Sam Wheeler, a veteran with more than 50 years in motorcycle streamliners, was a household name in the rarefied world of land-speed racing. In 2006, his 355-mph speed through the timed mile on the Bonneville salt was enough to qualify him for the title of World’s Fastest Motorcycle. Unfortunately, he never got to make the backup pass required to cement the record. Instead, his streamliner blew out its front tire moments after passing through the timing lights.
Although he was unhurt and the streamliner relatively undamaged in the quarter mile slide on its carbon fiber composite bodywork, the lack of a replacement front tire – even if the other damage could have been repaired in the two-hour qualification window – meant that, even though he was technically the world’s fastest motorcycle rider, he would not be able to claim the actual record. Rules are rules.
In the 10 years since that missed opportunity, the goal post may have moved in the form of the current record of 376.363 mph, but Sam Wheeler’s resolve never waned. In recent years, Wheeler made several major changes to his EZ Hook/Parts Unlimited streamliner in preparation for claiming the speed record for himself. On July 25, 2016, Wheeler climbed into the cockpit of his craft and set out for a testing pass, as a step towards his ultimate goal of 400 mph. Unfortunately, it was his final run on the Bonneville salt. – Evans Brasfield
Now, don’t get the wrong idea, as I mean no disrespect, but when I go, I want a Celebration of Life like Sam Wheeler had: Wonderful weather, a perfect location and a host of friends and family that filled the place to capacity. Laughing, telling stories, and enjoying each others company, we enjoyed an afternoon well spent reminiscing about yesterdays and those that leave us too early.
I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to honor Sam Burr Wheeler, who tragically lost his life this summer at the Bonneville Salt Flats during testing on the EZ Hook/Parts Unlimited streamliner that he hoped would set a new world record at the upcoming Speedweek races.
Held at the National Hot Rod Association Museum in Pomona California on October 17, 2016, the event was well planned out. A short walk from the entrance, past a room full of hot rods and dragsters – along with signs, jackets, helmets, trophies and more – two full bars greeted your arrival at the “Hall of Champions” entrance.
Giant Sam Wheeler pictures lined one side of the Hall entrance. Everyone was encouraged to grab a Sharpie and leave his or her mark. Most did.
Sam Wheeler Memorial pamphlets, posters, decals, DVD, and full-color eight-page booklet that included pictures and a wonderful story by Dick Lague filled tables on the other side of the Hall entrance.
Once inside the “Hall of Champions,” visitors were treated to a well-edited Sam Wheeler photomontage played on two giant monitors. In the back of the room, multiple tables were filled with food — lots and lots of food. An NHRA podium and seating for 100 or so rounded out the spread.
There were lots of people, many wearing shirts honoring Sam Wheeler, the SCTA, and 200 or 300 MPH Club. With everyone talking, eating, enjoying a drink or three, the mood was light and joyful. We all had a story or five.
When the memorial started, there was not an empty seat in the house – people were standing eight deep lining the Hall. Reverend Jim Walden gave an opening prayer. Master of Ceremony Allen McAlister followed with a couple of stories and a list of speakers. A lifelong friend Allen and Sam were very close.
The new Southern California Timing Association President, Pat McDowell, was the first. Like all of the evening’s speaker, he praised Sam and his ability to do it all: dream, design, manufacture, and drive along with a smile and a good attitude were the common thread among them.
Sam’s wife, Carol Wheeler, was next. Forty-Five years the bride, she spoke of their life and love – the kids, the challenges, and the adventures. A lovely women, Carol thanked the massive crowd for attending. She expressed with great emotion what so many had said in private: Sam died doing what he loved, at a place he loved, with people he loved.
Wheeler’s son Ben and his wife, Cindy, followed with a loving tribute. Sam’s granddaughter Samantha and other family members joined them on the podium.
A line of VIP speakers followed. Life-long friendships, love, respect and admiration were spoken by all.
Terry Kizer shared that he was the last person to see Sam Wheeler alive: “Sam gave me the thumbs up as I closed the Streamliner canopy. He had a smile from ear to ear. Sam loved running at at Bonneville.”
Sponsor Phelps Wood talked about Sam being more than an employee at his EZ Hook Company. “For 35 years, we did everything together. Even now, I go to his office and expect to see him there,” he told us.
Other speakers included: Rick Marsh, Frank Sherrill, Mike Akatiff, Russell Avery, Gary Richards, Don Harris, Doug Robinson, Ole Tweet and Dick Lague.
Sam Wheeler loved speed, engineering, and time, the Reverend Jim Walden told us. His closing prayer reminded us that we are all here for only a short time.
And so the Life turns into Legend. RIP Sam Wheeler. You will not be forgotten.