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When racer, engineer and all around speed freak Warner Riley raced Harleys at the fabled Bonneville Salt Flats back in the 1960s, he did so not thinking about etching his name in motorcycling history. Riley, like many motorcycle racers of his generation, had become addicted to the satisfying rush of top-end speed, and headed to the fabled Utah dry lake for some very unofficial bragging rights. Nothing more, really. Shortly after Riley ventured to Bonneville 1969, to be precise Southern California drag racer and engine builder Carl Morrow also heard the distant rumble of speed at the famous Salt Flats. Morrow’s self-named business Carl’s Speed Shop was among the pioneer race teams to turn out big, 74-cubic-inch Sportsters that were not only fast, but reliable Enough so to set countless records. As two of the big guns on the Sportster racing block, Morrow and Riley would inevitably meet and con­fer at Bonneville by the rnid-1970s. Eventually they were both knocking off speed records as though they were cheap Sunday morning donuts. In 1970 Riley’s name was part of the biggest motorcycle land speed record in the world the 264-mph prize that Cal Raybom set aboard the Manning-Riley-Rivera streamliner.

Flat Out on the Flats

A pair of old salts return to the Bonneville SaltFlats

Story by Mike Seate
Reprinted with permission Iron Works April 2001

Despite all their early success on the salt, neither Riley nor Morrow ever imagined that, come the year 2000, both would work the salt surface again, setting two new records aboard a new Twin Cam 88 street bike. The bike was entered by Carl’s Speed Shop (Daytona Beach, FL), and ridden by Riley. Actually, during the Y2K run, the Carl’s Speed Shop team set six land speed records at the Southern California Timing Association/BNI sanctioned event. Moreover, in the unlimited class, Morrow’s son Doug rode the shop’s modified Sportster, powered by a big-bore 113-cubic-inch engine, to a fastest one way speed of 178.248 mph. Later Doug took the shop’s other bike, Top Gun, to two more records. That Sportster-based racer, powered by a 99-cubic-inch mill, shook the salt at 158.309 mph and 164.519 mph respectively. Not to be outdone, the 59-year-old Riley rode the Carl’s Speed Shop 95-cubic-inch Dyna roadster to a pair of world records at 157.604 mph and 156.738. The bike, it’s worth noting, was street legal, too.

And these records came after a five year absence for Morrow and a quarter of a century hiatus from the racing saddle for Riley. Talk with riders and crews who have blazed their own paths across the hard, white salt and they’ll speak of the continuous trial and error, not to mention countless hours of tuning, that is typically required to set land speed records.

Indeed, Morrow and Riley agree that Bonneville isn’t about prize money because, well, there is none. And racing on the Salt Flats is not necessarily about gaining fame either, although a fair bit of notoriety can be achieved. Instead, racing at Bonneville is a lot like mountain climbing, you do it for the love and exhilarating feeling that it has to offer.

“I do it just for something I can hang my hat on, and say I did it. When other shops brag about their dyno figures and horsepower, we say, ‘look at our accomplishments (on the race track),”’ said Morrow.

For Riley, a weekend spent in search of the doubleton as they used to call 200mph runs is still a matter of simply loving speed. “I’ve always enjoyed drag racing, and when I first starting running my Sportsters on the quarter-mile back in ‘54,I always wanted to see what would happen if you just left the throttle open a little longer,” Riley said with a laugh. The place to realize that dream, Riley soon figured out, was at Bonneville.


Doug Morrow Carl Morrow