200 MPH Or Bust
Super Streetbike's Neale Bayly blazes his way into the East Coast Timing Association's exclusive 200-mph club--and takes us along for the ride
By Neale Bayly
Photography: Scott F. Odell
"First gear...second gear...third gear...fourth"--this is my mantra, my song, my sole, slim grasp on reality as I hurtle headlong down the crumbling runway surface at the Maxton airstrip. Like a metronome I mutter the word "fifth" and push the button telling the air shifter to jam home another gear on the big, black 'Busa I'm borrowing for the weekend. As I edge up against 170 mph, I hope to hell I haven't miscounted before I depress the button on the left bar that activates the nitrous-oxide system. I punch the button and an additional 100 horsepower suddenly materializes, noticeably accelerating the bike even at this insane speed. The shift light comes up quicker than I expect, and keeping the throttle pinned, I hit sixth and get back into the giggle gas--again.
Staring through the curved windscreen at 180 mph is a lot like looking down the wrong end of a telescope, which is hell on my nerves. All I can do is follow the white line down the center of the airstrip and force myself to accept that it continues though the rapidly approaching timing lights at the other end. Everything else is a blur, and I try to make myself as small as possible to get under the paint, looking for every possible advantage to get me beyond 200 mph. I twist the throttle hard against the stop and push the nitrous button forcefully, as if the extra pressure will somehow give me more power--and more speed.
At Maxton you break two timing lights approximately 100 yards apart--your average speed between these two lights is considered your official speed. Breaking the first light, I fight the overwhelming urge to shut the throttle and instead keep it pinned until I'm sure I pass the second light. Now comes the hardest part--slowing back down to zero in the too-short runoff area. My heart is pounding. I sit up too soon, and the wall of air almost rips me off the bike. But none of this matters right now--all I care about is this: "Did I go 200?"
What Am I Doing Here?
"Are you effin' crazy?" As a motorcyclist, I'm used to this question, of course, but this time even those inside my close circle of riding buddies expressed concern after I shared my plans to join the East Coast Timing Association's exclusive 200-mph Club. "Have you lost it?" they asked. "You're a street rider--what do you know about land-speed racing?"
I didn't need to know anything, I told them. I'd be operating under the strict supervision of two of the most accomplished names in land-speed motorcycle racing. They'd take care of preparation and instructions--all I had to do was sit in the saddle and twist the go-handle. Even a monkey could do that, right? "Besides, these guys go 200 mph all the time--how hard can it be?" This was my primary line of defense--this and just not thinking about it. But as I drive into Maxton under a cold and gloomy North Carolina-in-October sky and come face to face with the 200-mph 'Busa, I'm not even convincing myself.
The whole funny business started this past summer when I made my maiden voyage to Maxton, investigating tales of 240-mph streetbikes for a story that appeared in the last issue of Super Streetbike. I was introduced to Scott Guthrie, known in land-speed circles as the "Sultan of Speed." With a personal best of 241 mph on a motorcycle at Maxton (and 256 mph in a car at Bonneville) and not one but four 200-plus-mph streetbikes in his garage, Guthrie knows plenty about going fast. It was during this initial meeting that Guthrie came up with the idea for me to come back to Maxton and make an attempt to join the ECTA 200-mph Club, which at the time numbered just 42 members. A brilliant story idea when I was sitting on the sidelines a few months back, but now, as I make the long and lonely drive to Maxton, I'm having my doubts.
Worry not. Guthrie and his partner in speed, Wayne Pollack, practically meet me at the gate, and as soon as I step out of the car they have me filling out forms and otherwise distracting myself enough to not even worry about riding a bike. To officially qualify for the "Two Club," I not only would have to make the speed, but I would also have to break a land-speed record for the standing mile at the same time. Luckily, Guthrie had found a suitable class for me to do this in--S/F 2000: S for streamliner, F for fuel and 2000 for the engine-capacity limit in cubic centimeters. With no standing record in this class, all I would have to do is run down the course and break the timing lights and I'd leave Maxton with at least a land-speed record. During a little one-on-one with my bowels in the Porta-Potty just before my first run, this sounds like enough for me. Who wants to go 200 mph anyway?
Guthrie's partner in speed, Wayne Pollack, activates the 'Busa's 100 horsepower Nitrous Express nitrous system before Bayly makes his 202-mph run.
Back at the pit, Guthrie and Pollack are fueling bikes and getting set for the day's racing. Before I can take a shot at joining the Club, I have to earn an ECTA license and show that I have the ability to control a high-speed motorcycle. To do this I need to make three trial runs, first at 125 mph, then 150 and finally 175. In addition, there's also the small matter of familiarizing myself with Guthrie's motorcycle--a fearsome, nitrous-swilling, 260-horsepower Suzuki Hayabusa. I've never ridden anything with nitrous or an air shifter before, so I've got some learning to do.
Luckily, with a mostly stock engine, an extended swingarm and taller gearing, it turns out that Guthrie's 'Busa isn't too wild to ride. All I have to do is aim the bike down the airstrip, shift through the gears and break the timing lights at the correct speed. For my first run I dial 130 mph on the speedometer and basically coast through the timing lights, then head back to the pit to collect the timing slip and log my run. It's a record, of course, and fast enough to qualify me for my next 150-mph licensing run. Back meditating in the Porta-Potty again, "my" land-speed record duly noted in the books, 200 mph doesn't seem so far off.
And Then There Were Two
Guthrie and Pollack give the bike a quick once-over and send me back to the line for my 150-mph qualifying run. I jump back on, roll into the staging area and pull up next to a very serious-looking Kawasaki ZX-12R with its gas tank removed, a streamliner rear end, a whole bunch of nitrous plumbing and--what's this!?--S/F 2000 written on the number plate! No fair--this was supposed to be a one-man race! Sitting in the saddle of the big Ninja is a guy named Vincent Hill who, I later find out, has quite a racing pedigree; a former pro roadracer, Hill competed twice in the Daytona 200 in the mid-1980s. Sounds like competition.
Pay no attention to the nasty Ninja in the periphery. Instead, I focus on my next run, clicking off a 160.576-mph pass that allows me to advance to the next level. Guthrie and Pollack seem excited, which makes me feel a lot more confident now with a big, old smile on my face--until a few minutes later, when Hill appears in the out pit and cheerfully announces he has just gone 173 mph to take the record in our class! Now I can't wait to get back on the bike. All I have to do is top 175 mph to complete the last licensing run and take back my record. I hope like hell that Hill can't make it to 200 mph.
Pollack's instructions for this last licensing run are simple. "The bike should run 186 mph on motor alone, so holding the throttle at just under flat-out ought to do it for you." During the wait, I make polite-like with Hill and shoot the breeze until it's time to fly. I leave the line carefully, mindful of the lockup clutch, and tuck in behind the bubble before gassing the motor. Shifting just shy of 9800 rpm in each gear sees 175 mph at the top of fifth. Things are moving extremely fast. After a quick glance to confirm my speed, I grab another gear, rivet my eyes to the timing lights and roll on some more. Wow. What a rush. I brake for the first exit road. Taking the slight bend in the track at 150 mph is equally thrilling. The timing slip reads 183 mph, which means I'm now officially cleared to make an attempt at the infamous 200-mph barrier.
One hundred eighty-three mph, that's a speed to be proud of. Unfortunately, I hold this record for less than two minutes before Hill scorches off his next run at 187 mph--bastard! With a confident race face he announces he is moving up slowly, as he has all day, to get it right. I am flying on pure adrenaline now and hurry back to the start to take back my record. Lady Luck steps in as I arrive to find Pollack just a few vehicles back from the starting line. Seeing me return, and finding out I have my three licensing runs complete, he graciously gives me his spot in line, activates the nitrous system on the Hayabusa and goes over the shifting process.
"Remember, you are starting in first, so when you hit the air shifter the first time you will be going into second gear. Don't lose count of the gears. Keep the throttle pinned and hit the shift button when the blue light comes on. When you hit fifth gear--your fourth shift--bring your thumb over to the nitrous button and hold it till you see the blue light again. Shift to sixth, hit the juice and make yourself as small as possible. Remember, you are going into the 200-mph Club this run." Then Guthrie steps in and makes me practice my tuck position one more time. Looking straight into my eyes, he says simply, "You're ready!" At least one of us thinks so.
Rolling back to the line, I feel awfully alone. The starter checks my dead-man's tether and helmet strap, then gives me the thumbs-up. I select first gear, move my left foot well out of the way of the shift lever, push my butt back against the seat hump and ease out the clutch. There is a mile to get up to speed at Maxton, so a drag-style holeshot isn't necessary. But still, there's no sense in hanging around. The front wheel just barely skims the tarmac all the way down the airstrip.
The run goes off without a glitch--each shift is flawless; each nitrous charge is precisely timed. It's almost as if my body is acting on autopilot like some perfectly programmed robot rider. I hold the throttle steady all the way through the second timing light and use the whole mile-long exit area to slowly scrub off the speed, savoring the moment. As I head back to the pit, a smiling track official hoists two thumbs high in the air and mouths the words "two-oh-two." It was 202.247 mph, actually, according to my official time slip, making me the 47th member of the ECTA's 200-mph Club--in only four runs. It just couldn't have been any more perfect--and it wouldn't have been possible without the invaluable assistance of Scott Guthrie and Wayne Pollack. Thanks, guys!
Don't let this give you the idea that going 200 mph is as simple as showing up and twisting the grip--for proof of just how important the meticulous preparations and hard-won wisdom of experienced land-speed racers like Guthrie and Pollack are to this endeavor, consider the outcome of my Ninja-mounted nemesis, Vincent Hill. Hill and I were side by side for the entire afternoon, right up until that last run. While I was fortunate enough to just (barely) break the 200 mark, Hill was sent packing with a this-close best of 199.5 mph.
Remember that Hill has gobs more high-speed experience than I do, not to mention he's been chasing a record at Maxton for more than a year now--not for just a single afternoon. Yes, Maxton can indeed be a harsh mistress.
It's almost enough to make a good-hearted guy like me feel guilty. Almost.
Source: Super Streetbike