Bonneville 2010: Part I Prep and the Trip

Bonneville 2010     Speed Trials and tribulations

Part I   Prep and the Trip

The first thing I need to do is thank the people and organizations that made this trip to Bonneville possible.  They are:

Team MS with Jim Haraughty  This organization provides funding to allow us to make the trip in order to promote awareness of the fight against Multiple Sclerosis.  We always seem to meet people with an inspiring story and did so again this year with a member of the SCTA timing and scoring crew, Tammy, from whom we were able to draw courage and inspiration.  Also thank you to the many Team MS sponsors.

The crew from Motorcycle Performance:

Fred Weege: Motors, Electronics and EFI tuning

Nick Moore: Tires, suspension and assembly

WJ: answering the darn phone

My daughters Samantha: Website work (including the various social networking formats that drive me nuts), Jacki: Paint and bodywork, including making or remaking parts for both the Triumph and Ducati, Leigh: Cleanup and de-corroding the bikes after the 2009 trip, along with pitbike refurbishing.

Bob Crook and Louie Lamore: Daily lumping of the bikes and equipment on the salt and comic relief.

My wife Patty: Patience and keeping things from completely unraveling

Photos by Jim Haraughty and Motorcycle Performance

Due to the fact that nearly every moment was devoted to working on the bikes that were going to Bonneville, there has not been much at all in the way of updates, blogs, posts, etc. in the last three months or more.  What follows is an attempt to bring things “up to speed” so to speak.

After the results from the 2009 expedition were tallied, several shortcomings were noted and needed to be remedied before setting off in search of speed in 2010.

1.) The Ducati

The first area of concern was the two intake manifold explosions experienced in 2009.  Rupturing the manifolds resulted in temporary hearing problems but luckily didn’t result in any shrapnel, although that was mostly due to blind luck.

The second was that the bodywork didn’t take advantage of the rules enacted for the 2008-2009 season.  The new bodywork rules allowing more coverage to the rear of the bike were a definite factor in the raising of the class record from 219 to 252 mph in one season.

The third was visibility and optics.  Visibility through the windscreen was inadequate to allow a warm and fuzzy feeling once speeds exceeded 180mph.  The vibration of the windscreen coupled with that of the helmet screen seemed to be the major issues.  We had added support braces at the rear edges of the windscreen but those didn’t seem to address the primary issue in a satisfactory manner.  The down-track visibility issues first encountered on the previous outing continued.

Well, dealing with the first issue involved a couple of different routes to take.  The first was to make a stronger intake manifold plenum.  We did this by using a thicker material utilizing a burst panel from Doug Herbert’s Top Fuel car, and reducing the unsupported panel areas.  The second change was to incorporate fuel injection.  While having run mechanical fuel injection before with the Top Fuelers, the turbo EFI was to prove to be a completely different animal.

Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) requires a different set of components than the carburetor we were using.  While there is a pump and fuel pressure regulator involved, the pressures are higher (75psi versus 3 ½ for the carb) and there is more complexity in the plumbing and a hell of a lot more to deal with when it comes to wiring.  This additional complexity led to the decision to build another chassis strictly to allow testing of the platform in an undisturbed state.  The long wheelbase (98 inches) and lack of weight transfer of the Land Speed Racing (LSR) bike caused trips to the drag strip to be an exercise in frustration.  It would spin the tire at half track and spin the tire going through the lights, thus unloading the turbo and learning nothing.  The drag chassis was shorter (76 inch wheelbase) and had a higher center of mass and a different weight bias.

The time spent doing this really ate into the time available for the LSR development.  That is what happens with a small scale operation with limited resources.  You have no choice but to try and kill the project with hours.  Ultimately this drag chassis was to become the dyno mule and didn’t get to the dragstrip in time, but did allow work to be done in the shop and then to go directly to the dyno without having to install the extensions for the long wheelbase bikes every time.

In keeping with the small scale operation, all of the development had to happen constantly, so we jump to item number two, the bodywork.  Last winter a series of photos were taken of the bike with the rider in place.  These photos showed some definite issues with the location of the tail section and the inability to cover up the rider’s backside.  Rather than pare down the rider’s butt, out comes the foam and body putty.  The attempt to build a suitable tail section resulted in a huge piece of sculpture.  It is simply amazing the number of gallons of body filler that can be applied and sanded off before a shape is deemed acceptable.  Equally so is the amount of dust and the mess it makes.  The general shape we hoped for was that of the tail used by Joe Amo, who currently holds the class record at 252mph and has gone over 270 with that same bike.  We used the edge radii of a funnycar’s trailing side front fender openings for the seat area and a maximum   convergence angle of seven degrees to get the shape.  Guy Bartz and my daughter Jacki took over from here.  A coating of tooling gelcoat, then sanding and buffing to the requisite finish preceded a glass party where we were busy covering it with layers of cloth and resin.  After four layers were applied and allowed to set, it was determined that it was too flexible.  This led to another series of layers.  That made it 14 pounds heavier than the original, smaller tailpiece.  A substantial part of the weight was also to the rear and fairly high up, which was a cause for concern.  The question then was whether to simply cut out a section of the tail and re-lay it in carbon fiber, entirely remake the piece in carbon, or run it as made.  The last option won out as we felt the extra 40 pounds of ballast we planned to attach at axle height would help counteract the possible evil effects of the additional weight in that location and we also had no clue as to how it would behave aerodynamically anyways.

Mounting this new tail section didn’t occur until two weeks before we left due to scheduling problems and other distractions, but was surprisingly easy to do before priming it.  While set in place and clamped, the location of the dzus fasteners on the spine could be ascertained by licking the bodywork.  With the resin and fiberglass, that made finding the locations of the fasteners like looking through dirty water (and it tasted a bit like that, too).  Once primed and painted that wouldn’t be possible.  Adding the side props, the tail support and tying it to the rear bellypan made for a sturdy mount.

Additional fairing side enclosure and a full bellypan made in two pieces completed the attempt to close in the aerodynamically turbulent areas that traditionally bedevil a partially enclosed cockpit.  While much of the initial work on the bodywork was completed well in advance of the departure date, the complete set of bodywork was not put on the bike until the Friday before we were scheduled to leave.  The extra clearance needed for a bigger turbo exhaust, handlebars and windscreen clearance were items discovered at the last minute and simply added to the urgency of the situation.  Further trimming was needed to comply with the visibility of feet and trimmed yet again so those feet could perform tasks such as shifting, applying the rear brake and keeping the bike from tipping over while not moving.  More on that later.

One of the areas not addressed was item number three, the windscreen itself, which seemed to be the thickest material and able to accommodate the most instruments at direct eye level.  The other alternatives were 25 to 30 percent thinner material which would seem to be an issue at speed on the trailing edge in an unsupported application.  More on this later as well.

Jumping back to item one, the EFI, work was progressing at an acceptable rate on the drag chassis.  All the accommodations for both mechanical and electronic fuel injection were made in the constriction of the fuel tank.  One of the future uses of this chassis platform will be to develop a naturally-aspirated nitro-burning project.  Thus the fuel tank had to accommodate the higher delivery requirements of nitromethane and the higher number of return-fuel locations.  A gas carbureted setup usually needs one outlet and a vent, EFI needs an outlet, usually one return, a possible return for the pump and a vent.  Nitro needs a BIG outlet, and usually 3 to six returns, along with the capacity to hold up to 5 gallons of fuel.  As can be seen, the construction of a nitro tank is considerably more involved than the usual carbureted or EFI types.  The tank in the drag chassis seemed to take forever, with the internal baffles, the return bungs and planning for the hose routing needed for nitro. While the Ducati doesn’t shake as much as the Triumph or the Harley, the tank also needed to be rubber mounted as vibration cracks and the attending fuel leakage must be avoided at all costs.

The drag chassis construction required a mental shifting of gears, as building a Bonneville chassis requires strength and weight in the right places rather than the ultra lightweight construction needed for maximum acceleration.  Building the Harley earlier this year and then shifting to the drag Ducati took a bit of mental gymnastics.  Moving back over to the LSR Ducati and back did the same.  A quick acceleration to 165 to 175 mph takes a different package than making someone happy at over 200mph for miles at a time on the salt.

Finally it was time to test the EFI on the drag chassis.  To get it to run with the hardware configuration, Fred and Jason puzzled over it and Jason came up with the setup that made it think it was a three cylinder and we ignored the center cylinder.  Simple, eh?  On the dyno and testing showed a drastic lean condition.  The stock Hayabusa injectors appeared not up to the task no matter what the fuel pressure was set at.  The problem encountered with the Ducati platform from the beginning is the abrupt onset of the boost and horsepower.  The addition of over 150 horsepower in about a second and a half makes for a bit of a lightswitch.  Most of the testing on the dyno has been watching the boost gauge so it can be shut off at 29 pounds.  The possibility of engine damage at those boost and power levels is very real, even with the brevity of a dyno pull.   We wanted to be able to test the chassis and at least the ignition side of the EFI computer, so the decision was made to put the carburetor back on it.  The small S&S G series carb could produce 250 horsepower which would be adequate for testing.  Well, disabling the injectors yielded a brief attempt to start the bike and then nothing.  When the ECU was revisited the next morning, the ignition was dead.  So much for testing.

The ECU was packed off to Haltech for diagnosis and service, and work started back in on the LSR chassis bodywork.  Bigger injectors were ordered from RC Engineering and shipped in overnight.  Adapting them to the TL-1000R throttle bodies involved making a few parts and further changes to the plumbing layout.

When the ECU arrived, on it went and back into the dyno.  While working on the fuel and ignition maps, we tried an ignition map that would hopefully give us the benefit of a naturally aspirated 1000cc twin until boost was made and then go into the mode needed to keep it alive at that time.  It was not to be, as the ignition seemed to be confused when asked to do more than stay at a constant timing number.  Changing the air gap seemed to help under some conditions, but ultimately we settled for a constant timing spec and proceeded to work with the fuel maps.  Using the air/fuel sensor got the show rolling and the addition of the EGT converter box allowed a bit more accurate tracking of the mixtures until one sensor decided to misbehave and we wasted a bit of time trying to tune for that.  Ultimately we got a usable curve that while lacking in rpm flexibility could be geared for on the salt and at 256 horsepower potentially could give us the speed desired.

At that point everything was taken off the drag chassis and transferred to the LSR chassis, intake, exhaust, fuel pump, regulator, everything.  The reason for this was that it introduced fewer variables in the tuning equation.

Once tuning began on this combination, things got interesting.  We had switched from GM LS1 to LS2 coils, which according to all the tuner sites on the internet would yield 30% more spark energy.  Good thing, right?  It was difficult to come to grips with the system from that point forward.  At the end of the first day, on the last pull we experienced a slight manifold trauma (explosion) that knocked the burst panel holder loose.  This had to then be full-welded and we started in the next morning.  The lack of consistency in parameter changes and resulting data was disturbing.  Changing an area of the fuel map would give results inconsistent with the same change earlier.  The situation seemed to deteriorate.  The rear cylinder then detonated on a pull.  In the past this had happened with not enough octane.  We had been running C16 in the drag motor and all was well.  C16 in this combination suddenly detonated, which takes no small amount of effort.  After switching back to Air Race it did it again.  We took away timing, bang, added fuel, bigger bang and a water leak.  Put a new head on the motor, and detonated it again.  We were running out of parts and time as it was just over a week to load out.  At this point things were not looking good.  We have hurt more motors on the dyno with this project than any other in the history of the shop and I was hoping for a more linear behavior pattern to avoid having the thing blow up in my face again.

We then decided to put the motor out of the drag Ducati which was supposed to be the backup in the LSR chassis.  Since it was our last complete motor, it was pressed into service as the primary.  Nick and Fred both stayed late, taking one bike apart and putting the other one together.  Something was wrong.  The next day when Fred went to set the timing, the timing would stay where it was set on the rear cylinder, but when set, the power turned off and then back on the cylinder had gone to 8 degrees rather than the 29 degrees it should have been.  The 20 degree spread between the cylinders could explain detonating the rear cylinder.  Puzzling over this we were unable to get any answers from anyone else out there.  Evidently no one else has tried to run a 90 degree V-twin with one of these ECUs.  It should just be the front two cylinders off a Chrysler V-8, but evidently electronic and mechanical logic must take different paths in the universe.  The next step was to try and decide what to do.  All that was left was to use the Dyna Ignition from last year and see what happened.  Usually the Dyna coils have a ferocious amount of RF noise that raises hell with the dyno computer 8 feet away, much less the ECU on the same bike, so it was a pleasant surprise when the bike started right up and idled nicely.  Revving it up, the EGTs rose coincidentally, a heretofore unknown occurrence since installing the EFI on either bike.  Sleep was a bit easier that night.

Going into the dyno the next morning, testing began.  A bit gingerly I might add as we had already blown up two motors and an intake manifold and I had no idea what I was sitting on that day.  Rowing up through the gears, we were limited to testing in 4th gear because of the 200mph limit of the dyno software.  We started out near 250 hp and struggled a bit with the fuel map as it seemed unusually touchy and we were very nervous about breaking the last motor.  Fred worked with the map and we were able to see 280 hp.  It was at that time we realized that the chassis was driving the front end so hard that it was rubbing the rear tire on the dyno’s decking.  Crank the bike back so it didn’t rub and 301.8 hp.  The testing involved a rather loud bang and a bit of fire out of the exhaust at 8,000 rpm, but Fred was able to add a bit of fuel and that became less noticeable.  Two pulls more in that range and we decided to quit there as we had no knowledge of how long the motor’s fuse might be at that horsepower level.  We figured it would be better to blow it up out on the salt rather than the dyno the bike went back to the fabrication area for fitting the bodywork.

On Friday night the holes all still lined up, but we hadn’t put all the bodywork on the bike at the same time.  Excitement reigned as the elephant took shape.  Soon it was discovered that the handlebars didn’t quite clear, nor was there enough room to easily get one’s feet in and out of the bodywork.  More about that later.  Well out comes the cut-off wheel and sand paper and away we go.  Later on, much later on, the handlebars could go through their 15 degrees of swing and a reasonably speedy exit could be made from the footbox area.  Tucking down behind the windscreen could be done with a slot to look out between the tachometer and the EGT gauges, similar to what we had last year.  The lower, more rounded plenum offered less chance of bruising the sternum than the first manifold.

2.) The Triumph

After setting the record in 2009, it was a bit of a challenge to determine what could be done to improve the performance of the Triumph considering the limitations of the engine itself and the budgetary constraints.  Racing the Triumph is a bit like juggling boxes of mason jars, not a matter of if, but when. After reassembling and servicing the bike it went on tour to the Triumph USA’s national dealer convention and then a stop at a couple more spots to be shown around.  The overall condition of the motor was surprisingly good and at that point the possibility of changing fuels was explored.  We took the S&S carb off the turbo Ducati and fiddled the jetting to accommodate a 40% nitro mixture and began preliminary adjustments.  There is quite a difference between gasoline and 40%.  The injected Funnybikes we ran and the B Fuel Harley all ran 92 to 94% nitro, but that was deemed a bit stout for the Triumph.  Without a place to do much testing and a fear of breakage, we elected to speed the blower up 16% and stay with the gasoline used before.

We went back to the Mikuni carb and made some bigger jets which covered that aspect of things.   The extra blower definitely changed the timbre of the exhaust and produced 16lbs. of manifold pressure as opposed to the 12 seen before.  One last leak-down check, set the valves and clutch change the gearing to allow a bit more speed we theoretically should be able to carry with the additional power from the faster-spinning blower and we were ready. True to fashion, once on the dyno it broke the fairing bracket and windshield in just two pulls.  Some things never change.

3.) Load Out and on the road

Saturday was the beginning of load-out with Bob and Louie at the fore.  The spares, while starting the packing two weeks before, hadn’t been completely organized yet and so we began by loading the bikes themselves.  These things are no small trick to move around, but the Triumph feels like a dirt bike compared to the Ducati.  A steeper steering head angle and lighter weight even with the supercharger and ballast made the Triumph the easy one.  The Ducati, on the other hand, with a 45 degree rake, low center of mass, and considerably more heft is a pig until 100 mph even without a full tank of fuel and 115 lbs. of ballast. The new rear door ramp we built was a big plus here.

Once the bikes were in the trailer, the Triumph was fairly straight forward, tying down like last year.  The Ducati, once again, proved the challenge; something to do with all-encompassing bodywork covering up the tie-down spots or something.  A bit of fiddling and we were able to tie down the bikes securely for the trip out west.  Considering the likelihood of construction and bad road conditions, you have to plan for the worst.

Next was finishing up loading the spares and supplies.  There are over thirty two boxes just for the Bonneville trip.  This harkens back to the Top Fuel days when it took about the same amount of stuff to run one bike at an event.  The spares and supplies list is two pages of 12 point type, single spaced.

Now the support equipment.  This involves a pit bike (we have to get a faster one for next year as a trip from the pits to the starting line is 4 ½ miles, and on a Spree that takes forever. Next up is Jim’s Generac generator, air compressor, EZ-up, ballast box, toolboxes and spare engine for the Ducati.  The Triumph is all hand built and we do bring along pushrods, lashcaps, gaskets, and a set of pistons, but if it gets beyond that, unfortunately the budget says no.

Riders’ gear takes up no small amount of space with the full leathers, boots, gloves and at least a helmet apiece.

Finally, at the end of Saturday the trailer is pretty darn close to done.  The test drive is down to the Blue Moon Bar for a Slimey Crud breakfast Sunday morning, courtesy of Tom Schmock and then out to the Slimey Crud Run.  At that point you open the trailer and hope for no surprises.  All seemed well and after a bit of schmoozing, back we go to drop the trailer and pack.

Monday morning brings the sunshine, Jim Haraughty, Nick Moore, Bob Crook, Louie Lamore, and Bill.  Hooking on, check the lights, one last look around the shop to see if there was anything blatantly lying out to be left behind, then into the truck and on the road.  Once we were under way I immediately fell asleep and that led to a trip south on 81 instead of staying on 151.  I wondered how we got onto I-80 so quickly until I looked at the map.  For me the trip is a direction I can understand.  Get on I-80 and take it until the sign says “Bonneville Speedway”.

To be able to afford the trip to Bonneville each year, we can’t stop on the way there or back for an overnight. It is a slog to put us there at the entrance to the salt by Tuesday morning, but off of I-80, past the truckstop, around the bend (free camping during the events) and on to the entrance.  The sun was just coming up and until you have a chance to experience the lighting and shadows of a Bonneville sunrise, well you just have to do it.

A quick spray of Salt-Away to try and forestall the adherence of salt to the vehicles and away we go to the pits.  The sheer scale of the course is hard to imagine until you go, but the distance from the entrance onto the salt to the starting line is often 3 to 4 miles.  The pits start another 3 to 4 miles further and extend for 2 miles alongside the course.  Plenty of room to stretch out.

Another aspect of Bonneville racing that is difficult to understand and absorb at first is the friendliness and camaraderie amongst staff and racers alike.  Everyone is there for the same reason….to go fast and return.  I expect things are a bit more pressed at Speed Week in August when there are 500 to 600 entries as opposed to the 125 – 150 normally associated with this event, the World Finals, but it is pretty much the same staff and often entrants at both events and as well as El Mirage, another SCTA event location.  The SCTA maintains their own website and there are quite a few others devoted to Salt Flats and speed trials such as, and others.   It harkens back to the environment of racing 25 to 30 years ago where it wasn’t about the money, but doing your best and occasionally helping a friend in need.

Pulling into the pits we immediately met up with David Pilgrim, his wife Debbie and the two Carls, his mechanic and spotter.  We first met them in 2007 and true to form, David has provided invaluable help in navigating the various aspects of salt flat racing.  His advice on the licensing and various aspects of the event have helped immeasurably.  If you Google him you will see he has set many records with Harley Flathead and Knucklehead racebikes, and also with a Corvette that has gone 265mph.

After getting the pits set up,  it was off to tech for the bikes, riders and the riders’ gear.  Specific requirements for safety gear are in place at Bonneville and it can be a bit of a challenge to meet those requirements.  First off, there can be no perforations at all in the leathers or gloves, because of the possibility of fire.  Most leathers and gloves today are perforated for ventilation.  These panels, along with the nice stretchy non-leather ones need to be removed or covered over in non-perforated leather.  Alexa’s Spyder Leather Works modifications have held up well and with the right gloves we went through tech rather uneventfully.  Once a set of leathers passes tech, there is a medallion that is riveted in the shoulder area to designate them as approved.  I had a new Arai helmet to try this year, but the old trusty HJC lid went through tech as well, getting the stickers.  Boots of the conventional roadrace variety will be acceptable, but none of the Simpson driving shoes will fly any more.  Sort of a shame because you can feel a lot more with the lighter weight shoes and space is a bit limited in the bodywork.

The Triumph passed tech with flying colors, the extra end on the battery box was made to satisfy a note made last year in the vehicle’s logbook.  We were supposed to have photos of the bikes each year they are run to document any changes, but so far I have been remiss in that area.  Must make a note to self about that.

The Ducati, because the class record is over 200mph, gets looked at by two tech inspectors.  Doug Robinson was again on the line for this.  This process is also called scrutineering.  Basically they go over the same checklist you are sent with your entry and include extra attention to tires as they have been a source of some issue in the last two years, when the A series bikes all started running over 200mph, some in excess of 270mph.   The list, while somewhat intimidating the first time through, makes much more sense if you sit down and go over it one item at a time.  Attention to detail is the key, and an extra pair of eyes on inspection is just fine with me as we do the same thing back at the shop before any bodywork goes on.  The possible results of having a component shift or fall off can result in the chassis being upset or even possibly running over a part with a potentially disastrous result.  A source of pride for me and the guys at the shop is the bike going through tech the first time.   It’s fun to go fast but even more fun to be able to do it again (and again if necessary).

We loaded up the bikes after tech and set off to the pits to get things ready for the next day.  This consisted of gathering anything that could blow away or get hurt by salt water and putting it in the trailer, locking it all down and heading into town to eat.  The Rainbow Casino has a phenomenal buffet and is the place of choice to feed the crew.  While it is a bit pricier than other spots, there can’t be any complaining about not getting enough to eat or the quality of the food.   Race crew travels and works on its stomach.  That is one thing we learned from running a Fueler and working for other teams.  There usually isn’t time to eat during the day so you stoke up at night and in the morning.  Carbs and protein.

Back at the motel we ran into Lew Terpstra and his buddy from Virginia whose name escapes me again.  I used to pride myself on remembering things like that, but with advancing age and decrepitude I have to settle for what’s left.  Lew is a member of the Slimey Crud Motorcycle Gang whose history and exploits have been chronicled in the indie movie “American Café”.  It can be great to see a friendly familiar face out there, but when you screw up everybody back home will know about it.  It was sort of different to see a couple of senior members of the gang motoring about in a new Challenger.

Part II   The Trials continue, Speed Runs Begin


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