Long before sunrise in the early morning hours, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s jet racing team left Daytona, Fla. for the new jet dragster’s first track test session in Valdosta, Ga. Upon arrival at the track, the team took air density samples, relative humidity, and other weather data. After making their final preparations to the brand new Embry-Riddle hot rod, it was time for its first 5000 horsepower full-throttle hit.
Under the watchful eye of Chris and Elaine Larsen, Crew Chief Mike Mathes and lead technician and aerospace engineering student Brian Tocci stood ready for anything to happen. Driver Marisha Falk rolled the dragster into the starting line beams and went to full-throttle for the car’s first time.
The target for today’s session was to break 200 miles per hour in four seconds or less. The General Electric J-85 Turbo-Jet engine quickly accelerates the dragster. By the eight mile mark, the car was handling perfectly and was already approaching the entire session’s goal. At a predetermined spot, Falk shut down the car and began testing the parachutes that would slow it for the first time.
On the second run, Falk went to full throttle but this time added full afterburner making nearly 5000 horsepower in the little 1250 pound machine out to the one eighth of a mile mark! Again the car ran straight as an arrow but according to the crew the tune-up seemed a little soft based on data from the 60 foot elapsed time, what the tuners refer to as a “short time”.
Cautiously the crew increased the fuel flow to the afterburner. “We are in that risky area where we can kill a bunch of parts,” says Chris Larsen. “If the car screeches, you get it shut off. And I mean right now,” Chris warns Marisha. Screech is a term referring to a massively destructive condition in the afterburner called cyclic vibration.
Falk is also getting used to some differences in the way the new car “feels”. The new dragster, although very similar to Falk’s original car, sits about 2 inches lower in overall height. Her custom seat fit only to her own body now sits lower and makes it harder to see over the instrument panel.
Elaine Larsen, who has driven a number of jet dragsters, recalls that it takes awhile to get used to a new car. “It’s not bad, it’s just different,” she says, “and at nearly 300 miles per hour, sometimes the feeling of a new ride takes a little getting used to.”
The team overall is thrilled. “All the hard work is paying off,” says Lead Technician Brian Tocci. “There are very few issues being reported by the driver, and Chris Larsen is smiling which usually means things are good.”
In just three passes the team exceeded their goal for the session. With smiles on their faces, they loaded the car back up to return to Florida.
The next session will be in only a few short days, just long enough for the crew to evaluate the data and make the necessary changes. There will be dozens of passes before the car’s first race in March.
By the time the team rolled back into Daytona the sun had long been set. Few people know what took place today, but for the Larsen Motorsports team that was a good day that only comes along once every few years. On Jan. 19, 2013, weighing 1253 pounds and measuring 26 feet 7 inches, a new race car was born.