November 17, 2014 This is a long one, and also our 100th post!

The Manufacturer’s Cup Finals once again proved to be a spectacular event.  I would recommend that you go to Dragbike.com to peruse the saved online live streaming there.  Over 640 bikes made for a huge turnout.

After a 16 hour drive straight through to the track, we set up camp.  While nowhere near the involved process it is for a Top Fuel effort, there is still a fair amount of placing of tables, systems boxes, tools and various items that will be needed over the course of the next four days.  Leaving Madison with a temperature of 26 degrees, we had to fill up the front tire of the dragbike every gas stop as it is not a very large volume of air to start with and for some reason, this thing always loses air much faster when it gets colder out.  This process was repeated at the track, and over the span of the event.

Looking down the pits in Valdosta, GA
Looking down the pits in Valdosta, GA

Arriving in Georgia, the temperature was just starting to warm up to 45 degrees and then the sun came out and it began to get really warm.  Unfortunately, everything in the trailer was still 26 degrees and acted like ice cubes.  The fuel sweated, the tools sweated, as did anything else plastic or metal, meaning darned near everything.  Dragging everything out in the sun helped immensely, but there we were with the contents of the trailer strewn about, looking a bit like a tornado victim.

2014_11_22_Valdosta_inthePits

Setting up the revised warmup gear with the alcohol, we started the bike and got heat into it to minimize the dampness inside it and listen to a little bit of noise.

Cleaning up the mess after it had dried out let us finish up and get back to eat at 5:00, just as the restaurant was opening, and in bed by 7:30 (shades of the geriatric ward!).  Everyone slept until 6:30 the next morning.  This racing might be for younger, more resilient bodies than mine, I think.

Friday began with a test-and-tune session that was planned as the shakedown for the new motor and getting Nick readjusted to the nitro bike.  While the power of the turbo may actually be higher, the violence of the launch of the nitro platform takes some getting used to.  We members of the crew also needed to reacquaint ourselves with the louder, more abrupt behavior as well.  With the new motor combination having more cam, compression, bigger pipes and a different ignition, who could tell what might happen.

To keep the bike warm, we ran a propane heater from our generator to get the engine up to temp, and wrapped it up all nice and cozy. If it's not warm enough, things might go awry.
To keep the bike warm, we ran a propane heater from our generator to get the engine up to temp, and wrapped it up all nice and cozy. If it’s not warm enough, things might go awry.

Our event began with a pretty lame pass due to a fear of burning up the new hotrod motor.  The fuel system settings were too rich, and it banged when I started it up.  This, we believe, is what pushed out a head gasket, unknown to us at the time, which making the pass finished off.   Since the air activated ignition kill system couldn’t be used on this motor, Nick had to put slack in the driveline manually to shift the transmission.   The shifting was erratic at best and the process resulted in two missed shifts.  A 9.92 second elapsed time was the turd in our punchbowl then.

Well, looking at the air conditions and deciding to clean up the fuel system, we went back to the settings we used on our 8.43 pass at Byron the year before.  We didn’t have any references to use for Georgia because the last time we ran here it was the 749 motor which has a completely different clutch and fuel system happy zone.

I also had the clutch settings from the 7.99 turbo pass in the bike as well.

Sounds like a pretty good game plan, doesn’t it?  Use the settings from the two quickest passes and make sure the wheelie bar is high enough to allow enough weight to be transferred to the rear tire to keep it from spinning.  Still sounds good?  It did to me at the time.

Back to the waterbox we went, and it sounded much better.  Rolling out of the water after the burnout to clean the tire, still sounding good and away we went.  This was to be our first qualifying pass for the D&G V-Twin class we were entered in and we wanted to look good.

Nick rolled into the beams, a new blue L.E.D. system that took some getting used to, lit the bulbs and away we went.  Or so it was supposed to go.

The bike came back on the bars much harder than it ever had in the past.  Now this wouldn’t have been so bad in itself, but it kept on going.  We have had bikes come up on the bars in the past, often as quickly as this time, but usually there isn’t the power and response that keeps pushing and then spinning the tire.  The back of the bike swung to the right, with the tire still spinning, then snapped to the left, going down on its side.  Not content to stop here, it caught and slammed onto its right side.  This was when I saw Nick closely inspecting the track surface, and the bike then spun around, pointing towards the starting line, still lying on its side.  Nick was a bit dazed, and rightly so, and was standing up, and gathering himself together, another good sign.   I picked the bike up and wheeled it back to the pits after verifying it wasn’t just adrenaline powering him.

Evidently they felt Nick was as right as he needed to be and we then viewed the video and discussed what the hell just happened.  A quick check of the bike showed surprisingly little damage, considering.  A bent handlebar, a piece of the fairing caught in the fork brace, and footpeg issues.  It was to be the footpeg problems that would be the most challenging.  When the bike went down on the right, that was the hardest hit.  While the airscoop bore most of the brunt of the topside bounce (carbon fiber is amazing stuff, yeah?) the rider’s peg/bracket had folded up and damaged the frame tube it attached to.  When the chassis was built, using the frame as an air reservoir had two purposes.  One was to eliminate the need for another bottle, brackets, and line to supply compressed air for various uses during the pass down the strip, and  two was to use the presence of air pressure to assure the integrity of the chassis.  Well, we had little doubt as to the integrity from a viewpoint of a nearly vertical footpeg and the tear it put in the frame rail.

Now in the past, we carried a slightly different set of spares for roadracing as opposed to dragracing.  Roadracing, an occasional off-track excursion can result in the using up of levers, pegs, and bodywork.  Not so much motor, and mechanicals.  Dragracing is a different deal, using the mechanicals rather than the chassis parts.  For Bonneville, bring it all.  We were sorely lacking in chassis spares, but there really wasn’t that much torn up.  The chassis was going to be the problem.   Nick’s aunt, who lives in the area and was already going to come out to see us  was the first call to see if there was anyone she knew with a TIG welder (or at least the machine and a helmet).  No such luck.  Next it was off to the Top Fuel crews to see who might have what we needed.  Larry McBride…no, Chris Hand…same deal.  Then I headed over to the trailer of Sam Wills.  He is a superb chassis builder and lo and behold, the possessor of a TIG machine.  I would have been happy to simply borrow it, but Sam, in his huge-hearted manner said he would take care of it.

Now you need to understand how big a deal this really is.  To have somebody of Sam’s stature offer to repair a frame made by someone else is one thing, to do it at the track in the middle of all his work with his Top Fueler is simply proof of what kind of person he is.

Sam Wills' phenomenal chassis-building skills are showcased in this bike, which has already been sold! One of three that are in progress. Incredible.
Sam Wills’ phenomenal chassis-building skills are showcased in this bike, which has already been sold! One of three that are in progress.
Incredible.

It was a stampede back to our pit, get the bike up in the air and then drop the tank out of the bottom of the chassis, remove all the batteries and then the Motec ECU.  There is something about welding and electronics that precludes them playing well together.  The proximity of three gallons of nitromethane to arc welding also gives one cause to pause.

Back to Sam’s trailer, drop the back door and into the rig we went.  Lifting it up on our portable stands, Sam set about repairing  the damage.  Patience and skill are paramount in this type of situation.  The other variable introduced was the fact that the welder absorbed every bit of current Sam’s generator could produce, so all the other lights, fans, computers and devices had to be shut off, bringing his pits to a stop.

The first repair was to stabilize the bracket from the outside, basically the easiest part of the deal.  Then, going under the bike and welding the damage inside the chassis came next.  Bonneville’s salt had had its way in some smaller areas and with TIG welding any contamination is a huge detriment.  It was a repeated process of weld it, check it for leaks, bleed down the frame, weld it, recheck, and repeat.  One interesting item is the need to have a method to check for leaks.  When I built the chassis I used soapy water and kept rechecking.  Without that available, Nick, who is not a smoker, came up with the idea to use cigarette smoke to show the leaks.

Unknown to us, the bounce on the left side had also put small cracks in the frame and these needed attention.  Once the big leaks were dealt with, it was back to the right to see about the next size down leakage issues.

After nearly an hour, the leakage was at a very usable level and having been in similar situations, I was aware of the reason Sam declared that any more welding and we would be running the risk of making a mess of it.

Back to our pit and let the reassembly begin.  It really wasn’t as big a deal as it could have been, and the fact that Nick was not in need of reassembly as well, was comforting.

When I picked the bike up I noticed liquid under the mid-section and was fearful we had put liquid on the rear tire, causing or at least aggravating the conditions leading up to the crash.  Nothing was found as far as oil, so I suspect it was some nitro that had run out of the vent for the tank.  All the fluid levels were correct and on to the next step.

Back together, we went to start it.  Plugging in the battery, no activity was seen electrically anywhere.   Looking up in the nose of the bike, I expected to see wiring damage overlooked initially, but it was then seen that the lanyard kill switch clip was missing.  We had never used it before.  Once it was back in the kill switch, all was right with that particular part of the world.

Getting the bike running and warming it up on alcohol was comforting to all of us in that it didn’t appear we had seriously hurt anything.  So now it was put everything away and back to town for dinner and then the hotel.  Nick was fed some Ibuprofen and instructed by experts in its use (Fred and myself).   The little Mexican restaurant was glad to see us once again.

When a bike goes down, often the most involved part of the repairs involves the rider.  My choice of riders has always tended towards the mature end of the spectrum.  By the time I wasn’t actively riding I was “mature”, at least chronologically, and the experience level and knowledge that comes with a rider of that type is a pivotal part of the process.

Nick needed to get comfortable with the bike again, and even though he has made in excess of one hundred passes, being comfortable and ready makes all the difference.

The first pass Saturday was made after some more clutch changes were made.  Wanting to reduce the violence that helped lead to Friday’s fun and games, we reduced the friction area, spring pressure and overall gearing ratio and lowered the wheelie bars.  Increasing the slipping of the clutch would help calm down the launch.  Unfortunately, I think the patient was sedated to near unconsciousness.  The bike was barely able to get up on the tire in the burnout and sounded too soft coming out of the water.  I looked at Nick and he just nodded and rolled into the beams.  At the green, the bike sort of sank down a bit, then moved forward, looking like slow motion, especially compared to Friday’s last pass.  At about the 60 foot mark it started to wiggle around a bit and then a LOT.  You could have told me a belly dancer was underneath Nick and I would have believed you.  He rolled off the throttle, hit the brakes, made it worse, then rolled back on, shut the fuel off and rolled down the track.  A track worker rolled out (with me embarassedly right behind) to get him off the track at the big end.

With the movement seen, I was certain the frame was damaged in some area we missed.  So off came all the bodywork, covers and panels and a thorough recheck of all the fasteners ensued.  No broken mounts or fasteners, everything was tight and undamaged.

Here is where the trips to Bonneville helped.  We always check the tracking of the rear and front wheels in relation to each other before putting the bikes in the trailer to go out to the salt flats.  If a bike’s tracking is off, it will weave, a nugget learned from Paul Thiede of Race Tech suspension.  We checked the tracking and it was within 1/16”, which is as good as it gets.  Having changed the rear sprocket before this run, the alignment of the rear axle needed verification, and it was fine.

Sitting down and thinking, I do recall that when a bike doesn’t come out at least putting a moderate load on the chassis, wobbling like we saw can happen.  The tire is all mushy and the weight transfer goes haywire, not just front to rear, but side to side as well.

Well, back into the clutch and moving back towards where we were on Friday, but not all the way there.  Putting a friction plate back in would allow the same amount of weight to transmit more power and load the chassis more effectively.

Having found probably the only set of handlebars for sale in the place, we replaced these, too so that at least a different bend in the bars was even on both sides, putting one less distraction in play.

For the Professional Qualifying, in the first round, I believe Larry McBride went a 5.76 @242 mph was.  Dave Vantine went a 5.92 and Sam Wills went a 6.008, a career best.  Chris Hand struggled and wound up #4 qualifier.  Talking to Sam Wills later on, the five second pass he has been working towards for so long was denied due to a broken crank at about 1,000 feet.  Darn.  The balance of qualifying for Top Fuel had the same net results as these.

The business end of John Alwine's bike, to be ridden by Kerry Hogan, to be entered into competition in 2015.
The business end of John Alwine’s bike, to be ridden by Kerry Hogan, to be entered into competition in 2015.

We had used a lot of the day’s time rechecking everything, a little begging and we got in for a time run at the end of eliminations for our class.  This bike has always liked to be run warm, so we start it ahead of time and let it idle with the fuel shutoff half on.  This leans out the mixture a little bit and speeds up the process as well as not putting as much nitro in the oil.  The motor was at what we had used as the optimum temperature at this point in time, and all of a sudden the flashing red lights lit up on the Christmas Tree.  Evidently something had fallen off or out of a bike and they were looking for it.  For what seemed like an eternity, the track worker weaved his way down the track looking for something.  I looked at the temperature gauge and we had gone 20 degrees past our usual number.   Agonizing over the temperature, I saw the weaving continue.  At 155 degrees, I shut the fuel off and ran to the scooter to get the plug wrench so we could clear the motor and be ready to go when the track was cleared.

Pulling the tank shelter and then the plugs, we cleared out the motor and started putting the plugs in.  The rear cylinder was in and hooked up and I had started the plug in the front cylinder, with the final tightening yielding a sickening feeling of a sudden lack of effort needed to turn the wrench.  Pulling the wrench out, all we saw was the top half of the plug.  The bottom half was still in the motor.  Grabbing a screwdriver, sticking it in the hollow end of the plug should have let it come back out, but not this time.  Blasting back to the trailer, I grabbed every straight blade screwdriver that may have had a chance of working and back we went.  Amazingly the weaving on the track continued and we tried three different blades, to no avail.

It looked like it was going to be a pull the head deal.  Rolling back to the pits, Fred headed north among the racers looking for a reverse screw extractor and Nick headed south in search of the same.  I then decided to try it one more time, just to see how mad I could get.  Darned if it didn’t just turn right out with no effort or fuss.  Unbelievable.  Fred and Nick returned at nearly the same time empty handed and I showed them the piece.

Two NEW plugs back in the motor and we were good to go for another time-run attempt after the next round of V-Twin eliminations that evening.

Waiting until a bit later in the routing to start the bike, we were waiting to pull into the water when I saw a racer walk by on the other side of the bike.  Suddenly he looked down and his eyes got really big.  I thought “what now?”, are we leaking or something fell off?  A video of what he saw is on our Facebook page.

Peeking around the front of the bike I saw what had attracted his attention.  The longer cams and a bit more barrel valve had put enough nitro in the mix to keep it burning out of the pipes at idle.  The flames were licking around Nick’s boot, so he moved it.  We then pulled into the water, did the burnout and made a pass.  Nick was still a bit tentative,  with third gear being problematic again, but the bike showed itself capable of running over 150 mph safely and we then had a baseline to look at for Sunday’s race.  It was definitely good to get to the big end and see Nick without a pained or panicked look.

Dinner that night was on Nick.

Sunday began, interestingly enough, with me rooting around the trees and bushes with a large paper bag and a flashlight.  My daughter, Jacki, is taking an entomology (bugs) class and wanted some samples of the local insects in the leaf litter under the trees.  Well, most everything near was paved or gravel, so off we go into the Georgia piney woods.  I don’t know if it was good or not, but it was very dry there and I don’t know how successful that expedition was.  There is an amazing assortment of sharp and prickery things in the sands down there.  After cleaning the assortment of sand burs and other stick-tites off myself, it was time to go.  The things you do for your family, eh?

On Sunday, once back at the track (and the bug bag securely hidden under the trailer), we unloaded everything and discovered we had another time run before the eliminations for our class began that day.  This was totally unexpected and took a bit of a change up in our planned routine for that day.

Sneaking back up on the Friday aggressive clutch combination, we tightened up the springs to see if we could get a bit better launch.  The motor was making lots of power, so that wasn’t a concern.

Getting Nick another lap to help with his confidence was great.

The bike definitely left much better with the 60 foot time being a 1.309, nearly a tenth better that anything this weekend.  The bike moved around a bit, and he missed third gear twice.  It still went 151 mph, showing good power, with the jetting showing very little sensitivity.   Now, on to eliminations.

This particular Manufacturer’s Cup race incorporated a number of different features and events that made it unique.  The presentation of the MTC 5 Second Club members with their plaques in recognition of their accomplishments was great.  Knowing 5 of the 8 members of the now-closed club is a big chest puff for me, having raced against three in Top Fuel.  They are a great group of people who have sacrificed a lot (as have their wives and families) to accomplish this feat.  One race I do regret missing is the one last year when Chris Hand ran his jaw-dropping 5.89 at Indy.  I told him that may have saved my life because I’m sure I would have killed myself coming out of the stands or through the pits going to congratulate him and Sharon.  A nicer and more unassuming group of people you would be hard-pressed to find.

Another feature was the live streaming.  Bill Hahn Jr. did the announcing for this.  His ability to keep a running commentary on the variety of classes and his depth of knowledge made for some interesting,  colorful facets to the festivities.  He literally grew up in motorcycle drag racing, being the son of Bill Hahn,  the creator of American TurboPak, Mr. Turbo and builder of the bike that was the first to run a 6 second quarter mile pass with Mark Miller riding.  Fred’s son, Adam, who goes with us to nearly every outing at Byron Dragway here at home, followed the races live, as did Nick’s girlfriend Colleen.  You can see the live streaming on Dragbike.com.  Our eliminations run is on the Sunday 1 frame at 5:38:40. The link is below.

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/572122/events/3581685/videos/68328555/player?autoPlay

The tire spinning and shaking is visible in this view of the run.

This is a nice way to see things from a perspective different than we usually see it on the starting line.  Bill Hahn Jr. seemed to annoy Nick and Fred a bit, but I found him entertaining.  Hopefully he can do this more often.

Eliminations had us paired with #710.  I met him the night before and he was running Steet ET, which is a tough class, requiring a lot of composure.

The warmup went well and we were struggling with a bit of downtrack wheel spin.  Don Plesser, who we buy our MT tires from, suggested shortening up the burnout to get the tire within 10 degrees of the track temperature.  His thought was that too long a burnout (I wasn’t thinking that was possible in my book) brings the oil to the surface of the tire and it shows itself from 60 to 300 feet, primarily.  This is pretty much where the bike starts to wiggle around.  Well the temp gun was a liquid crystal display that is good for saving batteries, but impossible to see in bright daylight.

Shortening the burnout and not being able to see the display yielded a dubious result and if you go to our Facebook page or the Dragbike.com site, you can see the pass at 5:38:41 or so.  A bit wiggly and lots of power.  The type of race that we entered is what is called a “Bracket Race”.  Basically you determine how quickly you think you can run the quarter mile.  If you think you can do it in ten seconds, you put 10.00 on your bike.  We guessed, basing it on possible changes and their effect on the bike and the circumstances of the week end.  We estimated he could do it in 8.90 seconds.  Nick’s opponent estimated he could do it in 10.78 seconds.  The yellow lights on the Christmas tree would then start, with Nick’s coming on 1.88 seconds after his opponent’s.  It is hard to watch who you are racing getting away and wait for your lights to start.    Nick had the problem a lot of big-differential bracket races show and that is to ignore the guy in the other lane and run your own race.  Oddly enough, his opponent “Broke Out” which means he went quicker than his 10.78 dial in, but in drag racing it is always “First or Worst”.  The only way Nick could have won with a red light is if his opponent crossed over into his lane.  It is probably the hardest type of race to run and virtually impossible to win without a lot of practice, of which we get virtually none.   A little remnant of Friday’s events may be lurking there as well.  As I mentioned, his girlfriend was watching on the live streaming and he got a text shortly afterwards.

Nick and the bike
Nick and the bike

The good part of it was that we managed to get back in the eight second quarter mile range and made our quickest and fastest pass then.   To see a naturally aspirated motor pull that hard in the second half of the quarter mile is something else.  For Nick to get back on the horse and do that is phenomenal.

Packing up for the trip home was hard.  It was 77 degrees and sunny and it was 21 degrees back in Madison.  Running into snow all across Kentucky didn’t help and the trailer doors froze shut after we got out of the rain in Tennessee.

Discussing expectations with Fred and Nick gives a few different routes to pursue, in 2015.  One fact that was firmly verified is that Bonneville is the primary event.  As much as we love drag racing, the salt is the stuff.

I want to fulfill our commitment to our sponsors and help include you all in some of the most unique competition in motorsports.

I also want to thank Nick Moore, the rider of this thing and the person in charge of all the tires, brakes and mixing the nitro, Fred Weege for his exemplary motor work and tuning of the Motec ECU, Jacki Whisenant for the bodywork, paint, and lettering of the bikes and trailer, Steve Berg for his help with the bodywork, WJ Shields for making hotel and other reservations and keeping the place open while we are out on the road, Adam, our local weatherman, and my wife Patty, whose patience is incredible.

There is a lot of work to do this winter.  All of the motors will need to be torn down, inspected, freshened and reassembled.  There are three 999 and three 749 motors in need of freshening up and/or building.  Decisions on which combinations to run and setting up the nitro bike for the salt involves a complete teardown of the whole bike and blasting and cleaning the frame, along with finishing up the repairs to the chassis after Valdosta.

We are planning a late winter open house so keep an eye out for that.

There is still the blower bike project that is making its way up the line, depending upon the strategies for testing in 2015.

Keep it tuned here.

Thank you all very much and watch for Sam Wills and the “Nitro Conspiracy” Team in 2015 to get him that 5 second run.  Also check out the article about him on Dragbike.com

Bill W.

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