new powerplant for the ’Vette in his California shop, this one a 600-cubic-inch monster based on a Sonny Leonard Pro Stock-type block with five-inch bore spacing and Sonny Leonard heads. Equipped with a pair of 101-mm turbos, the new piece was projected to generate in excess of 3,500 horsepower when cranking out the 40 pounds or so of boost it was designed to make.
Fortunately, as far as the cosmetics went, the third time was the charm. By the time the new 600-inch engine was ready to go, everything finally fell into place. The turbos were moved to a lower and more outboard location, and the ducting was modified so that everything was now low and hidden, allowing for a more traditional-looking Corvette nose to be fabricated. Only a menacing-looking pair of round "eyes," openings for the turbos, belaying the fact that a monster lurked underneath.
After two full years of fine-tuning and modifying just about everything on the car, Annette, Vernon and a long list of welders, fabricators, builders, tuners and crew members have finally succeeded in bringing one of drag racing’s baddest Corvettes to the brink of Pro Modified prominence.
All of which brings us back to the beginning of this story, as the team returned to Bradenton Motorsports Park in early December of 2004, the scene of their very first test session nearly 28 months earlier.
The work put in by a number of dedicated individuals and companies over that period of time paid off well, as Annette paced the impressive ’Vette to a number of quick and consistent runs, notching a best 60-foot time of 1.02, elapsed time of 6.61 and speed of 219.00 mph.
Annette credits the newest member of the Annette Summer Racing team with much of the positive progress made at Bradenton.
"Darrell Makins joined our team recently, and when it comes to working with clutches, fuel, timing and a lot more - in any kind of engine – he’s the best there is," she said. "In earlier testing, we had been just too aggressive with the car, but when we went to Bradenton in December, we had a completely different game plan, thanks to Darrell’s input, which was to start out easy and add power as we went along."
"We actually had a lot of different reasons for taking a more conservative approach, one of which was to determine the effectiveness of the wing on the back of the car, which we had moved from its original location," Summer added. "Earlier on, we had a real scare while testing at our home track, Carolina Dragway, when we still had the 447-inch engine in the car. At a thousand feet the car actually became airborne because of the position of the wing. I was doing over 200 mph when the back end of the car came off the ground about two and a half feet. It was a real bad deal, and one I didn’t want to repeat. That’s why I wanted to make some good smooth runs so that we could be sure the car was staying planted to the track, which it did perfectly. I have to thank Randy Hamilton at Precision Glass, the guy who built the new front end for the car, because he told us where to move the wing."
The impressive part of all this is that the numbers Annette achieved in Bradenton were at a maximum of 15 pounds of boost, which is not even half of what the car is capable of producing. This was due in part to the fact that not only was the team applying power in gradual increments, as mentioned, but they were also working to learn the ins and outs of a new boost controller from MSD, which they installed on the car just prior to the trip south.
Naturally, after logging a succession of consistent passes at 15 pounds of boost, the team wanted to see just how much power they could add, so they ramped things up by ten pounds, which put them somewhere in the vicinity of 2,800 horsepower. At this point, they found a weak link in the system, as Annette recalled.
"We turned up the wick to make 25 pounds of boost, but the driveshaft wouldn’t take the power. A front U-joint broke, causing the transmission to tear apart. It was pretty scary, but the care put into the solid construction of this car paid off big time as none of the flying metal came into the driver’s compartment. As a result of that incident, the folks at Precision Gear have designed a tough new driveshaft for us, which will soon be installed in the car. We shouldn’t have any more problems in that department in the future."
As mentioned in the beginning of this story, Annette’s car promised to be something totally new, and by now it’s pretty obvious this is indeed the case. In fact, the car is a rolling showpiece of the latest in automotive electronics, featuring a MoTeC M800 Engine Management System, which controls the electronic fuel injection, ignition, timing and fuel curves, among other systems. It also features proximity sensors that monitor such things as shock travel and cabin pressure.
In the suspension department, the Corvette utilizes heavy-duty Santuff shocks and struts, which are based on a Chevrolet Camaro spindle design rather than the lighter Anglia spindle design used by many other manufacturers. The Santuff pieces are weight tested up to 3,600 pounds, which offers plenty of support for the Corvette, which currently weighs 2,920 pounds. This won’t be the case for long, however, as Annette plans to put the car on a serious diet in order to try and get down to the minimum weight she’ll be allowed to run in the AMS/TLR Pro Mod Challenge at NHRA national events this coming season.
Yes, that’s right – after years of trying, proponents of the turbo Pro Mod combination have finally found a place to race, and in front of crowds at NHRA national events to boot. Once again the lady from South Carolina has an opportunity to be part of drag racing history, and it’s an opportunity she surely wants to capitalize on.
"We’ll be allowed to run at 2,650 pounds according to the new rules for the AMS/TLR Pro Mod Challenge, so we’re looking at a number of ways to knock some weight off the car," Annette said. "We want to do everything possible to make the car run up to its potential and getting down to weight is very critical. We’ll be machining off a lot of the excess material on the turbo housings, for example, which will lighten them up a lot. Once we do that we can take a battery out of the back of the car. On top of that, we’re going to have as many titanium pieces made as possible, and replace the front end with one that weighs 20 pounds instead of 56 pounds like the one we have now weighs. Last but not least, my freezer is now full of Lean Cuisine meals, because the driver also has to do her part in the weight reduction campaign!"
After two years of hard work, and plenty of frustration, Annette and Vernon are closing in on the level of performance they envisioned as the car was being built in Pennsylvania.
"It’s been one thing after another – we’ve done just about everything you can possibly do to a race car - rebuilt, replaced, modified and customized just about everything," she said. "Thankfully, I think we’re just about where we want to be, and if everything goes right at our next test session in Bradenton at the end of January, we’re looking forward to being invited to the first AMS/TLR Pro Mod Challenge event in Gainesville in March."
If there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that this awesome doorslammer is capable of running big numbers, forget about it. At its current weight, with all systems operating at optimum levels, it’s expected that the Corvette will easily run 6.20s. As the weight begins to come off, of course, performance should pick up accordingly. On paper, under perfect conditions, this car should be capable of runs in the five-second zone at well over 240 mph. But that’s in the future. Right now, the husband and wife team are more concerned with achieving consistency and reliability, the traditional keys to qualifying well and going rounds of race day. In the process, they hope to prove that the pioneering efforts of people like Rieger, Duttweiler and many others have finally paid off.
Naturally, none of this would be possible if not for the help of many dedicated people and companies. Annette was quick to point out that without the support of VP racing Fuels, Auto Meter, Santuff, MSD, Powermaster, Precision Gear, CP Pistons and SCE Gaskets, she and Vernon would not be in the position to conquer new worlds that they now find themselves in.
In addition, drag racing is a people sport, and there are many to thank for their help and dedication, including Darren Gillis, Jack Barbee, and Donna Lee. Without the hard work and dedication of this crew, racing would only be a dream. Donna has the very important task of taking care of the team’s T-shirt business. Chances are Donna is going to get a lot busier in the near future, selling lots of shirts that will undoubtedly commemorate Annette’s history-making venture into once-uncharted Pro Mod territory in 2005.