A grandad with a need for speed

Dave Smith'Bike racer from Kirkcaldy, currently racing the salt flats in Utah
Dave Smith'Bike racer from Kirkcaldy, currently racing the salt flats in Utah

DAVE Smith is the daredevil grandfather from Kirkcaldy with a need for speed.

At the age of 62, and despite surviving a heart attack just 18 months earlier, he has started racing motorbikes at speeds in excess of 130 mph.

But you will have to travel a very long way to see him in action, because Dave is competing at the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, home to the world’s most famous natural racetrack.

“I think anyone who is interested in racing of any kind has heard of Bonneville Salt Flats,” Dave said. “It is one of those iconic places where just about anything can be raced from street to highly modified.

“You live more in five minutes at Bonneville than most people live in a lifetime.”

Dave was born in Kirkcaldy on April 24, 1948, and spent most of his childhood in a three-bedroom house in Valley Gardens. “I remember it was pink in colour,” he said. “It also had metal window frames that froze in winter and we were void of central heating.”

He went to Valley Primary, then onto Templehall Secondary School, leaving at the age of 15 to start full-time work as an apprentice mechanic at Louden and Cox’s garage – where he obtained his first motorcycle, a 250cc twin cylinder Ariel Leader.

Emigrated

Dave emigrated to Canada in 1984, where after a spell as a crane operator, he was employed as a Health and Safety Officer for the Toronto Port Authority, a post he still currently holds.

But it was his enthusiasm for motorcycles that would lead him to meet Guy Martin, a mechanic involved in the Bonneville Salt Flats motorcycle racing scene, and who got Dave hooked on the idea of racing his own bike.

“I have a mechanical background and had the opportunity to tag along as a member of the pit crew in 2009,” Dave said.

“Working in the pits, seeing all the machinery around me, discussing carburation and gearing with Guy and simply being there got me hooked on the idea of running my own Ducati.

“I knew that road racing or track racing was out for me. If I was going to race, this was something I could achieve and have some fun with.

Immense

“After all, the challenge is immense and it has to be fun, so I started preparations to build a bike for 2010.”

The Bonneville Salt Flats is where land speed world record attempts are made, but Dave is involved in a type of drag racing where the aim is to reach the maximum possible speed over a set distance.

In his first ever attempt last year, Dave achieved his goal of joining the 130 mph Club of the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association, having reached 132.17873 mph over the one-mile course on his modified Ducati 900SS.

Dave explained: “I had never raced at Bonneville so as far as I was concerned I had tamed the salt.

“Did I have butterflies on the start line? Sure, but I controlled them and kept it cool up the track with clean gear shifts at the right time.

“But the biggest achievement was spending ten months building the right bike that was able to get the job done without issues. Remember, this was my first ride at Bonneville on the first day after unloading the bike and I turn in a run like that.

“I was so high on adrenaline that I could not stop laughing, smiling, thinking it all over, and thinking of how well and straight the bike had ran. It was my euphoria and I lived it for the rest of the morning.”

However, Dave’s remarkable achievement came at a cost. “The adrenaline had pushed my glucose sky high and was in a diabetic situation,” he said. “I did not feel well enough to ride the next day which was Thursday, but I was ready to roll come Friday morning.”

According to Dave, the Salt Flats are far from ideal for speed – the asphalt adds resistance, while the altitude, temperature and humidity all contribute to power loss. So why do they hold land speed records there?

“Because it is the only flat surface long enough,” Dave explains. “I say flat, but it is so vast that you can see the curvature of the earth.”

New goals

Having recently reached his 130 mph target, Dave has now set new goals for his next trip to Bonneville next year.

“My goals for next year are to gain entry to the 150 club,” he said. “Two back to back runs over 150 mph are required over a three mile track.

“If the club is not on the cards, then a single run of 150 will be just as rewarding for me. With that said we are at the mercy of weather and atmospherics.”

Dave, who occasionally re-visits Kirkcaldy to see his son, Christopher, daughter-in-law Amanda, and grandson Owen, must keep fit and healthy in order to compete.

“I walk ten kilometres three or four times a week and use some light weights at home,” he said.

“I also try to eat right by staying low on carbs and high in protein. I eat fruit every day and have a nutritionist who tries her best to keep me in line, though it’s not always easy especially since I enjoy a beer or two, and, I am no stranger to single malt either.”