Sam Wheeler | The Race To 400

Land Speed Racer Sam Wheeler’s Pursuit of the Next Frontier

By Evans Brasfield, Photography by Dick Lague—ignition3 & Wheeler Archives

Wheeler had long considered using an auxiliary transmission to enable him to launch his streamliner more quickly, but hadn’t wanted to spend the money doing it with the dated ZX-11 engine he had been using. Switching to a current-generation Hayabusa engine changed the equation, making the investment in a gearbox by Weismann Transmissions worthwhile. The Weismann unit has two ratios. First gives a ratio similar to that of a street bike, covering 0-100 mph. When the second, 1:1 ratio is selected, the Vance & Hines-regeared Suzuki transmission takes over with first gear covering 100-190 mph, eventually leading to a top gear capable of over 400 mph. For safety, the Weismann gearbox also has a ratcheting neutral that kicks in should the engine seize.

The switch to the larger Hayabusa engine necessitated that the liner’s chassis be rebuilt in order to fit into the existing bodywork. The streamliner was bolted to a jig, and the tube frame encasing the ZX-11 engine was cut away, leaving a space to be filled with the Hayabusa engine acting as a stressed member in the new, Wheeler-designed, CNC-machined, billet-aluminum frame.

The remaining space in the engine compartment is taken up by the four-gallon fuel cell, the radiator, a water tank for spraying onto the radiator, plus the turbo and exhaust systems. The placement of these items had to be monitored carefully since, like an airplane, a streamliner must have the center of gravity in a very precise spot to insure optimal handling.

During the month of August, a steady stream of parts arrived at Wheeler’s shop to have the liner running for the Mike Cook Bonneville Shootout in mid-September. Unfortunately, racing’s fickle mistress again wielded her sword. The quality of the salt on the 12-mile course was questionable enough for both Akatiff and Wheeler to withdraw just before the event. Although disappointed, Wheeler shifted focus to test runs on an automotive roller dyno. “All your racing is done [in the shop],” Wheeler says. “Whether it’s gonna work or not all happens here before you ever get [to the salt].” Perhaps the only negative aspect of tuning on a dyno is the 200 mph speed limit.

His many years in land speed racing have taught Wheeler that the salt will still be out there next year—tectonics notwithstanding, Bonneville’s going nowhere. The goal of 400 mph is still waiting and will continue waiting until the conditions are right. Until then, Wheeler will keep pondering his engineering challenges and fashioning the EZ Hook/Parts Unlimited streamliner into his vision of the fastest motorcycle in the world: “I know the potential is there to be competitive. Even if [the other] guys are the first to 400, I know I can still go faster than they can—ultimately.” Racing’s cruel mistress proves irresistible.

By Evans Brasfield
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