A rainstorm that barely dampened the parking lot added lot of water to the scenery out on the salt. This view is heading to the starting line.
One factor that contributes to the unique aspects of the salt flats is the fact that the salt is simply a thin layer over mud. The fragility of this layer occasionally shows itself and care must be taken. The mud below doesn’t allow the rain that falls to soak in like a conventional soil system. It seems to just sit there and evaporate very slowly. This moisture content is reflected in the racing surface as well. The more moisture there is, the softer the surface. This is where knowing the type and profile of tire to use can put an experienced racer at an advantage. There doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast (please excuse the pun) rule for how long after a rain the development of an exceptional surface may take to develop. In 2009, the course was under water the week before the event and a day’s delay in starting the event gave the hardest and fastest salt people said they’d seen in thirty years. We had to use a screw gun to fasten down the tarps as a nail would simply bend. This year it seemed as though the rain came nearly every night and the course softened a bit more each day.
The courses each had to be moved a mile further on to get away from the accumulated water at the western end. Due to a softening of the shut-down area on Course 2, they changed it to a short course that now started on what used to be Mile 1 and ran until what used to be Mile 4. Things get really loose at old Mile 6, so you had better not be running in that area, normally used for a long-course shut-down.
We elected to run on Course 1, closest to the pits, as changing Course 2 to a short course made running the bikes one after the other difficult at best. While waiting in line we unloaded and got ready to run. On rechecking the Ducati it didn’t seem very happy, running-wise. Poor throttle response meant having to sneak up on full throttle and it was starting to bang out the exhaust again. Quickly looking at the fuel pressure to make sure it was where it should be, I knew that the time needed to change the map would get us out of line. Looking over at the shorter line on the other course, we decided that we would run on the shortened Course 2. I was sure we could get our business done in three miles on the Ducati and Nick was familiar with that course on the Triumph.
So back in the trailer and over to Course 2 we went. After unloading it was back under the hoodie to reset the fuel map. Nick added a bit of fuel and we developed the sophisticated method of tuning that would be used for the rest of the speed trials. Waiting until Nick had made a change, and just twisting the throttle until the motor would pickup cleanly at wide open at least would give us a chance. Keep adding a bit at a time and when it sounded better, try it. Tuning by whack. Felt a little like Junior Johnson in his garage up in the hills gettin’ ready to run some ‘shine.
Nick got underway and after I heard him go into fourth gear I went to get ready.
After the pre-run checkover, and getting waved out on the course it was just like before, going through the gears except this time it was running quite well. No flat spots, or banging. Going by the 1 mile marker I realized I was a bit behind if I expected to try and run 200 on the shortened length. This prompted a bit more aggressive use of the throttle and upshifts. This started to generate some wheelspin. Not the immediate spin-up from before, but more along the lines of going along on a snowy road and accelerating in a car. You can feel it spin up but it isn’t too scary (sorry to our southern readers without the slippery white stuff). Eventually, if you just give it a chance, rear wheel speed and the car’s speed catch up and all is well. Somebody must have forgotten to inform the Ducati that was how it was supposed to go. The rear end started to feel a bit vague and shifting into 4th gear didn’t help. The vagueness developed into a weaving that increased in amplitude. Hanging on and waiting for it to catch up and settle down wasn’t working. The weave had now developed into a gradual pattern taking up five or so feet of course and getting a bit closer to the course markers than I liked. At the point where the tach read 8,000 rpm and things weren’t getting any better I decided that it wasn’t fun any more and rolled off the throttle. It took a bit for the bike to settle down, but it finally did and it took until getting to the return road before my heart rate approached normal. Coming up to the stopping point I had a Laugh-In moment that if you come to the store I’ll admit to in person, but not in front of the whole world.
Nick had qualified for a record so we needed to get back to the impound area to do the servicing on the Triumph. Same routing as before without the gearing change.
It was at this point in time that I had a moment. Going around to the right side to set the valves I heard a very distinctive sound from the starting line three and a half miles away. It was a sound I had heard when working on the Top Fuel dragster. Listening to the sound you could hear the car being pushed from the starting line. This rumble developed into a roar and I simply forgot what I was doing. Standing up and watching the course, I saw the roadster go by and it was great even though it was almost three quarters of a mile away. This is the car at rest in the staging lanes.
The fuel tank takes up the entire right side of the passenger compartment and the motor, blower, and injector is basically the same as used on a contemporary Top Fuel dragster or funnycar. This car is based on a funnycar type of chassis and is all business.
The sound of that car going across the salt is a rare occurrence. A blown fuel roadster is almost unheard of and this one was at full song. It came across on the PA that it went by us at 297 mph! It took a good five minutes for me to recover my senses and get back to business. Damn!
We finished servicing the Triumph and ran both bikes in the trailer, cleaned up the pit area and went back to town. A highlight of that period if time was the servicing of the roadster. They put new rod bearings in, set the valves, checked the timing and made some preliminary adjustments to the fuel system. A pretty routine process for them and a hoot for everyone within a quarter mile of them.
Saturday dawned clear. It had rained again during the night and the course had to be re-evaluated. Our record run was scheduled for the short course, but the event officials decided to close that course and run everyone on the long course.
Nick got ready and to my surprise and delight roadster #911 was first up. Getting near it was a treat and when it came to life and they turned on the nitro, you could tell it was a bit sportier in the tune-up. I would guess another 5 to 10% more nitro. Sounded good! As they pushed off, everyone watched and waited as it caught hold and started to accelerate down the salt. Listening to the radio, you heard the higher and higher speeds until mile four when it came out at over 304 mph! Everybody just shook their heads in awe. The first roadster over 300mph and the new record was 301.50. The man got another red hat and a rather prestigious jacket denoting him a 300mph club member. You only get a 200 or 300mph club jacket if you set a record over either of those two barriers.
Nick got ready to go and left right after the roadster. The bike sounded good and at the 1 mile mark it started to miss and suddenly died. It was mystery to us as it always had been very dependable until then. A million things run through your mind as you rush the starter back in the trailer and jump in the truck.
Down course we retrieved Nick and found a lack of electrical current. This was traced to a fractured fuse (vibration had its way). Replacing the fuse restored full function and we were back to the starting line to attempt to qualify for a record. As this was the last day, the impound step could be bypassed to allow for the record run to be made.
The single course slowed the progress through the staging lanes and made for lines stretching out into the water from last night’s rain if you weren’t careful, and Louie got a shoe full when he hopped out of the truck the first time. Progress to the starting line was going pretty well with the record runs until a parachute issue on a streamliner slowed things up. There is a maximum amount of time allowed on the starting line to make your run and unfortunately the streamliner was not able to get the parachute issue resolved and because the officials wouldn’t let him run with one parachute, he had to pull off and try to re-qualify.
Nick was finally up and off he went. We had decided to rpm the bike harder in an attempt to get over the big jump from 3rd to 4th gear. It was decided that 8,500rpm was the ticket and first the bike didn’t want to shift because the transmission was spinning too fast and must have gotten dizzy. This was followed by the carburetor falling off. Too much vibration (imagine that) and not enough of a carburetor stay. Luckily the carb mounting boot wasn’t torn and once the carb was back in place, eight cable ties made certain it wouldn’t fall off again. Back to the starting line we went.
It was getting to the point where there weren’t going to be many more chances, as they were getting ready to close the staging lanes. It had suddenly developed into a do or die situation.
Well not wanting to let it go at one run over 200 with the Ducati we readied it for the salt as well. I guess I wanted to prove to myself as much as anybody else that the first one wasn’t a fluke and see how the changes we had made would affect the handling.
Sitting in the staging lanes we met a lot of interesting people again. A BSA 250 that was an absolute jewel and came from just over the border in northern Illinois was a highlight for me. A few people I knew had worked on it and it was great to hear their names again. Stan Millard was one and it is good to hear about him being involved in this type of project. Someone who has forgotten more about motors than I’ll ever know.
Getting ready, we checked for anything else that might want to take the opportunity to leap off the Triumph. Upon start-up it all sounded good, and away Nick went. I heard the first mile number and it sounded good. At the 2 ¼ it was 132.842mph and I had to got get ready on the Ducati. I looked at Bob and he gave me a thumbs up indicating Nick had done well at mile 2.
Settling in and going through the pre-run routine helped keep things on an even keel. It is very important to try and keep a routine that helps give a normalcy to the process and reduce the jitters and likelihood of doing something too stupid at the outset. A similar routine works for the beginning of a run at the dragstrip as well as Bonneville. Granted I have made a lot more laps at the dragstrip than at Bonneville but the importance of establishing a consistent beginning to the run can’t be overstated. Stretching is one of the differences, but you are crunched up a lot tighter for a lot longer on the salt, and a cramp could be disastrous. Checking your gear to be certain it’s comfortable and gloves aren’t bunched up on the bars, leathers aren’t constricting things and the helmet is strapped on tight and comfortably. Check your tether, and a quick once-over of the cockpit to be certain nothing got left there inadvertently. It’s easy to forget an intake plug or something similar that could get tangle up or flood the motor if left in during start-up. Put everything out of your mind, then go through the run in your head. Play it out. Shift points, temperatures and pressures you want to see (if there’s a chance).
Now watch the starter to try and get a feel for how long before you go. If the previous run was obviously a long course car it will be an extra 3 to 4 minutes. Seems like an eternity. Nerves are manifesting themselves in a new way all of a sudden. Now my glasses are fogging up. Just what you need is to have limited visibility and try to go 200mph! I rarely have fogged up a helmet before. Now wave the glasses around and try to time it right where you leave before they fog up again.
Finally it’s time and as the starter waves you away, try to make the run happen like it did in you mind back in the staging lanes. Shift into 2nd at 6,500 rpm to avoid wheelspin. Third gear at 7,000 rpm, and it feels good. No changes were made to the fuel system after the Friday run because it seemed to have enough power to get into trouble, now we needed to see if the rider had enough sense to stay out of trouble.
The salt was wetter than the day before on the other course and it felt a little more vague. We had dropped the rear tire pressure 2 psi to try for a little more traction and it felt reasonably well hooked up.
Fourth gear at 7500rpm and it kept accelerating well. Went by the 2 mile marker at 177mph. I figured it was time to get going so more throttle and shifted into 5th. It really started to pull then. Going by the 2 ¼ mile marker it had climbed to 195mph at nearly 8,000 rpm. This was when it started to feel a bit vague, but not terribly disturbing.
The three mile marker hove into sight and I was still looking over the windscreen to establish a perspective frame of reference. This was at 197mph. Shifting into 6th gear and tucking in behind the bubble you try to maintain a reference to the course markers, stay loose and feel for anything developing handling-wise that could present itself as a problem if ignored. I kept looking at the tach and it was stuck at 8250 rpm. I checked and yes it was in 6th gear and just wouldn’t go any faster. Holding it on past the 4 mile marker and hoping that was enough to get the highest number you can, it is then time to slow things down and get to the return road. Rolling off the throttle quickly brings a surprising deceleration this time. Peeking up over the bubble I was hoping to be able to be able to see the little green cones, but not this time either and I settled for a gradual sweeping turn to the left.
Rolling across the salt towards the return road I knew it was fast, but not having anything to look at but the tach, no idea how fast. As soon as it was safely possible and before the bike slowed to the point of cumbersome handling up went the shield to keep from fogging the glasses and maybe causing another Laugh-In moment.
More time by yourself to reflect on what just transpired and listen to the ticking and other noises of the cooling motor.
The boys came up the return road and it was Louie bouncing on the seat again, so I figured it must have been pretty good. We had already made our first run over 200 so this wasn’t quite as momentous I guess, but when he got out and said “205, man” it felt pretty good. I was hoping for a bit more, but that was all she had. It wouldn’t go any faster.
We found out Nick had qualified for the record again, so it was quick load-up and back to the starting line for our last shot.
All there was time for was a quick inspection, some more gas and get Nick ready.
Unloading we got set up and made our way to the front of the line.
Finally it was our turn. Firing up and taking a last look for anything unusual, Nick rolled to the line and once the starter wave him off it was “here we go again”. Listening for the bike to shift into 4th gear, we loaded the starter up in the trailer and listened to the radio. It was excruciating! At the 2 mile mark it was 127mph, slower than the qualifying run we just made. At the 2 ¼ mile mark it was 130mph, while a record pace, not what we were looking for as it was 2mph slower than the qualifier. Finally we pulled out to head to the return road and the final number came out…..132.241mph! This was nearly 10mph faster than the record we set last year! And it was still running and nothing had fallen off. There was a lot of hooting and hollering and looking for Nick. Luckily the Triumph is pretty visible because it is easy to lose track of things out there. That is one reason silver and white are two colors not allowed for vehicles.
Upon sighting Nick, it was a time for celebration. The next step was load up and head to impound. This is where you get the time tickets and tear the top end down to verify legality for the record. The preliminary de-salting of the bikes was also started.
Now the measuring and calculating by the tech inspector begins. This is also where everyone else can see what you have.
Now we pose for a group photo and begin the process of packing it up for the trip home.
Once the trailer and truck is packed it is off for the homeland. Of course we have to stop for another shot by the entrance to the salt flats, tired but happy. Another 24 hours and we’ll be home. Missing from the photo is Jim Haraughty, who, as mentioned earlier returned home for his mother’s health emergency. We missed you Jimmy!
The ride home once again provided entertainment with snow in Wyoming. The upside of all that was as we got into the Midwest the temperature kept going up. By the time we got back to Madison it was nearly 80 degrees and this was the 10th of October! We all enjoyed the weather and unloaded the truck and trailer before it had a chance to change.
The final result of this whole deal is the setting of a Land Speed Record by Team MS. This is a big step for a small team running on a nearly non-existent budget with 45 year old technology as its basis. The persistence of the crew came through again!
The Ducati was able to accomplish two landmarks. One permanent and one fleeting. The permanent one is the fact that Under Pressure Racing, built and sponsored by Motorcycle Performance in Madison Wisconsin, is the first Ducati to go 200mph at Bonneville. The fleeting one is one we intend to keep and that is the Motorcycle Performance is the home of America’s Fastest Ducati. I am so proud of the crew at Motorcycle Performance for their efforts on both the Ducati and the Triumph. I feel that with the work planned this winter we can accomplish the next goal, that of being the World’s Fastest Ducati! Speeds in excess of 221mph will be needed to make this a lasting result. This has been done so far with very limited sponsorship. Just think what could happen with backing!
Once again, the players:
Jim Haraughty Team MS www.teamms.org
Motorcycle Performance Madison WI www.motorcycleperf.com
Fred Weege Motors and EFI
Nick Moore Suspension, tires, assembly, fill-in rider, at-the-track EFI tuner
Bob Crook and Louie Lamore Lumping, loading, comic relief, driving
Bill Shields Logistics
Jacki Whisenant Paint, fiberglass, bodywork
Sam Whisenant Website, Facebook blogs
Patty Whisenant Bookkeeping and the power behind the pretender
Bill Whisenant the pretender, Chassis construction, manifolds, throttle bodies
Leigh Whisenant Pit bike maintenance, decorroding
Stay tuned for the next escapades involving another Ducati and Nitromethane!
Oh, and by the way this is one Badass Hotrod!