Tuesday, August 18, 2015

2015 Meltdown Lives Up to the Name

Not exactly what one might call "timely" but I thought a short report on the 2015 Meltdown Drags to be in order.  That it lived up to its name is an understatement.  Hot, humid, and more hot.

As per my plan, I spent a little time before the event putting together a 4 speed transmission for the Knuckledragger, and got it installed with about a day to spare.  The largest obstacle turned out to be the most expensive piece involved in building the transmission, that being a new reproduction ratchet lid.  Ratchet it did not.  Thankfully I caught the problem while "dry shifting" it before even putting it on the trany.  it would have been quite discouraging to get to the track only to be plagued by shifting problems once again.  As it was, all it cost me was a bunch of time to figure out and modify the part so that it would function.

Rather than traveling in style as we did for last year's event, this time around we went for practicality.  That means that in place transporting the Knuckledragger on an open trailer behind our '46 Studebaker, we put the bike in our small enclosed trailer and towed it with our '90 GMC pickup.  I guess one person's modern is  another's vintage.  Even our enclosed trailer took the opportunity to remind us just how old it is by shedding the tread from one its tires near Madison Wisconsin.  That's right, even our "modern" enclosed trailer is so old that the tires I remember buying for it nearly 20 years ago (because we wore out the first pair traveling all over the country to drag races) disintegrated due to age.  The good LORD was looking out for us though; and the tire never even lost air, allowing us to pull off the freeway to install the spare which I had remembered to air up at the last minute the night before.  A short detour to a Farm and Fleet store got us back on the road with a new pair of tires, delaying us just enough to insure we would not have time to make any passes on Friday.

Hard to believe this still held air!

Saturday morning dawned, well... hot.  A first look at the "vintage" three instrument set which I mounted to the back door of our trailer many years ago, revealed over 80 degrees and 75% humidity.  As the day went on, the humidity dropped some, but the temperature kept right on climbing, at one point breaking 100 in the shade of our canopy. But despite the heat it was time to fire up the Knuckledragger  for the first time since the 2014 Meltdown Drags.  So much for my wife's insistence that I absolutely must test the bike before hauling it all the way the Illinois ...

The start up revealed that the bike was running good.  The idle was higher than I remembered, but it was also seemed to be much more consistent, so I decided against messing with it.  The clutch was releasing nicely, and combined with the good idle characteristics, allowed me to take my right hand off the throttle to reach across the tank and put the transmission into gear.  Yes, that's right: a hand shift and a hand clutch, both on the left side.  That drew more than a couple puzzled glances over the weekend.

It starts, it runs, and it will go into gear.  Better make a pass!

As we brought the bike up to the staging lanes late that morning, I had two concerns.  One was the start and the other was the finish.  The 5 inch slick on the back of the Knuckledragger with its modern compound, combined with  extremely sticky track preparation courtesy of the Byron Dragway crew, is a recipe for wheelies.  Add to that the fact that the new transmission has a first and second gear, unlike the third and fourth in the old two speed it replaced, and I was a little concerned with how the bike would launch.  The second concern had to do with the finish.  Last year's lone trip down the 1/4 mile  plagued by shifting problems was not much of a test of the Knuckledragger's 1930s designed brakes.  I really prefer to be able to stop while still on the drag strip!

John Endrizzi was kind enough to help out with getting the bike to the line and all that entails

That first concern was solved rather easily by a combination of staging to the outside of the portion of the track that was heavily prepped.  Since the Byron dragstrip is unusually wide (in the 60s they would race the cars 4 abreast) there was still plenty of room between where I staged and the edge of the track.  As an added precaution I "drove" the bike off the starting line rather than launching it.  Once off the starting line, the bike went straight as I poured the coal to it. 

This and the previous photo were passed on to me by way of Kevin Baas.  Thank you to whoever took the pics and sent them to him.

The shift from first to second was exactly as it was supposed to be, fast and clean ...as was the shift to third and again to fourth!  Finally.  This was the first time in four outings that this bike had shifted properly.  But now my second area of concern was rapidly approaching.  In fact, it seemed to be approaching too rapidly!  About 200 feet from the finish line that concern turned into fear that I would not be able to get the bike stopped within the confines of the shut down area so  I shut the throttle and laid on the brakes.  Of course the rear drum brake coupled with the just barely "better than nothing" springer front brake does not give anything like the sensation of modern brakes, but I did get stopped with some room to spare.  12.228 seconds at 97.03 MPH.  The time slip shows the Knuckledragger was clipping along at over 91 MPH at half track so I have to wonder how fast it was traveling before I hit the brakes.

Something about high temperatures and humidity is not conducive to putting on a helmet and a full set of leathers.  It was apparent that the heat was also limiting the number of cars getting into the staging lanes also.  About mid afternoon I decided that if I did not get up there for another pass, I would be too worn out from the heat to do it at all. 

This time I did not concern myself as much about the starting line, staging a little more into the sticky part of the track (though still far from where I would have if looking for maximum hook up).  That was probably a mistake.  I left just slightly harder than the previous pass, which sent the front wheel reaching for the sky.  Well, at least from my viewpoint it was high, but such things can be deceptive when you are lying down on a bike.  Unfortunately my staff photographer had just finished helping with the whole starting the bike drill and had no time to get in position to record it for posterity, so we may never know just how far the front wheel came up.  In any case, rather than shutting the throttle and slamming the front end down, I eased off enough that it came down with a reasonable amount of gentleness, and then immediately came back up as I got back into the throttle.  The second wheelie was a much more half hearted effort on the Knuckledragger's part though, not requiring me to let off.  Once again, this description is from my perspective.  If ever any video evidence surfaces, it may reveal that I handled the wheelies with far less professionalism than what it felt like from behind the bars.

Despite an abysmal 60 foot time owing to the acrobatics, the shift into second was good, but then at the top of second gear the motor started to break up.  What?  My first thought was valve float, but that had never happened before.  Hitting third gear cleared up the motor and it pulled hard until near time to shift into high.  This time I glanced down as I shifted only to see that as I moved my arm to shift it pulled the sleeve of my leathers out of the front carb into which it had been sucked!  Happy to know that I was not dealing with engine damage but merely rider error, I kept the throttle wide open to the finish line. 

The E.T. suffered greatly from the multiple fiascos on the run (14.12) and the MPH did not fare much better (101.4).  Again the half track MPH is quite revealing.  Apparently having a sleeve in one carb is enough to knock 12 MPH off your speed at the 1/8 mile mark compared to the previous pass.  But you know what?  That turned out to be a good thing.  I had no plans to make another pass due to the temperature.  That would have been just asking for heat stroke.  In fact I remember saying to someone after that second run that it was my last because there was no sense pushing my luck. 

 Remember near the beginning of this post when I mentioned the LORD looking out for us with the trailer tire?  What we found on the Knuckledragger after we returned home made the trailer tire pale in comparison.  The neck on its 1930s era frame is cracked, and not just cracked, but CRACKED!  In fact you can see daylight through the crack it is so cracked.

A little back lighting reveals a major crack.

Red arrows point to start and end points.

You often hear, "somebody up there is looking out for me."  Yes, well that is true, but I know who that somebody is and I'm willing to say it.  The LORD God almighty, YHWH is his name.


47str8leg said...

Congrats Lee that must have been quite satisfying, even w/the mishaps. It must be good to know that you could dip into the 12's and know she has more left in her. Now about that salt flats bike....


Anonymous said...

Hi Lee, great write up as usual!! We look forward to seeing you guys again soon. We finished our season with a best pass of 7.775 @ 90mph with a 1.692 sixty foot. Turns out we broke a BUNCH of stuff at Byron too. Check out my facebook page for some great photos from The Meltdown. I think I have posted a few of you too!


Faer No Evo Drag Racing.

St. Lee said...

Thanks Jay, sounds like you're getting your sporty dialed in. Good deal. With my ongoing lack of free time, I have never ventured onto facebook. Maybe I can get my wife to find your page for me.