Bill Warner, Who Set Speed Record on Motorcycle, Dies at 44
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK
Published: July 17, 2013
Bill Warner returned to the runway at the decommissioned Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Me., on Sunday hoping to beat his world land speed record on a conventional motorcycle. He had set the record — 311.945 miles per hour in 1.5 miles — at the base in 2011. This time he hoped to hit 300 m.p.h. in a mile or less.
As spectators looked on, Mr. Warner roared off on his blue Suzuki Hayabusa, a customized, fiberglass-swathed model muscled up with a 1,200-horsepower engine. About 4,000 feet down the track, after he had hit 285 m.p.h., the motorcycle veered to the right — the direction drivers usually turn if something is awry — headed into the grass and fell on its side, tossing Mr. Warner. Their speed had been so great that both man and machine slid, separately, for hundreds of feet.
Mr. Warner, though conscious after the crash, died a short time later at a hospital in Caribou, Me., said Tim Kelly, race director for the Loring Timing Association, which administers land speed events at the base. Mr. Warner was 44.
The police were investigating the accident, Mr. Kelly said.
Before Mr. Warner broke the record in 2011, the only way motorcyclists could go faster than 300 m.p.h. was by lying nearly flat on their backs inside a completely enclosed, custom-made streamliner bike — as much a rocket as a motorcycle. Streamliners are designed by teams of aerodynamics experts and engineers and can cost millions of dollars. Some have approached 400 m.p.h. in speed trials.
Mr. Warner competed in the conventional motorcycle class — a far more cost-effective one. But for its extensive modifications, his Suzuki could have been purchased in a showroom.
He began reconfiguring his bike in 2010. He replaced virtually the entire engine and converted it to run on methanol, which has a higher octane rating and burns at a lower temperature than gasoline. That allowed him to remove the bike’s heavy cooling unit.
He stretched the aluminum frame, added carbon-fiber wheels and built a fiberglass fairing, or aerodynamic cowl, by hand. He also added a turbocharger, which he called “ginormous” in an interview with The New York Times’s Wheels blog.
“People don’t even put that size on big trucks,” Mr. Warner said.
When he finished, he had increased the bike’s horsepower, originally 160, more than sevenfold.
William W. Warner was born on Feb. 11, 1969, in Little Falls, N.Y. He attended the University of Tampa, where he studied marine biology and chemistry. He lived in Wimauma, Fla., southeast of Tampa, where he ran a tropical fish business. His survivors include his parents, a brother and a sister.
Mr. Warner did not consider going more than 300 m.p.h. on a motorcycle especially unnerving. “It was very calm,” he told The Bangor Daily News, referring to his record-setting event in 2011.
Braking proved more challenging.
“The bike was bouncing, hopping, skipping and sliding,” he said. “It was a little scary.”
His record remains unbroken.
“I will be very frank about this,” Mr. Kelly said. “No one will touch Bill’s record in our lifetimes.”