Bill Hoddinott: All right, Tom, we're getting near the end of the story but it's time for the $64,000 question, the answer to which all the Burklands fans world-wide want to know! ARE YOU GOING TO RACE YOUR STREAMLINER ANYMORE??????
Tom Burkland: Bill, the answer to that question is... maybe. We might.. Our car has been officially timed at Bonneville at 450 mph so we know it has that potential. Our team is very proud that we have taken the FIA mile record at 415 mph, but it would be nice to have it up closer to 450.
On the other hand, as we have said, TRACTION is our issue and any more speed depends entirely on getting the rare absolutely perfect course and weather at Bonneville, and it is SO hard to catch those times with a meet where you can run for FIA two ways. But the fact that I keep the car at my place nowadays, only 150 miles from Bonneville, does reduce the frustration of taking it down there and not being able to run it.
Another consideration is that it is quite expensive to maintain and run this car, and the money comes out of our back pockets. More so than the cash expense is the sacrifice of the many dedicated crew members who give up their hard earned vacation time and spend their own transportation money to help us achieve these lofty goals. Mind you, not one of them has ever complained about this, in fact they look forward to it.
There is always, of course, the safety angle hanging in the air. The FIA runs going toward I-80 can be a real courage check with almost no room for any equipment malfunction. The one hour turnaround process exposes the entire crew, not just the driver, to the safety risks of thrashing on a flaming hot car with no time to exercise caution. These factors definitely play into any decision to make another FIA record attempt at higher speeds.
All that being said, if there was a fifteen mile hard flat surface provided by Mother Nature, you can bet we would be there to take advantage of it and go fast.
At the moment, some of our crew guys have cars they want to run at Bonneville. And Gene is in the middle of building a vintage belly tank. He's also restoring a nice '56 Chrysler 300B.
Bill: I well remember as a 17-year-old-kid in Minneapolis, a fellow in our neighborhood bought himself a brand-new 300B and I thought that was an absolutely gorgeous car. It still is! 354 Hemi with two four-barrels on it. Chrysler was riding high that year!
Tom: So we'll just have to wait and see whether we take the streamliner out any more, Bill. But before we wind up this story, there's one more topic I want to cover with you that might help some other racing teams.
That's about our 18-wheeler that everybody's seen at Bonneville. When it comes rolling in, I know most people think, "The Burklands must be multi-millionaires!"
This transporter is about as special as the race car and comes from the same traditional backyard hot rodding approach. It looks great with Gary Stauffer's terrific paint job and those polished aluminum wheels. But here's where it really comes from. A 25-year-old Freightliner cab-over truck we bought for $4000 and a 45-foot Kentucky trailer we paid $4500 for. Both had a million miles on them when we started the rebuild process.
We rebuilt them to reliable condition and titled and licensed them in Montana as a motorhome. Before we had this rig, we needed two one-ton pickups pulling trailers to get all our crew, equipment and race car to Bonneville. Our trip has numerous mountain passes, which were tough going up, and even tougher coming down the other side. Besides that, the pickups ate a lot of expensive fuel.
Now, we can travel in the rig in comfort, put our car and all our equipment in it, and the gross weight is 53,000 pounds. The Freightliner was built to haul 80,000 pounds over the Rocky Mountains forever, so you see it is lightly stressed and gives good fuel economy.
Bill: That's great, Tom. Just another example of the amazing amount of quality work and original ideas your team has produced over the years.
But back to the question of racing the streamliner some more, if an old white-haired guy, with great respect, could comment. This topic reminds me of the memoirs of the great five-times World Grand Prix Champion road-racer Juan Manuel Fangio, which I have in the other room. He raced in the late 1940s and '50s, in the days when the cars were close to 200 mph, sometimes running on public-road courses, and the drivers had not even any lap belts in most cases, definitely no roll bars, and their helmets were pitiful by today's standards. Fire suits were un-dreamed of, even though the cars carried a lot of fuel and often caught fire in crashes. They raced in tee shirts.
Fangio was badly hurt in one race in mid-career, out of action for months, but returned and continued for several more seasons. Finally, now in his mid-40s, he announced his retirement, returned to his native Argentina and opened up some car dealerships with his professional earnings.
At the end of his memoirs he notes with wry amusement that fans would often come into his store to meet him and to pay their respects. This was fine, but he said some of them also seemed to feel disappointment that he had retired still alive. It was as if they felt his legend would have been more glorious if he had consummated it by a fiery death on the racetrack...
Tom: Bill, that's a good story. We have lost some very dear friends over the years of land speed racing and hopefully some of what has been presented here will help others to not get into similar dangerous situations.
Bill: Tom, I know all readers will agree with me that the Burklands history is an extraordinary one of tremendous efforts over many, many years, crowned with enormous achievements. An inspiring example that will live on forever at Bonneville. And I use these words with consideration and sincerity. They are not too much to say!
I would go further and say that by rights, the Burklands should be in the Oval Office at the White House receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for these remarkable achievements and contributions to American culture. And I would love to see a movement by your Montana Senators and Congressmen to make that happen. They are the most appropriate ones to do it!
And, of course, many thanks to you, Betty and Gene for your hours of hard work helping to put this story together!
Tom: Well, Bill, that's a lot to say. But thank you for it, and for your efforts on the project. Betty, Gene and I have enjoyed ourselves.
Just one more thing, Bill. DO YOU THINK THERE'S ANYBODY ELSE OUT THERE CRAZY ENOUGH TO BUILD ONE OF THESE CARS??????
Bill: (laughing) Tom, that's a GOOD question. No doubt about it, the Burklands are a RARE BREED!
So what do YOU say, gentle reader?
Copyright © 2009 Bill Hoddinott