Salt Addiction: Drew Gatewood

August 20, 2011
Rocky Robinson
Rocky Robinson
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Having raced everything from Flat Track to Trials, Rocky Robinson now pilots streamliners at the Bonneville Salt Flats and currently holds the ultimate land speed record at 376 mph aboard the Ack Attack streamliner.

Drew poses next to the famous Bonneville Speedway sign.
Despite retiring Drew Gatewood has setup Gatewood Engineering and Race Support and still takes part in multiple racing disciplines as an AMA/F.I.M. technical steward.  

Our current AMA/FIM Senior Technical Steward can be called many things. He’s a guitar pickin’, song writin’, machine shop operatin’ motorcycle ridin’ good ol’ boy you’ll most likely find sporting blue jean coveralls, a ball cap and an infectious smile. Drew Gatewood, formerly of Drew’s Motorcycle Service, a one stop machine shop, engine rebuilding and bike repair business, recently retired so he could focus on more important things like family, machining, and motorcycle repair and restoration. Hmmm.

His new gig is called GEARS, Gatewood Engineering and Race Support. Though he now works from home out of his customized barn at what he claims is his hobbie, this allowed him the time a few years back to rack up frequent traveler miles hustling from World Superbike to MotoGP, and AMA Dirt Track events.

“Twice a year I am extremely fortunate to work at the Bonneville Salt Flats as senior technical steward for the AMA and FIM The first being the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials; which I believe is the World’s only all motorcycle land speed racing event.
“The second race is Mike Cook’s Landspeed Shootout. This is an invitational that draws some of the world’s fastest motorcycle riders along with a few of the fastest automobile racers. I thoroughly enjoy this event for the reason that it is the only chance I get to experience car streamliners. Though my job description strictly involves the motorcycle end of things, seeing the Burkland 411 Twin V-8 powered streamliner scream past the timing tower at 430-plus mph is a memory I will always cherish.”

Drew interviews an up and coming star.
(Above): Drew interviews an up and coming star. (Below): Drew inspects the BUB streamliner. This looks like a guy who enjoys what he’s doing!
Drew inspects the Bub streamliner. This looks like a guy who enjoys what hes doing!

I asked Drew if he did any racing of his own in his younger years: “I raced for quite a few years when I was younger (and thinner). Flat Track, Hillclimb, Drag Race, and Ice Racing – Flat Track being my favorite. Going into a turn wide open and sideways is a thrill never to be forgotten. One of my mentors told me being in the back of the pack had one advantage: you get the best view of the race. Evidently, his words stuck, because I spent a lot of time in that position. Though not of National caliber, I won the Michigan Motorcycle 1/8 mile Dirt Drags (SS/XL Class) twice, and the Indiana State Championship Ice Race (Sidecar/Open Class) twice as well.”

When asked about his latest duties on the salt, Drew was quick to respond: “Regarding the AMA/FIM technical steward position, it was presented to me by long-time friend Ken Saillant, who is AMA Track Racing Manager. He thought of me because of my mechanical background, and arranged for me to fly to Canada in the winter of 2005 to begin training.”

I asked Drew for examples of what goes on during tech inspection at a land speed trials event: “In the beginning of the AMA/BUB supplemental rulebook there is a section titled ‘Minimum Standard Requirements.’ This is a list of basic requirements all classes must comply with before being allowed to race. From there comes the different class requirements. One example would be if a bike was entered into an ‘open’ or non-streamlined class, that machine would be thoroughly inspected for anything that may have the appearance of producing and/or allowing streamlining the air around the rider and motorcycle. The technical inspection process itself usually takes 10-15 minutes per bike, and for the most part the riders are very cordial and patient.”

As for the riding gear: “Along with inspecting the motorcycle, riding gear is of equal importance. The different areas carefully looked at are helmet, leathers, gloves, and boots. We inspect not only the condition, but other mandatory requirements such as helmet rating, race suit construction and material, glove length and boot height.”

Drew inspects a road racer across the pond in 2001.
Drew inspects a road racer across the pond in 2001.

What about streamliners? “Tech Inspection of a motorcycle streamliner is a very in depth and lengthy process, and for reasons that should be self evident. These very fast machines are now passing over the salt at speeds approaching 400 mph, and are inspected by myself and at least one other inspector to a level I might compare to the pre-flight plan of a jet aircraft. When discussing streamliners one must first recognize that the rider is not sitting on the machine, but nestled firmly into a very well-constructed cockpit similar to a fighter jet. The rider’s gear is built to a higher level than that of a sit-on rider’s, more comparable to a driver of a Top Fuel Dragster.”

I asked Drew to explain the ‘Bail out test’, and why it is necessary: “The bail-out test is done in each team’s pit area, and is usually the final portion of the inspection. The rider is suited up, and strapped in as if preparing to race. The canopy is then closed. After we give a signal the rider has 30 seconds to unstrap, open the canopy, and stand up—all this being done so as to assure that the rider is capable of removing him or herself from the machine on their own.”

I asked Drew to explain what impound is all about and why it is necessary: “Impound is exactly as it sounds. After an attempt the motorcycle is impounded to a specified area. While there, each machine is kept under strict observation. There are few changes allowed before being released for their return or backup run. Most alterations providing a

Look to see Drews custom built Jawa powered LSR bike on the salt in the near future.
Look to see Drew’s custom built Jawa powered LSR bike on the salt in the near future.

definite power/speed advantage over what was used on the bike’s first run would be disallowed. Before being released we seal their engine in various locations. When the machine returns to impound we recheck the seals to assure they are not broken, which would indicate the engine has been opened, and would immediately void that run or record attempt. Riders that break a National (AMA) or World (FIM) motorcycle land speed record must have their bike’s engine displacement measured. They must return from the racecourse directly to impound and disassemble the engine to be measured to calculate total displacement.”

In addition to Drew’s work as a technical steward, he’s busy building a land speed racing bike of his own using a Jawa engine in a chromoly Seeley Road Race replica frame. As if this weren’t enough to keep our man busy, he’s also known for his guitar pickin’ and song writing talents which earned him a small part in the upcoming Discovery Channel documentary covering the 2010 Land Speed Shootout.

Enjoy the ride…