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White Zombie does burn-out.
'White Zombie' does tire softening 'burn out' prior to run at Portland International Raceway Friday night, 30 July 2019. Photo courtesy of Carol Brown.

Cracking the 10s

John 'Plasma Boy' Wayland in his own words.

By John Wayland

He lovingly calls his 1972 Datsun 1200 coupe ' White Zombie'. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" may have been a more appropriate moniker, for this little spam can from Japan transforms itself from a nondescript econo-box indistinguishable from the millions of other cheap imports daily shuttling commuters into a veritable monster… on the drag strip, one that grows more aggressive, more powerful with each passing year.

This year was no exception. For the first time since he began drag racing competitively, John "Plasma Boy" Wayland's little car not only 'cracked the 10's', it smashed straight through them. Here, in his words -- with some deft editing -- is how he and his team did it last Friday night (30 July 2010) at Portland International Raceway in Oregon.

What Makes Zombie Go
First a bit of background. The Zombie is a street-legal automobile, but over the years Wayland has continued to lighten it, stripping it down to its barest basics, while aggressively improving its electric drive system, as well as its suspension. Pass it on the street and you'd hardly take notice of it -- except, of course, for all its sponsor logos -- but don't make the mistake of underestimating this little rocket sled on four wheels. He estimates its curb weight at around 2,300 lbs (1,043kg) with its new 9-inch Siamese-twins electric motor. His main sponsor is Dow/Kokam, which supplied him with his 22.7 kWh (@C2) lithium-ion battery pack, nominally rated at 355.2V, but 395V when fully charged. The controller is a Zilla 2K; the Micro BMS is by Manzanita, so is the battery charger. The Zombie is 'shoed' with 15-inch G Force drag radials on the rear and 'skinny' 145/65/15 LRR tires on the front. The street-legal G-Force radials are inflated to 35 psi for street use, and deflated to 20 psi for the drag strip. 'Burn outs' like that in the above photo by Carol Brown make them "sticky" for improved launch traction.

Until 2007, Zombie was a lead-sled powered by heavy lead-acid batteries from different sponsors. This changed in 2007 when Bill Dube's Killacycle team loaned him a used set of A123 lithium-on batteries that lightened the car enough to break into the 11's. Now with the new Dow/Kokams, he was ready to assault the 10s, meaning completing the 1/4th mile run in under 11 seconds. To do that would mean reaching speeds in excess of 120 mph and accelerating from 0-to-60 mph in less than 2 seconds!

But achieving this would require the car be in perfect running order. That, however, is not how the night began.

WAYLAND: There was drama before I even left the house, when the car's series-parallel contactor setup acted up to the point where 'nothing' was working and the car was un-drivable. Having told everyone we were headed back to the track on Friday, the pressure was on to get it fixed, which I did only after copious amounts of sweat and panic! The car drove beautifully on the way to PIR, but manually switching from series to parallel brought back the bucking and snorting symptoms again.

Hmmm...at least we would would be able to keep the controller from 'trying' to go into parallel with the manual setup employed. We had also changed the gear set from the 4:11s to the taller 3:70 ratio, something I was convinced would improve both the hole shot and the top end, as the set had done back in '07 with the super lighten Zombie and the borrowed A123 pack. With the Dow / Kokam cells sooooo stiff, the series mode seemed to pull like crazy anyway and it was doubtful that parallel was even needed. This was to be proven later.

With the motors left in the series mode and with the controller quite happy about the situation, the car was now able to keep accelerating the full length of the track. We were all blown away with an eye-popping opening run of 11.111 @117.77 mph!

What the heck?? Evidently, the stout lithium cells high voltage under load keeps the motor sections at full boil even in series mode - parallel no longer needed? An 11.1 was the quickest elapsed time (ET) the Zombie had ever run - a full 3/10 quicker than the previous best of 11.4.

Without recharging and with no changes to controller settings, just six minutes later at 7:33 pm we ran a quicker 11.069 @ 117.70 mph....so close to a 10, but yet not one!

Almost 10's: That Sinking Feeling
It was on run number three at 7:46 pm, with Wayland and his team smelling sweet 10s in the air, that disaster struck. As Zombie squealed off the line and headed for the 1/8 mile marker, the 12v wiring that connected the forward and reverse switch on the dash shorted out, filling the cabin with smoke. The car automatically shut itself down and coasted across the line in an amazing 11.170 ET. Even with the short, the car still managed to hit 103.09 mph in the 1/8 mile. However, the overall trap speed was just 94.13 mph.

WAYLAND: When the Zombie didn't return and the track rescue vehicle sped away down the track, our stomachs collectively sank as we were suddenly thinking about the 10s that got away!

Steve 'The Taunter' Schrab, Mike Willmon and I piled into Mike's truck and towed the Zombie back to the pit area where a one hour rewire of things took place, and it wasn't limited to just the interior control wiring! I was able to reconfigure Hairball and contactor inputs to get the car running again, while the pack was freshened up. We were ready to run again! We adjusted the power from 1400 battery amps to 1800, and took the motor current up from 1500 amps to a full 2000 amps. Of note, 1800 amps is still 600 amps shy of what the Dow Kokams can put out!

Wayland and company would make one more run that night, this time against a competing gasoline muscle car, a 485hp, twin turbo-powered Nissan Skyline GT-R, the company's high-performance flagship from 1969-1977, winning 29 of the 29 races in which it was entered. Curiously, the motoring press dubbed the Skyline 'Godzilla'. The little Datsun, the predecessor of today's Nissan, also sports a tiny Godzilla character on its hood; it would serve Wayland well. Again, Zombie turned in a 10.400, but with the GT-R hot on its heels, though still nearly a second behind. The speed for both cars that run was 117.21 mph.

That night, Wayland says he walked away with a special feeling of not only having made history, but having done it in the company of good friends, many of whom had traveled considerable distances to be there cheering on his car, along with the indefatigable support of his team of volunteers.

Cracking 10s Video

Times Article Viewed: 8104
Published: 03-Aug-2010

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