Grantham petrolhead to star in BBC documentary on Sunday

Chris Ireland on his "Indian" motorcycle gets a helping hand from his start crew.
Chris Ireland on his "Indian" motorcycle gets a helping hand from his start crew.
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Petrolhead Chris Ireland will see his journey to the “Fastest Place on Earth” feature in a BBC documentary this weekend.

Grantham-born Chris was one of a small group of UK motorcyclists who headed out to Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA for “Speed Week” in August of last year.

Bonneville is famous for its vast, dried lake bed which has seen remarkable records achieved over the years including Sir Malcolm Campbell achieving 300mph in his “Bluebird” and Craig Breedlove driving “Spirit of America” at more than 600mph in 1965.

Chris, a former pupil at Belton Lane School, National School and King’s School, had to use all of his engineering nous gained from his days at Aveling Barford to get his own bike ready for the trip to Bonneville.

Chris, formerly the front-man for Grantham punk group “The Brick Wall Band”, said: “My mate had raced there in 2010 and was going back in 2012 so asked me if I wanted to go and watch, but I don’t do watching so decided to build my own bike.

“I had an engine from a 1942 American “Indian”, left here at the end of the Second World War, so the next 18 months were spent rebuilding it and building the bike - frame and all - in the small workshop at the side of my house.

“Every part was hand made and not one bit of the engine escaped modification. I’ve always owned an “Indian” motorcycle and bought my first one when I was working at Whipples Garage in Westgate in the early 1970s.”

Chris soon learned that four other bikes were being built by fellow petrolheads around the country so they organized a meeting and decided to go out together.

It was Chris’ first trip to the United States.

He said: “I’d never been to America before. I’ve been all round the world but I never wanted to go to America because I don’t like Americans. They get on my nerves.

“But I got there and it was great...although the food was terrible - all grits and under-cooked eggs.

“But the people out there were great.”

The legendary racing venue more than lived up to Chris’ expectations.

He said: “What a vast place! It’s almost beyond imagination and you can actually see the curvature of the earth. The salt is dead flat, as hard as concrete and surrounded by huge mountains.

“The pits were two miles long with four lanes, so effectively there were eight miles of vehicles with their crews working under canvas shelters.”

Thanks to his modifications Chris was able to almost triple the top speed of his bike from a pedestrian 45mph to over 120mph but the conditions is Utah meant he could not reach the same speeds.

He said: “There were four courses, all dead straight and level. The temperature was around 120 degrees and Bonneville is over 4,000 feet above sea level.

“With adjustments for humidity we were racing at 7,600ft. This saps engine power by 30 per cent due to the lack of oxygen, so my bike - which was tested at 120mph over here - could only manage 81mph there.

“But that is still super-fast for a 70-year-old engine that could just about manage 45mph when first built and ridden by an old grandad.

“The bike proved to be 100 per cent reliable - a testament to the engineering skills I learned in Grantham - not missing a beat while some of the more modern bikes blew up.”

An 11-man film crew from the BBC shadowed Chris and his fellow racers, even spending five days at his home filming prior to flying out.

Chris said: “The first part will be all about getting to Bonneville and the second part will be all the racing.

“At one point I was racing and they had three HD cameras strapped to the bike, I was wearing a pair of glasses with a HD camera between the eyes, cameras at the start, at halfway and at the end and a drone with four propellers flying overhead.

“The budget for the BBC was £400,000 so it’s a major documentary.”

A first in a two-part BBC documentary on the trip called “Speed Dreams - The Fastest Place on Earth” will be shown on Sunday night on BBC2 at 10pm with the second part being shown the following week.

Chris suspects the post-watershed time-slot is because “there’s lots of swearing in it”

Meanwhile, Chris hopes to return to Bonneville in 2014 and is currently building a new supercharged bike in his garden shed in Great Yarmouth.