Bonneville 2007

First Visit to the Temple of Speed

Although some might be offended by this comment, it’s a well-known fact that for many of us gearheads, the love of racing far surpasses the levels of intensity and obsession normally reserved for a “hobby.” And for the most seriously affected (or afflicted, depending on your perspective), racing engenders feelings bordering on religious.

Like any religion, we racers and race fans have our own temples, our own holy places. Words that might be meaningless to normal people, words like “Nurburgring”, “Le Mans,” and “Daytona” can instantly interrupt a score of separate conversations, leaving heads turning and ears straining to hear the smallest fact about these legendary racecourses. Of course, for some gearheads, cornering speeds, lap times, and close passes are meaningless when compared to the pursuit of pure, unadulterated speed. For those whose love of racing focuses on the pursuit of ultimate speed, there’s only one name that truly matters: Bonneville.

These 10 square miles of sand right on the Utah/Nevada border might appear to be completely and utterly useless to those who don’t suffer from the particular affliction described above. It’s a desolate wasteland with ground that looks like snow and temperatures that frequently soar into the triple digits. But for those who want to challenge their own ability to build a machine (two-wheeled or four) for the singular purpose of attaining speeds that most would think insane (or impossible), Bonneville is sacred ground, the place where man has gone over 700 mph in a wheeled vehicle and where dozens of names are listed next to records exceeding 300 mph – around twice the speed that most ‘regular’ gearheads will ever achieve!

Bonneville record-holder Andy Sills waits for his turn to run the BMW Xplore K1200S down the salt course.

I wasn’t here for the decades-old Bonneville Speed Week, an event long dominated by “streamliners” of the four-wheeled variety. Instead, I was an observer of a relatively new phenomenon – the International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB, a two-wheeled-only event running here for only its fourth year.

"Most of the spectators were here in hopes of seeing a repeat of 2006’s dramatic three-way battle for the FIM motorcycle land-speed record."

I was in attendance at the behest of BMW Motorcycles, which was promoting its Xplore program and its support for the Las Vegas BMW-run, Andy Sills-ridden K1200S, which was back this year in upgraded form for a run at a record in a class that allowed heavier modifications (in 2005, with support from San Jose BMW, Sills set a record on a basically stock K1200S at 173.57 mph). Most of the spectators, however, were here in hopes of seeing a repeat of 2006’s dramatic three-way battle for the FIM motorcycle land-speed record.

Last year, three two-wheeled streamliners – the BUB Number 7 (ridden by dirt-track legend Chris Carr and owned by event organizer Dennis Manning), the Top-1 Ack Attack (ridden by Rocky Robinson), and Sam Wheeler’s E-Z-Hook machine – each took a crack at the FIM record (and each other), providing endless drama throughout the entire BUB event. Going into the 2006 event, the then 16-year-old record stood at 322 mph. To set a new record, a team would need to make two high-speed passes, with speed being calculated by the time it takes the motorcycle to cross from one mile marker to the next – meaning the record speed must be maintained for at least a mile. If an initial pass creates a record-breaking number, the rider and crew then have only two hours to make another pass, this time in the other direction (negating any headwind/tailwind advantages/disadvantages, at least theoretically), with the average speed of the two passes being the number that goes into the record books (hopefully).

The headlining event at BUB’s fourth annual Speed Trials was, of course, the 300-mph-plus streamliners. Mediocre salt conditions thwarted attempts to challenge last year’s record-breaking shootout.

In 2006, conditions on the salt were excellent, with a long spell of heat creating a relatively hard, smooth surface long-time salt racers told me was as ideal as they’d ever seen. Ack Attack came out swinging on day one, obliterating the 322-mph record with a blistering two-way average of 342.797 mph. The BUB Number 7 immediately struck back, though, with Chris Carr suspending his habit of riding in circles to go straight for a little while – straight into the record books, that is, with a 350.884-mph two-way average. The underdog E-Z-Hook machine (which runs in a smaller displacement class than BUB and Ack Attack) also demonstrated its ability to run 350-plus, making the week’s fastest one-way pass with a 355-mph run. Unfortunately, E-Z-Hook’s world-record aspirations were foiled by the failure of an irreplaceable front tire, which left him unable to make the required return pass. Despite an aggressive counterattack from Ack Attack, it was event organizer BUB’s machine that would leave the 2006 event on top.

So, on paper at least, 2007 had all the indications of being another episode in the drama of speed and human ingenuity that had begun in ’06. We had three machines that had demonstrated their ability to run at or close to 350 mph, two teams who had spent a year building hopes of making up for their lost chance in 2006, and one flat-track champ who was determined to keep BUB on top at its own event.

"2007 had all the indications of being another episode in the drama of speed and human ingenuity"

Wandering the pits was endlessly entertaining, giving me the opportunity to admire bikes like this German-entered custom, powered by a turbocharged Harley clone motor and featuring a stunning paint scheme representing its Castrol sponsorship.

Between the streamliner record battle, the hundreds of other records up for grabs (some classes have no record at all, meaning anyone who can build a machine and make two passes can call themselves a record-holder), and the incredibly popular run-what-you-brung streetbike groups, the pits were filled with hundreds of salt racers ready to take their turn at satisfying the universal male urge that was unforgettably illustrated in the wonderful, and wonderfully cheesy, classic film Top Gun, where Tom Cruise’s character “felt the need, the need for speed” (you know you’ve seen it too).

Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn’t quite as co-operative this year as she was in 2006, and mediocre salt conditions combined with incredibly changeable weather put a damper on any hopes of dramatic showdowns and FIM records. BMW's attempt to entice BMW riders to "Challenge their limits" through the Xplore program seems to have been extremely successful here, as I saw numerous stock-appearing BMWs entered in the streetbike "run whatcha brung" category, contrary to the hordes of Hayabusas and liter-class sportbikes I was expecting.Soft salt caught out the Ack Attack machine on the second day, causing a crash that put them out of contention for most of the week. BUB and Chris Carr rested on their laurels, and Sam Wheeler didn’t even show up, in what was either a prophetic prediction of the poor chance of a record or perhaps another mechanical issue with the temperamental E-Z-Hook machine and its unobtanium tires.

Still, despite the crowd’s obvious disappointment at not seeing another three-way record-breaking battle by the fully-enclosed streamliners, whose phallic shape gives yet another (unintentional) homage to their testosterone-driven speed dreams, there was plenty of fun to be had at the 2007 International Motorcycle Speed Week by BUB. Stay tuned for more info on BMW’s impressive K1200S team, as well as some of the other weird, wacky, and wonderful salt-flat contenders we’ll profile.

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