The continuation of the story behind how I got to ride on the Salt Flats during Speed Week. Part 1 can be found here
An electrical storm of some magnitude was brewing and it hit in the afternoon with such force it threw us all off-guard. We had put up the canopy and had eaten lunch when all of a sudden, BAM - the wind grew and grew with such speed it felt biblical.
Naturally, everything has to pass technical inspection before it can race to ensure safety standards are met and Friday we were due to put Christine into the inspection pit for the all important clearance to run.
Perhaps this time of scrutiny is one of the most scary moment for teams where they feel most powerless. There is a rulebook as thick as your head and if you haven't done something right, followed it to the letter, you have to fix it or you're out. Depending on what that is, it can mean the difference between attending and not attending the races. People spend many thousands of dollars to be a part of Speed Week, only to go home empty handed. It is truly a tense atmosphere at the inspection pits.
A nervous start
Then it was Christine's turn. Anxiously we waited, inspectors checked every inch, the battery, the faring, the exhaust, the chain, the chain guard. Then came the bombshell. The Pirelli Diavolo Supercorsa tyres were classed road tyres and therefore limited to 200 mph. When the speed you want to go at is 239 mph or more, that is more than a blow, that is a catastrophe. Pirelli were sponsors of the bike and had given us the tyres for the record attempt. Something must be wrong here, they would not have given us tyres that were not certified to go over 200 mph. What on earth was going on?
Rosaria was talking fast with firey Italian passion to anyone who would listen in the pits, explaining the situation, becoming more and more exasperated. Most were consoling her and sympathising, but then one man overheard and came over. What he had to say would prove to be a game-changer. Waldo was part of Double D Racing team, a group of guys who had raced the previous year and knew the Italian team and had struck up a friendship. They understood the issue well as it hadn't been the first time they came across it. They too disagreed with the interpretation but in this case, they knew who to call to get a final ruling. The guy's name was Van and his word on tyres was gospel. Van was sent for for.
A hushed moment of silence, then everything erupted. There were shrieks of happy laughter and hugs and everyone was laughing and the mood was instantly lifted. It was like hearing a baby cry for the first time after being born. (See the video above for the moment we captured.) From that point on, we were in party mode. No other issues with the bike were found and we rocked out with a stamp on the bike which was the seal of approval.
This whole experience had us all on a knife edge but, fortunately, it had a happy ending.. Waldo and team were the saviours that day and were showered with offers of food and T-shirts and merchandise for their part in the continuation of the dream. They were very cool about it, they didn't want fuss, they were doing it because it was the right thing to do. They just asked that one day we pay it forward and do a good deed for someone else one day. I already have :-).
That evening we relaxed and got an early night. There was some bad news delivered though - Speed Week would not be starting the next day as it was scheduled to, Saturday 10th, because of the condition of the courses. The best way to keep informed on the flats is via social media and the night before racing important updates are shared. In this case, the salt was still pretty wet and it needed to dry out so the decision was taken to postpone starting. It was a blow but the Driver's meeting session In the morning was still on and it was important to attend as it signalled the beginning of Speed Week.
Sunday 11th - Still no closer
It was another great shock to hear from the grapevine Sunday night that Monday's racing was still a no-go. The whole scenario was getting precarious. Some had already left the salts because they were only there for the weekend, others were frustrated and the mood seemed lower. Even though we spent our day taking photos and milling around the motorhome as well as seeing friends in different camps, time was dragging and my fears were mounting that I wouldn't get a run in at all.
One cool thing that we arranged that morning was a live link up with the famous Bike Shed in the UK. My good friends from touring, Miles and Zoe, knew the Shed owners and had arranged for me to beam in live from the salts and chat. I would simultaneously appear on Facebook and on a big screen in London.
So here's some context of my being at Bonneville. I really wanted to ride the bike once on the salts, just for the experience. This would then be something I could talk about when I gave presentations to people, either at schools or universities or anywhere who would be interested really. The message I wanted to convey was about how you can be anything you want to be if you put your heart and soul into it and believe you can. You shouldn't let society or others or even your own self-limiting talk get the better of you and stop you from your dreams.
My story was to demonstrate that point. I got to Bonneville in just three short years of riding a bike, with no experience of riding anything fast, ever. In fact, I was afraid to go over 50 mph just two years before. I wanted this experience to take to others, with the only aim to inspire them to get out and do stuff. To counteract the illusion that acquisition of 'things' brings happiness. We know it's relationships, achievement and effort that reaps the best rewards. So riding on the salts was the culmination of this chapter of my story, how I got there was pretty extraordinary, but getting there and running on the salt was the ending I wanted. It was super important to me because I hoped it would in turn be a catalyst for change in the lives of others.
Monday 12th - Rookie
Orientation is a critical safety feature at Bonneville. Getting to ride a bike or car on the salts fast is dangerous and subject to strict codes of conduct, for the racer and their team to adhere to so the rules are that pilots do a single run, up to 149mph, to show you can ride according to the rules. You can go as slow as you like, the fact that you followed the process is what matters. A good clean run means you get awarded your licence to race in category E at Bonneville, so up to 124mph as long as you have a valid ordinary licence. If you want to go faster, then you're set to work your way up the licence categories. Category D allows you to race between 125-149mph, Category C between 150-174mph, Category B is for 175 to 196mph, Category A for 200 to 249mph. The unlimited category is for drivers who go 300 mph and faster.
The orientation took us a good couple of hours for me, Maurizio and Rosaria (Dino did his last year) and included a ride around the track. It's essential - it demystifies the whole experience and you get to see close up the markers by the side of the track denoting the quarter and full mile points and the condition of the salt underfoot.
It seemed pretty certain that only two tracks would be open, the third, the rookie course seemed to be in bad shape and so the rookie run was moved over to what is called the Short Course, which is a five mile course with timed portions between 1st and 3rd Mile. The Long Course is 8 miles, and is timed over various points between 1 and 5 miles. How you exit from the course and how you signal you have problems is something you need to be sure to learn. By pulling over to the left or right you could be signalling an emergency. Subtle cues but incredibly important.
Technically, emotionally and physically we were all set to go, but were nervous that Tuesday would be another ruling against any racing. The weather had seriously improved and had done so since the storm, it must have been around 35-40 degrees at points in the day but the humidity was higher than average, in the 60% range. Rosaria had recalled last year's humidity didn't barely make it to double figures. The salts can be unpredictable and extremely varied, it's a wildcard aspect of the races. During 2014-2015 they weren't open at all.. just think of the disappointment to those racers looking to break records, lives put on hold, at the mercy of the elements.
There has been a lot of environmental change to the lake bed since racing started in 1912. The upper crust has been disappearing, in earlier times there used to be a crust of around 5 feet but that's reduced down to just a few inches in places. Subsequently, there is a program to pump salt brine onto the flats which will eventually see 1.5m tonnes of salt pumped in a year. This is supposed to replenish the underground aquifier that supports the crust volumes so they increase in thickness. It's an ongoing battle and, if not kept up, racing may be a thing of the past on the flats.
Tuesday 13th - Dino gets his chance
We were having our evening meal Monday evening when the good news came in. There were two courses open for racing Tuesday out of three. This was great, all we needed was for Dino to go on the Long Course and go all out for the record. But having fewer runs meant that everyone was going to be queuing for just two courses. Dino was determined to get to the road where the flats were by 0430 in the morning, to start to queue along the long, straight stretch of road that led up to the speedway. The speedway was always empty at night, it was due to open at 0630 but the road towards it was always busy by then so effectively you had to queue much, much earlier.
So we waited. And we waited. Finally, mid afternoon we got close to the front. Dino was tense, he'd got himself ready early and was suffering from the heat. Eventually he relaxed when the Magnificent 7 theme tune came on the motorhome radio, the tension lifted a little, good old Elmer Bernstein. A final hug from Rosaria and we edged closer to the start line. Then it was his and Christine's turn...
TO BE CONTINUED... Dino's run and what happened next?
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