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2011-01-01 "The long road trip to a short drag strip"



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The long road trip to a short drag strip

Many great ideas are formed when a group of motorcycle enthusiasts sit in a bar and share a few drinks. But the idea to ride a BMW drag bike seven hundred miles from Greenville, South Carolina, to West Palm Beach, Florida, was one of the more crazy ones. Forget the fact that most drag bikes are highly modified and precisely tuned for a single purpose – accelerating from a standing start for a quarter mile (400 metres). Cornering performance is never a thought. Drag bikes spend most of their time going straight or on a dyno. They arrive at the drag strip in a trailer and are ridden at slow speeds through the pits and then onto the track. Actually RIDE it to the track? Out of the question.

Out of the question most of the time…

This time the bike is the BMW Performance Center S 1000 RR drag racer. Although the bike looks every bit a drag bike with its nine-inch extended swingarm, this speed machine is completely street legal.

The bike is the brainchild of Justin Kingsland, BMW's Southeast Region Area Manager in the US. Justin was inspired by the handiwork of Brock Davidson, the record-setting championship drag racer who now runs the Brock's Performance speed emporium in Dayton, Ohio. Brock noticed the new BMW S 1000 RR in World Superbike racing and was taken back by the power-to-weight ratio on the spec sheet. He had to have one.  And he had to work his magic on it to see what the bike could do in the quarter mile.

Brock developed bolt-on performance upgrade components for the BMW including a full exhaust system and the aforementioned extended swingarm. The bike made waves in the drag racing world running an 8.49 elapsed time (e.t) in the quarter mile, which was the quickest lap ever with a non-modified motor at the time.

The performance caught the eye of Justin at BMW, who constructed a copy of the bike – using Brock's off-the-shelf components – to use as the centrepiece of an interactive travelling road show.

Consequently Brock (the expert tuner and now official BMW Motorrad drag bike builder) and his team were invited to demonstrate and showcase the BMW S 1000 RR at the recent Palm Beach International Raceway Citrus Nationals drag racing event in Florida.

As well as making performance runs in this exhibition event, the idea was for BMW Performance Center staff members to prove the machines' true 'streetability' by riding the drag bike all the way to Florida, accompanied by an X6 M Series chase car so that the journey and the weekend's activities could be filmed for the American S 1000 RR Facebook site, as well as Brock's Performance Facebook site and the BMW Motorrad USA E-newsletter which is sent to over 77,000 BMW fans every month.

In Florida, the team from Brock's Performance and a crew from the BMW of Miami dealership manned the midway display and a BMW Performance Center exhibition area so that drag racing fans could find out more about the new technology BMW is unveiling with its latest sports products. In total, 14 staff were on hand to showcase the RR's speed and serious customizing potential, and with tens of thousands of fans expected at Palm Beach Raceway, the opportunity to put some BMWs on the strip and in front of potential owners was too good to miss.

The racing team – consisting of ace drag racer Jeremy Teasley and Keith Dennis – fielded three race bikes plus a stock RR. Unfortunately, Keith was falling ill with the flu towards the end of the weekend, so it was up to Jeremy to go fast on the RRs – and he delivered, setting new performance standards on all three race-prepped machines.

Perhaps the most impressive of these was the BMW Performance Center RR's 8.447 e.t. achieved after the 13-hour, 700 mile (1126 km) trek to the track, with nothing more than a quick sprocket change, filling the tank with racing gas and tightening the lowering strap on the front end.  It was its quickest run ever. To date, no stock bike with bolt-on components and without internal engine modifications has come anywhere near the performance numbers recorded, as even most stock-engine race bikes are simply unable to go this fast, even when using nitrous oxide.

Put in perspective, the Performance Center BMW is a 100% street bike which is also used for displays, bike nights, dealer open houses and to occasionally turn up at a local drag strip to show what a stock RR 'dragster' will do with the proper bolt-on parts and a talented rider at the controls. This bike still has the mirrors on (they are folded in at the track), and its original gearshift assist, rather than a push button changer that is more common in this sport. Jeremy's best pass of 8.447 at 161.71 mph (260.25 km/h) is a time ticket that many full race dragbikes with racing slicks and wheelie bars would be proud to own. Believe it or not, the weather conditions at West Palm actually held the PC BMW back, as the best MPH to date of 163.61 mph (263.60 km/h) in the quarter mile, recorded at the Manufacturer's Cup Finals in Georgia in early November is still secure and held by an 18-year-old young lady by the name of Dystany Spurlock from Richmond, Virginia.

BMW of Miami brought a near-stock RR to the track to demonstrate the difference in quarter mile times between an off-the-showroom-floor version and a stock wheelbase double R set-up properly for drag strip use. Between the slipper-clutch, high centre of gravity and extremely high power-to-weight ratio, even a stock-wheelbase sportbike racing expert like multi-time national champion Keith Dennis struggled with the OEM RR, posting a best time of 10.01 at 150.68 mph (242.49 km/h). 

For comparison, Jeremy rode the Brock's Performance SuperSport-prepared RR.  SuperSport rules allow for almost no modifications to the bike save for an exhaust system, lowered suspension and ceramic wheel bearings.  Jeremy blasted a mind-boggling 8.752 at 163.12 mph (262.51 km/h) on the SS-prepped machine.

"Jeremy's 8.75 e.t. on the stock wheelbase RR is so ridiculously fast that even most people in our drag world can't comprehend the time," said Brock. "You would have to spend many thousands of dollars to modify the engine of a Hayabusa to get it to go that fast, and even then, the bike would be nearly impossible to ride due to excessive wheelies, not to mention it being prone to overheating and being miserable to ride around on the street."

"Our bike has 100% stock engine components and can be ridden anywhere on pump gas," he continued. "Zack Millholland just broke 200 mph on it in October at the Maxton Mile in an official land speed racing competition. There is nothing that the RR can't do – and it does everything very well."

The third BMW S 1000 RR in action at PBIR is known as Christine, and is the flagship of Brock's Performance BMW racing efforts. Long and low, Christine is a seriously fine-tuned machine in both the engine and chassis departments. She has a button shifter to control the OEM gear shift assist, which means that the rider is not burdened with the need to get his or her foot on the peg to change gears (just push the horn button). There is also a heavy spacer in her BST front wheel to help keep the front end on the ground for quicker times. These two small changes can usually save as much as 10 to 15 hundredths of a second over a quarter mile.

Jeremy set a record of 8.446 on Christine at Palm Beach International Raceway – a seriously impressive time.  A point of note was that this time was recorded on Saturday when the atmospheric conditions were at their worst, with a heat index over 106 degrees F (41 degrees C) and corrected Air Density reading close to 2600 feet at a track that is located nearly at sea level. Jeremy personally believes he can get Christine into the high 8.20 range with a great run in perfect conditions, but since focus was placed on the other two machines on Sunday, the team had to "settle" for only an 8.44 elapsed time.

What's also interesting is that none of the BMW bikes use any form of power booster other than VP MR12 race gas; there is no nitrous or turbo-charging, just stock engine horsepower. "Any BMW we bring to the track could be returned to its stock form by simply replacing the stock components that were removed and no one would ever know the difference," said Brock. "We didn't drill anything and we didn't cut a single wire."

In the pits the three RRs were swamped with drag race fanatics, all keen to find out more about these seriously quick motorcycles.  The BMW display also saw record numbers of people sign up for test rides at their local dealers.

It wasn't just BMW bikes that impressed the crowds at the Citrus Nationals event, as there were plenty of tuned-up cars in action too. And even though he was suffering with the flu, Keith Dennis didn't want to miss out on the four-wheeled action, and managed to get the X6 M Series chase vehicle out on the strip, recording an impressive 12.83 e.t. at over 108 mph (174 km/h) in the quarter mile. Not bad for an SUV that weighs over two tons…

When BMW built the new S 1000 RR they wanted to build the best sportbike they could. Digging deeper beyond the aggressive styling and sophisticated electronics the bike is just plain light and powerful.  As is turns out, light and powerful is the perfect combination for drag racing.

To see pictures from Palm Beach, check out Brock Davidson's album at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000550137534#!/album.php?aid=45960&id=100000550137534 and to see video footage from the event, please visit http://www.youtube.com/user/brocksperformance




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