If you came here from Part 4 – The Engine Adventure, you’re up to speed on how this story has evolved. If not, I suggest you start at Part 1 – Background. When we last left our heroes, they had found a used engine on eBay, traveled by air and land to the other side of England to pick it up, endured a ridiculous sequence of setbacks trying to get the engine back to the island, transplanted the engine into the bike, and somehow managed to get it running. My view of Tuesday (at the time) can be summarized as follows: 6:30am: Rich made it back to the island with the engine and turned it over to the transplant team 11:30pm: text from Rich (yes, 17 hours later…) – “It lives again!” Woo hoo!!! But they were by no means out of the woods: they still didn’t have enough laps to qualify to run the race, and they had no idea whether or not the engine would hold up for a practice session and four grueling laps in the race. Remember, this wasn’t a shiny new race engine, it came out of a street bike with over 30,000 miles on it and the only assurance we had from the eBay seller was that it ran when he got it.
I received word at 10:30am that Kenny made it on to the boat with the rental car, so it’s finally headed home to Liverpool. Now the only challenge is to get Kenny back by boat or by air – everything at this point is Standby. It’s not surprising that there was a lot more to the engine story than just the 17-hour thrash on Tuesday. Swapping an engine in a motorcycle is not a trivial operation in the best of conditions, let alone on an island in the middle of the Irish Sea in variable weather with an ad-hoc volunteer crew of helpers. They got it done, but on Wade’s first ride around the pits, the bike was sputtering and couldn’t get out of its own way. They discovered that the shift lever linkage had been mounted backwards or upside-down, so what he thought was 1st gear was actually (take your pick), 2nd/3rd/higher. Once that got fixed, things improved dramatically, but he still wasn’t getting anything close to the expected horsepower/speed, even for a used street motor. 3:15pm: Scheduled practice. Because of the initial equipment problems and the blown motor, they still only have 4 out of the 5 laps they need to qualify to start the race. And now they have so many unknown variables with the replacement motor that still isn’t running right. Why is it running so poorly? Will it survive? Nothing to do but cross our fingers and wait – off they go. Thomas sent us this photo – taken at 3:14pm, just before the bike went on course. No worries, right? 3:45pm – Ros (their B&B hostess) managed to snap a photo of Wade as he approached her driveway – proof that it’s running! I had no idea she lived right on the course. [The fellow in the foreground of this photo is Ron Halem, aka Gold Star Ron. Ron was a local vintage race bike builder (Prunedale, CA) with a long history on the Isle of Man, both as a racer and a fan. Sadly, he passed away from cancer in November of 2014, just a few months after this photo was taken.] 3:49pm – Twitter feed reports that practice had been red flagged. My heart stops for a moment – after all, the last time there was a red flag, we caused it due to the spectacular oiling of the course from the blown motor. This time it turns out to be unrelated to the bikes – a civilian medical emergency that requires an ambulance go onto the course (did I mention that all 37 miles of the circuit are on public roads?). I knew Rich would be stressing too, so I texted him to let him know it wasn’t us. Good news: because the red flag was outside the control of the race officials, Wade got credit for the lap, so he has now officially completed the 5 required laps to quality for the race. Bad news: when Wade finally made it back to the pits, he had oil all over his boot. Now they have a day to chase down the leak, fix it, figure out why the engine is running so badly, and hope for the best during the race.
Thursday, August 28
There are no practices scheduled on the day before the race, so all efforts are focused on finding and resolving the oil leak and trying to get it to run better. I did get word that Kenny, after having delivered the rental car / world’s most expensive hand truck back to Liverpool, has made it back to the island – yay! Their time was well spent, as they identified and resolved three critical flaws:
- They found a small leak at the plug where the alternator was removed. Rich has fashioned a new gasket and sealed it up.
- The ad-hoc crew located a dyno facility in the pits, so they can run the motor to confirm that the leak is fixed. If so, the race is a go. If not, that’s the end of it – too dangerous to take the risk of oiling the track (both for Wade and the other riders). This also gives them an opportunity to identify the source of the power loss. The dyno operator reports that it’s only making about 56hp (should be closer to 100hp) and it’s running a little rich. They pulled the carburetors to adjust the jetting, and then while they were putting the carburetors back on …
- … Wade noticed that one spark plug hole didn’t look like the others. It seems that in the thrash to put the engine together, one of the plug wires hadn’t gotten reconnected. Um yeah, that would certainly explain the huge horsepower disparity!
As if we hadn’t had enough challenges, the shipping organizers have decided that the pits have to be cleared and all shipping containers packed and ready to go by 8:00am Saturday morning. Team USA thought they had through the weekend. So on Thursday, instead of focusing 100% on the bike and the race, they’re also scrambling to pack what they don’t need. And tomorrow (Friday), instead of celebrating the race (regardless of the outcome), they’ll be packing the rest of it in preparation for shipping back across the ocean. Adding insult to injury, they don’t fly out until Tuesday morning so they have 3 days to twiddle their thumbs.
Facebook Post, August 28
“What’s on my mind (FB asks)? Keeping the Dream Alive. Race Day on the Isle of Man. 3:15am alarm so I can follow it on Streaming Radio, Twitter, and Live Transponder Timing/Map. That’s what. Odds of getting much sleep between now and then? Slim to nil. After what they’ve been through, I’m beyond thrilled that they made it to the start line. Now all I care about is a safe outcome – if they manage to make it to the finish line, that’ll be a fantastic bonus, regardless of position.”
Next up: Part 6 – Race Day