Cycle News

Cycle News 2016 Issue 30 August 2

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Page 119 of 119

VOL. 53 ISSUE 30 AUGUST 2, 2016 P119 sights set on 360 mph in his E-Z Hook liner. Sam's first pass was a mind-blowing 355 mph, but the frenzy quickly quieted with the next radio message: the E-Z Hook liner had gone down. Much to everyone's relief, Sam was okay. He blew a front tire and fortunately had the chute out be- fore the liner went on its side and skidded to a stop. The most heart- breaking of all was the fact that Sam could not back up his record- breaking time (you have two hours to complete a return run, and your final score is an average of the two passes). He had the fastest unofficial time of the meet, and arguably the fastest motorcycle in the world, yet he would not make it into the record books. It was the fastest speed Wheeler would ever reach in his E-Z Hook liner. It seemed so unfair, yet Sam took it all in stride. He had a Co- ors Light in his hand and a smile on his face by the time the wreck- age of his pristine streamliner had been towed back to the pits. I was fascinated with this quiet, brilliant man that everyone had such praise for. He didn't have much to say about himself at the event, and wouldn't volunteer much information about his E-Z Hook effort except to thank ev- eryone who helped him, namely Terry Kizer (aka Mr. Turbo). Several months later I tracked Sam down at his shop in Arca- dia, California to do a follow-up story. I told him I wanted to find out what's next for him and the "unofficial" fastest motorcycle in the world. "I wish I knew," he replied. He welcomed me to his shop within the E-Z Hook office building where he worked as an engineer for over 20 years. His streamliner lay dormant in a small, windowless room in the corner, as humble and quiet as he was. It still bore the skid marks along the entire right side of the body, and beside it were the shredded remains of the ill-fated front tire. Behind it on a shelf were two crumbling clay models—exact scale replicas of his streamliner. "This is the one they tested un- der water," Wheeler said. "And this one they tested in the wind tunnel." "They" was a group of graduate students at nearby Caltech, who were involved with the design of his streamliner. Against the much larger and far more powerful motorcycle streamliners, Sam em- ployed a different tactic. He spent less time on a dyno and more time in a wind tunnel to find his speed. It was working, except that it left him with a limited front-wheel size and subsequently fewer options. It wasn't as simple as just finding a new front tire, since there were literally no more in existence for his particular application. He had moved on to considering a com- posite front wheel—an idea that would require a lot of research and development. Before the front wheel issue, Sam explained they had a prob- lem getting the chute to deploy. For some reason, it wouldn't come out at speed. They even resorted to installing a shotgun firing mechanism. He finally discovered it was the negative air pressure behind the streamliner preventing the flaps from open- ing. He solved that problem, and many others to that point, but now needed to figure out a solu- tion to his front tire problem. "It must be infuriating to have done all that work just to be held back by one wheel," I remarked. It was then that Sam said something I never forgot. "You're always going to have a limiting factor." He said it so matter-of-factly. It's true about land speed racing, and it's true about life, and the pursuit of any goal. You always have one limiting factor. You have to find it, solve it, and take the next step. Repeat as needed. Land speed racing is per- petual problem solving, break- ing through limits and reaching uncharted territory. It takes a brilliant, meticulous, patient and passionate mind to do it—a mind like Sam Wheeler's. His death is a shocking and tragic loss to the entire land speed racing community, not only be- cause of his remarkable mind, but because of his kind, humble and humorous personality. I'm honored to say I got to raise a few pints with Sam. It was a privilege to know him, even for a short while. Godspeed, Sam. CN

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