It is the rare soul, at least here in the USA, who does not associate the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah, with speed. It's common knowledge that this is where the fastest cars and motorcycles go to set world land-speed records.
What many people probably don't realize, however, is just how many possible records there are, with many of them still waiting to be set. Sure there are the ultimate goals: The fastest speed of any vehicle of any kind, i.e., the ultimate land-speed record of them all. Or, getting a little more specialized, the fastest car or truck or motorcycle. But there are in fact classes for all different sizes of machines, whether or not they are stock, and a lot of other variables.
Well, once you start creating classes of vehicles there's no end of it. A friend of mine, Jerry, who personally has set three world land-speed records, and currently still holds two of them, takes the easy way. He looks over his stable of mostly vintage bikes and looks at the list of unclaimed records to see what matches. All he has to do then is go and make two successful runs and he becomes the first ever record holder in that particular class. In 2010 he set a world record in the class for 650cc pre-1956 stock motorcycles. The average of the two runs is what becomes the record, and his record was a scant 52.202 mph.
That sort of thing is easiest with old bikes. If there is no existing record in an under-150cc class for bikes that were built before 1940, for example, and you have such a bike, you're not going to have a lot of competition. On the other hand, if you want to take your 2011 Kawasaki ZX10 Ninja and set a record in its class you have some serious work ahead of you. You can assume there is an existing record in that class and you better expect that it's going to be a very big number. Bring lots of cash. The people who set those kinds of records have a lot more money than most of us and this is one way they enjoy spending it.
You don't have to spend a lot of money to have fun, though. Jerry has a lot of great stories about the trials and tribulations, the glories, and the heartbreaks of just going out to set a record with a top speed well under 100 mph. You go through the same prep as all the big boys. You get up way too early in the morning to be out on the salt before temperatures get too high. You invest time and money in this fantasy only to have gremlins attack your bike minutes before you're set to run, threatening to-and sometimes succeeding in-dashing all your hopes at the very last minute.
And sometimes, after all you've done you go home with a world record.
Now, you may not hold onto it for long. Jerry earned that record in 2010 but by 2011 someone else had broken it, so he took the same bike back to reclaim it. His first record was low because the engine wasn't fully broken in and he didn't want to push it. He just needed to finish at any speed to claim the record. Well, the new record was more reflective of what that size bike can actually do, so he was going to really have to run this time. Of course, the engine was by then well broken in, but there were other issues that cropped up once he got to Bonneville. Bottom line: he was unsuccessful. Oh well, there's always next year. And he will be back next year.
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