Rich Daly had never set up a drag sled when he picked up a copy of Straightline Racer last spring. As the owner of Dyno Port, an aftermarket pipe and engine mod company, he hadn’t spent much time dabbling in clutch work, and none on the suspensions of the sleds he worked on. But after a quick read, he was hooked. “I’m pretty mad at you guys,” he told us in a mid-season interview. “You made it sound real easy to build a Prostock 800 sled. I figured I could put a strong motor in and use big horsepower to compensate for my inexperience with suspension. It doesn’t work that way.”
Once he made the commitment to compete with the big dogs, he couldn’t go back. “It was pretty frustrating at first,” Daly recalled. “I had plenty of power, but we just couldn’t get our times down. That’s when I knew we had a lot of work to do with clutching and suspension.” So off he went, renting track time at his local drag strip for testing.
“In hindsight,” he commented, “I think we spent way too much time on the dyno and not enough time on the track just testing setups. Next year, it’ll be a different story.”
At the first points race at Great Lakes Dragway, Daly scored a win in the first elimination round against Pat Hauck by cutting a fast light. “I think I got lucky more than anything else,” he had commented. Lady luck would continue to show her affections for the Ski-Doo privateer through the remainder of the season.
Going into the second points race at Rock Falls Raceway, Daly was at the top of the Ski-Doo standings, holding a narrow two-point lead on Team Trygstad’s Jamie Bellman, and the top qualifying Ski-Doo and fourth overall. “The digital tether came half unseated, causing the motor to fluctuate. We thought it was a bad ignition and didn’t even make a pass in the elimination rounds, costing us valuable points.” On the up side, Bellman would also fall in the first round, effectively maintaining Daly’s slight lead in the points race.
“I think that was a blessing in disguise. It made us work even harder on the details for the next couple of weeks,” he said.
The final qualifying race was held at Lebanon Valley Raceway, in New York. Daly needed a good showing to insure his slot for BIR. “I qualified fifth at the last race,” he said. “I faced D&D’s Greg Roes in the first round and beat him.” As usual, Daly knew he needed a quick light to get past the second round. “I had Shooping in the next round. He had his Polaris pretty well dialed in, so I tried to anticipate the start and ended up red lighting. As it turns out, I scored all the points I needed since Bellman broke that weekend.”
Qualifying for the big show would prove to be only the first major hurdle standing in the way. “We decided to change from the MX Z chassis we had been running in qualifying to a CK-3,” noted Daly. “It was reported to be much better in the wind tunnel, and we knew we needed every little bit of help we could find. As it turns out, we had bad weather for the week before Brainerd, and only had one test day to get the sled dialed in.”
In the first round, Daly used his quick reaction time to beat a faster and quicker Hot To Go sled piloted by Joe Salemi. “That was pretty huge,” said Daly in the pits. “He had a faster speed and a lower ET, but I guess I cut a good light. I’m gonna need a perfect light if I’m going to get past Shilts in the next round.” But it was not there. Despite a higher top speed, the Dynoport Ski-Doo couldn’t catch up with Kerry Shilts’ D&D-powered ZR.
“Looking back on the season, I would say the biggest highlight was just qualifying,” he told us. “In testing we ran as low as 9.58. That was a big confidence boost. We took a ten-something sled and got it into the 9.5s in only a couple of months.
“Overall, I think we learned a lot on this project. It not only taught us to clutch and make suspension adjustments, but it showed us how to look for small details to make gains. It will
definitely help us in the dyno room when we develop new products for our business.”
Daly was quick to point out that he certainly didn’t get to Brainerd alone. “Even though Ski-Doo wasn’t very forthcoming with setup tips, I don’t think any of the other guys got a lot of support from their factories either. I had a lot of help from Joe Beyea, my lone crewman. My other employees in the shop all laughed when I told them I was going to race this year, but they put in a lot of time and effort in development. What was the most surprising was the amount of help I got from other racers. Rob Shooping from Hot To Go and the Roes brothers at D&D were great assets in helping to point me where I needed to be. Also, Dave Wahl helped me solve the suspension dilemma. Ingles Performance and Steve Tassinari kept me supplied with parts and V-Force reeds when I needed them. Finally, Meg [Greenhaw] at NSSR was a tremendous aid in getting past many of my rookie roadblocks. She helped me make contacts for practice time at tracks, gave me pointers on building a sled that would pass tech, and kept a tight, but very fair, set of rules.”
Looking down the road, Daly just chuckles. “Yeah,” he said. “I think I’ll be back again next year. My guys still think I’m nuts, but we’ve learned a lot and I’m looking forward to doing better next year.”