Straddling a 619-pound motorcycle, Scotty Pollacheck tucks in his knees and lowers his head as he waits for the green light. When he revs the...
PORTLAND, Ore. — Straddling a 619-pound motorcycle, Scotty Pollacheck tucks in his knees and lowers his head as he waits for the green light. When he revs the engine, there’s no roar. The bike moves so fast that within seconds all that’s visible is a faint red taillight melting in the distance.
Pollacheck crosses the quarter-mile marker doing 156 mph; he’s traveled 1,320 feet in 8.22 seconds, faster than any of the gas-powered cars, trucks or motorcycles in the drag sprints this weekend at Portland International Raceway.
It’s particularly impressive given Pollacheck is riding a vehicle that uses no gasoline and is powered entirely by lithium-ion batteries.
Electric vehicles are making their presence felt at amateur drag races across the country, challenging gas-powered cars and motorcycles.
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Pollacheck and his bike — dubbed the KillaCycle — are part of a growing movement that is exploiting breakthroughs in battery technology and could soon challenge the world’s fastest-accelerating vehicles in the $1 billion drag-racing industry.
“In professional drag racing I expect to see the electrics eventually pass up the fuel dragsters,” said Dick Brown, president of AeroBatteries, which sponsors White Zombie, the world’s quickest-accelerating street-legal electric car: a 1972 white Datsun 1200.
“Electric gives you instant torque whereas gasoline you have to build up,” Brown said. “As we learn to manage it, you’re going to see some really amazing performances.”
Electric drag racers are test-driving the technology that will eventually spill over into mass-production cars, analysts say.
Today’s hybrid cars, such as Toyota’s Prius, use nickel metal hydride batteries, which cost less than lithium-ion batteries. But the price of lithium-ion batteries is expected to drop. In addition, the latest generation of batteries offers a higher rate of conductivity and takes less time to charge; the KillaCycle’s battery pack can be juiced up in five minutes.
New materials also mean the battery is less prone to overheating and explosions, a danger of earlier generations.
Experts say lithium-ion batteries that will power a car tens of thousands of miles over their lifetime and deliver more horsepower are on the horizon.
The Chevrolet Volt, which is expected to be released in 2010, is a consumer hybrid that uses gas to power a charger and can travel 640 miles on a tank of gas and up to 40 miles on one electric charge. The vehicle will run on a lithium-ion pack similar to the one used by the KillaCycle.
Bill Dube, KillaCycle’s owner and designer, and other EV racers say electric cars aren’t just about 2-cent-a-mile transportation, lessening reliance on foreign oil or curbing global warming. They’re also about performance.
“For electric cars to matter, people have to buy them,” he said. “If you have a car that is faster than everyone else’s, if it’s electric so be it, but people will buy it.”
The KillaCycle runs on 990 lithium-ion battery cells that feed two direct-current motors, generating 350 horsepower. The bike accelerates from zero to 60 mph in just under a second — faster than many professional gas-powered drag motorcycles and within striking distance of the quickest bikes that run on nitromethane. With that hyper-potent racing fuel, riders can get to 60 mph in 0.7 seconds.
In drag racing, two vehicles accelerate from a standstill and race over a straight quarter-mile track. The National Hot Rod Association oversees the racing of amateur street-legal cars on hundreds of tracks around the country as well as the professional drag circuit.
In the most popular professional division, Top Fuel Racing, dragsters with large rear wheels and narrow bodies reach speeds exceeding 330 mph in 4.6 seconds.
The National Electric Drag Racing Association holds just four races a year. But electric drag racers are increasingly showing up at drag strips across the country to show what they can do.
Their vehicles are posting faster and faster times at amateur meets, but they still have a way to go before matching professional world record times. The fastest quarter-mile time by an electric vehicle is the KillaCycle’s 8.16 seconds — that’s 2.36 seconds off the nitromethane world record for drag bikes.
In December, the KillaCycle will receive a second-generation battery pack that will have twice as much juice as its current 374-volt system, giving it close to 1,000 horsepower. Ric Fulop, founder and vice president of business development for A123, the maker of KillaCycle’s batteries, said he believes the KillaCycle can break the drag racing motorcycle record within the next year.