Bonneville 2012: Day Three

Second Day of Racing

The morning shadows stretch long across the salt – one of the few places where the sun is literally sitting _on_ the horizon


Well, the chance to think about the tuning combination from the day before led to the conclusion that we weren’t going to make enough power to run on the 167 mph record.   So against all the cautions I give my customers we made a few changes, not just one.  I call this two or three dimensional tuning and sometimes it works if you are familiar enough with the platform and parameters and other times it just makes you look like an ass.   We took another two teeth off the rear sprocket and fattened up the main jet and negated the second high speed by turning it around.  The logic was that along with the tug, more nitro would help the process.  And we changed the timing 3 degrees.  Oh grasshopper, what you still need to learn.

It was basically a confirmation of at least three wrong changes to make, with a top speed of only 159.382 at the 2 mile mark and a loss of almost three mph by Mile 3.  It was apparently just too fat and wouldn’t take full throttle, running pretty flat everywhere.  The fuel pressure was too high, affirming the too rich diagnosis.  Well now that we got that out of our systems, maybe a more orderly path of fiddling can be followed.

For the next run, leaned out the main jet and put the second high speed leanout back into play, and changed the timing back 3 degrees.  This seemed to even out the top end, but it was still lacking power, only showing 159.026 at Mile 3.  It was an improvement, but still not going down quite the correct path.  It seemed to be like a wheel, where we were at the center and there were a number of different spokes comprised of changes in tuning parameters.  You could go down the nitro percentage spoke, raising the percentage until there weren’t any more improvements, or the ignition timing spoke, or the jetting spoke or any of the ones between these major tuning variables, looking for that combination that allows one to  reach the rim of Nirvana, tuning happiness.  How’s that for a philosophical disgorgement?

It was at this point in time we decided it was time to drag out the red bike for a try at the salt.  I thought we could get the job done on the short course with the new bodywork and engine management system.  Running on the short course also simplified the process by not having to launch two bikes from two different starting lines and go different  directions to pick them up, all with one crew.   This philosophy was not the best route in the past, but hey, we changed a few variables and the fact that we weren’t doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result took us out of the insanity category and simply relegated us to the ill-advised.  The sequencing of the bikes was a bit of a trick as I had never had to start the other bike and then run down behind it.

Having sent Nick down course and having heard him run better but not yet where we wanted, I had a chance to start sorting myself out for the first time out with the new combination.   Starting the bike and letting it warm up a bit, we rolled towards the starting line.  As the motor gained temperature, so did the new exhaust wrap that was put on to try and reduce the temperature of the pipe where it goes closest to your left leg.  This started to smoke and I hoped it would quit smoking or finish by the time we arrived at the starting line.

Evidently the starter must have seen instances of this before, because it didn’t bother her too much as she checked over the safety gear and tether switch integrity.  Pre-run jitters are about maxxed out by now and a conscious effort to calm yourself is imperative.  Sometimes resisting the impulse to jump up off the bike and run screaming across the salt is quelled as soon as you put it in gear.  Sometimes not.  Mindful meditation is helpful for these instances leading up to the run, but having your mind focused is a must.  Not focusing on the fact you are hoping to go faster than you ever have before is challenging.  Not having your mind go through the consequences of a failure in mechanical systems or judgement is another challenge.  Putting a smile on your face at the line is a big help, just like having a smile when you answer the phone (you all in the service business know this works).

Letting the clutch out and easing away from the line, and away we go.  The impulse to get your feet on the pegs as quickly as possible was one I learned to resist by watching Joe Amo in 2010.  He is the class record holder at over 230 mph and has gone 274 mph.   He looked a bit unusual leaving the starting line because he didn’t put his feet up and into the bodywork until he was well into first gear, which on these bikes is near 100 mph.  The bodywork rules allow you to have your body inside the fairings, within certain limitations of the rules, and getting your feet and legs inside can be a bit of a trick, especially if the bike starts to spin the tire and move around.  On the first runs in 2010 it was a bit twitchy at first, but after waiting, it was much smoother.

After a surprisingly uneventful launch which was helped by the new engine management  system (thanks to Fred) accelerating through the first four gears was normal.  Clicking it into fifth the bike started to weave.  It has done this in the past, usually while getting aggressive on the throttle on the short course (hence the insanity versus ill-advised).  There is sometimes a chance that it will settle down, but odds aren’t good for that.   This was one of those times when it started to weave at 165 or so and kept it up to 191 mph… when it became apparent that discretion was the best course here and at Mile 4 it was time to turn out.

You get a lot of time to go over the run when you are sitting two miles farther down the track than the other bike.  The noises when it is cooling off are myriad.  You try to remember where the gauges were at points in the run (although the data acquisition capabilities on the new ECUs tells the story much more accurately).   Trying to figure out the changes that need to be made on the next run to calm down the wandering can be a big part of the thought process now.  Once the adrenaline wears down and the pulse quits pounding in your ears it is really very quiet and peaceful.

It was about this time I had a chance to sit down with the crew chief of Dave Davidson’s 300mph blown fuel roadster, John Beck, and he was incredibly gracious with his time at the end of a frustrating week for them.  A hurt blower and tuning questions ended their efforts prematurely.  John pointed out similarities between the different automotive types of engines and their response to blown and naturally aspirated nitro.  Whether it is a wedge, a hemi or a more modern type of chamber, they all seem to like more fuel volume, ignition timing and gearing.  Sort of like a precocious child where you hope to keep the motor busy so it doesn’t have a chance to try out new evil tricks.  This applied to the dragstrip as well as the salt, judging by what he told me.  We had been making an unanticipated number of runs down the salt and not getting the two runs per oil change I had hoped for, so we also took advantage of the availability of motor oil they wouldn’t be needing and we purchased five gallons. Dividing the number of runs into our oil supply I could see we would be out a day early.

This series of suggestions was taken to heart and while we were changing gearing, it maybe wasn’t enough teeth off yet.  The fuel system seemed to be close enough, but needed maybe a little more of a kick.  Checking the density altitude, we were lacking a bit more oxygen than originally thought.  One advantage of nitromethane is its ability to bring more oxygen to the party.  The formula CHNO3 gives a bit more capability of an oxidizer and power producer.  It also allows you to get into places you didn’t expect to be.

Well the next change was to increase the percentage of nitro 10%, topped off with a 10 degree timing change.  I don’t know about numerology, but those are significant numbers when taken by themselves, much less added together in a nitro motor.

The race officials declared the short course we ran on earlier closed and moved everyone over to the long course.  This was declared a combination course, thus allowing the vehicles that couldn’t run over 175 mph to run on the same course as the others.  The separation of the courses helps to let the short course vehicles enjoy a faster turnaround time, because when a streamliner or other long course vehicle, be it car or bike makes a run for the entire course, the time between runs grows considerably.  The vehicle makes its 5 or 6 mile run and then often needs three or more miles to stop and get over to the return road.  Even at 300 mph that takes a while.

Lighting up the fueler, we went through the routine that by now had become familiar.  Looking for engine temperatures in the 116 degree F range and off we go.  Listening to the gear changes we heard five, meaning he was in sixth gear.
Now it was my turn again.

Going back to the bike I looked around to see who was where, as the two sequential launches was once again, out of our rhythm and there are certain things that need to be done in a certain order.  I am careful to not upset the rider with sudden improvisational changes in routines, because that is when unexpected things happen, rarely good things.  That same evenness had to be applied to me, as I am not the rider those around me are and need a bit of looking after, even if it is just by myself.

Startup and roll to the line.  Don’t be in gear and approach the line under power as that earns you a sharp comment from the starter. It also overheats the clutch, making it two good reasons not to do it.

Pre-run equipment check, look at the oil and fuel pressures and go when you are ready.

Testing the traction in the first three gears it seemed to be better than the short course run on earlier.  The power felt good and fourth gear got a bit of a weave, but not too bad.  Fifth was pretty much a continuation of the feeling in fourth and then into sixth.  The shift into sixth gave the familiar feeling that comes when the bike is near 200 mph.  That feeling involves an increase in vibration of the fairing and windscreen, making seeing things a bit more difficult.  It starts to get a bit windier, too.

Looking through the windscreen, the markers become small circles that you work at staying equidistant on both sides of the bike.  The long black line used in the past has been discontinued in its use due to financial and ecological reasons, so all there is are the markers.  They are 3 foot square black garbage bags strung across plastic pipe frames at every quarter mile interval, with the numbers of the miles on orange banners of similar construction.

The weave settled down it felt a bit more secure at mile 3, so I wanted to be sure I was in sixth gear so squirming around on the seat I pushed down on the shift lever.  This coincided with the tip of my left knee getting just outside the fairing.  The wind caught it and gave it a good yank back.  That let me know not to do that and risk upsetting the chassis again along with a sore hip the next day.

Crawling back inside the bubble I could see the Mile 4 marker coming up about a half mile away.  At that point you need to make a decision …keep after it or turn out.  That decision needs to be made quickly as a mile goes by in a little over 16 seconds and throttle to rear wheel response is not instantaneous, owing to the wheelspin inherent in the equation and the amount of mass to be accelerated.   Turn it up.

You can feel the acceleration.  It isn’t a jump, but a steady pull.  As the marker goes by it feels like the throttle is fully open and the acceleration has eased a bit.  Looking down at my arms I felt my grip on the handlebars shift a bit.  It was at that point I was glad for the weight training I had been doing, as it helped me hold on (thanks to Steve Myrland and his Mayhem class).  Count one, two, three black quarter mile markers go by and here comes the Mile 5 marker.  Count two and then ease off the throttle.  You are feeling for a good stable deceleration at a reasonable rate.  Being in a hurry is silly as you have three more miles to stop.  A bit of the weave as you go past Mile 5, but not much.  The exhaust gas temps started to rise dramatically, peaking over 1550, so you roll back on the throttle to try and cool them off, and then roll off a bit more throttle to not stay in the critical zone and hurt parts.  We need to look at the fuel map for that.

Now it’s time to look for the door.  The turnoff markers are little cones set up every quarter mile or so to delineate a curved turnoff leading to the return road.  One mistake easily made is assuming the turnoffs are easily accomplished.  I never have tried to exit the track at anything over 100 mph because I’m still on a twelve foot long motorcycle that takes the turning radius of a semi truck.  Your speed perspective is a bit skewed, and dropping the bike would just be an embarrassment not needed.  That has happened in the past and one doesn’t want to repeat.  This is one of my favorite times of the whole deal as you are still going 175 plus miles per hour and it is like a ride in the country, just a lot faster.
Finally enough speed gets scrubbed off and you shut off the motor and roll onto the turnoff.  Sometimes you get a bit off course and it sounds like an errant toboggan on a big hill with the banging and crunching of the salt coming off the wheels and hitting the bodywork.  Now is when you have to determine how much speed is needed to get off the course and not hold things up versus having too much and zooming out in front of a chase vehicle.  In this case I missed by about 20 feet, but wasn’t in a hurry to try and push the thing much farther.  Once again, the quiet was peaceful while listening to the bike cool off.  You realize that you know you have gone pretty damn fast, but since there was only one GPS watch and I am allergic to those things, I have to wait.  Up comes a salt-encrusted old Dodge pickup and a veteran steward climbed out.   He must have been a bit lonely as there hadn’t been very many cars down that far and only one other bike that day so far.  He looked me over, asked if I needed a drink, and after ascertaining I was fine, headed up course to see about the Seth Hammond streamliner making a run and coming towards us.

As he headed back towards the starting line I got a chance to sit and relax a bit and reflect.  You start to look the bike over to see what fell off or may be leaking, considering what just happened.  Being absorbed in this task I wasn’t paying very close attention and then I heard a faint whispering noise.  Turning to my left I was greeted by the sight of the streamliner gliding by, motor off and chutes out.  The sensation of the silent twenty five foot long car gliding by made me feel like one of those little fish as a great white swims past.  Expertly parked on the return road, Seth’s daughter opens the hatch, climbs out with a “hey, how’s it goin’?”.  I just wave a thumbs up and watch as her crew arrives and picks up the car.  She just got done running 288 mph.

I do start to wonder after a while until I see the Suburban coming down the return road in the distance.  As they pull up I look and wait.  “”Two hundred twelve miles an hour!” I hear from Louie.  He has been the announcer of my speeds since we started running over 200, and it is a tradition I’m good with.

That speed gives me pause.  It is noticeably faster than I have ever gone before, and depending on the data, I don’t know if I want to try it again with the current bodywork.  The difficulty seeing and the effort to hold on are big factors in the inclination to try it again or not.  I am a bit disappointed we didn’t get a little closer to the 221 mph goal, but hey, it ran great, I went faster than anyone else on a Ducati in the Americas and I didn’t fall off.  We’ll have to give it some thought.
Meanwhile I hear Nick went 164.807 mph at mile 3.  That is going in the right direction, for sure.  We showed a bit much in the EGT department in the front cylinder and it didn’t pull redline in high gear.    We need the time slip to fill in the data gaps.  More fiddling needed.

The Production Pushrod Triumph went 106.23 mph, qualifying them for a record.  Bob Crook, our crew- member-turned-rider was stoked.  It was off to impound for the Triumph.  This story took a bit of a turn when Bob came back over to the pits shortly after the run.  I asked what they were doing to service the bike and get it ready for the record run in the morning and was told they had closed up shop and went for celebratory Chinese without prepping the bike for the next day.  All I could do was shake my head.  It’s a bit like leaving a champion racehorse in the stall without removing the gear and washing her down…

Well, we decided to make some more tuning changes and get back out there.  The Density Altitude went from 4200 to 5300 feet during the course of the day.  Normally we have to contend with a 300 or 400 foot difference during the course of an event, not this much of a change.  A change of more than that can be a challenge to chase and then we are starting 2000 feet higher than even summer weather, with a different series of atmospheric factors, including humidity, that throw in a whole bunch of curves.

More nitro, more timing (to go along with the nitro), gear it up again, and off we go.  The motor sure sounded good on 90%.

The bike went out and in second gear quit running.  This happened after a half a mile, so we picked Nick up, threw him and the bike in the trailer and headed right back to the starting line.  Cranking the bike over there was a definite lack of activity.  Checking to be sure the fuel was on, we verified that and then shot a bit of carb spray into the intake with no result.  Checking for spark we found none and then started looking for failed components.  It is a pretty basic setup consisting of a Harley Dyna  S ignition and couple of ignition coils.  This bike is the antithesis to the turbo that looks like a television set gone mad.  Everything was plugged in and there was current at all the right places.  It was after looking at the pickup coils on the motor that a little too much oil was visible running down the side of the motor.  Lo and behold the bolt holding the ignition rotor had broken.  Never before had this happened.  Now the trick would be to get the remnant of the bolt out.  A little luck and a snap punch and the bolt fragment was removed.  It was then that we discovered the new bolt was too long, or so it seemed.  There is an allen plug oil restrictor used to let a little oil out into the outermost alternator bearing.  Well this didn’t let the rotor bolt go far enough in, so we removed it.  The location of the rotor bolt would take the pace of the allen plug.  Reassembly and start timing set, we were ready for the next step.

Fixing the bike while waiting in the lineup

After an extensive effort to clear the motor of all the unburned nitro and carb spray, we put the plugs back in assort of blinked when the ignition was turned on to run the bike.  It came to life and once we verified it was at least moderately happy, back to the starting line we went.  We didn’t have time to look at the camera recording the gauges, else we might have seen the front cylinder EGT.

Nick settled in to the job at hand, and after the thrash, was very collected.  Once again, the motor sounded good!
Leaving the starting line, the bike sounded very good and we ran for the truck to listen to the radio.  As we headed up the return road, the Mile 2 speed was read out.  The announcement of 172.218 mph brought mayhem in the truck.  That was immediately quenched by the announcement of “Speed through the quarter 151.711 and he’s pulling off.”  That meant one thing, a hurt motor.

Picking Nick up he was happy for the speed but verified that the motor completely shut off.  It didn’t lock up which was good, but I knew it wouldn’t be a happy thing.

I should explain the procedure to set a record, the goal of nearly every participant on the salt.  You make a run.  If the speed on that run is over the record, you have “qualified”.  This means you are eligible to try and set a record the next day.  In the SCTA, the sanction we are running under at this event, the record runs are the first out in the morning.  This has a unique characteristic that can work for or against you.  The air is denser in morning.  This gives you more burnable oxygen (allowing for humidity percentages) that normally will require tuning changes of sometimes multiple jet sizes or their equivalent in ECU tuning adjustments.   Often this will require multiple tries to get the changes right, and even experienced tuners can be a bit off.  Another Bonneville character-builder.

Loading Nick and the fueler in the trailer, we returned to the pits.  This was serious strategic error on my part.  The rules stated you had to be in impound, the area where you work on and service the vehicles that qualified for a record in preparation for the record run the next morning within one hour after leaving the racing surface.  We had come off the track just ten minutes before, and they didn’t specifically state what you could and couldn’t do, so I elected to see if we had only hurt a little and could fix it quickly, or if it was more destroyed than we thought.  We only had an hour of service time before the track was going to close for the night.  A look at the plugs verified that the damage would have taken longer to fix than we would have had was disappointing.  It was at that time that a couple of younger people came by and said we had broken the rules by not returning directly to impound.  I took issue with that in a less than delicate matter and we rolled the bike into the trailer and headed to impound figuring now we needed to be thrown out before we quit on this deal.  Well I got my wish, as the tech director acknowledged my assertion that it didn’t specify the route to took or what you did on the way to impound, but the wording of the rule was intended to allow for the long lines at Speed Week where an hour could be an issue.   With Impound closing in an hour and at least one hurt cylinder, it became clear we wouldn’t be able to repair it in time.  That frosted my arse and set me off on a tirade, for which I apologize now.  I was able to reign it in and not go too far afield and we pulled out of impound and headed back to the pits.

A person I admire greatly, Sam Wills, once told me “No Free Rounds”.  This is a drag racer’s method of stating “Take no Prisoners”.

Out came the fueler, up on the stands, and the disassembly began.  We verified the burning up of the front cylinder.  Evidently 1400 degrees is too much for a nitro motor under those conditions.  Getting ready to reassemble the motor, we were informed that the pits would be closing we would have to leave.  So now we had to settle for prepping the cylinders and heads and getting after it in the morning, first thing.  The highs and lows of Bonneville.

We must have attracted some attention since the folks that came over and mentioned the rules were sponsored by Scott Guthrie, a denizen of the salt.  He holds or has held scores of records at Bonneville and other speed venues, and his name is common out on the salt.   It is a bit of a chuff to have someone of that stature looking in.

Once back in town, dinner was full of looking at the log sheets and mentally trying to figure out how to keep the speed and keep the motor alive.  Quite a few different combinations were written down and perused.  What caused the temperature buildup needed to be addressed.    Was it too much timing?  Too much nitro? (I hope not)  Not enough gear?  We had still smaller sprockets.  Where was John Beck or John Gregory or any other John with the knowledge I needed?  So many questions, and we were running out of time.

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