RAAM Story

Bicycling Magazine
December 1989

[…]

Lightning Strikes

Lightning at HPV RAAM 1989

In the HPV race, which began 6 days after the regular RAAM, 4 relay teams competed in what was originally planned as a real-life test of the practicality of fully-faired recumbents. But only 2 entries were so designed, the methodical Lightning and the higher-tech Easy Racer. The remaining entries, Team Chronos and Strawberry, used normal bikes outfitted with partial fairings.

Easy Racer, Gardner Martin’s $15,000 Kevlar wind-slicer, which holds most HPV speed records, led from the start and built a maximum lead of 4½ hours. For the first 2,500 miles, this DuPont-sponsored machine performed flawlessly. With the relay format keeping all 4 riders fresh, it averaged about 35 mph.

But ultimately, the strain of leading a high-speed highly competitive chase across the country proved too much for the Easy Racer’s 8 crew members. In Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, they continually directed their riders off-course and into dangerous situations. A seemingly commanding lead of hours shrank to minutes.

“They threw time away,” said HPV race director Chris Kostman. “On the last day they got lost at least ten times.”

Easy Racer’s navigation problems were compounded by communication difficulties. Its 2-way radio system failed on the first day and was never repaired. As a result, the crew had to yell instructions to the riders. Conversely, Lightning had a loudspeaker connected to its CB radio. All upcoming turns, stop signs, and potential hazards were announced.

The turning point in the race occurred just west of Reading, Pennsylvania, when Easy Racer’s crew decided to make a strategic move by letting Lightning pass. With less than 150 miles remaining, Martin and company figured they’d simply let Lightning lead the way into the city. Then, with “Fast Freddy” Markham turning the machine’s 200-inch gear, they’d power past in the sprint.

Lightning at HPV RAAM 1989

But Markham, who has won 17 consecutive HPV races, never got the chance. Minutes after being passed, Easy Racer failed to make a traffic light and Lightning, driven by the swift Fourney, rolled out of sight. Without a beacon, Easy Racer immediately steered off-course and onto a limited access highway, where it narrowly avoided a barreling 18-wheeler.

For team director Martin, this close call was the final straw. Totally frazzled, he reportedly berated his crew and riders, then decided to withdraw from the race even though they were less than 5 hours from the finish.

“Maybe Gardner did the right thing,” Markham admitted later. “The last thing [Easy Racer sponsors] Dupont and Sharper Image needed was for us to dump the vehicle big time. Our vehicle was pretty good, our only problem was navigation.”

In contrast, Lightning’s crew, captained by Pete Pensayres' wife, Joanne, was ultra-experienced. The riders switched much faster than their competitors — a reflection, in part, of the fact that there were 2 working Lightnings, but only one Easy Racer.

Pete Penseyres also credited the change from 2- to one-hour shifts on the fourth day as helping the Diet Coke-sponsored Lightning close the gap. At the time, it was 4 hours back and fading. Although the benefit was barely noticeable on the speedometer, it proved to be decisive in the long run. A switch from tubulars to clinchers on the 16-inch front wheels (normally used for wheelchair racing) helped, too, by reducing the number of flats.

“It was so wild,” said Forney. “It was the closest race it could have been. We were closing like a freight train. But once they dropped out, it was kind of anticlimactic.”

“The HPV race is more like a stage race,” said Penseyres. “RAAM requires a rhythm and minimizing your time off the bike. In the HPV race you just have to maximize your speed.”

It was this speed that proved so taxing on the crews. At night, it was easy for the HPVs to outdistance the headlight beams of their support vehicles. And whenever a crew was caught by a traffic light, the result was a long, nerve-wracking chase back to its rider.

[…]

1989 RACE ACROSS AMERICA

Fairgrounds, Irvine, CA to Battery Park, NY City, NY, 2,911 miles
Race Director: John Marino; Team Director: Chris Kostman

HPV DIVISION (4-man relay teams):

  1. Team Lightning/Tim Brummer — 5: 01: 08 / 24.02 mph av. Michael Coles, Bob Fourney, James Penseyres, Pete Penseyres
  2. Team Chronos/Fairing HPV — 6: 07: 40 / 19.20 mph av. Paul Anderson, Thane Hall, Randall Olsen, Brian Spence
  3. Team Strawberry/Fairing HPV — 6: 14: 03 / 18.41 mph av. Greg Ewing, Mike Haluza, John Harvey, Alan MacDonald
  4. Team Goldrush/Gardner Martin (Fred Markham, Greg Miller, Michael Shermer, Dan Tout): 2,870 (DNF)
Lightning at HPV RAAM 1989
Lightning at HPV RAAM 1989

1989 RAAM articles: