The wildest example of Turbonique vehicles, which perhaps ultimately led to their ban
from NHRA competition, was "Captain Jack" McClure's Turbonique-powered go-kart, which topped 150 mph. McClure, who later ran 5.95 at more than 240 mph in a rocket-powered go-kart,
reportedly had less than $2,000 invested in his Turbonique-powered cart.
This is Jack
McClure's Kart after replacing the 1000 lb thrust rocket with the
larger 1500 lb motor. This kart turned 215 mph in the quarter mile!
Why It's a Rocket Kart...
rocket powered Dart Kart from the mid-1960's.
There have been many wild
and strange experiments throughout karting’s history.
Perhaps the wildest of all were the rocket powered karts of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.
Would you believe that in
the mid-1960’s the rocket-powered kart
pictured above turned the quarter mile at over 150 mph? 0 to 150 in 7.3 seconds! That was Jack McClure
with his modified 1963 Rupp Dart Kart powered by
a pair of Turbonique T-16 rocket motors.
These motors, each
producing 300 lbs of thrust, used a special
kind of monopropellant which the company dubbed "Thermolene"
(actually N-Propyl Nitrate). These engines powered
the little kart to faster times than rail dragsters of its day. These engines,
however, were also very dangerous and killed many users because under certain
conditions they could explode like bombs. Those disasters resulted in the Turbonique factory closing and its owner landing in jail.
Rocket Karts in the 1970's
In 1967, a company called
Reaction Dynamics built a record-breaking dragster powered by a 90% hydrogen peroxide rocket
motor. This car was the inspiration for many rocket powered vehicle builders in
the 70’s, among them (back again!) Jack McClure with a hydrogen peroxide rocket-powered laydown kart. The kart, which resembled a Margay,
was actually custom designed by Jack and built by
Glenn Blakely of Tampa Florida. Jack fitted this kart
with an engine built by Arvil Porter that produced 1000 lbs of thrust.
Hydrogen Peroxide Motor similar to the type run by Jack
Jack McClure's kart with
the 1000 lb thrust rocket.
Jack needed more speed (!!) however, and had Arvil
build him a 1500 lb thrust version. This
engine, crafted of stainless steel, was 10" long by 7" diameter. The
hydrogen peroxide was forced through a catalyst pack made of silver and nickel
screens. Superheated steam produced by the reaction at 300 PSI escaped through a 2 " diameter nozzle
and produced enough thrust to push the little kart to over 215 mph in 6 seconds in the quarter
mile. For stopping, the kart featured disc brakes (for below 100 mph) and a drag chute. The
driver’s suit was also fitted with its own parachute in case driver and kart
became separated during one of those wild runs. The kart was later sold to
Ramon Alvarez who raced the kart for a short time. The kart might still exist
to this day.
In 1980, the karting
speed envelope was pushed yet further by Australian Rosco
McGlashan. Rosco, who at
the time was living in the U.S., built and drove a hydrogen peroxide rocket
kart that surpassed 253 mph!
Rosco's 253 mph kart!
"It was an incredible
feeling sitting in that thing with fuel bubbling and gurgling just behind your
head and then hitting the throttle" says Rosco
with a smile. "It was truly an awesome machine."
Rosco continues to be heavily
involved in drag racing and speed exhibitions and is today known as Australia’s
fastest man. He is currently preparing an assault on the world land speed
Juan Manuel Lozano of
Mexico, who supplied most of the historical information for this article, is
himself an experienced rocket car builder and is currently constructing a
rocket-powered dragster. After that, he plans to build a rocket kart. We will
definitely want to see that!