Land Speed Racing gets into your blood. Once there, it digs down deep into your veins, stretches its claws and releases its barbs. It stays with you for life. That has to be true if the 100+ years of man and machine racing down abandoned runways, across salt flats and hurtling over hard sand beaches has taught us anything about this sport and those who compete in it. For once they’ve completed that first pass, success or failure, they spend the rest of their lives tinkering, designing and building new parts and machines that will get them even that extra mile per hour faster. Dan Daughenbaugh and his ’51 BSA Star Twin ‘Greasy Gringo’ are no different and he’s the first to admit it – “It sounds like you’re crazy”.
There’s some things that most of us would take for granted if we were intending to break a land speed record. Obviously an endeavour like that would take a lot of money – so you’re probably going to need a sponsor or twelve. And you’d also be wanting a whole bunch of top shelf engineers and support crew, too. Not to mention a brand new bike and some seriously hardcore safety gear. You getting this all down? Great. Now tear the list up and come salt flat racing the Chris Bridgewater way – on a wing, a prayer and a blown, 171HP, S&S equiped Harley.
Depending on what floats your boat, you will eventually make the pilgrimage to your ‘Mecca’. If you are a surfer, then you will take on the waves at Teahupoo. If you’re an Elvis fan, then you will shuffle your blue suede shoes to Gracelands. And if you are a motorhead, then you will take your speed machine to the Bonneville salt flats, like many did a few weeks ago. One of those people was Alp Sungurtekin, who took his purpose built bike, a 1952 Pre-Unit 650cc Triumph Thunderbird. The bike is named ‘Kursed’ – because of all the things that went wrong with it. He really had to race the clock to have it finished on time. Actually, he was still working on it up until the final hours of leaving for the legendary salty race strip. This is how Alp describes his time at Speedweek and the pursuit of his own personal land speed record.
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It wasn’t until the morning of the fifth day that we emerged from the dark, twisted forest and onto the salt plain. At first it looked like another planet; or more accurately a planet made of light. It took many minutes for our eyes to adjust to the flooding glare – not helped by the fact that neither of us had food, water or sleep for the entire time. I saw it first. Norman (aka “Sgeechee”) was still surveying the surreal landscape when I grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. It was the same bike we had ridden here on all those days ago, but only just. You’d be forgiven for not recognising it as it was really only the colours that were the same. The rest? Well… it was lower; MUCH lower. And faired. The lightness and tippy-toe stance of the old bike was gone, replaced with a bad-ass single-minded focus that was screaming “speed” like a million wailing megaphones laid end-to-end. We both grinned like idiots and instantly forgot the epic struggle of the last few days. Like ancient heroes we had dreamt a fantastical dream and made it real. We were gods. Motorcycling gods.
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Walt Siegl built this amazing panhead chopper for the artist, Arthur Sordillo. Walt is a motorcycle builder out of New York City who has been riding and building Harley choppers, bobbers, and race bikes in the old school style for more than 20 years. When we say old school, we mean he makes pretty much every part by hand. This Sordillo Salt Flat was part of the art exhibition “Oldskool — a survey of 20th Century Motorculture,” curated by the painter Gregory Johnston. Walt still road races V-Twins and is constantly surprising people with his amazing eye for custom bike building. To see more of Walt’s work check his impressive gallery.
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