(Editor’s Note: this is the
first of a two-part series
about Christian Grisier’s
motorcycle run at the
Bonneville Salt Flats.)
What started out as a crazy idea between a couple of friends resulted in untold hours of preparation, “more money (spent) than I care to think about,” a 37-hour straight-through drive, and a trip across the Bonneville Salt Flats on a motorcycle traveling over 136 miles an hour.
Christian Grisier, an Archbold native, said his friend, Elliot England, originally from Wauseon, had talked him into buying a motorcycle. Originally, Grisier said, he was looking for a way to save money on gas.
“If you’d have told me 2 1/2 years ago I’d own a motorcycle, let alone race one in the world’s fastest event, I’d have said you were crazy,” Grisier said.
Grisier said the only motorcycle he really liked was the bike Steve McQueen, an actor and motorcycle racer, rode in “The Great Escape.”
The motorcycle, a Triumph Bonneville, is being made again, England told Grisier.
Grisier bought a Bonneville without ever having ridden a motorcycle.
Grisier and England are United States Air Force F-16 crew chiefs assigned to the 180th Tactical Fighter Wing at Toledo. They maintain and repair single-engine jet fighters.
In fact, even though the two grew up only about 10 miles apart, they never met until 2003, in the Air Force.
Both are Iraq veterans.
As USAF mechanics, both were used to tearing things apart. Compared to an F-16, the motorcycles were simple, so they began making modifi cations.
Then, about 10 months ago, England “gave me a call and said, ‘I’ve got a crazy idea,’” Grisier said. “‘Let’s take the Thruxton (England’s motorcycle) to Bonneville and see how fast it will go.'”
On top of that, England wanted Grisier to ride it. When Grisier asked why, England said, “Because you weigh 60 pounds less than I do.”
Their first goal was to do it all without sponsorships, funding the whole effort out of their own pockets.
“Just two guys doing it ourselves, out to see how fast we could go,” he said.
They did a lot of research and began modifying England’s motorcycle, removing unnecessary weight and adding horsepower.
“I’d never planned to do my own maintenance beyond changing the oil. We found ourselves tearing elbowsdeep into stuff owners are never suppose to see,” Grisier said.
Once the modifications were complete, the 59-horsepower engine generated over 80 hp.
Starting in January, Grisier began modifying himself. Realizing that extra weight reduces speed, he began a diet and lost 40 pounds. About six feet tall, he weighs about 140 pounds.
Four days before they were to leave for the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwest Utah, the engine was not in the motorcycle frame. The last modification was made Thursday, Aug. 12 , the day crew left.
They’d never really tested the bike, and Christian had never raced on salt.
Six members of what is now “Her Majesty’s Fly by Fire Race Team” drove straight through to Bonneville.
Saturday morning, Aug. 14, they hit the salt.
“It’s unbelievable,” Grisier said. “It’s just salt, salt, salt, as far as the eye can see. It looks like Antarctica, except it’s really hot.”
There were already thousands of people there with other race teams from around the world.
“They all had nice trailers with their names painted on them, and matching mechanic’s outfits. We’ve got… nothing.”
The first problem was getting through the Southern California Timing Association technical inspection. The bike passed with a couple of small changes.
But Grisier’s leather racing suit wouldn’t pass, because it had small perforations for ventilation. Race officials fear that if the motorcycle caught fire, the flames would penetrate the perforations.
Luck intervened, and they ran into a French Canadian racer who needed some modifi cations to his motorcycle. They fixed his bike, and the Canadian loaned him the racing suit. The pants were too short and the jacket was too big, but it would work.
By Sunday, they were third in line to make their run; but racing ended for the day. They would have to come back Monday, Aug. 16.
On the last day, Grisier was in line wearing the Canadian race suit with “Pierre” on the front, getting ready to make the bike’s first tuning run– and his rookie run. He was full of anticipation and emotion.
“It’s a lot like being in line for a ride at Cedar Point, except you don’t have that feeling knowing everything is going to be okay. You don’t have that security. It’s real nerve-wracking,” Grisier said.
England’s father, Mike, gave Grisier an American flag that was flown during a combat mission in Iraq and asked him to carry it on the run.
He stowed it inside the too-large racing suit.
As Grisier was getting ready to go, England asked, “You got any love for me?”
“Thanks for getting me into this,” Grisier said.
“I’ll see you in about three miles,” England said.
Soon after that, that starter gave Grisier the “go” signal.
(Next week: Grisier describes
his race across the