Legendary Terry Vance - Up To Speed

The Godfather Of Top Fuel

Combine propane and nitric acid and you get nitromethane, a.k.a. CH3 NO2. Introduce legendary triggerman Terry Vance to the tuning genius of Byron Hines and you have the most potent combination in the sport. And from the day those two names came together in 1979, motorcycle drag racing has never been the same. From that point until he retired from the sport in '88, Vance was The Man: 27 NHRA national event wins and a 102-21 record in Pro Stock Bike. And in the early '80s, this was The Bike.

"It was a supercharged, nitromethane-powered 1260cc Suzuki,"Vance remembers. "This was at [now defunct] Orange County International Raceway, late in the 1980 season at the Western Nationals. It was the first bike with a belt driving the clutch. It had a B&J; two-speed transmission and made between 1000 and 1100 horsepower. We went 6.98 seconds at 203.61 mph with that bike, which was getting old very fast back in the day. Now Larry McBride runs 5.79 at 235. Larry bought the bike from me when I retired it."

What's the difference between the '80 Vance & Hines Suzuki and a modern Top Fuel bike? According to Vance, "Blowers, engines, clutches, fuel: everything. Look at where I'm sitting. Rider position is a solid 12 inches lower, and modern bikes are twice as long. You could walk under that thing to change the oil compared to what's out there now.

"Acceleration is the difference between Top Fuel and any other kind of motorcycle in the world. Valentino Rossi is going 200 mph and if he hits something he's going to get hurt. But this thing is accelerating to that speed so hard you can't explain it. You can't just throw somebody on one of these things. You'd kill 'em.

"I would be 800-900 feet into a run before the front wheel touched the track, and at about the 1000-foot mark the rear wheel would try to find its own home. Scared the piss out of me a couple of times. At that point I looked at Byron and said, 'I'm done with this thing.'"Vance made the switch to Pro Stock in '84. "It was more technical on the rider's side and took a lot more talent. At the time, Top Fuel was more about not having all your screws tight."