Friday, December 9, 2011

3 Idiots do Bonneville: Part 1 of 2

This story was written by Benjamin Mauceri, whom we met along with his friends out at Bonneville Speed Week 2011. The following is part 1 of 2 of the story of their racing efforts and some photos of their time on the salt. We enjoyed it and thought you might too. Enjoy.

"There's an argument about who's idea Bonneville was. Since I'm usually the guy in the group suggesting oddball things to do with a motorcycle, I assume it was me. I remember talking about it for a few years as something cool we could do. Nate's been across the salt on his GS on the way to meeting me at Miller for the WSBK race and thinks it was his idea. Andy's dad ran there and since he's built all the bikes on which Nate or I ever raced, he fundamentally believes neither of us have had an idea about motorcycles that he didn't place in our heads.

No matter. A few months ago, I get an email form Andy that Bonneville is happening and asking if I'm in. I was marginally offended by the question.

I flew in to Salt Lake City from a friend's wedding in Northern California. I picked up my rental car and headed East the 100 miles to the flats to meet Nate and Andy who have been there since late the night before.

Along the way, I get a text from Andy telling me that he hopes I fit into the speedway leathers Nate bought. Hmmmm. When I show up at the flats around 4pm I find out that Nate and Andy have spent the entire day trying to get the bike to pass tech.

Andy brought three bikes for us - all of which would pass tech at every roadracing organization in the country. In a move that's very unlike us, we neglected to read the rule book and just showed up.

When the boys rolled the bikes through tech on Monday morning, they were handed a list of things they'd need to fix. Bikes at Bonneville need a metal chain guard (we used a piece of fencing Nate and Andy found at a hardware store in town). They need a metal battery tie down (we used a large hose clamp). They need a front sprocket cover (we used a masonry trowel that Andy cut the handle off of and drilled bolt holes in to). They need metal valve stems (luckily one of the bikes we bought had them - so we swapped wheels).

Then there was the issue with the leathers. At Bonneville, leathers have to be free from perforations or stretch panels. Our custom, perfectly-fitting protective roadracing suits wouldn't work. We were also told the humps on the suits would bump us into the Partially Streamlined classes.

Nate and Andy watched this trip evaporate in front of their eyes. No leathers, no riding.

While the conversation about 130mph get-offs in modern roadracing suits was unfolding, Nate saw something. Hanging in the back of the tech trailer was a set of speedway leathers that were maybe 30 years old. Nate asked how big they were. He tried them on and $250 later, they were his. Luckily, I didn't gain any weight back and I'm still Nate's size. Andy, though, was out of luck - or so it seemed.

Confident for the first time that we would actually ride, we rolled out the grill and made steaks. After dinner, we drove to the nearest truck stop for a $7 shower then we piled back into the RV and went to sleep.

We were up at dawn the next day and headed the three miles out on to the salt.

Sometime in the morning, Andy saw a guy his size working on a beautiful old Triumph. Andy waled over and casually asked if he could borrow this guy's leathers. Without hesitation, the guy said sure. Andy was going to ride.

This is Bonneville. Here's a guy going for a record and happy to lend his only set of leathers to a perfect stranger who's predicament was entirely his own fault.

The atmosphere is everything you might imagine it would be. Nate called it a Burning Man for cars. I think that's right. The machinery surrounding us was unlike what you'd see anywhere else. Nice paint was traded for beautiful engineering. Old rusted-out bodies held immaculate small blocks which were more often than not topped with blowers. While some cars looked suspect, Bonneville is a place where the all of them sound and run excellent.

We passed tech and filled out all the necessary forms. We each looked at the, "Bonneville 2011 Participant" stickers and patches we were given with a sense of awe and legitimate reverence. We giggled at the notion that Andy's endurance bike (the one we ended up riding) was now wearing a SCTA sticker that corresponded to an official log book. Somehow, this became very important to all of us. We all knew we wanted to come out here but I don't think we knew why. People kept saying to us, "I don't get it. Isn't it just going in a straight line? And not really that fast?" Yes. It's exactly that.

We attended rookie orientation at 11am and then finally headed for the courses.

Here's where the scale of the place sets in: There were three courses this year. Course 3 was the bunny slope at 5 miles long, Number 2 was 7 miles long and if you go over 175, they'll let you on Course 1 which is a full 9 miles. For us New Yorkers, that's Battery Park to the George Washington Bridge.

You can read that - and you can look at the pictures, but until you've stood there (or done a run), the size doesn't sink in.

On Course 3, you're allowed to be under power for 3 miles. After that, the last two are for slowing down. We're on a stock-ish SV650 making 79hp and we're at 6000ft elevation - and we're on salt. We thought we'd be good for maybe 125mph if we were lucky. We honestly had no idea.

The guys who do this a lot call the salt the Big White Dyno. You can talk all you want about how much power your car makes or how fast you've been down the 405 but the salt changes things. This is where the truth is. The salt will tell you exactly how fast your vehicle is not."


tom said...

this is great! Looking forward to part 2!

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