ELKO – Local racing enthusiast John Levie made history this summer in his glossy-blue motorcycle streamliner at the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway. Driving 11.44 seconds per mile, Levie and his sidecar motorcycle reached a record top speed of 320.304 mph.
As exciting as that is, Levie is no stranger to making history. To date he claims 89 records, all made at Bonneville. He set his first record in 2009 with a Honda 50.
Since then Levie and his father Allen Levie have put in countless hours in the garage constructing the next meanest, leanest machine.
Allen has been racing since the 1960s. When John was growing up in Reno, Ely, Carson City and Elko he tried other sports but decided, like his dad, that he prefered racing to team sports.
John credits his success to his father’s mechanical skills.
“The race is won in the garage,” Levie said. “He is the brains behind the operation.”
Levie has been living in Elko since 2004. Fortunately, his parents, who are both big supporters and part of his pit crew, live just down the street.
Although Levie gets the credit for setting records, he said his entire family helps him at each race.
“We have a small crew,” Levie said. “It takes quite a few people to push the bike off the line. My dad gets me strapped in. That is a real undertaking, because the bike is small. The straps are really, really tight. The trust that you have to have in somebody to do that is really high.”
The space that Levie occupies in the “mini-rocket” is, indeed, small. Add a thick fireproof suit, helmet and gloves and Levie is packed in, much like a sardine in a can.
After push-off, Levie and the motorcycle are going so fast they are out of sight in no time at all.
“He’s just gone,” said Michele Belsher, who is part of the crew.
Levie says this year’s winning motorcycle design was his dad’s idea.
“It started on an eight and a half by 11 piece of paper,” he said. “We built the bike, took it to the wind tunnel, brought the bike home and realized the coefficient of drag and the natural frictional losses that we were going to have on this motorcycle were so low that it was going to go really fast. We needed to strengthen and build things thicker than what we had.”
“The wind tunnel is an actual test piece in which you would put a vehicle,” Levie said. “It measures drag coefficients. The one in Utah is mainly used for Olympic people like downhill skiers and bicyclists.”
He explained that the tunnel is in a big warehouse with three giant fans that suck air past the vehicle.
“The wind tunnel proved that we had aerodynamic ability up to 400 mph,” Levie said.
When asked about the dangers of traveling at such high speeds, Levie said he has seen a few accidents due to tire failure on the Salt Flats but he has confidence in his driving skills and feels safe.
“It’s far scarier to go 60 mph on the highway than it is to go fast on the salt,” John said. “I am not concerned with my ability, but on the highway I am concerned with the 16-year-old who is on a cellphone.”
With another record under his belt, Levie wants to keep on going next season with even higher speeds. The goal is 350 mph or more.
Levie knows there are other up-and-coming people in the sport who are also working hard to break any record he sets.
“Bring it on,” Levie said. “Competition is what keeps us going.”