Run Five Thwarted “No passion so effectively robs the minds of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” – Edmund Burke It was 4:15 pm and the line was shorter towards the end of the day when many racers were starting their nighttime modifications to their machines to…
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Run Four “Happiness lies in a divine unrest; if you are lapped in comfort you stagnate and miss it.” – John Buchan Randall gave me advice – put your butt all the way back. There was a Speed hump in the rear fender and he wanted me to close the…
Run Three “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” – Eleanor Roosevelt We stopped at a trailer to get my timing slip. It looks like a grocery store receipt, and it tells you’re your average speed at…
Run Two “Overcome fear, behold wonder” – Richard Bach The morning sun was just peeking over the mountains as we drove back to the salt flats. We got off the highway and onto the access road to the salt. Bonneville Speed Week is a scene out of a volume of…
Run One “The first duty of life is still that of subduing fear.” - Thomas Carlyle The SCTA doesn’t allow you to get on the salt and just go as fast as you can on the first run. That’s how people can get killed. Going really fast on asphalt is…
Salt, Speed and Dust – Chapter 8
“No passion so effectively robs the minds of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” – Edmund Burke
It was 4:15 pm and the line was shorter towards the end of the day when many racers were starting their nighttime modifications to their machines to go faster the next day, or had blown their motors up. Then there were the record breakers. There are so many classes, that each day a dozen records or more are broken. When you break a record, you have to go to “impound”. You have four hours to tune your machine but are not allowed to make major modifications. The next morning, all these vehicles go first out onto the salt and they have to beat the record a second time in order for it to count.
AJ has the red bike in line ahead of me. It’s almost his turn and we notice the header pipe on my bike is missing! It’s just a little stub coming out of the cowling in front of my foot, and it was gone! O guessed that my bike swapped hard enough to knock it off. I’m glad it didn’t take my own rear tire out! But the pipe was out there, and if anyone hit it, like AJ, it could be disastrous like it was for Jason McVicar.
We tell the starter immediately and they shut the track down. Course workers drive the track looking for it. It took ten minutes, but they found it, smashed as if it had been run over. We were not sure if the 2 1/2” x 10” long steel pipe could have been flattened like that just from hitting and tumbling on the salt, but 193 mph was fast!
We pulled the turbo bike to our pit as AJ took a run. He reported a wobble when he returned, but not as bad as his previous run.
It was the end of day two and we had officially reached 193.07 mph (and nearly crashed at that speed). We packed up and headed off the salt. There was much work for the team to do tonight…
Salt, Speed and Dust – Chapter 7 – Nearly Over
“Happiness lies in a divine unrest; if you are lapped in comfort you stagnate and miss it.” – John Buchan
Randall gave me advice – put your butt all the way back. There was a Speed hump in the rear fender and he wanted me to close the gap between me and it. His advice was very short, and not framed with any questions or conversation otherwise. “Ok,” I thought. “I’ll put my butt back.”
I am a trainer and teacher. One thing I learned and got very good at, is when you are trying to teach someone, you have to frame information and give it context, and be complete in your explanation. Randall didn’t do that – at all.
We had the wrong tires to go over 200. So we were going to take this run up closer to 200 and get the tires changed tonight. I had qualified to ride the longer track and now had five miles per run to go fast and learn.
I let the clutch of the fire breathing turbo out and rolled off the line with a lot of confidence. I dutifully shifted at 9000 rpm to the next gear. The course was about 100 feet wide to the markers, with a blue stripe painted down the middle on the salt. There were black markers up the sides of the course every quarter mile, and an orange sign with a big number on it for every mile.
The markers were going by with increasing velocity. Everything felt good. At mile 2 I was at 181 mph with 3 miles to go. At 2 ¼ I was at 193. Smooth sailing. It always is until it’s not.
Just before the Mile 3 sign at 194 mph, the bike started wobbling. The rear of the bike swaps left while the front swaps right, then the opposite. I held on tighter but that is not the problem or the fix. It wobbled harder. I knew not to chop the throttle or the back end would come around the front. It didn’t stop. 4 seconds, five…I didn’t make any sudden moves, just eased the throttle down a touch. It continued and adrenaline flooded my blood. I didn’t know how to stop it. Six seconds and eight. Long enough to think about what I should do and what could happen.
Mercifully, it stopped. I rolled down. Mile 3 completed at 191, and mile 4 at a frightful 170, mile 5 at a stunned 133.
All of a sudden my confidence for this entire goal was blown into the wind over the salt. What happened? I didn’t know. I thought I hit ruts or sugary salt. There are some very high horsepower vehicles that race here. Around mile three to mile five they are really laying the horsepower down. We’re talking up to 2500 hp, and when they unleash it at high rpm late in the course, they chew up the salt, forming ruts and loose salt. Then here I come on two wheels, one of them under power. I kept thinking it was the salt.
I was freaked out. When I got back, AJ was freaked out too. He said he got in a full-on “tank slapper” at 175 mph. The same thing that happened to me. We talked about what happened and what the cause could be. I told him I was 6 feet right of centerline, but he went left of centerline. What was it?
The world record on a Turbo Hayabusa was 247 mph. On a stock one, it was 211 mph. AJ told me the record holder, Jason McVicar, had crashed at 244 mph after he ran over a piece of metal left on the course when a previous vehicle blew its engine, and it gave him a flat tire which caused the crash. I did not see the video on YouTube of the crash and didn’t want to at that time. (I have now. You can look it up yourself.)
Then there were the two crashes that Ron Cook had back in the late 1990s as he tried to break 200. He started swapping each time. I didn’t see that video either.
I didn’t want to go out again unless I had an explanation. I applied my logical mind. Things don’t happen for no reason. It’s physics. What was the problem? AJ and I talked more. I asked him questions. I saw other motorcycles in line, and I interviewed them. I heard lots of unsure answers. “It depends…” That wasn’t good enough. I asked more riders, and I looked for patterns in their answers. One guy was on a highly modified Hayabusa and had been to Bonneville each year for many years. He had never been over 200, and he didn’t have a good answer for me.
Then my mechanic Dean and I talked. He was a retired road racer. Road racers go 160-180 down the straights at some tracks. He said keep your weight on the pegs to keep it low and forward. Aha! And he said sudden movements at high speed upsets the bike and the wind effect on the bike will change abruptly.
I told him I had my weight on the seat, and once I got up to sixth gear and 190, I did what Randall told me to do and put my butt back 6” to the speed hump – and I did it rather abruptly. I went back to AJ. “Do you move around on the bike at speed?” I asked. “Yeah, a lot,” he said. “Do you have your weight on the seat?” “Yeah”.
I had my answer.
I know when you load a trailer or a truck with all the weight to the back, it will sway at speed. I looked at the bike. Where my butt was on the seat was behind the pegs and obviously higher. Dean told me to put my butt back, yes, but keep my butt off the seat like a jockey, so the weight is low and on the pegs. It made sense, and now I was willing to go out and try again.
When we fail, we have to try again differently. If we do things the same way, we will usually get the same result. This goes for anything we are doing. Practicing the wrong way doesn’t help, it just locks in bad habits that keep yielding less than desirable results.
Let’s try this again…
Chapter 6 – Next level
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
We stopped at a trailer to get my timing slip. It looks like a grocery store receipt, and it tells you’re your average speed at each of the timed intervals. I then went to another trailer to get my B license, which allows me to go over 175. My next goal was to go between 175 and 200.
We still had a big speed limit sticker on the side of our bike that said we were not permitted to go over 200 due to our tires. I wasn’t worried about that now, but Chris was figuring out where to get new tires and how to get them mounted out there.
My team was a great help to me. Well, no, sorry team. That’s a huge understatement. My team was indispensable to me even being here at all. Some were mechanics, and some were helping me with my gear and holding an umbrella over me to shield me from the unrelenting sun and making sure I didn’t cook in my leather “onesie” suit. I was sharing this experience with them and it made it a better experience and one we’ll never forget. They were in it as much as I was. We were all pulling in the same direction. One goal, one team. One thing was for sure, I could not do this alone, or even with one or two other people. Great endeavors always require a team.
But then there was Randall, the experience Bonneville guy we had hired to coach me. A bit of invaluable advice could make all the difference. Randall was smart, experienced, and had an impressive resume. But his social skills were off. It was beginning to become more and more apparent. He ruffled feathers at tech inspection, and his comments and advice were delivered in a less than helpful way. Chris was starting to question whether he was helping the team or hurting it. Meanwhile, his son AJ was getting a free ride on our back up bike. AJ was a fine young man; smart, knowledgeable and drama-free. I liked him a lot, and we compared notes after each run on the salt.
I rolled the throttle on for run #3, the second run of the second day. I counted five shifts down to sixth gear, each at 9000 rpm, and then I just pinned it to the throttle stop. 320 hp is a thrill! I saw 188 mph for a brief moment and averaged 183.32 mph at mile 3. It was a great run. I thought that now I would just need to tuck tighter, get my butt back, feet and knees in and head down and I’d make 200.
I got my timing slip, stopped and got my B license, and we got back in line for another run. I thought I was going to continue a predictable progression to 200.
I was wrong…
Salt, Speed and Dust – Chapter 5
“Overcome fear, behold wonder” – Richard Bach
The morning sun was just peeking over the mountains as we drove back to the salt flats. We got off the highway and onto the access road to the salt. Bonneville Speed Week is a scene out of a volume of Americana. There were hot rods everywhere. Mostly “Rat Rods” – custom fabricated machines that started out as Model A and 1932 Fords and other cars from the pre-war era and wound up as lowered, flat black Chevy V8 powered open-wheeled examples of American cool.
“This is how we won the wars and sent a man to the moon,” Chris said sincerely. All these guys who know how to build machines, toiling away in their garages learning and making these creations. The comment included all the custom-built machines racing for speed. Some low budget, and some 2500 hp one-million-dollar machines like the Speed Demon; a marvel of high tech engineering that looks like a rocket on the ground.
These same minds and the ones orbiting around them are the ones building high tech machines used to defend us, make our lives better, and to entertain us. To see them express themselves at Speed Week in Bonneville is a sight to behold. It’s worth a trip one year as a spectator to see what goes on there. Alternatively, there are many movies and YouTube videos about Bonneville Speed Week where you can see the machines – the ones that race and the ones that don’t.
One thing we came to realize is the salt is hard and fastest in the morning before the sun comes up very high. When the sun comes up and starts to beat on the salt, the salt becomes slippery.
The line to get on either course was long. You could wait over two hours for a turn. I had to stay on the short course, course 2, until I got my license to go over 175.
Another rider rode the red bike. A guy who was supposed to be my riding coach with a lot of experience on the salt had to cancel last minute. He recommended another guy he knew named Randall. Randall had a 23-year-old son, AJ, who wanted to take some runs at it. Chris agreed, so we could learn faster and compare notes after each run. We could also learn about the differences between the stock bike and the turbo bike.
AJ had made a successful first run the day before like I did and we both lined up again for our second run. It was day two; a Sunday. I was extra careful getting started to not break the wheel loose. I hit the shifter by accident, as it was too high, and I hit neutral. I had to lift my heel off the footpeg to get on top of it to shift down. I stepped down to second gear, then third. The bike obediently accelerated as if it was no big deal. The salt flew under me. My goal was an average of between 150 and 175 on any mile stretch. At mile two I averaged 167.
I rolled it off, not picking my head up too early into a 160-mph wind, and gradually turned to the right toward the return road. Of course, it wasn’t really a road, just a line marked on the vast flat plain of salt with flags and cones. I was thrilled. I thought that I could get to 200.
A big goal has to be broken into steps to get there. When you accomplish a step, you are allowed to celebrate your progress. Inside me, I did for a few minutes. When we got back to the starting line though, it was back to business.
Chapter 4 – Casting out the Demon of Fear
“The first duty of life is still that of subduing fear.” – Thomas Carlyle
The SCTA doesn’t allow you to get on the salt and just go as fast as you can on the first run. That’s how people can get killed. Going really fast on asphalt is risky enough. Going fast on salt adds other dimensions of danger.
You have to “license up”. For your first run, you get a class D license, which allows you to go over 125 but not over 150. Once you do that, you get a class C license that allows you to exceed 150 but not 175. When you demonstrate you can do that safely, you can then go over 175 but not 200. Finally, a class A license permits you to exceed 200 – but not with these tires.
By taking it in stages like this, it allows you to learn about your bike and the salt. If there is a problem, hopefully you will learn before it gets catastrophic.
I had to buy the right riding gear for this. They wanted a rider wrapped in leather. Leather is the most resistant to abrasion should you go down at high speed. I bought a leather riding suit, but it took the assistance of another person to get it on me, and I felt incredibly claustrophobic in it. I could hardly move, and I could not get it off by myself. I had to control my heart rate and claustrophobic anxiety – and I was in my house. When I got it off after having it on only ten minutes, I was soaked in sweat. What would happen when I got out on the salt at 100 degrees? I was worried. I sent it back and got a bigger size, and then repeated for a bigger size still. I still needed help getting it on and off, and was worried about the heat.
Chris had two Suzuki Hayabusa’s for me to ride. One was a stock bike, 2010, 1350 cc, red, which tested on a Dyno at 200 hp. The other was a white one that was Turbo Charged with a lower gas tank, special bodywork and modifications. It tested at 320 hp! It was an incredible beast. It would spin the rear tire on the salt at any speed – even up to 180 mph. I had to be very careful with throttle control.
Finally, in the late afternoon of Day 1, I was cleared to take my first run. I got help putting my 25-pound leather suit on. I put my boots and helmet on. I walked to the start line where my team had the bike ready to go. It was hot. I was sweating in the suit from the heat and from being nervous. What would happen? How would this go? Would I twist the throttle on a 320 hp motorcycle and spin out? One way to find out….
I got on the Turbo bike at course 2 and waited for the starter to give me the signal that the 3-mile course was mine. With slick tires, slippery salt, and 320 hp, I rolled the throttle on very slowly to not spin the wheels. The bike felt good. Real good. Patience….speed coming up. 9000 rpm. Then I missed my very first shift! My brain was used to shifting up, but this bike shifts down to go up a gear. It reminded me with the motor zinging up to 13,000 rpm when it hit neutral.
The bike pulled strong as I let it loose. I watched the conveyor belt of salt go under me faster and faster. 100 mph. 120. Feels great. I tucked. I was worried that I would have trouble picking my head up far enough with my back and neck curved as they are.
The SCTA times your average speed between mile 1 and 2, 2 and 2 ¼, and 2 and 3. My job to get my C license was to average between 125 and 150 in any one of these sections of the course.
130….140…feeling good. I rolled more on. I felt the animal I was on had so much more it wanted to show me. 150….155…and I rolled it down and pulled off after I saw the mile 2 marker.
What a relief! I could see forward while tucked (even though it was like looking through your upper eyelids. I didn’t sweat to death in my suit. I didn’t crash. I could control 320 hp on a slippery surface. Wow! This was going to be ok after all…well, it’s ok so far.
Sometimes we let the demons of fear stop us. We dwell on how hard or scary something will be and the fear grows in us until it stops us. Controlling fear and not manufacturing any more of it than is necessary is something we must do to live to our potential. Whether we are in a spelling bee in second grade, sharing our ideas at a meeting, or doing anything we haven’t done before.
The salt courses closed at 5:00. We only got one run in on day one. It was enough. We headed back to our hotel a couple of exits away in Wendover, the town where the Enola Gay took off from to end World War II. Lots of history was made out here in the desert of Northwest Utah. I felt I was a small part of it now.