Fred Ham Celebration a Success
New Records Set at Talladega
Wheels Through Time and Wayne Stanfield have made history…again! On April 4, 2007, Stanfield, a 59-years old and a five-time winner of the Great American Race, and a team assembled by Dale Walksler, curator and founder of the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, NC, set out to re-break a 24-hour endurance record of 1825 miles in 24-hours at the infamous Talladega Superspeedway.
Aboard a 1937 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead, dubbed the “Fred Ham Special”, the team would set out to conquer the infamous feat set by Fred “Iron Man” Ham, a California Highway Patrolman, nearly seventy years later to the day. The motorcycle fielded for the run was a purpose-built re-creation of Ham’s brand new ’37 Harley. The run was the first known attempt to re-break the legendary record.
“Dale and I talked about making a run at Ham’s record over 10 years ago and I said sure. It was not until a year ago that I realized he was serious,” commented Stanfield.
Well it all came to culmination on Wednesday, April 4th, at the Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. The thirty-nine year-old 2.8 mile tri-oval was chosen because its size nearly matched that of the track on which Ham set his record at Muroc Dry Lake in Southern California. It was bright, sunny and the track was Wayne’s. At just after 4:40 p.m. Stanfield set off, beginning what everyone hoped would be a run for the record books.
From the very start of the run, Stanfield and the Wheels Through Time pit crew had some untimely mishaps. After Stanfield’s first laps, the motorcycle came back with signs that something wasn’t right. As the pit crew worked at top speed to fix a mysterious carburetor or ignition problem, Stanfield sat patiently, taking advantage of the last few minutes of rest he would see for 24 hours. After nearly 45 minutes of stop time, Stanfield re-boarded the motorcycle and set off, again, towards his chance at making history.
Record breaking is nothing new to Stanfield and Walksler. Their Great American Race record is unparalleled. Wayne has won the cross-country rally five-time and together they became the only competitive motorcycle team in race history and tallied back to back Top 2 finishes, which came in both the 1995 and 1996 races. In 1997, Walksler broke the 1917 Transcontinental record aboard a ’17 Henderson Special, leaving L.A. on June 5 and arriving at Time Square in New York City just six days and eleven hours later, shattering the old record by over 30 hours.
But breaking Ham’s record would not be so easy. It was not after more than 18 laps on the 2.8-mile Talladega tri-oval that Stanfield rounded back for his second trip to the pits, complaining that the motorcycle was loosing power. It was at this point that crew chief, Dale Walksler, noticed that the motorcycle was near disaster. The problem was a burnt piston on the rear cylinder, which would have ended the run for a less experienced team. The crew immediately got back to work, exchanging the burnt piston and cylinder for better parts off of Walksler’s spare bike. The whole piston ordeal lasted only sixty-five minutes, as the motorcycle was back on the track and running like new by 8:30 p.m.
Now, Stanfield and the Knucklehead were really starting make time. Despite the dimly lit track and the icy-cold headwind blowing down the back stretch, Stanfield was turning his best laps of the run by 9:00 p.m. As he shaved second after second off each lap, it was apparent that the motorcycle was finally performing like it should.
However, the unscheduled stop-time, somewhere in the area of 4 ½ hours by 10 p.m., began to push Ham’s record out of reach. But this didn’t stop Stanfield and his crew from making a run at it anyway. The motorcycle performed at top-notch throughout the night, as Wayne averaged in the area of 82-87 mph each lap. With only one rear tire change at 3:30 a.m., the ’37 began to show its durability, as well as the capability to make it to the 24 hour mark.
At 5:30 a.m., daybreak had begun, and Stanfield was making better time than he had all night. Where, throughout the night, he had been running laps between 1:55 and 2:00, Stanfield increased his speed as the sun continued to rise, and was turning between 1:49 and 1:52 laps from that point on. Running these times, Stanfield was averaging about 90 mph per lap. “He was getting nearly 105 (mph) on the front stretch but the headwind on the back straight-away was holding him to about 80,” said Walksler. “And the best part was that the bike was holding up great.”
Stanfield, who has always been considered an “iron man” by his friends, partners, and competitors, showed no signs of wearing down. He had made it through his first 16 hours without a hiccup, and was getting faster as time went on. Each pit stop, about every hour on average, he assured the crew that he was feeling great and would have no problem finishing the duration of the run. “We knew that Wayne would hold up well” commented Walksler of Stanfield, who had undergone strict diet, exercise, and sleep regiments in preparation for the run. “Our biggest worry was his ability to maintain speed at night, and he showed us that wasn’t a problem.”
By 10:00 a.m., Stanfield brought the bike back for another quick service. The primary chain, which has always been considered one of the first parts to wear at high speeds, had stretched beyond repair. The crew, ready for such a problem, dove in and had Stanfield back out on the track in less than fifteen minutes. As the new chain began to break in, Wayne was back on his old pace of 1:50 per lap.
As the clock struck noon, Stanfield had covered just under a thousand miles. He was running his fastest times of the day, averaging about 1:48 per lap. His fastest lap, recorded at 12:31 p.m., was 1 minute 46.11 seconds. “Running continuously at 95 miles per hour on a seventy year old motorcycle can scare the daylights out of you,” said Stanfield. “All I could do was keep the throttle wide open and stay out of the wind.”
As the day progressed, it was becoming apparent that Fred Ham’s record would still stand, despite a valiant effort by Stanfield and the Wheels Through Time race crew. However, the thought of slowing down never crossed Stanfield’s nor the crew’s minds. They continued to increase speed and decrease lap times for the duration of the run. The bike showed no new signs of wear and it became clear that Stanfield and the ’37 would make it to 24 hours.
As his elapsed time reached 23 hour 30 minutes, Stanfield passed the pits, right hand pinning the throttle and left hand giving a thumbs up to his crew. The fifty-plus crew members, fans and special guests erupted with emotion. Although they knew the 1825-mile mark wouldn’t be surpassed, the sheer magnitude of what they were about to accomplish began to sink in. Never in the history of motorcycling had a seventy year old motorcycle ran for 24-hours at high speed, nor had any rider or driver ran for 24-hours at the Talladega Superspeedway. Wayne Stanfield would be the first to do both.
As the final seconds ticked away, Stanfield flew by the pits completing his 477th lap, totaling just over 1350 miles in 24 hours. The small crowd on hand would again erupt, applauding Stanfield through his final lap and onto pit road. Stanfield, with a sigh of relief, pulled off his helmet and let out an ear to ear grin. It was finished.
Although he did not match the 1825-mile record set in 1937, he did break several records at the speedway itself. Wayne, piloting the 1937 Fred Ham Special, set the record for most consecutive laps at Talladega, with a total of 477 completed. Stanfield also became the only rider/driver to run for 24 hours on the Superspeedway. Other records also include traveling the most miles in a 24-hour period at Talladega, and most miles completed by a seventy year old motorcycle over 24-hours.
“Upon comparing the two runs, we’ve found some close similarities,” said Walksler. Although Stanfield and his crew covered less than 75 miles in the first three and a half hours, the rest of the run was done in record breaking style. “During the last 18 hours of the run, we managed to surpass the miles that Ham covered during that time. Had it not been for the early mishaps, the possibility of breaking Ham’s record would have come down to the wire”.
All in all, both Stanfield and Walksler were extremely happy with the results. “Wayne persevered through any problems that arose, and made a great run at history without even the slightest debacle. I could not be more proud of what he has accomplished.”
“Having seen what it takes to run over 90 miles per hour for 24 hours with one rider, we now have more respect for Ham’s historic run,” said Stanfield. “To do what he did, the stars would have had to align perfectly for 24 hours”.
What’s next? Wheels Through Time is proposing a challenge for 2008 to a number of four-man teams to approach or surpass Ham’s infamous 1937 24-hour endurance record. Perhaps a $200,000 purse will entice new talent in 2008.
The 1937 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead used to make a run at Fred Ham’s 24-hour endurance record will be on free display at the Wheels Through Time Museum regularly for the remainder of 2007, before being relocated to the Motorsports Hall of Fame adjacent to the Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama.
And for any of you that want to see more about the Wheels Through Time Museum or the epic Fred Ham Celebration Ride, log on to the Time Machine at www.wheelsthroughtime.com. The Time Machine is the world’s most ingenious motorcycle video website, bringing you over 250 high-quality videos per year all about the world of antique motorcycles. And the best part, its all available at the click of a mouse. So log on and see the history of these rare machines right from your own home.
(For more information, contact Matt Walksler, Director of Public Relations, by phone at (828) 926-6266 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org)