Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse.  For most, the name immediately brings to mind the famous Native American warrior of the 19th century, whom legend says was the one to kill Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn.  But, despite the gray hair, my memory doesn’t go back quite that far.  When I hear the name I can’t help but think of Russ Hendron and the many wild rides down the drag strip I watched him make on his nitro burning Sportster, nicknamed Crazy Horse, just over a century after the original.  In fact, one source gives the literal meaning of the name Crazy Horse as “His-Horse-is-Crazy.”  If that is accurate, then Russ could not have chosen a more fitting name for his drag bike!  If you picture a lean young man with his body being tossed about like a rodeo cowboy as his bike attempts to pitch him to the asphalt, but never easing up on the throttle no matter how close that Crazy Horse came to separating him from the saddle, you’d have a pretty good idea of how I remember the majority of Hendron’s passes.  Oh, yeah ...and getting to the finish line first despite all that!

The first time I met Russ was in the line waiting to get into Humboldt County Dragway for the inaugural Iowa Hog Drags way back in 1985.  His bike, a 90 cubic inch High Gear Sportster was on an open trailer right ahead of us.  I remember being quick to reassure my then racing partner Bobby that he didn’t have to worry about racing that bike because its slick showed it to be a pro class bike rather than a “Street Racer” as ours was classified.  Having never been to a drag race before, I was encouraged that the very first racer we met was a genuinely nice guy who was happy to make small talk with a couple of “nobodies” like us.  In fact, instead of the well-heeled professional we expected, Russ was a happy go lucky guy who had talked his friend Jerry into making the trip from Indiana with him to act as a temporary pit crew.  In fact, they were not even sure if they had enough money left between the two of them to get home after the race, so they were very hopeful of placing well enough to get into the “money rounds.”

Well, that race had a very happy ending, not only for Bobby and me, but also for our new friend Russ.  He made it all the way to the finals in Hot Dragster (the HDRA’s name for the high gear nitro class), before finally being edged out by Ray Lafayette on his record holding Sportster out of C&S Harley Davidson in Nashville.  After the race, Russ tells of how he asked Jerry to go the tower and find out if they had any money coming.  Jerry soon came running back with an envelope stuffed full of tens and twenties, saying, “I don’t know how much is in here, but it’s a lot!”  As it turned out, there was nearly $1000 in the envelope, which not only got them back to Indiana, but in true racer fashion, also paid for a set of 5 inch stroke flywheels.  

Those flywheels enabled Russ to increase his engine size from a 3-7/16” bore x 4-13/16” stroke 90 inch up to a 3-7/16” bore x 5” stroke 94 cubic inches.  This proved to be the magic number that made the difference between continually placing second to Lafayette (which had become the norm) and finally beating him the following year at the Havana, Illinois race.

While looking through some of the old clippings from my racing days which I had stashed away, I found a few write ups about Russ and Crazy Horse.  Here are some quotes:

From United Racer, August 3 1987, by Brad Henry

AMRA Cecil County
B/Fuel – Trying out a new engine combination this year, Russ Hendron (Winimac IN) nailed the pole position in qualifying with a coasting 8.80, Steve Hopkins followed in 2nd with a 9.04.  Paul Plummer was 3rd with 9.45 ….
First round had the stands going nuts as Russ Hendron, on a solo pass, put those B/K heads to the test as he tore nearly 2-tenths off the record.  When the smoke cleared the new ET record sat at 8.46 at 138.46 mph. 
….In the semis Russ idled out an uncontested 8.77 / 146.81 solo pass to put him in the money round. Paul Plummer with a 9.29 /129.49 trailered Hopkins 9.86 / 124.65.  The finals had a very confident Russ Hendron pitted against the “local boy” Paul Plummer.  Russ, putting a road race type slick to the test, man handled Paul with an 8.56 / 140.62 over a 9.71 / 93.84 to taking his first ’87 win.

From Hot Bike, November 1987, by Mark Ropel

In B/F Steve Hopkins earned a shot at Russ Hendron by putting Mike Henry away.  Hendron took care of Dale Nungesser, then kept everyone on their toes as he pogoed the eighth in 5.485@131.58 MPH while Hopkins posted a 6.36@103.22.
Russ in the near lane.  Photo by Mark Ropel.

From United Racer August 3, 1987 by Brad Henry

AMRA Iowa Drags
Russ Hendron’s 103-inch “Crazy Horse” Sportster did it again!  Streaking to an unprecedented third AMRA National Event title in a row.   Hendron sailed to a 5.48 /131.58, annihilating Steve Hopkins’ 6.36 / 103.22.  Hendron has had a spectacular season so far, and rumor has it that a new “Truett” chassis is in the works to make Hendron’s “Crazy Horse” quicker than it already is.
Russ again in the near lane.  Photo by Brad Henry.
There you have just a few of the recorded highlights from the early part of Russ’s drag racing career.  By the close of the 1987 season, Russ had again enlarged the size of Crazy Horse’s heart, this time increasing the bore from 3-7/16” to 3-5/8” for a total engine size of 103 cubic inches.  Over the next several seasons he continued to totally dominate the high gear carbureted nitro classes, setting nearly a dozen national records in a three year period.   With his 103 cubic inch Crazy Horse, Russ won the AMRA’s B/Fuel National Championship in 1987, 1988, and 1989.  In 1989 he even did enough “moonlighting” to win the HDRA Pro Dragster National Championship.  Wow.

The later version of Crazy Horse.
But of course success rarely comes without the expense of very hard work.  Russ recalls how he had teamed up with the legendary Ron Trock to prepare his stock ’72-’74 XL cases to take the big bore 3-5/8” cylinders.  Despite never having a catastrophic crankcase failure, even Ron’s expertly performed reinforcement to the flimsy stock cases could not prevent them from cracking due to the extreme pressures generated by using nitro-methane for fuel.  A typical call after a race would go something like this:

Russ: “I cracked my cases.”
Ron:  “How long ‘til the next race?”
Russ:  “Two weeks.”
Ron: “Okay, bring me a set of cases to weld.”

The result would be that a week and a half later Russ would take delivery on another set of 3-5/8” bore Sportster cases, beefed up as required for use with nitro.  But of course that would leave Russ with a mere two days to finish the engine build so that he could once again go out and smoke the competition!  There is very little doubt that a lot of late nights, both on Ron’s and Russ’s part, were involved in going out and making it look easy to take home the money on race day.   

Ron Trock reinforced cases.

By the end of the ’89 season the 114 and 120 cubic inch Big Twins were finally starting to occasionally outrun Crazy Horse.  The handwriting was on the wall.  Ron and Russ mutually agreed that it was just too much work to keep a little 103 inch bike at the top of the food chain, and decided to put Crazy Horse out to a well-deserved pasture.

And now you know …. the rest of the story!


Greg said...

this brings back many memories of loading up after work on Friday night and heading from IL to Humboldt to race on Saturday and Sunday. We made friends with a local couple that let us camp in their yard when we would come to race. Through the mid to late 80s there was some awesome drag racing going on there. Many great names and amazing machines. It was like the wild west at night, the guys would bring their fuel bike out on the street and do hits for the crowd. I raced in the hand shift class during those days. that class was always stacked in Humboldt. Still have that old pan head. Thanks for bringing those memories back to the surface

St. Lee said...

Thanks for reading Greg. That really was the heyday of Harley drag racing. If you still have the Pan and you still live in Illinois, then the Meltdown Drags would be a good place to join with a few of us in reliving those glory days. Too late to register for this year, but maybe 2018?

Greg said...

have the pan but live in Nor. Cal.

Unknown said...

i dont know if i thanked you...thank you lee....that was very kind of you and on top of that, your article is spot on 100 percent correct. thats really good lee. thanks again, russ