- Published on Wednesday, 24 April 2013 00:56
Queen of Diamonds fires up for Funny Car Fox Hunt. Girls get in free.
NORWALK, Ohio – Fan favorite Jill Canuso and the Hanna Motorsports Queen of Diamonds Jet Dragster blast off April 27, 2013 at the Funny Car Fox Hunt as Summit Motorsports Park launches a Golden Anniversary season in Norwalk, Ohio.
The Funny Car Fox Hunt, a retro event that features family friendly free admission for women and girls, also opens the season for the local points races: The Mr. Gasket $53,100 Super Series and Bear Motorsports Junior Dragsters presented by Wiseco.
“I have a feeling this will be one of the last races with the old girl,” said Jill Canuso, Pottstown, Pa., driver of the Queen of Diamonds Jet Dragster. “It will be nice to do it at Summit Motorsports Park. It is one of the nicest tracks in the country.
“This will be my first race of the season,” Jill Canuso said. “It’s going to be blowing the cobwebs off the old girl and myself. It’s been a long winter.”
The Queen of Diamonds’ jet engine packs a mighty puff of heat and flame as Jill Canuso powers it up and edges toward the starting line.
The better to conquer the quarter mile at 300 mph. No blinking allowed.
“I’m so pumped,” Jill Canuso said. “I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel. And soon it will be the Queen of Diamonds II. I’m so excited.”
With great care, Al Hanna and the Hanna Motorsports team follow a new futuristic design as they build the Queen of Diamonds II, a project announced in early 2013.
“We’re very innovative,” Al Hanna said. “Our Top Secret car is one of a kind. Technologically we’re always thinking. Our GOJO Jet Funny Car is the fastest Jet Funny Car in the world.”
Both of those jet cars run more efficiently than the Queen of Diamonds, Al Hanna said, adding that even though he built the Queen of Diamonds in 1997, she presides over the other Jet Dragsters, which hold to the same design.
“The jet engine doesn’t get the air it needs,” Al Hanna said. “We’ve had this concept for eight or nine years. I was sitting in an airport in Atlanta, waiting for a flight, in a bar having a drink. I drew the sketch on a napkin.
“In 1997 we built the Queen of Diamonds, and it’s a tremendous car, but it will be more efficient if we get the driver out of the way,” Al Hanna said. “Jet engines don’t like bad air, when the air gets hard to breathe. They need good air and a lot of it.”
The Queen of Diamonds II places the driver in a pod on the left side, offset by the fuel tank in a pod on the right side, Al Hanna said.
True to his long career in motorsports innovation, Al Hanna pondered ideas, talked with trusted builders, consulted engineers, and asked his wife, Ellen Hanna, about her views, the budget and the timing.
After all, Hanna Motorsports races as a family.
“We went through lots of designs and pod designs,” Al Hanna said. “We came up with the offset pod. That’s what we’re building. It’s a big risk. We’re spending a lot of money. It’s all a theory. We still have to prove it on the track.
“We would like to run a little better than 300 mph, because that is what the fans like,” Al Hanna said.
Jill Canuso said that in fall of 2012, Al Hanna called her in for a meeting.
“When he sat me down, he didn’t say anything,” Jill Canuso said. “He just handed me the rendering of the car. When Al interviewed me he said he had this vision of a new concept for a Jet Dragster. That always stuck with me. But things didn’t seem to work out. It was either a sponsor or timing.
“At the last race of the season last year, Al brought me in the rig and handed me the rendering,” Jill Canuso said. “He said, ‘We’re building this, and you’re going to be driving it, if you want.’
“It’s a moment of disbelief,” Jill Canuso said. “You don’t really give up hope. You’re looking at this drawing and you have so many questions. When you’re designing something that is totally new, there are a lot of questions.
“It’s exciting to be involved in that process,” Jill Canuso said, adding Al Hanna scheduled the Queen of Diamonds II for wind tunnel testing, then tests on the track.
“It’s going to be my very first time in any new car,” Jill Canuso said. “You have to have an open mind. And I’m pumped!”
Meanwhile, Al Hanna turned to a trusted, familiar builder, Dan Page, Hampstead, New Hampshire, to create a chassis from the schematics.
“He has built the GOJO Firebird, the current Queen of Diamonds, and Top Secret,” Al Hanna said. “Dan has been our chassis builder for 15 years.”
Though Al Hanna hasn’t received all of the bills for the Queen of Diamonds II, he estimates she’ll cost $150,000 or more.
With more than half a century of motorsports innovation, including 30 years in Jet Cars, leading to three inductions into motorsports halls of fame, Al Hanna embraces new territory like an old friend.
“I don’t look back too much,” Al Hanna said, “because I’m too busy looking forward.”
Al Hanna’s wife, Ellen Hanna, his high school sweetheart, approves of the move.
“Ellen has never driven a race car, but she’s always been supportive,” Al Hanna said. “She’s happy we’re building this new car.”
Ellen Hanna, an avid reader, named the original Queen of Diamonds based on a quote from a Steven King novel, “If you hold the Queen of Diamonds, you never lose.”
“Ellen said, ‘the new car is the Queen of Diamonds II. There’s no discussion,’” Al Hanna said.
Along with their son, Rich Hanna, who's logged 20 years as a Jet Car driver, Al and Ellen Hanna helm the Hanna Motorsports team on the cutting edge by setting goals and staying positive.
“The engines in an airplane go 1,000 mph,” Al Hanna said. “These cars have aerodynamics that keep them on the ground. This car is designed to go from zero to 300 mph in a quarter mile.
“We’re trying to create something new and different that is unlike anything else,” Al Hanna said. “We’re already the best Jet Dragster out there. We’re just trying to do it differently.”
Jill Canuso agrees great things take time. Hanna Motorsports hopes to debut the Queen of Diamonds II May 17-19, 2013 at the Mickey Mart Rewards Cavalcade of Stars presented by Budweiser at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.
“There’s going to be the big debut for the new car, and Al wants it perfect,” Jill Canuso said. “There’s no cutting corners on something like this. It’s totally new. There’s nothing to base this car off of. It’s quite an undertaking.
“The new car hasn’t been tested yet, but we’re getting real close,” Jill Canuso said. “I have a new helmet for this season. This is the first time I’ve had a helmet that’s professionally painted. It’s cool. It’s very patriotic.”
Also, Jill Canuso can’t wait to see her race track friends on April 27, 2013, when she races the Queen of Diamonds at the Funny Car Fox Hunt at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.
Visit the Queen of Diamonds pit for photos and autographs.
“The fans are so great, and they’re always coming by,” Jill Canuso said. “They want to know about the team and the car and myself. I love it!
“When you see the youngsters, their eyes light up, you’re leaving a very positive impression in them,” Jill Canuso said. “That’s what I remember about the racers growing up. So when you leave that positive impression, there’s nothing better than that.”