WENDOVER, NEV., AUG 24-29–“Land Speed Wink,” Wink Eller, has been a major player in the motorcycle industry for a very long time. His impressive list of credentials include land-speed records, award-winning bike builds and participation in the politics of motorcycling as a representative on the board of directors at Bonneville and for the Southern California Timing Association. Motorcycles and going fast are what Wink is all about, and he prides himself on piloting the go-fast bikes. At the 10th annual BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials, Wink was eyeing the goal of setting one last land-speed record before he would relinquish his pilot status on the salt forever.
Wink knows the salt, first experiencing it in 1971, and recalls the amazing initial sight of the five-mile-wide, 12-mile-long stretch of sodium chloride as he approached Wendover on Highway 93. Wink’s tips for the uninitiated include a warning about the heat and the accelerated sun-burning capabilities presented by the fierce reflection off the sparkly surface. He further warns to wear old shoes or boots, as long days on the salt destroy footwear. His tip for preventing salt damage to a vehicle is to simply not take it on the salt, if at all avoidable.
On Sunday the pit party left their personal bikes and cars at the motel, piled into Wink’s truck and headed out to the “boat ramp,” the narrow extension of asphalt from the end of the road onto the salt surface—a location familiar to those who may have seen the Burt Munro movie, The World’s Fastest Indian. The vast expanse of white between the mountain ranges causes the pit area to appear small and insignificant, but the activities of each crew chasing a new speed record transform the enclave into a small, teeming city.
Wink’s team for 2013 included Micah McCloskey (engine builder), who had crewed on the 1989 and 1990 Easyriders Streamliner that ran a then-record 322.149 mph, which was broken in 2006 but still stands as the fastest Harley-Davidson. That first morning, Wink took the S&S X-Wedge-powered, 3000cc FXR out and ran it up and down the designated “test” area, saying the bike felt good as he took a look at the laptop of Jan Smith, engineer for S&S Cycle’s fuel injection systems, who was on hand helping S&S-sponsored teams dial in maximum performance.
At noon Wink and the bike were waiting in line at “Scrutineering,” an area where officials examine the critical elements of the bike, as well as the rider’s gear, before allowing entry onto the course(s). It was 2:00 p.m. when the bike received the seal of approval, and as the time had passed large cumulous clouds piled up on the horizon in every direction. (One gets to be a real weather watcher on the salt.) At 3:00, Wink lined up for fueling and finally headed out to pre-stage. Relaxing on the bike, Wink spent the time talking with other participants, essentially letting them pick his brain. He received the “go ahead” at 3:30 and suited up in the run truck, donning his red, white and blue leathers with stars and stripes. Returning to the bike, he was fourth in line.
The wind had died down and the temperature was warmer when Wink received the “OK” to proceed to the course staging area. The truck and crew followed along, pulling up next to the bike ready to fill the shift mechanism with air. Shit! Forgot the air chuck! The crew had to make a mad dash back to the pits for the apparatus. Back at staging the wind had now picked up, so a headwind could be expected for the return trip… if they let the bike run.
With the go-ahead to run at approximately 5:45 p.m., the course worker verified the lineup with the teams and energized them all into immediate action providing one green flag after another. However, Wink confided in his team that this would probably be just another practice run, doubting the bikes would be allowed the return run required to verify the official average speed that late in the day. Sure enough, the crew was listening to “Radio Free BUB 89.7 FM” and heard the announcement that pre-staging was shutting down, requesting that, “Everyone get ready to wind it up.”
At 7:00 a.m. on Monday morning, the clouds had spread a low ceiling and Micah observed that the moist air and flat light should be good for the bikes. Much had been discussed the previous day about the condition of the salt on the various courses, but Micah insisted that it’s not the ground that’s the enemy—it’s the air. It varies according to the barometric pressure and, he says, “You’re just trying to punch a hole in it and drag the bike through.”
Wink suited up ritualistically and rider and crew headed off to the staging area where they had left the day before, fifth in line to run. A representative from Team Klock Werks approached Wink as he lounged on his bike and asked if he could introduce a group of special young people from Pine Bush (New York) High School’s STARZ Academy who had participated in a program called “Helping With Horsepower” sponsored by Team Klock Werks and co-founded by team rider Laura Klock. The team of about 15 “at-risk” kids participated in the program that had them finding sponsors for their project and building a motorcycle to race at Bonneville under the direction of Lloyd Greer from Lloydz Cycle Workz. They traveled with chaperones from New York and were looking forward to seeing Laura pilot their creation out on the course.
Wink then got ready to stage and the crew got set to listen for his speed. If he ran over 156 mph he would qualify for a return run. Wink and #5551 took the green flag, and the speed of 179.14 was announced on 89.7 FM. The crew headed off to staging area 5 where they found Wink sitting in the number-three spot for his return run. They also heard the course worker tell number two that there was a 14-mph crosswind, which is under AMA regulations, so they would be OK to run.
Number two got the green flag and the worker explained to Wink that it was taking about four minutes for the bike to clear at the other end. The wind speed was now being reported at 15 mph when the crew heard the familiar, “Let her rip, tater chip,” as Wink got ready to run. Meeting up at the other end, they received Wink’s report that the wind caused the bike to get a little wobbly, making him back off on the throttle a bit. It was, however, officially Wink’s 69th land-speed record at 177.539 mph, breaking his previous record of 155 mph in the 3000-A-PBG class.
The world and national record attempts at the salt flats are governed by the Fédération Internationale De Motocyclisme (FIM) and the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA). To break a world record, the bike must exceed the existing world record and make a return pass over the same timed section of the course within two hours. No changes can be made to the machine during that time, except for a few minor adjustments like adding fuel, if necessary. Wink picked up the official printout of his time and proceeded to the impound station, where specific areas of the motor were marked to insure that no tampering would be done on the bike before the motor could be torn down by the impound crew.
Later that evening a “Legends Gathering” was scheduled at the Wendover Community Center. Tom “Santa Claus” Anderson, of Buell Brothers and Buell Sisters Racing Teams, arranged with Wendover Mayor Mike Crawford to use the hall. The event was free and had a two-fold purpose: allowing several important individuals in the world of motorcycle racing to share stories that may otherwise go away when the legends themselves do, and to also raise awareness of the need to rebuild the Bonneville Speed Museum that burned down a few years ago. As they had the year before, the plan was to collect signatures of all the racing legends on a banner with the intent of auctioning it off at the awards party on Thursday.
“Santa” encouraged the participants to share a little bit about their careers in speed and started things off by calling on Chris Carr, who was immediately able to pinpoint his initial influence stemming from the Steve McQueen film, On Any Sunday. When Carr’s successful flat-track career eventually came to an end, he started looking around for something equally as exciting to do. That’s when he met a guy named “Bub” (Denis Manning), founder of BUB Racing Inc., who happened to have a streamliner and was looking for a pilot. In 2006 Chris piloted the BUB Streamliner to a world-record speed of 350.884. In 2009 the BUB 7 Streamliner set the record with a speed of 367.382, and was back on the salt in 2013 looking to break the record again.
Legendary drag racer Pete Hill earned his NHRA Top Fuel license in 1964, but last raced drag bikes in 1994. He expressed that racing is racing, and, even though you can’t compare NHRA drag racing with land-speed racing on the salt, “It’s all about going fast on two wheels.” He just happens to prefer going fast in a straight line, and now thought it might be nice to run the longer distances such as Bonneville. With a cherubic smile on his face as he raised his eyebrows to his wife Jackie in the front row, Hill simply said, “If I ever had the chance…”
Wink spoke about his long association with motorcycling, the creation of the BUB event and his interaction with the Pine Bush High School students that day. He also announced his retirement as pilot after this run. He said that he would continue to run his bikes, but that he just needs a rider. At that point he looked stage right to catch the eye of Hill and offered the 83-year-old racer a shot at piloting his bike on the salt. There was no hesitation to Hill’s response, but he did glance at Jackie for her approval.
On Tuesday, Hill was able to suit up in Wink’s patriotic leathers in preparation for a shot at the salt. After a little transaction at the timing trailer, Wink had Hill squared away with the AMA and ready to run. Another trip to Scrutineering for the bike, and Team Pete Hill was ready. But the wind didn’t cooperate and there would be no run on Tuesday, although Hill did get in some practice time.
Wednesday morning came and Hill greeted Wink’s crew in the pits at 7:00 a.m. The team made it to pre-staging by 7:20 and took their place in line according to the day before when the track closed. Released to proceed to staging, Hill lined up at number 14. When the “Godfather of drag racing” got his chance on the course, Hill turned in an average speed of 163.652, reporting that the track was choppy in the flying mile area. Wink grinned and congratulated the octogenarian, saying, “That is someone who knows the proper application of speed!” A fitting description of a man who set five national drag racing titles between 1978 and 1994.
The next item on Wink’s itinerary involved locating a new pilot for the bike’s future. Wink and Micah worked to prepare the bike for Gene Dlask, a dyno operator at S&S Cycle who has experience riding for S&S-supported race teams. Moving the foot pegs to accommodate Gene’s long legs and installation of a large pad where he would rest his chest on the tank, helping him make his tall frame more aerodynamic, were two details attended to as Gene tried on the FXR and listened to Wink’s advice on the bike’s idiosyncrasies.
Gene eventually made his run on Wink’s bike, clocking more than 171 mph, but brought the machine back leaking oil. Micah discovered an oil line break and promptly set to making the repair as the darkening clouds began to close in on the salt. The trip to impound for the bike, necessary to establish Wink’s record run earlier in the week, would have to wait, as the wind suddenly gusted alarmingly, causing the pit tents to launch on their own. The wind began to blow and the intense rain was heading towards the pits in a dark curtain, so Team Wink packed up and secured the area as the race day appeared to be over. The temperature suddenly dropped 20 degrees and small hail began bouncing off the salt as the crew jumped in Wink’s truck.
No racing was possible on Thursday, as the Wednesday downpours had ruined the courses. Instead, the day was devoted to taking the bike to impound for teardown and verification of the motor in order to certify the new record set by Wink. With that marking their end on the flats this year, the motley crew was able to pack up and exit the salt in anticipation of the awards party scheduled that evening at the Rainbow Casino and Hotel.
At the awards ceremony, emcee Larry Coleman thanked event founder Denis Manning and all the volunteers and sponsors who made the 10th annual BUB Speed Trials possible before statistics of the meet were shared. New entrants into the 201 Club were acknowledged, which included riders who managed to better 201 mph for the first time on the salt at the 2013 event. Seven hearty souls posed for pictures, and four of them were women!
This year’s top speed of 323.33 mph was established by Chris Carr in the BUB 7 Streamliner. Wink was acknowledged for having the coolest pit bike for the second year in a row (his 1960 Harley-Davidson Topper with a 250 Honda motor), and Tom “Santa Claus” Anderson managed to auction off the signed banner for $1,000 to benefit the new Bonneville Speed Museum. Wink is philosophical about his racing future, saying he may not be piloting his land-speed machines any longer, but he will still be building them and enjoying the pursuit of speed on the salt.