This summer, Abbey VanValkenburgh '13 shared this news with me. We both knew, it deserved a story. So, here it is.
Auburn alumni Charlie VanValkenburgh has captured the 1000cc Production(P-P) land speed record at Bonneville. He graduated from Auburn in 1980 with a degree in Industrial Engineering. (Impatient for the video? Go ahead.)
Charlie VanValkenburgh has been an industrial designer for 28 years. He worked at NASA on numerous projects, including the International Space Station. "After working in the Aerospace Field, mostly designing mechanisms for the international space station, I started a business called pit bull products, inc. to design and manufacture products for motorcycles."
"Industrial design was pretty consuming but I found time to play a few pick up sports like football and racquetball with my friends," VanVlalkenburgh said. "I have always loved motorcycles. My dad and brother had motorcycles when I was a kid and that got me interested."
"It took a lot of work to get a record at Bonneville and it was definitely a team effort. (In the end) the qualifying run and back up run were the 82nd and 83rd trips down the salt with the same bike," VanValkenburgh said.
The backstory tells the many facets of such a world record attempt. Team member George Hoffman shared many of the details. If you're like me, you'll likely be amazed by how many trips they all made to Utah's salt flats in order to achieve the dream. It took well over three years.
First, why would anyone want to take this challenge to heart?
VanValkenburgh said, "I don't know, I guess I've always liked a challenge. The element of speed is an adrenaline rush."
His love of motorcycles developed at an early age. "After my dad died and my brother moved away from the house, my mother said I would never have a motorcycle. She gave in, however, when I was 15 years old and a friend of the family gave me a motorcycle that did not run at the time. A friend helped me get it running and I guess I have been riding ever since." VanValkenburgh was ready when "some friends invited me to go to Bonneville three or four years ago to ride one of their bikes. After that experience I got the BMW S 1000RR and started working toward getting it ready to ride at Bonneville."
In October 2009, VanValkenburgh "was invited to Bonneville by Falkner Livingston Racing." That company, and it's owners, are long time friends of Pit Bull - VanValkenburgh's company. On that day, Charlie recorded a run at 180.7mph on a Kawasaki ZX12R. After that experience, he vowed to return to Bonneville "with a goal to reach 200mph," said George Hoffman, Pit Bull's operations manager.
In March 2010, VanValkenburgh's company - Pit Bull - purchased a BMW S1000RR from BMW Atlanta. In order to prepare it for the record breaking run, the bike was picked up by KWS Motorsports. They took the bike to their facility in order to run tests and build aftermarket parts for the motor.
"When we first heard of the new BMW we were quite skeptical of the HP (horsepower) claims and really did not expect to see any great difference from the current Japanese power figures. As it turns out the Germans brought plenty of their Formula One experience to the table and re-wrote the 1000cc records in a big way. When Charlie contacted us to start the project we thought it would be a great way to get some firsthand knowledge of the new technology and it really did open our eyes," said Kevin Hunt, owner of KWS Motorsports.
In August 2010, "Charlie makes the trip to Bonneville Salt Flats to make his first runs on the BMW. The
quick-shifter did not work at all and additional shifting issues added to the challenge. Charlie V reached
a top speed of 190mph while chasing a class record of 194.5mph. We didn't come away with a record
but did learn a few things that would come in handy later," Hoffman said.
Two months later, in October 2010, "There was a mad rush to get the S1000RR ready for the next trip and Charlie V would end up leaving Huntsville, AL Monday evening, driving straight through to arrive Tuesday night, and then started making runs on the salt by Wednesday morning," Hoffman said. "Charlie would achieve a top speed of 193mph early but the bike was losing power throughout the week and would not be able to continue to improve on that time."
Almost a year passes by. In August 2011, "Shortly before returning to Bonneville, Pit Bull enlisted the talents of Barry McMahan (formerly of Team Hammer's AMA Race Team) to help further develop the S1000RR and
help us get it ready," Hoffman said.
This trip had to be a bit heart-breaking.
"Barry rebuilt the motor, did some porting, compression work, etc. with the limited time that he had and then accompanied Charlie V to the Salt Flats. Early in the week, a new class record would be set at 197.116mph. Charlie would beat that record later in the week with a run at 197.457mph," Hoffman said.
"When a new record speed is set at Bonneville, the bike goes into 'impound' until the following morning and then a second run is made and the average of the two times is the time used to determine if the new record speed will be confirmed. Unfortunately the next morning brought an 8mph head/cross wind which made it impossible to back the record run up as Charlie could only get the BMW up to 195.026. Still, all runs made that week were better than we had run on our previous trip so Charlie V left Bonneville feeling good about our upcoming October trip," Hoffman said.
Two months later, in October 2011, "Barry McMahan would continue working on the bike trying to find more speed and did increase the horsepower by a considerable margin before the bike would be packed up and taken to the Salt Flats again. Charlie even ordered a new set of leathers with the armor removed to be more aerodynamic. Unfortunately Charlie and Barry would arrive at Bonneville only to see the entire event be canceled due to a continuous downpour of rain. The S1000RR was brought back to Alabama where it would continue to be developed in preparation for the August 2012 Bonneville Speed Week."
So, August 2012 has arrived. "Charlie heads out from Huntsville, Alabama to prepare for the event. Barry McMahan will fly out to Utah shortly thereafter to provide on-site support and tuning. Now it's time to see if all that hard work pays off," Hoffman said.
Finally, the run for the record takes place. On August 17, 2012, Charlie V made back-to-back runs 199.326 and 197.166 to break the old record of 197.116 and set a new record of 198.246 mph.
I asked VanValkenburgh about the inherent danger of his efforts. Considering the man is comfortable riding a motorcycle at about 200 mph, I guess we shouldn't be surprised by his answer. "It seems dangerous but I consider it a calculated risk. I know that I could get hurt but if everything is done correctly the chances of getting hurt are relatively small. I would rather fall off a bike at high speed than be hit by a car at 60 mph."
"I would like to thank and congratulate Barry McMahan for building a bike that will go 199 mph with a stock pipe and air box," VanValkenburgh said.
"My fiancé Carolyn has been there through the ups and downs of this struggle and ridden down the return road many times to pick me," VanValkenburgh said.
Such an effort takes many supportive people. From sponsors to family members, all the pieces came together allowing Charlie to fulfill his dream. "My favorite sponsor is the collective group of pit bull customers who made this all possible. Paul and Becca Livingston of Spider Grips for getting me addicted to the salt. Rod Falkner of DuMonde Tech for making great lubricants and for tech support. Scott Moore of Fast Finish for giving the bike the look it needed to go fast. Dave at Worldwide Bearings, Kevin Hunt and Michael Godin of KWS Motorsports, Karen McMahan, Sportbike Track Gear, Walt Schaefer, Millennium Technologies, Web Cam, CP Carillo, and Chicken Hawk for quality goods and services," VanValkenburgh said.
After three long years, VanValkenburgh is happy to express his grateful feelings "for support on the salt my daughter Abbey plus Doug Tate, Ben Tate, Billy Pruitt, Craig Watson and Terry Hulbert." They all made it happen.