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A Great Place To Race: Motorcycle Land Speed Racing

A story of how one rider became an amateur racer.

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There are few places left in motorsports where the backyard mechanic with virtually no budget can still compete and earn a national or even a world record. Thanks to organizations like the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), Bonneville Nationals Inc. (BNI), the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) and others, there are great racing events where low-budget amateur racers — like me, for example — can compete and have a chance to make a little history.

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I started motorcycle land speed racing in 2009, when I competed in the SCTA World Finals at Bonneville. I rode a 1984 Honda V30 Magna purchased non-running for $400 that included an equally old trailer which towed the bike under a blue tarp behind my 1992 Ford Taurus. That first effort was as low budget as it gets. Nonetheless, the old Magna reached 104.54 mph and gave me the thrill of a lifetime. On that first time out, I missed setting a new national record in the 500cc production class by less than eight miles per hour!

The salt got in my blood, and I went back to Bonneville in 2010, this time with a 1974 Honda CB350F to compete in the BUB Racing Motorcycle Speed Trials, sanctioned by the AMA. In that event, my little four-cylinder Honda, which I got in barely running condition for $600 at an auction, unofficially set the first national record speed in the 350cc production class. When I set that record, I took my first trip to the hallowed ground known as “the impound area.” Making it there means you’ve qualified to set a record, and your displacement must be verified for the class. The bike passed final inspection, but my unofficial record didn’t survive the meet — it was beaten a couple of days later by a much newer Yamaha.

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Nonetheless, I had made it to the impound area — not 30 feet from Alan Cathcart and the new Norton 961 he rode to a world record that year.

In 2012, it was back to Bonneville with the V30 Magna in hopes of capturing the national record in the 500cc Production class at the BUB Racing Motorcycle Speed Trials sanctioned by the AMA. Thanks to some wet weather, I didn’t get a record attempt, but I did get out on the salt and had a ball.

The assumption most of us have is that to be competitive in virtually any motorsport these days, you need big-time corporate sponsors and a bottomless personal bank account. In a lot of motorsports, it’s true, but motorcycle land speed racing is still accessible to those of us who spin our own wrenches, pay for our own gas, pay our own hotel bills and buy our own parts and gear — or most of it, anyway.

In most instances, competitors like me will need a helmet, gloves, boots, leathers, sanctioned safety gear, and a range of parts and items the casual rider usually doesn’t have: a tether kill switch, steering damper, high-speed rated tires, number plates, metal fuel system components, Nomex fuel line covering, shop manuals (not only necessary in the pits, but may be required for validation of specifications), safety wire, twister pliers, pipe wrap, spark plugs, oil and extras of everything. You get the picture. It all adds up.

Before preparation for competition happens, the bike may need some attention to the basics. That was the case with both of the vintage bikes I’ve run in competition. For example, the V30 Magna needed a fuel system extreme makeover due to the 12-year-old gas that was left in it. That involved carburetor cleaning, flushing the system, testing the fuel pump and replacing the fuel filter.

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Closer to the competition, part of the fuel filter had to be redone to add the braided Nomex and replace the plastic fuel filter with a metal unit. The original tires, rusty O-ring chain and sprockets all had to be replaced. The “H” rated tires specified for street use didn’t have a high enough speed rating for competition, so those were changed to Continental  models with a “V” rating.

Through it all, my friends at local dealers were great assets in helping the Bonneville dream come true. Vetesnik Power Sports in Richland Center, Wis.; Motorcycle Performance in Madison, Wis.; Team MS Racing; Papa Wheelies Speed Shop, in Richland Center, Wis.; and Suter’s Speed Shop, in Madison, Wis., all provided sponsorships in terms of free or discounted parts, safety gear and technical advice.

I hardly go a day without sharing my appreciation of these sponsors with friends, family and other riders. Are you offering grassroots support to local racers? If not, you may be missing an opportunity to develop an invaluable customer evangelist like me. 

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