Saturday, January 6, 2007

When Shovelheads Ruled the World

The year was 1985. The place; the suburbs of Minneapolis. I was working as a mechanic for the local Harley dealership and had built a stroker motor for the service writer over the past winter. His name was Bob McGranahan. A few rides alongside my 88 cubic inch Shovelhead stroker the previous summer was all it took to convince Bobby that he needed an engine like that!

In today's world of 96", 113", 124 cubic inch and larger Harley motors it is hard to envision a time when a mere 88" engine would impress anyone, but you have to realize that any engine larger than stock was somewhat rare back then. Harley had made a big splash when they came out with an 80" in 1979 (as I recall), and an even bigger splash with the then recently released Evolutions which were much quicker than a stock Shovelhead. But the time of the Evolution's domination was not yet come, and a Shovelhead stroker was still a thing to be reckoned with!

The engine that we built for Bobby's Lowrider was pretty much a copy of mine, but with a few upgrades provided for by his somewhat fatter wallet (due to his being single). Bobby's motor started as an 80", so the same 4 3/4" stroke made his a 93" instead of my smaller bore 88". We decided to try a Leinweber J4 cam that I had heard good things about in place of the Sifton 468+ that I had in mine. Bobby also sprang for a new S&S Super B carb in place of the old Bendix I used. But the single biggest improvement came about from Bobby meeting a fellow named John Petouli (my apologies if I spelled his last name wrong) at a swap meet. John was there with his flow bench, drumming up business. My guess is that Bobby talked his way into getting the "good guy" deal on having his heads ported. John probably had hopes of more work coming his way from the Harley dealership Bobby and I worked for. Turned out to be a pretty potent combination, though we had no idea how potent until a few months later.

That spring a poster came to the dealership advertising the first ever 4th of July "Iowa Hog Drags". There had not been a drag strip in the Twin Cities area for a number of years, so neither Bobby or I had ever been on one, but that didn't stop us from seeing what fun it would be! My Shovelhead's rigid frame was setting empty since I had burned a hole in a piston the previous fall (a whole story in itself, involving my stupidity, a high speed police chase, and a very long weekend in jail). I had my 61" Knuckle up and running, but it was hardly racing material. Bobby's Low Rider was fast, but in a stock chassis, I thought is was a little too heavy to race. The solution was obvious to us. We would take the engine out of Bobby's bike a few days before the races and swap it back afterwards! Bobby would pilot and I would tune!

A few days before the races, I tried to bring Bobby back down to earth a little by warning him that there would be guys there with really fast bikes that had been racing for years, and we shouldn't expect too much our first time out. But "our" bike certainly looked fast! As mentioned earlier I already had a rigid frame (actually a weld on hardtail conversion). I was running an 18" Sportster rim laced to my rear hub, and Bobby came through with the widest new tire he could find for it. I had spent much of the spring drilling holes in everything in sight on the frame and chassis. We used a fiberglass flat track tank that I had picked up at a swap meet ($15) and a fiberglass rear fender (swap meet -$10). Another friend, Dave Alderman, let me use a custom built front fork that was unbelievably light weight and featured clip-on bars. About the only things keeping "our" bike from looking like a full blown dragbike rather than a street bike were the lack of a slick and wheelie bars! A close reading of the rules showed that the bike would fit in the "Street Racer/FL class.

So when 4th of July weekend rolled around, we loaded up the bike on my home made open trailer, hooked it up to the beater Oldsmobile that we borrowed from my sister-in-law, and headed south. In my next post I will tell you what happened.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great snapshot of an awesome period in a good friend's life.
I worked with Bob for a few years at J&S in the late 90's. I always knew he was a badass, but met him after he was long done racing. Probably the most clever and fun guy I've met in my life. Miss him every day.

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