Sunday, December 11, 2011

3 Idiots do Bonneville: Part 2 of 2

The 2nd half of Benjamin Mauceri's story "3 Idiots do Bonneville", of their race efforts at Bonneville Speed Week 2011, where we met them.

"Nate was first to go. I've never seen him more nervous. This is a guy who's been a professional cyclist for years. He's seen thousands of green flags in his life. He's worked on professional race cars. He's won races at Willow. He's travelled on a BMW GS solo through Mexico camping the whole way. But going 3 miles in a straight line gave him butterflies. Its a reflection of the place, not the man.
Bonneville rules say that an entered vehicle can only be under its own power on the course. Once a run is over, a chase vehicle must pick up the entrant on the side of the "return road" (which is really a poorly-marked strip of salt amidst other unmarked expanses of salt). The technique is for the racer to shut down and then turn off the course with enough speed to coast the 1/4 mile to the return, "road". They then sit there until the chase truck arrives.

At this point, I should probably talk about the surface. It's very strange stuff. The closest thing I can think of is really hard-packed dry snow. The salt is sticky and tacky but loose at the same time. It's also bumpy. And it tastes terrible.

We're up and the starter sends Nate into the unknown. Andy and I pile into the RV and head out after him along the chase road.

4 minutes later (remember the scale of the place), we find Nate on the side of the return road pumping his arms and screaming with joy. He can barely form words. When he does, he yells, "We can go faster!" We put the bike on the lift and head back to the timing tower to pick up Nate's slip showing his speed.


Andy's up next and we get back in line to run again. Nate's trying to tell us what he experienced but he's failing. We get it and forgive him when he stops trying.

In line, we chat with other competitors and it strikes all of us how much everyone wants everyone else to have a good time. "Good luck!" and, "Hope you go good!" are exchanged freely among everyone there. It's wonderful.

An hour later, Andy lines up and sets off. Nate and I lay chase in the RV.

We find Andy at the end of the course with tears in his eyes. There were five separate times this trip when it looked certain that he wouldn't make that run. I can't imagine what it felt like for him to finally do it.

"It's just going in a straight line, right?

Yes. That's all it is.

We pick up Andy's slip. 129mph. The bike was turning over 10k in 6th. Surely this is all it has. It's a stock SV for pete's sake. At altitude. On salt.

By the time Andy's done, it's clear we wont have time to make another run before they close the salt at 7:30. I'll have to wait for tomorrow.

Dinner. Another $7 shower. Bed.

The next morning, we're on the salt at 6:30. After some coffee and some waiting, it's my turn.

I'm in Nate's un-ironically retro leathers which probably offer no protection and I'm sitting on a bike I've never ridden about to go as fast as I can on a surface I've only driven in a car - at 45 mph.

Given the situation, I'm surprisingly calm. I'm usually the one in this group with nerves. I'm also usually the slowest. Andy's gone faster around Willow on an SV than most people thought possible. Nate's usually 3-5 seconds a lap faster than I am. On the line, my only hope is I manage to crack 120.

The starter gives me the signal and I'm off. I forgot who I was for a minute and I whack the throttle open and spin the rear wheel. I'm surprised when my reaction to the spinning rear is to keep it pinned and grab second. More spinning. Then grip. 3rd. 4th. 5th…. 6th. "Get small" I think. I lift my ass off the seat and put my head under the screen. I squeeze my elbows as tight against the tank as I can. I breathe. Hard. 1 mile. Breathe. Tuck. Smaller. Turn the throttle harder. 2 miles. Smaller still. Breathe. 3 miles. Roll off, sit up and start the bike turning on this odd surface.

I kill the engine and roll to a stop along the return road. I'm on the moon. I've just had one of the most intense 90 seconds of my life and I'm now 4 miles from anyone else on a surface that looks like the damn moon.

After the violence and intensity of running a motorcycle as fast as it will go, everything is so quiet. So serene. It's amazing. It's overwhelming. I break the silence by pounding on the tank and screaming in my helmet.

Then I see the RV headed towards me at 50 mph. It pulls up and Nate and Andy jump out screaming. I'm screaming. High-fives, hugs and arm pumping all around. They take the bike from me and I crawl into the RV and try to speak.

"It's just going in a straight line, right?

Yes. That's all it is.

I pull off Nate's useless leathers and put on shorts. We pull up to the timing tower and I jump out to get my slip.

134.7 mph bitches!

Andy and Nate howl. Andy tells me that earlier, he and Nate talked about how excellent it would be if I was the one to take it to the next level. That's why I love these guys.

We pull back in line and wait for Nate's next run.

Andy starts to talk about how we need red hats.

When you do 200mph on the salt, you are inducted into the, "200mph Club". There are fewer people in that club than are in the "People Who Have Stood at the Top of Everest Club". One of the things you get when you join the club is a red hat. On the salt, those wearing the hats are shown immense respect.

Andy spends the next hour thinking about what we'd need. "A Hayabusa for starters" I say. "Yup" says Andy calmly. Crap. We're going to buy a Hayabusa.

Nate manages to up the best speed we record by another mph. On Andy's next run, he nudges above 130mph. It's now 1pm and the guys wanted to head back to LA an hour ago. They ask if its okay that I only made one pass. Of course it is. It's only going in a straight line after all.

Many many thanks to Andy and Nate for making this incredible experience possible. There are no other guys I'd rather do this with (or with whom this would have been possible). Many thanks to Kyle and the guys at Lowbrow Customs for saving Andy's experience. Their generosity will not be soon forgotten. Guys - Please reach out to us if you're in LA or NYC or when you want to go roadracing. Thanks to Stephen for lending us the RV. We missed you this trip. Thanks also to tech crew for putting up with us and to all the experienced racers and 200mph Club members for making us feel welcome.

We'll be back next year.

Pictures are here."

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