Tornado Attack SUV at Food Lion AutoFair
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Someday in the future, the dictionary will have a picture of Steve Green's Tornado Attack Vehicle next to the word "crazy." Until then, you can see the four-wheeled, storm-chasing machine at Charlotte Motor Speedway's Food Lion AutoFair April 6-9 before it takes off for Tornado Alley.
Green's bright red TA-1 is a brutal metal beast designed to penetrate the center of a tornado, the most violent natural phenomenon on Earth, while protecting its driver from flying hail, trees and livestock. What began as a competition truck chassis now grabs more attention on Midwestern highways than the funnel clouds themselves.
"Donnie Fair, currently at Chip Ganassi Racing, built a truck for Jeep to run at Baja and I bought it in 2001," Green said. "When I saw the triangulated chromoly steel design, I realized it would make a great foundation for my storm-chaser idea. That frame is strong enough to drive over a 25-foot embankment at 60 mph without bending or breaking, but I don't ever want to test that claim!"
Green had "temporarily retired" from stock car racing after a wreck, but was searching for new pursuits to keep his adrenaline pumping. Rather than swim with sharks, climb Mt. Everest or join a bomb squad, he conceived a vehicle that could withstand the punishing force of a twister, filling the needs of the scientific community and thrill-seekers alike.
After modifying Fair's truck chassis to his specifications, Green had a body built from thick steel panels, with clear, bulletproof Lexan plastic sheets for the side windows, windshield, roof, headlight cover and full fender skirts. The TA-1, which fills up more of a parking space than a military Hummer, looks like a cross between a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racer, a Brinks armored car and a high school wood shop project.
Next came the TA-1's 700-horsepower, 502-cubic-inch V-8 engine, which Green paired with a heavy-duty automatic transmission. Like a race car, the TA-1 interior contains no frills-just essential gauges (including a data logger), a single competition seat, radio equipment, a fire extinguishing system and roll-cage tubing.
Green's plan to witness tornadoes safely depends on reducing the car's aerodynamic lift to zero when blasted by winds in excess of 200 mph. Parker Hannifin engineers designed a hydraulic system to lower the TA-1 to its belly pan in seconds, which should prevent it from becoming a wingless airplane.
"Tornadoes are like people," Green said. "They are born, mature, grow weaker and then die. My strategy is to witness the birth and be in a position to park right in its path as it matures.
"Before it hits me, I lower the suspension and the body sits firmly on the ground while wind pushes against the top and sides of the car. During those few moments when I'm getting pounded, the instruments I'm carrying record wind speed, direction, barometric pressure, dew point and temperature in increments of thousandths of a second. All of these factors provide valuable information to the five weather scientists in my crew."
During its inaugural 2004 shakedown run (tornado season generally lasts from April 15 through June 15), Green witnessed 57 twisters in 40 days and chased several with the TA-1. On June 14 of that year, he managed to park in front of a weak tornado, making him the first human to be in the base of a funnel cloud on purpose.
"Weak," by the way, is a technical term for measuring tornadic force; in this particular case it indicates wind speeds from 71 to 112 mph. Green believes his design can withstand gales approaching 250 mph-equivalent to an F4 tornado on the 0-6 Fujita scale-but intends to avoid such velocities until wind tunnel testing can be completed.
Now that the TA-1 has proven itself in the field, Green is eager to introduce his version of hands-on meteorology to others.
"I offered a season-long passenger ride in the TA-1 on eBay last year," Green said. "The bidding started at $100,000 and closed at $145,000, but that didn't meet my reserve.
"And we have been working with a production company that wants to turn our adventure into a reality show."
Other special attractions planned for the April 6-9 Food Lion AutoFair include the "Monster Garage" flying car, a Navy Osprey airplane capable of vertical takeoffs and landings, crazy motorcycle stunts in a Globe of Death, a race car that runs on renewable biodiesel fuel, unusual vehicles from the Lane Motor Museum, the amazing Amphicar and a Century of Turbochargers display.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information, contact the speedway events department at 704-455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.