It was the 19th and 20th May, the sun was shining, street parties were in full flow for the Royal Wedding and a group of motorbike enthusiasts gathered together on Elvington Airfield in Yorkshire to watch a weekend of high speed racing.
Howard White our NERAK Engineer
Full of anticipation, Howard and brother Keith joined bikers gathering in the morning sunshine to listen to the organiser’s instructions.
The aim of the weekend being to collect a top speed record for their class riding a Yamaha 98cc.
After months of careful restoration, getting this beauty back on the strip to do what it did best was going to be an honour and a tribute to their mum and dad, Bill and Irene.
There were various categories of entry for the Top Speed Event. Howard was entering into the Standing Start Mile.
What I didn’t expect to see was a racing shed, at least 6ft x 4ft complete with bobbing plastic flowers.
Or…A motorbike engine with no steering facility inside a tyre the size of a penny farthing wheel…. Is this a cross between admirable adrenalin junky and borderline insanity?!
Everyone lined up their bikes and headed off down the runway in groups, the noise even at a distance, was comparable to the prelude to the sound barrier being broken. It was at that point that Howard and Keith were presented with their first challenge… The race organisers had updated the rules that morning and now a chain guard was needed….
Out came all the kit from the NERAK Van, tool box after tool box were placed on the tarmac and work on the spanners began to do a quick fix.
This was an unexpected delay and discussions were in full force while assembly and execution continued. Then it was finished, checked and authorised and Howard was ready to do his first run…..
Further changes in the set up meant that spectators were kept well back from the runway so we wished him good luck and he zoomed off into the distance towards the start line and out of sight.
Howard’s bike once started, couldn’t then be shut off, so we were guaranteed a quick turnaround at the start line. Sure enough moments later we could hear the sound of the engine humming as he went up through the gears and then he appeared in view, a distant figure glistening in haze.
He passed the finish line and continued off round the runway loop coming back to join us for a debrief.
The first run delivered a speed of 75mph. Howard explained, as he peeled himself back out of his racing leathers, that he suspected an issue in the fuel system as he hadn’t managed to push it further towards its top capabilities of 112mph.
Out came the spanners again and the changing of the fuel jets commenced.
By now it was nearly Midday and the smell of bbq’s were drifting through the air. The wives and girlfriends of the race teams gathered around their phones and TV screens in the backs of vans to watch the moment when Harry and Meghan got hitched. The boys continued racing.
There were oooh’s and awwww’s from the ladies watching the bride to be but they continued to look up at the track every now and then to see their loved ones shoot past. Some pulling a kilometre wheelies while travelling at 200mph! See the video:
The hot, sweating racers periodically returned to relay their stories while they too glanced at the royal proceedings. Then it was time for lunch.
Howard and Keith were happy that the bike was ready for round 2 so it removed from its elevated stand and steered backwards so its rear wheel was touching the front wheel of the NERAK van.
They used the speed of the spinning wheel to jump start the bike and my word, even with silencers, it was loud.
Keith, who had last raced the bike at competition some 40 years previous clearly still had that daredevil spirit and the brothers joked as Keith egged Howard on to floor it down the runway to the start line.
Howard being the one who had to hold on to this speed machine, was a little more cautious!
He returned for the second time but the engine still wasn’t right and rings off the carburetor had come loose on one side. This was frustrating and needed sorting quickly. The decision was made to change the spark plugs and further runs down the runway continued.
It was during these times that we learnt more about Howard and Keith’s childhood and the deep passion for motorbikes that was simply in their blood. They had such joy from these engines and you could witness that excitement everywhere you looked.
Keith let us into a secret that celebrations for this tribute weekend had begun the night before with a celebratory meal and several bottles of wine and Irish coffee. He said they were “there to enjoy themselves and soak up the ambiance, life’s too short to worry.”
I was reminded about the precariousness of life many times throughout the day. Especially when a lady called Becci hit a winning speed of 225mph but as she did so a sudden cross wind saw her move to near horizontal and she came within a whisker of ploughing into signage at the side of the runway as she fought to recover the bike back away from the edge of the tarmac.
She pulled up next to us, parked the bike up and rushed to the burger van. As she passed the tenner over the counter her hand was shaking like crazy, needless to say they gave her that coffee free of charge!
Bike after bike returned from its challenge, metalwork colourful and sparkling in the sunshine.
There was also a quad bike that hit 105mph, a scooter that did 106mph and the famous racing shed achieved 93pmh, with its VW V6 2.8 Ltr enginethat but it caught fire on its return and had to be put out by the burger van staff!
Sadly it came to light after several runs that the fault with Howard’s bike was more serious than first thought. It transpired that one of his pistons was defective and it wasn’t something that could be fixed there and then..
Howard achieved a top speed record but due to these engine problems, for now it was going to stick at 77mph.
Although it was disappointing that they hadn’t been able to get closer to the 112mph top speed, it was still a great result and Howard’s motto was simply to have fun and enjoy the atmosphere. “That’s the thing about racing, you just never know what will happen on the day.”
We really enjoyed ourselves, he said. The interest in the bike was huge, we saw lots of faces from the past and reminisced on old times, it was a fantastic two days.”
There was further excitement when Celebrity racer Guy Martin came down to test a friends superbike out on the Sunday.
So finally, after months of careful eating and intense exercise Howard can now sit back and relax.
No doubt it wont be for long though as he’s just announced he will be back at Elvington next year, “I aint going to leave it at that, I’ll be back for that 112 mph record!”