My son is a Marvel fanatic. And let’s be honest, most kids these days are obsessed with Marvel super-heroes. In my house, the Avengers are a constant topic and Spider-Man is on TV at least three days a week. Spider-Man has many talents, of course, but riding a 270-mph Top Fuel motorcycle isn’t in the comics, TV shows or movies. Maybe it should be!
A Top Fuel motorcycle might not be in Spider-Man’s garage, but it is if you’re Larry “Spider-Man” McBride, an elder statesman of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing. Together with his brother Steve, the McBrides have been racing supercharged, nitro-burning motorcycles for over 40 years, and doing the work themselves out of their Newport News, VA-based shop, Cycle Specialist.
Larry started racing blown Top Fuel motorcycles in 1980 for a guy named Danny Johnson. Larry’s “Spider-Man” nickname was given to him because of the unique way he rides and controls the bike as he goes down the track – he moves around a lot or “crawls” on the bike to keep it in the groove – so the Spider-Man nickname was bestowed upon him by an announcer at the 1980 NHRA U.S. Nationals, and it stuck.
“If anybody YouTubes my name, they can see how I ride and move around,” Larry McBride says. “[Spider-Man] has been one of the greatest nicknames that a guy could have because of the younger fans. I love racing for the kids. One of my biggest followings is kids. I like to try to teach them the right way to do things.”
Teaching the right way to do things is certainly within Larry’s wheelhouse, as the veteran drag racer has left his mark on the sport. He was the first rider to run under the 6.50 ET barrier, setting the record of 6.49 in 1991 – a mark that wouldn’t be broken for three years. In his 40-plus-year career, Larry has been crowned World Champion 20 times, and he and his bike currently hold the Top Fuel motorcycle world record of 5.50 at 268 mph in the 1/4-mile.
Both Larry “Spider-Man” McBride and his Top Fuel motorcycle, which boasts a supercharged Suzuki engine, were at the 2022 PRI show where we got to spend a few minutes with him learning more about the drag bike and its engine.
The drag bike was in the Worldwide Bearing booth, and it was hard to miss, as even without the wheelie bars on (which make the bike 18 feet long) it was still more than half the booth space. It was certainly a sight to see and it was also cool to have a chance to sit on it. Let me tell you, you felt fast just sitting there. But, what really blew us away was the supercharged Suzuki-based engine and the fact that it pumps out 1,700 horsepower, propelling Larry nearly 270 mph in under six seconds.
As it turned out, Larry and his brother Steve did the whole build at Cycle Specialist. “We have a guy at the shop who does all of our chassis,” McBride says. “My brother Steve does all the engineering and design of the bike. We kind of follow the lead of the Top Fuel cars and I’ve got a lot of good friends of mine who are crew chiefs on Top Fuel cars. It runs a screw compressor, a Vance & Hines cylinder head, Mickey Thompson tires, and an EK chain because of all the horsepower and torque this thing has.
“The engine has a billet block and billet intake manifold. Our billet blocks are made by a company over in Europe called PUMA Engineering. We have the cranks made at Marine crankshafts. They’re all billet cranks and Marine makes the cranks out of the same material that a Top Fuel car crank is made out of. Again, we always try to follow the lead of the big crew chiefs that make the big dollars.
“We run a Web Cam racing camshaft. They’re a woman-owned company in California that makes our camshafts, and they do some blocks for us too. We run Bill Miller (BME) pistons and rods. We also run some different blocks made by Monster Racing, who is another Top Fuel guy, Mitch Brown.
“We have carbon fiber injectors. We do our own barrel valves and our own fuel management system. We run all Dayco and Gates belts. We use the VP Nitro fuel and of course the great Worldwide ceramic bearings. We run Strange Engineering carbon brakes and we also have a parachute. All my body work on this bike is carbon fiber done by Beasley Composites out of Ohio or Fiber Works also makes some stuff for me.”
At 1,700 horsepower, the Suzuki-based engine can take a beating after just one run. As such, Larry says they typically see wear on the bearings, pistons and valves. However, rather than changing out individual parts each round, Larry’s team typically brings eight engines with them in order to swap them out. Engines get torn down and rebuilt afterward.
“It’s like a Top Fuel car – you’re servicing the engine every round,” he says. “We typically bring eight engines to the track to make it easier. We can do a swap in about 45 minutes so we can make the next round. We just do a swap, take the engine stuff back home and analyze everything. We pretty much already know what happened because the computer tells us.
“If we’ve got too much engine pressure, then we know it’s something with the pistons. You use a leak down tester and you can tell it’s something with the exhaust valves. It’s pretty cut and dry, you just have to stay on top of it. The main thing is to have good people. My people have been with me for 25 years. You’ve got to have trust in your guys because this thing is running 270 mph – there’s zero mistakes allowed. I’m the rider, but I’m not the one that makes everything happen. I get to do the fun part. My crew does the hard part – all the work.”
Again, thinking about 270 mph on a motorcycle is absolutely crazy. It’s a job for Spider-Man indeed, and one that Larry gets a big rush from.
“The horsepower varies just depending on what you do down the racetrack – how much ignition timing you give it and how much supercharger you give it,” he says. “Going down track, when you’re really adding the power to it, it’s around 1,700 horsepower. The acceleration is out of this world. It’s a big adrenaline rush that I love a lot.”
Engine of the Week is sponsored by PennGrade Motor Oil, Elring – Das Original and NPW Companies. If you have an engine you’d like to highlight in this series, please email Engine Builder Editor Greg Jones at [email protected].