Volume II, Issue 11, Page 3

Edelbrock’s “Gong” team…

During the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Edelbrock housed what was arguably the most comprehensive engine dyno facility in the specialty parts industry.  Beyond the best equipment, the place was populated by some of the most experienced engine people in the business.  From the company’s perspective, it made sense to access engines extracted directly from race cars for the development of its various products.  The process not only enabled the evaluative mating of prototype parts to their eventual on-track environments, it virtually eliminated the need to build expensive race bullets as part of the company’s test engine stable. 

In the view of racers, participating in this process often provided a vast amount of information about their particular engine packages, insight they could not have otherwise gained on their own.  For you see, at that point in time, ably-staffed and state-of-the-art engine dyno facilities were as rare as hen’s teeth, and the Edelbrock “experience” was a sought-after opportunity among racers. 

During this period, the parade of personalities that passed through this facility read like a “who’s who” among the racing community. Included was Bill Jenkins, Benny Parsons, Paul Blevins, John Lingenfelter, Don Nicholson, Bob Lambeck, Dick Landy, Wally Booth, Dick Arons, Jr. Johnson…and on and on.  For most, their time at Edelbrock ordinarily included one little item of “initiation.”  But first you need to understand the landscape.
The dyno “cell” (that portion housing the dyno itself) was an 8x12-foot room bordered on opposite sides by entry doors and joined across the back with a opening that allowed un-muffled headers to dump toward and upwards into a building-exiting chimney. It was framed in the front by a control panel, above which were multiple panes of shatter-proof glass that measured about 4 feet by 6.  As you would expect, the glassed portion allowed a panoramic view of engine inside the cell.  The entire area was devoid of any sound deadening materials or devices. The floor was concrete.  Remember that.

So you can imagine that when one of the various race pieces was straining away at 8,000-plus rpm, open exhaust trying to remove all the paint from inside the chimney and virtually canceling out any thoughts of conversation among machine shop workers laboring outside the dyno area, it was what could easily have been called a “noise enhanced” environment.  To those visitors not altogether familiar with what engine dyno testing was all about, often anticipating horrific parts failures and the visual damage attached thereto, nerve endings were typically on edge.  Besides, these were their parts!  This included the majority of racers who “loaned” their engines to the effort.  Now, the “gong” effect.

In the drawer of a bench that was directly in back of the control panel (clearly not visible if your attention was affixed to the dyno cell observation window) was a small chunk of SAE 6061-T6 aluminum that measured about 8 by 12 inches. Those skilled in the science of metallurgy know that this grade of material tempered to a T6 condition becomes a virtual “gong” when dropped on a concrete floor, especially if from a height of about five feet. Such a metal scrap doesn’t just hit and stop.  It “rattles” around.

Now picture “The Grump” with attention spread between watching his 430-inch,  one-of-a-kind, ex-CanAm, aluminum big-block cum Pro Stock engine, wailing away at 7,500 rpm (pretty high for that day in time), hoping it survives its dyno experience and with eyes riveted to the dyno window when the aforementioned aluminum plate hits the floor behind him. Students of physics will tell you that the relative difference in audible frequency between the impact of such a piece of aluminum and the sound of a high-winding big-block Chevy is significant.  Simply put, you’re going to hear the gong above virtually anything else…as did Mr. Jenkins. When he’d recovered, he couldn’t wait to be the one who dropped the plate behind Wally Booth who, as a matter of fact, was also at Edelbrock (not in the area) and slated next on the dyno.  And so it went.

Now for the classic “gong” team story.  TRACO Engineering was about fifteen minutes from Edelbrock and engaged in building the 302 small-blocks to be introduced in Penske’s early IROC Camaros.  Painfully expensive experience had taught Roger that IROC racers cared less about how they tore up high-dollar Porsches as compared to much cheaper Camaros.  So Roger opted for the latter and TRACO was contracted to build the 302s. 

From time to time, engines from TRACO found their way onto the pump at Edelbrock, and there was a nice young man who often delivered parts between the two companies.  His name doesn’t matter, at least for purposes of this story, but if he’s around today, he probably reckoned he’d not make it this far, based on experiences that included the gong team.

It turns out this young fella had just dropped off some parts and occasioned into the dyno room, for the first time as it turned out.  So with a rookie observer and one of Edelbrock’s high-note Tunnel Ram small-blocks wailing away on the dyno, somebody dropped the plate. If memory serves, it might have been Vic. He liked to be the one.  Whereupon, the rookie observer grabbed his chest, instantly became quite pale, staggered over and dropped into a nearby chair.  We immediately shut down the dyno, imagining we’d finally stepped over the gong line.  As the young guy managed to get his breath and began regaining color, he commented, “You guys have no idea what happened at TRACO last night.”  Obviously, we hadn’t a clue.

For the record, TRACO’s dyno was at the back of a shop that dumped into an alley  behind a short strip of buildings, including theirs.  For noise reasons, they often ran their dyno at night, out through double doors.  The dyno sat out in the open, served by umbilicals that included oil to the dry sump, fuel feed, and a variety of electrical and data-sensing lines--the engine’s lifelines.  At about 11pm on the night before his Edelbrock “experience,” our visitor was observing one of the new IROC 302s spinning away at about 7,500 when its stock, grey-iron flywheel decided to come apart.

In no particular order, according to damage reports, one piece traveled vertically and immediately severed the umbilical cords.  This allowed full and pressurized delivery of hot oil and errant fuel, sprayed around the shop through random flailing oil and fuel lines.  Ever turned a balloon full of air loose in a room?  Another piece of ‘wheel doused the shop’s main lighting circuit.  Yet another piece had whizzed past our visitor and removed a sizeable chunk of shop wall just behind him.  The throttle was stuck wide open and all of this was unfolding in total darkness.

The engine finally expired, much to the relief of everyone remaining in the TRACO shop but not before the experience tattooed itself onto the mind of our young visitor who had walked right into his unexpected Edelbrock gong session. It was almost of such significance that we could have decided never to use the plate again. The operative words, of course, were almost and could.  Then again, had Benny Parsons not turned up for an Edelbrock dyno session a short time later… 

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