Arrival at the Bonneville Salt Flats
Like most things this year, preparing for racing at Bonneville in 2020 was very different than other years. However, in this case it was not because of the world-wide pandemic. On my first run at Bonneville Speed Week in 2019, I crashed at over 120 mph.
First day on the salt at Bonneville Speed Week 2019 with my 1950 Pre-unit Triumph land speed bike.
For most of the year leading up to Speed Week 2019 I had worked on my race bike and engine, dyno testing and preparing engine and chassis for a record setting season. The attention to detail and meticulous work had paid off; my horsepower was up 12% since the prior year, when I had first built and raced (and set a record with) the bike.
You can really see how puddled and slushy the salt was in this photo.
The arrival to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2019 was a bit disappointing, as the surface was partially flooded and there were standing puddles of water everywhere. Just walking around the pits led to soaking wet, salty shoes, and everything became a mess very quickly. A rain storm had swept through the area the night before. The salt flats are surrounded by mountainous foot hills and the water streams down to the lake bed. About 500 racers and an additional 1500 or so crew members and SCTA volunteers were now there, ready to race and waiting for the sun and light wind to dry up the salt.
Soaking in some leisure time at Blue Lake - Scuba Dock while waiting for the salt to dry.
Four long (but fun) days of waiting and everyone was ready to race on Tuesday. Instead of 3 or 4 courses as usual, there was only 1 good enough to race on. We were up at 5am and in line on the road to get onto the salt, and we were late! Some people had gotten in line hours before that, sleeping in their vehicles to ensure they would be some of the first to race.
Tuesday Morning in line to get on the salt, we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunrises.
What I learned from the experience
The day ended up being very long, waiting in line all day until the mid afternoon, creeping up very slowly as vehicles took their turn making a run down the track. Many cars were spinning out before they even hit the 1 mile mark, and very few bikes were running. I mistakenly was not worried in the slightest, figuring I was an experienced and skilled rider and even if the course wasn’t ideal, I could ride it out. I was wrong.
Walking closer to the starting line.
Kickstart... lets go!
My 1950 Triumph was tidy and tuned, ready to rip out a record on the first run. Buddy, the starter, gave me the ‘visor down’ command and told me the course was clear. This was my time. I took off and was making my way through the gears when I realized I was getting a wobble toward the top of 3rd gear. My bike handles well and runs straight as an arrow; I had dealt with bumps or with my skinny, slick tires ‘tracking; in grooves, but I had never had a wobble. I shifted into 4th gear and accelerated. The front end was starting to slap side to side more and I dipped slightly to the left, hoping to find firmer salt. Almost immediately my bars went lock-to-lock and I knew I was going down.
I walked down the track and picked up my bike off it side to find it in shambles. Photo by: Liz Leggett.
I went into a quick low-side, but the wheels caught immediately and high-sided me, bucking me over the bike. I don’t exactly recall the tumble and slide. It was all so fast that next thing I knew I was staring up at the bright sky and mid-afternoon sun. I was dazed but made my way to my feet and looked up the course, toward the starting line less than a mile away. I could see my bike on it’s side quite far down the course, with a few parts scattered further past it. Making my way to the bike, I turned off the fuel and was able to pick it up, leaving it lean against my leg as SCTA officals quickly got on the scene and an ambulance pulled up.
The ambulances and SCTA officials swarmed the scene quickly and my crew came and got the bike off the track as the EMTs took care of me. Photo by Liz Leggett.
The EMTs removed my helmet, checked my neck and limbs and generally made sure I was ‘ok’. My left wrist was throbbing and the pinky finger on my left hand was flopping around, clearly broken. My wrist was wrapped and I grabbed a ride back to the pits as my crew loaded up my wrecked bike into our van.
We inspected the bike, which had gone end-over-end at over 100 mph down the salt, leaving 4 or 5 big divots that had to be filled in with shovels. All-in-all the damage wasn’t too bad. We were able to kick the bike over and get it running without any issue. Both wheels were smashed, fork tubes and the rear of the frame bent, the axle plates and seat twisted. Nothing actually broke except for the lower transmission mount, but plenty of things were bent.
The rear section bent, distorted, and mangled. Thank god most of this was laser cut and I had the files saved to re cut for the rebuild.
After calming down in the pits for a while some of my long-time Bonneville crew, Greg and Joe, drove me the hour and a half into Salt Lake City to visit an emergency room. They were worried about internal bleeding, as my right side was black and swollen, but luckily there were no major issues there. The radius bone in my left arm had shattered length-wise from the wrist, most likely from putting my arm out as I high-sided over the bike. I was told I needed surgery, so they put me in a full arm cast and I flew back home to Cleveland the next morning to follow up with a local doctor and see my wife and kids.
Despite all of it. My bike mangled, my wrist shattered and pinkie finger broken, I remained in good spirits.
I am glad that I was out crashing my bike and not there to witness my friends and family worrying about me when the ‘rider down’ call went out. But I am even more glad that they were there take care of me and deal with the aftermath of the sudden change of plans that our race week had taken. I learned a number of things from the experience, from preparedness to survival instincts, my own abilities and being sure to take a step back and really evaluate situations before just going for it. I came out the other side almost good-as-new, though my wrist and finger will never be the same. I stood up and walked away from the wreck, however, and for that I am very grateful (and lucky).
The Bonneville World Finals 2020 season
Prepare each and every nut and bolt, and get ready to race.
Preparation for the 2020 season was interesting in that I had a perfect, race-prepped, record-holding 1950 Triumph that had been hurtled down the salt, end-over-end. I had to fully disassemble the bike, each and every nut and bolt. Each part was inspected, cleaned, repaired or replaced as necessary.
Meticulously rebuilt this bike, inspecting every nut and bolt. The nickel plating I think added a nice touch. I also changed out the rear brake from a drum to a disc brake set up.
Both wheels had been destroyed, fork tubes bent, the rear of the frame slightly bent, as well as plenty of other smaller components that were mangled. The engine did not sustain any damage, which I was happy about. The lower gearbox mount was snapped off, so the case was welded up and I rebuilt the transmission. Once repairs to the frame were made, I had it nickel plated. It really made a difference, as prior the frame had been bare steel. The bike came together slowly through the year and was, once again, ready to race.
My brother Kyle's 1967 Triumph Bonneville land speed bike.
Get planning for Bonneville World Finals
Bonneville Speed Week takes place in early August each year. We decided to not make the trip due to COVID, despite our bikes being ready to race. Kyle had not even gotten to make a run on his 1967 Triumph in 2019. After my wreck the course was shut down for the day, and a new course prepared, though conditions weren’t much better. Many motorcyclists chose not to race; in a car you tend to spin out, on a bike the stakes are higher.
Joe, Greg, Denny, Mikey, Kyle and myself camping and Flaming River Gorge, Wyoming
Early September, as the summer was ending, I talked to a few of my long-time race crew, Greg, Mikey and Joe. We discussed racing at Bonneville World Finals right at the beginning of October and decided to go for it. World Finals is a smaller event, the weather is cooler (which is very nice), and being a smaller event the hotels aren’t sold out and do not jack their prices sky-high like they do during Speed Week. The only downside is that it often gets rained out as it is right at the end of the dry season. Our plan was back-to-basics. We load my bike in my van with all the gear and jam the 2,200 miles cross-country, race, and jam back.
Flaming River Gorge, Wyoming lived up to its name.
A perfect night by the fire with my family and friends. It was a really good way to prep the mind for the race week to follow.
My brother Kyle decided to come out and race as well, but drove separately with our father, and left the day before we did. We all met up in Flaming River Gorge, Wyoming, just four or five hours from Bonneville, to camp. It was a beautiful spot on the sand along the river, with the world all to ourselves. We had a fire, shot guns, enjoyed seeing some wild prong horn, and generally had an excellent time. It was a great start to a race week.
My land speed race bike in all its glory on the salt, hard as concrete
Since my wreck, I had been generally nervous about racing again, whenever I really thought about it. I am always a bit nervous before the first run at any event, but never worried about crashing. I hadn’t ever doubted the conditions or thought that things could go awry so quickly. But they had. Arriving on the salt alleviated almost all of my concerns. The conditions were better than I had seen in years; the salt was rock hard. It was a bit bumpy, but that isn’t a concern. Now I was really getting excited.
Get in line, twist the throttle, set a record.
This is it, that moment when all weight is lifted and it's go time.
The morning racing opened we got in line and I mentally prepared. The bike was ready, and so was I. It felt as it always did; a bit nervous as I was suited in my race leathers, helmet and gloves on, nearing the line. Astride my running bike, the starter gives the ‘course clear’ and I am good to go. No more thought, no more nerves, as soon as I twist the throttle and let the clutch out I am in the moment. The course is hard and smooth. I accelerate through each gear, and in fourth the engine is bogging a bit. I am too rich. I feather the throttle and get to top speed, just shy of 132mph on a record of 126.540mph. I come off the course, kill the bike, remove my helmet and holler with joy. This was the run I should have had in 2019. Redemption.
That feeling of redemption.
I successfully backed up my record run the following morning, with a new A-VG (special construction, vintage gas) record in the 750cc class at 130.50mph (up from 126.455mph) on my 1950 Triumph. I get another half dozen runs in during the 4 day event and also succeed in breaking another record, the A-VF (special construction, vintage fuel) record, bringing it from 121.341mph to 126.812mph. Not as fast as I would have liked, but that is how it goes! The thing about speed is I find that I cannot have enough.
Kyle mentally preparing for his first run in 2 years.
Kyle had a stellar race week as well astride his gorgeous 1967 650cc Triumph. The record in the A-PG (special construction, pushrod gas) class is 130.713mph, and he was consistently running just shy of it, around 130.4mph. Despite flawless runs and exhausting tuning and gearing options, he was just shy of breaking the record. That is somewhat of a good problem to have, however, as with some more thought, time and tuning he should be able to break that record, setting it higher and making it even tougher for someone else to break in the future.
Kyle taking off the starting line.
Alp Sungurtekin with his 666 Vincent getting ready for his first run.
Alp & Jalika Sungurtekin have been a Lowbrow-sponsored race team since 2011. Alp holds a series of records on vintage Triumphs, including a fastest speed of over 180mph on a nitro-burning, mechanical fuel injected, reverse head, 650cc 1950 Triumph in a factory rigid frame. During 2020 Alp built the Vincent666. A 1948 Vincent with factory engine cases #666. Alp built the engine and frame from the ground up in his one-car garage in Sun Valley, California. The World Finals event was the first time he ran the bike on nitro methane and it went quite well for a debut performance. Alp successfully upped the A-VF 1000cc record from 149.973mph to 177.375mph, with a top speed attained of 182mph. He qualified again against his own new record, but was unable to back it up as the spark plug blew right out of the cylinder head on the final run of the event.
The rare occasion Kyle and I get to be at the start line together.
Bonneville Salt Flats Racing 2021 - The Righteous Pursuit of Top Speed!
2021 should prove to be another great race year. I am currently just starting to build a dual-engine 1950 Triumph to run against some of the larger displacement bikes, and faster records. I also aim to bring the single engine bike back out, with some of my crew looking to get their rookie runs at Bonneville complete. Hopefully they can beat one of my records! Kyle will be bringing his Triumph back out, his eyes on that record he is so close to breaking. Alp should be attaining new record speeds on the Vincent666; we’re hoping he can break the 200mph barrier on this vintage machine. We hope that our friends from Canada, Australia and all around the world will be able to join us in 2021, as racing just wasn’t the same without them, and they were all missed. Here’s to the next race and the righteous pursuit of top speed!
Words by Tyler Malinky
Photos by Mikey Revolt
The Malinkys on the salt. Tyler, Denny and Kyle Malinky.
The line, the place where nothing else matters. Every thought is removed from your mind and all that matters is twisting the throttle and focusing on the rpms.
We made a new work table for this year which came in clutch for working on the bike while in impound after our successful runs.
Lock tabs will definitely save your sprocket bolts from unthreading at high speeds.
Stay to the right.
Our good friend Bear from Old Bike Barn's CB750 dragster. This thing sounds like a pissed off hornets nest!
Lowbrow Customs Land Speed Racing.
Kyle's tachometer stopped working mid way through his top speed run of 130.4mph!
In tune with your machine.
Time for some tread on these boots. As you can see the one on the left was smooth where it rests on the peg. We had to add tape to the pegs to keep the boot from sliding off the pegs.
Kyle preparing for his last run of 2020.
Record setting run in the A-VF 750cc class.
Bear from Old Bike Barn Taking off like a bat out of hell! His high speed of the week was 149.2mph just shy of his goal of 150!
Our friend Brian Thompson getting ready for his run.
Brian Thompson's bitchen Triumph fuel injected land speed bike running nitro!
Let's load it up and go to impound!
A different perspective.
Record Setting back up run for A-VF 750cc class.
Second record in the books for the week!
"If you are on the salt early enough to see the sunrise, its because you were setting records and there to back it up" Ralph Hudson - RIP - 1951-2020