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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Straddling a 280-kilogram 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 m.p.h. (251 km/h);
he's
travelled 402 metres 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 United States, 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 m.p.h. (97 km/h) 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 m.p.h. 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 US$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 m.p.h.
(530
km/h) 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.

Their vehicles are posting faster and faster times at amateur meets, but
they still have a ways 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 set by Larry "Spiderman" McBride last year.

And larger electric vehicles have even more catching up to do. White
Zombie's best time in a quarter-mile is 11.46 seconds - that's quicker
than
a 2007 505-horsepower Corvette ZO6, one of the quickest production
vehicles
available to the general public - but it's still 6.4 seconds away from
the
Top Fuel record.

Not everyone in the gas-powered crowd is convinced electric vehicles are
the
next big thing.

"I certainly don't see them challenging for professional records in the
near
future," said Graham Light, senior vice president of racing operations
at
the NHRA. "We don't have a blind eye to new technology, new innovations
and
new methods of doing things" but "at this point I don't see a strong
movement toward electric cars."

But electric vehicle racers say people like Light are out of the loop.
They
say rapid advances in battery technology will give EVs a shot at
drag-racing
records.

"This is a disruptive technology and there is a lot of room for
improvement
in this area," said Ric Fulop, founder and vice president of business
development for A123, the maker of KillaCycle's batteries.

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. Fulop said he believes the KillaCycle can
break
the drag racing motorcycle record within the next year.

Electric drag racers are test-driving the technology that will
eventually
spill over into mass production cars, analysts say.

Today's hybrid cars, like Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius, use nickel metal
hydride batteries, not more expensive lithium-ion batteries.

But cost of lithium-ion 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
kilometres over their lifetime and deliver more horsepower are on the
horizon.
 
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