The Vincent streamliner made it's Bonneville debut in 1996; Don Vesco was the primary rider, with no back up. I'd built the liner over a period of several years on my own nickel, but by now I realized that for Black Lightning to return to the salt and continue the quest, the financial situation had to be resolved, as it was apparent I could no longer do it alone....
For the first time I decided to seek help with the project, however, the Vincent Works had been closed for decades, so there would be no corporate sponsorship from that direction. I had to think of something else, and finally decided to go public with the project. My idea was simple--ask for financial help from the Vincent Owners Club members. In addition, it was beginning to occur to me that it might be appropriate to have an Englishman in the cockpit of this British bike.
Stu Rogers and I first met in 1995 at Daytona, Florida, where I'd brought several of my restorations to be sold at the Jerry Wood Auction. I'd already asked Don Vesco to ride the streamliner in 1996, so Don and I made plans to meet for his cockpit fitting and perusal of the new liner at Daytona that year.
While at the racetrack watching the pre-40's races, and the "C" Class Vintage races, the skill of a particular competitor caught my eye. He was going deeper into the corners before braking, and smoothly put bike links upon bike links between himself and the rest of the pack. I found out his name was Stu Rogers, and I decided right then I had to meet this guy.
We met in his pit and talked about the Black Lightning Project. He expressed an interest. Later that day we met again back at the grassy paddock where I'd left the streamliner on display. I recall Stu even slipped into the cockpit to get the feel of the thing.
So when it came time in early 1997 to think about who to put into the cockpit of English heritage, this early acquaintance came to mind. I made a phone call to England and asked if he'd be interested in riding the Vincent streamliner in 1997. His response was an emphatic, "Would I??!!!" The stage was set.
I created a mailing packet, which included certificates of sponsorship, photos of the project, and a letter, which the VOC club agreed to mail to the members for me. The Executives sponsored the project in the form of $1000 for postage; another $1000 to finish off the postage bill came from the then editor of the club magazine, John Webber. These donations were unsolicited. The solicited side of the fund raising came from club members, which proved to be very generous. Evidently they wanted the record for the Vincent marque as much as I did, and without a doubt, favorite racing son's name, Stu Rogers, affixed to the project, was instrumental in the success of the fundraising.
Stu Rogers was born in 1947 in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England, where he has been the Engineer/Proprieter of Stu Rogers International Norton Spares for 28 years.
Stu won Daytona on his 1939 SRS Norton in 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1996 Pre '40 Class. In 1995 and 1996 Class C, and on a 250 Ducati in 1995. In 1993 he won the #1 plate in the Pre '40 and Class C Classics.
He was British Vintage Unlimited Champion in 1974 and Pre '48 Champion in 1989 and 1990.
Prior to the 1997 attempt many phone calls back and forth across the pond were made to the now primary rider Stu Rogers. Lots of details had to be taken care of, such as his measurements, so I could have a fire suit made for him, arrangements had to be made to pick up machine parts, such as a custom made transmission door from Trevor Southwell, and we had to work out how to transfer the donated funds.
As I began to realize that I'd chosen off a great deal of modifications for the 1997 attempt, and saw that I wouldn't be able to get it all done in time for Speed Week, I gave Stu a call, and asked if he could break away a month early and fly to the Colonies to give me an assist.
In the typical manner of a real pro, Stu, with a can do attitude, not only came early himself, but brought a couple of his mates with him, eager to work on the project. So that work force of three, along with my little buddy, Mike Shea, and myself, spent the month before the Meet getting the liner ready for it's second attempt at the World Land Speed Record for the Vincent marque.
The 12 to 16 hour days with all of us working, still fell far short. Speed Week was already two days into the seven before we even left Virginia. The liner was finished at 2 am, we were loaded up at 3 am, and commenced our non-stop 2000 mile trek to Bonneville. Mike and I were in the truck with the liner, arriving about noon on the third day of the meet. Stu and his friends were in a camper I had borrowed for them from a friend in Virginia. He and his two compadres, along with his wife and son, arrived shortly after.
There was a lot to do, and a short time in which to do it. The windscreen of the liner was never installed and had to be taken care of, the liner had to be registered and teched, and Stu had to be familiarized with the tow-up procedures. An unforeseen problem occurred during the usual fire-up of the liner in the pits--in our haste to make the deadline, we discovered some vital parts had been left out of the clutch disengaging mechanism. As a result I had to make a 200 mile trip into Salt Lake City to pick up the Kawasaki parts. All of this took two more days.
It was only on the 6th day, the next to the last day, that the liner was taken to the line for a run. Stu was strapped in for the first time, and the engines were fired, (someone later told me it was possibly only on one). Black Lightning went down--the rollover switch kicked the parachutes out, flipping her from side to side, and she slid for a couple of hundred yards toward the mile marker.
Thankfully, Stu emerged unscathed, but Speed Week for us was over this year. We were all disappointed, and especially Stu, who had given so much to the Black Lightning Project for 1997. My gratitude for his effort is deep and sincere.