Thursday, May 3, 2007

When Shovelheads Ruled the World, Part 6

When I left off this story in When Shovelheads Ruled the World, Part 5 , we had just loaded up the dragbike to head to Farmington, North Carolina for the HDRA National Finals. That's a pretty good jaunt from Minnesota, so I had made special provisions. Yes, for the 4th race of the year, we had our 4th different tow vehicle. The year was 1985, and my wife and I splurged and bought a 1979 Dodge van just for the trip! To help with gas expense we bring along another local racer, Guy, with his Panhead that he ran in the Handshift Class. Guy has to be one of the most obnoxious people I have ever known, but hey, gas money is gas money! As I recall, Guy still had to put the heads back on his bike, so we loaded it in the back of the van so he could work on it during the trip. So it was just my wife Jane and I, Bobby, Guy, one other friend, Jim, and a Panhead in the van; the Shovelhead dragbike on our same little open trailer behind. Cozy might be a generous way to describe it.

Guy endeared himself to me forever by immediately demanding to know if I had tuned up the van because he didn't want to have to pay for any more gas than necessary, and complaining that he could hear an exhaust manifold leak, and that better not cause too much heat on his feet when he took his turn driving. Kind of took the wind out of my sails as I had felt like quite the hero for going out and buying a van for the trip. Turned out that Guy need not have worried about heat, because his driving was so bad that after one turn, the rest of us unanimously banned him from another turn behind the wheel.

In light of the above, undoubtedly the hi-light of the trip to North Carolina came when Jane started to make sandwiches. Guy, with his usual tact, demanded "Jane, make me one of those!" My wife is known by most of my friends to be pretty feisty, so we were all somewhat surprised when Jane complied without any comment. She got her revenge, though, soon after Guy's sandwich was passed back to him. His exclamation upon biting into a sandwich that included a slice of cheese still in the wrapper was priceless. The story of the cheese wrapper has become legendary among the old drag racers we know.

We arrived at the dragstrip sometime after midnight on Friday night. Of course the gates were closed, so the best we could do was find a field road approach to park on. No one got a comfortable nights sleep, but at least here the weather was mild. The next morning we were early to the track, and all set for a day of racing! Or were we? The first thing after unloading the Shovelhead, I opened my toolbox to double check all of the fasteners. What do you suppose was the very first thing to meet my eye but all four of the teflon wrist pin retainers!

That's right, in my rush to get the bike finished, I did the one thing I had been so worried about. I forgot to install parts, and here we were half way across the country! We were just very lucky that the retainers were in plain sight in the top of my toolbox! So, off came the heads again! No extra gaskets, so I would have to re-use what came off, but that didn't look to be a problem. In short order, I had the motor back together again, and ready to run.

With the modifications we had made since the last race, there was no doubt that the bike was faster. I believe that Bobby lowered his own 1/8 mile national record with the first pass. The competition was much tighter than at other races, with other bikes running times close to our old record, but thanks to our new found power, we still had a nice cushion.

Again Bobby was kind enough to let me make a pass on the Shovel during time trials. The fact that I ran in the 7.50's with my extra 45 pounds and inexperience showed that the Shovel really liked the new cam and higher compression.

Once again Bobby was able to breeze through eliminations with the most exciting moment being when the bike unexpectedly wheelied for the very first time. True, the front wheel came only about a foot off the ground, and Bobby didn't miss a beat, but it was such a shock to all of us, that it remains one of the hi-lights of the race. By the time our class eliminations were done, Bobby had won the Street Racer FL class, and set new 1/8 mile national records of 7.275 seconds, and 99.33 MPH.

Our performance in the run off between classes had yet to go our way at any of the races so far. Would this fourth time be the charm? We were sure hoping it would be. A little frustrating to have the quickest street class bike at three races in a row, and still get beat out for the "Street Eliminator" title. Tough part was, there was really no one to blame. Bobby's reaction times were consistently at least as good, and most times considerably better than the competition's.

As we checked the bike over to get ready for those final eliminations, everything was looking good. Since Bobby had just lowered the record in our class by about .04 of a second, we knew that he should be in pretty good shape in that regard since he would be indexed on the old record. The last thing to do just before we pushed the Shovel up to staging was to add a little more gas. And that's when it happened. One of those moments that seem that it should be inconsequential, but is locked in my memory forever. I was pouring as Bobby held the funnel. We both watched in disbelief as a minute piece of "fluff" from a tree lazily drifted down and into the funnel. Although it happened rather quickly, it was as if it was in slow motion. To this day I have to wonder if one of us might have grabbed it if we hadn't been taken so much by surprise.
We both saw it, then we looked at each other in amazement.

Such a small piece, what could it possibly do. I had no filter in the tank, nor in the fuel line, and it would not have been large enough to clog one anyway. Probably not large enough to even clog a jet! We may have had time to drain the tank, but it would have been cutting things pretty close. I made the executive decision and opted to ignore it and run the bike the way it was.

Soon we were in the staging lanes and time to start the bike. Only it wouldn't. I kicked, and kicked, and kicked, and kicked some more (I was in much better shape back then). Then Bobby kicked, and kicked, and kicked some more. When we lifted it off its kickstand, gas ran out the carb, so now we knew it was badly flooded. We both knew right away what had happened. Sure enough, our piece of "fluff" that had floated down into the gas tank, had made its way to the float needle and seat, and was keeping it from shutting off the flow of gas. We were about to miss our first round when in a fit of desperation we asked if we could start the Shovel on the rollers that were usually reserved for pro class bikes.

Now back in the "old days", rollers were the most common way to start your drag bike. Normally one set of them was set up near the front of the staging lanes. Picture a pair of giant rolling pins about 6 feet long mounted side by side with bearings on the ends and you have a pretty good idea of what rollers looked like. One rear wheel of a car or van would set on one end of the rollers and the bike's rear wheel on the other end. With the bike in gear and the clutch pulled in, the car would accelerate, getting the bike's rear wheel spinning at a good clip. Then when you popped the clutch on the bike, the motor would start turning. At that point when you gave it ignition, it would usually start almost immediately.

Neither Bobby or I had any experience starting a bike on rollers, and the Shovel was not going to start easily. Despite all that, Bobby handled it like a pro, so with just a few words of instruction from the gentleman running the car on the rollers, he had the Shovel's engine spinning over. Not starting, just spinning over. Seemed like an eternity, but it was probably less than ten seconds of the engine spinning over on the rollers before it cleaned itself out and roared to life.

Now the trick would be to get the bike to the starting line without running it out of gas by leaving the petcock off too long, or flooding it again by leaving the petcock on too long. Ideally Bobby would turn the petcock on at just the right time so that the float bowl would be just reaching full as the lights turned green. We'll never know how close Bobby came to timing it perfectly, but he must have been pretty close. The Shovel launched fairly good, but flattened out pretty bad in midrange. The bike in the other lane, another Shovel (but with a turbo and nitrous) had us by a couple bike lengths by the end of first gear.

Each time Bobby shifted, the Shovel would go flat as it was pulled down in rpm's, but would start running clean and gaining ground as the rpm's came up. But then, just as Bobby was closing in on the other bike, he would have to shift, and loose the ground he had just gained. So once again we lost in the first round of the eliminations between class winners. In retrospect, I have little doubt that I never had the main jet quite small enough for the low elevation in the first place, or else the extra fuel in the float bowl wouldn't have given such similar results as being too rich in the Colorado Springs race.

So was this a lousy way to end the racing season? Not at all. I don't think any of us spent more than a few moments in disappointment. After all, Bobby had dominated his class at all four races that we attended. Along the way he set a total of four national records. Not too shabby for a couple of guys who just set out to see how their bike measured up!


Anonymous said...

Great drag racing history....
I have enjoyed reading every part
I love the pictures too!
Saving in my favorites....
Thanks for sharing!

Billy in Indiana

Jack Hester said...

What was the time period for the races at Farmington? It's a good chance that I was standing right there. If you have some better pictures of your bike(s), it's possible that I can find some of my own, in my many slides. That will take some time, as I've only recently aquired a slide scanner to digitize some of my collection. Thanks for the fine stories.


St.Lee said...

It would have been 1985 when we raced the National Finals in Farmington. The best pictures I have of the bike are probably on the first post or two on "When Shovelheads Ruled the World"