Fifth 2000 to 2001

Fifth 2000 to 2001

Part 1

About this time, I believe it was the latter part of 2000, maybe October, I received a phone call from my friend, Larry Feece. He told me that Dan Smith had approached him at some sort of motorcycle event in Southern California, and asked, "Whatever happened to Max's liner?". Larry told Dan he was storing it at his place, and that nothing much had been done to the bike since the crash in 1998; however, he said that Max, Don and he, had been making plans to get it going again, and that Don was already working on the nose, and that he was working on the front axle. Larry said that Dan asked him to ask Max if he would consider getting help with both finances and labor, from the Vancouver Section of the VOC, to put the liner back on the salt in 2001.

Many things came to mind as I considered the offer. I thought of all the people who had helped finance the Vincent streamliner in the past; I thought of my volunteer pit crew; I thought of the crash in 1997, the crash in 1998--and here these guys were offering me the opportunity to get back to Black Lightning, they were offering me the opportunity to make good on the promise I'd made to myself, and to my backers, to "keep on keeping on". Private thoughts of personal events also entered in, but I knew that work had always been my haven, and I would be working on what I could really lose myself in--my Vincent streamliner, Black Lightning. I would have been able eventually to put her back on the salt myself, but their offer made it possible to step up the time table by two whole years.

I made the phone call, and agreed to accept their generous offer to help set the Motorcycle Land Speed Record for the Vincent marque, with Black Lighting.

A few phone calls back and forth between Dan and myself, and we soon formulated a plan to meet at Larry's place to ascertain what was needed in the line of parts, and who was to do what to get it back on the salt.

Part 2

I can't remember if it was that day or the next morning when we opened the overseas shipping container, that had become the home of Black Lightning for over one year. Larry has an extensive collection of British, Italian and American bikes, 13 of which are Vincents. So the first thing was to push about 3 or 4 non runners out of the way and a couple of tons of parts.

There she was, very dirty. The salt from the crash certainly didn't do her any good after almost two years of neglect. The rear chain was rusted solid as was the front temporary wheel, and the tire was flat. Remember, the front axle had been broken in the 1998 crash. I said to the Vancouver bunch, "Are you sure you want to do this? I'm speaking from experience, as I've done this several times before on my own, and it's a lot of work and a lot of money." The head of the group, Dan Smith, hesitated for a minute, then said, "Let's get it out of there."

I got my salt trailer, with two flat tires, towed up to my worn out Nissan truck, and hauled it, with the streamliner, down the hill a couple of hundred yards to the cement pad in front of Larry's garage/shop. A quick wash job did wonders. Robert Watson torched off the rear chain. We aired up the tires so it would roll. Dan started a list of parts that would be needed. I told him everything I could remember from the log book that would be required--tires, front axle analysis, magnaflux frame, and so on. It was getting hot, or raining, I can't remember which. I finally found my pit tent--Larry had forgotten where he had put it. This took a couple of hours. We put the tent up, which was a great help.

Robert straightened the handlebar support which had been bent in the crash of 1998, and welded a few obvious weld cracks in the front end area. Dan Smith and Keith Sides asked me to go over the fuel system, as neither of them had ever run a Hilborn/Kinsler fuel injection system before. This I did, answering all of their questions. The rest of the day was spent cleaning the liner. The next day a couple of guys on Vincents showed up, and helped with the continuing cleaning. I decided to start Black Lightning to see if she would still run. Larry scrounged up a battery and charged it. The fuel system was cleaned. The fuel filter was full of gunge, which led to a later anodization of the fuel tank by Sonny Angel. All the nozzles were cleaned, fuel lines blown out.

I gave the barrel valve to Keith Sides to free up and clean, also the pill selector valve, explaining it's function and how to load it. All of the fuel systems were put back together by Keith and Dan, with me explaining what lines go where. I asked where the fuel was. Larry didn't know. Another search began. We found the fuel about an hour later, no nitro, just alcohol. This could be a problem. I remembered that when I last ran the streamliner it was on 50% nitro. I knew that all the settings for the 50% nitro blend would cause a very rich mixture on just alcohol.

Oh well, the only thing to do was to give it a try. With alcohol in the tank, fresh oil and plugs in the engines, I hit the start button. There were fuel leaks at the barrel valve, at the selector can, and two of the #6 Airquip fittings had been over tightened by Keith, as he had never worked with aluminum Airquip fittings, that is used in racing.

Now to see if I had spares to fix the problem. Another search. Wow. What luck. I found the two fittings and the two "O" rings needed. Keith and Dan put them in, and I was ready to try to fire it up again.

The engines were turned. After a few backfires through the blower, Ron Peers noticed that the "O" ring on the plenum pop off valve had come out of it's groove. That was fixed. After a little coaxing, and a shot of ether down her throat, the engines fired. She was running on all four cylinders, but it was so rich the unburnt alcohol permeated the air, making all our eyes water.

After that Dan continued with the list of things to do, and buy. I told him everything that I could think of.

There were four glaring oil leaks that had to be fixed, two of which were the engine cases. The rear oil pump retaining nut, in the engine case threaded portion, had a crack about one inch in length. I had ground the crack for welding, but forgot during the hurried engine rebuild before Bonneville 1998. My fault.

Dan came up with a clever jury rig to fix the leak. He removed the nut, turned about 1/4" off the nut, thereby allowing the nut to catch a couple of unbroken threads. The other leak was the oil intake banjo bolt fitting mating surface to the engine case. Dan put this on his list to do: make tooling to correct the oil leak. I didn't think that any of them had had experience with body work, so I told Dan that I would take care of putting the body back together, do the work on the skin, and paint the liner.

We made a plan to meet once a month at Larry's shop, where we would all work to get Black Lightning ready to return to Bonneville.

Part 3

It wasn't long until, in the course of our meetings, it became apparent to me that something was terribly wrong--that somehow Dan and I had gotten our wires crossed. It was clear that we weren't operating on the same page. In other words, evidently the communication we had had on the telephone, when he first asked me if I would like help in putting the liner back on the salt, had been incomplete, misunderstood, misconstrued, or unfinished. Something was missing. I had entered in to the agreement believing that they were going to help me put my streamliner back on the salt with the offer of funds and a work force, so that I would be able to carry out the decisions and designs I had planned for the upcoming attempt.

This was not happening. Dan was clearly in charge of the group he had brought from Canada, with all of them going through him for any directions as to what went on with the streamliner, in fact I sensed a definite "coolness" toward me whenever I tried to be the "man in charge"of Black Lightning.

I was a bit befuddled by all of this, as it was not what I had agreed to when Dan and I had talked on the phone. My understanding was that the Canadians were volunteering their money and labor in order to help me put Black Lightning back on the salt for the purpose of promoting the Vincent marque. I never had any intentions of handing the project over to anyone, and would not have agreed to do so at the time we spoke on the telephone if I had known what the plan was, as I have never needed, nor have I asked for technical assistance, other than when I asked Don Vesco and Bob George at the beginning of the project, back in 1989.

At this time I would remind the reader, "who contacted who". Dan Smith had contacted me, offering help for the project, I had not contacted him asking for help.

On my third trip to California to meet with the Canadians for the streamliner work, Dan Smith handed me a one year lease, with he and Robert Watson, the new Editor of MPH, as the "Crew Chief" and the "Administrator" of the project respectively, after which time "control" would be returned to me. The lease said that they were creating "The Vibrac Team"for the purpose of setting the Land Speed Record for Motorcycles.

I read the names of the team members. My name wasn't on the list, nor were any of my crew members from any of my previous Bonneville attempts on the list. All team members listed were Canadian, except for Keith Sides, the designated tuner, who was from the U.S.

At this time I took the lease and retreated into the bathroom for some privacy, while I thought about what had just transpired. We were already three months into the project, so the work was well underway. If I signed the lease I would be relinquishing my dream of years over to others. If I didn't sign the lease I would be forever known as the "jerk" who held up the Vincent streamliner's attempt on the record for his own personal reasons, as the word was already out in the VOC community, that the liner was going back to the salt.

In the end it was my dedication to the many contributors to the Black Lightning Project who made the decision for me. I was unable to proceed financially on my own, and I felt they deserved to have another go at the record, with or without my participation.

With this thought in mind I signed the lease, although with some reservation as to the salt racing creditionals of the new team. Control of my streamliner, Black Lightning, for the first time was now in the hands of others.

After signing the lease, they took the liner to Don Vesco's for dyno testing. During the dyno testing the crankshaft broke on the rear engine. The 2001 attempt had to be aborted due to the time frame needed to fix the ailment.

At that time I authorized the new Vibrac team to take the streamliner to Vancouver, Canada during 2001-2002, for the same reasons I mentioned previously.

Dan Smith, Crew Chief for what was now known as the "Vibrac streamliner", made various changes to the systems as permitted by the lease, and as he saw fit. I maintained a support role to the Vibrac team here in Wichita, Kansas, USA, because in spite of everything that had transpired, I still wanted to see the attempt with the Vincent marque succeed.

I was not involved in any design or engineering changes for the 2002 attempt due to lease restraints; however, if and when asked, I did help them in any way I could.

For instance, I asked my friend, Don Vesco, if he would take the ride for the Vibrac team, as they didn't know him. He had had an unfortunate accident at a round-d-round track where a car spit a rock out of the rear tire hitting him in the eye, causing the vision loss of that eye. It became apparent to me, that in order for the Vibrac team to have any success, a back up rider would be required. Without asking, I took it upon myself to make a quick trip (500 miles) to Albuquerque, New Mexico to see if I could talk another friend, Dave Campos, into being the back up rider for their attempt. Dave agreed, and the stage was set. Don Vesco would be the primary pilot, and Dave Campos would be the back up pilot.

We all met on the salt for Speed Week 2002. As a "support member" (not a crew member) to the Vibrac effort, I also took it upon myself to provide all the necessary where-with-all for any serious attempt on the Salt. So I brought two pickup truckloads full of tents, generators, welders, etc, and a huge banner to promote the Vincent logo.

Don Vesco took the first ride with the liner that year, but he couldn't get it up on it's wheels, as Dan had changed the skids to a fixed position, taking out the adjustment for skid height. There was also another problem. Dan had put spacers underneath the seat back plate, which caused Don to have difficulty with the handlebar location. I didn't understand what was going on at the time, as I had personally fitted Don to the cockpit prior to the liner being taken to Vancouver. The first day of the meet ended being taken up with moving the handlebars forward. The fix would have been unnecessary if I'd have known about the spacers, which I discovered upon disassembly, after I brought the liner back home to Wichita.

As Don Vesco had to leave early, he turned the riding chores over to the back-up rider, Dave Campos. If I recall, Dave took something like 6 passes that year, the best being 191.970 mph. Keith Sides, the Vibrac tuner, and Dan Smith, the Crew Chief for the Vibrac streamliner in 2002, never did get a handle on how to tune the streamliner to make power. I had been aware of the difficulty through the week, so I wasn't surprised when they asked me if I would tune the liner, which I did. That's when she made the 191.970 mph pass.

I was tuning for the next run, when I discovered that the front engine wasn't running properly. The bolt that held the timing rotor on the front engine, had been inadvertently left loose during Dan Smith's rebuild in Canada. After this was fixed and corrected, the engines were fired in the pit and ran for only a few seconds on all four cylinders for the first time of the meet. The drive side of the crankshaft on the rear engine then broke, which ended the Vibrac effort.

The lease had expired and I declined to renew it when asked.