The pre-dawn corona of light on the horizon begins to steal the darkness from the sky as hunters of speed suit up in full leathers and boots, preparing to go to war against wind resistance and friction on their fire-breathing machines. The El Mirage dry lake bed begins to wake as distant engines fire up for the first time on race day. Last minute tweaks in some camps, all-out rebuilds in others. The air is still as can be with just enough breeze to sweep the tension past the faces of the mechanics and the racers. "Will we be fast today?" A question on everyone's lips. Prayers for safety are uttered in small circles all around the lake bed. Today is race day. Today is a day where the clock will tell all truth. Today, today is just as it was for the land speed racers of days past, racers like Johnny Allen, Robert Leppan, and Bert Munro. They all stared at this same type of sunrise, and felt this same tension.
Indian Motorcycle is on the lake bed this weekend to set a benchmark of sorts. There is a new era of Indian Motorcycles being produced: Spirit Lake Era Indian Motorcycles. Indian has been a fabled name on the lake beds of the US since the mid-century records of Burt Munro were set at Bonneville on his highly modified Scout. History will to be made again this weekend. The fastest Spirit Lake Era Indians will be crowned. Along with a small team, Robert Pandya will pilot the Thunder Stroke 111 powered, "Elnora" bike, that has previously run across the country, and Gary Gray, the stock 2015 Scout, into the history books.
Image: Barry Hathaway
The machines were numbered almost prophetically as 1909, the year that Cannon Ball Baker wont the first Indianapolis motorcycles race, and 1920, the first production year of the Scout. It seemed that even the race numbers were pulling for the new bikes to do something really special.
We are lucky enough to have the first question and answer session with one of the racers, Robert Pandya. We had a whole slew of questions for Robert after the race. You see, we (@4Nines and I) had helped out with the Elnora bike by hand laying the carbon fiber headlight bucket.
Image: Barry Hathaway
Without further ado... The question and answer session:
IM.net: What is your racing background?
Robert Pandya: I started racing YSR 50’s way back when they were new – my Dad is a doctor – so I had to wait until I was a young adult to even ride let alone race. Eventually I endurance raced a Honda Hawk GT (Team Hawkworks) and ran track days for Aprilia and Buell and an event called Femmoto. I sucked (but enjoyed) a couple scrambles races and a Supermoto event – I had thought I was beyond racing in my life – but Land Speed may be too addicting to deny.
IM.net: How many iterations has the Elnora bike seen? How long has the Elnora bike been in development? Care to give us a little history on the Elnora Bike?
RP: Elnora is literally a “crusher”. In the process of developing products a company must make prototypes – Elnora is one of many that were built to be ridden, abused, measured and the ultimately destroyed. This is the process to make a quality product. She is a pre-production bike – there are subtle differences in her compared to the production bike – but she will never be sold and is supposed to be destroyed like the many other Chiefs that already have been crushed.
I originally prepped her for the May 2014 Cannon Ball Baker Centennial ride. We cut down the fenders, Jeb Scolman added a bash plate along with a custom high-pipe and some rear tip-overs plus tossing anything non-essential like the windscreen and driving lamps. Gus Aramayo, our lead suspension tech, modified the forks and shock for much stiffer springs, and Saddlemen gave me a prototype spring seat to take the edge off. I rode her like that 3300 miles from San Diego to NYC in 11 ½ days following Cannon Ball’s route. Aside from losing several hours due to a front flat (pinched tube) and an electrical problem (completely my fault in how I mounted a wiring modification) she ran flawlessly all the way. Even on 300 or so miles of dirt and gravel roads. What a great ride! She was the only Indian on the trip (Cannon Ball rode a 1914 Indian V-Twin) and the only cruiser to make the whole trip including the dirt sections.
IM.net: When did you first decide that you wanted to run on the dry lake bed?
RP: Following the Cannon Ball ride, I was going to just use her in Sturgis to get around – and it hit me to start riding her in as many settings as possible. So she was prepped for the Ohio Mile – where I was rained out. Then ready for Bonneville – which was rained out. Gus and other Polaris and Indian engineers and techs helped me prep her for roadracing – but we did not get enough time to test – and an endurance race is too brutal for an untested machine. The final SCTA race at El Mirage was the last chance to get an official run in – and that became the focus for all of us. RC Components supplied me some custom 17” rims and Dunlop gave us a set of Daytona Spec but DOT legal race rubber. They worked great.
IM.net: What made you decide to use the Cannon Ball bike instead of using a new Chief off the line?
RP: Elnora is a dead girl walking – I can literally toss her off of a cliff, and it would not matter to our bottom line. That said the chassis must be accounted for, so it would still go to the crusher. I bonded with that bike riding across the country. We know each other well – and now the goal is to ride her in as many venues as possible.
IM.net: Did you get to practice before heading out to El Mirage?
RP: Let’s say that there are some long straight and lonely roads in Texas where I live. I’ll leave it at that.
IM.net: How much power do you figure that you were making over the stock bike?
RP: Lloydz Motorworks did some dyno tuning and tweaking. We’re making a few HP more with the accessory air cleaner and a set of pipes – those are simply stock headers that are modified to become a 2-1 instead of the stock 2-2. Anyway – the bike puts down a linear and strong torque curve.
IM.net: With respect to the stock limiters, what did you guys do to free the bikes up?
RP: I can’t offer details – but I have some friends in engineering who loaned me an ECM for the racing events only. Yeah it’s tweaked – but not radically so. And no – you cannot get one!
IM.net: What was the reasoning behind not putting the Stage 1 pipes on the Scout?
RP: The Scout was built to the P-P 1350 rules with a 100% stock engine. The rules allow you to gut the exhaust – but it must look stock and have the stock exhaust outlet size. Thus slip-ons are not allowed.
IM.net: What were the race weights of each bike? What if anything did you do to reduce weight for the race?
RP: Near stock basically – they had some lights and minor stuff removed – but Land Speed is about aero and horsepower more than weight. There are few gains and high costs to lose much weight.
IM.net: After getting rained out earlier this year, did you feel like you got your retribution?
RP: My goal for Elnora was 130. I was told that was not possible – but we did it. Just – but we did it. I was elated. But I still want to race the Ohio Mile – that track owes me a run… It’s a concrete mile – basically a long drag race without any traction issues.
IM.net: What was it like sitting on the start line for the record setting run?
RP: The only record we set was to be the fastest Spirit Lake Era bike – not a class record – that will require deeper engine mods and some other chassis mods. But the sight of that open lake bed – sound and smell of some crazy nitro powered beast warming up next to me, the energy of the assembled crowd and the sight of the starter wearing that iconic all-white gear was truly intoxicating. You wait a lifetime for that feeling. And the payoff is intense. When the oil in your blood starts to boil – that is living!
IM.net: Did you feel like there was anything left in the bike when you crossed the line at 130.227 mph? And the Scout at 128.447?
RP: Yeah – I can only speak to the Chief – but there was more in there for sure. As I said – some chassis and engine work and some more testing and we will find more speed for sure. Gary rode the Scout or an easy 128+ and it had more in it for sure. That engine and chassis are amazing. As it gets dedicated Land Speed modifications – it will ONLY get better. The Scout is so perfectly reflective of its past. I would think that the company founders and past racers would be proud of what Gary did.
IM.net: How did the feel of the bikes change as you got up into the higher speeds?
RP: The wind noise is terrific. Hellacious. Intake and exhaust are almost lost to the tear of the wind. There is something that happens over 100 MPH. It doubles again (in my past experience) over 140 MPH. You know you are in a special place at those speeds – sitting on an open bike filled with the faith that everything will work out. The feeling was actually trust and calm mixed with blurred vision, minimal reference points and the streaming thoughts to keep the throttle pinned, and the bike going straight. There is no weave – but you are going fast, so a fraction of a degree of lean has you going across the width of the track. It’s a purity of focus that is hard to describe.
In a word – it feels epic.
IM.net: Were there any "Oh Shit!" moments?
RP: Not for me. Not one – that bike is amazing. The SCTA prep is great. The Gear Grinders and especially Van and Cathy Butler were calming and educational, and Brian Klock and his team were fantastic. My first run was 129 MPH – I was supposed to ease up – but the bike felt so go I kept shifting. My second run I botched the shift to 6th and lost momentum – and ran a 128 something. That sucked – the third and last run felt perfect – and I was rewarded with that 130.227 speed. The only Oh Shit – was realizing that we would not get a 4th run in! At least until May of ‘15!
IM.net: The Scout ran an impressive time considering it has a much smaller engine. What was the key to its high top speed?
RP: The Scout has a smaller aero signature with the downturned bars. The stock footpeg position is not ideal for Land Speed however. But that motor is just great – and it’s got a solid chassis. That is a real powerhouse. The Chief is made to cruise – but it feels great to push that engine too. I know the engineering team feels good about our results.
IM.net: How did the Scout and the Elnora bike fair in their respective classes?
RP: Neither are close to class records right now - The P-P 1350 class is the same as a Hayabusa! But we will find a class where the bikes will be competitive and push towards that. The focus will be the Scout – Elnora is going to move on to something else probably – that endurance race, Iron Butt, or Ice Racing. But it sure was fun to hold the throttle open for so long…
IM.net: Were there any mechanical issues that always seem to creep up on race day?
RP: None. Both bikes ran great – all we did was tweak tire pressure and check belt tensions. The rest of the time we drooled at the amazing collection of hardware out there and chatted with legendary racers like Wink Eller and Brian Klock.
IM.net: Where you worried at all about the stock belt drive at those high speeds? Did both bikes run the same belt all weekend?
RP: They did – the belts are REALLY tough. Racing will find a weakness in man and machine. But nothing came up on our runs. For pure racing we would switch to chain drive to allow for easier final ratio adjustments.
IM.net: How many runs were you able to make, and if you were given a few more, do you think that you would have been able to best the top speed?
RP: Only one on the Scout – we met the goal of a strong speed, and Gary could not stay for the whole meet. I made three on Elnora and was in line for a fourth – but a lack of breeze has dust hovering on the course, so the event didn’t process as quickly as usual.
IM.net: What gear did each run in to achieve your best top speed?
RP: Both bikes were run up to 6th – though I contemplated staying in 5th on Elnora. Cathy Butler talked me out of it after I described my run. She has dozens of records – I trust her experience. Heck – she demolished another record in the 600cc class that day too.
IM.net: Did you run out of gearing or revs in either bike?
RP: Maybe – but in a 1 1/3 mile course it’s hard to tell. Plus we could not see the tachs in our riding positions – so it was all grit and gut check.
IM.net: Pump gas or race? What octane?
RP: We bought some regular octane non-ethanol race gas at the track – but Elnora still had some of that ethanol crap in the tank from the last fuel up in Pennsylvania on the Cannon Ball trip I think…she’s not picky – she just likes to go!
IM.net: Will you try again with some improvements in the aero dept?
RP: For sure on Elnora – some tucked in bars and a different seat will help. Digging into deeper class rules will help find some areas of improvement also. Maybe some more of that rattle can primer paint…
IM.net: "Destined for the crusher." Does that hurt your heart a little, as you have spent a lot of time in that saddle?
RP: Yes and no – she could have been just another 9300 mile development tool. But this bike now has a story. And if your dying breath is finishing up telling a great story – that makes for a great life. What more can we ask for really?
IM.net: What does this mean to Indian? Is performance and being the most powerful/fastest bike on the market a driver?
RP: No – Victory Motorcycles has some GREAT potential in that area. We lean towards history and tradition. Not outright performance. We get there in different ways – both important and valid.
IM.net: If anyone misspells your name will you consider changing it like Bert did when Popular Mechanics (If I remember correctly) circa 1957 spelled his name "Burt?" HAHA!
RP: “Roburt” would not make anybody look intelligent – you or me! I’ll let my name represent my actions in my life. I’m proud to be part of this great brand and the history we are building today. Even if somebody gets my name wrong – I know what we are doing for Indian is right. And that is what matters.
Thanks so much Robert!
Image: Barry Hathaway
The word on the street is that the Scout is already headed back to the super secret lab to be modified for next season. The Elnora bike will be on display next to the “Spirit of Munro” custom at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach this weekend (Nov 14-16). You can see the machine up close along with a great presence of the new Indian Motorcycles.
Ride Fast. Stay Safe.