Too much monkey business
From Cyril's memoirs dated 14 September 2007
Speed, to me, will always mean Bonneville Salt Flats. And prison food. The other evening Francesca and I were rooting away in the store room at the back of my office, getting up a good old sweat humping and humping box after box of old papers and documents from years back. I managed to drop one and amongst the spillage I noticed a notebook from a trip to Bonneville during my days at Suzuki. I've reprinted some of that notebook here, and hope that, should this memoir ever see the light of day, I'm not sued by any of those still in a position to do so.
15 June 1980: Finally, after some outrageous bribery, the warders have given me back my notebook. How do I describe the catastrophic events of the past five days? From the beginning, I suppose. So...
10 June 1980: We fly into Salt Lake City and collect the hire car. There's immediately an argument as to who will drive, with Barry [Sheene] insisting that it's him. I tell him I'd heard enough stories of what he and Stavros [Steve Parrish] had got up to with hire cars and hand the keys to our chief technician, Don Prior. Barry goes into a sulk in the back of the car and all the way to Bonneville lets go of silent but utterly nauseating farts, chuckling each time we’re forced to wind down the Chevrolet's windows in panic.
Check into the hotel and meet with the rest of the crew. The bike and spares are here, having been shipped over ahead of us. I remind everyone of Suzuki's desire to keep this under wraps, hence the unliveried bike and choosing a relatively quiet time at the salt flats. We're not here to break records, but we do want to push this bike to the limit. Early night, big day tomorrow. Passing through the bar I wish Barry goodnight. He calls me a c***. Light heartedly, I'm sure.
11 June 1980: This morning Barry puts in some very high speed runs before complaining of a loss of power. Don Prior begins to take a look, but even under the awning the sun’s heat is intense and he's clearly flustered. With uncharacteristic clumsiness he pulls the bike on top of himself, taking a heavy blow to the head. He insists all is okay, but it was a mighty knock and he has a cut that might need stitches, so I send him with one of the mechanics to get a check up with a doctor in town. He returns two hours later with a bemused mechanic and a chimpanzee ventriloquist’s dummy which is dressed in a Stetson hat, fringed leather chaps and blue waistcoat, complete with sheriff's badge. Don assures me that he's feeling fine. Or rather, Mr Kenny Roberts the Chimp assures me.
12 June 1980: Don comes down to breakfast with Mr Kenny Roberts on his arm and speaks only through the dummy throughout. This sets the pattern for the day, with the chimp advising Don on carb settings and revised ignition timing. Don clearly finds it awkward working with a dummy on his left hand, but when Barry suggests he 'put the fackin' monkey down' Don becomes agitated and we let him get on with it.
After lunch, Barry threatens to refuse to ride unless 'that bloody lunatic puts down the fackin' chimp and gets on with his bleedin' job'. In the event, Barry relents, but the afternoon session comes to a premature halt when salt crystals are sucked into the engine, damaging the bore and a valve seat on number one pot. A heated row develops between Don Prior and Mr Kenny Roberts, Don castigating the puppet-chimp for advising they run without air filters.
It's now late in the evening and Barry and I are enjoying a few drinks in the hotel bar. Then Don appears, having worked on the motor all evening, and still with Mr Kenny Roberts on his arm, its synthetic fur matted with grease and looking rather worse for wear. As does Don.
Barry, choosing the diplomatic route as ever, says: 'Don, I've had enough of this. You've bleedin' cracked. Give me the fackin' monkey, I'll fackin' put an end to this bollocks.' With which he lunges at the dummy and a bitter struggle ensues, during which tables are knocked over, with glasses crashing to the floor. Finally, Barry bursts free from Don, triumphantly holding aloft the head of Mr Kenny Roberts.
'That's it. It's fackin' over, you nutter,' he shouts, throwing the head across the bar with some force. Unfortunately, it ricochets off the jukebox and bounces onto a table, knocking a drink into the lap of the local chief of police, who’s been watching the whole sordid performance.
So, there you have it. We were all eventually released after paying substantial fines and while at least some of the work we carried out at Bonneville did find its way, many years later, onto the Hayabusa, Don Prior was never quite the same again, though he did complete a successful 1981 summer season with a refurbished Mr Kenny Roberts as Kenny and Don on Blackpool’s north pier.