Cycle World's September 2000 Editorial,
"Mr. Bonneville".

Reproduced here with permission from David Edwards, Editor-in-Chief, Cycle World. - Thanks David.

    A cruel, unforgiving mistress, the Bonneville Salt Flats. She breaks far more hearts than she allows land-speed records to be broken. Bonneville always liked Jack Wilson though.

    Wilson died last month, aged 73, but will always be remembered as the man who helped give one of the world's best-loved motorcycles its model name. It was Wilson who built the motor for the "Devil's Arrow" a.k.a. the "Texas Cee-gar," Stormy Mangham's home-brewed Bonneville streamliner. With Johnny Allen at the controls and Wilson's nitro-burning 650cc Triumph Thunderbird Twin beating its little heart out, the Cee-gar rocketed across the Utah landscape at an average 214.17 mph. The year was 1956. Wilson and company had the world's fastest motorcycle and Triumph had a new model name-two years later when a hotted-up version of the Thunderbird was introduced, it was called the Bonneville.

    Wilson returned to the Salt Flats many times over the years. Between building motors, acting as crew chief or advising, he had a hand in more than 65 record-setting Triumphs. In 1975, pushing 50, Wilson climbed aboard one of his own creations, a turbocharged 1OOOcc Trident, and dropped the hammer to the tune of 192 mph, a class record that stood for almost 20 years.

    "He was pretty much Ground Zero for Triumph speed records for the past 40 years," says author Lindsay Brooke, who spent time with Wilson while doing research for his book, Triumph Racing Motorcycles in America. "In terms of the Triumph legend, he's one of the guys who made Triumph great."

    Owner of Big D Cycles in Dallas for 35 years, Wilson successfully sponsored drag racers and road racers, too. Well-loved, he could also be an intimidating presence. By all accounts, he did not suffer fools gladly.

    "He would size you up with that flinty-eyed look of his," says Brooke. "But at the same time, he could be very generous. If you were into motorcycles, especially Triumph motorcycles, he would give you the world."

    Several years ago, racer Dave Howe wrote about Wilson, "Jack, like A.J. Foyt, is a racer from the Old School. He doesn't care for just anybody and everybody. If he doesn't like you, you know it and feel it. If he does like you, life is much more pleasant, but it still has its pitfalls. He has categories into which everyone is placed, and he will move you around in the categories to suit the occasion. They work something like this (in ascending order):

        Prunepicker 1-You are from California and a stupid SOB. You will never move up.

        Prunepicker 2-You are from Florida and a stupid SOB. You will never move up.

        Dipshit-You are from anywhere else and a stupid SOB. You will probably never move up.

        Piss-Willie-You are from Texas and a stupid SOB. You have a very slim chance to move up.

        Wannabe Racer-You have not proven yourself and are presumed to be a stupid SOB. You also have a very slim chance to move up, but don't count on it. Racer-You are a racer who doesn't ride for Jack and a stupid SOB. Move-ups are few and far between.

        Good Racer-You are a racer who rides for Jack and a stupid SOB. You have a better chance of winning the lottery than moving up, but it can be done.

        Champion/Record Holder-Any racer (especially his) who is really good and only sometimes a stupid SOB. There is only one higher category, and that is Jack."

    A little harsh? "It would be if it were anyone else but him," said Howe. "But the system works. And people the world over make allowances because, well, it is Jack after all...Jack takes racing seriously. Racing at Bonneville very seriously. Racing Triumphs at Bonneville very, very seriously. Racing Big D Triumphs at Bonneville very, very, very seriously."

    Robert Baucom bought his first motorcycle, a Tiger Cub, from Wilson back in 1952. Forty-eight years later, he eulogized his friend.

    "Jack, first and foremost, was a competitor. He always went to win. Second place is not winning. If he had to do a valve job in the blowing sand on the side of a racetrack in a 30-mile-an-hour wind in San Angelo, Texas, he did it-'cause he came to win. Any racer who didn't have that same fire in his gut never got another ride on a Jack Wilson racebike. He especially liked to beat Harleys, BSAs and Prunepickers, in that order. Top billing was a Prunepicker Harley.

    "Jack, even past his prime, was the fastest wrench I have ever seen. He had many other talents. Master speed-tuner, custom painter, machinist, inventor, salesman, businessman and undocumented engineer."

    Summing up, Baucom said, "Jack Wilson is world famous in the Triumph community. The man made history. You can't hardly carry on a conversation about Triumph motorcycles without his name coming up. Jack Wilson is still my hero."

    Wilson, slowed by heart trouble in recent years, saw his Big D land-speed efforts morph into today's Team Texas Triumph, which lists him as, "The Old Man, tuner, Triumph racing encyclopedia, strategist, Bonneville data base, spiritual advisor (he can make you see the light!) and most of all.. .friend."

    Wilson's many friends have suggested a fitting way to remember Jack. Years of commercial salt harvesting, plus natural erosion, have severely depleted Bonneville's surface, reducing the area available for racing. The Save the Salt Fund (540 E. 500 North, Pleasant Grove, UT 84062) is pumping brine back onto the flats, but is fast running out of money. A timely donation in Wilson's name will make the Bonneville Salt Flats a better place.

    Just as it's been since 1956.

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Revised: January 29, 2008 .