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When driver Eric Dillard rolled into Palm Beach International Raceway (PBIR) with crew chief Steve Petty late last month, they probably were not the first choice among the gathered R2B2 Racing hands expected to make news in the extended test session.
After all, with Melanie Troxel also making laps for the Atlanta-based team in both a nitro Funny Car and a supercharged NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod, plus blown Pro Mod veterans Ray Commisso and Al Billes, turbo Pro Mod master Brad Personett, and, of course, team owner Roger Burgess on the PBIR grounds testing each of their R2B2 mounts, the competition for attention would be tough.
|Steve Petty (left) and Eric Dillard|
And at first it looked like the pair from Woodstock, GA, would just be making another few sorting-out passes, as they opened with a couple of tire shakers in a new ’53 Corvette built by R2B2 employee Jim Geese and carrying a twin-turbocharged, Pro Line Racing-built AJ 481X Wedge motor backed up by an OEM Turbo 400 transmission and fitted with a Pro Torque converter.
But on the last day of January the combination finally gelled as Dillard delivered a 5.88-second pass at exactly 255 mph, unofficially the second-fastest run in NHRA Pro Mod history behind only Personett’s 255.39 at the U.S. Nationals last September. That made everyone sit up and take notice until the next day when Dillard dropped the E.T. to 5.86 and then to 5.83 at just over 254 mph.
"I haven’t aborted a run and we’re more excited about that than anything else,” said Dillard, a co-owner at Pro Line, where Petty leads the company’s research and development efforts and serves as its primary tuning consultant.
Remarkably, prior to beginning testing in the R2B2 Corvette, Dillard had made only five quarter-mile passes in a Limited Street car and had never before driven a “big-tire,” tube-chassis car.
“We started testing six months ago, but about the first four test sessions we had a lot of issues with the car and couldn’t even run it, so we really started testing the Monday after the (NHRA) national event in Charlotte; that was the first test session where we really got to make a lap,” he said.
Still, their first decent runs came very early this year at PBIR and resulted in a series of 6.13, 6.12, 6.11 and 6.09 passes, topping out at approximately 246 mph.
“We’ve actually been working on the Pro Mod deal for about two years now,” Dillard said. “We started with Coby’s (Rabon) car and then we met Roger (Burgess), he’s local to us, and we got the opportunity to go talk to him and show him what we can do and a year ago he gave us the go-ahead and now we’re finally getting it to all come together.”
And then, after four years of blown Pro Mod competition on the NHRA trail, Burgess strapped into the new, twin-turboed Vette Feb. 9, and promptly laid down a solid 5.95-second pass followed by a 5.92, both times going through the traps at 254 mph.
Obviously impressed, Burgess met later the same day with Dillard and Petty to let them know the new R2B2 plan is for him to take over the car for its competition debut Mar. 10-13, in the 42nd annual NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville, Florida, and he’ll drive it the rest of the year with Petty as his tuner.