Two-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Eddie Krawiec was our tour guide, giving us a personal perspective behind all the technical activity at the facility.
Current reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Krawiec dominated the opening round of the NHRA PSM series, becoming only the second racer to gain the maximum 150 points by qualifying number one and winning all his elimination rounds en route to victory in a final. He also set the Pro Stock Motorcycle ET record at 6.750 seconds in the second round of eliminations.
As you’d expect, the engine assembly room features the latest milling and valve grinding CNC machinery available.
The 100,000-square-foot Vance & Hines Racing facility was already beginning to fill up with stock when we visited last year, and the company already has another 100,000-square-foot building under construction next door. Business is obviously good for company CEO (and multi-time motorcycle dragracing champion) Terry Vance.
A 385-horsepower V-Rod PSM engine ready for work on one of the VHR dyno cells. Note the machined-from-billet engine cases, cylinders, and cylinder heads, as well as the lack of water jackets on the cylinders; because the engines only run for a minute or less at a time, there’s no need for a cooling medium.
A customer’s four-cylinder Pro Stock engine set up on one of the VHR dynos. Vance & Hines puts just as much work and attention to detail in their customer engines, and they aren’t brand specific.
A Buell (basically an S&S; Racing design) push-rod engine ready to go on the VHR dyno. Rags cover the intakes; a good majority of the horsepower is made there, and VHR wants to protect its secrets.
The engine assembly room of the Vance & Hines Racing facility, with some of the dyno rooms visible in the background. Note that tarps and rags cover most of the engines under assembly; like any top racing company, VHR is very protective of its speed secrets.
The collection of NHRA “Wally” trophies (traditional trophy given to each winner of an NHRA event class) in the Vance & Hines Racing offices looks to be getting out of control…
In addition to the race shop, the Vance & Hines facility at Indy also handles the manufacture and warehousing of its high performance exhaust systems, such as sportbikes, off-road, and dragrace setups.
An interesting contradiction often occurs when Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines riders Eddie Krawiec or Andrew Hines line up at the start of an NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock dragrace: the rider next to them is likely riding a bike with an engine built by the same shop that built their engines. And if so, there’s an even higher likelihood that Krawiec had a role in building the engine.
And it’s not just riders on V-twin-powered machines. Besides those in the NHRA Pro Stock field aboard Buells, competitors aboard Suzukis or Kawasakis are just as likely to have engines originating from the Vance & Hines race shop in Indianapolis.
That two-wheeled dragracing icons Terry Vance and Byron Hines parlayed their long history in the sport and an acute business savvy into a motorcycle industry heavy-hitter is already well known. But what isn’t as well known is that the Vance & Hines race shop still continues to be one of bedrocks of the NHRA Pro Stock motorcycle dragracing world — and despite being the official Harley-Davidson racing team, it doesn’t matter whether your tastes are of the two- or four-cylinder variety…the shop can build you an NHRA National-competitive powerplant.
Being the engine program coordinator at Vance & Hines means that Krawiec — who has an engineering background — has had a hand in developing and building all the engines that go through the facility. That means that when he arrives at the track and hands over a freshly rebuilt engine to a customer, Krawiec could be giving that person the means with which to beat him later in the weekend. “I cringe when I hand it to them because this might be the person who could beat us,” admitted the New Jersey native.
Don’t think this is just business lip service. In 2010, Krawiec was beaten for the NHRA Pro Stock championship by LE Tonglet, riding the Nitro Fish Suzuki equipped with an engine built by Vance & Hines. “It’s something we pride ourselves in. If we build it for you, we’re going to give you the best that we can build you. We are going to give you the best that we can give you all year…not just at any given time.” Although Krawiec and Hines are the only riders in the NHRA field aboard Harley-Davidson V-Rod-based machines, there are a number of Buell-mounted competitors; most of the field, however, are using Suzukis or Kawasakis (that are actually based on the old GS1000 or Z1 air-cooled engines of the ‘70s) for one simple reason: cost. “You can do an inline four-cylinder program for less than half of what it costs to do a V-twin program. That’s because there’s an abundance of parts; the Suzuki engine has stayed with the same cases, the same products. It doesn’t require the extensive machine time,” says Krawiec.
While the four-cylinder engines use many off-the-shelf parts, the V-twins are a far cry from their production counterparts. In fact, it’s doubtful that there are any production parts in either the “H-D V-Rod” or “Buell” engine. “We build our own engine cases for our V-Rod,” explained Krawiec. “The engine cases require around 20 days in the CNC machine.” Part of the reason it takes that many days is because the stresses of machining engine cases out of a 400-pound chunk of billet aluminum result in metal fatigue and warping; you can only do so much at a time before problems can occur with measurements and clearances if you don’t give the metal time to cool and settle. “And time is money…and that’s just the bottom cases. Our cylinder heads start as a 75-pound chunk of aluminum, and they end up in the 25-pound range. We fill two 55-gallon drums with chips when we’re done,” reveals Krawiec. While the V-Rods are an exclusive H-D/Vance & Hines design (see “All in the Family”, December 2009), the Buells utilize an engine built from S&S; Racing components.
The V-Rod components are made inside the Vance & Hines Racing facility in the Indy suburb of Brownsburg, Indiana, a massive 100,000-square-foot building that houses the R&D; unit for VHR, as well as the manufacturing and warehousing facility for the company’s performance exhausts — i.e., sportbike, off-road, and dragrace (with another 100,000-square-foot building under construction next door…business is obviously going well for VHR). The engine assembly/testing room is filled with numerous customer and team Pro Stock powerplants in various states of construction; naturally, many engines and their components had strategically placed shop rags to conceal proprietary technology during our visit. “Most horsepower is made on the intake side, so a lot of our development technology goes into that area,” said Krawiec. Adjacent to the engine assembly room are four self-contained engine dynos, with three containing each type of engine VHR works on: Harley-Davidson V-Rod in one, Buell in another, and four-cylinder (Suzuki, Kawasaki) engines in the third.
The engine assembly room and the R&D; unit are endowed with the latest high-tech CNC machining and fabrication equipment available, enabling custom application components to be designed and manufactured in-house. “We’ll go head-to-head with any NASCAR race shop as far as our CNC fabrication facilities,” boasts Krawiec. And as you’d expect, Krawiec and crew keep a very clean house (unless they’d spent a week cleaning and detailing the place before our visit…doubtful considering how much work looked to be underway inside); you could practically eat off the workbenches and floors.
The race shop’s abilities aren’t just limited to the NHRA Pro Stock machines. “We’re a high performance shop,” said Krawiec. “We don’t just do dragracing stuff. We are heavily involved with Supercross cylinder head work, AMA roadracing. We used to even do some import car cylinder heads years ago, but we’ve pulled back from that because we’re focusing more on the motorcycle side of things now. It’s not just dragracing for us.”
Yet dragracing is obviously where Vance & Hines’ reputation as major league speed merchants was — and continues to be — built. The NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle category currently has four “brands” competing in the series, and the rules are constantly juggled in an attempt to maintain parity among the participants. Initially, the Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rods were struggling to make the field when they first appeared, so not much attention was paid to them. But they quickly became a force to be reckoned with as the Vance & Hines team’s development began to pay off, and soon the V-Rods found themselves saddled with increasing amounts of weight ballast when it became apparent that the bikes had an advantage (of course, the V-twins already are given a massive displacement advantage over the four-cylinders — 160 cubic inches/2622cc versus 101 cubic inches/1655cc — and the V-Rods are allowed four valves per cylinder while the Buell and fours can only run two, but that’s another story).
“Because we’re that much heavier than the other guys” — the Vance & Hines Harley V-Rods were slapped with an additional 20-pound weight penalty after both Krawiec and Hines dominated the 2012 season-opening Gatornationals at Gainesville, Florida in March, making them 45 pounds heavier than the Buells, and 65 pounds heavier than the four-cylinder machines — “our transmissions take a lot of abuse. It’s mostly drivetrain wear components that we have to service. The clutch isn’t really a concern, it’s mostly the stress you put on all the gears. We change out our transmissions after 25-30 runs regardless, because we’ve had them break at 35-40 runs, so we don’t push the envelope.”
Of course, pushing the performance envelope is what the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson team shoots for whenever they head to the track, and they’ve been doing a lot of it lately. Krawiec won his second NHRA Pro Stock title in 2011 (teammate Hines has won three), and at the Gatornationals in March, Krawiec flirted with becoming the first rider to break the 200 mph barrier after reportedly exceeding the double ton in testing. Unfortunately, he didn’t set the speed record during his dominating performance in Florida — he led each round of qualifying and won four elimination heats in addition to winning the final, making him only the second racer to achieve the maximum 150 points for a weekend since the NHRA began awarding points for qualifying — but Krawiec did set the new ET record of 6.750 seconds during the third round.
Needless to say, when it comes to NHRA Pro Stock motorcycle dragracing, the Vance & Hines legacy — in both the bikes throughout the field, as well as the record books — isn’t going to fade away anytime soon. SR