Biodiesel-Powered Jetcar

A 10,000-horsepower Jetcar running on B20 going 400 miles per hour beating airplanes in races all over the country is a fantastic tool to promote the high-performance nature of biodiesel.
By Ron Kotrba | September 01, 2010
Imagine sitting behind the wheel of a 10,000-horsepower Jetcar racing toward 400 miles per hour in just seconds. It's what Bill Braack and his partner Scott Hammack have been doing for years. "It's definitely an extreme way to make a living," Braack, owner and driver of the Smoke-N-Thunder Jetcar, told Biodiesel Magazine. This amazing car doesn't race other cars though-it makes a name for itself competing against planes in air shows around the country as the original ground entertainment at these popular patriotic events.

Marketed under the name, "Smoke-N-Thunder Jet Shows," Hammack created this exhilarating lifestyle in 1979. Hammack was racing powerful dragsters in the National Hot Rod Association circuit before the Vietnam War, but was drafted by the Army and left the sport of racing behind while he served his country. Braack says Hammack was in the Hawk missile unit, which meant hovering around and protecting Air Force bases, and he spent a lot of time watching powerful F4 jets in action. "When he came back to the states after the war, the normal vehicles Scott was racing before the war were no longer competitive," Braack says. In 1979, Hammack designed and built the Jetcar.

Hammack drove the car from 1980 to 2005, when he sold it to Braack. "He's still on the team and maintains the car," Braack says of Hammack, who is in his early 70s. Hammack's wife just recently passed away so he was unavailable to participate in this article, quite understandably. Braack says, however, that Hammack remains chief engineer of the vehicle-and all of its uniqueness.

The basic design of the car and chassis remains the same as it was back in 1980, but it's not on the same engine and components are updated regularly. The Jetcar features a Westinghouse J34-48 engine, originally used in the North American Buckeye T-2A aircraft. It pushes 10,000 horsepower and 6,000 pounds of thrust with the afterburner. The chassis is forged of 4130 chrome-moly with a 240-inch wheelbase. The front and rear wheels are 15-inch diameter; the rear wheels are 10 inches wide while those in the front are 5 inches wide. The sleek aerodynamic body is made of aluminum and magnesium. The Jetcar weighs 2,300 pounds and is 26 feet long. Two 20-gallon fuel cells are outfitted on the car, and each performance utilizes about 40 gallons of fuel.

The Jetcar's role at air shows is pretty astounding. "We're the only component at these shows where there's a winner and loser," Braack says. About an hour before his performance, the announcer plugs the ground show, "Don't miss the Jetcar race!" Braack says sometimes he races jet airplanes but most times he races thermal piston aircraft. Once the Jetcar makes its appearance, blowing 20-foot flames out the afterburner, the jet engine roaring, the crowd goes wild, Braack says. Suddenly, a plane appears, diving at and taunting the Jetcar. The challenge has been made. The airplane gets into position and heads toward the rear of the Jetcar from behind, approaching 200 miles per hour. Once the plane passes the Jetcar, the race is on. "I'm accelerating to 400 mph, so I catch up to the plane in just a couple of seconds," Braack says. "The crowd is going wild and then I'm way out front." Afterwards, attendees are invited back to the Kenworth Nascar hauler, the tractor trailer that transports the Jetcar around the country.

Braack is no stranger to military service either―he was a flight engineer in the Air Force Reserve. In 2002, the Smoke-N-Thunder Jetcar team signed its first contract with the AFR and began a seven-year partnership using the extreme car as a recruiting tool. "They used the car as a tool, a backdrop, it is a very effective screener," Braack says. "It helped pull in those who are attracted to engines, the mechanically-minded people." With the change in administration, he says, significant cuts were made to the recruiting budget and the AFR contract was not renewed. Even so, Braack still donates space on his car to the USO. "The bulk of my team is military," he says.

Since the cancellation of the AFR contract, Braack has gravitated toward the biodiesel industry as a new potential partner in this new era for the Jetcar. He says he attended the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo back in 2007 in San Antonio, Texas, and became very interested in the fuel. Under contract with the AFR at the time, he says "there were limitations at first" regarding his ability to get involved with biodiesel. "The military didn't want to appear as if they were endorsing biodiesel," he says. Since then, however, virtually all military branches have come to test and support biodiesel and bio jet fuels in various capacities.

"Bill approached us, the community of biodiesel producers in the Northwest, with the opportunity to be a fuel sponsor for the Jetcar," says Zachary Shelton with General Biodiesel, a plant in Seattle. "We want to be Bill's B20 fuel supplier." Air shows last two to three days, so with multiple performances a day, the car uses about 450 gallons of B20 each show.
Shelton, like everyone who experiences the power of the Jetcar, says the car is phenomenal and its sheer force is "hard to comprehend." While a tentative yet comprehensive fuel sponsorship with General Biodiesel has already gone into play, negotiations are still underway. While Braack says he most certainly values regional sponsorships such as that of General Biodiesel, his ultimate goal is to land agreements with national biodiesel players. After all, a show in Florida featuring a fuel supplier located in the great Northwest might not make a lot of sense, Braack says.

Chris LaPlante with Propel Fuels, a biodiesel retailer in the Northwest whose supplier is General Biodiesel, says it's amazing that the Jetcar can achieve 400 mph and still keep the wheels on the ground. Braack says the car's engineering allows this. The engine is set on a two degree downward angle, which, as the car accelerates, creates down force. The nose is louvered and helps bleed out air over the top as to not get light on the front end. The narrow body of the car, and Bill's weight in the driver's seat, also help. The right-or wrong-winds and moisture levels do, however, require Braack to lower racing speed on occasion.

Even though the AFR contract is expired, most shows are still performed at Air Force bases. The local wing commander has the authority to bring biodiesel on base, so biodiesel marketers should reach out to that one individual to strike a fuel supply arrangement. When performing at bases that carry biodiesel, Braack also fills his Kenworth hauler on B20 for driving to the next show.

"The biggest value I see for the industry is that people still see biodiesel as a fuel for tractors," Braack says. "People question it, so when they see a car like mine running on B20, we're educating them that biodiesel is not just for farmers anymore."

Some of the larger air shows can attract nearly a million people over a three-day weekend, which equates to a lot of exposure. "The car-the idea of the car-is an exciting vehicle for the industry, no pun intended," Shelton tells Biodiesel Magazine. "There's still skepticism whether biodiesel can work, but it doesn't just work, it's a high-performance fuel." LaPlante says, "High cetane, lubricity-those are just words. But when you have a jet engine running on B20 roaring in your ears, it takes it to another level."

Ron Kotrba is editor of Biodiesel Magazine. Reach him at (701) 738-4942 or [email protected]
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