Some people, hearing about an attempt at a land speed record, picture a NASA-like project of crunching terabytes, wind tunnel testing and the ritual burning of cubic volumes of R&D money. T’aint necessarily so.
The BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials at Bonneville is an annual motorcycle-only event that is sanctioned by both the AMA and the FIM. Strict class rules are in place for those interested in chasing an official International Land Speed Record. LSRs exist for distinct classes based on displacement, body shape, engine enhancement, fuel choice and numerous other variables. Dedicated project money, always a consideration in any go-fast endeavor, can be less of a necessity on the salt. Peruse the records from the AMA, SCTA or FIM and read up on a suitable “attackable” class record that fits your bankroll.
BUB also allows a “Run-What-Ya-Brung” Class. Paying $250 and getting your bike and riding gear through tech inspection gets you a spot in the line for two passes on the five-mile course. You’ll get an official time slip and bragging rights with your tech stickers.
Wisconsinites Gary and Jacci Ilminen are repeat participants. Their stone-stock ’84 Honda V30 Magna runs in 500-PP class…production frame and production 500cc motor burning pump gasoline. In 2005, Gary bought the bike and trailer, both non-running for 12 years, for $400. Much elbow grease reanimated the corpse. Compliance to safety specs included lock wiring, V-rated tires, new O-ring chain and sprockets, kill switch, steering damper, upgraded chain guard, fuel lines and filter. Ilminen figures his upgrades cost another $700.
“The best I’ve done on the V30 was at the SCTA Bonneville World Finals in 2009, where we ran 104.536 mph,” he said. “The current class record for 500cc Production is 112.476 mph.”
But the late summer weather in northwest Utah is the Ace of Trumps. A monsoon cloudburst on Sunday closed racing on Monday and derailed Gary’s plans for 2012.
“We had our carburetion figured out for this year, but our non-Bonneville life schedule required us to leave Tuesday morning.”
Gary thinks this class record may have been bumped over 116 mph at BUB this year, maybe out of reach of his Magna. The couple plan to return next year, perhaps running their 1974 Honda 350F in Classic Gas class, restricted to pre-1977 machines.
Consider the sentimental journey of Robert Abbott on his pristine 1983 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans III. Abbott and riding buddy Neil Reno bought identical Guzzis in 1983, putting 50,000 miles on them together. Life and school intervened; Abbott moved away and eventually sold his. Reno died in ’04 from bone cancer and willed his bike to Abbott, complete with bent valves from a last high-speed thrash at Texas Speedway. Abbott freshened the motor, returned the bike to near 100-point status, and rides it across the country to Concours exhibits.
“I had an album of pictures of Neil and me at rallies and on trips. I gave that to him before he died. We rode everywhere back then. That’s why I’m here today,” Abbott says, astride the red Guzzi in the staging line, “I know Neil would want to do it.”
After an initial shakedown run, Abbott’s second run was 117 mph, aiming for 120. His third attempt was 122. His“two-fer” week included racing at BUB and a bike show entry at nearby Miller Motorsports Park, where Abbott detailed away the salt from Reno’s Ride and won “Best European Rider.”
For some folks, The Salt is an annual family event. The McAlister family arrived en masse from Oregon with a new bike this year. Ken traded last year’s Kawasaki ZX-14 for a 2005 Suzuki Hayabusa. The stock ZX-14 got Ken to 183 mph in 2011. “But it came down to the expense of it. The ‘Busa is easier to work on. More parts and research are available.”
McAlister home-wrenched a stage II turbo, air-shifter and ethanol injection onto the already potent Suzuki, bumping the 1,350cc ’Busa into MPS-BF class—a modified, partially streamlined, blown machine running fuel. Ken figures the upgraded bike is right for around 240 mph but the devil lives in details, and Bonneville loves to punish racers with details.
“I ended up running a 191 mph best. I was disappointed since a factory bike done up right can run that. I did have two runs that topped out at 208 and at 215 but it wouldn’t hold. The fuel system petered out and I lost revs.” So he prepares for next year.
Ultimate speed records are ghostly things. Whether they are set on land, water or in the air, they exist only as long as no one faster comes along. And faster folks will always follow. They have since Glenn Curtiss unofficially claimed the first land speed record in 1903 in Yonkers, New York, after travelling 64 miles in one hour.
(This article as published in the March 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)