[ SCTA Speed Week began with a rider/driver’s meeting and great news about the future of the Bonneville Salt Flats from Kevin Oliver of the Bureau of Land Management. Oliver told the group that the salt flats were a “critical environmental concern” for the BLM, and the maintenance of this public land was one of its priorities. He also praised the Intrepid Mine group for its efforts to rebuild the salt. The future of big speed at Bonneville is looking good. ]
The name “Scott Guthrie” appears frequently in the Bonneville Salt Flats motorcycle record books. So, when Guthrie himself called to inquire if I wanted to ride one of his bikes at Bonneville during Speed Week, my bags were packed before the numbers on my phone went dark.
My eagerness to run a Guthrie bike on the salt stems from two experiences: 1) In 1993, Guthrie spent a half day with me at Daytona International Speedway tweaking the aerodynamics of my Yamaha TZ250, working on my tuck and moving parts around. Later that weekend, I put the bike on the podium in the AMA 250GP race; 2) five years later, I made my first trip to Bonneville and turned in a best pass on a Luftmeister BMW turbo of 198 mph, achingly close to my goal of eclipsing the big Two-Oh-Oh. So, I trust and respect Guthrie, and I have unfinished business at Bonneville.
And I still do. As I write this, though, Guthrie’s turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa is sitting in the team’s trailer with a blown head gasket. Soon-to-be-salt-legend John Levie was at the controls and doing more than 200 mph when the engine popped—just one day before I was scheduled to take over the reins. Levie and I are hoping to join the Southern California Timing Association’s 200-mph club on the big Suzuki, but we will have to wait at least another month. Meanwhile, Levie is making his eighth of possibly 20 record runs on his own equipment. Between Guthrie and Levie, I’m in good company.
[ Here I am with Scott Guthrie, the most-prolific record-holder in Bonneville motorcycle history. The 68-year old Floridian made his mark on the salt with Yamaha TZ750-based land-speed bikes and is insanely fast on four-strokes, too. He’s a true renaissance man—a world-record-holding swimmer and university professor who has gone 251 mph on two wheels and 258 on four. Team Guthrie has helped a lot of up-and-coming speed addicts. ]
Getting my license. Again.
My previous SCTA license had expired, so I’d loaded up a Yamaha YZF-R1 fitted with Dunlop Q2s from the Yamaha Champions Riding School and drove to Wendover, Utah, to make the required graduated runs. But I soon found from the SCTA tech inspectors that my stock Yamaha was not “safe enough” to run at Bonneville. I said a quick prayer of thanks that I’d survived all those years of racetrack lapping on bikes that were apparently unsafe to run in a straight line.
After the inspectors pointed out all the flaws, I got to work: metal straps to hold down the battery; metal valve stems for the wheels; a metal chain guard; safety wire for the axles and pinch bolts; a dead-man’s switch to kill the ignition and fuel pump if I were to fall off.
Initially, I chafed under the scrutinizers’ criteria. Then, I realized that if I’d just read the rulebook more closely, I would have avoided all of this hassle. With no one but myself to blame, I quit crying and eventually passed tech.
Hey, rookie, where’s your crew?
The SCTA runs an informative rookie-orientation program that every newbie is required to attend with his or her crew. Crew? I didn’t bring a crew! Fortunately, the Van Horn family is a big part of Levie’s racing effort, and Becka Van Horn was drafted as my crew chief and support-vehicle driver. The 19-year-old college sophomore proved to be organized, on time and reliable. Perhaps a future with AMA Pro Racing is in her future.
Every rider needs a crew and support vehicle because the only place you can ride your competition bike is on one of the four courses during a timed run. Yep, you read that correctly: no warmup area. You can’t idle forward in line. You can’t ride back on the return road after a run. You can’t putt to the pits to grab a hot dog.
This “course-only” rule also causes frequent stoppages because “tuning” runs can’t be made anywhere else on the salt. This bites more cars and bikes than you can believe, and I’m willing to bet that one out of six runs that I witnessed ended with the vehicle running less than optimally.
It’s tough to sit in line for more than an hour only to find that your fuel line is pinched or your jetting is off or any other myriad problems that could have been discovered in an accessible practice area. I found it frustrating to wait in line while hearing bikes and cars misfiring and aborting runs ahead of me.
The typical Bonneville vehicle is built to the limits of the class rules and edge of the performance envelope. The good stuff is amazingly well-done and mind-blowingly impressive. Some of the other vehicles? Not so much. You wouldn’t hear this many poor-running bikes in five years of roadracing.