This past weekend, October 24-25, 2009, the Wheels Through Time Museum Vintage Racing team travelled to Maxton, North Carolina for the ECTA Land Speed Racing Season Finale at the Maxton-Laurenburg Airstrip. After a short weekend on the 1.9-mile airstrip, the team emerged with two new ECTA-certified land speed records.
Put on the by the East Coast Timing Association (ECTA), the "Maxton Mile" has become one of the premier land speed racing venues on the East coast, and continues to draw hundreds of competitors to each of the several events held by the ECTA each year. Formed by two Bonneville Land Speed Record holders, the ECTA was designed to provide an opportunity for east coast racers to compete in speed trials without having to make the several thousand mile trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the world’s mecca for land speed racing. Setting up their venue at an abandoned military air-strip in Maxton, NC, the ECTA’s events attract the fastest competition on the east coast and has certified land speed records in excess of 260mph.
During the ECTA season finale, the Wheels Through Time Vintage Racing team would field one of the oldest machines to ever races at the Maxton Mile — a 1932 Harley-Davidson Model VL. Prepared by Brian Haenlien of Brethren, Michigan, the machine was purpose built for land speed racing, and more specifically, the Maxton Mile.
"Our goals in building this machine were to do what we could to make the machine go as fast as possible," said Haenlien. "But since the course at Maxton is much shorter than other venues, it had to get up to top speed in a hurry."
The airstrip on which the Maxton Land Speed Races are held totals 1.9 miles, where competitors have a one-mile run to get their machine up to top speed. A timing device is set up at the 1-mile mark, which is used to record each competitors speed during the run. After the "timing trap", competitors have approximately eight tenths of a mile to slow down.
In April of 2009, during the first ECTA meet of the season at Maxton, the Wheels Through Time Race Team had brought the 1932 Harley out for its first land speed racing event. "The engine performed great at the first run in April, but the machine wasn’t as stable as we’d like it to be for running high speeds," said Walksler. "A few small chassis modifications, and some gearing changes helped to correct that. We knew she was ready to go this time around!"
Due to rain, the ECTA only ran for about an hour on Saturday, and the team spent most of the in the race trailer making last minute preparations. But when sunny skies rolled around on Sunday, the track was perfect for going fast, and competition was in the air.
The teams first run saw an impressive 97.201 m.ph. at the trap, which was good enough for a new record in the 1350c.c. Altered Vintage Gas class. But both Haenlien and Walksler knew the machine was capable of much more. "We made another gearing change, dropping the rear sprocket down several teeth, and gave it another shot," said Walksler.
The second time around, with sights set at breaking the 100 m.p.h. barrier, Haenlien straddled the machine at the starting line, knowing it would most likely be their last run of the weekend. "We’ve made the preparations, and the motor seems like its got enough power. In a few minutes, we’ll know if it was a job well done!" Haenlien said seconds before his last run.
As the machine crossed the timing trap, Haenlien was in full tuck, and despite a strong 15 m.p.h. headwind, the machine recorded a top speed of 101.764 miles per hour — bumping up his previous run of 97.201 and setting yet another record along the way.
Always eager for more, the team plans to bring the machine back for another try in April 2010, along with a fleet of other purpose built machines made for "going fast".
For more information, visit the museum’s website, located at www.WheelsThroughTime.com, or call the museum at (828) 926-6266
(Photos provided by David Whealon at www.DWPhotosOnline.com)