Interview: Land Speed Racer Paul Livingston - Dirt Rider Magazine

Meet the man who is in charge of building the chassis for our record-setting attempt at the famous Bonneville Salt Flats this August. His name is Paul Livingston and he's volunteered himself to head up chassis design and logistics as we transform a stock Honda CR125R into what we hope will become the fastest eighth-liter motorcycle of all-time.Livingston is working in tandem with Rod Falkner, a long-time student of speed, who is responsible for finding horsepower for this project. It's a daunting task, in fact, Livingston has taken three months off work so he can concentrate on every last detail. He's turned his company Spider Grips over to his wife Becca to manage as we slip into the final stages of the project.Livingston is one of the most well though out, energetic and driven people we at Dirt Rider have ever met, and his work ethic has far exceeded our expectations. He's a rare breed, and we wish there were more people in this world who shared his personality and his love of life.DR: How did you get involved in motorcycling?
PL: I can't remember a time when I or one of my brothers was not involved in motorcycles, mini-bikes, go karts or anything with an engine.Have you ever competed in motorcycle events other than Bonneville?
Nothing to brag about, I remember some fun races at Bonsai Park, Saddleback Park and Indian Dunes way back in 19 'hunered' and something.How did you get involved in the quest to set land speed records?
Our grip company was sponsoring a team that was competing at Bonneville and they made it sound like so much fun, we couldn't resist giving it a try. Rod Falkner was already helping them go fast, so I talked him into running a bike at the 2003 events. Everyone told us that the best place to see the race was from the seat of a race bike and they were right.How many records do you hold, and in what classes?
Only one, it is the 50cc Production record and I'm really happy to have it. The Production class is a real challenge because you have to maintain the factory appearance, limiting the wide open modifications that you can make in the other classes. Getting a motor that is approximately 3 cubic inches to develop enough single digit (9hp) horsepower to power the bike and rider—with a combined weight of nearly 400 pounds—using the stock cylinder, head, manifold and carburetor to get down the track at a record speed was an interesting challenge.What's the hardest part about setting a land speed record?
As the rider, it was being patient and following the directions of the tuner. As the mechanic, being patient and following the directions of the tuner. You know I'm sure the tuner (Rod) is going to tell you that it is dealing with the rider and mechanic.What's it like riding on the salt?
The salt looks like a frozen lake and even has the same crunching sound that ice makes when you walk on it, but the salt is far from slippery, in fact the traction is good. It's awesome making a run where almost 90 years of racing history has been made.What's been the most challenging aspect for this current Honda CR125R project?
TIME! With out a doubt, we don't have the time we like to properly develop the bikes and motors to their optimum performance levels. To get these bikes ready to run safely at Bonneville will take the full six months. To get a bike to qualify to set a record... well, there are some very talented people out there who worked hard for years before they ever qualified or set a record.Who has been the biggest help pulling this together?
There are over 30 companies giving us help on this project. They have provided us with everything from products and expertise to personnel; some have provided us with all three. Each one has a critical role because these motorcycles are being used for a unique purpose and many parts need to be custom made. Without the help of any one of them, our chances of doing well would be greatly reduced.What have been the most difficult things to source?
It may be the time we are asking people use while they help us solve all of the challenges associated with preparing these bikes for Bonneville.What have been the most difficult parts to fabricate?
From the chassis builder's point of view it would be the suspension and the drive train. Race Tech had to redesign the rear linkage and shock to allow room for the modified motors. The wheels along with the sprockets are another part that had to be made special for these bikes and it has been a group effort of several companies to get them completed.What kind of reaction has this bike received during the test runs?
It doesn't look like the other bikes that normally run in LSR (Land Speed Racing) and I think that makes it interesting to look at. It takes a minute for most people to realize why the bike looks so familiar and then they figure out it started life as the Honda CR we all know and love.What does it take to physically set the land speed record?
If you make a run and it's faster than the current record for your class, you qualify for a second run the next morning. If the combined speed of your two runs is greater than the existing record then you set a new record.Is the rulebook clearly defined for this type of competition or is it open for interpretation in many areas?
In motorcycles, the Production class is pretty clearly defined, but the modified classes allow for much more creativity and the special construction classes even more.How much testing goes into a project like this?
Never enough! We have already done some low speed runs in race conditions to test the stability of the bikes, and so far so good. When we finalize the chassis design, the motors can be tested on the K&N; dyno and then Rod will use this information to set up packages for testing in race conditions. Like all forms of racing there are so many variables that affect a motor's performance. We want to test in as many conditions as possible before the event.How many bikes are you building this year, and what are the classes in which they will be ridden?
We hope to have three bikes ready to compete, one in the M-G Modified class and one in the A-G Special Construction Class with one bike as a spare.How long does the bike have to sustain speed to be counted as a land speed record?
We will run on the short course which will be approximately 5 miles long. Our speed will be measured in the section between miles two and three, so we'll stay wide open from the start through this section.What happens if a bike blows up at 120 mph on the salt?
I haven't had that experience yet, but I was talking to Canadian racer Jason McVicor who blew the engine on his R1 at over 200mph. He told me that he thought he had blown a water hose, but it turned out to be the rod going through the case and through the radiator, causing the leak. Jason said he just pulled in the clutch and coasted to a stop, no problem.Are the goals realistic for this project?
Well... we are trying to make a 2 stroke dirt bike with about 7 cubic inches of displacement run for over 3 miles at full throttle with a 180 pound rider at speeds well over 120 miles an hour at an altitude of nearly a mile high, in temperatures of around 110 degrees...maybe not realistic, but I think it is possible.How long have you known Rod Falkner?
I met Rod in 1977 in a snow storm in Anchorage, Alaska. He was there to interview me for the Nordstrom's ski department. At that time, Nordstrom's also sold tires, appliances and skis along with clothing and shoes. I got the job and really enjoyed working with Rod so we have been working together ever since.What does Rod Falkner bring to this project?
Rod brings the knowledge and experience that is necessary for us to have a real chance at a record. He has helped set records before with teams running both cars and motorcycles. Rod eats, sleeps and breathes internal combustion motors and has adapted quickly to the challenges of heat and altitude that come with Bonneville.What's the ultimate Bonneville project bike you hope to build someday?
This might be the one; I think it captures the spirit of LSR for me. You are allowed to use your imagination and build a vehicle that may not be like anyone else's and then take it to Bonneville run it. For me personally, Bonneville isn't about going fast, it's about going faster.