I would like to introduce you to Skip Hedrich; he is an engineer, racecar designer, builder and driver and although he is 72 years old he would rather be recognized for his accomplishment rather than his age.His latest project is the ‘American Eagle’, a streamliner designed to go 450 mph and become the fastest piston engine driven car in the world.He started the ‘American Eagle’ project in 1996 and ran the inaugural race in 2001.Since then he has run the car faster each year. In 2004 he ran the car an average speed of 332 mph on his qualifying run and this exceeded the gas record by 10 mph and with a terminal speed of 335 mph. On his final run he experienced some drive train problems and had to abort the run and was not able to obtain the gas record. In 2005 both of the Bonneville races were weathered out. This year, 2006, he achieved the ‘C class’ gas record with a two way average speed over 323 mph and a terminal speed of 336 mph. This was only a milestone on his way to achieving other goals.
At this point in time we are building a ‘B class engine, which is a 340 cubic inch small block Chevy that should produce 840 hp. This will enable us to reach a 350 mph plus plateau.
Skip Hedrich’s streamliner project was born in June of 1996.He predicted he would be ready to race by September of 99’ for the SCTA World Finals at the Bonneville Salt Flats, but between his passion for boat racing, working and not having the help he needed, the project wasn’t making the progress he had intended.Shortly after that he made the tough decision to put his boat racing on hold until he finished and raced the streamliner.
At this point everything started falling into place.His next goal was to be ready to race at the ‘2000 SCTA World Finals’ at Bonneville, but again was delayed due to parts not arriving on time.Moving on, the team set their sights on being ready to race at the SCTA World Finals in 2001 at Bonneville.
In the original article by Gayle Kott in the May 1997 issue of the Bonneville Racing News, Skip Hedrich predicted that his 23 foot streamliner would be ready for the USFRA September 1997 World of Speed.Let’s review the former article to catch us all up to date.Skip got his first taste of competitive racing at the ripe old age of eight.He wanted to beat his friend Toad, who had a Powell motor scooter.Skip’s 1 1\2 horse Briggs and Stratton powered car was unable to beat him as they raced up and down the streets of Altadena, California.Skip was bound and determined to change this so he decided to lap the valves to gain a little horsepower.His mother was not pleased to see the engine apart in the garage and was more than a little surprised to see the car back together and running out the driveway at in the afternoon.This valve job did the trick and beating Toad even uphill wasn’t a problem any longer.Thus began his life long love of racing.
At the age of 16 he had already built his own street roadster which was a 29A on 32 rails to race at Bonneville, but because of finances he was unable to finish building the engine, so he joined Larry Burford and raced his Deuce Coupe. In 1953 he attended an El Mirage meet with his brother’s sprint car and was fairly competitive in the class.Much of Skips racing efforts during his twenties and thirties involved running midgets, sprint cars and eventually Indy Champ cars with USAC.In December of 1965, just before he was ready to leave for Indy to finish building the Indy car for Federal Engineering, (Skip’s ride for the 1966 season), he had a motorcycle accident badly breaking his knee and unfortunately shattering his dream.He tried to race after the accident, but his knee would swell and cause too much pain.His career in the oval track was over.
It wasn’t until 25 years later that the racing bug hit Skip again when he started boat racing.“The exhilarating feel of speed and acceleration made me realize what I had been missing for the past 25 years.”He knew competitive racing was in his blood and he loves it.“It’s the real me, I thrive on it.” he says.
It wasn’t long before Skip was back on the salt, this time running the Burkdohl streamliner.The first season he was .8 MPH short for a 214+ MPH record.The second season he was .2 MPH short.Shortly thereafter he decided to use his considerable knowledge in race car designing and building experience which he learned as he worked for various race car builders in his twenties and thirties, to build his own streamliner.
When my husband, Barry and I visited Skip and his wife Willie, (short for Wilhelmina), at their home in Vista, California, Skip took a break from his fervent work in progress to give us a shakedown course on building his dream car.The streamliner looked almost done from outside appearances, but once we started the interview, the body came off the chassis and soon understood the enormous amount of work there was left to do.As Skip put it, “It’s down to every minute of every day.”His faithful crews were working all possible hours they could to help pull it all together to reach their goal for getting the steam liner to El Mirage to do some test runs and then off to World of Speed 2000.At the time of our visit, this only left about a month.
They were promised drive train parts that didn’t arrive in time, which caused them to miss the World of Speed.To top that off, the crew was putting the final touches on the streamliner when they received a call informing them that the World Finals were canceled.Disappointment set in but didn’t keep the team from keeping the project moving forward to meet the new goal, to be ready to run at El Mirage and all Bonneville events for 2001.
Skip has built many race cars but this is the first time he built the body first, then the chassis to fit perfectly inside the body.“It’s a lot more difficult to build a streamliner this way and not the norm,” says Skip, “but then, I guess, I’m not normal.Willie will vouch for that!”
When Skip decided to start his streamliner project, he spoke to Don Vesco, Al Teague, Noland and Rick White, Terry Nish and others, telling them his plans and looking for any suggestions they might have to offer.Skip was extremely grateful for their helpful advice.That reminded him of the open, friendly attitude he used to enjoy at Indy 25 years ago and still finds in land speed racing today.
Skip Consulted with Lynn Yakel for the aerodynamic design of the streamliner.Lynn retired from Douglas Aircraft and is world renowned in aerodynamics in the land vehicle field.He designed Larsen-Cummins’ streamliner in the 80’s which was far ahead of its time (over 300 MPH).He has designed motorcycle streamliners for Don Vesco, Dennis Manning and various Indianapolis cars through the years.Skip had to really prod Lynn into taking on this project.Lynn didn’t want to get heavily involved with the project but agreed to guide Skip through the process.Skip sent Lynn a drawing of the front wheels, roll bars and rear wheels and their dimensions.After a few phone conversations between the two Lynn sent Skip’s drawing back with a formula that was developed by NASA for an airfoil with a low coefficient of drag.This teardrop shape would represent the shape of the split line, (in this case where the top body meets the bottom body).Skip worked out the formula for the 28 stations, (approximately every 10”), plotted the points on the drawing and sent it back to Lynn.A few days passed and Skip received a call from Lynn.“What the hell’s the matter with you,” asked Lynn.Skip was startled at first until Lynn said, “You didn’t make any mistakes!”They had a good laugh over the whole thing and have been the best of friends ever since.
The next step was to develop the cross sectional shapes.This was extremely time consuming.The object was to make the frontal area as small as possible and still encompass the wheels, engine, roll cage, and exhaust system then place the controls in a location where the driver can operate them and still be able to see out of the streamliner to drive it down the course.Skip used the same formula to develop the top part of the upper body, which encompasses the roll cage, engine hatch then blends into the tail.
Skip remembers going to Don Vesco’s and setting in his streamliner, taking measurements, scooting up and down finding the best position through measuring at his eye level relative to the cowling.Don was extremely helpful with his vast knowledge of building vehicles to race at Bonneville and years of driving and riding experience and to Skip’s fortune has shared it with him.“He is truly my pal,” says Skip
Now that the split line configuration had been developed mathematically and placed on a drawing, it was time to develop it to full size on a wood table with a steel frame and legs with adjusting pads.The table was leveled with in .020 of an inch; it took about a day and a half to achieve this accuracy.
While Skip was having some CNC machining done by Phil Caricof, Skip mentioned that he was about to develop the split line shape to full scale.Phil offered a phone number of a friend of his, Bob Chubb that had been the Chief Lofter for Douglas Aircraft for the past 30 years.Skip contacted Bob and explained his situation.Bob was enthralled with the project.Skip met with him leaving him a drawing.Bob developed the dimensions to a full scale drawing on Mylar.When he was finished he brought the Mylar to Skips Shop in three pieces which made it easier to transport.They proceeded to transfer the Mylar drawing to the wood table.After all the engineering time put forth this was the first time you could see the actual tear-drop shape of the split line that is 23’ long and 36” at the widest point.This was a glorious moment.Skip feels that he owes Bob a tremendous amount of gratitude.
At this point Skip drove to the beach where he drew most of the preliminary designs and sketches. There’s something about the tranquility of the waves and the aroma of the sea breeze that set his mind free to concentrate. This time however, he made the trip to make a major decision. It was evident that the streamliner would not be finished in 2 ½ years if he continued boat racing. It was a tough decision because of his love for that type of racing, but he couldn’t do both. He decided that the boat would be put to rest in the boat barn until he raced the streamliner.