Electric dragsters aim for gas-powered records

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 that have raced in the drag sprints on 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. The "amp heads," computer geeks and tree-hugging environmentalists driving the electron-powered vehicles are starting to kick some major rear end.

Pollacheck and his bike — dubbed the KillaCycle— are part of a growing movement that's 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."

Brown believes electric vehicles will challenge the top drag-racing records within five years.

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 do 60 mph in 0.7 seconds.

Bill Dube, KillaCycle's owner and designer, likens the sleek, hulking bike to an oversized household appliance.

"This is like a giant cordless drill with wheels," said Dube, who designs pollution measurement instruments for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Except for the batteries he receives from sponsor A123 Systems, Dube pays the costs of his racing team — about $13,000 a year — out of his own pocket.

"We have a chance of actually taking away some nitromethane records, perhaps the overall record," said Dube.

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. Drivers are practically flattened against their seats during their short ride, meeting more g-forces than astronauts during a space shuttle launch.

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.

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