Bonneville and Beyond Wisconsin’s Land Speed Racing Champions

Their stories are woven with common threads—passion for speed and the machines that make it, challenge, family, friends, camaraderie and long-held dreams.

These are the themes that came up often in the discussion of land speed racing among the five Bonneville competitors that spoke at the Bonneville and Beyond symposium held in Black Earth, Wis., April 29.

A close-up view of Bill Whisenant’s 1,000cc Ducati.
A close-up view of Bill Whisenant’s 1,000cc Ducati.

The event was organized by Director of the Black Earth, WI, public library, Carolyn Shaffer. In the spirit of her Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies Symposium held last year, it brought together some of Wisconsin’s motorcycle land speed racers to talk about their machines, the Bonneville experience and what it meant to them.

The panel included Bill Whisenant, Lew Terpstra, Tym Williams, Patrick Zeigle and Gary Ilminen, Peter Egan of Cycle World and Road & Track fame was featured as moderator.

As was the case last year, the event drew a sizable crowd, nearly filling the seating available at the Black Earth Historical Society site, which is a former church building with beautiful amphitheater-style seating.

Gary Ilminen started things off with a PowerPoint presentation that covered his four trips to Bonneville between 2009 and 2014. He related how his first trip to Bonneville was to compete in the SCTA/BNI World Finals with the help of Bill Whisenant and Jim Haraughty. That trip didn’t result in a record but lit the fire for three more return trips culminating in an AMA national record in the 350cc P/PC class of 80.102 mph in 2014 at the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials (BMST) with a 1974 Honda CB350F. All that is chronicled in the book, The Unlikely 1.

Patrick Ziegle’s record-setting Whizzer and Ilminen’s record-holding 350cc Production class Honda.
Patrick Ziegle’s record-setting Whizzer and Ilminen’s record-holding 350cc Production class Honda.

Tym Williams who is the Manager of Certified Pre-owned vehicles for Engelhart Motorsports in Madison, WI, shared a compelling story of how land speed racing brought his family closer together. Williams explained that family members had drifted apart over the years and that it was land speed racing that brought them back together to enjoy the triumph of multiple AMA national speed records since 2013 and to weather the loss of one of their own, Wallace “Dave” Williams later that year.

Their team accomplishments included AMA national speed records by Dennis P. Williams, with co-holder Tymothy Williams, 2013, 650cc M-AG class at the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials, at 158.414 mph; Tymothy W. Williams, AMA national speed record 2016, 650cc MPS-AF class at BMST at 171.74 mph and Wallace “Drew” Williams, AMA national speed record, 2016, 750cc P/P class at BMST, 170.786 mph.

Lew Terpstra told of working with Bill Whisenant’s shop in Madison, Motorcycle Performance in prepping his vintage Triumph for competition at Bonneville. Terpstra is focusing his efforts on runs at SCTA events and, while his bike hasn’t made it into the record books yet, he is optimistic. As with the other participants, he spoke of the tremendous spirit of camaraderie there is at Bonneville and how everyone helps everyone.

Peter Egan was the moderator for the event and Carolyn Shaffer, director of the Black Earth, WI, Public Library was the event organizer.
Peter Egan was the moderator for the event and Carolyn Shaffer, director of the Black Earth, WI, Public Library was the event organizer.

Patrick Zeigle told of campaigning some remarkable bikes at Bonneville, including his unique quest for an SCTA record on a modified Harley-Davidson Hummer (61.344 mph in the 125cc M/VG class) and vintage Whizzer and pulled it off with both!

Bill Whisenant, the sage of speed among the group, told of campaigning his top fuel bikes on the drag strip and the salt. His shop, Motorcycle Performance http://www.motorcycleperf.com/ in Madison boasts the quickest Ducati on the strip (7.99 sec. at 178.42 mph, the first to do a sub-eight second run) and the fastest Ducati on the salt in North America with a top speed of 212.959 mph.

In their 2017 campaign at the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials, they came back with two AMA Class records: 169.426 mph in the 750cc A-AF class with Nick Moore piloting the Ducati and 177.987 mph in the 1,000cc APS-BG class with Bill Whisenant at the controls.

As exciting as those speeds had to be, it was clear that the thing that got Whisenant’s heart rate up was being told one of his shop’s records was disqualified after setting the apparent record because the numbers on the number plate were wrong. The situation, found to be a clerical error, was eventually cleared up and the record stood, but it was one of those things that can happen in racing that makes the challenge a little hairier and the victory all the sweeter.

 Patrick Ziegle’s record-setting Harley Hummer is lean, clean and sounded mean with an unrestricted expansion chamber exhaust.
Patrick Ziegle’s record-setting Harley Hummer is lean, clean and sounded mean with an unrestricted expansion chamber exhaust.

Another of Wisconsin’s land speed record holders, Jim Haraughty, resides down in Arizona these days and was unable to attend, but his (2010) SCTA record-setting efforts on a partially streamlined 650cc APS-PBF Triumph at 132.290 mph were also recalled.

Event organizer, Carolyn Shaffer, won high praise from panelists and attendees alike. The event came off without a hitch and she hints that there may be a similar event next spring, this time focusing on adventure motorcycling. Stay tuned to the Black Earth Public Library site and Ultimate Motorcycling for the latest.

Bonneville and Beyond Wisconsin’s Land speed Racing Champions Symposium | Photo Gallery