Thursday, February 8, 2007

When Shovelheads Ruled the World, Part 4

When we returned from the drag race in Colorado, as before, we pulled Bobby's Shovel motor from my chassis and re-installed it in his Lowrider. Being younger then, it just would not do to miss more than a couple days of riding! After a few more weeks of riding though, it was back into the race bike for the stroker motor.

Bobby could not get away from work on the Saturday of the race in St Louis, a small snag that wound up changing the course of drag racing history! OK, maybe that is a little too melodramatic, maybe a bit overstated, but still, it is technically true. Though I had no desire to race the dragbike, Bobby convinced me that it was imperative that I run the bike on Saturday to sort out the change in gearing we had made via the installation of the belt drive primary from his Low Rider. He would fly down after work on Saturday to take over the piloting duties for Sunday eliminations.

So my wife Jane and I loaded the bike up on that little open trailer, hitched it up to our beat up Chevette (which I had recently put a trailer hitch on), and headed south early on Friday morning. The trip to St. Louis was uneventful, meaning that after 20 years, I do not recall a thing about it.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, which forced me to face the real reason that "I had no desire to race". It had nothing to do with being afraid of the bike, after all, I had no qualms about testing it on the backroads at home. Obviously it was not due to a lack of interest in speed. If that had been the case I never would have built myself that first stroker motor. No, this was a little more deep seated than that, but no easier to admit. I was afraid of making a fool of myself in front of a crowd! Yep. That same fear that makes people afraid to get up in front of an audience and make a speech. The same fear that would keep a kid from raising his hand to answer a question that the teacher asked, even if that kid was quite sure he knew the answer. I have heard that this "phobia" is the most common in the world. I can well believe it, because I certainly suffered from it!

There we were at the track bright and early, and the track was opened up for time trials. I carefully and ever so s l o w l y went over every nut and bolt on the bike. I double checked everything I could think of the double check. The butterflies in my stomach were as big as crows. I considered making up a story about there being a problem with the bike that I couldn't fix until that night. Bobby would probably buy that, but what about Jane? Could I pull the wool over her eyes with her right there at the track with me? The last thing I could do was admit to her that "the big tough biker" had any fear of anything! In the end, that was what probably drove me into my leather jacket and with trembling hands (and I do mean trembling!) to strap my helmet on.

As if it wasn't bad enough that I was afraid of making a fool of myself in front of all those people, now I had to also worry that they could see me trembling! There was no waiting line to speak of in the staging lanes, so I started the bike in our pit area, and somehow managed to make my way to the starting line. Luckily I had paid enough attention watching others that I knew how to stage the bike, but of course that was not enough to completely ease my mind that I would actually do it correctly.

I staged the bike without any problem, but now a quick decision was needed. Drag strips were supposed to have really good traction compared to the street. We didn't have wheelie bars (after all it was a street class bike!), but I had extended my frame 3 inches in the rear via welding parts of my old swingarm to the rigid frame, so I was not too concerned about that. A bigger worry was that I would stall the motor due to not enough RPM. Now that would be embarrassing! How much RPM did Bobby use? No clue! No tachometer! Now what?!?

Erring on the side of more RPM (a tendency I have to this day), I cranked it up and when the green light came on I dropped the clutch. The results were predictable, but still fairly spectacular. The bike's rear tire spun big time, sending the bike almost completely sideways with the rear of the bike going to the left. Without letting off the throttle, I corrected, which brought the back end of the bike back the other direction, way past center going to the right, but not quite as far as it had gone to the left. This process repeated itself a few more times, each time the swing lessening somewhat as the speed of the bike started to catch up with the speed of the tire.

I suppose that this might have scared me to death if it wasn't something I had done hundreds of times on the street! Suddenly all of my fear was changed to adrenaline! The rest of the trip down the strip was a pure thrill! It was over far too quickly. I came back down the return road and instead of heading back to the pits I signalled Jane that I was gong back into the staging lanes. I knew I had to get back on the track before the adrenaline rush changed back to fear!

I don't recall how many passes down the drag strip that I made that day, but it was enough that I felt pretty comfortable in front of "the crowd". Comfortable enough in fact that somewhere along the line, I glanced over to the bleachers only to find not more than a dozen people bothering to watch time trials for the street class bikes. So "the crowd" that I had been so worried about making a fool of myself in front of, turned out to be mostly a figment of my imagination.

That evening, Bobby flew into town, ready for his turn on the bike. The next morning, showers threatened to make his trip a waste of time, but soon lightened up and showed promise that the races might still go on. Once the skies dried up, there was still the problem of a wet track. Back then there was no fancy equipment to quickly dry the track. However, where there is a will, there is a way. The track management asked for volunteers to drive their cars up and down the race track to speed the drying process. Soon there were a dozen or more cars quickly making laps up and down the track.

Maybe a little behind schedule, but better late than never, we came to eliminations. As usual, Bobby ran away from the competition. As I recall his times were around 11.70 with MPH about 112. That was not enough for a record in the quarter mile though. Someone from Texas held that record at somewhere in the 11.20 to 11.40 range (I really can't remember for sure).

After winning our class, we received a rude awakening in the first round of the run off between class winners. What worked in our favor in the past (i.e. having our dial-in set to a national record that Bobby owned), was our downfall this time. Since we were running slower than the 1/4 mile record in our class, we would have a dial-in that we could not possibly run. When we got into the staging lanes, most of the racers were trying to hang back and not line up against a racer on the Shovelhead at the head of the line. I brashly sent Bobby up to the head of the line to race him, thinking he would be an easy mark since his bike was an 80 incher in the class below ours (Hot Street FL I think). Little did I know that this racer had set a new national record in his class earlier in the day. That meant that he was running with a dial-in slower than he was running, and we were running on one that was faster. Since there was no break-out, Bobby didn't have a chance.

Despite another first round loss in the run off between classes, we couldn't help but be happy with another Street Racer FL class win and trophy! But now we knew there was somebody out there who was faster (at least in the 1/4 mile). As we loaded up and headed home, Bobby and I were both faced with dilemmas. His was; how do we get the bike to go faster? Mine was; how do I get my engine finished so that I could race it myself next season? I'll get to Bobby's answer in my next post on this subject.

No comments: