Top Fuel Motorcycle Legend: Vance & Hines
There are many legends, rumors, and myths surrounding the Top Fuel motorcycle class, and the tale of the first six-second elapsed time pass at over 200 miles-per-hour by a Top Fuel motorcycle is certainly one of them. Here for first-time readers can see for themselves what all the hubbub was all about back when this event happened in 1982.
The most interesting aspect of this story is not that a test pass on a Wednesday night yielded an incredible set of run numbers, but the story behind the story of what it took to get there and what happened after “The Run.”
The biggest names in the history of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing were ALL trying their best to breach 200 MPH and get into the six-second elapsed time zone. Elmer Trett, Sam Wills, Russ Collins, Bo O’Brachta, Marion Owens, name any big chest Top Fuel bike racer of the late 70’s, early 1980’s every one of them wanted that piece of history.
So elusive were the markers: drag bike pilot Terry Vance with Byron Hines tuning could only produce the magic numbers once during five racing seasons. And they spent from Fall of 1977 through August of 1979 just getting their Top Fuel Suzuki to behave where they felt comfortable entering it into competition. The 1979 US Nationals, where they DNQ’d. That’s how difficult Top Fuel bikes were to race in 1979. And it wasn’t until August of 1982 – The Run – happened.
Vance & Hines Top Fuel: The Run
On August 4, 1982, Terry Vance mounted his Suzuki-powered, Vance & Hines Top Fuel motorcycle with a tune-up from Byron Hines. He accomplished something no other Top Fuel motorcycle pilot had previously done: he put the bike in the six-second elapsed time zone at over 200 MPH. After Terry suited up and Byron Hines fired up the GS1100 1260cc motor, Terry snapped open the throttle upon the green light flashing, unleashing somewhere close to 600 horsepower. About 1000 feet down track, the crankshaft broke. But the run yielded the first six-second, two hundred MPH pass by a Top Fuel motorcycle – 6.98 @ 203.61 MPH to be precise.
It was a Wednesday night test session at Orange County International Raceway, or OCIR as it was popularly known back then. The speed and sheer power of the bike was just frightening. No one was used to this kind of performance at this time in the realm of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing. All the teams were looking for it, but this moment was its initial emergence for the Top Fuel motorcycles.
Because the run was produced during a test session and not during a national event, by and large, the motorcycle drag racing community poo-pooed the run. They largely ignored it. But the fact remains: it did happen.
People always have debated the relevance of this practice run. In the interests of history, it’s not the practice; it’s the run that’s relevant. When you measure up what all the Top Fuel motorcycle teams had to work with at the time, all things considered, that was a historically significant pass down the 1320.
The run was so difficult to achieve at this time in motorcycle drag racing history, it didn’t happen again until the US Nationals a year later when Elmer Trett broke 200 MPH in sanctioned competition. And even then, it was a top-MPH breach of the 200-mark. No six-second elapsed time was produced with it. The first official Top Fuel motorcycle six-second pass didn’t happen in competition until September of 1986, when Mark Miller ran the number, three years later.
Ponder this if you will; six-second elapsed times and 200 MPH performance from Top Fuel motorcycles didn’t become the norm for Top Fuel bikes until after the latter half of the 1980’s. But Vance & Hines breached it in August of 1982. It was an amazing pass, one of those magical moments when the whole combination was there, the track and the air was right, Byron had the tune upand , Terry applied the driving skills. This is why some felt “the pass” was maybe a fluke or happy clocks. It was neither of those things, it happened.
There was no data logging device available for use on Top Fuel motorcycles back then. Byron Hines was tuning by the seat of his pants, reading spark plugs, using his ear, listening to the motor hauling-ass down 1320’ of race track. Terry was giving input after passes, trying to elaborate run details to Byron while dealing with the confusing fog of an adrenalin rush overload. They read the motor components very carefully when disassembling motors, especially post-mortem.
Drag tires were not specifically made for Top Fuel motorcycles at this time. All the Top Fuel teams were trying to make car-tire, drag slicks work on their T/F bikes. There was no great track prep, which was far from a science during the early 1980’s. Considering this was not a sanctioned national event, with zero special track preparation for a Wednesday at OCIR night test session makes this run even more astounding.
“The Pass” had the entire drag bike community shaking their heads for many, many reasons. But in looking at the numbers produced during the months preceding the run and after it, experienced minds will agree – It happened.
Consider the performance of the Vance & Hines Top Fuel bike throughout the 1982 competition calendar year. They started off in the spring of 1982, by lowering the existing ET national record of the NMRA sanction, to a 7.17 elapsed time during the NHRA Southern Nationals, held April 24-25. The bike yielded a 197.36 MPH pass during qualifying in the process and Vance & Hines went on to win that event in Top Fuel.
The team then won the next race at Gainesville Florida, and swung north to Connecticut International Raceway, where Terry turned in a 7.29 @ 199.11 MPH performance. At the next “All Bike” event on the NMRA schedule, July 31 to August 1st, in Irvine, California, they clocked in with a 7.31 @ 198.27 MPH.
Less than a week later, “The Run” happened.
Following this, on September 4-6 at Indy, during the 21st running of the NHRA US Nationals, which was a sanctioned NMRA points event, Terry went 7.05 @ 197.80 MPH during qualifying. The Vance & Hines Top Fuel bike was tuned and ready to run the number. Fate intervened during first round of eliminations on the next pass as Terry’s primary drive belt spit the teeth. The resultant over-rev totally destroyed the motor.
By the end of the 1982 season, the Vance & Hines team had cornered the NMRA Top Fuel motorcycle championship. But the first official six-second elapsed time eluded them as did a repeat of the pass exceeding 200 MPH. The team and the bike clearly showed they had the right stuff, but that magic moment did not repeat. Nor did it happen during the 1983 or the 1984 season, which was their last in Top Fuel motorcycle competition. This begs the question: why?
To understand why, you first must understand the enormity of what it took in terms of Top Fuel motorcycle development, to get the motorcycle to 6.98, 203 MPH performance. Their bike began life as a Kosman chassis originally built in mid-1970’s for a potential Top Fuel bike Byron was considering building for Terry and Byron to run in concert with their employment with RC Engineering.
Terry and Byron at that time were very successful employees with Russ Collins and RC Engineering was experiencing explosive growth in the motorcycle performance aftermarket. Russ and his team at RC, including Byron, were putting the Sorcerer together in 1977. Simultaneously, Terry and Byron began carving their mark in Pro Stock motorcycle drag racing.
Terry, in looking back upon it remembers, “In 1977, we still thought we’d be at RC forever. So, Byron and I were building our racing program in alignment with Russ. He was on with Honda and was building the Sorcerer when we contemplated building a Top Fuel bike. We had just signed with Suzuki, so we built our Top Fuel entry as a Suzuki based on the GS1000 motor, which in 1977, was our best option.”
But with great success in Top Gas and winning new championships in the budding-new class of Pro Stock motorcycle, why build a Top Fuel bike? Terry commented, “Russ was a great promoter. He was tops at getting the attention of sponsors to back his projects. Byron and I had just won like 22 of 23 races in Top Gas in 1974 and 1975. Yet our success didn’t get nearly the attention the Triple Honda was getting. So we focused on Top Fuel for a while before we made the move. Plus, we had three years of experience with the fuel bikes while working for Russ, so we had an idea of what we were in for.”
Byron had this to say about the move to Top Fuel motorcycle: “When the Top Gas class was going to be combined with the Pro Comp category in 1975, that’s when we decided to do something different. We already had a chassis from Kosman that we had set up for a single-engine blown alcohol Kawasaki KZ 900, so we started with that.”
Originally it was going to have a Lenco 2-speed transmission and a Magnuson 80 blower in the combination. But right about this time Terry had been talking with Suzuki, and they signed with them for the GS1000 based Pro Stock bike. So the Kawasaki program was scrapped, and we began our build with a GS1000 motor.
“I then started to rethink the chassis we had sitting there and moved forward later that year to build it into a Top Fuel GS based bike, featuring a Magnuson 110 supercharger, with B&J 2 speed transmission. I went with the B&J because I had experience with the Lenco transmission in our double-engine Honda Top Gas bike. The Lenco was an overdrive transmission that required large rear sprockets to correct the gearing. Also, the Lenco had a band-type shift mechanism, and the B&J transmission had a clutch pack that needed only hydraulic pressure actuation. This was more suited for the rider to push a button versus dealing with a detent-foot shift like we had on the double-engine gas bike.”
“Before this, I had been working with Ron Teson on his blown Honda and saw all the problems he was having with the 80 series Magnuson blower. So I ensured I could incorporate the new 110 blower that was just coming into production. But the 110 supercharger had a lot of its own problems, as we found out later on.”
“The clutch I chose for the fuel bike was a CrowerGlide. Its 10” diameter, with three drive discs and two floaters, was a good fit for this application. I had a lot of experience with that type on the double-engine gas bike, the Triple Honda Top Fuel bike, and the Sorcerer. Bruce Crower was also a great help. He liked unusual applications for his clutch, so he was always available for advice. I did have to make different clutch arms for it. The ones supplied did not match the torque curve or the rpm requirements we would be producing. Remember, there was no onboard data recording. So everything you learned was from what you saw during the run and what the engine parts told you.”
The actual building of the bike took the remainder of the 1977 season, and during this time frame, Byron, Russ, and the RC racing team were finishing up the build of “The Sorcerer.” A double engine 750 Honda-based build with the motors punched out to close to 900cc each. The rear motor had the head turned around 180 with intakes facing forward, and a supercharger was placed between the front and rear motors. There was no shortage of things to do at RC Engineering. Ever.
Terry and Byron devoted their entire 1978 season Top Fuel effort to testing the new creation during private test sessions. This was necessary to get it to behave so Terry could drive it effectively. It was an expensive full year of testing in their (spare?) time to develop what would come to be known as the Vance & Hines Top fueler. They didn’t enter formal class competition until September of 1979. Twenty months of private testing went into the new Top Fuel bike before entering the 1979 NHRA US Nationals, and they DNQ’d at that event.
When initial testing of the bike began, the first complications came with the bike having a radical new body design by Tracy that gave the bike its distinctive wedge shape configuration. Also, the new chassis from Kosman was a fixed rear axle design. There was no way to adjust the rear axle with a front-to-rear movement to do what chassis wizards call “pre-loading” the chassis. Some drag bikes tend to go left or right under power. Adjusting the rear axle, front to rear, perpendicular to the centerline of a drag bike, just a very small incremental amount, will counter this. With a fixed axel location, this is impossible.
Byron chose to over-ride this design issue and changed the configuration to help get the bike traveling where it was intended. Then body aerodynamics had to be assessed and corrected.
The Tracy body was visually stunning, and everyone who saw it for the first time was wowed by it. But when viewed from the L or R side, it has so many square inches of surface area it was like a sail on a sailboat. What was worse, the large wedge shape behind the driver was being adversely affected by high-speed airflow, and this tended to give Terry a handful of control issues to deal with that had to be addressed before they could begin to apply full power to the motorcycle.
Byron, working with Tracy and his fabricators, began reducing the size of the fiberglass body to lessen its aerodynamic influence and address weight concerns. The original body weighed in at a hefty 80 pounds and was situated so high above the bike’s natural center of gravity the bike’s inherent handling characteristics were a nightmare. Between that and the fixed rear axle, Terry had his hands full.
Terry vividly remembers his first pass on the bike and their initial year of addressing the teething issues. Keep in mind Terry was a Pro Stock bike pilot at the time and had a lot of 9-second, 140 MPH passes under his belt, but this was his introduction to fuel bike piloting. When asked about his learning curve, he commented, “Transitioning from the Pro Stock bike and its tire to the big 12-inch Goodyear was a bit of a learning curve. But that was not nearly as influential on the handling of the Top Fuel bike as its overall size, tremendous weight, and the square-ish body style of the new Tracy body we were using.”
Aerodynamically that body had way too much influence on the motorcycle handling and not in a good way.
“For me, my very first pass on the bike was an eye opener. When we began, the bike had a tendency to shake the tire, then get on the bar, and if it settled down, you could drive it. But during the tire shake, everything was a blur. It was a steep learning curve to learn that bike; everything happened quickly. My job was to keep the bike straight and stay in the groove, and I failed at that miserably my first time out. It took me a while to get the hang of it. We tested a long time before we entered competition with it, close to a full year. The 1979 US Nationals may have been our first race with it, but I’m not sure.”
Byron Hines recalls, “Terry’s acclimatization to Top Fuel motorcycle racing and the development of the VHR Top Fuel bike with fondness “We started to test the TF bike with the GS 1000 engine in late 1977. It took about a full year (most of 1978) to get it into the sevens. That was Terry learning to ride it and me learning to tune it. The Tracy body from the start was too wild of an aero package. I had Tracy reduce the size of the rear section. It had too much influence on the stability of the bike. Terry rode it from the very beginning, no other test pilot was used. He got used to it very quickly. The biggest thing was getting the body symmetrical so it would go reasonably straight. Kosman had built the frame with a fixed rear axle; he thought that that was the way to go. As soon as I modified that to a conventional setup, Terry was able to ride it well. You have to have rear-wheel steering.”
As the build of the Vance & Hines Top Fuel bike progressed, this is how Byron Hines remembers it all coming together: “We ran the GS 1000 cases up until the GS 1100 came out. Then I used the new engine cases and 4 valve heads from then on. After a year of running the 4-valve engine, the cases would work, but required a huge amount of modification to get them to live. We had to do a ton of welding, bracing, etc. The Suzuki guys asked at one point (fall of 1980) if we needed anything. I asked if if they could pour the cases out of a higher grade of aluminum. They returned and said they could use the sandcast prototype molds and pour a high grade of aluminum, which would be 3-4 times stronger. Or they could use cast iron, which would be 7-8 times stronger than stock cases. That’s what we did, we went with cast iron cases. I didn’t hear from Suzuki again for a while. Then the cases showed up at the shop about 6-7 months later.”
“Initially the cast iron cases were machined only in the crankshaft and cylinder bore areas. Once I got the mods done on the cases, cut the transmission section off and fit them into the bike, they were 45 pounds heavier than what I had from before. But they were bulletproof! Somewhere in 1980 or 1981 we began using them.”
While the new cast iron engine cases were bulletproof, its contents was not. The astounding pass that heralded Top Fuel motorcycle’s entry into the six’s at over 200 MPH not only generated big numbers, but devastating destruction to the motorcycle’s components. Everything else in the combination was just not ready to handle this much power production.
The power output side of the crankshaft sheared off under acceleration just before the finish line during “The Pass” and the motor overrevved to the moon. This caused the supercharger to self-destruct and vomit its broken shards into the intake tract, which was producing in excess of 23 pounds of boost at the time. Blower shrapnel was force-fed into the four cylinders, bending or breaking all sixteen valves while trashing all four piston domes. In addition, the suddenly nonrotational crankshaft dealt a death blow to the fuel pump, and that was it for that motor. Its content was basically scrap metal.
This was becoming a harbinger Vance & Hines would have to contend with for the next two years until they opted out of Top Fuel competition.
The next race, barely a month after “The Run” in testing, the team proceeded to the US Nationals in Indianapolis. During qualifying, they stepped into the fray with a 7.056 @ 197.80 qualifying pass that was good for not only the #1 qualifying spot, but that run was low ET and Top Speed of the meet for the class in September of 1982.
On race day, all eyes were upon them. Rumor had it, they were ready to write history. During the first round of eliminations, Terry Vance was matched up against Terry Kizer and that meeting ended with an 8.02 @ 159 for Kizer, winning the round, as again, a motor was sacrificed to the God’s of Speed. The Vance & Hines bike clocked in with an 8.16 @ 124 mph, limping across the finish line.
Two final races remained on the 1982 NMRA racing schedule for Top Fuel motorcycles that season, but there were only so many parts and blowers in the arsenal. Terry and Byron were becoming increasingly engrossed in the Pro Stock motorcycle class development, not only on the track, but in building a rapport with the NHRA to keep the class alive as a category of competition. All this while building a new business, Vance & Hines, which was growing exponentially.
The 1983 and 1984 seasons were not much different for the Vance & Hines team with their Top Fuel bike than the 82 season. Byron Hines remembers, “I had four blowers come apart in a row. The bike never got out of the burnout box. More than likely, we blew up 11-12 blowers.” The supercharger problems worsened as the bikes continued to go faster and quicker, exacerbating the problem. Vance & Hines was a motorcycle aftermarket giant in the making. They simply did not have time to become a supercharger manufacturer when almost every drag bike on the planet wanted a Vance & Hines exhaust system. They had a decision to make and selling the entire Top Fuel racing program with all its components was the only smart business move.
Enter The Spider Man: Larry McBride had wrapped up his driving duties with Danny Johnson at the end of the 1984 season and was eager to make a deal with Terry and Byron to acquire their Top Fuel bike and all the spares. They sold everything they had to Larry and the rest, as they say, is history.
Epilogue: The V&H Top Fuel bike moving into the hands of Larry McBride helped to advance one of the most significant careers in Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing history. Larry and his brother Steve McBride raced that bike from 1985 through to March 1st, 1992, when Larry suffered a racing mishap and crashed the motorcycle.
Over time, the chassis problems were all corrected and upgraded. In 2019 the bike left the shop of Sam Wills after repairs and appropriate alterations and returned to the possession of the McBride team. As of 2022, a full restoration of the VHR Top Fuel motorcycle was underway by Larry’s team, with Roland Stuart taking temporary possession of the bike at Stuart’s Cycles in Gainesville, Florida.
|Until Next time…
– Tom McCarthy
Top Fuel Motorcycle Legend’s Series with Tom McCarthy is © Tom McCarthy 2022, all rights reserved. No text portions or images from this series may be copied in part, or fully, without the expressed written consent of Tom McCarthy. Violators may be subject to legal action.