The salty dogs chase their tales: Friday


The morning was clear and a brisk 36 degrees when we rolled out to the salt.  The first order of business was to get out to the Triumph and see how the night treated it.  The winds that can come up are capable of blowing a motorcycle over, thus our concern.  When we arrived, there it was right where we left it, in its plastic cocoon.


Unwrapped and in the trailer, we joined the parade of the other record run contestants.  There are a couple of big advantages that go with making your backup runs first thing in the morning.

The first is that is usually calmest in the early morning, with the winds and weather issues rising at noon or later.

The second is the air density, which is a measurement of the amount of air in a given volume, is the highest then.  A figure that is given on every time slip is Density Altitude.  This is a measurement of different factors (temperature, humidity, barometric pressure) that is used in a formula to give you a figure that corresponds to the distance above sea level the atmospheric conditions provide.  This is very helpful in making jetting, timing and nitro percentage changes.  The lower the number the more air there is to burn.  Some instances at the racetracks near the coast or specifically the dragstrip at Joliet Illinois, the density altitude can be below sea level.  When that happens, hang on as the motors will make phenomenal horsepower (and this mechanical exuberance can show itself in spectacular performance numbers or spectacular explosions, especially in the fuel categories).


Once in line, the runs begin.  The tension mounts as you get closer to the front.  Finally we are there and Jim is inspected once again by the SCTA staff and given a final check by the starter.  We crank up the Triumph, verify all is as it should be and send him off.

As he heads down the salt he moves to the left side of the lane to avoid the loose salt in the middle of the lane between mile marker 2 and 3.  He moves way left.  We load up the starter cart, pile in the suburban and follow down the return road.  Listening on the CB we hear the announcer say “125.05 at the quarter”.  This is enough for the next license upgrade and the 125mph exit speed at the three mile marker is the next announcement and we are now in search of Jim.  Luckily the Triumph is very east to spot and into the trailer and back to impound we go.

Bonneville National Finals 2009 Jim & Trumpet

Just as the bike was going into the trailer I looked over and saw a coupe sliding backwards across the salt, coming to rest almost directly out from us.  I noticed smoke or steam coming out of the engine area and no activity indicating the driver was getting out of the car.  Hollering for the fire extinguisher, I headed across the salt towards the car.  Having seen enough Funny Car fires to last me, the increasing smoke/steam added more incentive.  As I got to the car I saw a tube from a course marker sticking out from under the right front wheel, and the banner wrapped up in the suspension, the windshield broken and the entire inside of the car coated with an oil/water mix, including the windshield itself.  The driver had opened the door and was just sitting there sort of dazed.  I pulled the pin on the extinguisher and looked for his seat belts hollering to see if he was all right.  He sort of shook his head yes and then the SCTA personnel arrived and got him out of the car.  I put the pin back in the extinguisher and started back to our truck and trailer.  That’s when the driver of one of the SCTA trucks hollered “check his heart!”  I turned around and realized she was pointing at me, not the driver of the coupe.  Must have been the gray hair and the twenty pound extinguisher coupled with the quarter mile sprint that concerned her.  I assured her I was fine, but damned if that fire extinguisher didn’t add another ten pounds to itself on the walk back.

As I was leaving I heard on the SCTA radio “flat spin mile 2” and I looked up to see David Pilgrim going around and around and around… I stopped to see how he came out and when it was said he was OK I started back to the truck yet again.

On the ride back, the run was dissected and a tendency for the bike to drift to the left was noted and without any wind socks to judge by it is hard to tell what may have caused that tendency.  It was definitely not a condition I felt at Indy when I rode the bike there to about 120 mph.  We also heard the course was shut down to clean up glass that we guessed came from David’s car.

As we approached impound, Jim went to get his time slip and we pulled in to go through the tear-down process that is part of the record verification process.  There was no time limit here, but we wanted to get it done and back in the trailer to avoid the ever-present salt corrosion possibilities.  Bob and Louie got out the tools and away we went.  Some of the items I had hoped to deal with to ease the servicing of the bike didn’t get done due to time constraints so it was a bit of a thrash to get it apart.  Items were added to the list for future consideration in name of ease of service.  Aaron Frank wanted to ride it out there, but with the Ducati needing attention and the goal of a record accomplished the extra time to reassemble the top end was not available.

Once the head was off it was time to summon the head motorcycle tech inspector, Tom Evans.  He then set about the task of measuring the bore and stroke to verify the displacement of the motor was within class limits.  The bore was a loose stock diameter.  OK so far.  The crank’s stroke, the distance the piston travels up and down in the bore was another matter.  Due to the characteristics of the pistons there was a fair amount of rocking in the bore and he kept coming up with a longer stroke than stock.  Now I knew this couldn’t be because it was a standard diameter rod journal that had never been ground or even polished.  A discrepancy in stroke can arise if a crank is reground and the person doing the grinding sets the grinder up to the wrong stroke specification resulting in either a longer or shorter stroke.  We have had shorter stroke cranks made by this method.  Measuring the stroke at the wrist pin at the side of the cylinder yielded a consistent number.  When calculated, it came out to 649.3 cc on a 650 cc class limit.  After the forms had been filled in and verified and my stomach unwound itself, Tom mentioned that the Triumph 650 did have a .010” overbore allowance because the stock displacement was so close to 650cc.  I think he was having us on, but all in fun.

Jim was glowing after that, and deservedly so.  When you are able to realize a dream that takes that much work it is like a great weight is lifted from your shoulders.  I am proud and grateful to have been able to help him do that.

Now to put everything back in the trailer, oil the bores of the motor and roll the beast back up in so we could get back to the pits.  Once again, Bob and Louie were instrumental in collecting up the debris from the teardown and not leaving anything behind.

Bonneville National Finals 2009 Jim & Bill & Triumph

Once back, we saw David’s Corvette minus the trunk lid, left door skin, door glass and part of the hood.  They were washing it down and changing the wheels back to the transport wheels.  David had billet wheels made for the car for aerodynamic reasons and when he spun on the salt it flat-spotted all four tires to uselessness along with the body damage.  It was surmised at the time that the decklid failed and unloaded the rear end of the car.  At that point as soon as the car came around the air got under the door skin and tore it off, taking the window with it.  The damage continued up to the hood.  He spun from the 2 mile marker through the 2 ¼ mile marker and beyond.  He sure seemed pretty cool after having gone through that.  He was a bit disappointed because the 233 mph of the spin didn’t qualify for the record.

Housekeeping continued in the trailer and I put the intake manifold back on the Ducati.  It was a bit distorted in a couple of spots, but Kip had done an admirable job on the weld-up.  All the bolts and clamps were tightened in place and the moment of truth.  Had I burned the exhaust valves out of it or not?  Cranking it over it lit normally and after a bit of a warmup settled into its normal idle with no undue noises through the turbo.  The response seemed fine, so into the trailer it went and on to the starting line.

The electric bike was providing a bit of a handling issue for Aaron as it tended to weave going down the course.  It was a great opportunity for me to watch a master, Paul Thiede, the owner of RaceTech suspension look into the situation.  Changing the tail section, along with setting the tracking seemed to calm the errant behavior.  A trip back to the pits for some various hardware bits reduced the panic factor a bit, but with a bike that has so little to extrapolate from it is always a challenge, met well by the crew.

Waiting in line was another ordeal and we were six pairs from the starting line when the wind came up.  There is a 3-4 mph threshold for running the streamliners, and an 8 mph range above which bikes can’t run and since the winds were 20 to 25 mph, it pretty much shut everything down for the day.

Bonneville National Finals 2009 Aaron & his Dad confer

Bonneville World Finals 2009 Aaron launches

The electric bike Aaron was riding was in line ahead of us and we offered to let them put it in the trailer overnight rather than let it sit out on the salt with all those electrical parts.  As I said, it was a generous allowance of 500 pounds weight as it took four to get it up in the trailer.  Leaving the trailer at the starting line also meant that the supplies back in the pits would be out unprotected.  This was where a rental car was handy as we loaded all the gasoline we had sitting back there into the car and took it back to the starting line and put it in the trailer.  A little Ford with thirty gallons of race gas would make a marvelous signal fire given the right circumstances!

Then it was back to Wendover to sample a local Mexican restaurant with the crew of the electric bike.  I can tell you there were some interesting viewpoints put forth and much dialog exchanged concerning the future of motorcycling.  A brief history of electric auto racing as relating to possible parallels with motorcycles, battery technologies, supply streams from and to Asia, Top Fuel cars, and a host of other topics had the restaurant staff looking at us wondering if we were ever going to leave.

Some photos of other cars and bikes:




Next time:  the final day on the salt

*All photos courtesy of Bob Crook and Gary Ilminen


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