While at Sturgis just a few days before I had planned to leave, I received a phone call from Tyler asking if I would want to stay on the road for a little longer. He then suggested the measly 800 mile ride to Bonneville Speedway where he wanted me to come help, document, and hang out at Bonneville Speed Week 2017 with the entire crew. Canceling out my prior commitments and checking with my wife Kat that it was cool to continue on for another week and a half long adventure. I left Sturgis that Thursday in the opposite direction of home.
Day 8 - The Ride To Salt Lake City
Leaving Sturgis on route 90 and entering Wyoming, the gps wanted me to take route 80 which meant I had to blast south through no-mans land in order to get there. Every 10 to 15 minutes you would see one car or truck pass by but it was pretty desolate for the most part. The road felt endless and abandoned to everything that surrounded it. The occasional farm would fly by in an instant seeing as there was no real speed limit posted anywhere. I got nervous a couple times on this stretch too. My tank can only get me around 90 to 100 mies or so, and there was nothing resembling society what felt like forever let alone a gas station.
Are you a believer in the stars aligning and what energy you put out into the world will always comes back? This trip proved some of those theories for me throughout the two and half weeks but this instance in particular was just incredible. I told my wife while in the first couple days at Sturgis that my beard was desperately in need of some care. I didn't pack any care products or my beard oil and it was super dry. She told me to find something, even olive oil just to get by. In any case I never found anything at Sturgis that would help the ridiculously dumb situation at hand.
In Wyoming at this little gas station that met in a 3 way crossing, this nice lady walks up to me and says "Nice Beard!". Not thinking much about it I said, "thank you." and continued to walk towards the washroom. As I finished my business and walked back out side towards my bike I walked passed a white car. The same lady that just gave me the beard compliment says loudly out of the white car window, "Your plate says you are from Ohio, what part?" I told her "Cleve...", just to be interrupted in excitement, she told me she was from Ohio too, Athens to be exact. She grew up in Wyoming and was heading home for her high school reunion for the weekend. Small world I always say. She introduced her self as "Space" and she then told me most of her life story in about 5 minutes. How she met her husband was crazier then her name but she couldn't of been more of a beautiful soul, free spirit and completely full of positivity.
As we said our goodbyes she got out of her car and said "Before you go Mikey, I have a present for you!" She walked towards her trunk of her car where no matter what situation you are in you get a little curious, scared, and weirded out all at the same time. As she opened her trunk I noticed some brown bags, her luggage and her California plate on the car; it must have been a rental. Space then hands me this small vial, what else could it possibly be, freekin' beard oil. I was at a loss for words. Space makes her own beard oil called "The Beloved Beard". She started making it for her husband and eventually started selling it with her soap business. I thanked her a million times over and chuckled to myself as she pulled out of the gas station. It was just an unreal moment and I'm extremely grateful I met Space.
I eventually made it to Utah where the sun started to set and the breeze got a little chillier. I texted Kyle to see where he was and he told me that they had stopped for Mexican. Jealous as all hell, I continued west towards Salt Lake City. I remember blasting around 90 mph or more wondering if I would be able to catch up or beat Kyle and Denny to the hotel. Sure enough, as my thoughts started to fade about catching up, I saw a white van with a roof rack on the top in the dimly lit distance. It was in fact Kyle and Denny in the Lowbrow van! The feeling of joy overwhelmed me as I pulled up next to them and waived. I continued to follow them the rest of the way to SLC. It was really nice to have the extra headlights to guide me, I don't like to ride at night very often, there's way more risks involved. We made it to the hotel around 11pm and the first thing I finally got to do was shower.
Day 9 - Bonneville Speedway, No Tent & Tech Inspections
Upon arriving to the Salt Flats aka Bonneville Speedway I met up with Gorgeous Greg at his little oasis on top of what later we would deem, "Scorpion Mountain". You had to pass a carpet of dead bunnies and ride some incredibly bumpy trails to get there but his spot was a little piece of heaven. We caught up with each other as we waited for Kyle and Denny to arrive with the rental van and pit passes for the salt. When they finally arrived I was expecting to grab my tent and a few other belongings out of the van, only to learn Kyle thought my tent was Julia's and it was in the other van that wouldn't be out till the end of the week. Lucky for me, Greg offered up a bunk in his RV for the week that I could sleep in. After laughing it off and the sleeping situation was solved we made our way down to the salt.
Finally getting on the salt we met up with Lowbrow sponsored racer Alp Sungurtekin with his lovely girlfriend / crew chief Jalika Gaskin to set up "The Pits". We raised the Lowbrow Customs pop ups and our beloved Ohio state flag to let everyone know where we were. It also was much easier to find our space in the miles of trailers and pit bays. Tyler and a bunch of the crew where flying in and were going to be in later in the day. After the pit was set up, we immediately got to work helping Alp get his T200 partial streamliner bodywork on and the bike ready for inspections.
Inspection day is always nerve recking for most, but Tyler and Alp are veterans not only to the salt but land speed racing in general. They didn't have a single shred of doubt in there minds about their bikes and both passed. Alp's bike was given a bit harder of a look then most though due to the fact no one has really seen a bike quite like it before. He was slapped with a yellow sticker which meant he had passed inspection but that he would have to take a break in lap to show the officials the bike was able to be ridden and controlled properly.
Day 10 - Racing and Losing Chains
Tyler wanted to get a early start on the first day of racing, little did I know that every single day would start at sunrise that week. I don't think I have seen the sunrise since I was in my early 20's. Tired as all hell we got down to the salt, met up with everyone, and got over to the racer's meeting where the week would kick off. There was a trophy ceremony for the fastest streamliner ever, which is usually a battle between the Challenger and Speed Demon Teams. They stated some new rules, how the course conditions where, a prayer and then the national anthem. It was like being in and old race movie, witnessing all of this.
There are anywhere from three to four courses at Bonneville Speed Week set up each year. This year there were only three due to the salt conditions. The farthest course away from the pits was "The Rookie Course" for those who have never raced on the salt. It was only 2 miles long. If you are a rookie, you get a yellow sticker with the letter "R" put on your helmet and you must leave it on the entire week. This lets the start line officials know you are a rookie and allows them to properly walk you through the pull outs on the courses etc. The middle course was deemed "The Short Course' which was 3 miles long and where all bikes and cars not going over 175 mph should race. The course closest to the pits was "The Long Course" which was 5 miles long for those crazy fast streamliners and other vehicles breaking over 200 mph.
How Does The Timing Work?
This is a something I never knew and really makes Bonneville special, difficult and really cool when you think about it. It's not just using a radar gun and getting your absolute top speed. You are being timed by the average speed between mile markers. "The Rookie Course" is only timed for 1 mile, which this means they start timing you at the 1 mile marker to the 2 mile marker. "The Short Course" times you from the 1 mile marker to the 2, then from the 2 to the 2 1/4 and 2 to the 3. The 2 1/4 is purely there for informational purposes for the racers, you can only get a record on the 1 to the 2 or 2 to the 3 average speed. The long course they time for 5 miles. Again they time you from the 1 to the 2, 2 to the 3, 3 to the 4, 4 to the 5 and also your exit speed after the 5th mile marker. You can not get a record on the exit speeds of any of the courses.
What Happens If You Break A Record?
Another weird and yet challenging thing about Bonneville Speed Week that makes things a little more difficult and special is the way you set a record. If you surpass someones record in a timed average mile, you have to take your vehicle directly to the "impound" where you have to have your vehicle inspected again by another official. If everything is given the ok and they find nothing tampered or wrong with your vehicle, you are then given only 4 hours to fix and prepare your vehicle for the next day where then you must back up your record setting run in the same mile marker that your first run was set. All back up record runs are done the follow day, first thing in the morning. The back up run time is averaged with the first runs time to make up the record setting run. Even if the time looks good and you got the record, you still don't get to claim the record until your vehicle is inspected one last time. And this time they officials have to verify your displacement, meaning you need to take the motor apart. If everything looks good then finally the record is yours and the celebration begins!
Tyler has been land speed racing since 2010 and Poison Ivy was his first race bike that he broke records on back in 2011. Last year while getting married in Ohio during Bonneville Speed Week he found out one of his records were broken. Determined to get them back he rebuilt Poison Ivy's motor and put her back together in what he thought was better than ever. This first day on the salt you could tell in his eyes he meant business and he was going to reclaim his record. The record in his class A-VG 750 was set at 123.5 and the goal we would chase.
Confident and determined Tyler took off on his first run of Bonneville Speed Week 2017. From the crew and my perspective everything sounded really great off the starting line. With excitement we all ran into the van and flew down the chase vehicle lane to go see how Tyler felt about the run and if he was close or hit it right off the rip. Needless to say pulling up to him, he was sitting on the bike smiling with a bit of laughter and yelled out to us "My chain popped off doing over 100!". All of us were shocked as we inspected the bike. Tyler got super lucky the chain kicked to the left and stayed free from locking up the rear tire.
After further inspections back at the pits we realized it was all Joe's fault for having too much nice paint on the axel plates causing the spacers to slip and cock the wheel rolling on the rough salt. It wasn't really Joe's fault, but we sure as hell made him fee like it was all day! Poking fun and making him feel bad that he almost killed Tyler. Tyler made up a few new spacers, scratched off the access paint, and buttoned her up in pretty good time to get another run in for the day.
One thing I learned early about Bonneville Speed Week is the hurry up and wait game. We hurried to button up Tyler's bike to get back in line to run again and the line was extremely long, so we waited for what felt like forever. There's no better way to spend your time then walk up and down the lines to see what everyone is running. I think I spent the majority of my time that first day watching the different contraptions, brilliant cars and beautiful bikes take off the line.
Tyler managed to get another run in and hit around 119 mph just a few shy of the record which again was 123.5 mph. Alp also had time to squeak in his shakedown run for the officials which was mind boggling to see how sets up and then kneels down into his riding position.
Day 11 - Cracked Oil Bag - So Close but Yet So Far Away
Yet another early morning, we started to comb through Poison Ivy and make sure she was ready for another early run. Not seeing much we were about to load the bike in the van when Tyler noticed something off. The oil bag's bottom mount had a crack going down the weld and there was oil leaking out of it. They put the bike back on the stand and immediately started to pull oil lines and unbolt the oil bag to be drained and cleaned. Kyle then went off while the others continued to work on the bike to find a Tig welder.
The team with the most to do, The Speed Demon team, offered their help to weld up Tyler's oil bag. The Speed Demon is the fastest engine powered streamliner in the world right now and for them to even consider helping us was such an honor. We can't thank them enough for all their help over the years.
It took most of the day to button up Poison Ivy and wait in line to make another run with Tyler. Alp wasn't feeling the salt or his bike that well, so he decided to take the day off of runs and just focus on preparing the bike for the following day.
Getting to the end of the track to pick up Tyler on his second run of the day, he had another huge smile on his face but he was unsure how the run went, but he knew that it felt good. Anxiously we all jumped into the van after loading the bike and headed towards the timing booth to pick up his timing slip. In shock he hit 122 and some change, just a mile off from the record. So, so close and yet little did we know we would be chasing that for the rest of the week.
Day 12 - More Rear Wheel Problems - Blown Motor - High Winds
Only getting one run in the previous day, Tyler decided we would park the van with the bike in it, in line so that when we woke up we would be ready to go right away. Getting on the salt yet again super early I ran into my friends Kiyo and Kat who were a few a head of us, preparing their dual Honda cb750 for a run. I was surprised to see Kiyo wasn't in leathers and they actually had a racer that was running the bike for them. Kat told me their guy racing for them was a friend and a previous TT racer for Honda.
After picking up Tyler and going to the timing booth to learn he had only run an un eventful 114 mph. Tyler puzzled, combed over the bike and found yet another spacer issue on the rear wheel. This time an aluminum spacer sheered another wheel spacer and looked like it damaged a few other things that were attached to the axel too. We jumped back into line and immediately got to work on pulling off the rear wheel again. Shawn started filing down the main spacer while a few of the other guys filed down and made other spacers for the axel to be in working order again. The nice thing about the rental van was how large the rear cabin was. You could work easily inside and out and we never even went to the pits just using the van as our pit the next few days.
Alp hit a top speed on his second run of almost 155 mph and his average speed from the 1 to 2 mile was 139 mph. This was a record setting run on a record of only 124, but there was one huge problem and the reason why he didn't go faster than 155 mph. He holed a piston and there was oil everywhere. With the motor blown, Alp would not be able to back up the run the following day. We loaded Alp's bike into the truck and took him back to the pits so he could gather his tools and get a motel room for the night to rebuild his motor. It was such a promising run and such a disappointment to see the chaotic mess the bike was in.
Yet another let down of the day, racing was cancelled around 4 pm due to high winds reaching over 15 mph on a steady basis. It's considered un safe anything over that so they shut down the courses for the evening. Earlier in the week Tyler's friend Jim Mosher offered to let him use his trailer Dyno if we wanted to test some different jetting and gearing ratios and dial in Poison Ivy. With the courses being shut down, Tyler gave Jim a call and we headed towards his camp with the bike. It was a great use of our time and we all learned a great deal about jetting and gearing. We also deemed Andy Cox as the rear wheel reassembly guy.
Day 13 - Keep Running - $1.18 Whore
After an amazing night of learning a ton about how Poison Ivy should run, Tyler got excited again and was ready to get back on the salt. There as just one thing wrong, the 50 some people a head of us in line because of the high wind cancelation the previous night before. Motorcycle after motorcycle kept running all morning and we finally got ready to go again.
Tyler took off and the bike sounded like a bat out of hell. It sounded like it was running better than it ever had the entire week. The whole crew started cheering as Tyler became a small dot in the horizon. Everyone felt it in there bones that he was going to get the record on that run. As we pull up to Tyler he was shaking his head with frustration and the instant high we all had was gone. He explained that once in 4th gear the bike just didn't have anything left at full throttle, it just stayed at 118 mph and it wouldn't climb any higher.
Doug very confidently suggested we change one jet size and jump into the rookie line because it was a way shorter line and we could change everything and keep running her until we got it right. We got to run 5 more times that day, changing jets and sprockets, each time nothing changed, she just wouldn't go passed 118mph. It made no sense and you could sense the frustration with one look at everyones faces. It was a real roller coaster of emotions that day and I loved and hated every second of it.
During run after run at some point Joe said something to the sense of we need to rename the bike. "It's no longer Poison Ivy, it's new name is, a dollar eighteen whore," laughing in in frustration. We all chuckled and it lightened the mood.
Tired, hungry, and frustrated we called it a day and left the bike in line of "The Short Course" for the morning. As we were leaving my buddy Robby Ell was ripping down the salt on his obnoxious cb750 chopper and the sun was setting perfectly over the mountains. I snagged a ton of shots of him and it returned my smile to me. When you get out of the moment and just take a look around yourself and witness the sheer beauty all of the salt has to offer, no matter the outcome of the racing, its a good day because you are on the salt.
Day 14 - Top End Rebuild
A new day and feeling rested we got right back to the short course line and ran two more times. Still not hitting the target. I believe each run was around 115 mph which was even slower than previous runs. Phill, Doug, and Tyler started to warp their heads around what the problem could be and they came to a conclusion we needed to do a compression test on the motor. Sure enough the motor had really low compression and they were not the same pressure in each cylinder. Phill also screwed the pressure tester nozzle in a little too much causing the right intake valve to bend. The rings were going to need replaced anyway so they added the valve change to the list of things they were going to do while in there.
I think the coolest part for me was being able to help put the engine back together with Tyler. I've learned a lot over the last couple years with Todd at the office about Triumph motors and it was really cool to put some of my skills I have learned into the race motor. Tyler also walked me through a few things he was doing that I didn't know and it felt good to get my hands dirty.
Day 15 - Given Her All She's Got - Alp's Record Setting Run
The last two days of racing kind of blurred together for me a bit being on the salt for 6 days in a row and immersed in so much racing. It almost made it feel like it was just the normal every day task at hand by then. Tyler and Alp's motors were finally buttoned up and they were ready to crush the records in each of their classes.
Alp's first run of the day he hit 131 average and went to impound to just get the record. While working on the bike and getting it ready for the back up run that would happen the next day. Alp decided the bike could do way better and he wanted to run it again. You can always opt out of your back up run and thats what Alp chose to do.
We were all super happy for Alp to be in "impound" and frustrated at the same time that we couldn't figure out what was the deal with Poison Ivy, so we called it a day. Tyler said "I've given her all she's got and it's just not enough. Tomorrow if can get one more run in for my girls I'll be happy. Oh, and I'm coming out in a few weeks for World of Speed with this motor dialed in and taking that record!"
Day 16 - Julia and Darly - Alp's Backup Run - Saying Goodbye
We got to the salt early in the morning for the last time to help Alp load his bike up for his back up run. This time we had two ladies to help us out though, Tyler's wife Juila and his daughter Darly. It was really cool to see them out on the salt and they both lightened the mood everyone was in.
As we picked up alp at the end of his run he told us something went really wrong with the motor again but he thought that he may have gotten the record still before the mishap. There was a big smile on his face and he just laughed like it was no big deal. We went to the timing booth and then to impound where they inspected the bike and verified the times. Alp secured the new record in the APS-VF 650cc class at an average of 135.5 dominating the previous record of only 124 mph. Alp's Goal of 200 mph wasn't reached at all at Speed Week but he was still happy to take home a new record for the team. He also planned to go to World of Speed to try and get the T200 to go even faster.
After Tyler's last run we packed up the bike, tools, the pits and we said our goodbyes. It was a little sad really, to think we wouldn't be waking up super early in the morning to head down to the salt again. It just sounded crazy to even think about saying it was all over but the time came to hit the road. I packed up the ole' Sporty, took the obligatory tourist photo of my bike next to the Bonneville Speedway sign and started blasting east towards home. It took 2 and a half days of riding really fast and not stoping much. I probably won't try that again but I didn't take very many photos on the way home. I was just so focused on seeing my wife and sleeping in my own bed after being away from home the last 2 and half weeks.
Having the 1400 mile ride home and the last couple weeks to reflect on the whole experience that is Bonneville Speed Week. All I can really say is wow! There are a ton of memories made that week that I will cherish for a life time. If you ever go, I promise you will see anything and everything motor related and you will instantly be inspired. From crazy 50cc mopeds to 4 v8 turbo engine streamliners. You get to see it all. It's one of those events that is truly incredible to be apart of and I totally caught the "slat bug".
There is also this real sense of history there I can't really explain, you just feel it in the air. People risking their lives for a shot at glory, all to have their name put in a book and hold a record in a vehicle that they built with their hands. Just think of the greats that have raced there and those that are becoming the greats, it's a bit surreal to be there witnessing it all. I really hope I'll be able to be apart of the crew again next year and possibly even one day race my own crazy two wheeled machine down the salt in the future on Team Lowbrow.
Words and photos by:
Follow-up on Speed Week 2017 by Tyler:
The time between Speed Week and World of Speed, a smaller meet at Bonneville in mid-September, was only a few weeks. Add in to the mix that I had a business trip to Denver in the middle of it and it got even shorter. Once I got home I pulled the top end, finding four small cracks in my cylinder barrel. This wasn't a big surprise as I was fighting with cylinder compression loss during Speed Week. I procured a nice original barrel from Todd here at Lowbrow and had it bored and rebuilt the top end. I was short on time and did some quick fixes on some damage that occurred to the chassis during the sixteen runs I made at Speed Week and loaded it in the trailer to head west.
Kyle and I were joined by Alp Sungertekin and Jalika Gaskin, also known as Alp Racing & Design. Alp is the engine and bike builder, tuner, and rider of the fastest 650cc pushrod motorcycle of all time, a world record at 175.625mph on nitromethane, with Jalika as his Crew Chief and right-hand woman. Our friends Kit and Phill who were at Speed Week also showed back up, and their assistance was greatly appreciated.
I had a few runs where I thought I was chasing a fuel problem, but then we diagnosed it as an ignition problem and quickly found corrosion at the spark plug wires where they enter the magneto cap. A new set of plug wires fixed the problem, which we believe was intermittent spark caused by the corrosion and vibration at high speed, and the following run had me qualified for a new record at 124.207mph, against the current 123.534mph record. A measly .673mph!
Due to anticipated high winds the following day I was able to make my return backup run that very afternoon. At Bonneville your top speed is the average of your two runs. If the average speed is higher than the current record, you have successfully set a new land speed record. My second run went flawlessly and was slightly faster than the first, with a top speed in the timed mile of 124.980mph, and a top speed of 125.118mph. The two way average of 124.593 mph, just a hair over 1 mph faster than the record! I was elated. I had completed what I had set out to do, to reclaim the first land speed record I had ever set back in 2011. Needless to say, I have a laundry list of changes and improvements to make before the 2018 race season. I will be back at Bonneville, and I will go faster.
Check out some video highlights from Bonneville Speed Week 2017.