Vincent Motorcycle Project - Overtime Tina

Saving Big Sid's life, one Vincent at a time

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Bob Clarke

I returned to the paddock and reported to Sid, who was hungry for details. Tina hadn't been on the dyno yet. In fact, she hadn't even been beyond 50 mph on the streets around Matthew's suburban Louisville home, so top-gear performance was essentially untested. Sid bumped the main jet up from 320 to 330 and sent me out again. This second pass raised the MVG-650/4 record to 105.506 mph, but power still fell off far before redline. Matthew retarded the timing slightly for the day's third (and final) run, but that was a step backward, resulting in a top speed of just 98.63 mph. We retreated to Maxton's finest dining establishment, a Greek-owned Italian joint in a strip mall in nearby Laurinburg, to come up with a new plan.

Noshing on gluey spaghetti in a cramped restaurant booth, Big Sid was glowing. The funny thing about land-speed racing-and drag racing, too-is that for the vast majority of participants, it's not about racing at all. For a tuner like Big Sid, what matters is designing and building the fastest motorcycle possible. The racing is incidental, a slim justification for the countless hours spent tinkering in the garage, or daydreaming about solutions. To be challenged like this was the best possible outcome. If we went fast right off the trailer, Sid would have been bored out of his skull. Instead we faced a genuine problem, a performance puzzle, and the challenge lit Sid up. I could see what Matthew meant. Working on motorcycles quite literally kept Big Sid alive.

Sid's next move was to try a different exhaust on the bike. The first three runs were made using an oversized, 2-inch diameter header, and Sid suspected that changing to a smaller-diameter, 1 5/8-inch pipe might improve power. Sid swapped pipes first thing Sunday morning, and removed the foam air filter as well, before sending me out for a fourth run. The bike still fell flat in top gear, recording a disappointing 98.53 mph. When I returned to the paddock we found the real source of our problem-and it had nothing to do with carburetors or exhaust. Idling up to the pit, just yards from where Sid sat on his stool beneath an EZ-Up, Tina's motor seized tight.

I was horrified, certain that I had just broken some irreplaceable, 60-year-old engine internal right in front of Sid's face. I was sick to my stomach, but Big Sid was unfazed-in fact, he was more excited than I had seen him all weekend. This was what he lived for. "Get that sucker up on the workstand," he said, "and let's figure out what's going on."

It didn't take long. In seconds Sid had the front valve cap off and we could clearly see the problem. Insufficient clearance between the valve stem and guide had caused the exhaust valve to seize, and forced the pushrod to unseat from the rocker arm. The tight valve also explained the high-rpm power loss we experienced. I apologized profusely, even though it wasn't my fault. Sid just laughed it off. "You didn't do anything wrong," he insisted. "Tina just told us she was done for the weekend-and that little bitch waited until she was right in front of me to say so."

The Overtime Tina project started as an attempt to settle some unfinished business, and lucky for Big Sid, it's not over yet. He's going to have to stick around for at least one more year to see Tina run at her full potential. The best Vincent Gray Flashes (the legitimate factory racing singles) are capable of 125 mph. Sid is certain that Tina is capable of similar performance, given a properly operating exhaust valve and a bigger carb. Sid now plans to do some additional headwork in preparation for a trip to Bonneville next summer for another record attempt. Big Sid is not done yet.

Besides, he's still got a lot to learn. "Tina taught us not to expect records to come without effort," Sid said after the fact."She allowed us to experience the full range of emotions that come with land-speed racing, all over the course of just two days." In the meantime, Overtime Tina has sprouted a small headlamp taken from a Triumph Trophy, a matching tail lamp and a modest muffler. She's been spotted roaming the streets of Louisville, with Matthew in the saddle. Big Sid doesn't ride anymore, though he did throw a leg over Tina in the staging area at Maxton on Sunday morning-he later emotionally admitted that was the first time in four years he had straddled a motorcycle. But as long as the Vincati and Overtime Tina are out in the garage, Big Sid can still wrench away on his beloved Vincents to his heart's content. Nowadays, that's medicine enough.

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