Finding the Smokin’ Gun

MEDICINE HAT, Alta. – Legendary hot rod semi racer Gord Cooper doesn’t shy away from setting high standards for himself and his trusty sidekick, the Smokin’ Gun.

But at the Medicine Hat Speedway July 21, his efforts to best his quickest time in the quarter mile and break the MPH record were sidelined, partly due to what was a persistent headwind that slowed racers down just enough to make a difference.

Cooper ran the Smokin’ Gun twice during the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) event solo, as he was the lone semi racer participating that day. Cooper was hoping to beat his time of 11.44 seconds, a record he set at the Medicine Hat location a few years back and just shy of his world record of 11.40 seconds. He was also looking to break the speed record by hitting an unprecedented 125mph, which would have shattered the current record of 120.9mph.

Cooper achieved his world record time at Castrol Raceway just outside Edmonton, Alta., a place he knows well and will return to mid-August for his next event of the season.

As for the MPH record, Cooper said he wants to “set it out of sight for anybody else to touch it,” and is confident with the upgrades he and his team have done to the Smokin’ Gun that his goal is doable.

Last year, Cooper squared off against Mario Monette, known as the “Diesel Freak” at Castrol Raceway, where Monette was credited with setting the MPH record, a mark Cooper aims to reclaim at some point this season.

The Medicine Hat Speedway, however, did not allow Cooper’s dreams to become a reality. For his two passes, Cooper posted times of 12.09 seconds and 12.05 respectively, hitting a max speed of 112mph.

To put these times in perspective, Cooper once told Truck News-West, “It’s hard to run under 12 seconds. The average truck, single-axle, hopped up is hard to get under 13 seconds, but to get under 12, there’s only been myself and Wayne Talkington from California.”

Cooper said he is not making excuses for falling short of his goals, but Mother Nature certainly could have been a bit more cooperative.

“An eight to 10mph wind kind of kicks the heck out of the timing, but it was still a good day,” he said. “I got some runs in and worked out a few bugs.”

Next up for Cooper is the Outlaw Truck Drags at Castrol Raceway Aug. 17, where he expects to settle the score against the Diesel Freak and reach his personal best.

Upgrading a classic

The Smokin’ Gun is a 1968 Kenworth. It has an 8V92 two-stroke Detroit engine, Allison automatic transmission, which Cooper shifts manually, and twin turbo with nitrous.

But if any racer is going to stay in the game they have to stay with the times, constantly looking to upgrade and improve their equipment.

Cooper and his team – which includes Talkington – have completely rebuilt the Smokin’ Gun’s engine.

“We went through the engine completely,” said Cooper. “New pistons and liners, new setting, and new, specially built injectors. I had six new seasons on the previous rebuild, with over 100 passes, and out of those six seasons, the last three were world championship runs in Texas for hot rod semi, which I’m really proud of the whole setup and my crew.”

After six seasons, several issues were found with the engine, including a bent connecting rod and cracked piston heads.

“I might have made one more pass, but I probably would have blown up the engine on my next burnout or pass,” said Cooper, “so it was due.”

New brake pads were also a necessity, as Cooper is hoping to launch off the start line at around 2,600rpms, and the old pads were no longer up to the task.

“I want to be able to hold it and launch as hard as I need to bring the time down,” said Cooper.

Time will tell if Cooper and the Smokin’ Gun will achieve their goals, but even if they don’t, they’re bound to put on a show trying.

Gord Cooper and the Smokin’ Gun.

Derek Clouthier

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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