New post!

Hello there to all,

It has been quite a while and I apologize for the gap in communication.  It has been very busy here and elsewhere and I have a brief interval before we are off to the northwoods of Wisconsin to buy some vintage bikes and prove to my wife’s side of the family that I really do exist.

On the Bonneville front, there are talks between the miners and the Save the Salt people about restoring the salt flats (or maybe not trashing them so thoroughly).  It involves the continued pumping of brine back on to the flats, but also working to add back in an element that is removed when the salt is processed, which is predominantly potash.  While the salt flats are predominantly salt, there are other mineral elements that help bind it together and stabilize it.  The replacement of the missing minerals sounds like a tough act as they are why the salt is taken in the first place.  The mining companies are not directly averse to the restoration, but it is going to cost money and we know what runs the people in charge of this resource: big money.  While we can’t stand head to head with the mines, we are contributing an extra helping of paycheck to Save the Salt before year’s end to try and shore up the defenses.

As an interesting side note, I had the privilege of working for Top Fuel Legend Sam Wills at the ManCup race in Valdosta Georgia earlier this month.  I mentioned an encounter with the team at Eddyville Iowa earlier this year in July.

While there I had a chance to see quite a number of people I see rarely or not in quite a while.  One of those was Terry Kizer.  Now Terry is best known as the owner of Mr. Turbo in Houston Texas.  He has been fast on fast bikes for many years and is the pilot of choice for the new Top Fuel Bike being finished up by Sam Wills, the new being based out of Houston.


Our talk ran the gamut of subjects from kids (ours), to business, to plans for the Top Fueler, to travels by Terry (as I don’t get out much).  One of the trips he mentioned involved the salt flats area and of course that got my attention.  He mentioned the road that went off to the northwest from the split heading to the entry point of the salt flats (known as the boat landing) was one he had followed on the advice of a local guide.  It went up around the back of the range that can be seen on the western boundary of the flats and went back down to the level of the salt.  He saw another salt flat area that was behind the “Floating Mountain”.  This flat can be seen on Google maps (earth) and from an aerial view looks longer than the section we ran on.  That same view shows the big mudslide on the west end of the flats that trashed a huge area.  This same flat was viewed by another group that unloaded dirt bikes in the vicinity of the weird sculpture on the north side of I-80 and rode north across to view it.  Now to just be able to get to it?  See for yourselves!


Valdosta is the last and biggest motorcycle drag race in this hemisphere for the year.   My wife and I left a day early to allow us to stop at two Zero Motorcycle dealers on the way.  I had hoped to secure the sales franchise in the Madison area, but was told there were as many dealers in Wisconsin as they felt were needed at this time.  It was educational nonetheless and the 2015 Zero DR was a hoot to ride.  A very different feeling, but especially so at a stop, where I was looking for the tach and to feel the idle of the motor.  That feeling of the idling motor couldn’t happen because it was off when stopped.  The impulse to “rev it up” was one I luckily resisted as it would have put me into the back of the bus in front of me.  The response is pretty darn good and I felt it was a well-developed platform.  Well, maybe next year.

Arriving at Valdosta it was a balmy 82 degrees and sure felt good to me.  Sam hadn’t arrived yet, so I had a chance to visit with some of those long-lost and infrequently seen members of the travelling show that is Top Fuel.

After a bit, the white semi from Oklahoma rolled in and once the pit spot was determined and the truck parked, unloading began.  This gets to be more and more of a process, the farther up the ranks one progresses in racing.  With two easy-ups, work matting, tables, shelves, chairs and lifts in place, the bike could finally come out.  A quick check to be certain no damage had occurred in transit, and plans were laid for Friday’s qualifying.

Putting the bikes back in the box, we headed for the motel.  Having gotten only a few hours sleep the night before, it was nice to kick back and meet the crew again and also the group of Terry Kizer’s from Houston.  Discussions about fuel systems and clutch management as they related to the fuel bikes and the nostalgia fuel cars the tuner for the emerging Houston group made it hard to concentrate on the food.  A great meal and great company is what makes these trips so good.  So much knowledge to absorb.

Friday was setting everything up and more people were coming by.  When Sam Wills is in the pits, everyone wants to stop in and say hello.  With a career spanning decades at the highest level, everyone remembers.

Warm-ups are always a bit of a shock at first, with the noise, vapors and concussion working together to keep you off balance.  After the timing was set, the nitro was turned on and then things began to jump.

With these bikes, assessing the throttle response and seating in the clutch are vital elements of the process.  Checking for leaks is first, testing the high-low idle system is next, then a gradual raising of the rpms with the rear brake on to “gently” bed the clutch in follows.  If everything is good, Sam looks at Mike Dryden to verify it, then he opens the throttle briefly once or twice to check the response.  This results in the tent being lifted off the ground and the air around the bike turning yellow.  The first time we did this the lights were a little too far back and the exhaust concussion knocked the bulbs out of the fixture.  Standing there, I grabbed for them, but they slid off to the side and bounced.  I was ready for broken glass and white dust all over everything, but we got very lucky and Bruno caught one and kept the other off the ground.  The lights were moved up towards the front of the bike after that.

The first round of qualifying was after dark, and the track had cooled off.  This was a concern to Mike Dryden, and justifiably so as after the burnout and pushback, Sam hit the throttle and the bike immediately smoked the tire.  Sort of a let-down after all the anticipation, but when you are that close to the edge with that much power, that can happen.  Our shop’s Top Fuelers didn’t have that problem, but we were only making 900 or so horsepower.

Servicing the bike afterwards and checking the motor’s health, it was determined that we finish it up and put it in the trailer in anticipation of Saturday’s two more attempts at qualifying.  That will be the next installment coming next.

Cheers and hang on!


Saturday was another day at the races, so to speak.  Sam had finished another new fueler for Dennis Bradley of Pine Bluff Arkansas, and if all went well, he had hoped to run it, settle things in and maybe do a burnout and a 60 foot “squirt”.  Dennis didn’t have data acquisition on the bike yet, so a more energetic pass was out of the question, as much can go awry in a very short amount of time.  Unloading both bikes and doing the final inspections on them did yield a rather impressive sight, though.


The first qualifying pass on Saturday was another instance of the track not being up to the power available (or is it being able to reduce the power to accommodate the conditions?)  No tuner wants to give up power, as that is what is the basis of the performance.  At the hit it smoked the tire, but Sam uncharacteristically got back after it to get some sort of number on the board.  I looked Dave Vantine’s scoreboard and saw a 1.02 and though that was the 60 foot time, but was told later it was reaction.  I had my doubts.  The 1.02 showed the track had promise.

Checking the motor showed a bent exhaust valve, likely a result of the broken spark plug porcelain around the center electrode.  This necessitated a motor change.

Out of the loft of the trailer came the first of two complete spare engines brought to the party.  This was my first time helping on a motor swap with this team on this bike, so it was another case of be as helpful as you can without getting in the way.

After the process, which was relatively straightforward as a result of many evolutionary steps in development, we were able to do the warm-up on alcohol and then check the valve clearances in the motor and retorque the head.  This effort was about one and three quarters hours, at a relatively sedate pace.  The pace, to me is measured by how far the tools are scattered, where the spare parts end up in the pit and no oil or fuel leaks on startup.  I must say that on a couple of our shop’s team motor swaps at Bonneville, we were under a bit more of a time constraint and on one occasion it looked like a bomb had gone off in the toolbox and trailer.

A warm-up, this time on nitro, a final refueling, pack the parachute and we were ready.

Rolling up to the staging lanes, we were concerned that the track would be a rerun of Friday night as it was approaching the same time and atmospheric conditions.

So far, Dave Vantine was the quick qualifier, running this round in the right lane to our left lane choice.

Steve Churchman and I were pushing back and owing to Sam’s fondness for the burnout, went down track three hundred feet or so.

Sam came out of the water and used up pretty much the whole allowance.  Earlier, on the first pass I saw the front wheel squirm when he hit the brakes, so a little more distance was given this time.

The pushback set him up on starting line right where Mike Drydan and Terry Kizer wanted.  He bumped in and he and Dave Vantine left the light in a blaze of pipe fire.  As soon as I saw the pipes all lit past the 330 for mark, I suspected it was going to be a good one.  When I saw the 1.00 on the scoreboard, I knew it wasn’t reaction time, and watched the pipes all the way down until the flames all disappeared at once.  Usually one or two going out is an indication of a cylinder not firing, either due to too much fuel putting it out or too little, burning something off.

The result was a 5.88 second elapsed time at only 214 mph.  I say only, because Sam had done a 5.97 @ 243 mph earlier in testing at Houston.  Normally you will see 228 to 238 mph as the normal  speed.  Sam explained the unusually slow mph as the result of the bike shaking the tire on the shift into high gear, and his glasses falling off.  He said he didn’t see very well at night to start with and the glasses coming off made the prudent choice shutting off.

See the pass

The starting line went wild.

After the pass, when the data was looked at, segments of information were missing relating to clutch actuation and ignition behavior.  I am wondering how a more dependable acquisition system than that offered by Racepak or improvements to it could be done in a reasonable fashion.  Struggles with the canbus setup seem to bedevil this use.

Getting the bike back to the pits, it was discovered that the center two spark plugs had burned the center electrodes and some of the porcelain off, and sprayed it onto the exhaust valve seat.  Normally Sam doesn’t like to rebuild heads at the track, but this wasn’t a bad hurt and we had the time and personnel to do it.  So off comes the head and Jay Upton from Sprintex Superchargers and an Australian Top Fueler was enlisted to assist.

It was a bit of a struggle to get it all cleaned back up, but it was done and warmed up on alcohol by 10:30 pm.  This put us in a good spot for Sunday’s preparations for first round eliminations.


Sam said it was his first #1 qualifier in over 20 years and the parade through the pits once again verified the esteem he held in in the racing community.

Next up:  Sunday



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