Bonneville: World of Speed PDF Print E-mail
Written by BMWVMCA NEWS   
Sunday, 26 June 2011


by Barbara Brooks


October, 2010 Bonneville Salt Flats


     Kevin & I were so pumped up about all our fun in August we decided to go back to Bonneville and check out the October scene.  So we tossed Bogie and Sammi into our dilapidated camper  and hurtled across to Wendover. Our buddies, Seth Jaramus and Dave Lawerence, rode out to meet us from Oregon and Seattle, on their R90 and Triumph bikes. And the first thing we found out about the Salt Flats in October- they are under water!!!


     So we head out across the lakebed, me wringing my hands and envisioning our saggy wheels deeply entrenched in salt mire, Kevin throwing annoyed glances my way and curtly announcing -“ We are NOT going to sink in and get stuck!”.  Luckily, he was right, but it was sloshy, sticky going working our way to the pits.



Bonneville Salt Flats after a rain


     There are advantages to travelling light. By taking only two bikes (no sidecar rig) and our camper, we found we could use the trailer as our pit and a simple tarp on the ground as our work area.  At Speedweek last August we had re-configured Bonita as a 1955 R69 to run in the 650cc P-PV class, and reclassified her as such.  And this time, we brought ‘the Mule’, our 600cc  BMW  R69US, to find out just what it would run. This would provide valuable diagnostic information for Kevin’s modifications to the valve train and cylinders, as this is a totally stock and un-modified machine. We have brought an extra set of the improved Racing Cylinder heads to install. Our plan was to install these as soon as she had made a few runs and we had determined just how much speed she had as a stock bike. This would give us both a baseline for a stock bike as well as a measure of how much the new heads were giving us.


     Seth and Dave are the greatest as assistants.  They are both talented mechanics, so they don’t say stuff like “Is that the thingy with the fat handle or the one with the loopy thing on the end?”  which annoys Kevin no end when I do it.  With such a great team, we get through tech and are ready to launch by the afternoon.  All week long, Seth and Dave are there where you need them, grabbing tools, moving the trailer up in line, starting the bike to warm up the motor, handing Kevin exactly what he needed- an awesome team! They came along because they want to run bikes at Bonneville in 2011 and wanted a firsthand walk through from start to finish.



     That first day we just get Bonita down the track, and then it is time to head back to camp at the bend in the road, walk the dogs, and talk through what the next day may look like.  Then, up at 5 am, walk the dogs, and leap into the camper van with kinky hair and morning breath, hollering for Seth and Dave to get out of their tent and jump aboard, and roar back out onto the salt.


     As we drive, we see the flags ahead, snapping in the wind with a National Anthem kind of fervor, just the sort of windy day you do NOT want to see at the races. We dash out to the trailer, get hooked up and out to the lanes, and find that the stewards have only one lane open, which really reduces our opportunity to get runs in. And the wind is straight into our faces of course.  We get the Mule launched with Kevin aboard, and Barbara makes one run in the 650 P-PV class on Bonita putting in a lackluster 68.6mph due to the motorcycle having some technical problems.  We are tired and a little grumpy, but at least both bikes have been warmed up now. It is time to get back to camp, drink a beer with Mexican food, and hit the hay.


     Next morning is Barbara’s birthday, so naturally the weather is perfect, the track is freshly groomed and looks fast, and the motorcycles are running better. We start getting the runs in, tweaking the Mule’s jetting, trying to get it up to speed.  Dave and Seth are functioning like a well oiled machine, and with their help we get in a smashing 10 runs today, which is absolutely amazing! Kevin rode Bonita in the 650 PP-V class for a poor but still over the record 85mph run and is in impound. Something is not quite right, but we can’t seem to find the issue. Tomorrow he takes it for a record run.  He also took the Mule for a run at 96.7mph. The Mule is incredibly consistent, if not spectacularly fast, turning in run after run all ranging from 91 to 97 mph. At the last run of the day, Barb gets on and takes the Mule for a spin.


    Next day, Kevin’s Record Return run is still un-impressive, but a new record nonetheless. But we are all seriously bothered by the lack of performance. The motor starts well and spins up easily, but seems to have no top end. Kevin keeps looking for the gremlin…


     Then in the afternoon as we get Bonita ready to run, Seth notices we have a slightly loose spark plug insert. Just as he started the bike Seth sees a slight puff around the plug hole, then nothing! She is shut down and then restarted and the puff returns. The plug feels tight to the hand, but this is definitely at least part of the problem!  The guys leap into action as we wait in line and pull off the cylinder head and change it out- luckily, Kevin had the extra heads we had intended to install onto the Mule. Oh well…the best laid plans and all that…



      The rain starts to spatter, and the combo with high winds make the track dangerous. The conditions cause accidents and spinouts on the course. That damages the surface of the lane.  As we wait interminably for the track to be cleared of debris we make a few snotty comments about rookies.  Ignoring the fact that we, too, were rookies, and not that long ago. Sammy runs around carrying the end of his red leash in his mouth looking so charming that everyone exclaims:"My what a nice dog he is!"


     As we sit and wait the wind shifts and becomes a Tail-wind! At first only slight, but gaining in intensity it seems to be about 10-15 mph and straight at our back. Barb is on the Mule and ready to ride. Bonita is in the trailer, but we are getting her ready as well. The wind keeps coming up and we know they will shut the track down at any moment, for safety…already they have scrubbed any streamliner runs…


     Then we are at the front and Barb takes off on the Mule for a smoking run. As she left it felt as though the wind was gusting up to 20 mph! Then we get a few splashes of rain, and they halt the racing. She was the last run allowed that day.


     That last run feels as if it cooked right along, but suddenly the weather gets serious, the rain starts, and all of the officials have closed up the Timing Shack and hurried away.  By the time we get to the Timing Shack, it is closed. So now we can’t confirm whether it is eligible for a record run or not. We drive back to the bend in the road, and finally through a guy who knows a guy who knows someone: locate a happy, dry official who is willing to look up the times in the comfort of his hotel room.  We find great news! Barb rode the Mule, a stock R69US BMW, at 103.6mph in a qualifying run in the P-PP class.


     We are elated, and decide to take our crew off to follow Junior Nelson’s tip and secure nourishment at a secret hamburger shack that is hidden deep within a mysterious trailer park.  We drive into Wendover, and creep up and down the back lanes, criss-crossing in the dark. We each seem to think the shack is in a different direction.  Finally we turn into a trailer park amidst a chorus of “no way is it in here!” and drive up to a seedy little joint.  We step into the smoky doorway and belly up to the bar amidst colorful locals.  We smile at the waitress and beg for burgers. She looks us straight in the eye and says “sorry, we are too busy, you need to call ahead”.  We look at the clientele, boozed out over the counter, and realize they just don’t serve our kind here. What exactly does Junior Nelson have that we don’t? Disappointedly, we head back looking for a taco bell.


     Early the next morning we take the Mule out for her moment of glory: the Record Return Run. But this morning we are back with our usual slight headwind, and the Mule her usual and predictable  95.201mph pass, putting her only .831mph off the record! SO CLOSE, but given the wind advantage, no bragging rights there anyway, so we’re not TOO disappointed.


     It is the morning of the last day of racing. Now the clock is against us as well as the wind, since the racing will shut down today at noon. With Bonita finally ready and running well as the 650PP-V, Barb starts to get serious.


     She throws a leg over and takes her along at a blistering Qualifing Run at 102.306, the first pass with a fully functioning pair of heads! This she follows up with a Record Return Run at 104.288, setting a new P-PV Record of 103.231mph. And this on a fresh motor, with a few things still to be tried and a few other things to be sorted out.


     We come home with another record, our 4th, and our fastest time ever on the salt of over 104 mph. We are addicted to the collective adventure of getting several people involved and trying to achieve things in such a challenging environment. Kevin's designs held up to rigorous, vigorous and near constant testing at maximum capacity. We ran the bikes as hard as they could go over and over and nothing broke, so we came back really excited and satisfied. We are looking forward to taking the newly built R68 Replica onto the salt in 2011! This bike will compete against our own newly set 650cc P-PV Record, but more importantly will be a tribute to Marianne Weber and her famous exploit on a 1952 R68 almost 60 years ago, and a tribute to Women Motorcyclists everywhere.


    Our sincere appreciation and thanks again to South Sound BMW of Fife, Tenzing Momo of Seattle, Olympia Powdercoating, and North Hollywood Speedometer for their generous support and contributions to this effort.


Last Updated ( Friday, 25 January 2013 )
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