Not Dead Yet II: Still Not Dead!
September 21, 2000
I have found paradise, and it is Bonneville. As soon as I saw a car heading out for a speed run I was hooked. The air was sweet with racing fuel with subtle whiffs of testostorone. Uncorked exhausts shook the ground as megahorsepower machines took to the salt. Imagine a frozen lake, miles across and long. Replace that ice with salt. You get the idea. Pure racing paradise. No speed limits, nothing to hit, smooth surfaces. I park in the spectator area but start wandering in andd out of the pits. I make it over to the launching area and talk to a motorcyclist getting ready to go out. I ask him about what the required equipment is and a couple other things. My bike lacks a sterring dampener and a pullcord killswitch (in case I fall off). I also can't run without full racing leathers. He shows me where the registration desk is, and I go over to get the complete rules. I am directed to another individual responsible for tech inspection. From him I find that there are two types of racing. One is for the record. The other is for club membership, the 130 Club and the 150 Club. For the 130 Club I don't need anything other than speed rated tires and leathers. Well, I go back and check my tires and they will pass and I'm pretty sure my helmet will as well, so off I go in search of leathers. I stop first by the motorcyclist I talked to earlier. He doesn't have a second set and he is making too many passes to let me use his. I didn't really ask, I just told him about the 130 Club and he volunteered the rest. I head up the row of pits, and at each motorcyclist I stop and ask if they have extra leathers. I find two that do, and a third that will let me use their primary ones, but I am several inches taller than all of them. I stop by one last pit and find that there is a driver meeting but I should check back as their driver is about my size. I head over to the driver meeting, which dismisses as soon as I get there. I'm starting to give up, so I figure I'll just check out the cars and take pictures. On the way back I see the last pit I talked to and head over to his pit to see what they have. I see the owner of the bike and ask if has extra leathers. He says "oh you're the guy? You can borrow mine when I'm not taking passes. I'm trying to go 190 on my 2000 Kawasaki ZX-12." Too cool! I'm in business. I take my bike to inspection and it passes. I go to registration and pay my fees, which come to $125 but include a year's membership with the Utah Salt Flat Racing Association. I also get to have five timed passes, and if I make two of them in the same day at speeds higher than 130 but less than 140 through the end of the mile I become a member of the 130 Club. I don't expect to, as I still have to ride the bike a few thousand more miles, so I won't be going top end unless it feels really good. Registration also gives me a sticker to put on my bike to show I passed inspection (I begged for and got another sticker for my helmet) and a badge to wear for entrance to and from the salt flats, and a t-shirt that was different from the souvenir stand ones because on the back it says "Participant."
I spend the next few hours hanging out at the pit of the guy letting me borrow his leathers. His name is Jimmie Owen and he and his buddies from all across the country (Florida, Maine, Michigan, Utah) are here to see him do these passes. They are a great group of guys. Whenever Jim had something that needed to be done, I was there to volunteer. It wasn't because he was letting me borrow his leathers, but because I wanted to help and be involved. It's like that there. There are like three levels of acceptance. Everyone likes the spectators because everyone is there for the speed. So just go and say hi and take pictures and you'll get lots of smiles and friendly waves. Be a member of a crew and that's a higher level. The other crews will talk to you and the officials listen a bit more. Jim made two passes that afternoon, with a top speed of 185. The last run had a ten mph headwind, so he would have broken through 190 if it hadn't been there. After that he said he was tired and asked if I wanted my turn.
The third level of acceptance is as a driver. Then the other drivers talk to you like a peer, and it's not like anyone is remotely snobby, because everyone is incredibly nice and cooperative, but I felt different once I had the leathers on and I made my way to the starting line. And later, once the people I had asked for leathers found that I had gone out, they were different, even more friendly. I don't know, maybe it was just me feeling big because I was going out for a run on the Bonneville Salt Flats, the same piece of land where Al Teague and Art Arfons had battled for the land speed record at over 600 mph.
I had a couple other vehicles to wait for, and during that time Jim came over and took a few pictures of me on my digital camera. I am very grateful for Jim's help. Then it was my turn. A one mile pass, and I have to turn out to the left after the one mile marker but before the three mile marker. I'M OFF!! (Some of you are saying "Damn sure he's off.) I spin in first gear so I shift to second and accelerate out. I'm still spinning some as I go into third but I'm picking up speed. It is fairly smooth and I feel comfortable winding third out and shifting to fourth. The ground is flying by and I tuck down on my gas tank. Fourth redlines and I shift to fifth, my top gear. I'm at 6300 rpms, faster than I have ever gone before on my motorcycle. It feels good and I open the throttle up more. At 6500 rpms the bike starts to skip and miss. I roll back a bit then open it up again. Again the missing. I have 2000 more rpms but I can't get there because of the miss. I blow through the one mile marker and keep on. I don't know where the timing lights are, so I need to make sure I'm well away from them before slowing. The timing lights are spaced 132 feet apart and are what determines the top speed you get qualified at. I pull off midway between the one and two mile markers and go left. Hmmm. Where do I pick up the timing slip? Well, it seems like there was a timing booth at the three mile marker, so I go there. Nope. I have to go back to registration at the start line. How classic. I have just made my first top speed run and I don't know where to go to get the slip.
I make it to the registration desk and ask for my slip. I tell them my number and they don't have it in their log book. The guy looks in his book and says, "Oh, we had you as number 64. Here, you ran 101." No Way! I was going much faster than that. My number is 1143. Did you guys get it? "This is what we have for you." Jimmie is over at this point, and he says "You had a Camaro in front of you. What was the next time?" Well, it was for a bike and it was 101. I think they have messed up. I should have been 110 or 115, based on my calculations of my tachometer (I have no speedmeter and even if it did work it stops at 85). "Well, Tim, take another pass. I don't mind."
So back to the start line I go. I make sure with the starter that they have my number and I'm off again. First slips again and I shift to second. I get traction and rocket up to speed. The shift from second to third is quick and I climb even faster. I actually spin the rear tire shifting from third to fourth I shift so quickly and the bike is making so much power under acceleration. Each gear winds out smoothly to the redline, at 8500 rpms, nothing by today's standards but the bike is 18 years old. I hit top gear, tuck in tight, and hold the throttle open in spite of the miss at 6500 rpms. I blast through the timing lights and sit up, with the knowledge of where the timing lights are this time and with confidence I've got a good 120 mph run under my belt. I go back to the timing table all smiles until I see Jimmie's face. He already has my time and it's 105. Well, hell. I guess my tachometer calculations aren't accurate after all.
Later, after I have some time to reflect, I realize I should be rather happy. The bike held together, always returning my confidence in it. And in spite of the fact that it was blowing black smoke in the first two gears, a clear sign of running too rich, and just yesterday I wasn't sure I was going to make it to the next town because the battery was almost drained, I have a bona fide time slip at over 100 mph at Bonneville. I am happy, in spite of the disappointment of not going as fast as I thought at any time in the past. I guess if I had run 120 it would have been too easy. These people work hard to get every mph they can, and I understand intimately the disappointment of not going as fast as one wanted to. At the end of the day, I wear my participant's t-shirt while going out for a couple beers at a casino with Jim and his friends and I feel even better when people ask me how fast I ran and I tell them I rode my motorcycle from SC and ran 105 and they are impressed. I'll be back. I'll get that 130 Club membership, next year. Or the year after. But I will get it, with something I ride there and build myself.
That night I sleep in my Bonneville Salt Flats World of Speed 2000 Participant t-shirt.
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