THE WEEKEND WHEN NITRO GOT NITROUS BANNED
Mike Thermos swears Don Prudhomme got him banished from the NHRA.
"Yeah, that’s true alright," said Thermos, whose grandest contribution to drag racing was nitrous-injection in doorslammers.
"He got me banned from NHRA. I can’t even buy a ticket anymore."
Thermos couldn't even finish his sentence when he broke out laughing adding, "Well not really."
Prudhomme was the most famous character of the famous 1982 Nitrous Indy. The only problem was he wasn't running the juice.
"We had it hooked up, but we didn’t really run it," Prudhomme admitted. "The way it was hooked up it wouldn’t, we hooked it right up directly to the fuel pump. We came onto something that was really trick in the engine before the U.S. Nationals, and we wanted to distract people from what it was so we put something obvious there like a nitrous bottle, and everybody thought we ran nitrous, but we weren’t."
Prudhomme's partner-in-crime, Bob Brandt, was all too willing to contribute to the old charade.
"The best part wasn’t so much what we did; it’s what everybody, the monkey see, monkey do deal," Brandt said. "They all put it in their cars and burned them up. Larry Minor and his guys, they put all that s*** in their car, Segrini, burned them all up."
Thermos can only shake his head knowing how the whole sordid scenario really played out.
"We had all the cars, Blue Max, Chi-Town, Billy Meyer, all those cars were running nitrous," Thermos explained. "We were learning — Dale Armstrong. We built kits with him, not for him. He would modify them to his specs. But we were only trying to get the nitro.
"You’ve got to remember that the fuel, they were trying to put more fuel through the things and we were limited on the magnetos back then. So to get the fuel to light, they just put in a little kiss of nitrous. It wasn’t to make power; it was just to get it to light the nitro. And then Don showed up with this thing going into his pump, him and Brandt."
Thermos said he did his own kind of investigation of Prudhomme's performance escapade. He said it didn't take him
"I watched them because I wanted to see what was going on," Thermos said. "I had an interest in it. They faked the bottle. They would light the motor, and the crew guy would come out, and he would fake the bottle like it was on. They had a big pump on it, and they didn’t want anybody to know they had a big pump on the car.
"I tease him now all the time; I can’t get into the track, I’m banned from NHRA forever."
So who ran nitrous? The list was long and distinguished, including names such as Kenny Bernstein, Billy Meyer, Tom Anderson, Raymond Beadle, and Frank Hawley were just a few of the well-known drivers with the laughing gas.
"Billy Meyer was very successful with it," Thermos explained. "He would turn up the wick and re-teflon it; he’d just put a little more nitrous in it, and he had a handle on it."
Then, as Thermos puts it, Prudhomme showed off and got it banned.
"They took a vote of who wanted it, and who didn’t after Prudhomme’s deal, and we got lobbied out," Thermos said. "Most guys said, ‘Nah, we don’t need another thing to to worry about."
And according to Thermos, the nitrous did little if any damage to the engines.
"It helped the motor," Thermos declared. "We didn’t put that much in it. I mean we had little teeny jets. We made a little adapter that would go on the Enderle port nozzle, and we just put a little dash of nitrous in. In fact, Billy was one of the first guys that when we went on the track, we put blank jets in it. And so he made a run. I didn’t want to blow the blower up and then eat crow.
"So they came back, they pulled the heads off, and they made up all kinds of-of things like, ‘Look, this nitrous is working, it’s burning the fuel."
"I laughed to myself because there was none going in. And then we started with a sixteen-thousandths jet, and we started creeping up on it, and it started lighting the fuel and quit dropping cylinders. Today it would work. The problem is, the guys would have started just turning the wick up on nitrous. Nitro and nitrous is a whole new combination
"You’ve got to be real careful because they’re both oxygenated type products. And people don’t realize how much oxygen comes out of nitro and how much oxygen comes out of nitrous oxide. You can lean her out pretty quick."
So what was Prudhomme's terrible towel moment about?
"We just had a special cam and some cylinder heads on it and some stuff that we were testing that really worked out great," Prudhomme said in hushed tones, smiling. "So we brought that to Indy and unloaded it off the trailer and just thought it was a great idea to put the nitrous on because we knew the car was going to be quick, but we didn’t know it was going to be that quick."
Prudhomme smiles because his rope-a-dope might have served as the longest-running diversionary tactic in drag racing.
"They never did figure it out," Prudhomme said. "They just went ahead and banned the nitrous oxide."
"We were just that clever," Brandt added.