White Alligator Racing is developing—with technical help from Lon Moyer and Brad Moore at Competition Engine Services—a one-piece, plain bearing crankshaft for Suzuki NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycles.
The part is intended to replace roller bearing cranks based on the stock Suzuki GS part, and a known reliability problem for Suzukis in the class.
The team finally got the crank off the dyno and into the frame rails for real world, on-track testing last week. With another opportunity to test on an NHRA-prepped track, the crank could see competition as soon as this year’s U.S. Nationals at Indy.
“For years, even back in the Falicon days, people have been having crankshaft troubles,” said WAR owner/rider Jerry Savoie. “The engine has evolved in so many areas, and one place there’s been no evolution is the crankshaft.
“Back in 2015 or ‘16, we were blistering. I mean, it was just unbelievable. And we weren’t breaking crankshafts or nothing.
“Then they couldn’t get the bearings anymore, and that’s when the problems started. And look, it’s nothing that these guys are doing wrong. It’s just the parts and pieces, how they are designed, that we’ve been using for the last 25 years. We’ve got to get away from this technology.”
“As these engines make more and more power, we’re obviously putting more and more stress on these parts,” said WAR tuner/manager Tim Kulungian. “And I think the parts work really well with a lot smaller stroke and a lot less horsepower. But I think over the past, probably four or five years, the run counts and the lifecycles have gotten shorter.
“Here’s another problem —you can’t get no damn rods,” said Savoie. “For them to build me a new crank right now, I gotta cut the rods off an old crank and send them in!
“It’s not their fault. They try their best, and let me tell you—they literally probably losing money on a lot of these jobs. They’re like, ‘Man, we’re gonna help you out.’ And I know they’re helping other people, because some of these damn cranks got five or six runs on them. So they’ve gone out of their way to make things right, and it’s the only solution we got right now.
“You watch Pro Stock Cars and everyone else getting all these runs out of their crankshafts and you’re like, ‘Why can’t we do this?’ Everybody’s doing the best they can with what they have, but it’s just not good enough.”
“Right now we’re getting 40-45 runs out of a roller bearing crank, then it’s taken out of service and a new crankshaft is purchased and put in,” noted Kulungian.
“So finally, two years ago, Tim and I got together and said, ‘Look, we can’t continue to race like this,’” said Savoie. “Evolution is a continuing process and we needed to go forward and try to come up with a solution.”
“What we hope to achieve (with the plain bearing crank) is longevity,” said Kulungian. “We really don’t know how many runs we are going to be able to get out of this crankshaft, but after all the stress analysis and everything that some of the engineers have worked on that helped develop this part, we hope to get 150 conservatively, or north of 100 runs out of a crankshaft, very conservatively.”
“If we get 100 runs, that’s great,” said Savoie. “Here’s the thing—if you got a crack in this thing, you can Magnaflux it. You can pick out some weak spots. It just has a lot of advantages. It’ll definitely be less costly once it’s all finished.”
“The current, roller bearing part is eight pieces of steel that are pressed together,” explained Kulungian. “And so you start with one cheek and you slide a rod bearing over it, and then you slide the rod and then you press the next cheek on. And so there’s a series of eight pieces of steel that are all pressed together and welded.
“Then they’re scrutinized and looked at, and they’re made to be as true and as absolutely straight as possible. And companies that can put eight pieces of steel together and get them to accelerate in our engines like they do, they do a really good job at it.
“But I think when you’re building a crankshaft of that nature, it has inherent problems that nobody can fully get out. And so our solution was building our own crankshaft out of one piece of billet steel.
“What typically happens with us is, if we have a failure before the 40 runs, the roller bearing crankshaft can be disassembled once or twice, at the most. You can replace rods or rod bearings or things like that, that may be failing, and then they (Vance & Hines) put it back together for you. And so you don’t have to buy a whole new crankshaft.
“So we wanted to build a part that’s a bit more robust, one that lasts longer. But the bottom line is, it’s just a way nicer, better part.
“There’s a lot of unknowns. There’s some stresses on these crankshafts that no computer can simulate. So we really don’t know how many runs you’re gonna get out of one. We have a projected number of what we think we can get out of one.
“The cool thing about this particular part is you’ll be able to you’ll be able to take the rods off the crankshaft and Magnaflux it, evaluate it, look for cracks or things that may be starting to happen and catch a failure before it actually happens.
“With a roller bearing crankshaft, you can’t take them apart in house. You can’t take the rods off them to look at, because the crankshaft’s pressed and welded together. So it’s hard to see some things that are going to fail.”
“There were substantial changes to the oiling system,” continued Kulungian. “It’s a true dry sump now with an external tank, so we’re not using the factory oil pump.
“You no longer need a vacuum pump and a vacuum pump battery, because the oil pump has two scavenge chambers. And we have pretty good vacuum on these engines with that system. We were very pleased. “
Kulungian figures that trading the removal of the vacuum for the additional oil, sump and lines will likely equal about the same weight.
“Suzuki oil pressure is really low on the roller bearing crank—really low. On your standard 2 valve, roller bearing crank, your oil pressures is around 7 to 10 psi—very, very low. And I think you’d be lucky to see 10. So with the plain bearing crank, we’ve obviously got to run a lot more oil pressure than 7 to 10 psi.
“Once you up the pressure, your volumes change—a lot. So then you’ve got to start working on controlling how much volume is needed in all these different departments of the engine—like the transmission and the top end and then the crankshaft.
“Also, when you up the pressure, you start finding a lot of places that are leaks that you didn’t know were there.
“So this is by no means a ‘drop the crankshaft in and put an oil pump on it and run it and see how we do’ kind of thing. This has been everything from fixing cases, to oil control, and designing the oil system—how you get oil in the motor, how you get it back out, designing this scavenge system—so there’s a lot of parts and pieces there.”
“We have a clutch that’s a pound and a half lighter. I worked with Eric (Hochstetler) at MTC on developing a smaller clutch basket. That was a long time ago. This project’s been going on for about a year and a half now. And what we did was we put together a Pro Stock clutch that has a much smaller basket, smaller lock-up, and smaller clutch plates. And with the plain bearing crank, we needed some room for rod and rod bolts.
“With the roller bearing crank, the rods don’t have bolts. So it’s just one-piece rod and there’s a bearing in there, and you just slide the rod over the bearing and then you press the next cheek on.
“With the plain bearing, we have a two-piece rod with bolts that assemble the bottom half of the cap with the rod itself. So it consumes more area down there in the basket.
“With the roller bearing crank, the crankshaft and the basket are already very, very close together. We actually machine the basket just a little bit to create enough clearance, so they don’t hit each other.
“So going into this project, we knew that was going to be a challenge to begin with. So we gave Eric a call and we kind of talked over the phone and discussed a few options and then I asked him what other OEM baskets that he makes the Gen2 style clutch for, and he said ‘Well I got this, this and this.’ And one of them was a GSXR1000 clutch, which is much smaller in diameter (than the GS).
“And so the next thing I said was, ‘Can you fit that on the primary gear we use?’ And he said ‘Well I’m gonna get back to you on that.’ Then he went on his end and did some drawings and engineering and figured a way out to do it. So we got that problem solved.
“Then he actually built a whole clutch basket and came to our facility in Alabaster (Alabama), and we fit it all up in an engine, and decided that we both thought it was gonna work and work well and gives us the clearance we need.
“So we finalize those plans and it’s actually a necessity to use that clutch with this style of crankshaft, because you just won’t have the room with larger diameter baskets.
“We ran that clutch as well in testing, and for the first time ever using that clutch we were able to put in a really simple, comprehensive setup, and Jerry popped the clutch and went down the racetrack. So that was really good to see.
“I did make a couple changes to the clutch and it responded appropriately. I’ve had very little time with it, but for the little bit of time I have had with it, it was predictable. And it was responsive. And that’s really what we’re looking for when we consider what type of a clutch to use in our motorcycles. On top of that, I believe it’s a pound and a half lighter than the GS clutch.”
Kulungian declined to discuss piston design, bore and stroke, or show photos of the crank or components.
“There’s quite a few alterations to the case, clearancing for the rods and bolts and changes for the oiling system.”
Do you see a billet case in the future of PSM? “I sure hope so. It’d be really neat to have a billet case,
“If a billet case is designed, and somebody decided to put a roller bearing crank in it, like the factory roller bearing crank, this particular crankshaft would just drop right in. So that would be really neat.”
Is the plain bearing crank making more power than the part it replaces?
“That’s a really hard question to answer,” said Kulungian. “And the reason is, I haven’t had it on MY dyno yet. So I really don’t want to say that it’s making more power, I want to say that it’s making very respectable power.
“We’re hoping that this new crank opens up opportunity in a multitude of ways. If you want to spin your engines faster, hopefully we’ll be able to do that with this crank without having the concern that we have with roller bearing cranks.
“We’ve done a lot of dyno testing. And up until this point, we’ve achieved everything we think we can achieve in a test cell, and so it was just time to take it out and put it in a motorcycle and see how it runs in the bike.”
The Test Session
“We went to Montgomery (Montgomery Motorsports Park in Alabama) and we made four runs total. We’ve not made a full quarter mile run yet with it. And from everything we did, we had a really successful test session. Our objective was to go out and run the engine and kind of send it through the paces and shift the gears and see how it handles a load.”
The test session at Montgomery was an 88 degree day. “It was pretty darnn humid,” reported Kulungian, who also noted that the test used a 2-valve head. “It was just hot and humid. We gave the track all it was prepared to handle, and that was definitely not full steam.
“The last run was a full pull to the eighth and it ran a pretty respectable mile an hour, so that was good to see.
“The engine has a different sound to it, and definitely a different feel. I’ll tell you that it’s a lot quieter in the dyno room. And you can definitely feel it when you’re just warming the motorcycle up. You definitely can tell something’s different in the rotating assembly.
“And the one thing Jerry said is it’s really, really smooth.”
“Man, I’m telling you—this thing is really sweet,” said Savoie. “It revs different, it’s smooth. It’s comparable to a Hayabusa (which has a plain bearing crank). Basically, that’s what it feels like. It’s really crispy. It’s just a different ride, and definitely a lot quieter.”
“Now we’re gonna go disassemble the engine and see how the parts look,” said Kulungian. “The next trip will definitely be to a national event-prepared track where we could kind of load it up with some beans and see how it does.”
When Can We Get One?
As noted, the WAR team plans on another test session of full passes, followed by inspection and analysis, before using the new crank in competition.
When will this configuration be available to the PSM field? “Not even a date in sight,” said Kulungian. “No idea. The plan now is to evaluate all the parts and pieces and look at what we got, and probably make a couple more changes.
“The cool thing is, we’ve developed something that hopefully helps people in our class to compete and hopefully adds some reliability. We want to offer it to people to buy and we have no idea how much it’s going to cost or when it’s going to be for sale. We’re working as quickly as we possibly can. And before we sell anything to anybody, we want to make sure that if it works, it’s gonna work the way we intend for it to work. And that’s really the bottom line.”
Junior Pippin undertook a similar project with Competition Engine Services many years ago on the on the V-Twin side of things for his Buell—a project I have never spoken about publicly until this very sentence. It’s cool when someone steps up to fix a problem that that everybody knows needs fixing. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and it’s cool that WAR has decided to do it. Maybe it’ll open up people’s minds to where else to innovate.
“I think this is ultimately the tip of the iceberg right now,” continued Kulungian. “Everything we’ve seen thus far is just really, really good stuff. We haven’t seen a single red flag that we haven’t found a solution for. This is our first go around and we do kind of want to streamline this process a little bit, but we’re just first proving the model. And after that we can look at how we can improve.
“The engine right now, the oiling system, is set up very conservatively. And we’ve already taken some steps to go in the direction we think we will end up. Now after this test session, we’ll probably take one more step.
“Our plan is to test on a Monday after a national event at the next opportunity. So if Norwalk allows us to test (it doesn’t look like that will happen), we certainly would like to be testing there and making some quarter mile runs. And then after the quarter mile runs, we’ll evaluate it again.
“And if everything looks good, and it’s performing the way we think it should, we will put it in competition and see how it holds up.”
WAR has recently developed a body for sale, this crankshaft that will be for sale, and the clutch developed with MTC is also for sale. Anything else on the way?
“We have two other projects in the hopper right now that are another good-sized step forward for our team. Nothing we’re really ready to discuss yet, but the development never stops. We keep looking at the problems we have, and we’re fixing them.
“We have partnerships with people around us that help our company do what we do—really amazing people. We’re very grateful for the relationships that we have. “
“I didn’t do this to cut in anybody’s pocket,” finished Savoie. “I did this just to have my own program and to be able to go out and race without having major failures.
“With the case modifications and the oiling system, it’s going to be an initial investment. But by the second go-around, when you just drop a new crank in, it’s going to be cost effective. And compare that to what it costs to blow a damn engine and fix that damage.
“I can’t wait to put it on a 4 valve, it’s gonna be awesome.”
story by Tim Hailey, photos by Auto Imagery except where noted