The grin was a dead giveaway. Bob Sellers spotted the smile on his friend's face as he pulled up to the end of the tarmac. Bill Warner was still straddling his race bike, a 'roided-up 1,000-horsepower Suzuki Hayabusa. The black Bell helmet was sitting on the gas tank. Warner's bathwater-blue eyes squinted merrily, teeth straight and bright as new piano ivories. The racer had just been clocked going 296.128 mph down the decommissioned airstrip.
"What are you so happy about?" teased Sellers, a thin Texan in his late 50s.
"Let me tell you something," Bill said as he twisted off the bike, his lean frame wrapped tight in a black leather protective suit. "When the front end stays down on this thing, it is a blast. When the front end comes up, it is not a fun motorcycle to ride."
All weekend here in Loring, Maine, Sellers and Warner had been gunning for a world record: push the Suzuki over 300 mph — in just a one-mile stretch. But since Friday, the bike had been unruly. With so much juice kicking in instantly, the front wheel was pulling up like the nose of a jetliner during takeoff. The men had been trying to straitjacket the bike's urges. That last successful shot, billiard-ball smooth, meant success.
"Bill, you've only got three and a half miles per hour to go," Sellers said as they drove back to the pits.
"Let's go get four," Bill answered.
By that Sunday this past July 14, at an event hosted by the East Coast Timing Association, it was no surprise that Bill Warner was knocking on the door of another world record. Back home in Central Florida, Bill was just a quiet country guy who ran a rural fish farm. But for a niche number of race fans, he was a phenom: the sitting king of a relatively new sport called land speed racing. Matches pit riders against the clock, gunning for record speeds over set distances. And no one had notched more than Warner: 27 records in less than a decade.
Physically and mentally, racing meant pushing the envelope, tapping the same "Right Stuff" Tom Wolfe celebrated when he wrote about test pilots and astronauts. Warner was overstocked with the requisite brains and balls.
Two summers earlier, here at this same mothballed B-52 airbase just a few clicks shy of the Canadian line, Warner had clocked 311.95 mph — over a distance of 1.5 miles. Riders had broken 300 mph in a mile on two wheels before — but only on streamliners, which are covered, rocket-shaped sleds, like luges. Warner was the first to blow through the 300 mph threshold on an upright bike, body exposed. His 311 was the fastest a regular motorcycle had ever gone. A sustained speed like that would cover a mile in less than ten seconds, almost half the velocity of a .45 caliber bullet.
That "big number," as Warner called it, meant attention. From fans looking for autographs. From sponsors waving contracts. And today, from the 500 or so riders and spectators at the airstrip in Maine.
People eyed Warner with something approaching awe. He was basically a grounded space explorer, bending physics to boldly go where no motorcycle had gone before. Topping Alps, touching ocean beds — Warner's feats sprang from that same itch to push what's possible. But you'd never, ever hear Warner talk about it like that. Truly humble, self-importance or arrogance never breached his nice-guy poker face. Warner made the seemingly impossible look like no biggie.
On that day in Maine, all eyes were aimed his way. Especially because this would be his last race before retiring. Break 300 in a mile, then bow out at the top.
Warner and Sellers wove through the rows of tents and trailers, then unloaded the Hayabusa. It gleamed with new silver and blue paint. Big, aerodynamic plastic coverings, called fairings, sheathed the machine. At his laptop, Bill chewed on data logged by the bike's computer from the last run. Sellers did his maintenance routine, hunting for tire damage, topping the fuel, draining the coolant. The men worked with the same silent care and countdown nerves as engineers prepping for a NASA moonshot.
Sellers followed his rider to the starting line for his third run of the day. Bill's eyes scanned the engine temperature. He flicked on the water pump. With his left hand on the clutch, his right put the bike in gear. The engine revved to 6,000 rpm, the bike's fat growl climbing to a high buzzy whine. As Bill let out the clutch, the bike rolled a few feet, as gently as if it had been pushed. Then, when he was ready, tires began screaming. He shot off into the distance.
In a little over a minute, the PA system barked out the results: 293 mph. When Sellers fetched Warner from the end of the track, the smile was scrubbed from his face. The rider barely spoke. Sellers could feel the disappointment radiating off his friend. Disappointment and the need to do it again.
Warner was usually so prepared he rarely made more than one or two runs. Almost never four. But Sellers could tell his friend wasn't going to turn in without hitting his mark.
They repeated the prep. Around 10 a.m., Bill's engine again revved at the starting line. With a nod to his crew chief, he threw the bike forward. Sellers watched as Warner quickly disappeared down the tarmac. Far ahead, where the runway rubbed against the treeline, Sellers spotted a small puff of smoke.
Any kid dead-sprinting to an imaginary finish line alone in the backyard knows the urge: Go fast. Go faster. Put the same kid on wheels, same story.
Land speed racing officially began in the late 1940s, when racers found their hot rods — mostly Fords tricked out with V8 engines — were too much for the cities and suburbs of Southern California. In 1949, they stumbled on the Bonneville Salt Flats, 30,000 pancaked acres of dried-up lake bottom in northwest Utah. The public land became the perfect running ground for racers testing Cadillac and Oldsmobile V8s of the early 1950s at top speeds and, later, motorcycles.
Unlike drag racing, where two vehicles try to outgas each other, land speed racing is more about pushing the machinery to the max. "You don't have to worry about the guy next to you smashing into you. You have to worry about yourself," says Guy Caputo, a 57-year-old land speed racer from Ohio. "I always say land speed racing is where old drag racers go to die."
Technical advances propelled the sport. In the 1970s, turbo systems were introduced; by pressurizing the engine, the upgrade doubled the amount of horsepower flowing in a bike's veins. But the real breakthrough for land speed racing was the Suzuki Hayabusa. Introduced in 1999, the $12,000 computer-controlled bike could punch 180 mph right out of the showroom without any upgrades.
"It changed everything," explains Larry Forstall, a longtime racer and mechanic from the Philadelphia area. "The guys now had these big powerful motorcycles, and what are they going to do with them? You can't go 190 mph on a United States highway."
Up until the mid-'90s, racers had to haul west to Bonneville to ride. But in 1995, the newly formed East Coast Timing Association started holding land speed runs on abandoned airstrips, pieces of land that were long, empty, and safe enough for the matches. Local governments were more than willing to rent out the space. First in Moultrie, Georgia, and a year later at a shuttered 1.9-mile World War II airstrip in Maxton, North Carolina, riders began gathering. Today there are only five sites in the U.S. holding land speed events.
Still, land speed racing remained an outer isle in the auto junkie's world. NASCAR and Indy racing, with their celeb drivers and six-figure jackpots, got the attention. There was zero prize money in land speed; sponsorships were nil. And the risks were undeniable. The fiercest tornados, which spin near 130 mph, rip down entire towns. Land speed racers regularly flirt with 200 mph. A crash means serious injury — at least.
The sport drew a small following of speed freaks and techies. Scattered across the country, enthusiasts communed on online forums like suzukihayabusa.org, later cementing friendships at matches. Some guys, like Scott Guthrie, built their own success into a brand. Dubbed the "Sultan of Speed," the Tallahassee-based racer logged hundreds of 200 mph runs on his own, then began sponsoring young riders on his own bikes. Other riders, like Toledo's Guy Caputo, are essentially one-man operations.
"When I break a record, I get a nifty certificate, a T-shirt, and a hat," says Caputo. "Who wants to spend $60,000 on a motorcycle to get a certificate and a hat? Well, along with that goes bragging rights. What can you tell me about you that you are the only one in the world? For nine years, I was the only one in the world with the fastest nitrous-injected motorcycle on the planet. For nine years."
Bill Warner began knocking off standing records in the mid-2000s. By accomplishing so much in a small blip of time, he was like the Tiger Woods or Tony Hawk of land speed, the one guy who excelled so completely at the sport that he became synonymous with it. Until Warner racked up his big number, the sitting record had been stuck in the 260s.
"When the rest of the world was trying to go 260 or 270, he went 311," says Don Smith, a Chattanooga-based freelance journalist who covers racing. "Usually records are broken in tenths of a mile per hour. Bill just obliterated these speeds and jumped it 53 mph. There hadn't been a 10 or 15 mph increase in 20 years before that."
By becoming the sport's biggest name — its great exemplar — he inched it toward mainstream. "It was just a confluence," says Forstall. "The bikes came along, the racetracks came along, and Bill came along."
Adds Guthrie: "What he accomplished was the equivalent of when there was nobody in the NBA over six feet tall."
You couldn't have picked a more unlikely guy to be the sport's Michael Jordan.
Bill Warner was born in Little Falls, a dot of about 5,000 people straddling the Mohawk River where it carves a sharp valley through the hills of upstate New York. He was the youngest of three kids born to a former dairy farmer and a Ukrainian immigrant.
Friends say the parents kept a loving yet strict grip on the kids. But there were always ATVs and dirt bikes around the house for grinding through the nearby woods. Once Bill's dad bought two broken Bronco minibikes so he could patch together one working bike for Ray, Bill's older brother. With the house empty, Warner would roll one of the bikes up and down the driveway, hoping the engine would catch. The only time he got the thing going, it blasted through a nearby fence, he'd later recount.
In the mid-'80s, when a small dirt track opened, Bill and friend Tom Panko dragged over their beat-up bikes only to see they were outgunned by the competition. "He was racing against these guys with bigger engines," Panko recalls. "I know he was competing for first, neck and neck, even though he didn't have the same equipment." Later, old enough to drive his dad's Dodge Colt, Warner rarely passed up the opportunity on straightaway roads to roll up the windows and see how far he could throw the needle on the speedometer.
In high school, Warner kept a low profile — an impressive disappearing act, considering Little Falls High had only about 90 kids in a class. Outside of a few friends and the occasional girlfriend, Bill didn't socialize much. He did compete, though. Whether he was doing crazy workouts with the varsity wrestling team or going stroke for stroke against friends on the golf course, a drive to win peeked through his otherwise quiet, friendly demeanor.
For college, Warner decided on the marine biology program at the University of Tampa. "His interest in marine biology was that it was in Florida and around girls in bikinis," Panko jokes. "He never was really looking to rebel or anything. He just wanted to get out and do his own thing."
Warner stayed in Florida after graduation, working as a fish farmer around the state. In 1995, he was part of a six-person team tasked with creating the wetlands exhibit at the soon-to-open Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Warner was on the freshwater fish and alligator detail. He eventually left to open his own operation.
At his farms — over the course of the late '90s and 2000s, he bounced his Warner Aquatic Resources around three different locations — Bill raised cichlids, tropical freshwater aquarium fish indigenous to Africa. Typical for his personality, he picked a challenge: Cichlids were mouth-breeders, meaning he had to manually wrench open their jaws to pour out the eggs.
Business hiccuped along, and at some point in the early 2000s, Warner began buying old motorcycles to sell off the parts for extra cash. He eventually turned up at his Wimauma farm with his own Yamaha V-Max. Online, he met a group of Florida riders; together, they buzzed around the state to races at Daytona and Bradenton.
The weekend warrior's first small step to high-speed glory came in 2004. As Warner later explained to dirtbike.com, he saw a news story out of Minnesota about a radar gun glitch resulting in a 200 mph speeding citation. The number snagged in his head.
"I want to make a V-Max go 200," he announced to his buddies, adding he'd do it "naked," or without a turbo system. Only three bikes had ever been clocked at that speed without modification, none a V-Max. It was like saying he wanted to take a Cessna for a spin in Earth's orbit.
"I said, 'I'll try to help you do it,' " recalls Jerry Gainey, a motorcycle tech from Orlando who rode with Warner. " 'I don't think we'll be able to do it, but we'll try.' "
When Bill started shooting down the track at Maxton on his V-Max in 2007, he quickly earned his stripes as a fearless competitor with mechanical smarts. He wasn't the first rider with the combo, but he did bring something unique to the track: the marine biologist's soft spot for scientific data. It helped that Gainey was ex-military and could appreciate detail. Together they began logging the minute aspects of the bike's performance using computer tracking.
"We wrote everything down, and we'd only make minor adjustments to the bike at one time," says Gainey. "There's so many things you can do to a bike that will help or hurt you to go fast."
The team noted the effects of each run like lab techs eying bubbling test tubes. They'd add a drop of extra fuel to the injector, then note the difference. By comparing the front and back tire speeds, they could see where the bike was losing traction and adjust the clutch accordingly. Bill also cut weight on the bike whenever possible, swapping the bike's battery for a moped model or steel parts with aluminum.
In spring 2007, Warner and Gainey trucked the nine hours from Florida to Maxton. Day three of racing, he was clocked at 200.06, still a snail to the Hayabusas' blitzkrieg but incredible nonetheless — no one had ever ridden a V-Max that fast. It was the first significant mark on his scorecard. At a ceremony that night, Warner was inaugurated into the East Coast Timing Association's 200 club. He got a certificate, a ball cap, and golden bragging rights.
"To me, it was a big deal, and it made me feel great to see it was special to other people also," Bill later wrote on his website, wildbros.com. "As I shook the other 200mph members' hands and listened to their speeds, I felt close to each and every one of them (even though they all were faster than me :-)."
But Warner wasn't going to let others go faster than him for long. In fall 2007, he upgraded to a 700-horsepower, first-generation Hayabusa. The 'Busa's turbo fuel injection system delivered the mechanical equivalent of a hit off a crack pipe. The bike's advanced onboard computer also recorded more than 60 performance readings during a run, leaving bread crumbs of data on everything from intake and exhaust temperatures to throttle and suspension positions.
It meant Warner could have a millisecond-by-millisecond diagnostic on his bike. And although racers before him had access to the same minutiae, Warner was the first to really soak in the stats. Hitting top speed was a matter of expertly harnessing physics, adding the right amount of turbo boost at exactly the right time — but not too much at once. "It was about the rpm's when you're shifting gears," says Trillium Muir, the fastest female land speed racer. "We probably had lower ramp-up rates than most but higher boost rates." Warner's secret method of exploiting the data and knowing exactly when to shift and punch the turbo left other riders in the dust.
Back in Wimauma, Warner set up a dyno — or stationary harness — inside a cargo shipping container where he kept his bikes. With engine heat and exhaust fumes cooking the metal room like a microwave, Bill would run the 'Busa for hours, then carefully analyze the bike's behavior. The extra intel made all the difference.
"The old days of grip-it-and-rip-it — my hand is my computer? That doesn't fly anymore," says Walter Kudron, a New Jersey-based racer who became Bill's close friend and sponsorship coordinator. "In our sport, a tenth of a mile an hour could be the difference of setting a record or not."
In 2009, Warner beat every competitor at four of the five matches he attended. The next year, at the Maxton season opener in April, the rider arrived hoping to beat the track's record, 260.28 mph, which had stood for five years. When a bike sponsored by Scott Guthrie broke the record at 264 mph on an early run, Bill went back to his data. Thirty minutes later, he blew past the new mark at 272 mph.
That July, Bill was clocked at 273 mph in Loring — eight miles faster than anyone had ever gone on that track. That October, in Goliad, Texas, Bill demolished the strip's standing record of 261.5 mph with a 270.7. Afterward, Bill went back to the trailer to scan the numbers. The next day, he clocked 278.6.
On race days, when riders and crew members were juiced up with missile-launch anticipation, Bill always seemed to live inside his own calm ozone. After setting a record, he celebrated, but in his own idiosyncratic, low-key way: with French fries.
The still surface was deceiving, friends say. Inside, Warner housed a relentless, no-brakes compulsion to win. If someone said he couldn't hit a record, he figured out a way to do it. If another racer was chasing a big number, that became his next goal.
"I think it was probably bottled up inside of him and when he found racing, it just exploded," says Larry Forstall. "I think there also was a certain fear of failure. He worked extra hard to make sure when he got there, it worked right and he didn't look stupid."
Warner stowed away his ambition by snipping it completely free from ego. He didn't gloat, never boasted. Despite growing records, Bill remained a Florida Everydude, a friendly guy who wore only shorts, white New Balance sneakers, and T-shirts and was so frugal that he'd eat at any discount buffet he came across, even if it meant he'd likely lose the next day locked in a bathroom.
That striving flashed in only one area: Warner wanted to be on a magazine cover. Such big-time attention would prove to his family that his accomplishments in riding meant something. "They really didn't understand the desire to keep going faster and faster," says Muir. His favorite song was Dr. Hook's '70s anthem "Cover of the Rolling Stone."
When most diehards in the land speed racing world agreed that going 300 mph was out of reach, Bill had his new goal.
During the winter bridging 2010 and 2011, Bill Warner was on lockdown at the Wimauma farm. The ponds were empty, the fish business at a standstill. Bill always lived simply on this one-acre plot with a pair of Dobermans, but that winter, he'd whittled his life down like a monk.
Egg-salad sandwiches and Campbell's soup were all he ate. The weight drained from his frame, his once-rounded face now sunken like a deflated basketball. He spent days inside a barn, endlessly reviewing online tutorials and tinkering with new parts. He was piecing together a monster: a new Suzuki Hayabusa he'd later dub his "race bike."
By 2010, Warner's reputation was platinum-grade; companies were eager to front the parts in order to get their stickers on what would be a history-making motorcycle. Although its final value was probably around $100,000, Warner paid nothing and assembled the pieces himself. "There were a lot of comments online [speculating] the bike took ten years to build," Forstall says. "The insiders just laugh, because it was just Bill."
Regular bikes were dangerous enough. In 2009, Bill and Jerry Gainey had been pulling weeds out of the bike's wheel after a washout when Dave Owen, one of the most well-liked and respected guys in land speed, was killed on the track at Maxton going just over 200 mph. But 300? No one had handled a bike at those speeds before. Basic physics dictates that the amount of kinetic energy you're pointing down the course increases exponentially the faster you ride. The problem was stopping. Most of the tracks hosting land speed events were on 9,000-foot runways; after accelerating, there were still thousands of feet left to slow down. But on some record runs, Bill's past bikes had burst past the end of the runways into the brush. Would the same amount of track be enough to slow down, even with more energy?
Sal Spatafora, a race mechanic who knew Warner well, warned his friend. "Some of the big bikes that I've built, I don't feel too comfortable on them," he counseled. "I love the speed, but they're just not factory smooth and reliable. Once you push the horsepower up, the reliability comes down."
The new Hayabusa looked unlike a usual road bike. The entire surface of the vehicle was wrapped tightly in a teardrop-shaped blue plastic covering. The aerodynamic streamlining cut both ways: It helped acceleration, but a good blast of wind was enough to topple the bike. The key was to carefully increase the bike's power strategically while avoiding bad weather.
On July 21, 2011, under a low blanket of gray clouds at Loring, Warner boarded his motorcycle. In two earlier passes, he'd clocked in the 290s over 1.5 miles. The few hundred spectators scattered around the course all expected the next run would crack the coveted mark.
The race bike growled out from the starting line, quickly knifing down the runway.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the PA system announced moments later, "we just had the first motorcycle in history go over 300 mph!"
Once the crowd cheers died down, after Bill embraced his friends, and once the racer learned he'd not only passed the 300 mark but screamed by on the way to 311.95 mph, the world's fastest motorcycle rider made a humble speech.
"There's no fame, there's no glory, and there's no money in this," Warner said as he stood with both hands touching the cooling bike. "My prize is hearing from you guys and getting my hand shaken by you. So I really appreciate everyone that's here and all your comments. Thank you all."
Warner was flying. Chipped runway paint zipped along under his wheels. The speedometer pushed past 200 mph. Slipping through wind, the edges of his vision started to melt while the Texas horizon dead-ahead went high-def. But then with sudden sea legs, the tunnel vision rocked to the right, then left. The bike slowed, skidded. The machine flopped over on its left side, slamming the rider to the ground.
The crash came in October 2011 in Goliad, Texas. His ribs were broken, a lung was punctured, and he'd severely mangled his left foot and knee after the 'Busa flipped on its side. He was stuck in a Houston-area hospital for 26 days.
Bill Warner was just becoming big-time. With 311 in the books, T-shirts and ball caps were printed up with the digits, tokens of his achievement. Tech journals and motorcycle mags featured stories on his racing, though the bike's simple blue paint job kept it off the covers. The back-and-forths on online forums about his bike and technique went on for pages and pages. Kids started asking for his photos and autographs. Warner always said yes.
"He was almost embarrassed by the success," Forstall says. "The publicity that he got was not something he looked for. But he knew he had to do certain things because of the sponsors."
But the Texas spill shook Warner. He decided to retire. Instead of racing, he'd put on his own event. A second act as a promoter would allow him to still capitalize on his record, but the calmer role fit where his life was headed. Easing into his early 40s, he'd met a Lakeland woman named Lori. They'd dated for the past couple of years. More than one friend told Bill he'd met a keeper.
Throughout 2012, Warner planned his event, dubbed the Houston Mile, a motorcycle and car land speed race scheduled for October 2013. Guessing he'd need income after he shelved racing, he also ramped back up Warner Aquatic Resources, his fish business in Wimauma.
But just when Warner seemed ready for the next step, he heard Guy Caputo had drummed up sponsors for his own monster Hayabusa. His goal: blitzing 300 mph in a single mile.
Warner's drive revved up again. He wanted to nail it first. Bill penciled in his swan song in July 2013, when Loring was holding a match. After that, he'd sell the bike.
But Warner wasn't the same guy who'd popped 311 mph in 2011. The Texas crash had shaken something loose inside. Call it a burst of delayed doubt, common sense, or some whispery intuition of what might be waiting down the track, but Warner told more than one friend he was worried about the 'Busa's power, trying to get up to 300 in a short distance. "He had to maximize acceleration but not overdo it or the tire would spin like crazy and the front end would lift," Forstall says. "It's a very fine line, and it got even finer with the short distance. It's two-thirds the distance, but he's going the same speed."
In early summer of this year, Warner called up Sal Spatafora, who had warned him earlier.
"Last time you told me, I really didn't think about it," the racer said. "But as I'm getting older, I'm starting to think about it more."
"I think he started getting spooked," Spatafora recalls today.
Warner was more direct with others, right up through that weekend in Loring.
"Can I ask you something?" Bill said to his friend and crew chief, Bob Sellers, on the Friday of their final stay in Maine. "Have you ever played Russian roulette?"
"No, Bill," Sellers nervously replied. "Why would you ask me that?"
"Because that's what I feel like I'm doing here."
The paramedics were already surrounding Bill where he lay in the grass by the time Sellers rushed up from the starting line. Following the protocol of race accidents, Sellers kept his distance, waiting back on the tarmac where the 'Busa's tailpiece was abandoned. As they loaded the racer into an ambulance, a medic told Sellers that Bill was "alert, responsive, and conscious." Hanging tight to those words like a lucky mantra, Sellers followed to the hospital in nearby Caribou.
After being shuttled alone into a small waiting room, Sellers was joined by a surgeon. He assumed his buddy was banged up — Texas all over again — until she spoke. "I'm sorry, but we lost Bill."
"What do you mean, we lost Bill?"
"Let me ask you something," the doctor continued. "How fast was he going when this motorcycle accident occurred?"
"I don't know, probably around 300 mph."
Sellers caught a change in the doctor's eyes. "The human body cannot take trauma such as this from a 300 mph accident," she said.
Something had gone wrong about 4,000 feet down the track. At the time, Bill had still been accelerating, hovering somewhere around 286 mph. The rider and his bike were thrown in opposite directions, landing hundreds of feet apart. Local police are still investigating what exactly caused the crash. Bill's family and girlfriend were too upset to talk for this article.
But friends say Warner could not have been coaxed off his bike before the last run. "He wouldn't have been happy," explains Trillium Muir. "He wouldn't have been fulfilled."
Riders turned up in Little Falls for the funeral. Warner's casket was carried by six friends from racing — including Sellers, Gainey, Muir, and her husband. A group toasted the loss in a nearby pub, endless spinning "Cover of the Rolling Stone" from the jukebox while the regulars shot over puzzled looks. "We joked about playing it 311 times," Muir says, her voice still soggy with the memory.
The death sent a dark premonitory note whistling through the race world. The mourning seems both for the man and the achievements he embodied.
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Warner's closest friends are taking hard looks at the sport. "I've got a few mixed feelings now about the pavement events," Bob Sellers says. "We've realized there's a potential danger in what we do. It makes me second-guess it." The crew chief has been out to the Bonneville salt flats since the crash, working with another rider. But the experience fell short of his time with Warner. With the racer gone, his Houston Mile event isn't likely to happen. Muir and her husband quit racing partly because of Warner's death.
Other riders are lining up behind his legacy. Warner's approach to statistics has yet to be replicated, and his friends are mum on exactly what Warner would look for in the data. Realistically, it's only a matter of time before someone else begins finding the same patterns.
Guy Caputo is still aiming to push his own bike over 300 mph in a mile. "I've got records; I've got accolades. I used to be the world's fastest nitro bike. But I'm still not really satisfied," he says. "If I go, I want to go like Bill, in a blaze of glory."
But Warner's final glory — a word he probably would have cringed at — won't be his death but all those big numbers he left standing. "It's going to be a long, long time before anyone goes 311 mph on an open-wheel motorcycle again," says racing journalist Smith. "Maybe never."