Addicted to speed: no thrill like a drag bike

For a self-admitted speed junkie like Derwood (Woody) Smith, there is no better fix than his current ride.

All his life Smith has been chasing the thrills that come from testing the limits of human speed. He's raced cars, boats and motorcycles, horses and road bikes - anything that lets a human go faster than is sensible.

But nothing from his past is faster than what he rides now. His nitromethane-fuelled drag bike crosses 290 km/h in just over seven seconds, and gives Smith that hang-on-for-life kind of ride only true speed junkies could appreciate.

"There is nothing else like this," said the 50-year-old Kamloops man. "It's total adrenaline, hardcore speed. It's quite an angry ride. It's vicious. It's what every speed junkie wants to experience."

Smith is part of HPS Racing, a three-man Kamloops team. Smith's partners Jim Hoyes and Keith Poisson take care of team maintenance and management. He is the bike's pilot.

Armed with their rocket, the team has won the Canadian Motorcycle Drag Racing Association Pro-Dragster class championships four of the last five years. The team took a break from racing this year and will return to the circuit in 2012.

Pro Dragster bikes are defined by the CMDRA as "purpose-built, nitromethane burning, carbureted V-twin dragsters (with engines) up to 122 cubic inches."

"It's a full-on drag bike, with a big slick on the back. It will do a quarter mile in 7 1/2 seconds. It's over 600 horsepower."

The fuel is a big part of what makes the bike so powerful, he said.

"(Nitromethane) is very volatile, sometime you have explosions and it will shoot shrapnel everywhere," he said. "It's been quite a few years since we had an explosion. The last time was in Medicine Hat when we had an explosion on a launch.

"We blew it up pretty good. You don't want to have those happen very often."

The fuel is also expensive, about $100 a gallon, and there is also the cost of parts. It costs about $900 for each pass down the track. In a season, the team will make about 36 passes at six different events.

"The parts you require for the bike, the list is endless. From the moment you start these bikes, the engines start to destroy themselves," Smith said.

"It adds up pretty quick. When you go to fire these things up, it's expensive," adding the racing would not be possible without local sponsors.

Winning the championships gains the team a great deal of notoriety and a little bit of cash - just enough to get to the award banquet, Smith said.

"The intent was to do it just for fun, with a bit of a competitive spirit," he said. "We've been going hard at it for the last five years."

He concedes there are risks. Smith said he's never crashed but he has seen a bunch of them over the years - some serious, others not so much.

"It's something you don't think about," he said.

For Smith, however, the reward outweighs the risks. The smell of burning nitro, the noise, the three Gs of force as the bike pulls away, fuels an experience so intense it is unforgettable.

"Once it's in your blood it's there to stay," he said.

The team had the bike display at this past weekend's Hot Nite in the City in Kamloops.

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