Return to Bonneville



There's an old saying among Landspeed Racers, " If it was easy, everybody would have a 200 mph Pinto". After Bonneville 2000, I was not sure if I wanted to go back. Could we do better? Would we do worse? Would somebody get hurt? Were we just lucky ? These questions and a thousand others were bouncing around in my head for months. Once the decision was made to go back, Mitchel immediately got on the phone and talked to our sponsors, we were going racing. Our goals for 2001 were to go faster than last year and raise the record, or break the thing trying.

The engine would be different this year. A decision was made to run higher compression and less boost to give the bike more off boost performance. For pistons, we decided to go with the 1147cc Wiesco kit from TIM'S. These are very nice pieces and the kit is first class. Vance and Hines bored the sleeves and O-ringed the cylinders. I reworked the head, smoothing out the castings, removing the factory tooling marks. Mike Martin came up with a set of Megacycle "Turbo" cams. Compared to stock cams, these cams have less duration and overlap and a little more lift. They are very "scary" as they have steep ramps and very pointy lobes. Along with the cams, Mike sent some shim under bucket lifters. This was my first experience with "shim under bucket" lifters and was quite taken aback by it. It took me a day to shim the valves. During the head assembly, I noticed the exhaust lobes were hitting the casting. A quick call to Dave Severns verified that the head needed to be "relieved" to allow clearance for the exhaust lobes. The head had to be disassembled, ground, cleaned up, clearances checked and re-assembled. The final addition to the engine was a set of Falicon "knife edged" rods replacing the stock pieces. Falicon rods were chosen because, stock rods are too weak and Carrillo rods were extremely expensive and we could not get them to give us a delivery date. The engine assembly went smooth this year, no broken bolts or last minute surprises.

We also had to get a different turbo. First we tried to get a Garrett T03/04 turbo to replace the RaJay we used last year. There were enough physical size differences that it would not work. The scrolls of the turbine and compressor hit the frame rails. We then tried to get the same setup as last year, a RaJay F40. RaJay parts are getting scarce so finding a turbo was difficult. David Severns again came to the rescue, he had some parts for a F40 he was willing to part with. I found some more parts in Shreveport and retrieved them. Carburetors were yet another story. We purchased two Zenith carbs and an S&S Super "B". Aluminum spacers had to be made to adapt the various carbs to the turbo. At the last minute, the fuel system was garnished with a handmade fiberglass velocity stack.

We thought that detonation would be our biggest problem. Since our plan was to run 10:1 pistons and 15 pounds of boost, cylinder pressure and temperature would be high. A methanol/water injection system was added to help cool the engine and prevent detonation. A 50/50 mixture was used. The system we came up with consists of a water reservoir, an inlet and outlet check valve and an injection nozzle. The inlet line is inch tubing and the inlet check valve spring pressure was 1/3 pound. The outlet line was 1/8 inch and the outlet check valve spring was 5 pounds. The larger line and low spring pressure on the inlet would allow quicker pressurization of the tank. The water tank used manifold (boost) pressure to inject the methanol/water solution. The outlet line check valve would open when manifold pressure exceeded 5 pounds. The injection nozzle was a .017 jet. An EGT monitor was added to help identify detonation. Additionally, an Air/Fuel ratio meter was added. The A/F ratio was to be used as an aide to keep from "leaning" out the fuel mixture, causing extremely hot cylinder conditions. The A/F meter proved useless as the bright sunlight made it impossible to read the gauge.

Gearing was a big concern since last year we had ran out of gear. This year we had a 19 and 20 tooth sprocket made for the bike. The new gears were made by cutting the center out of stock 18 tooth gears and inserting them into industrial sprockets, which had the centers removed. The cutting operations were done on a lathe, to keep them straight and square while also allowing them to be a pressed fit. The inside edges of the press fitted pieces were beveled and TIG welded together.

The engine roared to life on the first try. We heat cycled the engine several times, increasing the amount of heat each time. After about 30 total minutes of running time, we changed the oil. There were a lot of shavings, sealant and lint in the pan. In addition to that, the screen was partially plugged. I encourage everyone to occasionally pull the pan and look at the screen, maybe every third or fourth oil change. We cranked it back up and ran it for 20 minutes, varying the RPM to complete the break-in.

The last item to build was a small trailer to drag the bike around on the salt. Last year we borrowed one from a friend. The trailer was made to take apart and store in minimal space. Mitchel brought the big trailer over and we loaded everything, we were about to go racing.

In any project, there are a million unanswered questions, the following question was the one that was bothering me the most. Who would ride this thing? It was a very hard decision to allow my son, David, to ride the bike. Mitchel and I discussed it several times. My wife and I discussed it several times. When you take a bike that was designed to go 140 and go 175, you never know what to expect. Are the wheels rated for that speed? What if the engine seizes or throws a rod? What is the condition of the wheel bearings? Last year he went 150+ many times and all went well, he put in a lot of time working on the bike, it was decided, he would ride.

We arrived at Wendover at 2:30, checked into the hotel and then out to the salt. The salt was beautiful, just like I remembered. We dropped the trailer off at the "end of the road", the spot where the salt starts. Everybody has a place where they feel they belong, I feel that way at Bonneville. As I said last year, Bonneville is a mystical place. I have seen the sun rise at Bonneville many times, it still stirs my soul, warms my blood and calms me like nothing else I've ever experienced.

Friday, up at 5 am and out to the salt. We hooked up the trailer and were #7 onto the salt, we were trying to get a pit on the trackside of the pit. We failed to get a pit trackside, they were already taken by racers that came out early to help set up the track. After unhooking the trailer we put down a ground cloth, set up the shelter and unloaded the bike. David started the ritual of checking every bolt on the bike for tightness. Tech opens at 11 am and we wanted to be first in line. When we got in line it was 11:00 and we were back about 30 bikes. Each bike was taking 20-25 minutes. When our turn came, the inspectors fussed about our number plates being too low and covering too much of the rear wheel, they maintained that they were in violation of the "no streamlining" rule. They also wanted us to adjust our steering stops. Back to the pit to make changes, 30 minutes later we are back at Tech. The changes are approved and now it's time to race.

Saturday morning we finished prepping the bike, mixed the methanol and water, filled the tank. Racing starts after the drivers meeting at 11:00. We got in line at 11:50, it was 100+ in the shade, but we were in the sun. We made our first run at about 2:00, bike 606 on the short course, 155.462 mph. The bike made it to the end of the course, David was all right, my fears started to subside. Since it was a shake down run, the speed was not important. Inside I was disappointed by the speed but I was determined to go slow and easy. Talking to David, he indicated the bike ran straight but it had only made one pound of boost and the EGT was 1130 degrees. We pulled the plugs, they looked good, in went a fresh set. We measured the amount of methanol/water used and refilled the tank. A turn in on the waste gate screw and we were off to the starting line. Several hours passed before we got to run again. When it was over, 158.569 mph. Boost was up to three pounds, EGT still 1130. That was all for the day, they chase you off the salt at dark and it was now dark.

Sunday, with the smell of nitro in the air, it had to be a better day. We turned the boost screw in two turns, checked fluids and got back in line. Bike 606, 163.016 on the short course. David indicated that boost was now at six pounds, EGT still 1130. We were getting faster but not equal to my calculations. Back in the pit we changed plugs, measured fluids and scratched our heads. Another couple of turns on the boost screw and away we went. Our last run of the day netted us a 166.416 time slip. At this point, I was concerned. Something was being over looked, why aren't we going faster? When I looked at the data from last year and compared it to current data, I should have been very happy. We were going faster than we had last year at this point, but I was disappointed. I had set some high expectations and we weren't getting them done. The high point in the day was when Richard Horowitz showed up in the pits. Richard helped us wrench last year and we were glad to see him again.

Monday 8/13, my birthday, a good day to go fast. I had stayed up most of the night trying to figure out why we weren't going faster. I made a list of items to discuss with the Team and other racers. It was decided to pull the clutch. It turned out to be a good decision. The steel plates were glazed over and slightly burned. We scuffed up the steels, then David and Richard reassembled the clutch. We checked the plugs, refilled fluids, put the bike on the trailer and got back in line. On the short course, times are measured between the 2 and 3 mile marks. You get a speed at the 2 and the 3. These two mph readings tell you if the bike is still accelerating, a nice piece of information. Bike 606, 171.649 in the quarter, 174.380 in the mile, boomed the timer. Yes, Yes, Yes, now we are racing. It was late, we were happy, time to celebrate, we were in the hunt. Just rebuilding the clutch was worth 8 mph. The final surprise of the day was when Pete Ruff showed up at the hotel that evening.

Tuesday 8/14, Mitchel's birthday, a good day to qualify for the record. Since it was late when we completed our last run on Monday, we had not had time to look the bike over the previous night. This morning, we noticed there was a lot of oil blow-by coming from the catch can. We determined the problem was the oil from the hole in the end of the alternator shaft was being entrained into the vent stream. We took a small sheet metal screw and inserted it into the hole, stopping the flow of oil into the vented cavity. Since we do not use an alternator, we do not need this oil flow. Again we checked everything and were off to run again. To qualify for a record, you need to exceed the previous record by .001 mph. Our record was 175.038. Once again the timer booms out, Bike 606, 173 in the quarter. It seemed like we waited years for the next words from the timer. Bike 606, 175.861 in the mile. Awesome, we were now qualified for the record, the bike now needs to go to impound. On the way to impound, David relates to me that the turbo is only making 10 pounds of boost, EGT 1230. In addition to being in impound, the 175 mph run qualified David for a Class "B" license.

Wednesday 8/15, this is like shooting fish in a barrel. Record runs are held early in the morning so out at the track at 6 am, in line by 6:30, running down the track by 7, leaves you little time to tinker with things. It's now time to prep the bike. Realizing the turbo is not as strong as we would like, we turned the boost screw in all the way. About this time, we noticed a kink in the water/methanol line, this would explain the high EGT last run. We frantically worked to replace the line. We had to rush to get in line. The next thing we heard was, bike 606, 177.052 in the quarter, 177.334 in the mile. Woo, Woo, a new record! Back to impound to have the displacement verified. Last year they filled the cylinder with ATF and on the next run, we blew a head gasket. This year, Mitchel purchased a "displacement checker". It is a "butterfly" device or rod that fits into the cylinder through the sparkplug hole. Once expanded, it can be marked, extracted and reopened to the mark and measured. Last year the disassembly, inspection and re-assembly took 8 hours, this year, 45 minutes. They verified our displacement and sealed the engine cases. We are officially in the record book again, 176.597.

Having exceeded 175 mph, we have the option to run the long course, 5 miles. I have never thought a turbocharged CBX could or would hold together for 5 miles of wide-open throttle. A run on the short course takes about 1 minute and 50 seconds from start to stop. On the long course, David would travel the last 3 miles in just over 1 minute, about 20 seconds a mile. Since we were at our boost limit, and wanting to go faster, we decided to try the long course. The starter gives David the course instructions, they are different from the short course. They discussed emergency procedures, as this is his first time on the long course. The Starter waved David down the track, 163.790 in the quarter, 167.140 at the 3, 175.687 in the middle mile and 175.790 out the back door. Imagine 4 miles in excess of 160 mph, two miles in excess of 175 mph. The back tire had lost traction several times and David had to roll off the throttle to get hooked back up. It was not enough to qualify for a new record and it being late, we called it a night and put the bike in the trailer.

Thursday 8/16, another old Landspeed saying, "Experience is directly proportional to the amount of equipment destroyed". We arrived on the salt early to prep the bike. Upon pulling the plugs, we noticed #1 plug looked different than the rest. It appeared to be coated with something. This can't be good, but how bad is it? We pull the exhaust pipe for that side, the inside of #1 pipe is coated with this same dull aluminum substance. All that is left is to pull the head and find out what is wrong. Once we get the engine apart, our suspicions are proved. We have "washed" out the head and burned a piston. The aluminum on the plug and in the exhaust is from the head and piston. The aluminum in the area between the exhaust valves is gone. You can see the inner edges of the valve seats. Game over, do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

Bonneville is a harsh teacher, each year the hopes and dreams of hundreds of people are scattered on the salt. This year there were over 400 entries and more than 1500 runs made. About six out of ten people go home with broken toys. Less than one in five go home with a new record. To compete at Bonneville is a great experience. In the end, we achieved all our goals, making it a successful endeavor. I wish we could have gone faster. You can not imagine the second guessing I have been doing about this years effort. I am already thinking about different combinations to try for next year. I don't even know if we will go back next year. What does it take to go fast at Bonneville, I don't know. I want to thank my partner Mitchel and my son David for giving me one of the greatest experiences in my life. I am very fortunate to have such a good friend and to be able to do things with my son.

In addition to the Team, there are many people to thank individually. Tim and Betty Ware helped make this happen again. Parts from Mike Martin were appreciated. Many thanks to Jerry Sutton and Stubbs Cycles. Tim Kerrigan, the owner of Red Line Oil. KOWA Tools and Progressive Suspension all pitched in with quality products. David Severns put up with many phone calls, e-mails and helped us get hard to find parts. Richard Horowitz and Pete Ruff were welcome sights around the pit. They turned wrenches, helped with the bike, provided moral support and did whatever was needed, thanks guys.