Glendale shop owner is one of the fastest humans on two wheels


Ironwood, a fabrication shop in Glendale, is responsible for a number of museum exhibits across Southern California, including at the California Science Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The shop has even crafted elaborate scenery at Universal Studios and Six Flags theme parks.

But perhaps the shop’s finest fabrication is the body of a custom Suzuki motorcycle by owner Ralph Hudson, who in August used the vehicle to break the land-speed record for fastest partially streamlined, sit-on motorcycle — clocking in an average speed of 284 mph across three runs over a full mile.

At 66, Hudson already holds a few land-speed records for time trials at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, all set during the past decade.

Hudson had raced motorcycles at Bonneville from 1971 to 1976 but stopped racing for almost three decades to focus on supporting his family. Right around the time his son graduated college in 2006, Hudson hopped back on a bike for some vintage road racing.

In 2009, Hudson spent months fabricating body work on a stock Suzuki GSX-R1000 purchased on Craigslist and used it to break records at Bonneville’s annual Speed Week in August.

“I was talking to another racer and, just from the look he was giving me, I started thinking, ‘Am I going to be the guy who always talked about it, but never actually did it?’ So I decided, I gotta try it,” he said.

While other competitors relied heavily on expensive engine modifications to their motorcycles, Hudson said he depended on his fabrication skills to craft an aerodynamic marvel.

A few years back, he began to hear rumors that the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, or FIM — the sanctioning body behind events such as Grand Prix motorcycle racing — was inviting racers to attempt to break the 400mph mark on the world’s largest salt flat in Bolivia.

A few phone calls later, Hudson and his small team were invited to compete with three others for time trials at 12,000 feet in elevation during a cold and dry winter in Bolivia.

Reaching an average speed of 284 mph was difficult enough, but it also seemed the world was conspiring against Hudson with a series of logistical and mechanical setbacks.

The racers were given six days to set a record based on the average speed of attempts. Hudson’s equipment arrived two days late and the night it arrived, an opening celebration for the event led by the Bolivian president and other dignitaries halted all attempts.

Hudson burned out his clutch in the first run and, over the next few days of attempts, clogged his oil filter, overheated his engine, replaced electronic sensors and fixed an errant hose.

On the last day, another competitor from Texas had already reached 285 and Hudson said he felt he would not hit a record average despite all the money and time spent.

Hudson said he can’t usually tell how fast he’s going on his bike because he’s too focused on the instrument panel and adjusting his body in the breakneck wind in order to avoid any turbulence.

He said he had to rely on the reaction of the onsite FIM team to see how well he did.

Hudson recalls no initial reaction but within 100 feet, he saw them waving and signaling with thumbs up. He asked a FIM representative for his speed.

A voice over a walkie talkie said, “289.”

“I heard that and I was like ‘yahoo.’ We did it against all odds,” Hudson said. “Boy, that was a happy moment.”

Despite his success in a high-risk sport (Hudson has crashed only once) and “Hollywood ending” at Bolivia, Hudson said he still wants to break 300 mph.

“I’m not smart enough to be afraid. If you really understood what could happen, you’d be afraid,” he said. “But no, I don’t really think about it.”

Twitter: @JeffLanda