Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pass The Salt...

The Bonneville salt flats are a place of extremes: Extreme heat... Extreme cold... Extreme flatness... Even the vast expanse is extreme, stretching across 30,000 acres of wide open space, ending in a ring of mountains. Mountains that ripple in the waves of heat coming off the endless salt... The rider had seen all of this before. He was here for another reason: Extreme speed. The slight vibration through the padded cockpit seat, and the needle on the tach told him the engine was running. Yet within the confines of the streamliner, and the even tighter fire suit, the rider felt a familiar surge of cold across his chest.

No trace of fear, a stream of ice water was being pumped through cooling coils sewn into his shirt.

The rider checked the instruments again. The 500 horsepower, 3000cc, carbon fiber streamliner barely purred, idling on its twin skids. At his signal, the machine jolted forward, attached to a tow vehicle. The rider retracted the skids (which balanced the machine on its two wheels) by thumbing a “Chinese Hat” switch as the speedo showed 20 mph. Another button from the Vietnam war era released the tow rope as the speedo ticked through 50. The tow vehicle pulled off the course, and he shifted the streamliner into gear.

Above — "Seven" — On the salt, Dennis Manning's seventh streamliner going through final preparations. (Photo from BUB Enterprises Press Kit)

The gear shift is electronic and is represented by a trigger switch that normally fires machine guns on an F-4 Phantom. (The controls were bought surplus and wired into the machine.) The acceleration is smooth, but utterly abrupt — like being thrown out a fifth-story window. There is a certain exhilaration that every biker knows. It is the feeling that comes from running it out in a lower gear, hitting the red line, and then popping into a higher notch, as the motorcycle draws another breath, digging its claws into the pavement. And part of that exhilaration is the sound of pistons going ballistic.

Above – The rider, strapped into the streamliner, between the unique controls of "Seven." (Photo from BUB Enterprises press kit)

This rider is no exception, but he has been become accustomed to the sensation of speed on a broader scale. This streamliner breeds speed like congress breeds contempt. Though the seat is splayed like an upholstered shovel and the rider is seat-belted like a fighter pilot, he is still shoved back as the machine winds up for the pitch.

There are purists who may contend that a streamliner is not a real motorcycle with its fully enclosed cockpit, massive internal engine, and landing gear skids... But they are wrong. This 24-foot long streamliner (with tires that cost more than I made in 10 years as a writer) may be a unicorn when it is on its skids, but headed down the salt flats, running on two wheels, it is every inch a motorcycle, just like the one piloted by Burt Munro in 1967.

And all of the risks remain the same.

The salt provides an interesting surface. It can be as hard as asphalt or as crusty as French bread. It is covered with water throughout the early spring and assumes its racing nature at the end of summer. For this event, the course is groomed for an 11-mile stretch. The salt is groomed for speed. It is also groomed for death. Without a tree or a building in sight, the wind blows free across the flats. And sometimes — often in fact — it blows with some authority. It can whip up handfuls of salt on a whim, or influence the course of a two-wheeled shooting star, tearing up the salt on contact patches of two square inches of hardened rubber.

Above — "Seven" in tow, starting the course at the Bonneville Salt Flats. (Photo from BUB Enterprises press kit)

Fourteen seconds into the course, the rider glanced at the speedo and made a decision: he triggered it into second gear — at 180 miles per hour. Decisions like these would come faster now. He had less than four miles to max this machine out, and it was already doing a little less than half speed.

Bonneville salt flat speed records for motorcycles are born between mile markers #5 and #6. Birth complications sometimes occur when crosswinds shake the nose, causing the machine to swerve. It is amazing how much lateral movement you can get in a machine at speeds over 280 miles per hour, with very little effort.

The machine gun trigger was pulled two more times and the streamliner rocketed into the timed mile at a speed in excess of 350mph. The rider was satisfied that this practice run had shown the machine ready for competition, and began the slow-down process after passing Mile 6. Even in practice, these high-speed runs are the stuff of legend. This one would be no different.

Somewhere around 280 mph, buried deep within the 19 feet of streamliner behind the rider, an oil hose parted, spraying hot parts with lubricant. The engine burst into flames, setting off the fire suppression system. A fire warning light advised the rider that things had taken a dark, and dirty turn. Yet in less time that it took to write these words, the smoking $6 million (plus) machine covered yet another two miles.

It was time to bail out. (Or at least to get out.)

There was no question of killing the engine. It had died by its own hand as the ignition wiring turned to ash. Having trained for contingencies just like this, the rider calmly hit the “torpedo” button, to deploy the pilot ‘chute. This is a small 18-inch parachute that activates the main drag chute. The effects of the sudden drag can be felt immediately.

Nothing happened.

For an instant, the cool water circulating around the rider’s chest didn’t seem quite cool enough. He was faced with a bit of a dilemma. Releasing the emergency back-up drag chute can only be done at a lower speed, as the wind-stream will simply shred it. Now the gentle reader will undoubted think, “Thank God this happened on the Bonneville salt flats, with all that wide open space. All the rider has to do is sit tight until the machine runs out of momentum, then jump out, leaving the smoldering ruins to the fire crew undoubtedly chasing the ill-fated streamliner.” This is a logical conclusion, provided the machine doesn’t blow up winding down.

It would also be the wrong conclusion.

Despite 30,000 acres of vast wide-open space before him, the rider and his streamliner were eating up the groomed course at about 4 miles a minute. The perfectly flat course extended slightly beyond the 11-mile marker, but not by much. Then it quickly yielded to coarser salt, complete with bumps, ridges and cracks that would offer no challenge to a dirt bike. But they might just as well have been cobblestones to the streamliner’s fragile suspension. The rider was under no illusions as to what could happen after mile-marker 11.

Without the thrust of 500-horsepower engine, the machine started to slow, and after the scant seconds required to hold a breath, the rider deemed it safe enough to release the emergency drag chute. It was a bad day for drag chute reliability as that unit also failed to deploy. The slightly disillusioned rider noted that the machine was still moving in excess of 200 mph, with less than three miles in which to stop.

Redundancy is the key word in streamliner technology. And with so many redundant drag chutes on board, there was little consideration for weight-consuming brakes. The streamliner has a back brake that the rider regards as useless for any speed faster than a brisk walk. With a touch as gentle as the lead man for the bomb squad, the rider carefully began to extend the skids. Sudden drag behind the front wheel can dramatically change the manner in which the streamliner handles. Fighting erratic steering with one hand, and nursing the skids with the other, the rider divided speed into remaining distance to determine if he would still need his dinner reservations that night.

The streamliner came to a stop about a half mile from the first line of cracks and ridges.
It had to stop. The skids were buried eight inches into the salt. The rider exited the streamliner with as much elán as could be mustered under the circumstances. The fire had been extinguished and the pit crew began to assess the damage to the machine.

More than anything else, the rider was disappointed by the thought that the damage done to the engine would have precluded competing for the title of “World’s Fastest Man on Two Wheels,” an honor that presently belonged to a competitor. Yet as he removed his helmet and gloves, the rider smiled sheepishly, scuffed the salt with his boot, and asked, “Who packed the drag chutes?”

Now, the average guy might have been inclined to rethink the details of the afternoon and decide that other pastimes could be more gratifying. But this rider is not the average guy. He won the 1992, 1999, and 2001-2005 AMA Grand National Dirt Track (Flat Track) championships, the 2000 Formula USA Dirt Track Championship and the AMA 600cc Dirt Track championship seven times (1988–1993, and 1995). He won his first Grand National Championship when he was 19.

Above — Chris Carr, the World's Fastest Man On Two Wheels. (Photo from BUB Enterprises press kit)

So two weeks later, on September 24th, 2009, Chris Carr strapped his butt into a repaired streamliner (owned by Dennis Manning of BUB Racing) and rode into high-speed history, at 367.382 miles per hour. He is currently the “World’s Fastest Man On Two Wheels.”

Nothing burned and the drag chutes worked... But that doesn’t mean it was routine. There’s always the wind. (To be continued...)

Above — From left, the author, Chris Carr, and James Ellenberg, who is a tee shirt salesman, attempting to make a buck. Note Riepe is holding a cane and Ellenberg is sporting a crutch. Carr has asked Riepe for advice on leaning into high-speed curves. Riepe is lying as he has never leaned into a curve in his life. The author is pleased to report he is no longer that fat. (Photo by Ansel Adams Schwartz)

Author's Note:

• Chris Carr speaks softly, with a slight California drawl. (This is because he is originally from California.) He wanted to make it clear that the reason the drag chutes failed was due to extensive damage as a result of the fire. And he suspected so at the time.

• This is what my work looks like when I write a serious motorcycle story. Is everyone happy now?

Above — One of the author's favorite pictures, as a guest in Chris Carr's pit at Hagerstown Raceway. The author is now 25 pounds lighter than he was in the picture. Here he has more chins than a Chinese phonebook. (Photo by Jim Ellenberg)

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA The Lindberg Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)

39 comments:

BeemerGirl said...

Bravo!! Great writing and feel of the moment. Those pictures of the flats make me SICK!! Lived in Salt Lake for a couple years and miss that DRY heat and those views! :) You can strap me into that contraption any day...fastest woman on two wheels. HHmmmmm...

New pictures soon of the svelter you?? Congratulations on such an achievement! Keep up the good work!

-Lori

Jonesy said...

Another great piece. Reeks of coolness. Keep it up Jack!

sgsidekick said...

VERY nice piece, Jack! I was riding right alongside! I could actually feel the wind in my hair, even under the virtual helmet. Great job.

And when are we getting photos of YOU?

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Beemer Girl (Lori):

Thank you for your kind note. Considering my current, though reduced size, I'd still have to be strapped onto the streamliner. Chris Carr tells an amazing story, and he's got a thousand of them. I'm delighted he wanted to share this one on Twisted Roads.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Jonesy:

Thanks for the comment. What do you ride? By the way, yor comment enters you in the Twisted Roads monthly EZ Tire Presuure Gauge Giveway.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear SgSidekick (Tena):

Thanks for reading my blog and writing in.

That's how it is whenever Chirs Carr gets to talking. The guy has done everything there is to do on a motorcycle.

My picture was taken yesterday, by a satellite. I'm the guy standing next to Vermont.I'm wearing the hat.

By the way, your comment enters you in the EZ TIre Pressure Gauge giveaway too.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Richard Machida said...

Great story, it had me on the edge of my seat. Thank you!

25 lbs in a fairly short time! Impressive!

Richard My blog

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Richard:

That's not true. I said I was 25 pounds lighter than when that picture was taken, over a year ago. I am still very fat.

But I'm glad you liked my attempt at writing a serious motorcycle story.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Nikos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nikos said...

Dear Jack

Mach 0.5 - So he is half way to the sound barrier!

What engine was he using? It looked a bit like 7 BMW K75 engines joined together but that would have needed the combined ingenuity of David Napier and his son James(both deceased).

Best wishes from N

Joe Dille said...

Great story Jack.

Canajun said...

Jack - Ever since seeing The World's Fastest Indian I've wanted to go to the flats. Your story just reinforced that desire. Well written. Thanks.

John said...

Jack. great story. Having had tghe pleasure of sitting next to Mr. Carr at a Mac-Pac new years brunch a few years ago I can tell you this guy is the real deal. Multiple National champion, fastest man on two wheels, yet humble and very fun to talk to. I am a fan. Dirt track racing takes balls, real balls. Obviously Mr. Carr has these, and then some, and yet he considers us crazy for riding on the street.

Charlie6 said...

wow, great stuff....this posting of yours "had me there, in the cockpit, with Chris Carr".

I didn't realize they groom the course, thought the salt lake bed was smooth on its own....now I know.

Conchscooter said...

Excellent story. I am puzzled by the suggestion that this story is any less risible than your usual prose.Mr Carr must be a great man to share a photo frame with you. I know I am not worthy.
Another odd thing is if this rocket contraption is currently the fastest two wheeler and not that long ago a Triumph was the fastest two wheeler, where does the sacred BMW fixation fit into the spectrum? Nowhere? Please advise.

ADK said...

Grea.... errrrr, good story.

Where's my tire gauge?

bobskoot said...

Jack "r":

I was on the edge of my seat hoping for the rocket to stop in time. I would be claustrophobic in that thing. 20 years ago I sat in a Fiero and you needed a shoe horn to get into the drivers seat, and I wondered what would happen if something were to go wrong.

I would prefer a seat on top to allow for easy egress

I love your new svelte figure. Imagine how much faster you can go on your K75 weighing a 100 lbs less. It would feel like having a supercharger

bob
Wet Coast Scootin

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

This is but one of Chris Carr's moto adventures. He has a million of them, and some may find their way onto this blog. I'm glad you liked this one.

I used to own a Mazda RX7, and it was amazing how much legroom that little cherry bomb had. It was also as fast as hell.

Bob, you haven't seen my svelt figure yet. Both of the pictures on this blog are a year old. Thanks for writing in though, and for being a dedicated reader. You are entered into this month's EZ Tire Pressure Gauge contest.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear ADK (Chris):

You already won a flashlight, you cheap SOB. So what are you doing on Labor Day?

Thank you for reading Twisted Roads, and for copying someone else's comment. You are entered into the monthly EZ Tire Pressure Gauge drawing. And I'd shove the gauge up my ass before I'd mail it to you.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conchskooter:

All of your questions sare very good, if not slightly slanted to entrap the author. In response to your first point, this story reflects an unerring ability to recant a tale, without embellishment, but in a manner to titillates the reader. That strange feeling that you had after reading this story? Pure titillation.

Are you not worthy to be included in a highly photoshopped picture with me? Absolutely, as you will discover on your visit. And with the arrangements I have made at "Stillettos," they will be highly titillated pictures too. They will be very impressed at the Key West Vice Squad.

As for your last, but utterly snide question, any stock BMW will be land squarely between a $6 million streamliner, and a $3,500 Triumph. Pure luxury and pure speed (with a tach), a god cut above.

Thank you reading my blog and for excepting me as your roll model. You might win the tire pressure gauge.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Anonymous said...

Great story Jack, I enjoy your work. Gordon

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

This piece was an education for me as well. I learned more about the salt flats than I ever imagined. Some day, I am going to own a K-1600, and ride the salt as fast as I can go, for a 6-mile straight line. They let you do it and time you for a fee.

Thanksa for reading nd for commenting. You might get the tire pressure gauge this time.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Gordon:

I'm glad you got a kick out of it. Is this Gordon Till? Believe it or not, I need something from a Harley dealer and I'd be delighted to buy it at your place.

You're entered into the monthly EZ Tire Pressure Gauge, contest just for commenting.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

The engine is a "purpose-built," 3000cc, 500-horsepower, V4. It is hand-built and machined.The vehicle is steered though twin joy-sticks, with fighter pilot controls. It many regards, it is similar in performance to a BMW K-75.

I may get one modified for the street.

Thanks for reading and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Joe Dille:

This is the sort of stuff I expect Joey and Matt to be doing in another few years. Thanks for writing in, Joe... And you may wn the EZ Tire Pressure Gauge.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Canajun:

Stay tuned... Some day, you'll be watching the "World's Fastest K-75," also pn the salt flats. Maybe I'll meet you on the salt.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear John Claus:

I had the pleasure of calling on the Carr's at their home. It was a great interview, and then Chris made me empty my pockets to make sure I didn't steal anything.

Thanks for reading and for writing in. You might get the tire presure gauge this time. Let's ride again soon. It was fun two weeks ago.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

BMW-Dick said...

Good reading, excellent writing. What a great way to start my day. Thanks.

Cantwell said...

Grea.... errrrr, good story.

I already have a tire gauge, but if I win, you can soil it an send it to Chris.

How's the truck? give me a call.

bobskoot said...

jACK rIEPE:

I want to know how you managed to squeeze into your RX7 ? It was like wearing a body glove and helmet all in one. I've had two RX7's (GS and GSL). to me, they were more of a skate board with an engine.

I got all excited when I saw West Coast but CA is too far for me, and Pt Townsend was too involved with ferries and all.

I forgot about your truck replacement. How about a Nissan Cube ? I think there's enough room in there for you.

bob
Wet Coast Scootin

motonomad said...

Jack,

Excellent piece! Loaded with interesting facts and insights. Who wrote it?

MotoNomad

Olslopoke said...

One of your best Riepe. This weight loss thing must be good for creativity.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

First of all, I was a lot thinner when I was 37... But still, there was more legroom in the Mazda RX7 then there is in the Suburban. I have looked at three Suburbans I liked, and have others to look at before I make a decision. There is not a doubt in my mind I'll get 12 or 13 years out of my next truck, as I will not use it for plowing. The Mazda was useless on a snow-covered road, and almost as bad in the rain. Other than that, I loved it.

There is nothing like a GMC Suburban.

And next year, I am going to ride my bike to the west coast.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Motonomad (Pete):

Thank you for reading my blog and for leaving a comment. Even though my arthritis was really bad this morning, I staggered into the shower and scrubbed my ass really hard. It is now ready for you to kiss.

Want to meet for crabs at Captain Bob's in Railroad, Pa on Sunday? Say about 12:30pm?

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Olslopoke:

What a nice thing to say? Thank you for reading my blog and writing in, and for not calling mer fat ass or anything. Your name has been entered into the EZ Tire Pressure Gauge Contest for this month. I hope you win.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mike (Cantwell):

I didn't take you call the other day, thinking it was Chris. The truck is just about finished, and I am on the schedule to get that coolig module replaced this week on the K-75.

Tell your wife you have to visit a sick friend and ride down here for Labor Day. If that doesn't work, try Columbus Day.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Shannon T Baker said...

Jack,
This is what makes you the king of MotoBlogging; excellent writing that hooks you right into the story.
Now about that back child support...

Bitchy said...

Wow, great story and very well written I could not stop even when I was burning dinner thought it was a part of the story... Even though I am no racer, what a rush that was almost makes me want to try it myself.

Voni said...

Wow!

Voni
sMiling