By Dick Williams
I made it to Maxton this past Saturday on what turned out to be a cold, blustery day, where the wind chill factor keep the temperature “feel” in the 40’s for most of the day (despite the cloud cover lifting in the afternoon). My conclusion, after spending about four hours (divided between the start line, the finishing line and circulating among the waiting racers) is that, although watching was fun, participating would have been much more fun.
Since the only racing that I have personally witnessed has been at large, professionally run facilities, I was not prepared for the quaint, almost folksy feel to the event. Access off a secondary highway (about like NC 133) was via a dirt/gravel road that connected to some partially paved areas that looked like the streets of an abandoned housing subdivision. Scattered here and there were people with trailers, campers and RV’s. A badly decomposed secondary runway ran in parallel to the “track”, a longer runway of about 2 miles in length no longer used to support airplanes. Along the secondary runway were arrayed the dizzying variety of vehicles and their drivers, all lined up and creeping towards the start line. This line up of vehicles was at least ¼ mile in length, representing an average wait time of 1 hour or so.
To keep things in perspective, the East Coast Timing Association (ECTA) does in fact have rigid safety rules that are strictly enforced (I found this out the hard way when I got too close to the starting area on my K12GT). Starts were done professionally, and only one vehicle was allowed on the runway at a time (they were properly spaced). All of this spit and polish when it came to safety just seemed a little odd when juxtaposed against the semi-abandoned airfield with muddy, decaying roads and unpicked cotton fields on all sides. It was a far cry from the pristine conditions at VIR or Daytona. So, too , were the riders and drivers who wore all manner of racing “get ups” (evidently all ECTA sanctioned). Although leathers were required for the bike riders, which gave them somewhat of a uniform appearance), the auto vehicle drivers at one extreme looked ready to step into a NASCAR (full flame retardant suit, head sock, helmet, driving boots, etc.) while those with much slower production vehicles were wearing almost ordinary clothing (with a helmet being their only really distinguishing characteristic).
The key to land speed racing is that all vehicles, in a sense, can qualify to do it. The question is simply how fast can you make the vehicle (with a given engine displacement, state of tune, etc.) go from a standing stop to the one mile mark. I did not study the rule book carefully, but there are literally dozens and dozens of racing classifications for all manner of vehicles. By way of illustration, I saw everything from showroom stock vehicles of all vintages to airplane-like vehicles with aft-mounted parachutes that are always pictured on the Bonneville Salt Flats (200 + MPH).
During my time at the track, the fastest motorcycles (most stock, or slightly modified, versions of the Suzuki Hayabusa) averaged in the 180’s. However, the fastest vehicle that I saw run that day was a specially modified race bike that cleared the traps at 226 MPH. Watching these machines pass by at those speeds had an air of unreality to it, as if one were watching special effects in a movie (most commercial jets are not traveling that fast, either on takeoff or landing).
One special treat of the day for me was watching a number of members of a vintage motorcycle club racing their 100cc to 200cc machines. While a few of these were roughhewn vintage race bikes, some (like a his-and-her pair of BMW R27’s) were beautifully restored with flawless paint and detailing. At one point, I stood at the starting line and watched with a certain amount of bemusement a vintage race bike rider (who must have been at least 70 years old) crouch expectedly at the starting line on a tiny 175cc race prepared Honda, blipping his throttle in anticipation of the start. I remember thinking that he could not possibly go more than 70 MPH on a single cylinder machine like that. To my absolute amazement, his terminal speed was announced as 104 MPH!
It was indeed an historic occasion, given that Maxton field is being turned into a special area for training antiterrorist units of the military, and ECTA racing there will evidently be ended forever. The transformation had already begun to take place with dirt roads named (“Baghdad Avenue”), artificially created earth embankments, and what appeared to be fortifications of some kind. In the future, all ECTA events are being moved to Wilmington, Ohio. I cannot believe what I missed out on for the last 10 years, or that I will have to journey 600 miles to see the next one of these.