Tuesday, January 9, 2007

When Shovelheads Ruled the World, Part 2

If you read my last post titled "When Shovelheads Ruled the World", I left you as we headed south to the inaugural 4th of July "Iowa Hog Drags" in 1985 with our "Street Racer/FL" class bike. Located in the middle of a cornfield in the middle of Iowa, Humbolt County Dragway was an old 1/4 mile track that had been shortened to an 1/8 mile to compensate for lack of sufficient shutdown area for the newer and faster cars. Despite the facility being far from "state of the art" the event still managed to attract Harley dragbikes from all over the country. All Harley drags were new, but to the racers, the time was ripe!

As we pulled into the line waiting for the gates to open early in the morning of that first day of time trials, we saw that the trailer ahead of us had a lay down drag bike on it. I had to remind Bobby that it couldn't possibly be in our class because it had a drag slick on it. That calmed him down a bit, and we got out of the car and introduced ourselves . The "Hot Dragster" class Sportster on the trailer belonged to Russ Hendron from Illinois. He and his pit crew of one had arrived in the middle of the night and I got the impression that if they did not win some money that weekend, there would be some doubt as to whether or not they had enough gas money to get home. Little did any of us know that by the end of the season, Russ would be well on his way to becoming one of the top "B Fuel" pilots ever!

We were soon teched in without incident by none other than Gary "Tator" Gilmore who was not only sponsoring the race, but was also one of the main attractions with his Top Fuel Shovelhead. We were much encouraged with his comment that the bike looked "really good".

Time trials went well, with Bobby quickly getting his timing down on the "christmas tree". We still didn't really have a clue as to the competition, though, as there were a lot of bikes and more arriving all the time. There was no qualifying in those early days for the street classes. Just time trials, and then directly to eliminations. When the time for eliminations came, you simply got into the staging lanes and were lined up with other bikes in your class. After the first round of eliminations you might get lane choice if your previous pass was quicker than your next round's opponent, but who that opponent was going to be was still determined by chance. The first few rounds of eliminations flew by with no serious competition.

We were aware that there was some serious competition to come though. The bike we were most worried about was owned and ridden by Pat Mater, at that time the president of the Minneapolis chapter of the Hell's Angels. He had a chopper with a 103" Shovelhead engine built by Eagle Engineering, the best known performance shop in the Twin Cities. Between rounds Bobby told me that he had seen him run a low 7 second pass earlier in the day. Now I was the one that needed to be calmed down! Bobby's best so far had been in the 7.6os.

Before we knew it, "our" bike was one of only three left in the class. As might be expected in a class with rules that stated "Big Twins displacing over 86 cubic inches", the other two remaining bikes were a 98" Shovel from Texas, and Pat Mater's 103" Shovel.

As we got our bike into the staging lanes and were preparing to line up against Pat, the racer from Texas announced to us that the bike with the lowest e.t. from the previous lane should get the "bye" run. I don't recall that Texas racer's name, but I do remember that besides the fast Shovel, he also owned a "Dragster Eliminator" class bike which was setting new records at the meet. Pat Mater was OK with the change in plans though. "I'll beat you this round, and beat them the next!" he exclaimed as he swung his leg over his big Shovel. Can't say I wasn't a little relieved. Now we were assured of a 2nd place finish at worst!

The showdown that I was concerned about never came about.The racer from Texas beat Pat Mater in the semi finals, and the finals weren't all that close. We beat the Texas bike handily, and it would have been a little anti climactic, except we were so excited about winning! Later Bobby admitted to me that he had told a "white lie". No one had run in the low 7's. He just wanted to "keep me on my toes".

The HDRA did things a little different in the street legal classes. Once the winner of each class was determined, they ran against each other with each bike "indexed" to its own class record. In other words, all the winners were run off just like a bracket race, except your "dial-in" was the national record for your class. Not a bad system.

Bobby won every round of the "shoot out" too, until he ran up against a skinny 16 year old kid named Doug Vacil on a ratty old Sportster. If that name rings a bell, its because he has been one of the biggest names in Top Fuel Harley racing in recent years, getting major sponsorship from Drag Specialties and Vance & Hines, and winning multiple national championships! Small world isn't it?

So we headed north to Minneapolis with a trophy, a bunch of adrenaline, and the hook set firmly in our mouths. (that last is a fishing reference; Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes, get it?) Within a couple days I had Bobby's motor swapped back into his Low Rider, and things may have returned to normal , if we hadn't heard about another HDRA race in Colorado Springs coming up in a couple weeks. How could we resist?

Arriving at the track in Colorado, almost immediatley we were handed a "racing paper" that contained a list of HDRA National Records. Imagine our surprise to learn that Bobby was the 1/8 mile national record holder for both e.t. and m.p.h. in the Street Racer/FL class! But the story doesn't end there....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great read Lee. We were there that year too, might have been our first "real" event we attended.

Thank you for the memories!!


Fear No Evo Drag Racing!