On your mark, get set… watch

Fast times—and butterflies—on the salt

Wendover, Utah, Aug. 30–Sept. 3—The salt at the end of the road is wet with deep puddles when we arrive Saturday to set up the Ack Attack pit. It would be the first time I attend the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials with no intention of running. Until our record is broken, there’s nothing to gain. The plan is to wait and see what happens.

The salt in the pits is damp, sticking to the bottom of our shoes—the course isn’t much better. The extended forecast calls for sunny skies, so things should steadily improve. I enjoy meeting fellow racers and fans, and watching the flat expanse of white grow into a jungle of motorcycles and trailers surrounded by colorful popup tents.

It seems the more I come to this event, the more creative and unusual the entries seem to be. This year 11 sidecars compete for two cash prizes totaling $1,600. There are streamlined sidecars and traditional machines. Some compete with passengers, others choose to carry weight instead. One entry, Craig Anderson, who pilots the Flying Kiwi, is a double amputee and also the fastest of the sidecar streamliner entries.

A team of Brits cross the pond to compete with a Vincent-powered sidecar streamliner and take home top prize with John Renwick at the controls. The Flying Kiwi ran for “time only” on the Run Whatcha Brung course. Another Vincent entry, Max Lambky’s Black Lightning, a twin-engine machine that previously ran 275 mph, suffers a primary chain failure, breaking the center-case and ending their attempt at fastest sidecar and possibly fastest unlimited motorcycle records. They planned to remove the sidecar and run as a motorcycle later in the week.

I see a radical Sportster salt racer that blows me away. The frame, fenders, fuel tank—all hand crafted with unique lines different than what I’m used to seeing. A pretty gal named Evelyn tells me a little about the bike and its builder, Laurent Dutruel from France. He built the bike himself, and owns a small custom shop called ZEN Motorcycles, specializing in unique customs and one-off furniture designs. Laurant would break two records on his first trip to the salt and leave with some amazing stories to share with his friends.

The Buell Brothers racing team has three machines competing, setting three records initially, only to have the popular Fat Book Flyer, ridden by Pete Davis, bumped from the books late in the meet.

Erin Hunter is recruited by Tom Anderson—known by many as Santa Claus for his curly white hair and beard—to ride their Buell 1350 in the production pushrod class. On her initial pass on the mighty Buell, the motor quits with every shift, forcing her to reach across with her right hand each time and reset the ignition switch! 97 mph through the lights toggling the engine on and off was a little disheartening.

The Buell Brothers go to work making corrections and in no time have Erin back on the salt. This time the hybrid-like motor returns to form and Erin bumps the team’s old record from 130 to 146 mph! The previous record was set by Erica Cobb on the same machine in 2008. Santa has more magic in his bag, helping Joe Taylor bring home yet another record for the Buell Brothers in the APS-PG 1350 category.

Two-time land speed record holder and NHRA Pro Stock motorcycle racer Valerie Thompson teams with Wink Eller to ride the “Spirit of Cliff Gullett,” hoping to earn a red hat in the coveted 200 MPH Club. Wink’s American V-Twin racer has over 40 land speed records to its credit and is named in honor of Cliff Gullett, who lost his life in a record-breaking run at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2008.

When Valerie arrives she doesn’t find the bike to her liking. Instead of going for the 200 milestone, she decides to run against an open record at a lesser speed. A safety issue is the determining factor, but with sponsorship money already spent, any record is better than going home empty handed. Valerie’s record is short lived.

Jay Allen, owner of the Broken Spoke Saloon, dethrones the speed queen shortly after Valerie leaves the salt to return home. This was made possible with the help of Wink Eller, who removed Valerie’s tire and fitted it to Jay’s machine, which suffered damage in a previous run.

As the days pass the salt dries and the speeds increase. The BUB streamliner moseys through staging and sets up shop at the 0 mile marker. In 2007 and 2008 the bike never moved. Owning the record gives us the chance to do the same. I can’t say it makes things any easier. I still get butterflies just being here. That’s Bonneville. I watch Chris make his first pass. I usually don’t get to because if conditions are good, I’m down there too, preparing to run. He darts by, a streak of red—351 mph. Holy crap, that looks fast!

An engine that refuses to run takes the team three days to diagnose and cure. The fix seems to be working… Sam Wheeler runs shortly after BUB, towing for the first time instead of starting under his own power. I watch from the mile as the tiny green liner streaks through the lights. He’s so small it’s really hard to tell how fast he’s going. The announcer reports 282.9 mph. Something isn’t right with the EZ Hook machine.

The final day Chris aborts a morning run between the 1 and 2 mile markers, forgetting to retract his skids and struggling to stay on course. They return to the 0, repack the chute and run again. Chris thunders through the lights at 355 mph! The tiny high-speed chute deploys, but nothing else. By the end of the course, Big Red’s still traveling 60 mph—and is on fire. Chris manages to get stopped a half mile later. Luckily, he’s unharmed, but the damage is too severe to continue. Sam’s final pass of 323 means the Top 1 Ack Attack remains on top.

The butterflies leave, replaced by an ear-to-ear grin.

(Author Rocky Robinson remains the reigning FIM absolute motorcycle land speed record holder, having piloted Mike Akatiff’s Top 1 Ack Attack streamliner to a two-pass average speed of 360.913 MPH at last year’s BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials. Ed.)


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