With six-second 200mph dreams but only a shoestring budget, Top Alcohol was the only way this team was ever going to race
What you see in these well-framed photographs is an alcohol-burning, supercharged and injected Funny Car, built and campaigned on a miniscule budget by Morice McMillin and Ryan Sheldon, who choose to race in one of the most competitive yet confusing classes in a sport full of confusing classes. And they’ve done well. By travelling around the country they racked up enough round wins to take third in the NZDRA National point score, and ran a best of 6.73 at 211mph in their first season of running the car.
It’s a twisted, convoluted tail, the evolution of this team, but they met up years back when they both ended up crewing on Mark Thomas’s Top Doorslammer ute. Ryan has been around drag racing his whole life. He crewed on Thomas’s little green lorry from its eight-second beginnings in Wild Bunch racing before trotting off to the US for a few years. When Ryan returned, it was with a plan to campaign his own Doorslammer, and he purchased the big ’59 Chev of Reagan Porter. He also slid right back into his former position on Blobby Thomas’s crew, and set about buying an engine he knew quite well, the alloy 532 KB Chev out of the ute.
New to team FatMan then was the gofer, a cheeky little runt named Morice McMillin, who had also been around the sport most of his young life, and had proved not only able to take the tons of verbal abuse heaped upon him, but more than capable of throwing a few barbs of his own.
After a couple of years of this fun, Morice’s dad, Noel (yep, he’s also spent donkeys’ years in the sport, especially in the thankless administration side), surprised everyone including himself by purchasing an old Mustang-bodied funny car. It hadn’t been on a track for about a decade and it needed a chassis upgrade (as in a new chassis), but hey, the price was right and the thing came complete, including an injected big block Chev.
The McMillins got that underway, while young Morice was gearing himself up for the most power he would ever have had under his right foot. Then Ryan offered the two his 10-71 supercharger and injector hat and things took a quantum leap. Possibly a sideways leap, but still great fun and an awesome learning experience, running a blown alky flopper, for someone whose only racing experience was in Junior Dragster or dad’s old truck.
Only Driven On Sundays
Somewhere along the way Ryan ditched his ’59 Doorslammer, but the team decided his alloy 532 was too much motor to place into the Mustang, since too many aspects of the car were a compromise. It was already a piece of Kiwi nostalgia, so to go fast they would be better off starting afresh, rather than chopping up the old one.
Around this time, Tim Watkins drove the parachute-less Spider-man flopper off the end of Ruapuna and wrote the formerly five-second-capable Firebird off. Tim also decided to replace rather than rebuild, so the U-bend-shaped chassis went off to Hamilton, where Chris and Robert Tynan replaced everything from the engine plate forwards while Morice started smashing open piggy banks so he could buy it.
Six Seconds Or Bust
They were going Top Alcohol racing, not to be the quickest and fastest, but not just to make up the numbers either. Ryan’s quest was to beat the local record for a Chevy-style engine, and to be competitive in T/A on a tight budget. “We knew the engine could do it,” he says, “we just had to bolt the right bits around it.”
Morice just wanted to go “six seconds at 200mph”, preferably before his longtime Junior Dragster buddy Scott Millar got there in his Ford-powered dragster. But with minimal money to go around, most parts were purchased on a ‘what’s needed’ basis rather than for the cool factor.
Once all the tubes were pointing in the right direction, the likely lads cajoled Robert into making some of the various mounts and brackets required, while the Tynan-rebuilt engine was placed into the chassis. It had made plenty of horses in the Blobster’s ute with an ancient 14-71, so the brand new blower bolted onto it wasn’t gonna make it any slower.
Next the guys started accumulating all the other necessary parts. Ryan bought a three-speed Lenco from a T/A competitor, Morice bought the clutch from another, it’s coupled to the floating Strange top loader 9.5-inch diff that came with the car. There are 16-inch Centreline rims either side of it, wrapped in fat Hoosier slicks, and there are some smaller and skinnier ConvoPros on the front end surrounded by Goodyear rubber. There is no other suspension save the air inside those black doughnuts.
Perched on top of the diff ” between those huge tyres ” is a seat, a butterfly steering wheel and a bunch of gauges that he claims “don’t work half the time”. Ryan jokingly retorts that Morice “probably doesn’t even look at ’em half the time”.
The Dodge Avenger body was purchased off a website, and then sat at Camp Stanley’s yard in Maryland until it could be squeezed into someone else’s container (thanks TJ). Once it arrived repair work was undertaken by Adam Prestney, and then it was squirted in Scrap Palace orange, like almost every other drag car out of Hamilton. A million and one little jobs later, and the car was ready to go.
And after a season travelling around New Zealand they had a lot of laughs (“All the guys in Top Alcohol are great; no egos out of control in this class”) and achieved their personal goals, despite running a soft tune-up. “We can’t afford to blow shit up so we ask the right people the right questions and they humour us,” Ryan jokes. “And we have had a bit of luck, like when the throttle linkage fell off just as it broke a roller lifter; you need those breaks now and then.” They’ve logged 39 passes and the last 19 have all been in the sixes or seven-zeros. There is a lot more left; this coming year they’re aiming for 6.50s or 6.40s. “We’ve only just started to work on the clutch and the motor’s still way fat”, Ryan says. “We’ll just chip away cautiously.”
All Expenses Spared
The pair has become very adept at getting things done for as little expenditure as possible, and that includes travelling. While some teams claim a round trip to an away track could cost them five grand, these two did the whole series for that. They’re living the Top Alcohol dream, and if that means sleeping in the pits beside the car rather than snoring away in a hotel room, Ryan is more than happy to let Morice do it. For them, these are the good old days running in Top Alky on a Super Sedan budget.
Top Alcohol Explained
Trying to describe what makes up the Kiwi version of Top Alcohol is not easy. In short, it is a heads-up race between a pair of centre-steer mechanically or chemically supercharged race cars, which sounds simple enough. But it’s the visual variety of the cars involved that can cause befuddlement.
Here in Godzone, you could view a pairing between some high-tech, seven-metre-long, eight-litre supercharged Hemi rear-engined land-locked missile like the Vincent family car. Or run up against an altered like Dave Gauld’s, which supposedly resembles an ancient Fiat that’s powered by a blown big block Chevy. Or meet a shorter dragster, with the motor up front like Garth Hogan’s. Maybe even one of the late-model altereds, the funny car, a late-model fibreglass shell draped over the engine and chassis for improved aerodynamics and increased marketing space.
Further confusion can arise from the fact that one does not actually have to run a supercharged alcohol engine in Top Alcohol; an injected nitro deal is also available, like the aforementioned Hogan machine.
Why all this complexity? In NHRA racing, the alky dragster class is the only one that allows two different kinds of induction, letting free-thinking engineers have a bit of latitude for experimentation. But by necessity, drag racing has always been a bit of a mutant beast here in En Zed. Our racers are an inventive lot, and while influenced by overseas trends and what the wallet allows, most will pretty much build what they damn well please and worry about what class it fits into later. If doing things a bit differently to everybody else is what you’re into, this class may just be for you.
Centre-steer race cars are generally somewhat minimalist by their very nature; they are meant to go fast first and foremost, and in drag racing the dragster is the classic example of this. Traditionalists like the motor in front of the driver, current chassis science has the driver in front of the engine. But to the uninformed, either design looks like some spindly framework with a big motor in it, which it is, but with a lot of proven physics theory worked into it.
Having most of the weight on the rear wheels helps, but because there is no suspension to speak of other than the slicks, there’s a whole lot of work that goes into getting these things to launch. Watch one leave the line and learn. The whole chassis goes into a traction-aiding arch like a banana as the rear wheels try to drive under the front ones. Some of the bars in this frame may not even be welded, with a sliding slip fit that allows the frame to flex. Some dragsters come with a cable that runs through the car, enabling the tuner to preload the chassis. Engine position is also important, particularly in shorter altereds and funny cars, but the real key to getting these weapons down the race track successfully is the clutch setting. Again, much can be learnt from observation. Watch the bell housing area, and if the car pads off the line without any tyre smoke there’ll be a cloud of sticky black clutch dust pouring out of it.
Appearances are deceptive in this class, never judge whether a top alcohol car is a sheep or a wolf based on its clothing. Although the novice would struggle to tell the difference visually between an injected nitro car or a supercharged alcohol one, they sound completely different and favour different weather conditions. Nitro creates its own oxygen when burning, so those cars fly when the air is bad, whereas alky cars thrive in good air.
Some believe that a rear-engined dragster is a superior evolution of the front-motored cars, but some of drag racing’s cleverest people are currently reconsidering that position, and some of them aren’t even sure that a longer wheelbase is better. For the altereds and funny cars, 125 inches (3175mm) is the maximum, although those who decide shorter is more traditional generally spend more time fighting the car down the track than clicking off quick elapsed times.
Aerodynamically, while minimalist to the extreme, dragsters are quite dirty, with that huge engine being the main culprit. And an altered, no matter how much the body has been, er, altered, is still an aero nightmare. However, since the 1980s, funny cars have been slicked up considerably to the point that it takes skilled airbrushing to give the shell some kind of corporate identity.
2000 Dodge Avenger funny car – Specifications
Engine details: 532ci (9718cc) KB Chev, Brooks 88 rods, CP pistons, Pro Crank 4-1/8-inch stroke, Clevite bearings, Mellings high volume oil pump, custom fabricated sump, Crane cam over 0.75-inch lift, Dart 360 heads, Crane gold roller rockers and stud girdle, Manley titanium valves and retainers, Comp Cams valve springs, Manley pushrods, Comp Cams roller lifters, sheet metal manifold with port nozzles, low-profile PSI injector hat, 14/71 Littlefield high-helix supercharger with billet rotors, running 44 pounds boost, Enderle 1200 pump, Enderle nitro barrel valve, alloy fuel tank and fuel log by Robert Tynan, pump loop and single high-speed leaner, hat and port nozzles, Mallory Supermag 4, Mallory coil, Mallory leads, custom exhaust by Hairy’s Pipe Dreams in Hamilton, flange plates by Laser Pro Hamilton
Driveline: Lenco cs1 three-speed maintained by owners with assistance from John Neilan and Chris Tynan (basically they told the guys what to do), aluminium Chev flywheel, Crower small stand triple-plate clutch, steel 8-1/8-inch clutch can, Strange 9.5-inch top-loader diff, 4.3:1 ratio, solid driveshaft
Suspension: The air in the tyres. The shocks will come the day Trevor Tynan turns up wanting his pit space back, and the springs is where they race the Midgets, isn’t it?
Brakes: Strange single-pot funny car brakes on front with Strange rotors, Strange 4-pots on rear
Wheels/tyres: 15×4 and 16×17-inch Centreline convo pros, Goodyear 25×4.5×15 kindly donated by Mike Reid, Hoosier 34.5x17x16 slicks
Exterior: Orange like an orange with stickers
Chassis: Rebuilt after crash from engine plate forwards by Chris and Robert Tynan using chromoly tubing
Interior: One seat in a roll cage that is too small for Ryan to fit in, some gauges that work sometimes and some that never have
Performance: 6.73 at 211mph (340kph)
Morice McMillan & Ryan Sheldon – Owner Profiles
Car Club: NZDRA
Driver: Morice McMillin
Occupation: Stripper/man whore
Previously owned cars: Mustang funny car, ’66 Impala, ’66 Ford Falcon
Dream car: Fuel altered/fuel funny car
Why the funny car: To break the record for the fastest Chev-powered funny car in New Zealand, the cheapest and most cost-effective way to go six seconds, 200mph racing
Build time: Six months
Length of ownership: One year
Ryan and Morice thank: “Our crew Anthony Dyer, Monique Jones, Chelsea Burns, Craig Williams, token crew members Adam Prestney, Mike and Clit Reid and Jennifer Tynan. Chris Tynan, for invaluable advice and answers to all our stupid questions. The entire Tynan family. Des Sheldon and Noel McMillin. John Neilan, Chris Johnston. Mike Reid, Steve Easton. Trevor Tynan for the use of his pit shed for the next three years! All competitors who followed the national series and made it what it was.
Our sponsors: Scrap Palace, BradPenn Oil, Teng Tools, Mitsi Spares, Nostalgia Motors, Jonesy’s Garage, ISS, Upper Hutt Glass.”
Words: Trevor Tynan Photos: Adam Croy
This article is from NZV8 issue 52. Click here to check it out.