Meeting Burt Munro | MEGAPHONE

A Run-In With the Rider of the World’s Fastest Indian

Bill Lucking isn't a cop, but he has played one on TV. He's played just about every other tough-guy character too, on shows like Gunsmoke, The Rockford Files, The West Wing, and most recently Sons of Anarchy, where he plays SAMCRO founder Piney Winston.

I recognized him one day when I was working in the private community in Southern California where he lives. I told him I was a fan of his work, and we talked for a short time. He’s one hell of a nice guy, nothing like the tough-guy cops and military men he typically plays. He was wearing a T-shirt that read, “The World’s Fastest Indian.”

“I met Burt Munro once,” I told him. “In fact, I had my picture taken with him.”

“You did?” he said, sounding surprised. “Where?”

I told him how I went to Bonneville in 1971. I was studying motorcycle repair at a trade school, and my instructor, Marty Dickerson, who held some records at Bonneville, took some of us to see the speed trials. The first motorcycle I had ever ridden, when I was 15 years old, was a Vincent Black Shadow—the same model Marty set his speed records on.

I put a couple pairs of underwear and my toothbrush in a bedroll and rode my Harley-Davidson Sportster straight through from Van Nuys, California, to Wendover, Utah, with a classmate on the back. I was really into motorcycles back then. I owned the Sportster along with a Honda that had been pinstriped by Von Dutch, the legendary painter and striper. Nowadays, Von Dutch is mostly known as a name on baseball caps and T-shirts.

We slept in the desert at night and hung out in the pits all day. Bonneville was laid-back. We went anywhere we wanted, without any kind of pass. Everyone associated with the speed trials appeared to know Marty, and we just followed him.

We were standing in the pits with Marty one morning when Burt Munro approached us. None of the students, including me, had any idea who this man was, but he was a legend with Marty and the rest of the land-speed racing crowd. He was an old man by then, born in 1899. He wore a long-sleeved cotton shirt and matching trousers. The shirt and trousers may have been white, many washings ago. He hardly looked like a world-famous racer, with his white pith helmet and beat-up, high-top Boondockers.

Marty gathered us all together for a group photo. Burt wouldn’t allow the photo to be taken until everyone removed their “artificial eyes,” as he called sunglasses. I don’t think Burt had his Indian with him that year. He was just hanging around, telling stories, and entertaining everyone.

And, boy, did he have stories to tell. Burt Munro was a real character. He worked his way over to the US from New Zealand on a cargo ship, transporting his 1920 Indian Scout in the cargo hold. He landed in Los Angeles and bought a Rambler sedan for $35. He drove that Rambler—towing his Indian Scout—to Bonneville. The year was 1967, and he went on to set a world record in his class, a record that still stands today.

Many years later, Marty Dickerson returned to Bonneville to serve as a technical consultant on the movie about Burt Munro, called The World’s Fastest Indian. Bill Lucking was there too. He had a major role in that movie, playing the part of Rollie Free, the cigar-chomping racer who became famous for streaking across the salt flats at over 150 mph on his own Vincent motorcycle, wearing just a bathing cap, loafers, and swimming trunks, in 1948.

Marty Dickerson also set a record back in 1948, but he wore proper racing leathers for his run. Burt Munro, Rollie Free, and Marty Dickerson were a rare breed of motorcycle racers. They were iron men on iron machines. I wish I still had that picture, but of course it’s long gone now.

Burt Munro set a record at 184.087 mph in 1967 in this homemade 1920 Indian Scout streamliner. That record still stands today.
Leroy Vaughn