Part II The Trials continue, Speed Runs Begin: Day 1, Wednesday Oct. 6

Photo by Jim Haraughty

Finally on the salt to run on Wednesday, the rider’s meeting begins the process as it does at most racing events.  It was here I first met Dick Munz, a car and motorcycle collector from Madison Wis.  Running a beautiful roadster he is a veteran of the salt with a number of records to his credit.   

 After the meeting it was back to the trailer and after checking tire pressures on the bikes we brought them to the starting line.  Since it was the first day, nearly everybody was in line to run. 



Two courses meant few delays in getting a run on the salt in the morning.  In August at Speed Week there are sometimes three courses, which means you get a lot of chances to run down the course even with the larger number of entries.  We elected to run on Course 1 as it was designated as a Short/Long course.  The two different lengths of courses are intended to accommodate the faster vehicles as well as the ones that don’t want or need a 5 mile run.  In the case of a bike or car not exceeding 175mph at the 2 ¼ mile mark (described as “the quarter”) they are designated as “Short Course” vehicles.  They are expected to go no farther than the three mile mark and then turn out.  A short course vehicle can qualify and set a record at the 2 mile mark rather than trying to run under power to the 3 mile point.  That last mile can really take its toll on parts.  The 2 ¼ mile mark also has significance relating to licensing of a rider/driver, but more on that later.

After unloading the bikes it then becomes a waiting game.  At this point it can be difficult to time your psych up (or out).  When a course is used by both long and short vehicles it is difficult to tell which is which, although a streamliner and/or anything with a blower or a turbo the size of a basketball is generally expected to run the long course.  Engine temperatures need to be monitored (too cold and it may not respond well at the beginning of the run, too warm and terminal temps can happen before the end, melting parts), watching tires, checking the wind on the course (to do this, you get on the CB radio and ask “wind check please” to get the wind at the tower around the 3 mile mark) and catching up with people you haven’t seen or meeting new friends. 

 I was fortunate to meet Joe Amo the current class record holder in the Ducati’s class at 252mph.  He has gone 270, so you pay attention to anything said.  You never know what you may pick up.  We got a chance to talk about various aspects of his bike and things he did to overcome problems he encountered when running just over 200mph. While I don’t think the Ducati could go 252 (nor the rider most likely), subtle hints and his experience can provide methods of avoiding potential issues.  Issues at 200+ mph are not good.  His bike had features that are visible and, when explained, make perfect sense.  We discussed questions relating to engine management and the four-dimensional maps used by everyone but us (it seems), bodywork (of course), and other items of interest. 

Joe is an anesthesiologist and when I told him some of the people that helped with the bike worked for the company that makes the machines he uses, another area of interest opened up. I want to express my appreciation to him here for the time he spent explaining things.  Of particular interest was being able to watch him at the beginning of a run to see how he settled into the bikes comprehensive bodywork.  The secret is legs out for a longer time than one might expect and in diametric opposition to the get your feet on the pegs as quickly as possible at the drag strip.  Letting the bike get under way and get stable is very important as with the rake and wheelspin the Ducati is a handful until about 100 mph and spinning up the rear wheel and falling over on the starting line is an embarrassment even the most capable ego cannot endure. 

 The Triumph is ready to go after breaking the clutch loose.  The salt does not offer very much traction, so getting the plates to separate is a bit of a trick.  They finally release with very little time to spare.  Jim sits into the bike.  Nick plugs in the starter and puts a bit of heat in the motor, but not too much, as it is air cooled.  One last look-over and off Jim goes to the starting line.

The progress of the run is broadcast over the CB radio. I don’t get to listen this time as I need to be ready to go, since I am going out next in this lane.  One last check, get the helmet on, the safety tether, be sure all your zippers are up and helmet strap snug.  Checking the engine temperature it is about 30 degrees C, so we wait until the run in the next lane is done, then roll to the starting line.  The starter does a last minute check of the safety gear and verifies that we plan to run on the long course, and then off we go.  Leaving the starting line with your feet out is a bit of a departure as I mentioned earlier, but it seems to help.  The bike needs to have enough forward momentum to not be upset when you start pulling your feet in and squirming around on the seat.  In this bike, we are not airshifting it to try and keep things simple, so second gear needs to be engaged at about 100mph which comes surprisingly quickly. 

The motor doesn’t sound very happy and while shifting at about 7500 rpm I keep looking for a happy zone in the rpm range.  Trying a bit more rpm it pretty much quit pulling at 8,000 rpm and was starting to bang out the exhaust.  Since the exhaust is right by your ear on the left it tends to emphasize itself.  With memories of two manifold explosions last year in my mind I kept looking for an area of smooth running and hoped to avoid a repeat.  I saw the 2 mile marker come up and pass by and held it on until the 2 ¼ mile marker, then decided to roll off and see what could be done.  The inability to pull past what was a very rough area in the power curve on the dyno was lost on me at the time, but we would need to deal with it. 

Photo by Louis Lamore


Photo by Louis Lamore

Rolling off the course to the return road was pretty disappointing.  Waiting for the crew to come and pick us up I learned after they got there that Jim’s run on the Triumph didn’t get to the speed we ran last year, meaning we had some work to do there as well. 

The Triumph wouldn’t pull 4th gear so we added a tooth to carry more rpms down the track. 

The Ducati got a remap of the fuel, taking a bit out of the rear cylinder after a quick phone call to Fred to verify Nick was using the right areas of the software.  The hope was to balance out the EGTs.  It sounded a little bit different (hopefully better) so the bikes went in the trailer and back to the starting line. 

Remember the two courses being there for quick opportunities for runs?  Well Danny Thompson (son of Mickey Thompson) must have decided that the run in his Mustang needed a bit of excitement so at 258 mph the car took off and proceeded to shed parts over a rather large section of Utah real estate.  Fortunately Danny wasn’t hurt but the same can’t be said of the car.  After a 45 minute cleanup (to get ALL the parts off the course) we were back in action.  Just as we started moving towards the starting line Nick’s phone rang.  He answered and immediately handed it to Jim.  By the expression on Jim’s face we knew it wasn’t good.  His Mother had taken serious turn for the worse after going into the hospital and the decision was made to find a plane ticket and, once accomplished, we pulled out of line, got back to the pits, loaded everything up for the night, got back to Wendover, packed Jim up and then got him to Salt Lake City, 90 miles away, in time for his plane.  As we managed to get that accomplished and set off across the salt flats a unique situation developed.

We are from the Midwest so snow can become an issue in the winter, with a scary development being a “white out” blizzard. 

Photo by Jim Haraughty


The wind came up suddenly from the south and quickly obliterated the visibility.  A salt “white out” I had heard of but never before had seen was all around us.  The wind was a blowin’ and the semis were a rockin’. 

We got Jim to the airport with time to spare and knew things would be tough for him.  His mother did pass away after he returned home, allowing him to say farewell. 

Nick and I headed back to the motel in Wendover, stopping for dinner and gas on the way.  At the end of a long day we settled in to try and rest up for Thursday. 

Part III:  Thursday October 7


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