Enumclaw friends Dana Meeks and Chris Wilson enjoy testing the limits.
Meeks is a lifelong speed enthusiast, a former world speed skiing champion who reached a top speed of 127.679 miles per hour. Wilson, a lifelong motor sports enthusiast, owns Max-G Racing, a shop that specializes in racing and high performance projects. Recently, they joined forces on the nitro-powered Top Fuel Harley.
While it’s a Harley-Davidson in name, the bike is nothing like a motorcycle found on city streets. The motor is 151 cubic inches, burns nitro-methane fuel and develops over 800 horsepower. Riders are required to wear a bullet-proof vest in case a motor explodes.
Meeks found himself climbing aboard the powerful machine again this year, having taken a few years off.
In 2008, he was selected as the Pro Rookie of the Year. In 2009 he posted a quarter-mile elapsed time of 6.696 seconds, maxing out at a top speed of 203.03 mph.
It’s an expensive hobby to maintain and Meeks was out of the game until this year.
To get the bike ready, Wilson did a ground-up rebuild.
“I disassembled the bike down to the bare frame,” he said. “I spent a lot of time working on the chassis and wheelie bar alignment. I replumbed and rewired the bike and fabricated several new parts. I also built a clutch tuning tool precise to .0005 inch.”
The end result, Meeks said, is nothing like riding a typical, street-legal bike.
“From a rider’s standpoint, these bikes don’t handle anything like normal motorcycles,” he said. “At the starting line, when I snap the throttle it accelerates from zero to 100 mph in two seconds. The G-force lifts front tire off the track and it doesn’t touch down until past the eighth-mile at over 170 mph.”
One doesn’t really steer such a powerful machine. It’s kept in line, Meeks said, simply by shifting his body weight.
With the throttle pinned wide open, an on-board computer takes over and runs the clutch, fuel and ignition systems. As the bike accelerates down the track several adjustments take place in precise sequence – not unlike a rocket during launch.
In August, Meeks and the rest of the team went to two races. The first was at Pacific Raceways near Auburn, the second in Woodburn, Ore., about 30 miles south of Portland.
“It was intense, getting back on after a four-year layoff,” Meeks said. “Nitro motors make some radical power. The throttle is designed to run in two positions, off and wide-open—nothing in between.
“The learning curve is steep, like straight up.”
At Pacific Raceways the local team had mixed success.
“On the first two passes the bike pulled to the left and I had to abort early,” Meeks said. “Our third pass was unbelievably hot. The eighth-mile numbers were zero to 176.80 mph in 4.267 seconds, which was my quickest ever. And the power just kept coming.”
Meeks roared to 1,000 feet in 5.525 seconds but the bike twisted and shook for a moment, not uncommon as the front tire sets down. “I should have driven through it, but after such a long layoff I chopped the throttle,” he said. “My ET for the quarter-mile was 6.75 seconds, which was the second best of my career. But the mph was slow, 170.82, because I had rolled out of the throttle early.”
“For the remainder of the event we ran well through the eight-mile,” Wilson added. “Our clutch setup worked perfectly. We posted some of the best short numbers of all the bikes.” However, the bike encountered a fuel problem that was flooding the front cylinder.
“We didn’t get in a full pass, but for our first event as a new team we were pleased,” Wilson said.
The following weekend, in Oregon, things started on a sour note.
“On our first qualifying pass the bike pulled hard to the left,” Meeks said. “At 330 feet it was evident that I wasn’t going to get it corrected. I chopped the throttle at about 150 mph, but crossed the centerline and hit the eighth-mile cones (foam blocks that contain the timing reflectors used to measure elapsed time and mph). The first one I hit square with the front tire and it exploded. The second one I clipped with my right foot. The bike had slowed to 126 mph, but the impact still turned my foot black and blue. It also broke off an oil-pressure sending unit and sprayed oil everywhere.”
The team had one hour to get the bike repaired, serviced and ready for the next qualifying round.
A typical between-rounds service includes new oil, new spark plugs, a fresh clutch pack and two gallons of nitro.
“Our next three passes were much better,” said Wilson. The best clocking was 176 mph but the fuel problem hadn’t been resolved. Still, the team qualified seventh among 11 entries from the United States and Canada.
After four rounds of qualifying the team discovered a broken piston ring in the rear cylinder. With the help of fellow racer Toni Froehling, repairs were made and the bike was ready to race Sunday morning.
In the first round of elimination, Meeks lined up against Damian Cownden, a three-time Canadian top fuel national champion. Cownden took the early lead, but Meeks quickly caught up and was pulling away.
“Then, at about 190 mph, I dropped the front cylinder,” Meeks said. “The power fell off instantly. In the last second Damien passed me and won the round with an ET of 6.658 seconds at 210.28 mph.”
Despite that disappointment, the weekend was a success, Wilson said.
“We learned a lot about the bike, worked well together as a team and didn’t blow up any parts in the process,” he said. The fuel problem was identified and parts were sent to the manufacturer for repair. The goal is to get to Pacific Raceways before the end of September for some additional testing, Wilson said, with a hope of getting the bike up to 215 mph.