There's a nice 1000 word writeup on Bonneville 1953 over at The Vintagent
It's true there's an essay in every photo, but the story's always better when the image is packed with exceptional machinery and good clues to the date.. The 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible in the background was brand new when this shot was taken at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and the Vincent Black Lightning (#9) in the photo is a famous machine which changed configuration dramatically by 1954... so I'm fairly certain we're gazing from the top of a ladder through a magic window onto September 4th, 1953.
Marty Dickerson is being push-started at the head of the line, on his infamous 'Blue Bike'; he is about to break the magic 150mph barrier for a 'Class C' production machine on one run, while his record average was 147mph...all the more impressive as the rules limited machines to 90 octane pump fuel and an 8:1compression ratio. Dickerson's record stood from this day in 1953 until 1973, when a Kawasaki Z1 broke it (at 155mph). Dickerson is being pushed by an SCTA official with a walkie-talkie on his Hawaiian shirt; the SCTA organized the Bonneville events then, and still does with Speed Week. The flag-man on the far right has already waved green, signaling the all-clear on the track. Bonneville isn't a drag race, as miles of salt are required to build up speed for even the quickest bikes, so there's no histrionic flag-waving at the start. Dickerson's 1948 Series B Touring Rapide was significantly developed by this date, and bears little resemblance to the small-wheeled and heavy-fendered machine he purchased as a lad of 18. He thought the Vincent was ugly when he purchased it, but he wanted the speed it promised, and campaigned his Rapide from 1948 onwards, first making the rounds of the Southwestern states, challenging locals to drag-races while in the employment of Burbank Vincent importer 'Mickey' Martin. Read all about it here.
Next behind Dickerson is the 1949 Vincent Black Lightning of Joe Simpson, the first Lightning imported to the USA. Simpson was also out for a record that day, and succeeded, averaging , before it evolved into the blown monster you can see today in the Solvang Museum. Note the interesting black fairing above the front wheel of the Lightning...it almost looks like the hood of a Ford! If this photo was taken in 1953, Simpson's Lightning is running on methanol, and producing about 90hp @6000rpm, and he recorded 160.69mph, taking the American record away from Rollie Free's 1950 Vincent record of 156.71mph (the only time a Vincent held the World Speed Record was Russell Wright's 184.83mph run in New Zealand in 1955).
Simpson had just installed a set of Vincent factory racing cylinder heads with extra-large inlet ports (1 7/16") and matching oversize Amal TT racing carbs, and oversize intake/exhaust valves and exhaust pipe (the same as supplied to Rollie Free), but the bike wouldn't exceed 155mph during his tests. Marty Dickerson examined the machine and suggested the valves were not sealing properly. Shockingly, the racers had come all the way to Bonneville with few tools, or at least not valve-grinding equipment, and the nearest town (Wendover) had none, so Marty 'made do' with a power drill and a file as an impromptu lathe! His work was good enough for Simpson to average 160.69mph the next day. Simpson is one of 3 men who really established the Vincent legend in the USA, and the world, right beside Dickerson and Rollie Free.
Between the two big-gun Vincents in the photo sits a pop-gun of a record-breaker; a Brockhouse-built Indian 'Brave' with a 250cc sidevalve engine, which would have struggled to reach the top speed of the Vincents' first gear! Its rider, Delbert Branson, looks pleased enough to participate in the day, and set a 250cc record in 1952 on a Brockhouse Indian at 80.62mph, which is pretty fast in Bonneville's thin air (4200' above sea level). A stock Brave was tested by Cycle magazine that year with a top speed of 68mph, but Branson managed a highest speed of 87mph on one run. The Indian Brave was a product of England; in 1950, Brockhouse Engineering bought the bankrupt Indian company, and badged its own 250cc sidevalve lightweight as an Indian, while still producing the Chief and vertical twins. The enterprise lasted until 1953, when Indian again went bankrupt, and Floyd Clymer bought the name...carrying on through a succession of hands for decades.
Immediately behind the Indian is a 1948 Velocette KSS Mk2 with Dowty air forks, and a dramatically lengthened inlet tract. This is Lloyd Bulmer's Velocette record-breaker, which was featured in plenty of US Velo advertising in the early 50s, as it was the fastest anyone had taken a 350cc Velocette on the USA to date. In 1952, Bulmer's two-way average was 119.87mph, the fastest 350cc bike that year and an AMA record. In our top photo, Lloyd sits his Velo, with his wife(?) beside him. The previous year, he'd only managed 106mph on the KSS, but he'd found considerable extra urge in the intervening year, and learned how to 'do the Free' for minimum drag (as seen in the ad above). In fact, looking at various bikes in our Bonneville photo, 3 are equipped with planks instead of seats for a fully stretched-out riding position, which is now illegal for record-breaking. As is the total lack of skin protection (ie, racing leathers) and decent boots (most riders are wearing hi-top sneakers or boxing shoes).
The last motorcycle in our power quintet is a ca. 1952 Triumph Tiger 100 with reversed cylinder heads! A shield to keep grit out of the carbs is attached to the frame downtube, while a remote fuel float peeks just outside the shield, and the big megaphone exhaust shoots straight out the back. This is a trick used occasionally in sprint/drag racing, but I'm not familiar with this machine, and my luck in researching this photo ran out with the most 'common' machine in the bunch! Any info or guesses are welcome. It's interesting to note the total lack of protective clothing, the cool variety of protective eyewear, and the 100% saturation of riders with Cycle magazine t-shirts... this particular run may have been sponsored by Cycle magazine itself, as (at least) four of the 5 motorcycles pictured took the top speed in their class that year.
Via The Vintagent