The weather looked ominous as we headed west, but the event was still on, so onward we continued. The extra weight of the nitro and spare motor parts was apparent in the trailer and the gas mileage was a bit down. The hills are a lot bigger out west and it seems you are going on forever. Coming down out of the mountains into Salt Lake City is always a special moment as we are nearing the end of the trip out and it is a spectacular view. It is also at the end of Bob’s driving stint down the mountain and if you weren’t awake before that you certainly were afterwards.
The last fuel stop before coming across the salt flats let everyone stretch and prepare for the last leg of the trip. Just west of TooeleUtahthe rain started. It turned into a downpour that discouraged everyone. Standing water on both sides of the interstate and the median didn’t bode well.
Approaching Wendover the sun started to come up and the rain began to ease. As we headed west the sunrise allows a shadowy glimpse of the flats. The expanse of white gives it a ghostly appearance and you start looking for the vehicles out on the salt way before you will ever see them. Finally we could see one little point of light that was the “end of the road gang” watching over the entrance to the salt flats themselves.
Pulling into the truckstop at the state line we called Jim Haraughty to see where he was. He had called earlier to let us know that the rain had stopped just south of Wendover and he and Nick were out on the salt and where the heck were we? A quick purchase of ice and a rest and out we went.
The entry onto the salt is always an occasion that excites even the most jaded veterans. It still sends a chill up my spine and I have been coming here four years now and racing for fourty. The sun just coming up, even with the clouds to the east is able to shroud the place in fog and shadows. It is now that the possibility of a record still awaits and potential is still unlimited. Like at the season beginning of any racing, we are all still tied for the number one position in the standings. Seeing old friends that are only met on the salt is always great and meeting up with new ones is something special. Meeting with a fellow traveler Jim K. was one of those moments.
Unloading and going through tech was next. This is always an interesting time because we are usually bringing “A” series bikes to the salt. An “A” bike is a special construction piece that is subject to much closer scrutiny than a “Modified” or “Production” bike as far as safety and workmanship. When you add a bike in a 200mph plus record class, such as the turbo runs in or a bike actually running nitromethane, at least two tech inspectors are required and usually another one or two show up to see what the heck is going on. The A-F 750cc bike and the long bike were both beneficiaries of this attention as was Jim Haraughty’s blown Triumph. One of the moments I take pride in is when these bikes all go through SCTA tech the first time with no notes in the logbook of required future modifications. This time they all passed right away. Back in the pits the boys were wondering what was taking so long and started to get nervous. It was just that everyone had to get a look and that takes time. Unfortunately Lew’s Triumph was subject to additional efforts as the metal battery hold down was an item I forgot to tell Lew about the first time he picked up his bike, and the number plate mounting, although in exactly the spot shown in the rulebook picture, was not legal. My judgment as to what was more important, not hiding a part of the rear wheel or having the plate obscured by the rider was in error. Lew, Mike and Rob had a bit of a scramble to correct those items and I apologize for that confusion. I was later informed that the number plate location shown in the rulebook photo and used by us will be legal next year. I guess I am ahead of my time.
Once back to the pits it was time for the trip over to the registration and souvenir trailers to get the crews signed up, wrist banded and vehicle stickers to allow access to the salt. This year there were a lot of bands to get as we had the full compliment of four crew members per bike plus the primary and alternate riders.
The weather was blowing hard, but clearing up giving everyone hopes for Wednesday.
On the way over to the truck from the trailers I saw a 1471 mag cased blower sticking out from under a plastic cover. They are what the Top Fuel cars use, so it immediately got my attention. After putting my neck back in joint I talked to the owner and we discussed the various aspects of tuning that type of combination. His previous best of 277mph was pretty impressive. The description of a leanout, bang the blower and wreck the transmissions sounded familiar.
Once back to our pit area we decided to take a walk through the pits and see who was there we might know. It didn’t take long to decide where I was going to stay. The blown fuel roadster #911 was there, out and being serviced. I saw them mixing up fuel so it meant they were planning to run it. I had a chance to talk briefly with the crew chief, Jerry, and he explained the staring and warmup system they use on the car. Last fall I saw this car go 304mph and was certain they had maybe 25 to 30% nitro in the mix, but the jugs they were mixing were labeled had “68.5” on them. That is a lot of nitro to run through any motor. Jerry had mentioned they went through 35 gallons per run. At $30 per gallon, even mixed with 33% methanol, that is a bunch of nitro every time the car goes down the salt! They put on the valve covers, hooked up the breathers and then, dammit, they decided to eat lunch. While it was only burgers and soda it seemed to take forever.
Finally they moved the car back and directed the exhaust away from painted surfaces. One of the trucks there was just recently refurbished after the last incident and they didn’t want that again.
Starting is like a Top Fuel car because that is what the thing is, basically. While they had a cast Keith Black block versus the billet blocks now required in Top Fuel, all that was missing was the complicated timer system for the fuel and magnetos. Still old school that way. After a brief discussion with an SCTA official who insisted a driver licensed for the speed the car was running be in the cockpit, the process began. The guy in the car for warmups had actually been doing it for two years and the driver only a few times. This was mentioned at the drivers meeting the next day.
After cranking it until oil pressure was seen, the alcohol running system was hooked up and gasoline was squirted in the injector. Spinning the motor over with the starter, the mag kill wires were pulled and the beast awoke. After the obligatory puff of smoke out of the pipes to signal the exit of the assembly oil and pickling compound the motor was running on alcohol alone. Pretty sweet sounding until the motor had built enough heat to allow it to be switched over to nitro. Then the fun began.
These motor sound a bit different than the ones at an NHRA drag race. They are not as crisp with the throttle response because they are running a richer part throttle mixture to keep the motor alive on the salt. Good throttle response equals wheelspin. The barrel valve spool is cut in a different fashion to accommodate the need for enough fuel to keep the motor alive, but capable of delivering the power when the traction allows its use. Barely controlled chaos. It helped me make decisions as to what I would want to have the Ducati Fueler sound like. Don’t get me wrong, it thundered! Well worth the price of admission alone. The driver of 911, Dave Davidson is the man! A grey haired man at that.
As the day wound down, we went back and put the daily use items back in the trailer and unhooked to head back into town. Having gotten only a couple of hours sleep the night before, everyone was running on fumes at that point. A quick assault on the hotel buffet and lights out. Getting to bed at7:30seemed a little strange, but I was too tired to care.
Wednesday, October 5.
Back out on the salt we made preparations for the day’s activities. The dailies were unloaded and placed on the tarp and most of us headed over for the rider/driver’s meeting. Looking around you see quite a few red hats. These are hats given to the members of the 200mph club. These hats are given only when you set a record over 200mph, not just making a run over the double century. With the record in the class the turbo Ducati runs in at over 251mph, the chances of a red hat for me are pretty slim.
Updates on the “Save the Salt” efforts were given and the process and procedures for the event were outlined. Rookie orientation was announced and then everyone took off for the starting line to run down the course they planned to use to check the conditions and lines they hoped to take. Me, I just was more concerned that the center of the course was usable as that is pretty much where I run. Some of the guys in the past have made suggestions like “it’s a little loose in the middle at the 3 ½ mile area” that are well meaning, but if the bike is on a run, I usually remember this suggestion about mile 4. Nick and I took the Zuma and had the throttle pinned the entire way. Turning around at mile 6 we headed back into the wind and not only was it cold it was considerably slower. Getting back to the pits we saw Fred, Jim K. and Noel Hackbarth, a new member of the crew in Jim H’s ATV with salt all over them. They started out at the head of the line of rookies, but got sprayed by the trucks and cars used by most of the others checking out the course. Noel commented on how your imagination could carry you back in time to realize that this was the same area that pioneers like Arfons, Breedlove and Bert Munro ran on, possibly even the very same course. Sort of spooky in a way.
Well, the weather started to deteriorate further with the wind picking up and rain starting to sprinkle on us. We loaded up and were getting ready to head to the starting line after we heard a car coming down the course. It was a supercharged Datsun and he went through the 2 mile marker at over 211mph. At least there was one good sounding car! As we headed towards the start we looked around and no Noel. We had already begun our journey and with Noel being a new guy, we just plain forgot. Slowing down we looked back and then started turning around to see him trotting towards us. Once in the truck we proceeded to the line. As we pulled around to get in line for the start, one more car was sent off and the rain was picking up. The car pulled off after the one lime mark and the day’s running was shut down. Standing water on the starting line and now the course spelled the end of the day.
Returning to the pits we loaded up the dailies and decided to pull off the salt upon the advice of a more experienced (30 years) racer. He said there could be a foot of water out here by morning. There was 5 inches of water in some spots and by the entrance, the lowest area we are involved with a good eight to ten inches of water stood. We created a wake exiting the salt.
Back at the hotel we could only speculate as to what tomorrow would bring. We did get a chance to meet Chuck Kalbach of the SCTA who assigned us our numbers and we listened to his stories of the past events that had been washed out and also about the new ECTA venue atWilmingtonOHfor 2012. This replaces Maxton for the East Coast Timing Association. It was encouraging to hear that it is only a thirteen hour drive for us instead of 24 for speed trials, but since the turbo Ducati isn’t happy with short courses, it will continue to need Bonneville for happiness.
The next morning we got to the motel parking lot just as Matt Cribben and Jason Gullickson pulled fromWisconsin. I felt bad for them with the odds looking a bit long for the event, but they hadn’t called it yet so out to the salt we went. Looking around, all the surrounding mountains had snow where there wasn’t any the night before. Not a good sign. We all headed out to the salt.
Once there, the foot to 15 inches of water at the end of the road spelled the demise of the event, it being officially called just as we got there. Matt and Jason were coming out to film for a documentary they are doing on what is need for a small shop to run on the salt. Since that wasn’t happening, they were going to scout around the area for footage for their monster movie.
Back at the hotel parking lot we unloaded the bikes and took the bolt-on ballast plates off and readied everything for transport back home.
There were a few racers there and being the showoffs we were, we just couldn’t disappoint the fans. Jim K. had come fromCalifornia, Jim H fromPhoenixand Noel had never heard a fuel bike run so out comes the nitro and we made some noise. We did learn that Nitro 70 motor oil is very thick and resists letting motor turn over when it is 40 degrees out. Persistence and adjustment of our starting technique finally resulted in a hearty roar from the bike. Once warmed up, it seemed a bit sluggish due to the altitude and not having adjusted the barrel valve for the elevation, but still sounded pretty darn good. It received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Loading up for the trip home took another hour and then we were on our way. Sad to leave, but now it was time to get the heck home. Snow just at the top of the mountains out of Salt Lake made for interesting driving the next 4 ½ hours and rain in Nebraska helped wash off some of the salt. Arriving home to spectacular weather was a bit of a bite but it made the unloading easier and washing out the trailer less of a mess.
We are looking forward to next year and have a full page of things to do to both bikes to further refine the programs for each.
In the short term we now have to strip off the 80 lbs of ballast from the fueler and get ready to test it in anticipation for the big fall Maufacturer’s Cup drag race inValdostaGeorgiaNovember 11 – 13. But that, my friends, is another story.
I do want to thank the following people for their help and patience throughout this project:
Fred Weege: Motors and Computer Fiddlery
Nick Moore : Tires, Brakes and Suspension and almost a ride on a true fueler on the salt
WJ Shields: Procurement and coordination on the home front
Jacki W: Paint, turbo Ducati decals and construction of the body parts on both bikes and the Triumphs
Steve Dale: Pushing us to use the right color and assistance with the turbo Ducati tail
Bob Crook: Loading and Truck Driver
Louie Lamore: Loading and keeping an eye on Bob
Noel Hackbarth: Trailer work, driving, and entertaining Bob
Patty: Infinite patience and support
All our customers for their support