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Race Gun
by Cameron Hopkins
Published in American Handgunner  March/April 1991


Race\'ras\n -s\ [akin to Old English raes rush, running leap]:       a running competition: a contest of speed. 

That is a definition from Webster's Third New International Dictionary, the recognized authority on the language of English. 

Now here is a definition from American Handgunner, the recognized authority for the language of shooting.

Racegun\'ras- ' gun\ n -s [akin to old IPSC fulI-house]:         a super-charged combat pistol customized with the latest most sophisticated technology.

And that is precisely what you see before you, a radically customized .40 S&W Para-Ordinance hi-capacity combat pistol featuring the most advanced new materials and most refined new technology available anywhere at any price.

This is a racegun, a gun that combines the speed of a sprinter with the heart of a marathoner. It's a gun that can go the distance with 16 uninterrupted shots of the hottest new .40 S&W cartridge. Plus, here's a gun that can blaze furiously ahead with the blinding speed of the lightest and fastest lock mechanism available today with parts made of titanium, carbon fiber and magnesium.

A gun that is bred to win must have a champion's bloodlines. This amazing gun boasts a proud lineage that includes some of the finest pedigrees in pistolsmithing. 

Bill Laughridge, master gunsmith and consummate craftsman, conceived the design of the entire pistol and directed its production. Establishing himself early on as the expert on the Browning Hi-Power pistol, the 20-year-veteran of the gunsmithing profession has also been successfully customizing Colt autos and S&W revolvers in his Cylinder & Slide Shop that he has owned and operated for the past 12 years. His work was first featured in American Handgunner over a

decade ago in an article written by Detroit PD's Evan Marshall in the May/June 1979 issue.

~    Chris Hagemann, the master gun-smith and manager of the Cylinder & Slide Shop who personally executed the incredibly skilled handwork that went into the racegun's creation.

~     Robert Pond, the talented Browning specialist who apprenticed at the Cylinder & Slide Shop and learned the gunsmithing craft entirely from Bill Laughridge.

~     George Huening, the former Indy car chief mechanic turned pistolsmith who contributed his proprietary technology of a carbon fiber scope mount.

~     Chip  Mccormick,   the entrepreneur who brought NASA-levels of sophistication to pistol components, designed the special magnesium and titanium parts for this racegun.

~      Irv Stone, the incomparable master barrel maker whose very name is synonymous with accuracy, fabricated a special match-grade stainless steel hull barrel in .40 S&W with minimum-Tolerance chamber dimensions to wring the last morsel of precision from this high-tech pistol.

~       Kim Hendon, the savvy master-mind of Aimpoint USA organized a special prototype of the new Swedish-made 5000 series scope with a large field of view in its 30mm tube designed especially for speed shooting.


Space-Age Marvel

This incredible example of the pistol-smith's art reflects the absolute latest in combat handgun technology The frame is one of the new Para-Ordnance steel units (as opposed to the aluminum alloy version). The Caspian Arms 10mm slide is made slightly over-sized for precise hand-fitting.

Special magnesium and titanium components made with advanced EDM and CNC tooling went into the action: hammer, hammer strut, firing pin and trigger.  A carbon fiber skin is stretched over a unique aluminum honeycomb core to yield a custom scope mount that weighs less than one ounce.

These sophisticated components formed the basis for this very special competition pistol produced by Bill Laughridge (pronounced lawf-ridge).  But before we get into looking at the details of the gun, it's important to understand the three motivating factors that resulted in this design.

ln September of 1990 something happened that will forever change the face of practical pistol competition. This game we call combat shooting has seen tremendous changes over the years from the street-legal .45s of the Seventies to the exotic .38 Supers of the Eighties- but nothing quite so radical as the electronic sight with which Jerry Banhart won the '90 nationals.

Then, just as the shooting world was reeling from this stunning shocker, only a month later in Australia another equally earthshaking development blew apart the long-cherished notion that God created the Government Model, Doug Koenig won the IPSC world championship with a forgive me Father, for I have sinned 9mm Italian clone of the CZ-75!

These dramatic events may have shattered the cozy little worlds of insecure people who cling desperately to the status quo, but to a man of vision like Bill Laughridge, it was a challenge and an opportunity. Here was a chance to advance the state of the art of combat pistols; here was a time to build the ultimate new racegun.

And then a third factor came into play that affected Bill's thinking. At a special meeting of the IPSC assembly in Australia, the body that governs the sport of practical shooting worldwide, a resolution was passed to amend the rule governing what constitutes a "major caliber" cartridge. Beginning on Jan 1,1993, the minimum caliber for "major" will be .40!

This is drastic---the .38 Super that Barnhart used to win the nationals and the 9mm that Koenig used to win the worlds will both be permanently relegated to minor caliber.

Add those three factors up and, logically, you would have 1) a hi-capacity pistol  2) in .40 caliber with  3) a large electronic sight. What you would have is a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts---you would have the ultimate combat pistol for the Nineties!

  High-Tech Blueprint

Actually, Bill was already two steps ahead of the game when the events of late 1990 unfolded. At the Steel Challenge in April of 1990, Bill was displaying an alloy-framed Para-Ordinance in .40 S&W. He had already demonstrated that the wide-body frame from Canada could be modified successfully to shoot the new 40 S&W cartridge. Altering the magazine feed lips had proven to be child's play for the talents of this exceptional pistolsmith.

The gun was already working. All that was lacking, really, was the willingness of the market to buy such a gun. Even though Bill knew the gun would be The Hot Set-Up, it took the matches of late '90 to prove him right.

Let's take a detailed look at this study of high-tech sophistication, this remarkable pistol It began life inauspiciously enough with a pitted, pock-marked Para Ordnance cast frame, Typical of metal castings, the P-O frame's surface is flawed with tiny holes and blemishes steel acne, if you will.

"We spent hours and hours hand-polishing that frame to make it look good for the photographer I want you to make it clear to your readers that the normal frames don't look anywhere near this good." Bill pointed out because he wanted to be totally fair with you Handgunner readers.

The surface blemishes of a casting do not affect the part's strength or durability; they are just that, surface imperfections. They're ugly, but they don't hurt anything.

It took about 10 hours of hand-polishing to bring the frame's surface up to the high luster that you see here in Ichiro Nagata's stunning color photographs.

"The gun has not been touched with a buffer," the pistolsmith from Nebraska explained, "It's all handwork, That's why the lines are straight and crisp. You make just one goof with the buffing wheel and you've rounded off an edge. You simply can't get that kind of finish except by hand."

Once the frame had been polished to perfection, it was time to fit the Caspian Arms 10mm slide, Caspian Arms manufactures slides and frames, but does not sell whole guns which gives the Vermont manufacturer the ability to maintain oversize specs. These Caspian parts are intended to be individually hand-fitted instead of mass-produced like other slap-together guns.


Compensator System

Bill first cut the Government-length slide to commander-length and then meticulously hand-fitted it to the frame with a tedious trail-and-error process that is the only way to get a perfect fit of these two crucial components.

Next came the match-grade Bar Sto barrel, the premier brand of target-grade barrels against which all others are judged. Not only Bill Laughridge but also virtually all recognized gunsmiths attest to the quality of Irv Stone's remarkable stainless steel Bar Sto barrels.

"I won't use anything else," Bill emphatically insists.

However, this is not just any Bar Sto barrel; it is a special-order over-size bull barrel. Rather than merely threading a standard barrel and screwing on a separate tapered steel cone to match up with the slide, Bill takes the much more precise path of machining the over-size Bar Sto barrel to his exacting specifications.

The result is a barrel with a long gradually tapering cone-lockup instead of the short sharply-tapering cones that most gunsmiths add on. Bill says that his system, "saves tremendous battering on the locking lugs and cone." The master gun-smith explained in very technical terms exactly what transpires during the firing sequence of the Browning designed semiautomatic pistol: "It beats the hell out of things.'

Bill's barrel design, coupled with his precisely fitted stainless steel two-piece guide rod that supports the compensator during recoil, greatly reduces the natural wear and tear of firing.

To this special Bar Sto barrel is attached Bill's distinctive dual-port, double-chamber compensator. This compensator Is a sophisticated design employing two separate expansion chambers. Each of the twin chambers are carefully contoured to maximize the particular gas flow characteristics of the potent .40 S&W cartridge.

In addition, each of the dual chambers is radiused with a "scoop" on the bottom surfaces. These scoops serve to enhance the smooth flow of burning gas to escape through the exhaust ports in the dual chambers. The scoops tend to minimize the turbulence of the gas while at the same time maximizing the upward flow in a sort of Venturi effect.

"The energy is being deflected in an arc"  Bill said, "We've worked with a flat wall and a rounded wall, but we've had a lot better results with the scoops."  The wall thickness of the plates between the two chambers have precise dimensions that are customized to the particular cartridge. "The dwell time of the bullet in the port is important," Bill observed, "Even though a lot of gas escapes forward, past the bullet, it's still important to vary the wall thickness according the length of the bullet."

Bill's dual-port, double-scoop compensators employ different wall thickness on the plates separating the chambers, according to caliber.  "Quite frankly, we don't see that much of difference in .45 because the pressure is so low. But you can really tell a difference with the .38 Super and the .40 S&W which have a higher volume of high pressure gas to work that comp," Bill told the Handgunner.

Lastly, a final bonus to the Laughridge design is that the scalloped shape of the scoops in the twin ports makes for a very clean comp. Lead build-up is absolutely minimal.  A bit of residue accumulates in the corners, but it is really nothing compared to some flat-bottomed comps that lead-up badly in less than a l,000 rounds.

(A digression---  the slickest way to clean lead from a comp is with the Foul Out electronic bore cleaner from RCBS. I've been using the device for over a year with nothing short of phenomenal results. You plug the barrel at the chamber with a rubber stopper, pour in a special solvent and drop a metal rod down the barrel. Attach the electrodes and switch on the unit. Several hours later, depending on the degree of leading, the barrel and comp are clean as a whistle. The Foul Out works great on cooper build-up too.)

The Laughridge-designed compensator system is a full-profile that matches the form of the slide exactly. Like so many handgunners who appreciate an aesthetic sense of proportion in a combat pistol, Bill agrees that a comp which just dangles off the end of the slide looks awkward.  The full-profile compensator body, Bill thinks, blends harmoniously with the lines of the slide and, in fact, cannot be distinguished from the slide itself except upon close inspection. The fit is really that good.


Frame Work

Bill Laughridge is a far cry from a neighborhood "parts changer" in his basement who buys a baggie full of Wilson parts, slaps them on a GI 45 and calls it a custom gun. The 43-year-old master gunsmith used a combination of good old fashioned elbow grease and state-of-the-art modern technology to produce his racegun.

The front strap is "checkered" with precise rows of sharply pointed diamonds cut at 20 lines to the inch. Interestingly, the frame itself is not checkered because The Para-Ordnance frame is too thin at the bottom so that checkering would break right through the metal. Instead, Laughridge cleverly installs a .030" checkered steel plate, so expertly silver soldered to the frame that it is totally invisible.

The trigger guard is wrapped entirely in a fine pattern of hand cut checkering.

Even with the fine crisp lines running 30 to the inch, the rows of checkered points still run straight and parallel-- a sign of an expert hand. Checking through an 8x loupe, the perfectly pointed diamonds shine clearly and distinctly with not a blunted or flawed tip in their midst. This is perfection in handout checkering.

The trigger guard itself is tastefully squared for the very functional purpose of providing a more supportive surface for the weak-hand's index finger to wrap around.

The finest of the checkering is found on the rear of slide, exquisitely detailed at the very fine pattern of 40 lines to the inch. Such fine-line checkering, perfectly executed, is indeed the hallmark of a master craftsman's touch.

The flat mainspring housing is blended into the frame with wrap-around checkering, handcut at 20 lines to the inch and executed with the distinctive attention to detail that is characteristic of Bill Laughridge's commitment to excellence.

Again maintaining his distinctive flair for precise tolerances, the frame is sculpted beneath the trigger guard to remove metal and thereby raise the shooting hand's grip. This modification is becoming more and more popular as a sound example of ergonomic engineering designed to increase the hand's leverage over the gun's recoil.

To aid in a fast, reliable mag change, Bill installed an enlarged mag well from Gun Craft of Florida (813-645-3828).

            Well, that's an understatement. Enlarged? Try humongous! We're talking the Holland Tunnel here folks!

In fact, let's coin a new term. You've heard of the mag funnel? Meet the mag tunnel!

The Gun Craft unit is tastefully blended into the frame with no unsightly seams or lines to betray its silver soldered derivation. Like everything else on this gun, it's the best it can be.

The frame is finished with the superb hard chrome plating from Metaloy Industries. Using special extra-fine glass beads to bead-blast the frame, Metaloy's Jim Kelley lavished the gun with his most handsome Star Burst finish.

An internal parts were also finished in super-hard, super-durable Metaloy plating for long lasting wear and superior protection.

And to achieve a striking two-tone effect, Bill applied a rich, deep blue to the Caspian Arms slide.


Premium Components

Bearing in mind that Bill does not expect any customers for the high-capacity .40 S&W racegun to ask how much it costs (if you have to ask, you can't afford it!), no expense was spared on the parts. As Bill put it, "We all know there are a zillion parts out there, but we used the premium of the premium."

This selection of the creme de la creme components was greatly facilitated by the availability of a new generation of super-sophisticated parts that is just now sweeping the combat pistol business

Spurred by innovations found in auto racing and space exploration, the absolute latest materials and techniques are now revolutionizing the status quo. One man is largely responsible for taking combat pistols on this quantum leap forward in technology.

Chip Mccormick founded his CMC company a scant five years ago with little more than a rusty '64 Ford pickup, a used patent for a magazine follower that he picked up for a song and an unshakable belief that there was a ready market for space-age pistol components.

At a time when it was really gee-whiz to have a Commander hammer on a Government Model, chip introduced an ultra-precise, uniquely profiled hammer made on a wire EDM machine that sold for nearly three times as much as a "Custom" hammer.

Unsatisfied with merely the best steel hammer, Chip turned to titanium. And not just a titanium hammer, but a titanium firing pin and hammer strut. If a great reduction in lock-time results from the 45% lighter titanium hammer, reasoned the ambitious entrepreneur, then surely the other three parts of the action would also benefit from the reduced weight. Lock time would be speeded up even more.

Now all three parts are made in titanium making for a tremendously improved lock-time.  Chip's advertising claims that installation of his titanium components, which weigh 45% less than the standard steel parts, will result in a 50% reduction in lock-time.

We were suspicious. We asked an independent engineer with experience at Boeing Aircraft to verify these claims. Based on calculations, the engineer determined that CMC's advertising claims are false---there is not a 50% reduction in lock time but a 66% reduction!

     "Yeah," Chip confessed, "We're conservative in our claims.  We researched it

with two engineers and their estimates were higher, but we figured fifty percent would be safe,"

Is this just some theoretical improvement, some abstract advantage?  No, categorically and emphatically no. With the full set-up of titanium components, Bill Laughridge says that the lock-time is dramatically faster. "Man, you can see the difference!" Bill exclaimed, "Just dry-fire the gun and then snap one without the titanium parts and you can actually see the difference, it's that obvious!"

McCormick, himself a champion shooter who knows the needs of a combat pistol from first-hand experience, demonstrated the ability of his in-house engineering and manufacturing capabilities by making a custom one-of a-kind magnesium and titanium trigger for the Para-Ordnance

A standard P-O trigger weighs 110 grams, but Chip's titanium bow, magnesium pad trigger weighs a scant 67 grams. The McCormick trigger for the P-O was strictly an experimental unit and is not for sale--- unless, of course, sufficient demand is there to warrant production.

(To participate in the free-market economy and stimulate the demand for this product- or other high-tech CMC products call Chip McCormick at (512) 280-3320.)


Best-Grade Features

In addition to the McCormick trigger and hammer components, Bill also selected other top-quality parts. For the two safeties--- grip and thumb-- Bill chose the new stainless steel units from Ed Brown Products. The Brown ambi thumb safety is unique in that the levers are wider than the standard Swenson unit and are also ergonomically contoured to match the human thumb. Rounded instead of angled, the Brown thumb safety is indeed a more comfortable fit.

The Brown beavertail features a cutout in the rear tang into which the hammer sinks when in the cocked position This allows the beavertail to be raised higher, thus elevating the shooting grip higher on the pistol. Better for recoil control, the higher grip is made possible by the Brown beavertail which is called, appropriately enough, the "Hi-Grip."

Additionally, Bill selected the unsurpassed Bo-Mar BMCS (Bo-Mar Combat Sight) for inclusion on the Caspian Arms slide.

The Caspian Arms slide came with cocking serrations on the front. Because of the Huening scope mount, the right side serrations are covered up, but they are useful when using the iron sights.

One of Bill's C&S extended and enlarged mag release buttons is attached. This is particularly necessary on the P-O frame which is awkward to reach around and punch the mag button.


Huening Scope Mount

To borrow a phrase from a TV ad, George Huening gives you the racer's edge. This former Indy car Chief Mechanic has successfully translated the advanced technology of the racetrack into combat pistols.

In a sport where an ounce or two can mean the difference between the checkered flag and ignominious defeat, George Huening learned to wring every last advantage from the considerable resources at his multi-million dollar Marlboro Team disposal.

One of the tricks of the trade that George picked up while captaining Patrick Racing to victory with the Marlboro car in the 1989 Indianapolis 500 was the use of aluminum honeycomb and carbon fiber parts. An inner hull of honey-combed aluminum serves as the chassis, if you will, of a part that will be finished by stretching over it a thin but very strong layer of carbon fiber skin.

The result is a scope mount that fits low over the gun, actually flush with the front sight, and weighs less than an ounce! The mount attaches to the gun via a special dustcover fixture that is silver soldered to the frame.

It is strong, durable, light. The remarkable Huening mount is just exactly what you would expect- the best.

But how does it work? Is it as easy to shoot an Aimpoint for IPSC as Jerry Barrihart says it is?

Frankly, I don't know yet. The Laughridge racegun is the only IPSC pistol I've ever shot with an Aimpoint and my limited testing, even including dry-firing time, was woefully inadequate to draw any meaningful conclusions. I think you need at least six weeks of working diligently with an Aimpointed IPSC pistol before you would be in a position to offer a valid opinion. I only had a couple of weeks with the racegun before the dreaded dead-line drew relentlessly upon me.

However, in those few weeks I was able to tell that the Aimpoint takes some getting used to. Don't think you can just switch right over from years of iron sights; it ain't that easy! I hasten to add that I was working with a standard two-minute dot Aimpoint 5000 with the wide 30mm field of view- not the "big dot"10-minute version which is unavailable at the time of this writing. Barnhart used a 12-minute Tasco.

I must say that the uncluttered field of view in the new 5000 series Aimpoint is a dramatic improvement over the one-inch tubed 2000 series The 30mm tube of the new 5000 has the same outside diameter as the 30mm Tasco Pro-Point, but the I.D. on the new Aimpoint- which is the measurement that really counts- is significantly bigger.


Gun Handling

The Laughridge racegun weighs 44 ozs. without the Huening mount and Aimpoint, 53 ozs. with the optic installed, That's really not too bad for a high capacity gun that gives you 16 shots of major caliber ammunition. But here's the rub the Para-Ordnance magazine, with brass base pad and 15 rounds of .40 S&W, weighs 13 ozs.

The pleasing heft of the solid pistol felt good. Recoil was minimal, but that was expected thanks to Bill's ingenious dual-chamber compensator with the twin scoops and the efficient .40 S&W handloads I was using (7.5 grs. of WW Super Field under a 150 gr. Sierra JHP for 1,227 fps for a power factor of 184).

The accuracy was utterly phenomenal. This gun is quite simply the most accurate IPSC pistol I've ever tested- period Consistent sub-one-inch groups were standard at 25 yards. The best of five consecutive five-shot groups measured 3/8" and the worst was 3/4" with a flyer! One-holers all the way!

However, it should be noted that these groups were obtained with the Aimpoint 5000 in place. Shooting accurately is much easier with any optical sight, but the superior Aimpoint 5000 with its sharp, clear sight picture in a true 30mm tube is a real delight for wringing the last drop of precision from a pistol.  I know that I could not have extracted such accuracy from the Bo-Mar iron sights and my near-sighted eyes.

Bill supplied a set of specially thinned-down grips, not the gorgeous Coco Bolo panels from Dave Wayland shown in the color photos. Bill's lackluster black plastic grips are sharply stippled to give a solid purchase and, more importantly, they're wafer-thin to reduce the girth of the fat frame as much as possible.

I don't have large hands, and I was very surprised to find that the Para-Ordnance frame, which looks so "blocky," was amazingly comfortable to shoot, I thought the gun would feel awkward and it would balance badly, but it didn't. Live and learn.

Another thing I learned about shooting the P-O gun is that the magazines are prone to jamming if dropped when loaded. I accidentally hit the super-big C&S mag release button a couple of times when I snagged a bad draw out of the holster, and dumping a 15 shot mag on the ground was not good. The follower tweaked inside of the magazine tube and it required a complete disassembly of the floor plate to get things straightened out.

If you ever have to do an El Presidente or other drill where you have to Fire only a few shots and then reload, be sure and start with a partially loaded magazine. Avoid dropping a fully loaded .40 S&W Para-Ordnance mag unless you have your tool kit!


Labor of Love

Sixteen rounds of major caliber ammunition staggered in a super-accurate immaculately handcrafted combat pistol- will this be the ultimate combat gun of the Nineties, like the .38 Super was of the Eighties?

Well, that's not easy to answer because this exhilarating and exasperating sport that we call IPSC is predictably unpredictable.

What is clear, however, is that this .40 S&W "racegun" has redefined the concept of the "full-house" custom combat pistol. Only a handful of advancements in the base science of combat pistolcraft have occurred in the past 15 years that can honestly be described as quantum leaps forward--- the Clark pingun, the Plaxco compensator, the Devel .38 Super And the Laughridge racegun.

Combining the very latest in high-tech components and sophisticated designs with time-honored handwork, this remarkable combat pistol is destined to become the standard by which all others will be judged.

Topping out at nearly $5,000, Bill Laughridge's racegun is not for the casual plinker.  It is for the man who appreciates the very finest in combat weaponry, the man who prides himself on owning nothing but the very best.

The last words on the Laughridge racegun belong to Bill himself:

"It has really been fun building a no-holds-barred, to-heII-with-the-expense super gun. It's not often we get to do it, Does the soul good to pull the stops out once a awhile.

"I guess that's what I really thought I would be doing all of the time once I had 'made it' in the business.  Then I got older and wiser and found out that reality dictates that you rarely have a customer with an unlimited budget.

"I suppose that the aspiring pistol smith looks at this work as a glamorous occupation. We soon find out that it too is a job like any other.  The real difference is that I really love what I do."