Fastest sit on motorcycle on the salt! 297.970 mph

I received the FIM certificate today and decided I better write a little bit about the trip before I forget all the details. There are so many stories. I tried to keep it brief, but it's still too long for most, I'm afraid! Bolivia 2018 I can’t believe that the time has passed so quickly since the 2018 Top of the World Land Speed event. The original intent was to have a dozen entrants for this year’s event, but as the date grew closer, it appeared that only six of us were actually serious. Due to a variety of reasons, health, shipping and customs, only three of us were able to get our equipment to the salt flats in Bolivia. Jamie Williams had to pull out and Jim Knapp had issues with customs and was not able to ship his four wheel streamliner out of Long Beach. Even though we shipped the containers earlier this time, we arrived and they were not waiting for us, as we had planned. Marcelo Alvarez Garcia was our Bolivian contact and he had his hands full, trying to get our equipment trucked from the port, up to the salt flats. Marcelo finally prevailed and Mike Akatiff, Erin Sills and I were lucky enough to get our containers in time to allow for 2-1/2 days of running, but we had hoped for six! Mike Cook’s container, with all the timing and course equipment arrived at the same time, Mike and his crew, had quite a challenge to get the course set up, so we could run.

Al Lamb had shipping problems with his container and it was a real emotional roller coaster for him, hearing that “It might get there, it’s not going to make it, there’s a chance we can get it, no, it doesn’t look good”. It was a huge disappointment……racers do not like to be spectators. Al was very philosophical about the situation, but I’m sure has was itching to be out on the salt, seeing how much speed he could get out of his bike! It was a very odd experience, showing up at a remote location, expecting to be totally immersed in motorbikes and racing, evaluating data, changing strategies to cope with the conditions and hoping to go faster than the year before……..and kind of having nothing to do. Two of my crew members had been to Bolivia, the year before, Nick Capra and Mike Salembini. The other members of the crew, my son, David Hudson, videographers Alex Dryer and Greg Maple and all around helper Gordon Reunitz had not. We spent a couple of days seeing the town of Uyuni, the train graveyard and cactus island, but I was really feeling kind of lost, not really sure what we should be doing. It was interesting, when the bikes finally arrived, everything fell into place, it was sort of obvious what we needed to do and I suddenly felt at more at ease, excited, but comfortable with familiar bike prep routines and a clear goal in mind!

There was great excitement the morning that the trucks with the containers arrived! Everyone piled in the rental Toyota SUVs and headed out to the course. The course was a loooong way from the hotel, seemed like it took about an hour to get there. With the containers, trucks and cranes all assembled there was the usual discussions and waving of arms to decide where to set up the pit area. The containers are sealed for customs purposes and we assumed that the truck drivers dealt with that all the time and would have bolt cutters or some way to cut the seals and open the container. Never assume. The seals were pretty tough to get through, but they finally managed to cut, pound, pry and mangle the one off of our container so we could get the battery powered grinder and cut the seals off of Cook’s and Akatiff’s containers.

One of the first things I noticed was that the salt was very wet. In 2017, it was so dry, you could sit or put a knee down and the salt wouldn’t stick, there wasn’t even a wet patch! Not so this year, it was soggy. We heard that there had been a snowstorm two weeks before and it had left 6” of snow on the salt. The snow had melted, but the water was still there. Nothing to do about that, but get ready and run. While the course and timing lights were being set up, Mike, Erin and I got our bikes inspected by Charles Hennekam and Andres, the FIM officials. It was an overcast day, great for photography! Dramatic skies and pure white salt!

Friday, July 13, we were finally ready to run. I think that Erin may have run first and I went next. The first run was 291 mph, 7 mph above the record, but 9 mph under the 300 that I was looking for. The bike was geared to go quite a bit faster, but with the wet salt, there was just too much wheel slip. I was disappointed, people were reminding me that it was the fastest mile ever recorded at an FIM event, but when you have goals in mind, but don’t get them, it’s really disappointing. The return run was about the same and we came away with a new world record, fastest sit-on bike ever, at 291.129 mph. It was better than not getting a record at all and doing it on the first two runs really is a great accomplishment….just not as good as I was pushing for. I downloaded data from the bike and took the computer back to the hotel, to start planning for the next day. The hotel was nice, but always cold. The place smelled like wood smoke, the chimneys didn’t all draw very well and I think the fireplaces were the main source of heat for the common areas. The meals were pretty repetitious, rice, pasta, cooked bananas, chicken, I think there was llama and definitely hot dogs. It was filling, if not very exciting. The best part was sitting around the tables and talking with members of the other teams, getting to meet new people, joking about the food, talking about how our days had gone and what we were planning for tomorrow. We normally had breakfast and dinner, too busy for lunch, plus nothing was being served out on the salt. Some people had the foresight to stuff a few extra rolls in their pockets to have something. We had water and protein bars in our container, to avoid starvation. The weather was cold, but not as cold as last year. It didn’t seem to freeze overnight and I think the daytime temperature got up to about 50F.

The next day was Saturday and we did a little better, a 291 down and a 297 return, bumped the record to 294 mph. Not good enough yet, but we were getting a little better. Late in the day, we ran again and the entry speed on the down run was 299 mph and the mile speed was 297. I thought we had a chance! On the return run the wind had come up to 7 mph, I couldn’t keep the bike on the course and had to shut it off. It got so gusty that it blew all the shade canopies away, wind got up to 25 -30 mph, so that was the end of our day.

The course was 15 miles long. The timing lights were set up for one mile, between 7 and 8. The FIM also clocks you for a kilometer, set in the middle of mile 7 and 8. A kilometer is almost exactly 2,000 ft shorter than a mile, so the timer can calculate your speed for the mile, the kilometer, the first thousand ft and the last thousand ft. This is important, because they can give you your entry speed and your exit speed. If your entry and exit are significantly different, you can move your start position to try to maximize your speed, over the entire mile. I made one run where I entered the lights at 284 and exited at 297. That told us that we needed to start further back, because the bike wasn’t up to speed when we entered the mile. It’s kind of fun to look at those numbers, do a little math and make adjustments, based on the calculations.

We had a small trailer for hauling my bike to the starting or back to the pits after the runs were over. We didn’t have one in 2017 and the bike would get hot riding it to the starting line. Having the trailer was a lot more convenient! However, as we were unloading the bike after the last run on Saturday, I lost my balance and as luck would have it, no one was behind the bike to help steady it! I fell over and the full weight of the bike landed on my left leg. It hit hard, I was afraid it might have been broken. Everybody scrambled to pick up the bike, I got up and very gingerly put some weight on that leg to see if it would hold… did! I was happy! It hurt a lot and swelled up quite a bit, but I figured I could still ride. I just hoped I’d be able to zip the leathers over my calf and get my boot on. I walked to dinner in the dining room that night, but was really hobbling. Back at the room, I was looking at computer data and sent the data file from the last run to Shane Tecklenberg, the guy who tunes my bike with the MoTec engine management system. The file uploaded very slowly, Shane told me he’d look at it later, adjust the settings and have a new file waiting for me in the morning. My son. David, went to the kitchen and was able to get a chunk of ice from them to put on my leg. It was a miserable night, when it was finally time to get up, I felt like I really hadn’t slept, my calf looked pretty big and I really didn’t know what to expect. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. My leg was swollen, but it didn’t hurt at all! Couldn’t believe it! Got dressed walked to the dining room and it was fine, the rest of the crew was really surprised that I could even walk!

Sunday, the 15th, last day. It was now or never. Shane had sent a new file, we had a new start position worked out, but there was a pretty strong breeze, a head wind. After waiting it out for a while, we decided to tow down to the other end and then we might have a tail wind! Getting into my leathers and boot was a little difficult, but finally managed with some help. The FIM will not count a run, if a tail wind is over 11 mph, the timing tower was reporting between 6-10 mph winds. We waited, it seemed that the winds were dying down a little and we decided we should go. The combination of new computer file, distance from the timing lights and no doubt a bit of a tail wind all worked out. Old man lady luck was smiling on the boys this morning!

The entry speed was 307 mph! The average speed for the mile was 304.969 mph, the first mile recorded at an FIM event over 300! To say we were pleased would be an understatement, we were ecstatic! Now, change the tires and get ready to run again. We had figured out that if we allowed the tire warmers to get up to full temperature, the tires would start losing chunks of rubber. We found if you only got them warm, not hot, they would last. We would do two runs on a set of tires, if we didn’t see any signs of failure. Now, the issue was a head wind, and it was gusting up around the FIM speed limit. We kept waiting to hear the wind reports from the tower. It finally sounded like the wind speed was staying in the 5-8 mph range. From experience I had learned that a 7 mph crosswind was about as much as I could control the bike in. But, we had this great qualifying run and we had to make a return run within two hours. We decided it was time to go.

Carpenter Racing: 856-753-1555

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