“Ducking under my Firebird body, I squeeze into the form fitted seat and take a deep breath. As always, it was a thrash to get to this point but we are finally ready for the next round. My guy’s strap me in so tight I can hardly breathe. No major damage on the last run, but the pistons have to come out every run anyway. There are always one or two with tight rings, so they all get changed regardless. It took a lot of sweat from me and my guys to service the motor in less than two hours.
The last run was good, but we can do better. Another percent of nitro and a slight change to the tire pressure should get us down the track smoother and quicker; at least that is the plan. It’s dark now; this is what I live for! As the engine lights, and the nitro gets to the cylinders, the noise, vibration, and aroma is better than any drug, and as the body is lowered, I can see the flames out my side windows.
Looking over, I see the other guy start to pull up, so I do the same. The blower and injector are right in front of my face, still enough room to see around it, though. There is a slight bump as I go through the water box. Once the car settles, I squeeze the throttle ever so slightly to light the tires. Cranking out 3,500 horsepower, it doesn’t take much to break the tires loose. The pipes go wet, there is so much fuel and no load, but it still sounds great. As I finish the burnout, the tires chirp as they bite the pavement and the car shoots forward. I stop the car, then find reverse. I let the clutch out; the motor feels the load, and the nitro grunts out of the pipes with an even throatier pitch as I race back to the line. I see a little bit of dew forming in the corners of the windshield, I sure hope the track is okay.
I notice the crowd as I am backing up, they seem as pumped up as I am. The nitro is really strong; I am tearing up a bit. I wonder how it feels to the guys outside. Back in forward gear, I inch forward as I pull at my shifter buttons at least three times; I don’t want to screw this up! My crew chief motions me ahead then stops me, as he is waiting for the other car.
Now we’re ready, and he waves me in even further, I check the buttons again. I have to stay focused. My pre-stage lights up the night, the light in the other lane goes on immediately after.
Still lots to do, I’ve GOT to be ready. I wait a few seconds, slam the visor down, then flip the high side fuel lever on as I let the clutch all the way out. I tug hard on the brake handle to keep the car from moving. Don’t pay any attention to the other lane! Concentrate! Toes on the throttle foot are tensed, then work the brake handle so the car creeps into Stage. The entire 21 gallons per minute of nitro is going into the motor. Stage light flickers a bit, then it’s steady on. Grab the brake hard, and bury my sight into the bottom yellow bulb.
The engine is pulled down to 2,500 rpm as the clutch discs are rubbing and tugging at the motor, making it sound even meaner. Flash of yellow! The top part of my foot slams the throttle. There is no mercy, it’s built to be punished.
The car launches hard, both front wheels in the air. Clutch dust fills the cockpit, making it even harder to see, but at least I have my breathing air (not sure that I breathe during the run anyway). Flames leap from all eight pipes, lighting my way down the track. The car is hauling ass! As I’m pushed back in my seat, the cars shudders a bit about 1.5 seconds out. I yank the steering yoke to stay in the groove. I drive it as far as I can in low gear, still hauling.
I push second gear just past half track, and it sets me back even harder. The flames get higher by the millisecond — it ‘s almost distracting, but I love it! The engine noise is now being drowned out by the blower. 9,000, then 9,600 rpm. I hope it holds together. The motor is really screaming at the top end. No glitches this time; the motor is at a fever pitch that I haven’t heard before. I put my hand up for the chutes, as the finish line is coming up fast. About two car lengths before the line, I pull the chutes, then pull back on the throttle as I cross the finish line.
I don’t think I drove it too far… the chutes hit, lifting the back tires off the track and throwing me forward against the belts. That’s going to leave a bruise! As the car and engine settles down I push the clutch in. The motor leans out on its own this time, and shuts off; the tune-up must have been close. There’s an eerie silence as I glide down the shutdown area, the track so smooth it feels like I am floating. I watch for the other car, see him pull ahead in the shutdown area, and follow him around the corner. I think I won, but will find out in a bit. Felt like a great run though … it had to be fast!”
This is the thrill that drives every nitro Funny Car pilot. It’s why they are so hooked on the class, and why they keep coming back for more. People outside the car have a similar thrill, the cackling and pounding sound that you can both hear and feel, and the fumes that get both in your nose and eyes. A smell so sweet from a distance, both pleasurable and painful at the same time when in close proximity.
We talked to one Funny Car pilot, Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada native Tim Nemeth — who is driven by that thrill to suit up and climb behind the controls of his “ICEMAN”” Funny Car to take on the North America’s best — to get to know he and his team a little bit better.
Tim Nemeth lives large in every aspect of his life. He is a mad scientist with his nitro Funny Car, always testing the limits of himself and his car. Tim is genuine, personable, outgoing, and charitable. My own experience with Tim will testify to that. I have golfed with him, had dinner together, I’ve raced with and against him, and shared stories and tuning secrets. 10 years ago, Tim loaned his Top Alcohol Funny Car to the Sitko Family race team to use for an entire season. The hope was that with updated equipment and tuning advice, we could progress to the next level. That is a hard thing to do with the tight budget we were on. He even brought Jimmy Rector to Edmonton to help us get on track. That was obviously a tremendous favor, and a huge amount of trust that he put in our team. His generosity will never be forgotten.
Tim is intense; I think his crew will attest to that. His competitiveness drives the performance of the team on and off the track. “Also ran” is not a description you can tag onto Tim. His goal is to be leader of the pack, no expense or effort spared. Two years ago at the California Hot Rod reunion, Tim scorched the track with a 5.63 second 254 mph run, landing him the number one spot. Being a relative unknown in the U.S., the NHRA tore him down; looking for something illegal that would give him such an advantage. They obviously didn’t know Tim well, as he is one of the most honest guys out there, and couldn’t live with himself if he wasn’t playing within the rules. All he wants to do is to race straight up, no games, no cheating.
Only a few months before Bakersfield, Tim had put together a combination that he knew would be fast. After a few early shutoff test passes at his home track in Mission, BC, Canada, his “Iceman” Firebird ripped to a 5.63 at 256 mph — a new track record by a bunch. Tim ran in the 5.60s again in Edmonton at the IHRA Rocky Mountain Nationals, ran low E.T. of every round, and ran away with the Ironman Trophy. He proved this was no fluke as he won the same event in 2014, as well.
Tim and his wife, Nancy put on a big feast every year at the NHRA Heritage race in Mission, which is a big hit with the racers, but more importantly, all the proceeds from the steak and seafood dinner go to the Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. Last year the team raised $9,100 for the cause, and over $30,000 since its inception.
Nemeth grew up in small town Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. There wasn’t a whole lot to do there for a gearhead, so he got introduced to drag racing fairly young. He watched his brother, Roger, use the highway as a drag strip, flashlights and all. He then built his own ’78 Spyder with a 383 stroker and a 100-horsepower shot of nitrous for good measure. It ran low 11’s, and the hook was set! A few years later, Tim drove a 7-second dragster, and even made a couple of pulls on a Top Fuel Harley.
He went on to attend tech school in Calgary, then went to Montana State to earn his Mechanical Engineering degree. When he returned to Medicine Hat, he had all kinds of jobs there and in Calgary; the Calgary shop actually bought a Nova and he got to drive it. Eventually though, he and Nancy started TDN, their construction company, and moved to Chilliwack. From humble beginnings, the company started to grow. Its’ focus is in two distinct areas; infrastructure-based projects that provide safe, portable drinking water for the citizens of British Columbia, and hydro projects that generate electricity, now referred to as green power. They basically build and run pipelines; the smallest is about 30 inches in diameter and the largest are 30 foot monsters.
The company now fuels the race car operation, and vice versa. Their ambition for the Funny Car made them work hard to make the business a success, and once the business took off, the race team benefitted from it.
In 1996, Nemeth bought a Top Alcohol Funny Car from John Hyland. He dropped a blown boat engine in it and went racing. It was an ex-Billy Meyer car and had a 94 Oldsmobile body. After garnering some good seat time and valuable experience, he realized that he needed to upgrade his parts to go faster. Tim bought some good stuff; a Ken Veney motor, a new ProStart chassis, and a beautiful Camaro body. This car was his first competitive ride and it was fast. Tim raced in the Northwest Division 6 for many years, always near the top of the qualifying sheet, but never realizing his first win.
Suddenly, Tim realized that he had been in the alcohol deal for 14 years, and needed a change of scenery. The nostalgia Funny Car class was exploding with new cars all over North America and he and Nancy wanted to be a part of that. The owner of two cars, he decided to start collecting some fuel parts and use the older of the two chassis for it. The rest of the team was also very excited to make the switch, and they all worked hard to get the car ready for testing in the fall of 2010. Unfortunately, Tim wound up on the sand traps on the maiden voyage and hurt the body.
Tim’s tuning philosophy is pretty simple; push hard and stay focused. He finds that when things do go wrong its always their own doing. He hates getting shot in the foot! Tim takes a measured approach, but not too conservative. He likes to run hard right out of the box!
Tim’s biggest mentor has always been his mom. Right from the time he was young, she always told him if you work hard and stay dedicated you can do anything in life. That mentoring has been with him his entire life. Tim’s biggest hero would have to be the late 240 Gordie Bonin. He used to love sitting in Tim’s car giving him advice whenever he could. Another hero was Terry Capp … when he was young he thought he was radio personality, “Wolfman” Jack!
Tim credits his wife, Nancy, and everyone involved on the team with making huge sacrifices to help him juice his passion for racing at this level. He wants to thank them all from the bottom of his heart. Nancy has always been his rock; without her support none of this could have happened. She mixes the fuel, is the parachute packer, travel agent, head chef, and bill payer. His three children, Jesse, Lance and Annika, have also supported his racing immensely.
On making his nitro car even faster, Tim says he still thinks they have the right pieces, but maybe some of them are getting tired. The parts still work, but they have been repaired and are not quite up to spec. New parts seem to provide that extra edge. He’s also intent on eliminating tire shake, something that just about all nitro racers have to deal with. It’s not as easy as it sounds though and he keeps on trying to work it out.
The Iceman team headed to the March Meet in search of the Holy Grail this spring; a Bakersfield win, and low e.t., top speed of the meet! Nancy and Tim enjoy the competition and camaraderie in the nitro ranks, and have the horsepower to win the whole thing. Every team there was going for the same prize, however, and after a very nice win against John Weaver in the first round, Tim came up short against Kris Krabill in the quarter-finals.
The Iceman team can be seen racing on the West Coast throughout 2017, with stops in Seattle, Spokane, and the Heritage race in his hometown of Mission, British Columbia. Tim is also contemplating a return to Bakersfield in October for the California Hot Rod Reunion. A race we hope to see him at.