HomeFeatures & ColumnsLand Speed Racing: Bonneville, A Journey from Bike Build to Record Attempts.

Land Speed Racing: Bonneville, A Journey from Bike Build to Record Attempts.

Land Speed Racing: Bonneville, A Journey from Bike Build to Record Attempts.
By Scott Horner

I recently decided to fulfill a thirty year old desire to race at the Bonneville Salt Flats and the El Mirage dry lake bed. Traversing a dry lake bed at over 200 miles per hour on a motorcycle once appeared to be an unrealistic dream. With the advent of modern day sportbikes such as the Suzuki Hayabusa that dream is now a reality. To quote the Bub Speed Trials web site “Some dream of getting a land speed record……. others stay awake and do it!!!” Well, if it takes staying awake, bring on the Red Bull!

I told myself for years if I was within 100 miles of the Bonneville Salt Flats I would have to go. It happened in late September 1998 while visiting Salt Lake City. Speedweek in August will be my first time back.

As simple as the sport of Land Speed Racing (LSR) may appear, it is complex. The Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) has been overseeing LSR since 1938 and is the governing body over El Mirage and the Bonneville Salt Flats. Bonneville Nationals Inc. (BNI) organizes and promotes the Bonneville events and hands off the officiating duties to the SCTA.

But first and foremost, LSR is not solely about whom has the “goods” to ride/drive a high horsepower vehicle to unnatural speeds on sub par surfaces. The difficulty can almost never really be appreciated unless you experience it. Factors that deny speed include lack of traction, course elevation, 90+ degree weather and the invisible monster of aerodynamics. Many motorcyclists can understand why Ricky Gadson and Keith Dennis are quicker and faster than they will ever be in the quarter mile. Yet a rider may think he is a TRE away from achieving 200+ mph speeds on a lightly modified muscle bike at an LSR event on dirt, salt or concrete. Think again! LSR is a ballet of power, traction and finesse to make a clean pass. I hope to inform those interested in LSR the ins and outs of this sport while I am learning and being taught. This and the following articles will document what it takes to enter the world of LSR.

Jason Arana rode this R1 to a speed of 143.665 on a record of 179.027 mph.

My name is Scott Horner and I am 40 years old. I own Heads Up Performance, a performance shop located at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas Nevada. The focus of our shop over the last few years is to build Suzuki Hayabusa engines and turbo systems for use on Sandrails. For over twenty five years I have been involved with motorcycles and motorsports, primarily drag racing. This article is not about me or my shop, but about building a LSR bike from the ground up to set a record at Bonneville and El Mirage. If you are curious and want to know more about us visit headsupturbos.com.

The bike we build will not be a “bolt on” Queen with every imaginable component available. We are approaching this much like anyone else who has set a goal to fulfill a dream and has to do so with a limited budget. We will use parts that are necessary while not exploiting the generosity of businesses and manufactures that we have been dealing with for many years. The events discussed in these articles are current, any mistakes, blunders or triumphs are what we have experienced as we enter unfamiliar terrain on a street bike

After scouring the SCTA/BNI and Landracing.com websites for info on what I needed to start my LSR journey I found that El Mirage requires a competitor to be a member of a SCTA club. There are 12 to choose from in and around the Los Angeles area. You may run two events as a guest but you will pay a much higher entrance fee and earn no points. The points are important, in that they help you and your club earn awards, but most importantly they determine your starting position at each event. The points accumulate for each event, more points you earn, the lower starting number you receive for the next event. A run earlier in the day usually gives one an advantage with better course condition and temperature.

For some additional assistance I called upon friends that have been pounding the salt and dirt into submission for a few years. I have found majority of LSR participants are very helpful and are willing to share their experiences and knowledge. Kent Riches of Airtech, the motorcycle bodywork manufacturer filled me in on a few details of running on the dirt. Kent was very helpful with our chassis set up, as well as informing me about how an event at El Mirage is conducted. He shared little bits of very helpful information that only comes with experience. Kent also said he would nominate me for membership in the San Diego Roadster Club (SDRC). Each club has prerequisites for becoming a member, the SDRC has a few and one was for me to run an event as a guest and meet some of the club members. Kent also provided me with the phone number of Chuck Kalbach, the “Number Man”, a very helpful volunteer of the SCTA staff who assigns you a competition number. Numbers 1 to 25 are reserved for top point earners. You can choose your own number. You are not limited to the amount of competition numbers you choose and they are valid for three years.

Record holders Kent Riches and Randy Nelson make a few adjustments on Kents’ GSXR 750cc side car entry between runs.

Having chosen my number, I started putting the ride together. I didn’t want to take my super clean turbo Busa street bike to the dirt, so I decided to run the event on a bone stock, low mile 2003 Busa.

Prior to hitting the dirt our 2003 Hayabusa ready to go wrapped in 2002 bodywork.

With the input from racers and interpretation of the rule book, I started the slight modifications to the mighty bird. The rules include a lanyard kill switch and a FULL length chain guard and metal valve stems on the wheels. The chain guard must cover the entire top of the chain, be one and a half times the width of the chain and extend beyond the rear most portion of the rear sprocket. I employed the services of SRK Custom Fabrication at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and they built a bullet proof guard that would protect the rider from a tossed chain and keep tech happy. SRK also built a battery restraint for the Busa that impressed the tech inspectors. Rules only allow one set of pegs on the bike, so we removed the passenger pegs. The last task was safety wire. My main man turning wrenches at the shop is Vince Tomanio, whom I have raced with and worked with for over 17 years. Vince performed his safety wire magic on the front axle and axle pinch bolts, and we were ready to roll!

As May 6th El Mirage event approached I made my last few calls to verify we didn’t leave anything out. It appeared we were ready to go, so I borrowed an enclosed trailer from Fred Grabowski a fellow two wheel enthusiast and loaded enough spares to support several race teams. My support for the weekend was my good friend Andrew Lutz, an avid motorcyclist that knows his way around a set of metric tools. The tech inspection is always available the day prior to the event at El Mirage. Since this was a rare two day event we decided to tech the bike on Friday. We wanted the time to repair any infractions and be ready to run first thing Saturday. The inspection was thorough; it took almost thirty minutes. For the rider, they require a Snell M2000 helmet, leather boots, leather gloves and leathers with limited perforations ONLY behind the knee and the arm-pit. We passed tech with no issues and headed off to the 4:30 p.m. rookie orientation. We were carefully and thoroughly shown all aspects of the event and the course. We drove down the course to the finish line and received our final briefing where we were cut loose.

Any vehicle that enters a class with a record over 200 mph must be inspected by two officials separately. Here the inspectors are certifying my safety gear.

Saturday rolled around and the anticipation of making a pass was unbearable. We were late I was not even sure I would get to make a run. They usually start running vehicles about 9 a.m. but prior commitments kept me from arriving to the race until nearly 4 p.m. Since all the rookies had already run and I had yet to make a pass, they allowed me to proceed to the front of the lane. The temperature was in the low 80’s with a slight wind at our backs. Located less than a two hour drive from Los Angeles the course is positioned on a dry lake bed situated at 2836 feet above sea level.

Fully suited, I sat on the ‘03 Hayabusa in the very front of the rookie lane gazing down the ninety foot wide racing surface. I realize it has been a very long time since I have thrown my leg over a completely stock Hayabusa. My only reminder of the running Busa beneath me is the slight buzz through the seat and the flicker of the tach; the sound of the running bike does not travel. It is consumed by the vastness of the lake bed. I peer down track, following the orange traffic cones that line the course until they are erased by the rising heat and the blowing dirt. I unsuccessfully try to locate the finish line 1.3 miles away.

The Starter steps into my vision from the left. Using hand signals, he instructs me to close the visor on my helmet. As the visor snaps shut, the Starter motions me down course with a ZZ Top type arm motion. With the clutch lever in, I feel the familiar clunk of the transmission as I place my boot on the shifter and off I go with a blip of the throttle and a gentle slide of the clutch. The reigning “King of Speed” John Noonan had suggested that I revert to my Drag Racing skills and lay down a 1.60 sixty footer rather than the roll-out and-hammer-it approach. I get after it a bit but nothing serious; after all I only need to run between 125 and 149 mph for my category D license. Unlike the flying mile at Bonneville, the speed of the vehicle at El Mirage is measured as an exit speed. The course is basically a 1.3 mile dirt drag strip with the last 132 feet of the course used to measure your speed. With that in mind, I take up a relaxed tuck position and grab a gear every time I see 10,500 on the tach. In short time I am gliding along at an indicated 163 mph, still searching for the weather balloons that identify the finish line. I locate the finish line markers and back off the throttle to an indicated 147 mph and hold it steady as I pass through the finish.

Decelerating the Busa just past the finish line at El Mirage. Visible in the photo is the change of the surface condition in the shut down due to heavy braking.

With the throttle closed, I now test braking on the dirt with a touch of rear brake and a hint of front. Again I apply the brakes, this time I apply more pressure on both and all is good. I coast at freeway speed turning the bike to exit the course on the required left side. I ride off the course to the pick up area and park the bike. I am buzzing with adrenaline as remove my helmet. Hoping that my speed was good enough, I work on releasing the zipper on my jacket with my hands trembling from excitement. Up course one sees the rooter tail of dust and dirt from the next competitor thrusting into the blue sky like a John Force burnout. I look across the lake bed knowing that this is the birthplace of drag racing. Since 1944 a multitude of motor sports legends have sped across this same dirt. My chest rises; I have experienced the “Dirty Mile”.

SCTA rules do not allow vehicles to be driven back to the pits, they must be pushed or towed. My friend Andrew was at the starting line when I left, so I had a few minutes as he covered the same distance I just did but at a max speed of 25 mph. As I watched another competitor negotiate the course I was amazed how smooth the course was it is better than most of the highways I covered to get to the event. I heard from many that it was the best dirt in 20 years. Andrew arrived in my truck with trailer in tow and the news that I went 134.329 mph. So far so good, we will have to wait for the following day to attempt the category C license and run between 150 and 174 mph. We loaded the bike in the trailer and drove back to the starting line area where I received my time slip. Calling it a day we head on back to my girlfriend Candys’ house in Los Angeles. We talk about our experiences that day, filling our drive time with reflection and our plan for tomorrow.

Cathy Butler set a record of 99.741 mph on her 50cc Aprilia.

This 650cc Indian ran 133.296 surpassing the record of 132.052. The rider Jim Robinson was a guest and cannot set a record unless he is a member of an SCTA Club.

Andrew, Candy and I arrive at the course about 10 a.m. Sunday morning to clear skies, a light wind and a hope that we can sneak in two runs today. I push the bike to the Rookie lane and there are only two vehicles ahead of me. Within a few minutes I am receiving the go signal from the starter and I am off. I am much more aggressive than I was on my first pass, spinning at the top of first and second. I accelerate the bike to an indicated 185 mph and maintain it for a while. I am still quite relaxed, trying positions to find my most comfortable high speed tuck behind the fairings. I back off the throttle to 178 mph, suddenly my grey matter starts playing with me. I have to exceed 150 mph, but not faster than 175 mph, my speedo indicated 147 mph last run and was timed at 134.329 mph. Is 178 mph too fast? Wait! 147… 10 percent is 14.7….carry the two, O.K.! O.K.! About ten percent difference! I got it, 178 mph minus 17 is….carry the two, one fifty…Holy hell! How fast am I going? 172! Speed up, Speed up! Where is the finish line? I see it coming up quick. How fast now? 174 mph, O.K., 174 minus 17, 157 Oh no, too close to 150 mph, speed up, and then I cross the finish line. Wow, did they shorten the course? It seemed much longer before. As luck would have it, my exit speed was 159.967 mph. Good enough for my C license.

After a license pass my SCTA time slip was signed by a starting line official. The signature verifies that I controlled my vehicle safely on that run.

Just prior to my last run the bike is the lone vehicle in the rookie lane. Lane one is reserved for 200+ mph vehicles, lane two is odd numbered starting positions, three for even numbered and four is for rookies.

As most of you know, the Hayabusa, as well as many other sportbikes is electronically limited to 186 mph. This is not a true 186 mph, but an indicated 186 mph. Factor in the almost ten percent error I have witnessed and my 175+ mph pass may come up short. I wanted to install the speed limiter remover for my final pass. After a brief discussion with the starter, this was my dilemma. If I stayed where I was, at the head of staging, there was a 98 percent chance that I would run again. If I left my prized piece of real estate, I was taking a chance that I may not make a second pass. I opted to stay put.

My patience paid off. Chief Starter Jim Jensen just instructed me to suit up for my bonus run number two on Sunday. I need to exceed 175 mph on the mighty Busa for my Category B license.

In just over one and a half hours I was told to suit up. This would be the first time I get to wring the Busa for all it’s worth. I knew that the Busa and I had to be spot on to haul my oversized carcass in excess of 175 mph. I accelerate with purpose from the start, grabbing a gear as the tach needle passes 10,500 rpm. With my feet flat, knees and elbows in, I tuck behind the screen as low as the leathers will comfortably let me. I pushed my tuck down and forward making it difficult to breathe. The previous runs were exciting because what I was doing was new, but the runs were very calculated I knew how fast I had to go. This is what LSR is all about! Sure, it took a tire iron to the head for me to see the big picture, but this is LSR, where you push your vehicle to its limits and every small detail makes a difference in a fraction of a mile per hour. I was felt like I was competing. Man, did that feel good!

Sunday run number two at the top of 5th gear. There was an oscillation in the front end of the bike that I had not experienced before. It was slightly unnerving although the bike was still very stable and predictable.

The speedo indicated just over 185 mph, the last hash mark on the dial. I was guessing that I had covered just about three quarters of a mile I didn’t feel the bike accelerating any more and the tach needle was still a few ticks away from redline. I assumed that the speed limiter had kicked in and I wondered if the run would be good enough. I noticed some oscillation in the front end. It was slightly unnerving at first but it was very predictable and appeared to remain consistent. Maybe something new due to the higher speed? It continued and I maintained a somewhat loose grasp on the bars throughout the rest of the run and hoped that it wouldn’t get worse. The course was a little soft near the finish line and I tagged the rpm limiter a couple bike lengths from the finish. I really enjoyed that run. I now have a good idea what LSR is about and what it is like to run all out. I received the news, 173.261 mph. Not too bad, really. I had such a great weekend, despite coming up slightly short of the 175+ mph required for the B license. If I had succeeded it would have put an exclamation point instead of a period on a perfect weekend. I am definitely looking forward to my next license attempt on June 11.

A welcomed surprise arrived in the mail. The SCTA sends you a small plate that documents the fastest run you made at an event.

A plume of dirt rises more than a dozen feet as I slow the bike just after the finish line on my run of 173.261. One of the finish markers can be seen at the left edge of the photo.

Next time…..
I am voted into the San Diego Roadsters Club
I attempt my category B License at over 175 mph.
The build begins…Our dedicated LSR turbo Hayabusa

www.scta-bni.org – Southern California Timing Assoc. and Bonneville Nationals Inc.
www.Landracing.com – A great site dedicated to all Land Racing organizations
www.speedtrialsbybub.com – A motorcycle only event at Bonneville Sept. 3-7, 2006
www.ecta-lsr.com – East Coast Timing Assoc. Maxton Mile
www.saltflats.com – Utah Salt Flats Racing Association

About the SCTA-BNI
The SCTA-BNI is an all volunteer organization comprised of 12 individual clubs. We endeavor to answer the phones, answer your questions and ship your orders as soon as possible. However, please bear with us; we are not a business for profit. All of our officers and staff are unpaid. Our merchandise sales profits go toward offsetting our overhead and event costs. We’re in it for the fun of it, and hope you are too.

Nature of the Organization
The Parent Corporation is the SCTA, a non-profit volunteer organization. We have only one paid employee; she runs the SCTA/BNI office. Five officers of the SCTA board (President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and Sgt. at Arms) are nominated by the membership of the association and elected by ballots mailed to all SCTA members annually. Those five elected officers appoint the rest of the board members from those of the general membership that are willing to serve.

To be an SCTA member, one must be a member of one of the affiliated clubs. Each club is entitled to club representatives according to club size and they represent the clubs at the reps/board meetings. All of the rules, policies, etc. are adopted by SCTA board vote. The rep. system advises the board as to the feelings of the clubs / club members. The only thing the SCTA general membership votes on is officers and bylaw changes.

The BNI is a separate corporation under SCTA board control with their own bylaws and subordinate board. The BNI is charged with the responsibility of planning and organizing the Salt events and those logistic matters pertaining. The BNI organizes Bonneville events and then hands the reins over to the SCTA, who conducts the event under their rules.

The SCTA board appoints the BNI officers; all must be SCTA board members and they choose who will serve in what capacity amongst themselves. All decisions made by the BNI board are done by consensus. The BNI makes neither rules nor policy; this is all done by the SCTA board. Being a member of BNI is akin to joining the discount club at a store IE: by joining and helping to support the cause, it gives you the right to participate in the event(s).

This 250cc Honda receives some assistance getting started. Rider Glen L’Heureux pushed the two stroker to 150.321 mph on a 157.624 record.

This 50cc streamliner of Eric Noyes set a record of 100.125 mph on this run.

For more information about the Build Contact Scott Horner

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