Bauma 2016

Chasing the World Record

Posted on 18 October 2017 by Chuck Mahnken, Images by Randy Maxwell

To set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, a lot of things have to go right.

To set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, a lot of things have to go right. Every component in the vehicle must be perfect. The salt base on the dry-lake bed must be hard and smooth. Cool temperatures, low air density and favorable winds are also advantageous. Despite all the random elements beyond their control, racing teams spend all year working on their vehicles, preparing for a shot at glory.

This year at the 69th annual Speed Week, 440 vehicles and crews from all over the world convened on the world-famous Salt Flats, waiting for their turn to make history. Rising tall above the motorcycles, hotrods, streamliners and coupes in the lineup, the ten-ton Joint Venture racing truck is impossible to miss. When it leaves the starting line, it’s not exactly a gentle giant. Producing a trail of black smoke and a sound comparable to a bomber plane, the Joint Venture can finish the five-mile run in approximately 80 seconds.

The Series 2000 16-cylinder engine is nine feet long, weighs 10,000 lbs. and is capable of producing 3,000 hp.

The Joint Venture is larger than life, created from the body of a 1997 Freightliner. While the typical highway hauler truck is powered by a six-cylinder engine that’s 60 inches long and 3,000 pounds, the Joint Venture’s MTU Series 2000 engine is designed for huge mine haul trucks. The monstrous 16-cylinder engine is nine feet long, weighs 10,000 lbs. and is capable of producing 3,000 hp. The truck is highly modified to accommodate this tsunami of power, with giant turbochargers, Boeing 737 rear tires, front tires from a F-15 fighter and a large parachute to bring it to a stop.

The Joint Venture made its debut on the Salt Flats in 1990. Since then, it has returned every year, raising the bar many times to the current world record in its class: 228.804 mph. Last year marked the first time the truck was powered by a Series 2000 engine, supplied by MTU distributor Pacific Power. The engine performed perfectly and the truck flew down the five-mile track at a top speed of 220 mph. However, on its fourth run on the Salt Flats, the torque was so great that the truck’s axles broke and the team had to withdraw. 

Don Lemmons, owner of the Joint Venture, says, “The truck is so fast that we have no place for test runs, other than the Salt Flats. There is no handbook for this type of vehicle. We just have to do what we think is right and hope for the best. This year, we had new axles built with high tensile steel. And we brought the engine to Detroit Remanufacturing for testing, to see what we can do to improve efficiencies and get more power and torque.”

During dynamometer testing at Detroit Remanufacturing’s facility in Utah, the team monitored engine data and made adjustments to maximize performance. “When we tested it, the sound was so big it attracted a crowd. People wanted to see what was going on. It was exciting. We all were like kids in a candy shop,” says Stephan Hunt, Lead Dyno Operator at Detroit Remanufacturing.

Created from the body of a 1997 Freightliner, the truck is highly modified to accommodate a tsunami of power, with giant turbochargers, Boeing 737 rear tires, front tires from a F-15 fighter and a large parachute to bring it to a stop.

With the Series 2000 engine calibrated and ready to go, the Joint Venture team was confident for this year’s attempt at the record. A team of 15 assembled at the Salt Flats, including an instrument technician and driver that are no strangers to speed—they work primarily with Lockheed Martin aircraft. The first three runs produced speeds of more than 220 mph. However, mechanical issues with the transmission and blown aircraft tires stood in the way of the world record.

With a new transmission and spare tires, there was time for one last attempt on the last day of Speed Week. The truck roared down the salt bed to 100 mph, then lost traction on a rough patch of the track. The truck straightened out, but lost valuable time. The final result was 227.06 mph—just one mph shy of the record. The Joint Venture was still gaining speed after the point of measurement, and would have certainly set the record if the course were only 150 feet longer.

For Don Lemmons and the Joint Venture team, coming so close to the world record only adds fuel to fire. “It was hard to give up and come home. But we were right there in the right position. When you’re that close, any little thing, like a shift in the wind, can help you. It’s never easy out there. But we’re going to get it done and we’ll be back next year,” says Don.

Point of Contact

Bryan Mangum
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