Introducing Gary Ilminen, Author of The Unlikely 1

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Everything about this story is so unlikely, choosing the title for the book was easy.

So many dreams we have as adolescents are unlikely to come true; we find it pretty easy to forget them after a while.  The more ambitious the dream, the more unlikely it is to last into adulthood, let alone come true.

Yet, every once in a while—maybe only once in a lifetime—that cast off dream we had as a kid gets revived by unexpected, even unlikely, circumstances.  And that is how it went in my case when a chance encounter that led to new friendships resulted in the opportunity to fulfill one of those dreams that never die.

Going to Bonneville to run a motorcycle as fast as it could go in land speed racing competition was the dream.  Just getting to Bonneville, nearly 1,500 miles from my home in Wisconsin is something of an undertaking in itself.  Hauling old motorcycles restored to running condition to compete—well, that’s a real reach.

I’m not what most folks would consider an expert mechanic.  Average at best with a hodge-podge of economy grade tools, often scavenging parts and improvising repairs, I had my doubts about even getting the two old motorcycles I worked on for competition to run, let alone run fast.

There were a lot of missteps, miscues, and mistakes along the way; some dumb, some funny, some not so much.  Coming to grips with the experience that was both fun and seriously intense at the same time was challenging.  With so many machines going flat-out and so many critically important rules to keep in mind, things can go very wrong very fast.

For example, entering and leaving the course at Bonneville is very regimented and deviating from the set procedures can cause problems.  In my first two runs at Bonneville, I blew it each time!  No harm done, but it explained why “rookies” like I was are given a big yellow sticker with an “R” on it affixed to their helmet, so track officials know who to keep an eye on.  I wondered if “R” stood for “run for your lives.”

Most motorcycle racers are in their twenties or thirties and weigh an average of 120 to 150 pounds.  I was well past the mark on both counts.  It’s safe to say that even non-motorcyclists would not mistake me for any kind of motorcycle racer; not even in bad lighting.  Despite that, this experience reminded me that age, physical ability or disability need not necessarily define me or any of us.

The book tells of meeting some remarkable people whose passion for the challenge enabled them to overcome supposed barriers of age and physical disability to not only compete but set records!  They inspired me, and they are each the embodiment of the spirit of Bonneville.

The Bonneville International Speedway is a place of legend in motorsports history. The highest speeds people have ever achieved on land—including on motorcycles—were achieved there.  Its vastness and breathtaking beauty would be reason enough to go there.  Getting there to compete and perhaps write a line in the record books is a chance to become a part of motorsports history.

The first trip there was in 2009, where a 25-year-old motorcycle took me through the timing traps at over 100 mph on only my second run on the salt!  In 2010, another trip there resulted in the first tentative national speed record, only to have the speed beaten later in the event.  In 2012, we tried again and in 2014, that most unlikely outcome took place!

A 40-year-old motorcycle—not known for speed, even when new, an even older rider with very little competition experience, in an event that seemed unlikely to happen due to severe flooding on the salt made setting a record seem very unlikely.  All that made the American Motorcyclist Association Grand National Number 1 plate awarded for setting a class speed record what could only be called “The Unlikely 1.”

 

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