The sun had hardly warmed the morning air on Saturday before Russell and Stinton had sped through the time trap at 50.21 mph and a voice on a loudspeaker was shouting. "Ladies and gentlemen, you have just witnessed history!" But Russell and Stinton knew they could go faster. Their on-board speedometer had indicated that they were still accelerating as they went through the trap. By beginning their sprint earlier, they felt they would reach their optimum speed going in and be able to maintain it for the necessary eight-plus seconds.
On Sunday morning the air was dead still as the qualifiers—those timed at at least 40 mph on Saturday—bustled to get ready for the 7 a.m. start. Matt Rawdon, "ace bike mechanic," from Lil' Henry's bike shop in Riverside, was trying to shrink the heat-sensitive fairing on his Iron Bustard to an even tighter fit. "Of all the vehicles expected to go fast, this is the most crude," he observed of the Bustard, which Nellie Randolph, part owner of Lil' Henry's, added was made of half a Motobecane, parts of a Peugeot and a Colnago and "my favorite curtain rods." In spite of the 105 pounds all this added up to, the Bustard tandem went 48.26 mph and finished third in the multiple-rider category.
By a chain link fence, Dr. Chester Kyle, professor of mechanical engineering at Cal State-Long Beach, pumped up the tires of his Teledyne, preparatory to making the first run of the day. Kyle is a founder of the event and the enthusiasm behind the International Human-Powered Vehicle Association, a 4-year-old organization that already has vice-presidents for land, air and water, though none yet for stationary power production, such as pedal-powered television. As he says, "Anything that goes, goes."
Out about a mile away from the timing area, White Lightning was ready for its first run. As it glided around the turn and into the straightaway, Stinton's muffled voice could be heard yelling at Russell, "Just get us down there straight, man!" And at 7:30 a.m. the Northrop machine broke its own record with a speed of 52.20 mph. At 8:43 a.m. it broke it again, going 53.45 mph.
With only one more shot at 55 mph and the Abbott Prize, things grew a little tense. One of the crew members lay on the ground spraying the bottom of the vehicle with Lemon Pledge and wiping it off. Tim Brummer detached a brake from the rear rider's position to lighten the load. Finally, at 9:40 a.m., Russell and Stinton were in place and the fairing sealed. Other crews chanted "Fifty-five! Fifty-five!" as the Northrop machine glided by, gathering speed into the turn. Then there was silence as it moved out of sight. Seconds passed.
"Oh, no!" somebody shouted. "The timer broke!"
Gradually word filtered back from the timing area. "And they had 56 on their speedo all the way through!"
There was some debate as to who should break the news to Russell and Stinton, who, being sealed up, presumably did not yet know. They did by the time they had made the full circle back to the start, and said they would be ready to try again in half an hour.
But they couldn't pull it off a second time. Their legs were tired, the wind was up, the tension was down. They managed a very creditable 54.43 and called it a day, the winner by 3.7 mph.
On Sunday afternoon Paul McCready, designer of the celebrated Gossamer Condor, sat in the open door of his van. The Condor now hangs in the Smithsonian, next to the Spirit of St. Louis, and McCready is the man to put the Human-Powered Speed Championships into historical perspective. "Nothing has been done here today that could not have been done in 1915 if the Wright brothers had been motivated toward human-powered flight," he said.