Ethanol: Growing It, Burning It and Breaking Records

A home-grown, corn-fueled race car tops 255 mph on Rockett Brand E85.
By Luke Geiver | March 16, 2010
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The Bonneville Speedway on Utah's baked white Salt Flats should be the last place to find a farmer from Oklahoma. But Brent Hajek, a farmer and self-proclaimed gearhead from Ames, Okla., doesn't always do what he should. On Oct. 11, Hajek, hundreds of miles away from his 4,000-acre farm, in the middle of harvest, watched his dream vehicle speed across the flat earth at the Utah racetrack. The E85-powered Ford Mustang built by Hajek and his gearhead crew set a land speed record at just over 255 miles per hour. Now, Hajek believes that by breaking records in an E85-powered Mustang, he's showing that the future of ethanol is coming fast.
As a third generation farmer, Hajek started the development of the Mustang to promote his product, corn. "I started this because the service stations around me offered no ethanol," Hajek says. "They say ethanol doesn't perform, is hard on your engine. As a farmer I wanted to promote my crop. And, I like a good challenge." Hajek's challenge, building a race car capable of going fast, burning ethanol and breaking records began as a gearhead farmer's fantasy and now has the attention of such companies as Ford Racing Co., Monsanto, and Rockett Brand Racing Fuel, which have supported the project in different ways. "We got MIT graduates, we got engineers, scientists, it is just amazing. Gearheads out here in the middle of nowhere, we can meet in the middle and come up with some amazing stuff," he says.

The Right Stuff
While Hajek was hatching his dream in Oklahoma, Illinois-based Rockett Brand was developing an ethanol racing blend suitable for high performance vehicles. "We had to develop a consistent E85 blend because the racers wanted that. They were using the pump E85 and wanted a more specific blend," says Rockett Brand President Jack Day. Racers were hoping to utilize the higher octane and cooling qualities of E85 fuel to gain an edge in competitive racing, he explains, and because each blending station carries a different formulation of E85, the inconsistencies from blend to blend were making it difficult to tune the cars and optimize the qualities of the alcohol in E85. Combined with other uncontrollable variables such as weather or air temperature, the race teams expecting positive results from ethanol fuel were not getting what they wanted. "In a race car, there are so many variables," Day says, "The car, the tires, the track." When Rockett Brand set out to develop a higher quality E85 fuel they kept one goal in mind, consistency. Day explains that a consistent fuel lets you focus on the variables you can't control. "We know how it is going to perform before it ever gets to the races," Day said, "and ultimately, it gives a higher horsepower opportunity at a lower cost."
"We had developed the fuel and hooked up with Brent very early in the game," Day says. Hajek likes the cost of fueling his high performance Mustang with E85, and to truly promote his product, he provides corn from his own fields to make the ethanol used in his car. Now, the Illinois-based company president and the Oklahoma farmer are record breakers. And the feat was not in a special class for ethanol-specific fuel, which shows the potential and ability of ethanol, according to Hajek. "You are either in the gasoline class, or fuel class, and fuel means about everything. We are lobbying for an ethanol class right now." The Mustang competed in the open fuel class at Bonneville, going against blends such as nitro-methane.
Using E85 was a major reason the Mustang reached such high speeds, Hajek adds, because ethanol burns cooler. "The more air going through the car the more drag. We were able to actually block off the front of the vehicle to avoid that drag."

The Right Driver
Another facet of Hajek's love of racing contributed to finding the right driver to help break the record. Hajek has created a museum devoted to cars in the old school building in his home town. The museum in Ames showcases models driven by everyone from Dale Earnhardt to Jungle Jim. "So many of these junk cars from my heroes you could buy for nothing years ago. No one was collecting muscle cars back then," he says. Today the museum continues to add models even though Hajek notes the prices of the cars he's looking for are dramatically higher.
One of the museum carsa 1969 Mach 1 Mustang driven by racing legend Mickey Thompsoninspired Hajek in finding a driver for the 2009 Mustang. Forty years after Mickey ran a blue Mach 1 on the barren Bonneville track, Hajek thought it fitting to put Mickey's son Danny Thompson behind the wheel of the souped-up car. To explain the significance of reaching a speed well over 200 mph, Hajek adds, "There are more people that have scaled Mt. Everest than are in the Bonneville 200-mile class."
Setting the land speed record has those outside of racing circles watching. Last year Hajek spoke at the World Ethanol Summit in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "The people down there were really supportive and excited about ethanol. The thing they were most concerned about was the food thing," he says. Most of the questions he answered during the summit dealt with the food versus fuel debate, although he adds that in all of his time spent developing, running, and promoting his E85 Mustang, everyone other than those worried about food have been supportive. "It amazes me how receptive everyone has been in the whole process. The fact that I'm a farmer and doing something green is cool to people. We have mutual respect from other racers and the scientists and engineers are watching to see what we can do." As for answering those at the summit worried about food, he says he's learned through his days in farming, "We could cover this world up with corn."
To continue his allegiance to ethanol, Hajek has begun production of a new flex-fuel race car, a 2011 Mustang. This time Hajek is going further with biobased products. Along with the use of E85, the car will be made with bioplastic side panels provided by Ford. "The hood and fenders are all soy-based plastic. The advantage to the soy plastic body panels is the weight. The soy is lighter and not petroleum-based plastic. This stuff is renewable, more earth friendly," he explains. As for Rockett Brands involvement, Day says the partnership will continue, along with the production of E85 racing fuel. "We see an opportunity with this fuel. When the fuel is used as it supposed to be used, it does what it is supposed to do."
A trip back to Bonneville to attempt new records at the track is planned, although Day, who's been to the speedway before and says everyone should visit the track at least once, doesn't know if he will be there for the next record breaking attempt. "Whether I'm there or not the fuel is going to perform."
As for Hajek being there to watch the newest version of his dream car on the salty ground in Utah, he does have chores to do at his farm, but, he's shown to be anything but the typical Oklahoma farmer. "He is what this sport needs," Day says.
When asked about the possibility of his own cars earning a spot in the Hajek Motorsport Museum in Ames he responds, "We are out of cars to collect. We have taken these new cars, the Mustangs, and made our own history." EP

Luke Geiver is an associate editor of Ethanol Producer Magazine. Reach him at (701) 738-4944 or