The quiet man

Sam Wheeler RIP

Imagine having the passion to start a project while you are at school, and still be as fervent 55 years later……….no? I can’t either, but Sam Wheeler could!

He and a couple of his friends built a Bultaco-powered bike at high school. This was followed by a Norton streamliner and, most famously, by EZ Hook.

In a world where you only succeed when you beat the best ever in order to set a record, this demands a certain level of confidence and self ego. Sam had the former, but not the latter. He pursued his dream in a calm, quiet and orderly manner which disguised his absolute determination to be the best. He always arrived at Bonneville in his own time, and set up his pit with his small, devoted team. He always looked to run when he felt good and the bike was ready, and not before. His team would push him off and he would almost saunter off down the salt, setting himself before he started to push the speed. Nobody was buying a hotdog when Sam was running down the salt!

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If you asked anyone in the Bonneville paddock who most deserved to set the record there was only ever one answer. SAM! That was why the cheer was so loud in 2004 at Speedweek when he set a two run record of 332mph! I know because I was there competing and I was probably cheering the loudest…being a shy Brit! Everybody knew that this was not an official World Record because the runs were done in the same direction, and on two different days, but it sure felt like it!

Sam was universally liked and respected. He was dignified and intelligent, being interested in everybody else as well as his own work. When you talked to him he would listen, and engage in conversation that left you in no doubt that he was not simply waiting to respond with his own agenda, but enjoying the interaction. He talked with great fondness about the four years he spent in the UK at the Norton factory, adding hastily that he was not responsible for it’s demise!

In EZ Hook Sam created one of the most iconic vehicles ever to grace the Bonneville Salt Flats. In striking Kawasaki green the streamliner looked almost delicate compared to some of the other vehicles, being small and low. This was possible because Sam used a single motorcycle engine and relied more on the aerodynamics than brute power. The use of CNC manufacture for components purveyed a beautiful machine that prompted a funny anecdote when we talked in 2009. I told Sam that if I had EZ Hook I would have to buy another house so that I could get the streamliner into the living room and thus be able to throw the television out…Sam was particularly tickled by that but the fact remains EZ Hook WAS an incredible machine.

Sam had previously used his knowledge and skills to build the remarkable, equally distinctive bright yellow streamliner which was powered by a twin cylinder, 750cc Norton engine. The 4-inch wide spine frame went straight up and over Sam, which only allowed him to look sideways. After Sam had exceeded 214mph the officials kindly requested that it was best he leave it at home!!

It is so hard to imagine that Sam has gone. Everyone will have their favourite memories of him, and long may they linger….I am not a betting person but would be amazed if any of them were negative!
In this world of overused language and general exaggeration, I hesitate to use the phrase, but I must because in this case it is true……

Sam was the nicest person in the world!!!