Sam Wheeler was a legend of land-speed racing at Bonneville, being one of the fastest humans on two wheels. Sadly, he lost his life during testing of his streamliner at Bonneville in July while trying to bust past the 400-mph barrier.
A few weeks ago we published a really nice piece on Wheeler’s memorial service written by Howie Zechner which you can see here. Zechner has followed up with another feel-good article about Wheeler’s positive influence on the land-speed racing community, which you can see below.
Sam Wheeler started it about 15 years ago. A “Motorcycle Guys Night Out” of friends and fellow speed addicts. Good food, a few beers, and a main course of motorized madness. The outcome, a bond that would last a lifetime and beyond.
What now? Sam’s gone. It was his baby. The shock, the tragedy, the pain, the plan. The tradition would continue. The group would meet as usual on the first Wednesday of the month in Arcadia CA.
August 3, 2016 and Matt Denny’s was full. Nearly 50 people showed up and filled two rooms. Many competitors with records, awards and championships with names like Lamb, Richards, Johnson, Robinson, Teaque, Allen, Hudson, Vaughn, Eastwood, Lauve and Howe (just to name a few). The world of streamliners and motorcycle competition was well represented.
A table filled with books, DVDs, pictures, decals, magazines and newspaper articles featuring Sam Wheeler were there for the taking. A video about his amazing life played, and those there spoke of his accomplishments, hopes and dreams. They told how Sam built his first streamliner in high school and his early membership into the 200-mph club. About him being a world-class engineer and working for Indian and the Norton factory in England and how excited Sam was when he became a 300-mph member.
Sam Wheeler was a hands-on guy who did it all. His ability to design, engineer, fabricate and race a streamliner made him stand out from others in this field of two-wheel rockets. From Sam’s first Bultaco streamliner that he and lifelong friends and crew members Roger Lamb and Russell Avery campaigned at Bonneville in 1963, to his Norton-powered machine that Sam tested in the MIRA wind tunnel in England and is now on display in the British Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham, to the aspirated Kawasaki ZX-11-powered EZ Hook streamliner and the final EZ Hook/Parts Unlimited machine with it’s powerful 500-hp Suzuki Hayabusa motor Sam was always bending the bar of what was possible. The 2016 Bonneville benchmark for Sam Wheeler was 400mph.
Sam’s wife of 45 years, Carol, was there. She was clearly in distress over her loss, but like the others put on a brave face. Carol spoke about working with Sam at the Norton factory and how their son Ben who was born in England was named after the Big Ben tower clock in London. She also spoke about Sam’s long relationship with Phelps Wood, the owner of the EZ Hook company where Sam worked for 35 years and about the support in time and resources Phelps gladly supplied. She chuckled about Sam jokingly calling these Wednesday-night gatherings “bored meetings” instead of board meetings.
“I’m sad” Carol later confided to me. “Sam was 73 years old, and we were planning our retirement. Where to go, what to see. I thought we would share our Golden Years together. Now that’s all gone but the memories.” Carol is indeed a special lady, and all who know her say she and Sam were a good fit. Still it’s hard not to feel her pain. Sam will indeed be missed.
A regular at these meetings is John Stein, the author of the book World’s Fastest Motorcycle, which chronicles the machines of the Bonneville Salt Flats. He like the others there made no secret of their admiration for Wheeler. Sam was mythical, he did it all, he was truly beloved, always willing to help, one of the nicest people I have ever met were just a few of the glowing tributes the group relayed.
So what now for the EZ Hook machine? I’m told it is being restored at Horsepower Engineering in Pasadena, CA, by lifelong friends Doug Robinson and Allen McAlister. Never again to see competition, it and the legend of the man who built and drove it will be going to a museum once completed.
And so the wheel makes one more lap. Rest in peace, Sam Wheeler. Your mark in history will live on and be an inspiration to those that follow.