As the 2019 Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials approaches, we take a look back at the biggest moments from 2018, a landmark season in FIM Land Speed World Racing!
The 2019 Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials (BMST) is nearly upon us, and promising conditions on the salt could mean another exciting year for FIM Land Speed World Record racers. But before we head into another week of record smashing, let’s take a look back at the top-10 FIM Land Speed World Records moments of 2018.
Last year was a truly groundbreaking year for FIM Land Speed World Records with landmark events taking place on three continents, each location with history being made, either through triumph or disaster. In March 2018, Australia’s Lake Gairdner saw its first-ever FIM-sanctioned Land Speed World Record event, in July, the fearless once again braved the searing heights and remote Bolivian Altiplano at the Salar de Uyuni, and the season wrapped up at the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA. Following are the 10 most significant moments of a landmark year in FIM Land Speed World Record racing.
10. The Italian Mosquito
From a young age, Giacomo Zanetti dreamed of one day coming to the Bonneville Salt Flats and earning a world record, and for the Italian, that dream became a reality in 2018. A world-class effort went into restoring a 1963 Mosquito 38B moped for Zanetti’s attempt. The beautiful copper-trimmed masterpiece named “Mosquito’s Way” garnered much attention on the salt at BMST, and even more once he put down two successful passes for a new world record of 18.613 mph (29.995 km/h). It was an emotional victory for Zanetti, who piloted the smallest motor of the week with quite possibly the biggest heart.
9. The World’s Fastest KLR… Up In Smoke!
It was a week of triumph and tragedy for Kerry O’Day and his KLR650 at BMST. He piloted his 2003 Kawasaki KLR650 to a new record speed of 127 mph (204 km/h), bumping up his existing record from 121.678 mph (195.82 km/h). But his dream soon turned into a nightmare when his KLR650 caught fire while he was making another run the next day. O’Day escaped the flames uninjured, but all he could do was watch the KLR he had been racing at Bonneville for 13 years burn to a crisp. “It’s like losing a kid,” O’Day said, holding a piece of melted aluminum in his hand. “I was going to retire the bike anyway. I just wanted it to look a little prettier going into my museum. But we got a new world record and we went out with a blaze of glory.”
8. Al Lamb Jilted – Big Red’s World Tour
Land Speed World Record racing is a game of patience, and no one knows more about that than Al Lamb. His first visit to Bolivia in 2017 was a logistical nightmare when his container was seized by customs, “Big Red” (his partially streamlined turbocharged Honda CBR1000RR) only reaching Uyuni after being airfreighted from Miami in a 5x5x8-foot cube at the last minute. The 2018 event in Bolivia was even worse, with the container once again not showing up. Late into Cook’s Top Oil Land Speed Shootout, Lamb decided to call it for the Bolivia meet and made the decision to get the container turned around and headed back to the U.S. in time for BMST. A month later, the Texan was jilted for an unbelievable third time, as his container was lost on the high seas rather than on its way to Bonneville. A year’s worth of prep and premium salt was a total waste for Lamb, who somehow remained in good spirits throughout the disappointment. Both in Bolivia and in Bonneville, Lamb hung around to support his fellow racers, even his rival Ralph Hudson who is gunning for the same record. Lamb made light of the situation at a dinner in Bonneville, joking that he hadn’t so much as received a post card from Big Red as she enjoyed her world tour… somewhere.
Lamb now has Big Red back in his possession, and with revamped bodywork, they are heading to Bonneville for BMST where he is ready to make up for lost opportunities!
7. Erin Sills’ Vindication
Erin Sills came to the 2017 Top Of The World Land Speed Trial in Bolivia as a volunteer at the pioneering event, only to see the FIM World Record of Andy Sills, her late husband, broken by another team. In 2018, Sills returned to Bolivia, this time as a competitor, with the goal of reclaiming her late husband’s record in the 1000cc naturally aspirated non-streamlined category. “Our plan in 2015 [prior to Andy’s sudden passing in February 2015] was he wanted me to ride the bike that he’d set the records on. He wanted to help me break his records,” Sills explained. “A few years later and I’m doing what we had hoped he and I would be able to do together.” In 2018, with the help of Shake Kinderis, Trev Richter and the rest of the Top 1 Oil Hunter Sills Racing/San Diego BMW Motorcycles/Sena-backed team, Erin Sills made her return to Bolivia and accomplished exactly that. She was overcome with emotion at hearing her best-ever time of 237 mph (381 km/h) in a one-way pass, and went on to claim a new record of 229 mph (368 km/h), placing her name once again next to her late husband’s in the FIM Land Speed World Record books.
6. Cayla Rivas and the Royal Family
Eighteen-year-old Cayla Rivas, daughter of four-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle drag racing champion Chris Rivas, was one of the most memorable racers at Bonneville in 2018. BMST marked the first FIM Land Speed World Records event for Cayla, who received the backing of Royal Enfield and S&S Racing for a full factory effort aboard a Royal Enfield 650 Twin. Rivas came to Bonneville with the goal of reaching 130 mph in the naturally aspirated 750cc class, which she reached the first day of competition. By the end of the week, Rivas blew her own record out of the water with a 158 mph (254 km/h) record. “I’m pretty happy with the final results. We bumped our own record six or seven times, blew two engines and upped the record by 57 mph so I’d say we had a pretty successful week,” said Rivas. After such a significant week, what’s next for this remarkable young lady? She replied with a single word and a smile: “Faster.”
5. Return to Bolivia
In 2017, a truly groundbreaking moment in land speed racing brought a group of pioneers to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. The momentous event was a success on some levels and a logistical nightmare on others, and the question remained: would this be a one-time thing, or would this turn into a new destination for land-speed racing? That question was answered in 2018 with the return of FIM Land Speed World Record racing to Bolivia with Cook’s Top Oil Land Speed Shootout. Simply making the trek to the remote Altiplano was a feat in itself, this time with racers experienced and prepared for the 12,000-foot elevation and icy conditions. With the thin air playing to an advantage for those seeking big numbers, such as Al Lamb, Ralph Hudson and Rocky Robinson, there is no other place quite like Bolivia to reach their goals. The Salar de Uyuni was not on the 2019 calendar, but don’t be surprised to see it back in 2020!
4. The World’s Fastest Harley-Davidson
“My wife isn’t going to be happy,” said Hiro Koiso after his run on the Bonneville salt at BMST. He promised her he would “take it easy” on his first run aboard his partially streamlined supercharged Harley-Davidson and keep it under 200 mph, but he clocked a pass of 219 mph (352 km/h), which he promptly backed up for a new FIM Land Speed World Record of 223.195 mph (359.199 km/h). The next day the Koiso, out of Las Vegas, Nevada, made another attempt to up his brand-new record, this time reaching a blistering speed of 259 mph (416 km/h). He quickly found out that was all his H-D FXD could handle, as the front tire began to shred and he lost a piston. Koiso managed to keep it on two wheels through the trap to record the fastest run of the meet, and although his week was over at that point, Koiso got to pick up his 250-mph coin, and can boast he has the world’s fastest Harley-Davidson.
3. Ralph Hudson’s One-Way Pass
While the streamliners duke it out for the 400-mph barrier (643 km/h), the battle is also raging between Ralph Hudson and Al Lamb for the 300-mph barrier (482 km/h). The all-out record for a sit-on motorcycle (non-streamliner) is currently 297 mph (478 km/h), and both Hudson and Lamb are eager to break it. At Cook’s Top Oil Land Speed Shootout in Bolivia 2018, Ralph Hudson of Glendale, California sat right at the cusp of the 300 mark (frustratingly so) with pass after pass in the high 290-mph range. Hudson made no less than 10 runs on the Salar de Uyuni in an effort to crack 300 mph, and on the final day of the meet in Bolivia, he clocked a one-way pass at 304 mph (489 km/h). It was a landmark run for Hudson and a personal best, but without a return pass to back it up, he fell short of setting a new FIM Land Speed World Record. It was a bittersweet moment for Hudson, who was happy to finally touch 300 mph, but he didn’t consider his goal reached. “It’s great to have gone 300 and to have it officially recognized, but I didn’t do two runs with an average over 300 and get an FIM World Record. To know that I have a bike that was capable of doing that but not putting the two runs together is very disappointing.” Hudson ran out of time in Bolivia, but he is still hungry to reach 300 mph (as is Al Lamb). The duo is set to face off at BMST 2019 next week!
2. Ben Felten and Blind Speed
Motorcycle racer Ben Felten sadly lost his eyesight when he was 25 years old, but his dreams of racing motorcycles never faded away. Through the help of his friend, former Grand Prix racer Kevin Magee, Felten came up with the wild idea to attempt land-speed racing. Aboard matching Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R motorcycles, Felten and Magee could race in close proximity down the salt, maintaining radio contact the whole time, enabling Felten to race for a record. In Australia, the duo made history setting a new Guinness World Record (by way of FIM Land Speed World Records-documented one-way pass) of 169.38 mph (272.596 km/h). “When I was a seven-year-old boy, my dream was to race motorcycles at the highest level,” said Felten. “That was always my ambition, as long as I can remember. But at 25 [years of age] my eyesight started deteriorating and I gave up riding and driving. To be able to ride motorcycles again is just the greatest, most empowering thing. For me to ride a motorbike now is just the greatest gift I thought I’d never have the opportunity to experience.” Find out more about Ben Felten’s remarkable story at blindspeed.com.au.
1. Survival At 343 MPH
On March 19, 2018 at the World Speed Trials Australia, conditions were near perfect. Just before sunrise on Lake Gairdner, there was zero wind at mile zero—just the moment Valerie Thompson and Denis Manning had been waiting for. The air was thick with anticipation; history was about to be made, but unfortunately for the Team 7 Racing crew, it wasn’t the history they were hoping for. Instead of an all-out two-wheel world record of over 400 mph (643 km/h), it was the crash heard ‘round the world. Valerie Thompson’s run in the BUB 7 streamliner ended in disaster with a violent high-speed crash just before the speed trap. Fortunately, Thompson was able to walk away from the wreck nearly unscathed—a miracle in itself as the wreck happened at well over 300 mph (482 km/h). Thompson was throttling her way toward the 400-mph barrier in what looked to be a promising run, but with little warning, the streamliner was sent tumbling and bouncing across the salt with wreckage spreading out over mile. The crash was a devastating setback for Thompson and the team, but at the same time, a strong testament to the safety of the BUB 7 streamliner’s carbon-fiber monocoque design. Denis Manning and Team 7 Racing are already rebuilding for another attempt on the salt and they aim to be back at Lake Gairdner in 2020 with a completely rebuilt BUB 7 streamliner.
Text ans Photo by Jean Turner