• 2016


HEMI® Engineer Takes Aim at New Bonneville Land Speed Record

On the outside, FCA US LLC combustion engineer Ken Hardman appears mild mannered, clean cut and very professional. But somewhere inside his head, a little voice is constantly saying: “go faster, go faster, go faster.”

Having already set 22 land speed records at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in a car that began as a college project, Ken is putting the finishing touches on a new land-speed racer he expects will break F/BGS-class speed records. Records, he hopes, that will stand the test of time and place him among the legends of the sport.

“I don’t look at catastrophe as if, it’s when,” he said, taking a break from work at his massively equipped fabrication shop outside Metro Detroit. “So I try to consider everything that could go wrong, then I devise a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C contingencies to ensure survival.”

His approach to engineering, designing – and redesigning – are as methodical as a heart surgeon’s. He constantly thinks and re-thinks what could be better, what could go wrong, areas where he can improve upon the previous design.

The result of his five-year-long project is a 24-foot long “purpose-built car” that looks a lot more like a rocket ship. And that purpose is breaking a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats.


As an engineering student at Santa Clara University in California, Ken proposed a challenging senior project: design and build a land speed racer. The idea was shot down before he could finish the first sentence.

“I guess they didn’t like the word ‘speed’ so I had to sell them on the idea there was academic merit to the project,” he said.

Ken assembled a small team of students to build a sleek “lakester” powered by a 500cc two-stroke motorcycle engine. The team’s research led them to Jack Costella, a legendary land speed record holder, who agreed to lend a hand.

“It was an ambitious project for ‘auto shop class,’” Costella said. “When they got it done, they had to sneak it out to the Mohave Desert in the middle of the night.” The first time out, Ken set a land speed record at El Mirage, piloting the car to a recorded speed of 120.578 mph.

His accomplishments caught the attention of Powertrain Engineering at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, where today, he works as an engine development specialist as part of the Advanced Combustion Team. Ken helped design the current Gen III HEMI® engine as well as several advanced combustion projects for FCA US LLC and the U.S. Department of Energy.


Driving on a dried lakebed of salt at high speeds is no easy task. Hardman compares it to driving on fresh snow…with bald tires.

“It’s really slippery and we’re putting an awful lot of horsepower down on skinny tires that reduce rolling resistance but they tend to spin a lot,” he said.

Hardman adopted the class project car and continued developing the mid-engine rocket, setting nearly two IMG_3327_v2dozen land speed records in the process. After upgrading to a turbo 2.0-liter engine in 2006, he added over 300 lbs. to the rear to improve traction. It helped, but didn’t solve the traction problems, and a near-tragic slide at 250 mph, led him to rethink his entire approach to breaking land speed records.

“The canopy blew off the car, so I hit the chute and that yanked the car straight,” Hardman said.

The car had reached its limits. So it was back to the drawing board to re-imagine his version of a land speed machine.

First, the engine needed to be in the front, not the rear. Second, the vehicle needed to be front-wheel-drive, not RWD to ensure the vehicle acts more like an  arrow – the front pulling and the rear (tail) stabilizing.

“In this design, the center of gravity is further forward in the car, which will ‘pull and direct’ the car, much better at high speeds,” he said.

Dodge sponsors Hardman Racing and the performance team at SRT® lent some powertrain and aerodynamic analysis support.

If all goes as planned, Hardman will “shoot the salt” and add a few more land speed records to his credit during the Speed Week events at the Bonneville Salt Flats in August, 2016.


The new Hardman Racing Streamliner stretches nearly 25-feet long and stuffs enough force-fed air to power a 10-liter semi-truck. But, Ken crams that air into a tiny 2.1-liter twin-cam Dodge Stratus engine. It takes three fuel injectors per cylinder to deliver enough fuel to keep up with the air intake.

Using a homemade water brake dyno (and five head gaskets later), Ken has dialed-in his engine calibrations and hardware. “It’s good to sort out  problems and fix them here so we’re not wasting valuable time on The Salt,” Hardman said.

“At max, it could run up to 60-psi of boost, but so far, I’ve kept it around 38 to 40 psi for testing,” he added.

So far, Ken has only calculated maximum power output but estimates it’s somewhere near 550 lb.-ft. of torque and 900 horses – give or take climate, elevation and final calibrations. But that’s what it will take to propel the 2,890 lb. rocket to over 300 mph.


Platform: Four-wheel Streamliner:

>> Front-engine

>> Front-wheel drive

Length: 24.5 ft.

Width: 28.5 in.

Height: 36 in.

Mass: 2890 lb. race weight, including:

>> Driver

>> 10 gallons fuel

>> 16 gallons engine cooling water

>> 120 lb. of ice/ice water for charge coolers

>> 15 lb. fire suppressant

Engine: 2.1L Dodge Motorsports DOHC Racing Engine with two stage boosting

>> Garret turbocharger

>> Harrop supercharger

3 fuel injectors per cylinder, Dry sump oil system

Transmission: 6-speed SRT Viper transmission with hydraulic shifting actuator

Final Drive: Custom quick change with 2:1 ring and pinion driving front wheels

Controls: Engine and transmission control software written by Hardman Racing,  CAN bus for electrical relay control:

>> Dashboard display

>> GPS receiver

CAN bus for data recorder

Tires: Mickey Thompson Bonneville tires rated to 450 mph

Brakes: High speed parachute, Low speed parachute, Front disc brakes, Rear vented disc brake on rear wheel

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