Author Archive

Mickey Thompson Remembered

by Doug Stokes
Monday, February 15th, 2010

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This past Thursday night, the combined efforts of  the NHRA Museum staff, the Thompson family, and Gale Banks Engineering … A lot of people got their first chance to exhale in almost twenty-two years.

I’m one of them.

Working for Mickey and Trudy was a true adventure.  Filling up large indoor and outdoor venues with thousands upon thousands of people there to enjoy a couple of hours of off-road racing action on what Mickey called “A Chunk of the Baja” was fun and work.

Like many young enthusiasts I had followed Mickey’s career for decades and the chance to work for him was something very special.  My deal was pulling him aside, getting him to tell me some of the stories behind the cars, and engines, and staggering piles of parts in the multi-car garage/warehouse on the lower level of his property where our offices were located.  There was genius lurking in every corner; raw innovation stacked up like cordwood, hand-built shocks, engines drawn, quartered and compressed-air “charged”, front drive and rear steer chassis’s (some of which were singed and melted in the great Bradbury/Fish Canyon blaze in the early eighties).

And there was the Challenger … the magnificent 4-motored machine that sat so regally in the NHRA Museum’s entrance hall on Thursday evening.  The same machine that sat in a trailer out behind our offices and where the stray/feral cats that kept the vermin at bay in the canyon birthed more than one litter while we were working there.

When we rolled the Challenger out of its clamshell trailer for the first time in 20-some years, I noticed a weathered hole in the plywood floor of the trailer, it looked like battery acid had leaked and eaten a hole in the two inch thick floor.  I mentioned my observation to Mick, and, even as I was saying the words, “…Look like the battery must have split Mickey.”  I caught myself and remembered that this beast had no need of on-board batteries, each engine having its own magneto to spin up the spark power needed for 400 mile-per-hour forays into the record books.

The fire that had consumed so many homes, killed livestock, and scorched the hills of Bradbury had caught the Challenger’s wooden floor afire, but gone out … Somehow it wasn’t the Challenger’s day.

A few years later, when tragedy struck so violently on the upper driveway of that home we were all marked with an indelible scar.  Our inside staff joke, “Trudy told me to tell you that Mickey said …” rang hollow. The funeral was a sad armed camp, with no relief no solace.

So, on Thursday night, and after 20 years of reliving that day and the horrible heartbreak that followed, as we said, some of us finally got to exhale and remember what Mickey Thompson meant to motorsports. And (maybe a bit more privately) a bit of what Trudy Thompson meant to Mick and to us.

It was a good night. Those folks and institutions mentioned in the first paragraph are to be warmly thanked for making it so.  Gale Banks himself said it best, the effort was: “Long overdue.” Right.

Now everybody get back to work and, as Mick always closed any staff occasion by saying: “STAND ON THE GAS!”
-Doug Stokes 02.12.10

Gale Banks Joins Racing Legends Signing Pinewood Racer for SEMA Charity Auction

by Doug Stokes
Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

The highly-anticipated second annual SEMA Pinewood Drag Race, presented by eBay Motors, will be held on August 1, 2009, at the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena.

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Banks Power will be represented this year with a red and black mini-racer which will carry the signature of company President and founder Gale Banks.

Banks is one of well over one hundred legendary personalities from the automotive world who have personalized Pinewood Derby cars built by kids in the Childhelp and Victory Junction Gang Camp programs especially for this event. The race was established in 2008 to raise money for the two charities. Childhelp is an organization that assists abused and neglected children, and Victory Junction Gang Camp provides life-changing camping experiences to disabled and chronically ill children.

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All of the Pinewood cars will be on display at the Pasadena Civic on race day August 1 and, starting at 10am, each will take its turn on the 50-foot-long downhill dragstrip. Later that afternoon all of the uniquely-autographed Pinewood cars will be auctioned off to the public. Last year’s auction took in $40,000 for the two charities, and with the list of automotive legends who have (personally!) added their names this year, anticipation is sky high on the fans bettering that number.

The day-long series of drag races is one of the main attractions of Specialty Equipment Market Association’s inaugural “Show’N’Shine” event at the newly-refurbished Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Old Town Pasadena. An indoor car show, this brand new event will feature Classics, Hot Rods, Muscle, Rat Rods, and all manner of special interest cars and trucks in a elegant car show setting. Noted car designer Chip Foose will serve as the show’s Grand Marshall.

Unlike the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas, this exhibition is open to the public and costs only $5.00 to attend (kids under 12 are free) with all proceeds going to benefit the above two children’s charities. The day-long (9am -3pm) event will be followed by the annual SEMA Installation Banquet & Gala Fundraiser, where the 2009 SEMA Hall of Fame inductees will be announced.

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Gravity-powered Pinewood Derby cars have been around since 1953 when the first races were staged by a Los Angeles Scoutmaster who thought the idea up as an inexpensive alternative to building a full-scale Soap Box Derby entry. The idea caught on, and literally millions of such 5-ounce wooden racers have been carved, colorfully-painted, and enthusiastically raced all over the world

In an entry confirmation letter to Banks Power, event organizer Eric Saltrick, of SEMA member company Steele Rubber of Denver, North Carolina said: “For me, the ‘Legends’ that we have gotten involved, like Mister Banks, has made this a very amazing project to be involved with … these are my heroes: Shelby, Banks, Petty, Andretti, Garlits, Prudhomme, Bernstein, Guthrie, Muldowney …”.

We can only add a big “THANK YOU Eric!” (and all the other SEMA members who have worked so hard on this one). See you in Pasadena!

THE STARTING LINEUP
2009 SEMA PINEWOOD GRAND PRIX FOR CHARITY

THE FOLLOWING AUTOMOTIVE ICONS, DRIVERS, CELEBRITIES, ACTIVE RACING DRIVERS, SEMA MEMBERS AND FRIENDS OF SEMA HAVE ALL PERSONALLY AUTOGRAPHED KID-BUILT PINEWOOD DERBY CARS THAT WILL RACE ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 1 IN PASADENA AND THEN GO UP ON THE AUCTION BLOCK THAT AFTERNOON TO THE PUBLIC TO BENEFIT THE CHILDHELP AND VICTORY JUNCTION GANG CAMP CHILDREN’S CHARITIES.

Andy Granatelli Automotive Icon Innovator
Bobby Allison Automotive Icon NASCAR
Carroll Shelby Automotive Icon Innovator
Connie Kalitta Automotive Icon NHRA
Craig Breedlove Automotive Icon Land Speed Racing
Dave McClelland Automotive Icon Legendary NHRA Announcer
Dennis Anderson Automotive Icon “The Grave Digger” Truck
Don Garlits Automotive Icon Drag Racing
Don Prudhomme Automotive Icon Drag Racing
Gale Banks Automotive Icon Innovator
Janet Guthrie Automotive Icon Indy Racing
Joe Amato Automotive Icon NHRA
Johnny Rutherford Automotive Icon 3-Time Indy Winner
Lynn St. James Automotive Icon Indy Racing
Mario Andretti Automotive Icon World Champ/Indy Winner
Marvin Panch Automotive Icon NASCAR
Richard Petty Automotive Icon 200 NASCAR ‘Cup Wins
Shirley Muldowney Automotive Icon NHRA
The Wood Brothers Automotive Icon NASCAR
Tiger Tom Pistone Automotive Icon Stock Car Racing
Alex Lloyd Driver Indy Racing League
Danica Patrick Driver Indy Racing League
Dario Franchitti Driver Indy Racing League
Heilo Castroneves Driver Indy Racing League
Marco Andretti Driver Indy Racing League
Ryan Briscoe Driver Indy Racing League
Sarah Fisher Driver Indy Racing League
Scott Dixon Driver Indy Racing League
Tony Kannan Driver Indy Racing League
Will Power Driver Indy Racing League
Jamie McMurray Driver NASCAR
Kasey Kahne Driver NASCAR
Kurt Busch Driver NASCAR
Rusty & Steve Wallace Driver NASCAR
Allen Johnson Driver NHRA
Cory McClenathan Driver NHRA
Cruz Pedregon Driver NHRA
Doug Kalitta Driver NHRA
Greg Anderson Driver NHRA
Hillary Will Driver NHRA
Jack Beckman Driver NHRA

Jeff Arend Driver NHRA
Larry Dixon Driver NHRA
Matt Hagan Driver NHRA
Melanie Troxel Driver NHRA
Mike Edwards Driver NHRA
Ron Capps Driver NHRA
Tony Pedregon Driver NHRA
Tony Schumacher Driver NHRA
3 Doors Down Celebrity Music Stars
Carrot Top Celebrity Comedian
Chip Foose Designer “Overhaulin”
Chuck Norris Celebrity Movie-TV Star
Clint Black Celebrity Country Music Star
Courtney Hansen Celebrity “Powerblock TV’
Davis Love III Pro Golfer PGA
Dennis Gage Celebrity “My Classic Car”
Dog the Bounty Hunter Celebrity TV Star
Frank Callendo Celebrity Comedian
Guy Fieri Celebrity Food Network Star
Hosts: Muscle Car TV Celebrity “Muscle Car TV”
Hosts: Extreme 4x4TV Celebrity “Extreme 4×4 TV”
Hosts: Horsepower TV Celebrity “Horsepower TV”
Hosts: Trucks! TV Celebrity “Trucks! TV”
Jay Leno Celebrity Car Collector
Larry The Cable Guy Celebrity Movie-TV Star
Lee Greenwood Celebrity Music Star
Mike Rowe Celebrity “Dirty Jobs”
Ryan Friedtnghaus Celebrity “Street Customs”
Sam Memmolo Celebrity “Two Guys Garage”
Stacy David Celebrity “Gearz”
Tony Hawk Celebrity Pro Skateboarder
Vida Guerra Celebrity “Livin’ The Low Life”

FINAL PREPS …

by Doug Stokes
Friday, April 24th, 2009

It might not look like it in these pictures, but, when these shots were taken, the Banks Top Diesel Dragster was only a few hours away from going into the trailer for its first trip to the test track.

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There are just at 150 individual circuits, channeling all manner of information, commands, and critical data around in this sleek machine.  Every single one of them must be run through a battery of tests, not only to check the connection (can you say “continuity”?), but to check correctness of the thousand of lines of computer code that they’re transmitting every second.

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Weeks of work, long hours, weekends, and late nights have all culminated in this final flurry of arms and elbows all working together, and in very close quarters (this is a long old machine, but 90% of the operating stuff (engine, clutch, gearbox, rear end).  Small details (but every one critical to the operation) are dealt with one at a time, in haste, but with no sense of panic.

These guys, including the driver, are all pros.  There’s no horse-play, no banter, every sentence is about the task with most being incomplete … no modifiers needed the words are all code, all shorthand … “7/16ths … shorty phillips … tie wrap gun.”  There’s not even need (nor time) for the niceties like “Please” and “Thank you” here, that’s understood.

At about 11 (that’s PM not AM) the machine finally is tied down (and ballooned up*) and in the trailer.  The test track is “only” four hours away so the drive is scheduled for right then.  Head for the motel, check-in try to get some sleep and out to the track at … SEVEN in the morning?  …But that’s racing.

Today, while the team tests in an undisclosed location, the place where the dragster always resides in the shop has been morphed into a photo studio were hundreds of new Banks products have been having their pictures taken by a set of pros who painstakingly place every piece of equipment on the white backdrop (getting 12 tie-wraps arrayed just right is almost an art form) and proceed to give intakes, exhausts, and tuners the star treatment.

Test information feeds back to the shop slowly.  Everyone here is interested, everyone there is busy with the task at hand, that of operating a completely new, untested, untried racing vehicle that (on paper) is capable of accelerating from zero to 200+ miles per hour in seven or less seconds.  Quiet phones can mean one of two things:  the tests are going along so well that there’s no time to “phone home” (and let the troops know what’s going on) or the tests have yet to yield the desired results and that the team is real busy chasing the answers and … You know the rest.

*there are two round, black airbags that slip under the Sidewinder’s long, lithe chassis that are inflated to push up on frame sort of like a gigantic arch support and keep it from “working” (bouncing up and down) on its journey to and from the racetrack.  The idea is to only “use” all the flex in the frame when the car is racing, rather than when its just riding around in the transporter.  Think about (don’t do it, its illegal) a person riding in a car that has no passenger seat.   They’d be hanging on, fighting the forces of turning, stopping, and accelerating all the time, and just plain worn out after only a few miles like that.  Race cars work in a very violent world, but for very short periods of time.  We treat them like babies the rest of the time.

READ MORE ABOUT THE BANKS SIDEWINDER TOP DIESEL DRAGSTER

Some Serious Progress Being Made On The Banks Top Dragster…

by Doug Stokes
Thursday, April 9th, 2009

From SEMA Show Star To Fully-Functional Race Car.

April 2009, After a strong reception at its spectacular unveiling at the SEMA Show last November, the new Banks Sidewinder Top Diesel Dragster had to wait its turn in line while the Banks S-10 Sidewinder Pickup* went out to the starting line a few last times to finish up its development work with the powerful GMC Duramax engine that will also power the Dragster.

Now, with an early May date set for the machine’s national debut and the clock ticking, much of the “detail” work is being done in earnest including mostly unseen (but critical) things like wiring, cooling system plumbing, oil lines instrumentation (more on that later), engine controls, switchware, dials, gauges, and all the “inside stuff” that must do its job first time, every time, and that”s generally never seen but for during a total strip-down.

Sweating the small stuff has always been the hallmark of any Banks racing project.  Where Banks chooses to do its research and development there are few (if any) proprietary parts available even from specific racing equipment supply houses.  Of course that’s were Banks has a built-in advantage.  Being able to exactly assess what’s needed, design the part, make a mock-up for fitting (although that step is not always needed), and then make the part right on site, in house. There’s really not much waiting on the UPS delivery truck (unless it’s bringing raw materials) at the Banks Advanced Concepts Engineering department.

From complex bracketry to an oil reservoir tank for the multi-stage dry sump system that had to fit in a place where no commercial offering would, to a custom billet aluminum oil pan that sees triple duty as the oil collector, a windage tray, and an engine girdle to further strengthen and stabilize the already strong and stable bottom end of the 6.6L.

There are examples of specialized pieces like the above in every inch of this machine’s 272-inch wheelbase and beyond, and some of them are so subtle and so perfectly integrated that even a seasoned veteran of the racing wars might ask,  “Hey that ___________ is very cool, where did you buy it?”  The simple answer is… we needed it, we made it.

Of course all this designing, prototyping, building, and testing “under fire” is not done simply for fun, nor to win shiny trophies.  Every step, every nut, every bolt, every weld, every pass down the drag strip (racing record or not), is another test of Banks Engineering, the people, the process, and the end product of that interaction.

Cold facts, hard numbers, hot tires, and timing clocks that won’t lie are the tools of the trade and the hard-fought gains end up being real time technical advantages and a seasoned band of smart people who live for the tough challenges they get as everyday fare at Banks. That’s just the way that it’s been for as long as Banks has been in business.

This particular machine, which takes every criterion up multiple notches, will put the Banks bunch under ever-growing pressure.  At this level carving a few tenths of a second off of an elapsed time or going through the speed traps a few more miles per hour faster than the last time gets exponential.  In this part of the biz nice drawings of cool looking cars and crazy horsepower claims just don’t cut it.

Real world challenges require real world experience, and high speed drag competition with its emphasis on provides exactly kind the of “stress test” that  Banks looks for, and always seems to find.

We said that we’d get back to instrumentation, so here we are:  Just about every modern racing machine is very well “instrumented” these days.  Today’s drivers, even the drag racers who are only on the racecourse and racing for 6 seconds, need to know what’s happening under their foot at all times.  But engineers, they need to know more… A lot more.

And so, every Banks competition machine is always double-triple wired to capture over 60 distinct channels of data, including what the chassis and tires are doing when something to the North of 1,200 horsepower and a like amount of torque is applied to the surface of your everyday drag strip.  “In fact,” said one of the engineers working on the project,  “We’re monitoring and collecting many more channels of information than we do when we test the engine on the stand.  This race machine is effectively a rolling dyno.”

Banks is very proud of its competition record and how all that hard work that’s done translates into top-rated consumer products as well as advancing the depth of its highly-specialized knowledge base on the subject of advanced engine dynamics.

*On Saturday March 7, 2009 the dark red pickup truck with a brand new Sidewinder snake supergraphic on the side charged into the record books once again with a  7.77-second run setting a new NHRDA record and topping the 180 mile per hour barrier for the first time.  The record was set at the NHRDA Desert Diesel Nationals at the Speedworld Dragstrip in Wittman, Arizona in front of a packed house of some very serious diesel drag racing fans.

0 – 50 Years in 63 1/2 Feet…

by Doug Stokes
Friday, March 27th, 2009

Azusa, California – – No, it’s not the Bayeux Tapestry, but perhaps it might be considered as the American motorsports equivalent of it.

It’s the colorful 63 and-a-half-foot long, five foot tall, timeline-history of Gale Banks Engineering that stretches a full 50 years and features over 400 illustrations that go all the way back to 1958!

In September of 2008 the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum announced the booking of a special exhibit entitled:  “Banks Power … The First 50 Years”.  The intent was to honor the pioneer high performance company and its founder/president with an exhibition of accomplishments in both the marine and automotive worlds.

The Banks organization has always prided itself on its heritage and legacy, in fact its promotional materials have often featured a basic timeline that traced the company’s strong history.   For the 3,500 square foot Museum exhibit, it was decided to expand and expound on that concept in order to show more of the story behind the company.

The plan involved the use of one of the 60+ foot long cabinet walls in the Museum to start at the beginning and follow the progress of the Banks success story in strict chronological order.

And follow it, it does.  From a one-man garage/shop in Lynnwood, California (set up to pay Bank’s college tuition at Cal Poly) to today’s multi-acre design, testing, and manufacturing campus facility in Azusa, California, which employs 200 people, and on to the honor of being named one of only five people in the industry to receive the prestigious Distinguished Service Award from the Automotive Hall of Fame for 2009*.  Banks is the first person from the automotive aftermarket side ever so honored in the award’s 68-year history.

The end result must really be seen live and in person to truly be enjoyed.  As the “fun” title of this release says it truly is: “0-50 Years in 63 ½ feet”.  The story of a lifetime in pursuit of performance perfection in a little over 21 running yards of exhibition space.

Watching Museum visitors look back through the 50 years is nothing short of fascinating.  They recall what they were doing, where they were, their own significant personal dates and places as they note the various points of interest along the timeline.

In addition to a beautifully illustrated timeline, the exhibit floor is “well-stocked” with 17 very significant, very real, complete engines, each representing a different phase in Banks’ seemingly endless quest for efficiency.  Along with the gleaming engines are a number of significant race record holding vehicles that carry the Banks colors as well.  Fastest, quickest, first, winningest … You name it, doubtless one the racing machines on the floor will have done it!

The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day) and is located right at Gate 1 of the Los Angeles County Fairplex grounds in Pomona, California.

For more information log on www.museum.nhra.com.

*The actual Distinguished Service Citation award is a crystal obelisk that’s on display at the “Parks” as part of this exhibit.  It has taken a special place of honor at the beginning of the timeline right next to the only trophy that has ever sat on Gale Banks’ desk, a modest little award for an eclectically-controlled robot that got 1st place in the 1958 Lakewood High School Science Fair.  The idea was to sort of “bookend” the first 50 years of Banks Power and point toward the future at the same time.

The Snake on the Wall

by Doug Stokes
Thursday, March 19th, 2009

There it was, all 19 (and change) feet of gleaming black carbon fiber: the Banks Top Diesel Sidewinder main body, floating there in space, 6 feet high with that really “speed hungry” looking snake on the side that seems spitting out a warning to watch out for some Duramax diesel-powered drag racing speed in the very near future.

The rail on the wall

The rail on the wall with the new Banks Marine Diesel Engine in the foreground

When you have a 276-in wheelbase Top Diesel Dragster sitting in the middle of a race shop, even one as “roomy” as the Banks shop, it sort of dominates the scene a little. And of course, most of the time that race cars are in the shop, they have their outer skins off so the engineers, designers, and technicians can get at them, doing the endless tasks that are part and parcel of the building and constant grooming of modern race cars.

It’s often said that the best racing machines are only ever fully assembled just an hour or so before the race that they’re in. That’s quite true, and the new Banks Top Dragster is no exception to that rule. As an example, even though this trans-200 mile-per-hour in the quarter mile machine is still under construction, the one-piece main bodywork has been off and on at least twenty times since it got here. Until today, each time it was carefully lifted off the chassis and then laid down on the floor near the chassis.

Everyone in the shop was, of course, quite careful to sidestep the (very) expensive piece of carbon fiber sitting there on the floor and no one, but no one rested any tools, coffee cups, or even a comic book on the long flat surface that made up most of its near 20-foot length. After a while that got a little old.

And then someone, some bright visionary, who’s name is lost to memory right now said, “Why don’t we make some brackets and hang that thing on that nice clear wall over there, it’ll be out of our way and look great at the same time!”

Whoever said that … Thank You!

And that big thank you is because the race shop now has a wonderful “wall hanging”, and that very valuable piece of carbon fiber coachwork with that big old sidewinder on it is now well and truly out of harm’s way.

Of course the best part of it being so prominently displayed is that it just reminds everyone of the task at hand: putting Banks into the lead on the racetrack, on the sales floor, and in the hearts of our many fans and customers.

THE LENO TANK CAR COMES “HOME” TO BANKS FOR A CHECK-UP

by Doug Stokes
Monday, December 29th, 2008

In the fall of 2008 this magnificent machine came “home” to the Banks tech shop for a short, regularly-scheduled maintenance visit.  Of course we are using the terms “regular” and “maintenance” with some relativity here.

As even the most casual observer would easily note, this bolide is an absolutely unique one-off that did not come with anything even approximating an owner’s manual in the glove box (actually, it doesn’t even have a glove box!).  Be that as it may, it was just great to have this exciting vehicle back in the Banks Tech Bay, all 20+ gleaming feet of it, if only for a few days!

If you’ve been reading about this big silver bullet right all along, by this point you might have come up with  the idea that taking a twelve cylinder, air-cooled, carbureted World War II-era engine, originally designed to haul a 30-ton military tank over hill and dale at a ripping 15 or 20 miles per hour, and making it into the centerpiece power unit of one of the most photographed, most outrageous, most spectacular sports cars ever to roll on the face of the planet was a bit of a long haul.

And you’d be very correct!

Jay Leno's Tank Car

In a different way, but in all candor this project was as difficult a challenge as any that have been in the R&D shops at Banks, including the machines that have set world speed records, and broken many others.

Adapting twenty-first century Formula One V-12 fuel injection technology to an engine that was designed in the 1940’s with toughness as the number one criterion was no easy task.

As you’ve read, every part on the new twin-turbo exhaust and intake system was designed and scratch-built right here at Banks. But, even more important than the hardware (which was very important!), was the all the head-scratching, brain-storming, and number-crunching that went on just to make this one run.  As you’ve seen, this complete makeover almost doubled the horsepower and did the same for the fuel mileage!

Interestingly enough, when Gale Banks went to partner Bosch and told them that he was developing a huge “former tank engine” into some sort of sports car power unit and that they were pulling out the old carbs and putting in an ultra-sophisticated common rail fuel injection system in their place, they were, let’s just say, a tad skeptical.

Of course when he mentioned who the machine’s owner was , the quizzical looks turned into smiles.  Leno, of course!  Jay Leno, America’s favorite late night host and car guy, suddenly the mammoth mission somehow became more clear …

Tank Car dashboard

So, two years after this monstrously menacing machine rolled out of the Banks race shop and up Duggan Avenue with Leno driving and Banks himself riding shotgun, and after hundreds and hundreds of street miles, and, after one show-stopping appearance after another at a multitude of car shows from Van Nuys to Pebble Beach, it was not deemed particularly unusual to see this thoroughbred cooling its heels in the Banks R&D shops for a bit of a “tune-up”.

For the record, the electronics side of the Banks work shop did all of the work and the only wrenches that turned were the ones that opened the electronic panels under the dash to get at the ECU.

The only issue was one of drivability and that had to do with the fact (as above) that a lot of the conversion from a normally-aspirated engine with twin updrafts carbs to one with ultramodern Bosch/Banks fuel injection and twin turbos took (as mentioned above), some fairly high-strung racing components being brought into play in a “street” car.  In other words, there was more number-crunching to be done to smooth out the engine response.

Strapped down to the Banks chassis dyno and thundering along at a “good rate of knots” (that’s a technical term) the car seemed more like a living thing than a couple of tons of steel and aluminum.   Getting up close for a photo when this beast is running (even when its immobilized) takes a bit of an attitude.  One just keeps sort of saying (to one’s self): “It’s strapped down, it’s only a car, it can’t hurt me.”  It really does seem alive though.

Tank Car on Dyno

The Leno Tank Car’s recent check-up trip to Banks yielded vast improvements in both cold starting and curb idle as well as overall drivability. Remember that the Bosch ECU which was used here was a full-race unit and a nice smooth idle is not one of the top ten items on a modern Formula One racecar’s check list.

Of course there were multiple test drives.  Much to check out and a number of check rides to be given.  After they pulled in and got their collective breaths the Banks engineers had plenty to say about the short road tests which they “had to make in the cause of science”, poor babies.  “The car drives deceptively well …” one allowed. “The sound of those massive Goodyear truck tires howling about two feet from your ear is a bit disconcerting at first …” said another.  “The car’s low speed agility is good, except when the speed falls into the parking lot range, then the steering gets a little heavy”  was postulated.  And one last (rather obvious) one:  “This car is a massive attention draw … No one ignores it as it passes by… I can see why Jay loves it.”  Us too, we all are drawn to this iconic car that’s far more fantastic than the most wildest “fantasy car” ever, only it’s the real (Banks Powered) thing!

34 ENGINES

by Doug Stokes
Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I just went out in the shop and counted for myself.

Thirty-four.

There are thirty four engines presently taking up just about every spare square foot of the race car shop floor here at Banks.  The crew has been pulling them out of storage for a couple of days now in preparation for a new museum exhibit that opens in Pomona on December 3rd.

I guess that I should have said, “Our exhibit,” because the show at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is actually entitled:  “Banks Power, The First 50 Years.”

Now you know the reason for all the engines.  Going back at least forty of Gale Banks’ 50 in the business, they are the living lexicon of Banks Power.

From the latest 1200+ horsepower twin-turbo diesel dragster engines to an early marine engine which was so good that it got itself legislated out of competition,  they’re all here, each representing the Banks heritage and that well documented corporate credo to do it better every time.

a race shop full of enignes

There’s the engine that put the Banks Dodge  Dakota in the FIA world record book as the fastest-ever diesel pickup through the traps in a two-way average.  There’s a tiny Buick V-6 engine that, with Banks turbocharging, started a whole line of production super cars and racecar derivatives and that even powered Indy Cars.  There are a couple of early attempts on diesel design that, in the day, were considered radical departures from the norm.

All will be cleaned up, checked over, and shipped across town Monday to take their places of honor on the floor at the museum.

New entries in the engine field include Banks’ long-awaited and much anticipated return to the waterways with its Duramax-based Marine engine. Looking every bit the part, the powerful twin-turbo diesel V-8 “wet workhorse” is almost as stylish as it is powerful.  Back now from “touring” major boat shows around the country the prototype is all set to turn the heads of fans in whole new setting.

And then there are the oddities, an early GM diesel V-8 with tall foot and a half intake runners that must have made a whole lot of power way down low in the rev band, and the half dummy/half real engine built for display on the hyper-exotic, one-off Arex rear engine sportscar.  Its block and heads are real but the space-age looking water-to-air intercooler that dominates the complete top of the engine is all styrofoam and dynoc.

There are 454’s, 390’s, Fords, Chevys, Dodge/Cummins and other engine brands on.  The eldest among them painted a bright blue and the later ones painted “Banks Red”.  Here’s an insiders’ tip:  anything painted blue was built before the turn of the century (2000)  and the “red engines” have all come to life thereafter.

For the historians, Banks did, very early-on, paint many customer engines a bright yellow.   However, all of those examples were repainted during the Banks “blue period” and appear that way today.

The most interesting thing about having almost 40 years of Banks Engineering on the hoof and under one roof has been the reaction of the employees.  Break and lunch hours have been strolls through a time tunnel that extends back in many cases to before some of the young engineers, designers, and technicians were born.  There’s been many a curious look and even more questions for some of the longer-serving employees.  The development and evolution that still goes on today can be seen in these historically significant reminders of the company’s longevity.

When something really needs some historic perspective out in the shop the go-to guy is Bob Robe, who last year celebrated 30 years with Banks.  Robe has had a hand in every engine designed and produced by Banks since 1977.   He also has a multi-megabyte storage unit safely ensconced in his head where he has faithfully filed and cataloged every bit of information about each of these mills.

Bob, who is generally a very popular guy, anyway is now even more revered by the staff.   “Yeah, we were trying for (this).  But we found out more about (that) … and then we applied it to (something different),”  he explains.

Robe understands the relationship pure research, running for records (he’s been in on many of them), and outstanding everyday product effectiveness, and overall quality.  He wears a few hats (chief designer, fabricator, occasional crew member) and wears them all quite well.

All of this “Banks’ Biggest Hits” collection (and more!) will be on view at one time at the museum during the multi-month exhibition.  Some of the engines will be on leave from “active-duty” (examples of the latest Banks engine mods for trucks and motorhomes) and will be rotated out for trade shows.  The good news is that they’ll be replaced by other examples of Banks Power, so multiple trips to the NHRA museum should yield different looks at this fascinating motor-lineage.

Of course, there’ll also be complete Banks racing machines (record-setters all including three red Banks Sidewinder pickups built for three distinctly different  purposes: Drag Strip, Salt Flats, and Road Racing).

There’ll be an “illustrated” time line tracing the company history back its first 50 years, and memorabilia ranging from trophies to intake manifolds, and from turbochargers to wooden bucks for parts casting.  Hundreds of other “trick” parts and pieces that have been part of the long high performance road that Banks’ has been on will be on view as well.

This will be the first time that Banks has ever been so honored by a museum.  In Banks’ own words:  “We’ve been on hundreds of magazine covers over the years.  (Visitors will see a number of blown-up copies at the museum.)  But the real thrill is having the NHRA Museum ask us to be on exhibit celebrating our ‘first’ 50 years in the business,”  said Banks.  I hope that everyone who can, will get by the museum while our show is there,  it’s truly one of the best motorsports museums in the country and we just could not be more proud of our participation there.”

Engineering & mechanics students visit Banks from Mexico…

by Doug Stokes
Monday, July 7th, 2008

Some 15 very eager students from the Centro Educativo Grupo Cedva in Mexico City recently toured the Banks facility in Azusa, California.  They were given an up-close and personal look at many of the manufacturing processes: from design and prototyping, through production, right on to the boxing and shipping of the final product.

The young folks were in Los Angeles to participate in the annual “Formula SAE” event sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. While they were in southern California they took a little time out to show a curious crowd of Banks employees their entry in the formula car competition at the Speedway. Their cool little student-built single-seater featured a modified 600cc Honda motorcycle engine, all-independent suspension, motorcycle disc brakes, wide Hoosier slicks, on open cockpit, and sleek composite bodywork.

students from the Centro Educativo Grupo Cedva in Mexico City

The school’s proud president (who’s an automotive engineer himself), Jorge Contreras, accompanied the youngsters. Grupo Cedva includes the College of Automotive Engineering (ESI) and the Automotive Technical Training School.

The mini-tour included something of a special session in Banks’ Automotive Balancing Service department where two of the ABS technicians were able to not only demonstrate the precision art and science of high quality crank, rod, and piston balancing; but to explain the process in the student’s native language, Spanish.

The Banks tube shop crew sizes up the SAE racer.

The Banks tube shop crew sizes up the SAE racer.

The tour included the Banks Race Shop (which is usually off limits to much of the outside world), the twin dyno cells, the prototype shop, the vehicle test bay, design center, and the engine clean room.  The new Banks Top Diesel Dragster, which had arrived at the shop only a week earlier, was a huge hit, as was seeing and taking photos of the record-setting Chevy Banks S-10 Drag Truck, parked right next to it on the shop floor.

At every stop, the highly-attentive students were given an quick explanation of what went on in that particular segment of the Banks facility and what special skills were needed to be working in that area.

Fifteen kids, a translator, a “tour guide”, and Sr. Contreras

Fifteen kids, a translator, a “tour guide”, and Sr. Contreras were a lot of people to get into the engine build room … But we made it!

From the smiles on their faces and the excited chatter as the youngsters got back on their bus a couple of hours after they arrived at Banks, the field trip to Azusa was a “technical” success and well-worth the effort.

Everyone on the Banks staff was quite pleased to know that this special group of students, who had traveled so far to take part in a SAE-sponsored event, had a good time as well as an educational trip to Banks.

For more information on the school and its programs:  www.grupocedva.com

Banks Sidewinder Diesel Dragster Arrives

by Doug Stokes
Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Mark down this date: Tuesday, June 17, 2008.

At precisely 8 a.m. the new Banks Sidewinder Duramax-powered diesel dragster stopped being a great idea, a few photos, some artist conceptions, a big stack of PO’s, a bunch of invoices, about a hundred faxes and an equal number of phone calls back and forth to Greenfield, Ind., and actually became a tangible object, a real, honest-to-goodness racing car, all 31.5 feet of it. The 276 inches of that ultra-loooooong wheelbase, swathed in a sleek, all-carbon-fiber body, now sits smack dab in the middle of the Banks Power race shop in Azusa, Calif.

The real thing coming out of its seemingly block-long crate and getting its first taste of the warm California sun made it seem almost as though, with a set of tires and a few decals, the digger would be ready to race.

Crated diesel dragster arrives on June 17, 2008

Just about everyone in the Banks offices on the race shop side of the street was outside to greet the new arrival, many of them noting that it had been what seemed like a long time since Gale Banks was back at his friend Mike Spitzer’s shop in central Indiana putting in his order for this very special chassis.

Diesel dragster unwrapped

Of course, months of prepping this machine are required before it can do battle in the quarter-mile. Today, it’s all pointing and looking. Look at this! Oh cool! Whoa! We all knew exactly what was specified, but seeing the chassis finally here in the shop, sitting on some quickly commandeered little roll-around “wheelies,” really is cool for everyone on the extended “team.” Today is “Christmas in June” for the engineers, engine builders, and technicians who will start with this basic chassis and transform it into a full-out Banks Sidewinder competition car replete with all of the innovations and forward-thinking diesel technology that name portends.

Banks race shop engineers are ready to roll

The Banks Power performance goals for this machine have been long stated: 200 miles an hour in the quarter-mile and doing that 2 bills in the 6-second elapsed-time range. Ahead are a few miles and more than a few late nights and early mornings, but the dragster project is finally steel, rubber, carbon fiber, and Diesel 2 rather than a colorful artist’s conception on some computer.

Day One … one great day!