An American Journey Part three - The Speedweek

See also:

An American Journey part one
An American Journey part two

Photo Juan Ramon Ortega


On our previous visit to the Salt Flats, in August 2010, we were visitors and just got a sneaky peek at what Speedweek really was about. This summer our involvement was total and we were no longer tourists.
Two years ago I saw the wild beauty of the country and the famous competition through the wondering eye of a visitor who had imagined them for many years and to be there was almost like a pilgrimage.

Welcome to our house

Returning to the same places this year, this time with our Spanish friends, Olivier my son and Tania, our excitement levels were climbing ever higher as we approached Bonneville.
Things never go as you imagine (in my daydreams we would arrive under an oppressive scorching sun) but we arrived in a rainstorm and a violent wind warned us not to try pitching our tent on the salt til the next day. Not that it mattered: we were already drunk on excitement.
The next day, under a cloudless sky, we went towards our allocated spot, next to that of Bill, boss of CaliforniaClassix.com team. We had just time to spread out our stuff and then go off to the opening ceremony, followed by a briefing for us Rookies. All the procedures were explained to us in the minutest detail, so that we were ready to prepare for the scrutineering.

The village

This famous check isn't just a simple formality: all the accessories (helmet, boots, leathers, gloves) and the engine were checked in minute detail. I'd had 2 years to learn the RulesBook by heart, but despite that a fault in the mounting of the battery meant that I had to return a little later to get the all clear. During this time Juan Ramon was harassed by the judges over quite a few details, even though his bike is strictly original, various things had to be modified. Thanks to the Lowbrow Customs Crew, our modifications were quickly done, and we managed to get the green light for the first run on the following day.

Speaking about the motorbike, I must admit, that before sending it there, I hadn't really had a chance to test it in the conditions required for Speedweek: in Europe today it's difficult to go at 7000 rpm over a sufficient distance. I'd done about 100 km, in the course of which I'd had to resolve a certain number of problems resulting from the very recent remounting of the engine. Hence I didn't really have any idea of the power that it was going to produce, nor of how it would stand up to the terrain. A surprise to come!

We shall come back another time and go faster !

Finally, in the afternoon it was time for our first run. We were on the Rookie track, to be timed only over one mile, to ensure that we had properly understood the rules.
We lined up: Juan Ramon would go next after me and David would pick us both up in the Van at the end of the Run.
The heat was oppressive, but finally we had to put on our boots and leathers: mine were a bit of a squeeze after all those burgers, beers and sodas!

I was finally on the start line. Nathan the starter was next to me, and I was awaiting his signal. It reminded me of the first time that I jumped from an airplane. My mouth was dry. Nathan lowered my visor and signalled: OK: GO when you're ready!

So I was off. I went into first gear, which cracked and the bike leapt forward: wow.... It slipped a little and I promised myself not to go over 5000rpm. I had no idea of my speed, everything was white, only the markers at the edges gave me any clues. I never ride with a fullface helmet, nor in leathers and I was finding it very difficult to find an aerodynamic position. I went into 4th and saw the marker that told me that the stopwatch was about to start... I tried to avoid the ruts worn by the faster bikes, finding balance difficult.

And then, all of a sudden I was past the exit: 2 miles goes very quickly and I'd missed it, so I left via a bumpy field: you realise pretty quickly the point of the runoff.

I cut the motor, I felt dehydrated by the heat and emotion, it was truly an enormous experience: I'd done my first run. The Van arrived to bring me back and I drank a litre in 1 gulp.

The first run     Photo David Borras

 Juan Ramon was ready to do his first run. The conditions for him were the same as for me; his bike was going strong and when we reached him at the end of the track he was waiting for us with a big smile: like me he'd lived his dream, it was no longer just a fantasy.


Olivier as Umbrella girl

Impossible ?

The Pit

Photo Paul D'Orléans

I wanted to do it again, but I realised that my  aluminium tank was leaking, it was dented. Shit, it would have to be repaired.

Getting back to the pits, stripping it down, we were confident that we'd find a Tig welder to repair it and it was the Speed Demon stand that could do it for us. However we had to completely empty the tank so that we didn't risk it exploding and singeing our moustaches. The welding would have to be put back to the next day.

David cooling Juan's Helmet before the run

We finished the day drinking Tequila under our Barnum with Paul, who had come from San Francisco, Jared from Salt Lake City and Dav who had come from Paris.

After this we continued the runs, two each day: 1 in the morning, and 1 in the afternoon, and we finally got into the rythmn: each run represented a significant mobilisation and physical effort: we were constantly loading and unloading the bikes between runs.

Juan la Fuerza

David for a run at 107mph !

In the end I found my confidence and was asking the engine for its full potential, we were now on 3 mile tracks, and the engine didn't seem to want to go to more than 6000 rpm, despite good carburation.

Juan Ramon reached his maximum speed at 104 mph, David on the BMW was at 107 mph and I couldn't get beyond 104 mph.

Tres Hombres

The days passed quickly, we were in a daze, the heat ravaged our bodies and the machines.
As time passed others prticipants engines broke more frequently, I love the ambiance, we finished the days at the Mexican cafe at the Truck Stop: life is good....

This was an unforgettable week, and accompanied by the best team: thanks to everyone: Tania, Olivier, Elvira, Juan Ramon, Nicolas, Martin, Valéria, David, Kristina, Maxwell. I am now waiting impatiently for our bikes to get back to France so that I can get the bike into the Dyno tests and then the challenge really starts.

from left: Juan La Fuerza, Olivier, me, David, Nicolas, Martin,Elvira, Valéria, Tania

 Congratulations and thanks to the SCTA-BNI who have been volunteering for 64 years to make the experience so enjoyable.

Dean and Buddy, our Starters SCTA/BNI crew members

Thanks to Henri for having build a strong engine, and Momo for everything else...
Thanks to Bill for his hospitality.
Thanks to Lowbrow Customs, Shinya and Ayu and to our friends at Speed Demon for their help.

Thanks to Bonneville for giving me the chance to run !


Shinya doing 115mph on Spike

Tyler Malinky from Lowbrow, record breaker with "Double Vision" at 128mph

Double Vision a twin engined 1350 Triumph

Kyle Malinky

Clutch trouble? time for a cigarette...

Kiyo from Kiyo's Garage coming straight from Los Angeles with the Knucklehead

The Iron & Resin crew with an handsome BSA coming from Ventura

Jared Zaugg our friend from Bench & Loom founder of The Legend of the Motorcycle

Wes White from Four Aces Cycles
Richard Krczal on a T140 Triumph record breaker in Sidecar categorie

Paul Friebus on a blown 1000cc flathead H.D record breaker at 145mph

Anders Jonsson on a 650cc Eso record breaker at 128mph in full streamliner

Jeff Brock's  Bombshell a Cartoonesque Buick Eight record breaker at 162mph

Scott Olivier record breaker at 121mph in the Belly tank

Edward Kowalski record breaker at 117mph

Scott Mattern Team Mc Leish Bros. record breaker at 160mph

Larry Lancaster record breaker at 135mph

Bill and Helmut with the CaliforniaClassix team record breaker at 247mph

Photo Kristina Fender,, from left: Jared Zaugg, Paul D'Orléans, Maxwell Paternoster, Vincent Prat, David Borras,           Tyler Malinky, Olivier Prat, Juan Ramon Ortega