Driving in the fastest lane

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Driving in the fastest lane

Introducing Igor, who is setting drag racing standards wherever he goes

Gary Mason

Vancouver Sun
There were lots of people convinced Rob Harrison had lost his mind. Harrison and the motley assortment of friends and mad scientists who gathered in his garage night after night, long into the evening, trying to bring a monster to life.
"Most people thought we were nuts, plain and simple," says Harrison, sitting in the cramped office he calls home at Harrison Performance Racing in North Vancouver. "Everyone kept telling us that better minds than ours had tried to do what we were attempting and failed. They just couldn't understand why we continued to waste our time. They told us everything that could be tried had been tried."
Except bolts.
His name is Igor. Which is apt, you'll agree, for something with bolts sticking out its neck. Except this Igor didn't rise from some table in Rob Harrison's garage amid shrieks of "He's alive ... he's alive." No, this Igor burst on the scene in an even noisier fashion, amid cheers from a crowd thrilled by his unprecedented power.
It's quite a story really. Even if you're not a fan of drag racing
Rob Harrison, you see, somehow found racing in his blood. Born to a family of doctors, who would produce more doctors, Harrison took a different route. He found his calling turning wrenches and studying the anatomy of cars.

His first true love was a '57 Chevy, a relationship he eventually ended to take up with a '64 Corvette. After that it was another Corvette, this time an '86. He raced out at Mission Raceway and over the years he became fascinated with how cars ran, the purpose of each part of the engine. Ultimately, his interest turned to the inline-six engine.

Now, as someone who knows nothing about cars, this is where the story admittedly gets a tad complicated. Let me see if I can make this as simple as possible.
Most of us are familiar with the V-6 and the V-8 engine. These are engines with an equal number of cylinders on each side. There were people in the world of drag racing, however, who long believed there were distinct advantages in having all the engine's cylinders line up on one side -- in line. Yet, those who had tried to use an "inline" motor could never get it to generate enough power to make it competitive.
Rob Harrison, however, wasn't prepared to give up so easily.
Early on in his experimentation, Harrison had his design engine up on a dyno (a machine that tests the power of engines) in Langley and was running it full power when it literally split in half. There lay the engine block in two perfect pieces with Rob Harrison and his equally bewildered friends looking on in disbelief -- and dismay.
"We didn't know what to do at that point," says Harrison, remembering the moment over five years ago. "Then someone suggested we try and bolt the engine back together. Just bore a few holes right through the engine and basically keep it together with bolts."
They did just that. And the next time they tested the engine they anticipated the worst.
"But it stayed together," Harrison said. "We couldn't believe it." It wasn't long after that a customer of Harrison's wondered into his shop and upon seeing the bolted engine declared: 'It looks like an Igor with those bolts."
They had created a monster.
Now, finding a way to keep the engine together was one thing. Getting it to generate the kind of power needed to set world records was another. And over the next five years, every step forward was followed by two steps back.

"This is where it really was tough," Harrison said one day last week. "A couple of summers ago we put the project away for a month or so and went boating, just to clear our heads. But as soon as we'd get one problem licked, there'd be another one to fix, and after we got that working, there was something else. And on it went. At times it seemed like, ah, ...."

They were spinning their wheels.
To get Igor to generate monster power, Harrison and his fellow workers had to reassess every part of the car's engine, from the oil pump to the crank shaft, and ask themselves if it was best designed to complement an inline-six. In several instances, Harrison and his team redesigned fundamental parts.
"We had to change the mind of the engine and convince it to do different things," said Harrison. "This is phenomena that we fixed. And the best part is, we are the only ones that really understand how it works."
Which is a good thing, because Igor could be worth big money one day.
You see, Rob Harrison and his crew, which includes his wife, Dolly, sons Geoff and Rob Jr., Al Lougheed, Garth Martin and Frank Loop, eventually ironed all the kinks out, plopped Igor in Harrison's '91 Beretta, and discovered something beyond their wildest dreams.
In June, Igor set a world speed record at Searspoint Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. With Harrison behind the wheel, the '91 Beretta travelled a quarter-mile in 8.15 seconds in the National Hot Rod Association's eliminator class, while hitting a top speed of 162 mph. A month later in Oregon he lowered the mark to 8:13, hitting a top speed of 164 mph.
Next up was Mission Raceway three weeks ago. Igor was unbelievable. This time Igor lowered the quarter-mile mark to 8:04 seconds. Right after that, Harrison went to Seattle and lowered the world record mark again to 8:01, with ESPN's cameras rolling.
Some facts.

Igor is 342 cubic inches and unleashes 700 horses at 9,000 revolutions per minute. It takes Harrison's Berreta from zero to 60 mph in 1.07 seconds. For his part, Harrison must endure about 4.5 Gs of force at the starting line -- which compares to 2.4 Gs that some Top Gun fighter pilots brave.

And here's another thing you should know. Harrison could make his current world records look ridiculous if he gets the lighter, carbon-fibre chassis he hopes to race with next season. Right now, Harrison is carrying more than 70 extra pounds in the Beretta's older-model chassis. Take away that weight, which he easily could in a lighter-model frame that is now available, and Harrison would be 7/100ths faster than he is right now.
This would probably make his the No. 1 qualifier at every race.
Harrison has a couple of more races left this summer before he turns off the engine and lets Igor rest until next year.
"It's been a pretty wild ride so far," says Harrison.
"I'm just glad we didn't give up. It's scary to think where we might be able to go with this thing. Right now we're just having a ball."
A monster's ball.

© Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun
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