If you want to know what it feels like to go 258.27 miles per hour on a motorcycle or clock a quarter-mile in an elapsed time of 5.611 seconds on two wheels, you could ask Poquoson’s Larry McBride. In November, McBride, two months shy of his 60th birthday, became the first human being to do either.
Even McBride has a difficult time explaining the world records he broke — both more than five years old — on his Top Fuel dragbike at the Manufacturer’s Cup Final at South Georgia Motorsports Park in Cecil, Ga. He tried, though, first guessing how difficult it might be for a woman to describe childbirth, then comparing it to skydiving before giving up.
“It’s really just hard to put into words what it’s like to go that fast,” he said.
McBride did not have any problem talking about how grateful he is simply to compete, describing himself as “blessed.” And really, when you think about all that he’s been through, the term fits.
McBride says he’s suffered 15 bone breaks on motorcycles, with the four collarbone fractures receiving the most medical attention. In March 1992 in Gainesville, Fla., McBride wrecked at 205 mph, surviving with a torn-up elbow, broken right toe and road rash treated as burns.
Just two years ago, McBride suffered third-degree burns when his engine caught fire, causing large portions of his right calf and hip to look like raw beef. Following a series of operations and skin grafts, he was back racing in three months.
None of those injuries was as serious as the stroke he suffered in 2005 that rendered his left arm and leg virtually paralyzed. He says he regained use of both with neurofeedback rehabilitation and won his first race upon his return to the sport nine months after the stroke.
Have any of the physical setbacks made him fearful of getting back on a bike and running at 200-plus mph?
“The way the world is today you can get killed walking across the street,” he said. “Are you afraid to walk across the street?
“It’s a passion, that’s the biggest thing. But I’ve got to make a living, too, and that’s a big part of my living, so coming back from an injury is no different for me than it is a for a football player.”
That other part of his living is the successful motorcycle repair and fabrication shop, Cycle Specialists in Newport News, which he operates with crew chief and older brother Steve McBride.
Larry McBride says he doesn’t recall the exact amount of money he’s made drag racing motorcycles the past 30 years but says it’s in excess of $1 million.
During that time, he has broken elapsed time world records on numerous occasions, becoming the first person to run under 6.0 seconds (on Oct. 30, 1999, daughter Christine’s 19th birthday) as well as 5.9, 5.8 and 5.7 seconds for quarter-mile.
“Larry has talent,” says motorsports writer and former Langley Speedway operator Wayne Wyatt. “You can’t be the only man to ever go to 258 mph if you don’t.
“But he also has Steve and a lot of other good help. … Whether it’s the chassis or fuel ignition or anything else on that bike, (Steve) designs it and gives Larry the speed that’s needed to go with that talent and set a world record.”
What makes him better than everyone else? Surprisingly, one element McBride highlights is his 6-foot-3 height.
“From tip to tip, the bike is 18 feet, so it helps to be a tall guy,” he said. “It’s not that shorter guys can’t drive these 1,500 horsepower Top Fuel bikes, but they can’t seem to make as many consistently good runs.
“Dedication is the other part. It’s hard to have other hobbies when you run for world championships, but this is what we want to do because we love it.”
The “we” is a team that includes a crew of Ben Phaup, Steve Phillips, Norman Karlson and, especially, his brother. The bike and most of the parts essentially are built in the Cycle Specialist shop, and Steve McBride is the point man.
“He’s a freaking genius at building this stuff,” McBride says. “He understands the physics, how everything places in the chassis and designs every piece just right.”
Finally, there is McBride’s natural ability. The first time he went to a drag-race track, Richmond Dragway, as a teenager, he hopped on the bike of a co-worker who was competing there and ran a faster time than his friend.
Then, in his first trip to the United States national championships, riding a four-cylinder with a super charger in 1980, he finished second. While there McBride earned the nickname, Spiderman, which has stuck to this day because the public address announcer was struck by the way he moved around on the bike to keep it in the racing groove.
Nearly four decades later, he is still going strong. What else is left to do and how much longer will he race?
“What I’d most like to accomplish is being a good granddaddy,” said McBride, who has three grandchildren. “I’ll definitely keep racing for sure for a couple of more years because I’ve got such great help and it’s still my passion.”
O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963 and on Twitter @MartyOBrienDP