When dreams of going fast and attaining records is paired with a love of traditional engine building, you get an undeniably incredible creation. However, building a land speed-racing bike is no easy task on its own. The stresses that the bike and rider undertake while trying to reach and break a speed record makes becoming the fastest no easy feat. But if at first you don’t succeed, you head back to the shop, fix the problems and take another crack at your goals.
Franz and Grubb that has built traditional Triumph engines is a Californian shop fully stocked with new and old parts. It’s a perfect mix of collecting and organizing; no clutter. Dan Druff, the soul owner and operator of that shop, has always concentrated his efforts on rebuilding and transforming relics into performance racers by doing custom engine work. Dan was previously a guitar tech for the band “Guns and Roses” and travelled quite a bit. Most of the people in the music industry also have a love for fast cars. Dan owns a 1967 Dart that he built with a 340-engine which he used to drag race, but he had always wanted a bike. He decided that he would build his own bike, so he bought a 1950 Triumph 650 from Northern California. It sat for years but eventually he took the bike out, stripped it down and started to rebuild it. By doing that, he learned and figured out how the bike worked and how he would like it to be. “I always viewed owning a motorcycle kind of like owning a handgun. If you are responsible enough to own a handgun and you’re not gonna go shoot someone because he looked at your girlfriend, then you’re fine. It’s the same with motorcycles. You don’t give an 18-year-old kid a motorcycle that does 200 because he ‘will’ end up killing himself,” Dan said.
Racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats is a dream that many wish to attain. Dan was contacted about working on a bike built by Matt at Wrecked Metals, a custom shop in Boise, Idaho. The 1955 Triumph 650 was originally built for a client who had dreams of owning a land speed racer. Since the work on the bike was first carried out at a shop that specializes in the building of custom choppers and automobiles, it was in need of some tuning to turn it into a true race bike. As the bike sits now, it has a .060-inch overbore (676.7cc), forged steel connecting rods, 12:1 Robbins pistons with no head gasket, 6-mm stem Kibblewhite Black Diamond valves, Harman & Collins racing cams, Amal Monobloc chopped float carbs, two Amal remote matchbox floats, a Morris Magneto, Morgo oil pump, Avon Roadrider Tires, a Factory Metal Works frame, and Ceriani 30-mm forks supporting the front end.
Once Dan received the bike, he worked at putting the engine together and getting it in shape for the salt under the SCTA regulations. When the bike was being built, the frame was supposed to be 6 inches longer, but that would have made the chain really long. This would not be optimal for the speeds they wanted to attain.
It was going to be up to him to go out and race it, putting this custom built machine to the test and making the necessary changes to attain the goal. With speed in mind, this machine was modified to allow the engine to be further towards the back of the bike allowing for better weight distribution, thus adding traction and stability.
Another small problem… Dan had never raced a motorcycle! At tech inspection the guy asks him “what motorcycle experience do you have?” To which Dan replied: None. But that was a non-issue for Dan.
“I don’t think you necessarily need to have experience; you just have to have the instinct. It’s like drag racing a car. If the car starts going towards the wall, you let off the gas and let it realign.”
The bike was to throw hurdles at Dan over and over. While riding the bike, Dan had even encountered racing with a single wheel, passing through the speed traps at a whopping 113. At one point during one of the runs, the foot peg came off and the safety wires broke on one side, which made the bike lose its own axle bolt and sent it flying along the dirt. That made for a single wheel secured to the bike. Needless to say once all of the little hiccups are fixed, the bike will actually run with both wheels on the ground, and the strong engine would most probably break records, and beyond.
Rolling the bike outside in the beautiful California weather, out into the alleyway amongst the palm trees and the telephone lines, and with the sun glistening off of it, you could only imagine this streamlined machine speeding across the salt flats or the dry lake surface. Looking as though the bike is going a hundred miles an hour parked right there on the asphalt, it’s undeniably cool. It is a beautiful thing when technology and style come together so effortlessly. One of the interesting details is the way Dan affixed the carbs, which are on mounts that he had researched through vibration specialists. He came up with a system that allows the bike to move without aerating the fuel. The bracket that Dan had selected is the exact same one that the US military uses to hold its computer hard drives in their helicopters, allowing for the carbs to move and vibrate without much stress being put on the fuel lines.
Originally named the “Hellcat,” the bike would be misnamed by the SCTA Association, as “The Wild Cat”. The current owner liked it so he had her registered with the new name. Last year’s Bonneville Speed Week was sadly rained out, and the bike was not able to make its run. Yet with every change Dan makes, the bike undeniably improves in speed. With every run, Dan is proving the old saying, “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”