Few geological phenomena are as awe-inspiring as the Bonneville Salt Flats. It’s a stretch of blindingly white terra firma that expands so far that the curvature of the earth is readily apparent. I felt small, very small, when I arrived during the week of September 6-10 for the first ever Motorcycle Land Speed Trials by Bub.
Covering 30,000 acres, the Bonneville Salt Flats on the border of Utah and Nevada are a unique and fragile natural feature that has become home to world speed records. It is, afterall, perfectly suited to host physically impossible speeds; it’s flat, flat, and flat.
How in the world does a salt blanket cover such as vast expanse of earth? Funny you should ask: During the last Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago, a lake the size of Lake Michigan covered one-third of the state of Utah. Eventually the lake began to recede and left what is currently the Bonneville Salt Flats and the Great Salt Lake.
It wasn’t until 1914 that the Bonneville Salt Flats became a locale to test a vehicle’s speed when Tedd Tezlaff attempted the first automobile speed record. The original daredevil ended up blasting down the flats at a speed of 141.73 mph in a Blitzen Benz.
The fact that I was at the Salt Flats to participate in the first ever motorcycle-specific speed trials event was a little humbling to say the least. So many records have fallen on this very terrain that to be there to set a record was an honor.
Luckily I wasn’t just there to witness the event. MotorcycleUSA was there to help set a record at the first ever motorcycle land speed trials presented by BUB. Like any land-speed event, there are multiple classes, and Sherm’s Cycle and MCUSA teamed up to etch our names into the AMA record books on our Kawasaki Mean Streak project bike.
Of course, the motorcycle industry wouldn’t have the opportunity if it weren’t for the success and effort of Dennis Manning, otherwise known as BUB. The enigmatic engine-building wizard has been a part of high-speed motorcycle runs for close to 30 years. Manning first gained a measure of fame in 1970 when he took a Harley-Davidson Shovelhead across the Salt Flats at 170 mph!
With such a long and impressive resume, it should come as no surprise that BUB himself took it upon his broad shoulders to create the first ever BUB Land Speed Trials in 2004. For the first time, motorcycles get the Salt Flats to themselves, and truth be told, everybody came out of the woodwork to run bikes of every sophistication level; from streamliners to Cox engines designed to power one-pound model airplanes, it seemed every engine configuration was represented.
The first ever motorcycle oriented land speed affair got off to an ominous start as rain began to fall just days before the event was to get underway. A once perfectly groomed salt flat course was destroyed by unseasonal precipitation.
The Sherm’s Cycle crew had managed to make the trip all the way from Oregon’s coast and was forced to sit on their hands while the Salt Flats slowly released the moisture, something its chemical properties aren’t keen on.
Eventually, the track was deemed rideable and our pilot, Butch Cook, lined the Mean Streak up on the line to take a crack at setting the record for a Metric V-Twin Cruiser in the Production/Gas division.
The mass of riders created a bottleneck and many, including Butch, were forced to wait their turn. As the riders began running, word came that the track was still a little slick and subsequently many top-speed runs were slowed by wheelspin on the slushy salt conditions.
Regardless, it was our day to run and Butch finally got his turn. After a quick check of the bike courtesy of Steve Lacewell and Guy Mobley, Butch was given the signal to go. Slowly he let out the clutch and began guiding the Mean Streak down the 4-mile course. With that much land to cover, there’s no reason to play the quarter-mile game by tearing up the course with a spinning rear tire. Mobley and Steve piqued their ears to listen for performance or rider hiccups as it barreled down the Flats.
As soon as we lost sight of Butch and the roar of the V-Twin could no longer be heard, we jumped in the rental car, sped down the track to the finishing area and got the official word. 124.9 miles per hour. Not bad, could be better, but the boys from Sherm’s were pleased.
“125 miles an hour for our first ever run on the Salt Flats is not bad,” said a giddy Mobley. “I think we can get more, but it’s the bikes first run, Butch’s first run. All told, that’s really pretty good.”
At the end of the track we were met by a relative calm Butch Cook.
“It felt good. There was a little wheelspin right as I was going through the speed trap,” said the lithe Cook. “I also hit the rev limiter there and that killed a little of the power. I think we can get more out of it than that. But overall the bike performed really well. It was very stable and felt great running at those speeds.”
In order for MCUSA and Sherm’s to actually get the AMA record, we needed to run twice within the same calendar day. Luckily the log jam gave way and Butch managed to run within an hour of his first pass.
The second go around wasn’t quite as successful as the first pass was. His 123.8-mph run gave an average of 124.35 mph. The team was obviously happy with their performance, but they also knew they could do better.
On the second day, conditions continued to improve and Cook made his first pass in the morning. A blistering 138 mph was announced over the P.A. The guys from Sherm’s Cycle were ecstatic, but their excitement would be dashed almost as quickly as Cook went through the speed trap.
Apparently, the speed came up on the electronic timing system and the person timing wrote it down, but when the AMA official came to verify the speed, it wasn’t on the screen. The AMA offered to accept the time, but Cook would have to run again for his back-up run. Unfortunately, by the time Cook got the Mean Streak back on the course the Salt Flats started to “sweat” and any chance at taking advantage of the 138 was out the window.
On the final day, Butch took advantage of the improving conditions and put in two excellent runs, breaking the record they set just two days earlier. Our Mean Streak set a new AMA record of 126.169 mph. Sherm’s Cycle efforts paid off, and all the hard work earned us a place in the AMA Record book. There is a 30-day waiting period for the record to become official. During the time anyone who has proof of a faster time can protest, but if nobody comes forward, then Sherm’s Cycle Center and MCUSA will have found a place in motorcycle history at the first ever BUB Land Speed Trials.
The EXS500 is powered by a Honda CR500 500cc two-stroke engine. The builders were hoping to take it 100 mph.
Unfortunately, the condition of the salt didn’t allow the streamliners to run at the speeds they were hoping for, but Sam Wheeler took top-speed honors with a blistering 322.493 mph! Jimmy Odom in the Ack Attack machine logged a 273.12 mph.
Despite the soggy weather just a week earlier, it was clear that the first ever motorcycle land-speed trials were a rousing success. There is every indication that this event will continue to grow in the future and garner more participants, which should push the speed envelope for motorcycles. With the passion these guys demonstrated, this event will be around for a long time.
Share your thoughts on the Project Mean Streak Land Speed Record Click Here
SCP Owner, Steve Lacewell would like to thank the following people/companies:
Butch Cook – Rider
Rych Racing – Porting, Top-end – North Bend, 541-756-8719
Action Machine – Frame – Coos Bay , 541-271-0839
Webster Machine – Coos bay