Super Eliminator the mouse that buzzed… really, really loud.
Back at the end of 2009 I wrote a recap of the complete, or so I thought, AMA Dragbike season which prompted Gary Melnick to send me an e-mail politely explaining there was no mention of the Super Eliminators. He then went on to explain how these 2-stroke bikes were one of the earliest forms of modern wheelie bar drag racing. People like Paul Gast, Dave Schultz, Mike Puglia, John Schwartz, Kevin Gilham, Pete Barnhart, Greg Walnock, Larry Eperjesi, Chuck Simpson and Brad Mattei cut their teeth on them.
I always thought these bikes were “old school” cool looking, but when they were running they were just a bunch of very loud pissed off annoying hornets to me. After talking with a list of people Gary gave me to contact for this article I found there is a lot more to these machines than meets the eye.
The Power Plants
There were a couple of manufacturers who started making 2 stroke 500CC bikes in 1968 but it was the Kawasaki H1 that found its way into the drag racing circles first. The H1 gave motorcycle riders of the time their very first taste of “factory production” speed. These bikes were fast and could run a 12.96 in street trim. From 1972 to 1975 the speed craved rider’s dream came true with the introduction of the Kawasaki H2 which was a 750cc 2-stroke monster. This bike could hand a Hemi-Cuda its ass in the ¼ mile by making low 12 second passes out of the crate with ease.
The H2 in its time was the Corvair of the motorcycle community with its “unsafe at any speed” structural and braking deficiencies. With drum brakes that could barely stop it and a frame that seemed “double hinged” and managed to bend at the most inopportune times under hard cornering, it is no wonder the bike earned the moniker of the “Widowmaker”.
Back in the day stock the H2 had 70 hp, add pipes and carbs you could get 90hp, grab a Dremel tool and do a little work on the ports and you could get 120hp. Today the mods for power include installing good rods, increasing compression, better ignition timing control, adding a set of pro pipes and using the venerable FBG 40mm Lectron carbs nearly all the Super Eliminator bikes currently racing use.
Suzuki had the 2-stroke X6 which never progressed past a 250 although Suzuki did go water cooled with their 2-strokes before stopping production in 1974. Some of these Suzuki GT750 “Water Buffalos” as they were called are raced today in Super Eliminator, although the bike was originally designed to be more of a commuter than a drag or road racer. Kevin “The Hatchet” Hutchinson has been the only Suzuki entrant in Super Eliminator with a Suzuki GT 750, “The “Water Buffalo” was my first bike and I always wanted to make it into a drag bike, it only took me 20 years to finally get around to it. I was curious to see how fast I could get it to go since nobody else was really doing it with the GT 750. The bike originally weighed 540 lbs and we managed to shave off 200 lbs.”
While laughing Kevin added, “It has been an interesting challenge and if I knew then what I know now I might have gone with the H2.”
Yamaha had the RD400 which was a brute for its size but never found the following the Kawasaki had. Interestingly enough not only does this bike have a huge following in the UK it also has a ton more parts available today because of the popularity of the Yamaha Banshee ATV, as a good bit of the parts are interchangeable.
The factory frames were heavy and not intended for drag racing, they twisted terribly and the factory welds were prone to breakage. Because of this the engines were removed and put into custom built frames by the likes of Walt Timblin, “Puppet” and Action Cycle.
The original front forks were too small for this kind of horsepower and speed so along with the chassis development the forks were also upgraded. Trac Dynamics makes a nice set of forks although only a few of the bikes currently racing use them. One bike currently under construction will integrate forks from the Kawasaki 250 Ninja into the design. The key factors in choosing forks for a Super Eliminator bike is paying attention to weight and staying within the rules concerning minimum diameter for safety reasons.
Finding Parts and builders
All of the 2-strokes made for the street largely saw their production demise in the mid-seventies to make way for the 4-stroke wave. As a result many of these parts are no longer made, furthermore, due to the limited amount of people still racing these machines aftermarket companies making parts are few.
Laurie Reichert got into the triples through her late husband Ron Reichert. Many years ago they purchased a purple H2 together. Since both liked Jimi Hendrix they named their company “Purple Haze Racing” and started selling triple parts for H1’s and H2’s. Laurie says about the Super Eliminators, “They are a lot of fun and easy to work on. We sell mostly everything, the most requested parts are clutch parts and the electronics which we repair and test before selling. If I do not have it I usually can tell the person who may have it, I try to help people keep these bikes running even if it means someone else selling the parts. It’s like a family and I like working together like one.”
When asked how difficult is to find parts bikes now Laurie said, “We have pretty much cleaned Colorado out of them, they are very hard to find now.”
Bill Baxter who owns an H2 has other avenues to find parts if not available from regular channels, “Kawasaki is pretty good at trying to use the same parts in different models over the years. A lot of the parts we get by just setting a piece from the bike up on the counter and they match it up with something that is used on a current dirt bike. A lot of the seals and such are still made. Connecting rods are not available so we use dirt bike rods, shift forks from Kawasaki are no longer made but a company in Canada made about 500 sets so we can still get those.” Laughing Bill also adds, “A bunch of us who race have spare engines in the attic.”
Paul Gast started Fast by Gast building H2’s in 1973. “I built thousands of them and still build a dozen per year. Nowadays most people are working on them on their own; when I started on them it was not like that. We do complete restorations to all out race builds with 150hp engines that are show quality. We have photos of them on our webpage. These bikes at the time, other than the Honda CB750 were the first rocket type street bikes.”
There are many different classes for records in Super Eliminator based on engine CC, fuels, frame modifications, tire widths and riding positions. I can’t list them all but there were a few records of note that may be broken in Martin, MI.
One was by a naturally aspirated H2 owned by Bill Baxter and ridden by Joe Bird. It was set at the 2008 AMA Dragbike race held in Norwalk, OH where the bike ran an 8.247 @ 155.13.
Mike Bianco has a pristine looking H2 which holds a record of 8.654 in the dragster class (lay down riding position) set in 2006 at a AMA Dragbike / PROSTAR event in Atco, NJ. Rumor has it you should not go in his trailer unless you have a Tyvek suit, cotton gloves and a dust mask to prevent you from leaving any dirt or finger prints.
Another record was on a bike owned by Larry Smith and ridden by Brian Pretzel set in 2004 at a PROSTAR event held in St. Louis, MO. This record is of interest as the H2 that made it is one of only a hand full of nitrous 2-strokes. It ran a 7.777 @ 170.08 mph! This bike was built in 1998 to run in the IDBA Pro Stock class without NO2. A rule change prevented this from happening so the bike was run instead with NO2.
To run nitrous in the bike Larry mentioned, “The motor had to have stronger rods put in, but the cases, the tranny and the heads are stock. The original tranny gears were cut by Jay at MRE and the heads are worked but are still the stock castings.”
Larry thinks there is more in the bike, “It takes perfect track conditions for records. Martin is a smooth track after they just finished with it”
The camaraderie runs through this division deeply, not only due to necessity from the limited parts availability that demands networking amongst the riders but because they know they are part of a class on the fringe. Everyone seems to know anyone who is racing a Super Eliminator.
The riders themselves worked with AMA Dragbike to select the races they would like to be a part of. As much as they would like to race the complete series they know their numbers are few. By limiting it to only 3 races in the AMA Dragbike series it would push the number of entries up and keep traveling costs for the participants down. It is this foresight that has helped keep the class not only intact but also healthy; as they have seen the numbers start to grow.
When I asked Laurie why she thinks people build the 2-strokes when they can move on to the newer platforms available she laughed and said, “I can’t say why we do it, but we do. I guess it’s our niche.” Laurie’s company Purple Haze Racing also gives out a trophy in memory of Ron Reichert along with $500.00 at the AMA Dragbike events.
Kevin said about the racers in S/E, “There are really two main groups, the record chasers and the hard core ET racers. The people who have been in this class for a long time are extremely knowledgeable and have helped me tremendously with my bike. They all do whatever they can to lend a hand. It is a great group of people”.
Next time you’re at the track and you hear what sounds like fire breathing weed whackers, do yourself a favor and head to the stands. Sure you will have to cover your ears, but I ask you, how often do you get to see an entire class of motorcycle drag racing history in every shape form or fashion it ever went through or is going through go down the track?
Here is your chance…
See ya at the track!
A big thanks to all of the people who spent time to help me write this article.
- Bill Baxter
- Gary Melnick
- Larry Smith at Redline Motorsports
- Laurie Reichert at Purple Haze Racing
- Kevin Hutchinson
- Paul Gast at Fast by Gast