weekend at Loring Timing Assoc.
by Mike Maitem Photos supplied by the author unless noted
This was it, I finally managed to register and compete in a Land Speed Racing event. I've dreamed about riding, flat-out, at Bonneville for years, I watched "The World’s Fastest Indian" and wondered "how do I get there?"
I finally used the resources of "google-pedia" and discovered there are only a few places/organizations that run Land Speed events. The closest one of these to me is at a defunct airstrip in Limestone Maine, run by an organization called the Loring Timing Association. "Close" is of course a relative term, it's about 10 hours with stops for gas and a "required" stop at the New Hampshire State Liquor store, just to get there.
For those of you with abbreviated attention spans I'll give you the abridged version. I did some work to my 2014 Yamaha FZ-09, I brought it to an airport, relative to what the bike was designed for, I went fast... There, now that that is out of the way, for the three of you still reading, here's the lowdown...
I passed lots of nice rv's on my way up that made me very jealous as I was informed there are no facilities at the AFB other than Porta-johns and a roach-coach, so I packed a small tent and some extra ice water for "bathing" along with my two motorcycles into the trailer I bought the weekend prior to the event and headed out.
While driving north, one of those nice little rv's that likely had a bed, a shower and a fridge that could cool the liquor I'd be buying was nice enough to toss what sounded like a brick sized pebble at my windscreen which left my first land speed event souvenir, a "spider" in my windscreen. Not a stellar start to my journey, but I guess it fit in pretty well with the seemingly tens of thousands of moths and flies spattered all over my grill and windscreen...
Fizzy was finally finished in tech so I grabbed her, checked the oil level and tire pressures, suited up, and as people had started running already, I rode over to the practice strip. I'm not even sure how long the practice strip is, it's likely a mile and a half or so. I brought fizzy up to an indicated 100mph nice and easy, smooth as butter. I took the access road which is between the parallel practice strip and the main runway, came back and made another practice run, this time up to 125mph. Smooth sailing. A smirk found its way across my face; all of a sudden that ten hour drive didn't seem so bad. Besides, there were people from Virginia and Pennsylvania here, that fact made my drive look like child's play.
I took a quick breather, made sure to hydrate, then I lined up in the queue behind a few other motorcycles and cars. The rules are pretty simple, if you have a mechanical issue pull off to the left, if you have some sort of more serious issue, most notably medical, pull off to the right, rescue will roll immediately.
There are two speed traps, one at 1 mile, marked by orange flags and one at 1.5 miles, marked by checkered flags and some flashing lights. The flags are on pvc poles and everything is designed to break-away so as to cause as little damage as possible to an errant vehicle or rider. I should probably mention at this point the runway is 2.5 miles long, 300' wide of 6' deep poured concrete or so I read somewhere. It boggles my mind thinking about how much concrete that is! My quick calculation, for $***'s and giggles, comes up with 13200*300*6 of 23,760,000 cubic feet of concrete!!!
The runway is bordered by fairly tall grass but there are runway lights, the runway lights, as I was told, are mounted on concrete platforms and surrounded by a metal cage to protect them from landing gear and crashing Stratofortress aircraft I suppose. All of us were STRONGLY advised not to hit them. Unfortunately it had happened only two years prior and the result still echoes among the competitors to this day.
The waiting line was quick and I told Paul, the gentleman that gives the final "invitation" (if you see the actual gesture you will know what I mean) to get moving, that I was a rookie and I needed to do my "around 125mph" licensing run. In the LTA you have to show that you can run 125 before you are allowed to go faster than that. Similarly to run over 150mph you have get signed off at about 150mph. The sign off sheet is a sticker on your helmet with 125, 150 and 175 on it. Paul told me I'd be "running over 150 in no time". He had more confidence than I.
The Yamaha fz-09 comes from the factory limited to 132mph. I had no idea how fast it would go since I had the ecu reflashed with the speed limiter removed, but it was only designed to do 132, I was hoping but not confident it would break 150, that was my goal so I could get my "C" license. D is for below 150 mph, a "C" license is required to run over 150, a "B" license for over 175, "A" is 200+, AA is 250+ and finally a "U" is granted for over 300mph!
There are loudspeakers at the starting area and you can hear all the checks that the volunteers go through before they release the next vehicle. As well as the speeds at the mile and the mile-and-a-half.
It was finally my turn and Paul gave me the "invitation", I was off. The first and last thousand feet of pavement are grooved for additional friction under braking duress for the airplanes, it's noticeable but not much of a hindrance. Once I cleared that it was nothing but smooth concrete as far as the eye could see, it was a bit surreal. I aimed for the gap between the orange flags while shifting through all of the gears, once in top gear I molded my body around the motorcycle. I scooted my bum back to the passenger portion of the banana seat, squeezed my knees into the narrowest part of the front of the seat, put my chin on the tank, toes on the footpegs and tucked my heels in as high and tight as possible. Before I realized it, and long before the orange flags, I had already exceeded 125mph! I had to back off! This fz-09 is a bit of a hooligan, I had only added a slip-on muffler, new airfilter and reflashed the ecu, the gas tank was "trimmed" and clip-ons were installed in place of the giant upright handlebar. Maybe fizzy was looking at the huge expanse of smooth concrete through her Cyclops headlight and she didn't want to go that slow.
I passed the one mile mark at an indicated 128-129 or so and the mile and a half just a little less. Eased off after passing the checkered flags and flashing lights of the finish line at 1.5 miles turned left at the "far shut down" and took the return road trying to keep it at 45-ish. The organizers ask you to keep it reasonable there, but it feels like it takes FOREVER to get back to the paddock at anything less than 100mph!
After a veritable eternity I got back to my paddock space hopped off my the bike and walked to the registration/timing trailer. You just tell whomever is there your number and they give you your little square slip that has your time at the mile and the mile-and-a-half, as well as the current record at both distances for your class. Surprisingly, to me, my speeds were 127.474 and 120.821 at the mile and 1.5 mile marks respectively! This is fun, but I need to go faster! I trotted back and brought fizzy back to the staging area. For licensing runs you get to bypass all the lines so I got to pull to the rightmost staging lane and wait there. I was up to the start line, Paul crossed out the 125 on my helmet sticker and had me out for my 150mph-ish run in no time.
This run was very similar to the first, I took off easy, tucked in slowly as I progressed through the gears. I hit top gear somewhere before a half mile in then worked on molding myself around the bike again. Well before the mile mark I was at 150mph and had to modulate the gas to keep it close to 150! I was pretty excited! Fizzy was good for over 150!!! I was going to get my "C" license!!! Actually not all of that was on my mind because it felt like a sumo wrestler was pushing against the front of my face! Well, helmet really. Fizzy is a "naked" bike, meaning no wind protection at all! I had lost enough focus that I forgot to plant the chin of my helmet on the gas tank... The orange flags at the one mile mark whizzed past me. I got my helmet under control and then the checkered flags flew by with my speedometer indicating in the low 150's at both marks! I "crawled" back to my spot into the paddock and walked over to timing. I had clocked 150.7 and 150.0mph! I was now the proud owner of a "C" license! It was finally time to let fizzy loose.
Actually, for some reason I felt compelled to give some love to my Kawasaki Ninja 650. The little twin had gone through tech already and was only in need of safety wire on the front axle. I promptly broke two more of the safety wire drill bits and was finally able to "borrow" a slightly thicker diameter drill bit. IT WORKED!I finally finished the safety wire, rode by tech in full gear and lined up. They smiled as they checked the front axle and gave me the all clear. I pulled into the staging area as I couldn't use the licensing run lane. There are four "staging lines" competitors can queue up in before they can be called up to the start line, but things move pretty quick and it was mostly one to two lines when I was there. The staging area was a nice spot to chat with fellow competitors while you waited for your turn and the weather was perfect which probably made the wait seem fairly pleasant. When you get to the line you get to hear all of the radio chatter that helps the event run smooth... And you get to hear the speeds of the competitors as they pass the speed traps.
There are some mighty fast vehicles that run Loring AFB. I overheard at some point that The Loring Timing Association runs a tight ship and things run much "better" than at other organizations which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. In this case "better" equals more runs! That's a good thing in my book. It wasn't long before I was at the start line. While there I was chuckling to myself because the scrutineers were a little wary, as they said any motorcycle capable of running over 125 should have a steering dampener. Obviously they were not familiar with the ninja 650r. Every review I had read gave a top speed of 120mph. Other than the fact that I had removed all to the lighting, as she is my track bike, she was bone stock. I had also had a good laugh while waiting as one of the other motorcycle competitors commented on my lack of "chicken strips". Apparently, if you have that much lean while land speed racing, it a VERY bad thing.
Anyway, so as not to bore you too much, when I finally was able to let the Ninja loose, she got up to about 120mph before about a half mile and didn't really change much after that as she was on the rev limiter. My top speed of several runs, regardless of my ability to tuck, tailwind included, was 123.712mph. Compared to fizzy, pretty sedate. I was going to have to see what fizzy could do next.
I brought my ninja back. I hydrated, checked the oil and tires, lined up in the staging area with my FZ-09, and awaited my turn. I had the chance to enjoy the perfect weather, mid-summer is gorgeous in Maine. I met a fellow competitor who was riding a gorgeous MV Agusta F4 (my favoritest bike ever!) that he picked up for under $6000!!! He knew a guy that just wanted to get rid of it. Come on! Where was I?!?!?
Anyway, I eventually got to the start line and it was my turn. I put my visor down, dropped her into first and released the clutch. Again, I eased off the line, went through the gears, hit sixth at around a half mile, and worked on molding myself around the motorcycle. Bum back, knees tight, forearms level, chin down. The speedometer crept up, 120... 130... 140... 150... It still seemed quite surreal, but I was getting pretty excited to see where this would wind up. 160! Progress was slower now. Before I hit the one mile mark my speedo settled at 163mph!!! I continued to try and melt my shoulders and body to the bike, but the speedo was seemingly frozen... It bounced between 162 and 163 for the next half mile, I think it held at 163 as I crossed the finish!!! I'm sure that plenty of you have noticed that your speedometers are generally inaccurate, I kept that in mind as I returned to my paddock.
I hopped off my bike and trotted over to the timing trailer to grab my slip. A top speed of 159.504 at the mile and 159.551 at the mile and a half! I was so excited! And yet, as any racer likely would be, I was disappointed I didn't break 160mph! I was so close!!!
The day was pretty much done, but I checked my fluids and tires and lined up for, hopefully, one last run before the Loring Timing Association shut it down for the penultimate day of the four day event. I pulled into the very short staging line as most everyone had called it a day already. I was told I would be the last run of the day. Conditions were cool and there was a very slight tailwind, the sun was setting and it was a beautiful evening that could only get better if I broke into the 160's.
The motorcycle ahead of me got the go ahead and headed into the distance, It wouldn't be long now. A couple of minutes later I heard the radio chatter. Apparently the previous bike had dropped some debris on track. I'm sure that, even with the helmet and full leathers on, the deflation of my entire body was visible at the end of the 2.5 mile runway. As it was getting darker the debris search turned up nothing my hopes of hitting 160 today ended. The officials were very kind and told me that they would give me priority so that I could be the first run on the last day of the event. I was grateful, but a big fat juicy burger, giant fries and a whiskey couldn't mask my inner torment, trust me, I tried it.
The next day arrived, just as early as the first, same greenish/yellow glow inside my test at a rather unreasonably early hour. But this time I was a little more upbeat. I did my imitation of a shower using the icewater from my cooler and a washcloth as it had been a couple days since I bathed with anything that didn't start with the word "deodorant" and end in the work "stick". After my ADL's were taken care of I gave my bike a once over and brought Fizzy over to the staging area a couple hours ahead of time. I futzed around for a bit, attended the driver's meeting they hold every morning and geared up for my first run of the last day.
True to their promise, I was able to line up first and I sat, anxiously at the starting line awaiting 9am when the runs officially started. As I was waiting Paul, the started, told me with the utmost of confidence that I was going to break 160. At 9am the track was cleared and I was given the "go and have fun" gesture by Paul with an extra good luck tip of the hat and his usual "don't forget to put your visor down" hand signal as well. It would have been a lot to take in, but my mind was already on my path ahead when I heard over the radio that the track was clear.
I ran calmly through the gears as I crossed the grooved pavement then the track became nice and smooth. I got to top gear at around the half mile mark and moved my bum back onto the passenger pillion and molded my body around the cut down gas tank as best I could. Got my toes on my pegs and squeezed my knees and ankles in as tight as I could. I realized there was a small gap between my elbows and the bike so I curled my shoulders on the tank, tucked my elbows in tight and chocked up on the already stubby clip-on handlebars. My speedo read 166 at the mile mark! It was smooth sailing most of the way to the mile and a half. Until... it seemed as though I was a hundred feet from the finish when something happened. It felt as though I rode through a wall of water, the bike was suddenly nervous and felt unstable. And at well over a buck and a half with only leathers and a helmet to protect me I suddenly felt very vulnerable. I took a little bit off the throttle and crossed the finish line with a sigh of relief and a bit of elation as I must have surpassed 160mph but may need to check my skivvies. While slowing down I gave my bike a little wiggle, eased on and off throttle and tried front and rear brakes, everything felt solid. Running through that sensation I determined it was most likely the tailwind letting up, or a slight crosswind. Conditions had been nothing short of perfect for my previous runs, the slight change of conditions magnified by running over 150mph was quite the eye opener. It did give me a newfound respect for those racers that surpass 200, even 300mph!
I pulled into the paddock, checked my bike and found nothing amiss. Walked over to the timing trailer... 163.486 at the mile, 162.929 at the mile and a half!!! It felt good, real good to do that on a motorcycle limited from the factory at 132mph. I did a few more passes after that with both bikes, but I as I had a 8 hour return trip ahead of me and work the next day I packed up and said goodbye to some great people and an amazing experience. I headed out wondering when I would be back and how I would explain that my wife's "new to us" Toyota suddenly developed a crack in the windshield.
Sadly my work prevented me from attending the "Harvest event", which is the second of two events run at Loring AFB in 2018. Fizzy is still sitting in my garage, now having a 6" stretch and will be mildly lowered with new gearing that should be good for somewhere in the 170's. I was planning to run her in the 2019 "Maine event" but I now have a new project 2007 cbr1000rr and fizzy will need to go. My goal is now 200mph at Loring and maybe a run at Bonneville, if I can get there. On my budget and work schedule it's a BIG ask, but people do it, so why can't I? And, for that matter, you can too. Most any bike or car is eligible to run at Loring AFB with some safety mods, and if you want a prepped and proven bike, fizzy is available.
Mike Maitem is a long time motorsports enthusiast and racer from the Connecticut area. His credentials include racing with SCCA in cars and track days on his Ninja 650. Now he adds land speed to his resume. Copyright© 2019 This material may not be reproduced without consent of the author.