A natural phenomenon formed by the recess of the ancient Lake Bonneville, the Bonneville Salt Flats have been attracting speed junkies for over a century now.
September signals summer’s end for most people. But for two-wheeled salt junkies it marks the beginning of an annual pilgrimage – a time to caravan across desert wasteland for some land-speed racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats. This September 2-6, at the 2007 International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB, a couple hundred teams did just that, braving the heat and fickle weather to test man and machine out on the salt.
Land speed racing (LSR) needs a lot of flat real estate to get things up to speed. Dry lake beds are the optimal geographic locations, with places like California’s El Mirage, Nevada’s Black Rock desert (sight of the Burning Man festival) and Australia’s Lake Gardiner popular places for world record attempts.
(In fact, the search of a pristine racing locale was the cause of wealthy adventurer Steve Fossett’s recent disappearance, which coincided with this year’s Speed Trials. As the seeker of the ultimate land speed record with his jet-powered ‘Spirit of America Sonic Arrow’, Fossett was presumed to be scouting dry lake beds in the remote Nevada wilderness when his plane went down.)
Based out of Reedsport, Oregon, the Wrecking Krew team celebrates its second AMA record aboard the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000. From left to right in Vulcan apparel are: Diamond Mobbley (assistant), Butch Cook (rider) and Guy Mobbley (crew chief/mechanic).
No LSR location has the history or mystique of the famed Bonneville Speedway. Formed by the recession of the ancient Lake Bonneville, the aptly-named Bonneville Salt Flats are renewed every year when moisture evaporates in late summer to reveal a flat horizon of white salt. Maintained by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the 40,000-acre Salt Flats play host to multiple LSR events every year, including Speed Week and the all-motorcycle BUB Speed Trials.
This year the International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB was bigger than ever, with over 300 entries paying their way onto the salt. Race officials ran two courses to accommodate the growing crowd, but the rising popularity of the event caused logistical problems. Even with two courses, long lines were the rule for the five-day event. Also problematic was the uncooperative weather, with wind and thunderstorms putting a halt to the racing on more than one occasion. Still once on the salt, riders made the most of their opportunities.
Vulcan Gets Another Record
Once again MotorcycleUSA and Kawasaki were represented by the Reedsport, Oregon-based Wrecking Krew on the Vulcan 2000. This is the third year the VN2000 has made the trek out to the salt with NHRA rider Butch Cook at the controls and Sherms Cycle Products owner Guy Mobley turning wrenches.
The game plan was to wrestle away the standing FIM world record for pushrod V-Twin in the 3000cc class, but the mushy salt and beat up course put the Vulcan well short of its 140-mph goal. The Oregon boys did manage to muscle the Vulcan to another AMA record, however, with passes of 129.997 and 135.491 mph averaging to a national-record speed of 132.744 mph.
Although Mother Nature was against them, the Ack Attack team was ready to make some passes on the blue streamliner.
For helmet cam footage of Butch throttling down the salt at 135 mph make sure to check out the accompanying video.
While conventional sit-on motorcycles felt the sting of this year’s salt conditions, the less than stellar surface and weather affected the streamliners the most. Instead of last year’s 11-mile course, there were just nine miles for the world-record breakers to get up to speed. In theory this was still enough room for the top contenders to shoot for the standing 350 mph record, but the salt would prove too poor for a serious attempt.
The Ack Attack streamliner didn’t hold back, however. Piloted by Rocky Robinson and designed by Mike Akatiff, the Ack machine came into the ’07 Trials armed with even more horsepower from its dual Hayabusa engines. Robinson hinted the new and improved Ack had well over 1000 horsepower on tap and a new traction control system to make sure that brute strength wasn’t just wheel spin. The blue machine also sported a redesigned parachute deployment system and a beefed up chain drive, with the chain being the literal weak link during last year’s epic streamliner duel.
Given the extent of damage to the Ack Attack machine and the high speed at impact, it was fortunate that rider Rocky Robinson emerged from the wreckage with little more than a bit of salt in his eyes.
An Ack Attack shakedown pass of 299 mph on Monday showed promise, but it was backed up by a disastrous return run. Robinson lost traction entering the timed mile and fishtailed out of control, with the Ack machine rolling over a couple times before flipping on its side and sliding to a stop. The former world record holder emerged from the crash unscathed but covered in salt, as the protective canopy on the streamliner had been lost in the crash.
We were spoiled last year with both conditions and racing, because once the Ack Attack streamliner bit the salty dust, it was apparent that the world-record chase wouldn’t materialize. For his troubles, Akatiff will have to redo some bodywork, but a slight balm to his wounds was the fact that the initial 299 mph pass would hold as the fastest of the meet – which came with a $5000 purse (good enough to cover the gas out to Bonneville at least).
With Ack out, there was little motivation for the standing world record holders, the BUB Number 7 team, to put the rubber down. The Number 7’s rider, Chris Carr, and owner, Dennis Manning, waited for the optimal opportunity to make at least a test run down the salt, but the poor conditions nixed any attempt and the BUB team opted not to run at all. BUB’s caution proved wise, as on the final day of the event two smaller streamliners crashed. The riders were uninjured, but medical personnel tied up the course and the expensive one-of-a-kind machines were damaged.
This is about as close as the world record holding BUB No. 7 streamliner got to action, with the team opting not to risk a crash on the poor salt surface.
Missing in action this year was the 2006 world record dark horse, Sam Wheeler and his E-Z-Hook streamliner. So of the big guns from last year’s epic three-way streamliner battle, one misfired and the other two held their fire for next year.
Yet another machine with world record ambitions, Max Lambky’s Vincent-powered streamliner, made multiple passes on the salt. A transmission problem kept the red machine from powering beyond its 217.9215 mph best, although the mark was good enough for an AMA record in its class.
Perhaps the best streamliner performance (although the 300-mph crash from Ack Attack was the most exciting) came from the smallest – the 50cc Buddfab machine. The two-stroke-powered design fell short of its FIM world-record goal, but with a 137.262 mph pass it earned the $2,500 purse for Top MPH-CC Ratio.
Jason McVicar was the fastest rider on a conventional motorcycle, making his best pass on day one, going 241.583 mph and earning $5,000 in the process.
With the big streamliners sidelined, the turbo-charged Hayabusas took center stage. The Suzuki brute is still king of the conventional sit-on motorcycle land-speed record and two of the fastest riders in the world were throttling their ‘Busas to the brink, with Jason McVicar and John Noonan both cresting over 240 mph.
McVicar set the bar on Sunday, the first day of competition, having earned a number of LSR records the month prior at Speed Week. The Vancouver, British Columbia resident turned laps on a couple different bikes but his yellow Hayabusa went fastest at 241.583 mph. McVicar was the fastest rider of the meet on a conventional bike, earning $10,000 via a pair of 5K purses – one for Sit On Motorcycle at 241.583 mph and another for Open Motorcycle at 223.551 mph. (Open Motorcycle being non-streamlined, with many conventional sit-on bikes, like the world record holder, often partially-streamlined with aerodynamic bodywork enhancements.)
Also back at Bonneville was the standing world-record holder for a conventional sit-on motorcycle, John Noonan. The Huntington Beach, California resident returned to the BUB event with a new machine, having sold his record-setter. Noonan’s new mount is a Busa he purchased from an online auction for $8600. His new creation crossed thru the timed mile for an average of 237.693 mph, good enough for an FIM record in his class, although nowhere near besting his ultimate record of 259 mph. Noonan’s best one-way pass of the event was 240.629 mph, which means he missed McVicar’s 5K purse by 0.95 mph. Too bad they couldn’t have just lined up next to one another for a side-by-side drag race!
John Noonan returned to Bonneville with a new Hayabusa racer. The ultimate world record holder for conventional motorcycles was unable to eclipse his 259 mph best, but 240.629 mph was good enough for an FIM record on his latest Busa.
Suzuki isn’t the only manufacturer with world-record potential, at least as far as BMW is concerned. The Bavarian marque pitched in to build a turbo-charged K1200S for rider Andy Sills, who has already set records with the K-series Beemer. A planned chain drive system to replace the stock shaft drive was not finished in time for the ’07 event, but Sills ran it anyway, at least for a little while. The K1200S threw a rod on its first pass, ruining the team’s goal to hit upwards of 200 mph. The bike will be back next year, however, with Sills confirming that it is expected to challenge for the ultimate record in the years to come.
Other Record Setters
It was a busy week of racing, even with the weather delays, and 52 AMA records were set at this year’s event. All the record setters should feel proud of their accomplishments. The following are just some of the highlights which caught our eye.
It’s not unusual to find five-time Baja 1000 winner, Steve Hengeveld, on a CRF450R, except when he’s at Bonneville. The off-road racing star teamed up with F2Racing for an AMA record-setting pace of 121.845 mph – making it the fastest dirtbike in the world.
The F2Racing CRF450R piloted by Baja rider Steve Hengeveld to an AMA record, now holds the title of world’s fastest dirtbike.
Another notable performer was Erica Cobb. A 16-year-old from Mitchell, South Dakota, Cobb piloted the Team Klock Werks‘ Buell Blast up to a record-setting 101.365 mph. Cobb’s personal goal was triple digits and after a couple sub-100 runs, she stuck at it and kept raising the level. Her effort was rewarded as the recipient of this year’s $1000 Woman’s Spirit Award.
Also showing a lot of spirit was the Switzerland-based Team Swissperformance, which made the 5000-mile journey to Utah after the team’s riders, Ruedi Steck and Markus Salgesser, were inspired by watching The World’s Fastest Indian. Riding V-Twin-powered customs built by team mechanic, Livio Kagi, the Swiss team earned three AMA records during the week.
Vintage Rides Shine
Also deserving mention was the strong showing from the vintage crowd. A Bonneville rookie, Gerald Jessup, didn’t let a bad eye or his 1936 birth date slow him down. Racing the 1951 Triumph he used to dirt track with back in the day, the 71-year-old Jessup secured an AMA record for his class. Jessup’s eyesight caused him to pull out early on his first record return attempt, but on his second chance he made it through the timed mile in both directions, topping out at an impressive 101.894 mph.
A member of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Marty Dickerson was breaking records for the old-timers, being a contemporary of Bonneville legends like Rollie Free and Burt Munro.
Another memorable vintage ride was put on by the 81 years young Marty Dickerson. A member of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Dickerson was back at Bonneville on the bike with which he first achieved fame – a Vincent. A Bonneville contemporary of Rollie Free and Burt Munro, Dickerson posed for photos with fans and staff eager to shake hands with the living legend. Dickerson tripped the timing lights at an impressive AMA record-setting pace of 151.685 mph.
Alternative Engery on Tap
At Bonneville, part of the fun is discovering the oddities that show up for a run on the salt. This year saw an interesting influx of alternative-fuel vehicles.
Marcus Hays shunned the “fuel” altogether with his Electrobike, when the all-electric design shattered previous electric-powered standards by motoring to a record-setting 64.848 mph. Earlier in the meet Hays ran a gas/electric hybrid version of the Electrobike, with a 25cc four-stroke gas engine teamed with the electric motor – the gas engine functioning as a turbocharger to boost amps for the electric powerplant. A unique design, at over 45 mph the gas engine takes complete control, while at the same time charging the electric motor. It was the first electric/gas hybrid bike to scream, or at least calmly motor, down the salt. The San Francisco-based company has three variations of the 85-lb design in production.
Electrobike founder Marcus Hays saw an all-electric version of his innovative design shatter previous electric records when it made passes in the mid 60s.
Another Bay Area group at the salt was the non-profit arts organization, The Crucible, a program which teaches skills like welding, blacksmithing and other industrial arts in Oakland. Founder and executive direction of the Crucible, Michael Sturtz, piloted the biodiesel-powered Die Moto machine to a 130 mph world record. Sturtz’s design fuses a European diesel engine, sourced from a BMW car, with a BMW R1150RT running on B100 biodiesel.
The government-contracted Hayes Diversified Technologies from Hesperia, Califorina, was also back at Bonneville, having run their diesel-powered bikes in previous years. HDT is already supplying the U.S. military with its diesel-powered KLR650s and the designs were back with sweet-looking, aerodynamic bodywork and U.S.M.C decals. It was a real treat to see the army green diesel lay down a Spy Hunter-esque smokescreen as it ran across the salt with the throttle wide open. The team was able to improve upon their standing AMA records, topping out at 110 mph.
Old Friends Return and New Faces Emerge
Out of the 300-plus participants, there were plenty of old friends returning and some all-new faces who showed up to test their mettle.
Founder and executive direction of the Bay Area non-profit arts organization, The Crucible, Michael Sturtz piloted the biodiesel-powered Die Moto machine to a world record.
Faithful readers will remember the Lamberd brothers, Gary and Robin, who were back with their unique stand-up scooters as well as a new streamliner – the Vision-one. The new design bested the standing 148 mph AMA record in its class with a 152 mph performance. A GSX-R750 Inline-Four delivers the power in the all-new design, with the usual Lamberd ingenuity providing all the other small details like frame, steering componentry, and bodywork. The big news from the Arizona boys was the announcement they have set aside their Extreme Scooter project for a bigger prize – the ultimate motorcycle land speed record. That’s right, Gary and Robin plan on developing a world-record challenging streamliner of their own in the years to come.
Other familiar Bonneville faces include Bill Scherer, who was back with his red ZX-14. The mighty Kawasaki Ninja was also being run by Kevin Patterson, an LSR fanatic who made the drive out from Pittsburg with his two boys to fulfill his lifelong Bonneville ambitions. Also returning from ’06, over quite a long haul as well, was the Upstate-New York-based Markertek Team. Like everyone else, the team was frustrated by long lines, but still managed to up their standing AMA record on their 125cc two-stroke-powered partial-streamliner to 126 mph.
Canadian custom builder Roger Goldammer was back for more as well and led a list of celebrity riders, which included Superbikes host Jason Britton and GoDaddy.com CEO Bob Parsons.
High Five Cycles’ Leslie Porterfield fell short of her 200 mph goal when she crashed out of competition, but the blonde Texan’s ultimate ambition is to challenge for the world record on her turbocharged Hayabusa.
Another new face to this year’s event was Leslie Porterfield, who was trying to break 200 mph on her turbocharged Hayabusa. The owner of Dallas-based High Five Cycles, Porterfield peaked at 194 mph before crashing at speed on the final day of competition. Here’s to hoping Porterfield gets back to full health and closer to her eventual goal of becoming a world record candidate because, no offense to Noonan or McVicar, she definitely is the most photogenic of the turbo-Hayabusa pilots!
We also ran into Busa rider Don Mills, who’s a neighbor of ours here in Southern Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. Unknown to us before this year, the Grants Pass, Oregon resident already holds a number of FIM and AMA records with his Hayabusa. All he did this year was shatter a standing AMA record of 169 mph by going 203 mph. Not too shabby!
On top of those we mentioned, there were a host of other great stories lost in the shuffle, proving that even without the best of conditions, the Bonneville Speed Trials was a memorable event.
For full results check out the official Speed Trials website at www.speedtrialsbyBUB.com
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2007 International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB – Cash Prizes
A member of the California Fritz streamliner squad, which earned $500 for Top Time- Antique Motorcycle, sums up the Bonneville spirit quite well.
Top Time of the Meet $5,000
Ack Attack 299.772mph
Sponsored by Drag Specialties
Top Time- Sit On motorcycle $5,000
Jason McVicar 241.583mph
Sponsored by BUB Enterprises
Top Time- Open Motorcycle $5,000
Jason McVicar 223.551mph
Sponsored by Parts Unlimiteds
Top MPH-CC ratio $2,500
Sponsored by BUB Enterprises
Women’s Spirit Award $1000
Sponsored by Potter Lumber
Top Time USA V-Twin $1,000
Aaron Wilson 203.840mph
Sponsored by Bennett’s Performance
Top Time USA V-Twin Push Rod gas $1,000
Jay Allan- Broken Spoke 184.260mph
Sponsored by NRHS V-Twin Performance
Top Time- Antique Motorcycle $500
California Fritz 228.716mph -1970
Sponsored by BUB Enterprises
Top Time- Motorcycle with Side Car $500
Larry Coleman 131.885mph
Sponsored by Bakker Motorsports
Best Engineered $1,000
5 Ball Racing ‘#50’
Sponsored by BUB Enterprises
Enthusiast of the Year $1,000
FRCP Racing Crew
Sponsored by Buell Bros Racing Team