Two-wheeled salt assault
Victory and tragedy mix in Bonneville
Wendover, Utah, Sept. 2–7—From its inception in 2004, the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials has always been a special venue for motorcyclists around the world. Having driven for the BUB team for a number of years, I’ve never missed the event.
I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to Australia to see how land speed racing is done on the other side of the world. The Aussies know how to have a good time and love going fast. But it is only here that an all-motorcycle meet exists where racers of all motorcycling persuasions can come to pursue their quest of two-wheeled supremacy. Not to mention, they’ve yet to have a meet interrupted while a deranged kangaroo was herded off the salt before a record attempt could be completed!
That being said, land speed racing is an international event and new venues keep popping up at retired Air Force bases and dry lakes across the land. But there is only one Bonneville, and make no mistake, it is the granddaddy of them all. Sir Malcolm Campbell, Art Arfons, Craig Breedlove, Dave Campos… the best of the best have all been there. At the BUB event, all you need is your motorcycle and the proper safety equipment, and you too can make a pass on the great white dyno. Maybe the run is a personal best, or maybe it’s one for the record books. Either way, once you’ve tried it you’ll be hooked.
The list of entries is an eclectic bunch. For instance, there was Max Lamky’s twin-engine Vincent streamliner; a 250 mph vintage racer complete with sidecar; and Roger Goldammer’s World Champion Custom, “Goldmember,” a machine too beautiful to grace the salt and yet there it was, a blown, fuel-injected 965cc intercooled single running on nitrous—simply amazing.
Ruedi Steck made the trek from Switzerland along with the Swiss Performance team, who are the new sponsors of Sam Wheeler’s EZ Hook streamliner, currently the fastest motorcycle on the planet. Ruedi rode his modified Feuling W3 over 161 mph. The throaty rumble of his three-cylinder pushrod engine literally shook the ground.
Then there was Diane Pettijohn riding her 883 Sportster at 102 mph, still grinning ear to ear when we caught up with her at her pit. Her nylon tent occupied half the available space on her 10×10 tarp while her two-wheeled daily commuter hogged the rest. Her smile was contagious and signified what land speed racing was all about.
Jim Benson from Kentucky rode his ’04 Road Glide to speeds above 123 mph in the Run What You Brung category, as did Tom “Hillbilly” Keister, a lifelong biker riding his ’01 Road King to similar results. There were literally hundreds of machines of all shapes and sizes; streamliners, sidecars—everything from 50cc to 3,000cc machines, including electric- and diesel-powered entries.
A dark cloud was cast over the event after Cliff Gullett, driving Jack Costella’s Nebulous Theorem VII, lost control of his vehicle just after the timing lights on a record return run in his 500cc two-stroke streamliner. Witnesses say the machine went sideways and began to tumble violently. Cliff succumbed to his injuries, and of course officials closed the meet for the remainder of the day. The following morning a moment of silence was observed in Cliff’s memory before the meet officially reopened.
For 99 percent of the field, the roughly nine miles of salt were nearly perfect. For the fastest of the fast, the shortened course meant there was little chance of breaking the current ultimate record of 350 mph that was obtained on 11 miles of perfect salt with little to no wind. The Ack Attack, EZ Hook streamliner, and BUB Seven waited patiently just shy of the one-mile marker for a chance to run. Gusting winds held us at bay for the first half of the meet. Chris Carr and the BUB team finally had to break ranks and call it a meet Friday morning as Carr had a flight to catch to Indianapolis for an AMA Pro Flat Track event.
Sam Wheeler had a new billet aluminum “tireless” front wheel that had yet to be tested, and on his initial down pass he ran 279 and change. This was early afternoon after the winds had died down and the BUB trailer was already back in the pits. It would turn out to be Sam’s only pass as an apparent burnt piston put a premature end to his chances of upping the record or taking home the prize money for top time of the meet.
We bided our time and the Ack Attack made its first run late in the day, only to turn out after the two-mile mark with shifting issues and a failing clutch. We hustled back to the pits where Mike Akatiff and crew readied the bike for another go. It was already after 6:00 p.m., but the BUB staff allowed us to make a quick shakedown run before closing for the evening. We achieved 275 and change. For a machine capable of over 350 mph, it was only the first step on the long road to recovery from our crash in 2007 that forced the crew to rebuild the entire machine from the ground up.
Shortly after our run, Leslie Porterfield made a couple of runs in the 191–193 mph range on her CBR 1000, matching times with Roosevelt “Rosey” Lackey, a 71-year-old veteran of the salt running a beautiful 1000cc MV Augusta. John Noonan put down a scorching 251.5 mph run on his Turbo Hayabusa, and the pint-sized Buddfab 50cc streamliner ran an impressive 147 mph. An interesting note about John Noonan is that on an earlier run, his zipper came apart and his leathers opened up like an air brake, ripping John’s left arm off the handlebar and sending his cell phone hurtling down the salt. John managed to recover, as did his cell phone that he later showed me—salt rash and all.
Other notable runs include John Minonno, recording the fastest time for an American V-twin with back-to-back passes over 220 mph; John Renwick’s 156 mph run on his streamliner sidecar; Erin Hunter’s two runs of over 146 mph in her Costella-built 100cc racer that I believe will give her the first streamliner record for a female; and Roger Goldammer with his custom supercharged, single-cylinder nitrous-burning “show bike,” putting down back-to-back runs over 151 mph and looking good doing it.
As for the streamliner wars for two-wheel supremacy, the 2008 BUB Speed Trials will not go down in history as the battle that was. The Ack Attack took top time of the meet, but made its best run on Sunday morning, running a click over 315 mph. Sam Wheeler and the EZ Hook streamliner pulled out early with engine problems and Carr and the BUB Seven machine packed it in early to run again another day.
That being said, many records were broken, lifelong friendships were made, and sadly, one of our own was lost. The BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials is a special event that attracts motorcyclists the world over. You owe it to yourself to pay a visit. Just don’t forget your time slip on your way out. (www.speedtrialsbybub.com)
(Editor’s Note: Shortly after penning this report for Thunder Press, author Rocky Robinson took to the Bonneville salt once more to compete in the Top 1 Oil World LSR Shootout, and on September 26, on his last passes of the meet, succeeded in piloting Mike Akatiff’s Top 1 Ack Attack streamliner to a top speed of 360.913 mph. Pending certification by world sanctioning body FIM, that will be the new absolute world speed record, soundly eclipsing the previous record of 350.884 mph posted at the 2006 BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials by Chris Carr aboard Denis Manning’s BUB Seven streamliner. Way to go, Rocky.)