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5-Ball Racing 2012: Chapter 11 the Finale

The Final Test on the Salt

By Bandit with photos by Bandit, Lee Clemens, Scooter Grubb, and the Sheriff

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This year has been a blur, and it’s not over. The pitfalls started when my motor wasn’t going to arrive until after Sturgis. Then my painter, Jim Murillo passed away unexpectedly, and the pressure mounted. He was a good man and friend. I was attempting to build a vintage land speed racer under difficult conditions and faced ridiculous time constraints. For some unforeseen cosmic reasoning, we experienced a large culmination of roving guests this summer. Plus I was suddenly working with my son, then my grandson, on motorcycle projects.

I don’t plan to portray my situation as a bummer. We have a mantra from Kelly’s Heroes, uttered by Donald Sutherland: “No negative waves.” That’s the code and I’m sticking with it, but if you’ve been following our progress or not, this will help paint a clear picture of our pressurized circumstances.
My first involvement with land speed racing, with Bob George. No, I'm not in this shot but Travis and Bob T. are. I was behind the scene, at that point.
My first involvement with land speed racing, with Bob George. No, I'm not in this shot but Travis and Bob T. are. I was behind the scene, at that point.

 First, JoAnn Bortels flew into town a couple of times while building an all female-built custom Mustang for a SEMA promotion, sponsored by a couple of Sorc magazine titles, and SPEED Vision. Then Nicole Brosing popped in from Australia for her annual foray into the states, and perhaps Sturgis. My grandson called weekly on Monday evenings and asked if I could stop Bikerneting on Tuesday and just work on motorcycles, and of course, his 650 XS we are building with Mr. Lucky. I recruited him to help me with the Bonne Belle.

Ray C. Wheeler, our esteemed Performance Editor, escaped north to find the pieces of two motorcycles, his record setting Dyna Glide, and his new 124-inch turbo-charged Twin Cam for the salt. So our consistent team member missed all the action preparing for the salt as he bounced from Washington to Morgan Hill, California searching for parts and Hyabusa components. While we began the final effort preparations, making t-shirts, banners, patches, hats, and finding supplies, like Spectro Oils, we also searched for the perfect vehicle and trailer. This is not out of the ordinary. All teams face similar circumstances for every meet, but our over-amped list of projects slammed together in the last two weeks.

We started on the Bonne Belle six years ago, and all the exotic pieces were now falling into place. Even in July, we were still discussing compression ratios. Mikuni suggested a minimum of 9:1 for their 42 mm flatside carburetor, but while riding through Maggie Valley on the 20th of June, Dale Walksler was adamant. “No more compression than 6.5 or 7:1 in a flathead motor, or they will run like shit.” He explained how difficult the spark and flame front reacts when combustion occurs over the valves and not the piston. I was beginning to get it, and relieved Lee Clemens of his concerns when I pulled the plug on the higher compression. That communication took place while riding a Victory Highball to the 12th Annual Smoke Out in Rockingham, North Carolina.

I was anxious to return to the shop, work on the roller and wait for the Departure Bike Works crew to report on a running engine. Here’s where all the speculative planning and preparations started to move toward a life in the Bikernet Interplanetary Headquarters on the edge of the Port of Los Angeles. I’ve built a few motorcycles, and most have been rigid big twins or Evos. Nothing too exotic, until this one.

With Paughco’s stretched 45 frame, we were building from a long distance, a 45 flathead, with a K-model top end, a modified Sportster lower end, with Timken left case bearings, hooked up to a modified frame to support an Evo 5-speed transmission. The trick included making it run with a BDL belt drive primary connection. The tough aspect included the engine in Richmond, VA, while the chassis, transmission, and BDL primary collected dust in Wilmington, California, but not for long.
Chris Morrison, one of the hardest working painters in the Southbay area.
Chris Morrison, one of the hardest working painters in the Southbay area.

I reached out to Mike at Pacific Coast Cycles and he loaned me a bone-stock complete 45 engine, but with a stock main shaft, although Lee sent me current measurements. I, with the help of Ray Wheeler and Jeremiah, tried my damnedest to position the transmission, and then modify a 5-speed Paughco plate to fit the 4-speed frame. We wouldn’t know if we were successful until the actual engine arrived. Scary shit.

The calendar announced the middle of July when we picked up the powder coating from Tony Pisano and started the final assembly without the presence of an engine. By the end of the week, Lee Clemens reported a running engine on the Departure Bike Works engine stand. Immediately thereafter, it was loaded in the back of the van and the Departure crew headed for the Badlands. I had to reach out to a Los Angeles Hamster member and ask if a swap could occur in Spearfish, South Dakota. Howard Stubbins agreed to the venture as he left for South Dakota from Los Angeles.
Since I wasn’t attending the mandatory Hamster Run, the good Doctor Hamster and I road-tested our new Evos on a 700-mile ride to Mammoth Lake and back to check in with the Hamster contingent rolling out of San Francisco, through Yosemite. We peeled out to meet them. Hell, some Hamsters rode from Spearfish and beyond, back to Yosemite to catch the ride. We spent the night, tinkered with the Doctor’s FLH and rode back to the shop, where the real work was happening.

It was going to be two weeks before I could pick up my engine, but the daunting work list hovered over the shop. Chris Morrison agreed to take on my sheet metal painting after my good friend Jim Murillo passed, although they were creative rivals. With the help of George, The Wild Brush, artist and pinstripper, I ran from one end of town to the other in an effort to handle the final coating as efficiently as possible.

This kill switch lanyard worked perfectly grounding the mag.
This kill switch lanyard worked perfectly grounding the mag.

I started the simple wiring harness, coupling only the battery to the Wire Plus speedo system and idiot lights for oil pressure and neutral. It was a breeze with the tiny battery and I found an adjustable bungee to hold the battery in place, but it made me nervous. Somewhere in the rulebook, it calls for a metal strap to secure the battery. I started to search the shop for options. Before we left, I found a chain and two taught springs to hold it securely in place.

I couldn’t start on the BDL primary belt installation without the engine. I couldn’t even adjust the rear chain. But I could install the transmission loose and the Biker’s Choice clutch cable, perhaps from Motion Pro. We started to work on a series of articles on how to order custom cables. It’s always a trick. With clutch cables, I dug around and measured using a stock cable, and the difference. The catalog lists all versions of stock cables, and somehow I figured it out. I’ve got to give the staff at Biker’s Choice credit, including Carmen, who always reached out to a knowledgeable staff member, including Charlie Haydia, to help steer me in the right direction.

Before final clutch cable assembly, I oiled the cable the old-fashioned way, taping a zip-lock bag to the bar end of the cable and adding just enough Spectro oil tranny fluid to allow it to seep down the cable. In a couple of hours, it was soaked and ready to rock. I also used an old traditional clutch lever, by boring out the bar portion of the lever so the housing fit into the lever, and then I drilled the Teflon bushing and inserted a cotter key and a couple of washers to hold it in place. I greased the mess, and the cable was ready.

Ah, but when I pulled the end off the transmission, I discovered no throw-out bearing, and no bearings or ramp. I dug around my transmission file and discovered exactly what I needed. Again, a close call. Later, I discovered I forgot the protective rubber boot, especially important in the salt and when the adjuster might rub against the frame. I disassembled the cable and installed the boot.

Lee coached me over the phone. “You must have copper wire core spark plug wires for this magneto-driven motor.” I went on the search and quickly discovered the lack of wire-core spark plug wires at local shops, but I found a set of very cool old school LowBrow wire core spark plug wires, but would they be long enough?

Lowbrow Vintage spark plug wires.
Lowbrow Vintage spark plug wires.

With the sheet metal installed over the new Avon tires, I pondered removing the wheels and having them shaved for enhanced traction at Nate’s. In the meantime, I kept busy studying the rules, and safety-wire drilling axle fasteners. Then Nicole Brosing rolled into town from San Francisco with Sin Wu.

This is where life started to heat up. A couple of days prior, Richard Kranzler called out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in a trade of a 2004 high-top Chevy Express with a tow package for my Sturgis Shovelhead. We were in a heated search for a better Bonneville vehicle. “Send me a couple of images, but it sounds damn good,” I said, biting my nails. It was around the 6th of August, and Sturgis sizzled in the Badlands. I had two weeks to finish the Bonne Belle and peel out.

The images arrived, the van was perfect, the girls were going to San Francisco, the van was in Tacoma, and Richard was on the road, driving a truck. The girls turned us down. They wouldn’t recover the van—squeamish. I looked into shipping it, but because of the high-top, I was looking at over a grand. What a strange gig shipping is. You can’t talk to a shipper. You negotiate with brokers and they grab any truck in the neighborhood to handle the job. I must have received 200 calls and e-mails trying to snatch my business.

We sold the famous Bikernet Hearse to Eric Bennett at Bennetti's Performance.
We sold the famous Bikernet Hearse to Eric Bennett at Bennetti's Performance.

The final option called for me to fly to Seattle, pay for a limo to haul me to Olympia, and drive the van home. I was going to save $300 and lose three days. We just kept moving forward and crossing our fingers for a break. The first break came when I called my past webmaster, Jason Douglas. He offered to pick me up at the Seattle airport and fly me, in his private plane, to Olympia. Beautiful, and that would save us time and $200. Then McDonalds afforded us the big break. Richard hauled loads of potatoes from farmers to Mickey Dee’s processing plant, but the potatoes were too small, and they needed them left on the ground for another week to grow. Amazing, Richard caught a break, serviced the van and drove to Los Angeles.

Now get this. He was going to hop on the Sturgis Shovelhead and ride it back to Tacoma. I would have the van detailed; a local company would skin some of the windows with Bikernet logos. I would need whatever trailer hitch and electrical connector to make it all work, and I was down to just over a week and still waiting for my engine. Oops, I forgot the key element or two. I had a trailer from a divorced friend, but a buddy of the friend borrowed it. I needed to give him a call, and get the custom trailer back. Plus we were waiting on Tobey’s Ninja to be shipped back from New Jersey where famous tuner/builder Bob Carpenter performed headwork. We were also waiting on the big dog, Ray C. Wheeler’s 120-inch twin cam monster.

I called Jeff Levy about the trailer and he announced in a casual voice that it would not be available until the middle of September, two weeks after Bonneville. Holy shit! I didn’t blink or drink more whiskey, but immediately drove out to Carson trailers. I looked up trailers on Craig’s list. I made numerous calls, and then called Frank Esposito at Kendon. There was a chance we could cut a deal. This conversation took place on Tuesday, almost exactly one week before our departure.

On Wednesday we had a deal, Thursday I published the Bikernet Weekly News, and Friday I called to confirm with Frank and he was out of town. I left a message. Hamsters were arriving home from the Badlands, and I reached Howard. My engine was only a day away, and not far. The next morning, Howard called. He had it delivered to his home in Hawthorne, just five stinking miles away. The next morning, I pulled up to his pad and was greeted by a securely wrapped magnum 45 engine on Howard’s engine stand.

You can imagine. Shit was beginning to fly. We still needed to build the exhaust system and pray my hunt-and-peck alignment procedure for the transmission and the BDL primary would work. I had all the stainless D&D components to make the pipes work, and I spoke to Aaron, the tech guy at D&D, about design and length.

I immediately stripped the engine of its padding and heaved it into the Paughco frame. This was just the start of a lengthily self-testing procedure. There were so many unanswered questions. Would the engine fit? Could I TIG-weld stainless? Did I cover all the safety requirements and would it pass on the salt? Would the bike run? Could it carry the gearing? Would it handle? Could Tobey ride it? Would the trans align with the engine? Would the bike survive a pass on the salt? And would we, could we set a record?

The engine fit like a dream, but we still needed a top motor mount. I had to pull a couple of headbolts, get longer jobs, machine spacers, etc.

Nicole offered to assist, as she is as mechanical as she is artistic. She immediately read the Run Whatcha Brung rules and started to inspect the bike. We drilled more holes, inserted the flameproof protection over the gas line, and she didn’t like my length. She wanted more. Just like a woman...

I started to cut lengths of D&D heavy-walled tubing for the stepped exhaust. The D&D crew sent plenty of pieces with various bends, but it was still a challenge, and my first attempt at TIG-welding stainless was awkward and troublesome. I didn’t like the flow or the bead, and it was time-consuming. My list was a mile long and I had less than a week. My goal was to complete the pipes on Friday and the mental pressure was slowing me down. Then the phone rang. It was Tobey, the local certified welder with the Ninja. He offered to roll over and help with welding—a miracle.

Tobey, the mystical certified welder. He likes oriental girls.
Tobey, the mystical certified welder. He likes oriental girls.

Over the next few days, Tobey gave us fantastic hints about TIG welding, my welder, tips, purging welds, you name it. My TIG welding will be much improved in the future. He welded the first front pipe together and each weld was absolutely perfect. He explained that if we could purge the pipes with gas, the weld on the inside would mirror the smooth beads on the outside.

We made our goal of finishing the manufacturing of the performance exhaust system on Friday, but Tobey would come by after work on Saturday and finish the final welding. He was beginning to get nervous about the location of his Ninja. Nicole looked at me on Saturday morning and muttered, “Would you rather be alone with your list?”

Another project. We had to be able to remove the timing plug. Tobey handled it.
Another project. We had to be able to remove the timing plug. Tobey handled it.

That was an interesting question. I’m accustomed to working alone in my shop and making stuff happen, but this was different, and enlightening. I was well aware of pressures, and how important every helping hand had on our progress, including Nicole, Richard, Tobey, Jeremiah, Chris Morrison, George The Wild Brush, and soon Dr. Willie. Shit was coming together fast as a team.

After I installed the rear fender, we set the seat in place and discovered a problem. The panel on the plate covered a portion of George’s numbers. I discussed the placement of the numbers with George, but I was thinking about the class lettering open space and missed the seat consideration. Usually, George rolls over to the headquarters and would have witnessed seat placement, but we were moving fast, and George was painting graphics on race boats.

I called Nicole and asked her to sketch the modification on the seat skirt, which was polished stainless steel. She did, then picked up the high-speed cut-off wheel and went to work, another project clipped off the list. I could write another paragraph about her measuring and sketching considerations. She measured that seat in a myriad of fashions to make sure it aligned properly.

Richard arrived with the van, and we started a process of detailing and skinning the side windows and rear window with Bikernet logos, then along the bottom with 5-Ball Sponsor stickers. Jordon handled the detailing, with Kyle’s assistance.

Before the van arrived, we sent images of the Van windows with careful Chris Kranzler measurements to Wellington Signs, who were in the process of moving their headquarters. In the meantime, I worked with Andy at Crank and Stroker on our 5-Ball racing T-shirts, and Nyla worked on hand-knitting 5-Ball logos to grass hats.

Then Dr. Willie stopped by. Willie is a master H-D mechanic. He has worked with and for the best in the business, but the slipping industry left him without much involvement. He asked if he could help. He started to pop over on a daily basis.

On Saturday, we completed the exhaust system. Willie had a notion for the top motor mount, but made me raise the tank for spark plug tool clearance. Then he didn’t like my oil line routing and altered the return line, but in his process he snapped the fitting off the oil pump. We took a dangerous step backwards.

Tobey fit the Bonne Belle like a glove.
Tobey fit the Bonne Belle like a glove.

I was making serious progress, and Willie brought me a custom oil filter housing that bolts into the generator hole. I had to re-drill and tap the holes in the billet aluminum housing, and for some reason, this is where our hefty progress subsided. I could not line up my new mounting holes with the holes in the case. I fought it for a couple of hours, then gave in and crashed.

So much about any project is about never giving up and seeing the project through, no matter what. I stumbled on a couple of recent endeavors, and then built my confidence with the Mudflap Girl FXRs. This project languished way too long. It was time to see it through—no matter what.

Willie has that custom tendency anchored in his blood. He wants to change everything, but now we were pulling the cam cover. I wanted to check for aluminum shavings from my oil filter operation and Willie needed to retime the oil breather system. This turned into a major operation. Then Willie didn’t like the sparkplug heli-coil in the front head and decided to replace it with another insert. All these extra projects were adding time to the effort.

My precious Dale Walksler supplied K-model head was being operated on.
My precious Dale Walksler supplied K-model head was being operated on.

It was Sunday. I was hoping to pick up the Kendon, combo, three-bike trailer on Monday. We woke up to a van flat tire. I dropped Frank a note, and due to a powder-coating booth shutdown, and increased orders, my trailer would not be ready until Wednesday at the earliest, and maybe not until Thursday or Friday, the day I planned to be in Wendover. Our plan called for rolling out on Thursday. It didn’t matter when. That was the Wink Eller code—get out of town on Thursday.

Richard Kranzler, the brother who made the whole Bonneville Excursion comfortable. He was on assignment for Nicole. Something to do with dirt and Australian Customs.
Richard Kranzler, the brother who made the whole Bonneville Excursion comfortable. He was on assignment for Nicole. Something to do with dirt and Australian Customs.

I had to spend some time on the Sturgis Shovel, and Richard needed to cut a dusty trail back to Tacoma. We finished the new insert in the head, the top motor mount, fixed the Express tire, sent Richard down the road and cut into Tuesday. Tobey came over and sat on the bike. The pipes were working out fine, but I needed to build a major heat shield, which I did with Samson spares from around the shop.

For some reason, we grappled with other items while struggling to align the trans with the engine. Willie had a plan to machine Lee’s spacer to allow the BDL Sportster’s notched sleeve to reach deeper onto the shaft, but we needed another engine pulley, and Willie was kind enough to make a couple of runs to the BDL factory until we had the correct pulley. The trans aligned perfectly with a few shims, but we had a few issues with the clutch. I put it together about three times. Twice I installed the clutch with the new BDL locking tool. It kept hiding in the clutch, or it was late and we needed to knock off shop work and hit the hay.

The new BDL clutch locking tool hiding deep inside the clutch, beware. Make sure to remove it. I'm going to paint it red!
The new BDL clutch locking tool hiding deep inside the clutch, beware. Make sure to remove it. I'm going to paint it red!

I believe it was Tuesday before we received the final word from Kendon. They were shooting for a Wednesday pick-up. We were beginning to look at burning through Thursday and making the long haul on Friday. The van was prepped and detailed by Wednesday morning when Willie and I peeled toward the Kendon headquarters just about 30 miles south of us. The Kranzler 5-Ball van already made our day. It was smooth and comfortable. We filled out the paperwork at Kendon‘s Anaheim headquarters, said hello to Ken, and discovered our hitch was too low.

Then we received a panic call from Tobey. His bike couldn’t be delivered on Thursday, maybe Friday. It was currently in a warehouse in Orange, California, the next town south of Anaheim. We could pick it up, except the van held no straps, plus we needed the proper electrical connector and a new hitch drawbar. We searched for a Pep Boys on the internet and discovered the missing location. The second one was golden. We received MapQuest directions and in 20 minutes we found the Allied Van Lines warehouse. But would they release his bike to a couple of grubby bikers in a van?

“The Allied motorcycle division treated me like a king,” Tobey said. “They bent over backwards to keep track of my bike, to handle my pick-up needs. They were very helpful and professional.”

It’s crazy how a couple of thugs burn through a day on a couple of missions. Hell, one trip to Pep Boys for a handful of items turns into a burnt 45 minutes. We debated straps and Willie won. I’ll never use these bizarre bastards again. (Keep in mind that I had a bag of 20 or so straps at home.). We bought a hitch with three different sized balls. Hopefully, that will answer all our questions for years to come. Who knows? A vast array of various electrical connectors lined the counter and we dug for 15 minutes trying to find the perfect connector—success.

Willie tying down Tobey's Ninja, a jap bike on the brand new Kendon trailer, God forbid.
Willie tying down Tobey's Ninja, a jap bike on the brand new Kendon trailer, God forbid.

We called Tobey, he called the shipper and negotiated with them for the release of his upgraded baby, and we found the warehouse amongst a maze of white, tilt-up concrete buildings. We followed the GPS to the spot where the girl at the switchboard gave us a hint. “It’s behind the Pitney Bowes building.” I also received a call from Ray C. Wheeler. He wasn’t going to make it. I was relieved for Ray. He needed to take careful tuning time with that monster.

We shot the shit for two minutes while a forklift delivered Tobey’s Ninja outside to our trailer. The warehouse contained at least a dozen motorcycles, including new Harleys strapped to pallets. They probably would have given us a couple of straps. Remember the Michael Lichter rule--always four straps. We peeled back to the headquarters where the Bonne Belle was complete, but wouldn’t run. We called Lee for guidance. He machined the flywheels so there were some timing-mark doubts. We tried everything, still no running motorcycle. It fired once or twice, but it wasn’t comfortable with our timing. We shifted gears to loading the van, checking the air pressure in the rear airbags, and grabbing for anything we might need.

Tobey unloaded his bike and decided to do anything he could before we reached the salt. That was a solid notion, but I wanted to work on his Ninja about as much as I wanted to paint this building by hand. But we needed to get the job done. I loaded, and Tobey stripped the bike down. This was a scramble and the lovely Nyla had bowed out until the last minute. She purchased some supplies, like a large plastic container of peanut butter filled pretzels for protein, trail mix, and cases of bottled water, vitamin waters, and green tea. We needed a new 10-by-10. The last one was dinged and I gave it away at the Mojave Mile, and then learned that they run almost $200 clams for a quality tent. I’ll never throw one away again, but they are still junk. I’ll tell you the tent tech tip story later.

We tossed shit on the bench in scrambling packing preparations.
We tossed shit on the bench in scrambling packing preparations.

We scrambled into the night, with a diminished team, more bikes, and new vehicles. It was a guessing game. Our well-thought-out, concise organizational skills were toast. We tossed shit in the back of that wide-open Express, including our Kendon stand-up lift, and hoped for the best.

I helped Tobey with the gearing change, the new chain with riveted master link. We worked on it until 3:00 a.m. on Thursday, slept to 8:00 and peeled out. What’s the deal with riveted master links? Not sure I like them. Master links allow you to make additional changes, but these bastards are a pain, and you’re shot. If you need to break the chain down, you need another link. Fill me in?

Just about ready to rock.
Just about ready to rock.

I was going to attempt revelry at the crack of dawn, but fuck it. We needed some sleep. We backed out of the highly secure headquarters parking area as the iron gate closed, drove a half-mile, pulled over and checked the straps. We were on our way, Friday morning, direct route to the Salt Flats, 684 miles.

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Back to 2012 Bonneville Effort, 5-Ball Bonneville Racing

Reader Comments

Great story, read like a bike on a run at the salt flats.
The team effort to complete the Bonne Belle was inspiring.

houma, LA
Monday, September 17, 2012
Hellof a story, I would have never believed that after selling you that
basket case 45 Bandit that some what six years later see it {or should I say part of it?} end up being in that shape and form.

All these years of reading in print and now digital about the many bikes you've built, I never get tired of seeing them go from mind to reality.
The time-honered garage built madness that infects so many of us goes clear thru to your heart n soul and is what keeps me coming back for more.

Tom Kellerstrass
ogden, UT
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Editor Response Thanks brother. I just can't stop...

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