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5-Ball Racing 2014, Part I—the Concept

Where did this Salt Torpedo Notion Come From?

By Bandit with photos by everyone

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Was the first Streamlined Trike Discovered next to a buried ’59 Cadillac tail fin on the outskirts of Palm Springs?

Life is an emotional blender on high here at the Bikernet Headquarters. I escaped one weekend and rode to 14 Palms, California with the good Dr. Hamster one chilly winter morning. We met members of the notorious Chop N Grind Racing team in a dilapidated, sand-blasted Denny’s restaurant on the edge of the desert town. The restaurant specials called for bacon everything: They had bacon malts, bacon burgers, and bacon pancakes. I couldn’t resist.

As I munched bacon-laced pancakes, we shot the shit with the two notorious sun and wind-burnt, desert outlaws. They were a scruffy bunch. Larry P. is now a member of the Hessians MC, while Bob T. lives with his family in a blistering 40-foot container buried in desert sand. He doesn’t like people and surrounds himself with heavy armor. At one point in the conversation, Larry said casually, “I have a Belly Tank. Are you interested?”

I thought for a second, and then responded. “Wish I could, but Belly Tanks are hot rods. I’m in the motorcycle industry for life.”

We continued to discuss Dynas, FXRs, going fast and Bonneville. Then it came to me with a mouthful of bacon pancake dripping melting butter and maple syrup. “Could we build a Can Am, or Campagna-styled trike with the Belly Tank?”

We all looked at each other like someone spilled a bag of cocaine in the middle of the table. We tried to look cool and composed as we thought about it, sipped hot restaurant coffee, and pondered the future of motorcycle racing.
“There isn’t a class for trikes,” Bob T. said. The man without a last name should be called Bob FXR. He has four. Nobody knows his last name, except one guy, who is buried in the desert behind his container headquarters.

“I could ask Dennis Manning,” I muttered, although the wind had slipped from my sails slightly. “Anything is possible.”

We started to discuss a streamlined trike project using two front wheels and one rear drive wheel. I was once involved with the Easyriders streamliner, designed by Bob George. Bob taught me how to rebuild H-D engines, and I hung out in his shop, until I introduced him and his streamliner to Joe Teresi and Mil Blair. Ultimately, Easyriders owned the world land speed record for 16 years at 321 mph. But streamliners were bears. They weren’t good for anything except riding on the salt in a straight line.

In fact, many two wheeled Bonneville and drag bikes are raked out too far and so low, they are tough to move around, and can’t be ridden on the street. On the other hand, a three-wheeled trike could be a lot of fun, and reasonably easy to maneuver. We started to get pumped. We discussed a team effort, finished our bacon-strapped breakfast and peeled into the sunrise.

I immediately returned to the headquarters and called Dennis Manning, since I noted that the SCTA did not have a Trike category in their land speed record book. “What are the chances of starting a Trike category?”

“If you are building something,” Dennis replied. “Why not?” And that year the AMA started a trike land speed record category. As you know, life takes unforeseen twists and turns, and Larry was a man searching for direction in his life, and he found it within the Hessian brotherhood, and sold his Belly Tank.

I took a one-year break from the notion. Then Rick Krost from U.S. Choppers stopped by to discuss everything custom, and his own wild Bonneville charity notion to help kids. During our conversation, he discussed meeting a guy who owned more than one Belly Tank. Once more the fire burned, but the connection to this source was torn and treacherous. I reached out to a recently retired SCTA official, Rodan, who holds more land speed records than God.

“Let me check,” Rodan said and hung up.

This is a longer configuration.
This is a longer configuration.


In less than an hour, he sent e-mailed me a link to a Maryland company called Class Glass. They make roadster bodies, trailer bodies, muscle car bodies and fiberglass hoods, racing go-kart bodies, and three sizes of belly tanks, from 36-inches wide and 153 long, to 40 inches wide and a 170 inches long, to 24 inches wide and 132 inches long.

These are examples of Class Glass hotrods.
These are examples of Class Glass hotrods.

Suddenly the notion of the Belly Tank streamliner became a reality, but there was a hitch. I encountered a longtime friend and H-D dealer owner, Dan Stern of House of Thunder Harley-Davidson, formerly Hollister Harley, at a dealer show and he whipped out a set of photos of his long-term custom project with a sidecar and a serious art deco influence. The sidecar body was a pure wedge shaped, and very reminiscent of the shape of the Speed Demon car build by the Poteet and Maim team. It holds the internal combustion world land speed record of 416 mph, and they have their eyes solidly set on the 500 mph mark. I was seriously drawn to this configuration.

Dan asked me to hold off with his design until he could finish his custom build and release it to the public. I agreed, but kept investigating. Several friends in the industry pushed for the traditional Belly Tank version, although I had concerns about the lift under the nose. I kept digging and we decided to make either configuration adjustable, so the chassis could be lowered or raised for improved handling and aerodynamics at speed.

For months, I discussed the notion with Campagna Trikes out of Canada. Their line of trikes was developed to out-handle Corvettes and Porches in corners. We discussed using one of their frames and A-arms. For awhile, we thought it might be possible to narrow a Campagna T-rex frame to fit in our chosen chassis.

Michel Paquette, one of the partners of Campagna and the spokesperson, offered us a slightly dinged frame to consider. We would still use a Paughco driveline cradle. But once we had the frame in the shop, we knew it was too wide for our needs. The investigation continued.

Our boastful notion about being the first to build a streamlined trike is mostly bullshit chest pounding. In fact, we discovered this streamlined trike in a December 1963 issue of Mechanics Illustrated. Ray C. Wheeler discovered this Avatar trike recently.

The good Doctor Hamster questioned the two front wheel configuration, but more recently someone pointed out the notion of the teardrop being fat in the front.

We sketched ideas on napkins and made measurements.

“It will take over 400 horses to push a standard belly tank over 200 mph,” Rodan pointed out. “It doesn’t matter how long it is, but make it as narrow as possible.”

Fortunately, Class Glass made a small version of the traditional Belly Tank, just 23 inches wide at the bulkiest portion and 132 inches long. I measured twin cam drivelines backward and forward, up and down, over and over, and there’s just a remote chance that we could make a JIMS 135-inch twin cam engine, with Branch heads, and maybe all Daytona Twin Tech electronics and fuel injection inside.

The 2013 show circuit kicked off and we needed a teaser to promote our notion, so I reached out to the Bikernet Official logo artist, George Fleming. He’s a young man and we have worked with him throughout his educational process. He is now at UCLA working on his art degree. Based on my crappy sketches and scrap, he came up with this teaser illustration.

Then we attended the SEMA show in Las Vegas and I made a beeline for the art display, where I ran into Ed Tillrock, a fantastic pencil artist who drew this historic belly tank racer on the salt. I couldn’t resist and bought a print, and another one of his prints of old flat track racers.
In the meantime, Ray C. Wheeler was building a state-of-the art turbocharged 124-inch twin cam two-wheeler in a special frame designed to use all the best attributes of Hayabusa suspension for his Bonneville effort. We conferred almost daily on every aspect of these builds.

He’s getting damn close to being able to ride his monster on the street and take it to Bubs Bonneville this year. Ray just turned 69 and he’s still dreaming of a red hat and a 200 mph record on Bonneville Salt Flats. He has two records under his belt with his last Dyna, but the desire to set a serious record is still strong.

Out 2006 effort, the Salt Shaker.
Out 2006 effort, the Salt Shaker.

The Bikernet team doesn’t stop shooting for motorcycling adventures and goals. I turned 65 this year, but the drive is still strong to create something exciting and unique for the salt. I was a part of the Easyriders team, and we set two records with our Accurate Engineering Panheads in 2006 and 2007.

Our 2012 45 flathead, the Bonne Belle.
Our 2012 45 flathead, the Bonne Belle.

We built a couple of vintage racers and stumbled for a couple of years with our 1940 45 flathead with the K-model top end, built by Lee Clemens of Departure Bike Works and ridden by Toby. We also built a 1926 Peashooter, but blew a head gasket in Bonneville and had to return home. The Peashooter was to be ridden by an Australian Tattoo Artist, Nicole, but she didn’t get a chance on the salt. You never know, maybe she’ll get a chance with our streamlined trike.

Lee Clemens has the Bonne Belle for additional tuning, mods and gearing changes, and he plans to return in 2014.

So 2014 will be a massive year for 5-Ball Racing. We should have three or maybe four bikes headed to the salt. This is a massive mechanical adventure for all of us, and you can follow along on Bikernet, or be involved.

Here’s a note about a Belly tank 4-wheeler that’s for sale:
 This Lakester has not run until today since 2001. It had set two land speed records at Bonneville. I have the SCTA Log Book. The car has run as is qualified for the long course at Bonneville. The class is the vintage XO engine class. The body is the BGL = Blown Gas Lakester and BFL = Blown Fuel Lakester Class.
XO/BGL 174.041 mph 2001
XO/BFL 172.116 mph 2001
With the turbo set up, this car has the potential to set another land speed record. The record has since been surpassed, but this car could reclaim it.
I would suggest doing some rewelding of the chassis and tightening up before it is run again. It passed tech many times at Bonneville, but I think it should spend some time in the shop before it would pass my personal safety tech.
It will need a chute, current fire extinguisher tanks, belts, etc. etc. By no means is this a car ready to race again, but it is getting there.

How about some Belly Tanks History

Hot rods are such an integral part of American post-war culture that it's very difficult to imagine that there was a time when they didn't exist. There was an era when the people who were into hot rodding were a relatively small group of vanguards, finding out what made their cars faster simply by trial and error.

Necessity bred homegrown ingenuity as these early rodders sought to improve performance within the constraints of their limited finances and resources. If they couldn't afford something, they'd try to make it. They were figuring it all out as they went along--experimenting and improvising with whatever used parts they could get their hands on. The route was to be determined by their creative ability, but the destination was always clear and simple--to go faster.

Of course, accustomed to making the most out of what little they could get their hands on, one hot rodder figured out a way to make a streamliner dry lake racer at scrap yard prices.

Bill Burke had raced a '32 Ford roadster on the dry lakes of Southern California in the 1930s and early '40s and still had racing on his mind when he headed to the Pacific to serve as a PT boat pilot during W.W.II. While in Guadalcanal, he noticed some teardrop-shaped P-51 Mustang fighter plane belly fuel tanks being unloaded from a freighter. Instantly impressed by their aerodynamic design, he got close enough to measure one of them. Knowing the dimensions of a Ford rear end and an engine block off the top of his head, he was sure it was feasible to use one of these tanks to make a dry lake racer.

After the war, Burke returned to Southern California and picked up his hot rodding pursuits where he had left off. While looking for car parts, he found that airplane belly tanks were plentiful in surplus yards. They could be bought for about $35 a piece--just a fraction of the cost of designing and building a streamliner body from scratch. The U.S. government and aircraft engineers had spent a lot of time and money designing these tanks to be lightweight and optimally aerodynamic at very high speeds. Now all of Uncle Sam's wartime engineering efforts were going to pay dividends to hot rodders.

Burke's first belly tank lakester was made from a 165 gallon P-51 Mustang tank, just like the ones he'd seen during the war. Burke ran the car in 1946, reaching a speed of 131.96 mph, powered by a Mercury V-8. The next year, Burke returned with a car made from the wing tank of a P-38 Lightning. At 315 gallons, the P-38 tank was much larger than the P-51 tank. He placed the driver in the front and the engine in the rear. This time, everything fit inside the tank except for the wheels and a small windshield for the driver.

Alex Xydias, the owner of the So-Cal Speed Shop, fielded one of the most well-known and successful tank racers.

Xydias' So-Cal Special was set up more or less like Burke's tank, except that it had a bubble canopy and was powered by a 156 cubic inch flathead V-8 and the rails were custom-built. At Bonneville in 1951, the So-Cal team set a new record for their class, running a 145.395 mph average.

The So-Cal Speed Shop team took the car back to their motel and--right there in the parking lot--swapped the engine out. They put in a larger, 259 cubic inch Mercury flathead and ran the car again in a larger engine class. They set a record in that class as well, running 181.085 mph.

Here's Walt's Belly Tank jet car. He set a record for a few minutes, then his brother took it away, and they didn't speak for decades.
Here's Walt's Belly Tank jet car. He set a record for a few minutes, then his brother took it away, and they didn't speak for decades.

The team then swapped the engine out once again, this time putting in a 296 cubic inch Mercury engine. It ran a one-way time of 198.340 mph, with a two-way time of 195.77 mph. This speed was a record for its class, until it was upstaged the next day by the Mal Hoopster lakester, which was running with a Chrysler hemi and turned a 197.88 mph average. But the Special's 198.340 mph run is still the fastest one-way speed that a non-blown flathead has ever run.

To put all of these achievements into perspective, consider that at 1952's Indy 500, Troy Ruttman (with all of his sponsors and his overhead cam engine) won the Indy 500 with an average speed of only 128.922. Xydias was going faster than Ruttman in a salvage yard belly tank powered by a pre-W.W. II flathead Ford and no sponsors.
Get the full story and more photos in the print edition of Barracuda.

There you have it, and our effort for 2014 is kicked off. We received the Class Glass Belly Tank body, and I reached out to Paughco for engine carriage frame components. As soon as I have these elements, the Bikernet Van will set a heading for Houston Texas to deliver all the elements to Kent Weeks, the master hot rod and chopper builder, who will make our tube frame.

The configuration we ordered from Class Glass.
The configuration we ordered from Class Glass.

5-Ball Racing Supporters, Sources, and Sponsors

D&D Exhaust


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MetalSport Wheels

Class Glass
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1-800-774-3456 Fax 301-777-7044

Crank and Stroker Apparel

Hey, and you can be apart of the team with 5-Ball Racing Apparel.
Hey, and you can be apart of the team with 5-Ball Racing Apparel.

Here's the new Polaris Indian effort, a beautiful piece.
Here's the new Polaris Indian effort, a beautiful piece.

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