The mad dash starts with the Mancup drag race at Rockingham NC. Driving down I picked up Mitch Brown, owner of Monster Race Products in downtown Chicago. These were the same streets the Blues Brothers roamed and it was just as crazy. I must say GPS doesn’t play well under the El.
Leaving the big city, we picked up Mike Dryden, Crew Chief and co-owner of the Top Fuel Motorcycle ridden by Sam Wills. It was on to the east. It always is a long drive there and I got my share of windshield time as my dear wife and primary driver was otherwise occupied moving our middle daughter Jacki to Monterey CA for graduate school. She was scheduled to return the Friday before we left for Bonneville and would be driving back out the same route she followed coming home.
Stopping to pick up a few needed items to repair some worn out threads in the rear tire beadlock, we arrived at Rockingham Dragway about the time we expected. To our surprise, the semi right behind us in line was none other than Sam Wills and crew. As they pulled into the pits I looked over and there was Bruno, hanging off the side of the semi smoking a cigarette, looking a bit piratical.
Setting up in location, we unloaded the bike and learned the differences between the new trailer and the old when it came to getting a 1,000 lb. bike with 2 ½ inches of ground clearance out and on the ground. Some allowances needed to be made and it would provide a challenge until Sunday.
Getting situated, we did preliminary checks, and then loaded back up for the night. Larry McBride made two test passes we watched, trying to get a handle on the track. After the spring race, we were prepared for the worst as far as slippery conditions. Larry seemed to get down the track without a dramatic amount of effort, giving us some encouragement.
Saturday proved to be a nice day with temperatures in the low 80’s. We got the bike up on the lift and began the routing of warming it up.
Putting the starter on the bike and cranking it resulted in loud backfiring from the exhaust. Hmmm. Sounded like the magneto was 180 degrees off. Moving the mag resulted in a similar cacauphony. What had changed since the Memphis race when it ran down the track in fine form? It sounded like an ignition problem and since these systems can fail suddenly and without warning, a replacement of the different components yielded similar results. After all the ignition parts had been switched out, we checked the leakage of the motor itself. That was normal, so off comes the valve cover. According to the marks, the cams were in time, but Mike Dryden noticed it didn’t push his thumb back when it was over the spark plug hole and the motor turned over. This was a bit of a puzzle, but pretty much overlooked until the question was if the crankshaft was broken. Sam had taken all the motors down and put new bearings in them, only seeing a bit of walking of the outer main bearings from the forces 1500 horsepower will put on the crankcases. A simple check for a broken or twisted crank is to take out the end sparkplugs and put long screwdrivers down each plug hole and carefully turn the motor over. The screwdrivers went up and down simultaneously, ruling out the broken crank question. Then the next step is to turn the crank until the screwdrivers are as far up as they can go and see where the marks are. The “T” that designated top dead center was nowhere to be found. Correcting that issue allowed us to re-time the cams and then re-time the mag. When compression and spark happen at the right time it yields amazing results as the motor roared to life after all was put back. A bit of caressing was needed to re-establish the correct ignition timing, and after that it was up to the line for the second qualifying session.
We had our first run against Larry McBride, a good test.
Pushing Sam back from the burnout, everything sounded as it should.
Watching him bump up into the beams, we all were anxious.
At the green off he and Larry went in roar of clutch dust and nitro fumes.
Watching the run, Sam moved to the right and started to get out of the groove, but hung off to the left and never let off.
Seeing the scoreboards show a 5.98 second pass was almost more than we could believe. A mere 216 mph indicated something was going on, but the e.t. was what counted. Larry was only .01 seconds away from making it the first side by side 5 second passes in competition with a 6.00 second run.
Servicing the bike showed a happy motor, spark plug-wise and normal valve movement in the clearances.
Pulling down the head, however, was another story. One of the inside studs between cylinders 3 and 4 didn’t take torque. A bit of fiddling and we were able to get it to take a bit of tightening, but nothing to write home about.
The other issue was that the parachute didn’t deploy. Changing to a higher pressure air source in the air tank for that purpose was seen as the solution.
The final qualifying round saw us versus the blown Harley at a later time than scheduled due to various riders running over timing equipment.
In the dark, all appeared fine pushing back and at the green, the header flames stood high and didn’t go out until the finish. The 6.0 pass was decent enough, but the 234 mph was what we expected. As I walked back from the starting line I was asked “did you see the parachute come out?” I could only reply that it was a black parachute coming out in the dark, and I didn’t see anything.
The announcer came on and said Sam was parked in an “awkward” location, leading to much supposition on our part.
He returned to the pits unscathed and the front wheel camera provided a view. The lights went by quickly as he accelerated downtrack and then more slowly as their distance apart increased and he started to slow down. It also showed some very orange front rotors that became more visible as the brakes heated up and the light went away, until finally the light went out and all that remained was the glow. As he came to a stop, the rotors cooled and it became completely dark to shortly be illuminated by the track worker’s flashlight as they looked for him. The parachute had released, but gotten tangled up in the wheelie bars, rendering it useless, sending Sam into the far end of the shutoff where they never sweep.
When readying the bike for servicing, releasing the pans underneath the bike gave a shower of gravel and dirt.
Not able to trust the stud in the motor, it was a relaxed two hour motor change and back to the hotel.
Sunday had a bit more temperature, and after warm-ups we waited for the first round of eliminations. The field was small, owing to a Harley event the next week end largely absorbing the Top Fuel Harleys, and Chris Hand recovering from back surgery.
We ran the blown Harley in the first round and got down the track decently. At about 600 feet it appeared a haze developed behind the bike and there was oil on the very back of the wheelie bars.
Larry McBride advanced over Dave Vantine and barely stayed in his lane, showing once again why they call him “Spiderman”. His acrobatics on a Top Fueler are worth the price of admission alone.
Servicing the bike we discovered the oil was due to a full secondary catch tank. A lot of cleaning up and draining all three tanks, with note to self to be sure that is done more often in the future. While doing this, a gas bike competitor came over an asked if we put oil on the track. I said I didn’t know, but seeing the back of the bike, it was possible. His response was to assert we did and he blew up because his motor over-revved. We didn’t do it on purpose and as it was the responsibility of the track to maintain a good racing surface, I didn’t think much more of it, especially since the Pro Fuelers ran right after us in that lane.
Finishing the rest of the work on the bike, I was working there when a guy came by, riding a scooter and commented “For a rag-tag looking bunch, you sure can make that thing run!”. My response was that I had shaved that morning and had on clean underwear. Now this guy had a long gray scraggly beard and hair flying about like the professor in “Back to Future”. Go figure.
The time until the final round gave us time to decide what to do for a tuneup needed to deal with the track and Larry McBride’s newfound performance. Mike elected to run the 5.98 combination as it seemed the best for the track we were expecting.
Taking time to rest up, Mike came back and said some guy from the gas bike team came up to him and said “the old guy said the tank wasn’t emptied”. I looked around for Dale as he is the oldest among us, but was puzzled because he doesn’t service that part of the bike. Then I realized that he was talking about me! I never have thought of myself as “old” (heck, I can’t even claim “mature”), but I guess that is what gray hair does for you. Called “rag-tag” and “old”, all in the same day. Maybe some Grecian Formula hair color is in my future.
The final saw us lining up in the left lane and picking the best line we could see. The track was stripped in quite a few places from the other bikes pulling up rubber, so it was a bit of a crap shoot.
The final pushback was normal and we all held our breath as we waited for the green.
Sam left and almost immediately it shook the tire. Not just a little bit, but huge flappy figure eights!
He stayed with it until 80 feet out, but saw Larry pulling away and rolled out of to keep from senselessly breaking parts.
Afterwards, we all were at the trailer as Sam was towed back. He could only shake his head and the phrase he used was “I am disappointed, but not upset.” It was the best choice of words I have heard in quite a while.
Rockingham showed the progress we made from the first race where we couldn’t manage better than a 6.17 and smoked the tire in a first round loss. Here we went a 5 and lost a close decision in the final.
Packing up, we got things in the new trailer, and the rain began in torrents. Waiting it out, the decision was made to stop in Aberdeen to eat. Mitch, Mike, and myself had to get going north and the rest of the crew stayed in Aberdeen before beginning their journey home.
Leaving with the points lead is a good thing although a bigger cushion would be better. Valdosta is our next race and I suspect everyone there will swinging for the fences.