Video by FOT Susan Kahler
|The REAL* Story of Stan Part and Thunderjet
The WORLD'S First and Fastest Rocket-Powered Racing
Triumph Valve Cover
A long time ago... at a Triumph Regional event (not so) far, far
After a day of good racing at Sebring, we were hanging out bench racing at the
Kennilworth Hotel, and I was talking with my old friend/mentor/competitor/ co-
conspirator and occasional nemesis, the Downright Irreverent Doctor J.K.
Jackson, the leader of the mysterious vagabond cult of Triumph junkies, the
"Temple of Triumph" from Tallahassee, Florida. The Downright Irreverent
Doctor was just sitting there in a semi-comatose state, sucking on a cool one,
when all of a sudden he started making "vroom vroom" noises and mumbling
something about the fact that we oughta race something. Well, I reminded him
that we had just spent a day racing at one of the most famous race tracks in the
world, but then he took another swig of beer* and pushed back his old straw hat
and looked at me with those glazed and bloodshot eyes and said "No, I mean
something DIFFERENT, you know, like VALVE COVERS!” I envisioned a gravity-
powered valve cover, so I replied that Cub Scout Pinewood Derby cars were cool,
but they might be lacking a little in the thrill factor department. Well, he
obviously recognized my angst and confusion because then he bit down on the
stem of his old 'cob pipe and he got that patented J.K. Jackson shit-eating grin
on his face and I KNEW then that we were in HUGE trouble! He said, "Nooo, I
mean with engines on them!"
Well at that point, the challenge was on. My first decision was to choose the
type of power unit to use. Naturally, as a self-respecting old ADJ, I was inclined
to choose a thrust-reaction engine.** I considered several options, and since one
of the many things that I have never "grown out" of is model rockets, the
obvious solution to the power issue would be solid propellant rocket engines.
Next decision was which platform? Since the rules (actually the ONLY rule) is
that it has to be based on a standard Triumph (pun) steel valve cover, I then
studied all models of Triumph valve covers very carefully and considered
weights, dimensions, aerodynamics, surface area, and frontal area. This was a
no-brainer. I concluded that the TR-7/right-hand Stag cover had all the others
beat hands down. Everything about it is right: it's light, low, has great long
wheelbase and wide track for stability, and damn if it doesn't even look a little
Now that the basic elements were established, at least in the design phase,
actual construction began. I started by locating and fitting the front and rear
axles so I could make it a "roller." Initial roll tests were satisfactory, and work
then progressed to locating and fitting power plant mounting hard points. This
had to be done carefully, considering not only the actual mounting itself but also
the lines of force which needed to be correct for maximum stability and
performance. The main engine tube is thin-wall, stainless steel alloy and houses
two "D" size Estes model rocket engines arranged in normal two stage fashion.
At that point, additional tow tests and the first engine runs were performed and
results were again satisfactory. The Aero program then commenced with
intensive testing in the "wind tunnel"; the objective was to smooth out some of
the hard edges and to provide means to give it some downforce. Adjustable front
and rear wings (with winglets) were fitted along with a plexi aeroscreen for the
cockpit. The front wing also serves as a deformable structure to protect the tub
from damage. It's fitted with provisions for quick changing for repair or
After I determined that this thing might just fly (oops, bad choice of words...) I
worked on slowing it down. It is fitted with either chute, speed brakes or both,
depending on course length and layout. I mounted a smaller tube above the
main engine tube, and it taps off pressure through a gas port from the expelling
charge of the second stage main engine after that charge is spent. Inside this
tube is packed a drag chute or streamer on a lanyard, again, depending on
course length, and this is fastened to the leading edge of the rear wing. The rear
wing pivots and is spring loaded in the desired normal run position but is
mounted with an overcenter so that it flaps down vertically when the lanyard
pulls it down after chute/streamer deployment.
Testing concluded with most satisfactorily results, aside from a directional
stability issue, which is largely due to cross winds and course elevation changes.
This problem was addressed by adding a vertical stabilizer on the forward part of
the upper fuselage. This steering aid is fitted with a provision for presetting the
angle to suit track conditions. Initial competition then commenced, and a
development program was established. While top speed and systems operations
were actually beyond expectations, I determined that what I needed was, uh,
MORE POWER! (It really doesn't matter what we race or how well it's working,
we always need MORE POWER!) Well, here again, no problemo for this old
Airdale; I just hung a couple JATO (OK, RATO) bottles on 'er, yep I did. External
pods housed a single "C" size engine each and the ignition of JATO is
simultaneous with first stage main engine ignition.
The actual ignition system is controlled via a 12 volt powered "Black Box"
complete with switches and lights, and it has a bunch of wires that go into it.
Now this isn't just an ordinary “black box”; this is an "Official Black Box." This
was given to me by a friend who worked at Pratt & Whitney. Now with all of the
Super Top Secret Confidential work that P&W does (did), one can only imagine
what's inside this box. I just KNOW that it has some Super Top Secret
Computers in it; heck, it could have NUCLEAR POWER for all I know (but it
doesn't have any of those funny yellow stickers on it). Anyhow it's a really COOL
“Black Box,” and when I hook up all the wires correctly, it works very well. When
I don't hook up the wires correctly, it usually goes around in circles with lots of
smoke and flames and folks start running away. Launch is normally assisted
with use of a "thrust reaction plate cum blast shield," and this makes for some
rather spectacular night runs when everything goes right.
All driving duties are handled by ex-RAF*** legend Stan Part. With his record of
over 250 powered runs in Thunderjet I, he is without question the world’s most
successful Rocket Powered Triumph Valve Cover Driver in history. He's survived
numerous crashes, fires, and rollovers; however, they've taken a toll on Stan.
He's now a paraplegic, but TJ I has been fitted with controls so he can still
With Stan at the helm, TJ I has run on many world class race tracks including
Palm Beach International Raceway, Sebring, Roebling Road, the gorgeous VIR
paddock, and the parking lot of the Holiday Inn across the street from the main
gate at Daytona International Speedway. Rumors such as setting the
Kennilworth is on fire, the "Hey, THAT'S MY CAR" incident, again at Sebring, the
freak incident at the start at Roebling which resulted in near fatal and
permanently disfiguring injuries to none other than The Downright Irreverent
Doc hisself, the confrontation with over 100 hostile heavily-armed (alleged ex-
Gestapo) security guards in Daytona, the bribes of sex, drugs, alcohol and huge
sums of money to VIR security folks, the National Guard being called in for
crowd control at the back parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Savannah, Georgia...
Well...uh they're simply not true****... or are they?
I hope you enjoy!
*Well there are several different versions but the real story goes that copious
amounts of beer were indeed flowing that fateful night. I know that it's very hard
to believe that happening at a Triumph Event but it is true, I was witness.
** Thunderjet II is in the planning stage. It also will have a thrust reaction
engine. No more details available.
*** Actually Stan is really just a stupid little plastic guy that I got in K-mart.
**** Yeah & I didn't inhale...