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Friends say the parents kept a loving yet strict grip on the kids. But there were always ATVs and dirt bikes around the house for grinding through the nearby woods. Once Bill's dad bought two broken Bronco minibikes so he could patch together one working bike for Ray, Bill's older brother. With the house empty, Warner would roll one of the bikes up and down the driveway, hoping the engine would catch. The only time he got the thing going, it blasted through a nearby fence, he'd later recount.
In the mid-'80s, when a small dirt track opened, Bill and friend Tom Panko dragged over their beat-up bikes only to see they were outgunned by the competition. "He was racing against these guys with bigger engines," Panko recalls. "I know he was competing for first, neck and neck, even though he didn't have the same equipment." Later, old enough to drive his dad's Dodge Colt, Warner rarely passed up the opportunity on straightaway roads to roll up the windows and see how far he could throw the needle on the speedometer.
In high school, Warner kept a low profile — an impressive disappearing act, considering Little Falls High had only about 90 kids in a class. Outside of a few friends and the occasional girlfriend, Bill didn't socialize much. He did compete, though. Whether he was doing crazy workouts with the varsity wrestling team or going stroke for stroke against friends on the golf course, a drive to win peeked through his otherwise quiet, friendly demeanor.
For college, Warner decided on the marine biology program at the University of Tampa. "His interest in marine biology was that it was in Florida and around girls in bikinis," Panko jokes. "He never was really looking to rebel or anything. He just wanted to get out and do his own thing."
Warner stayed in Florida after graduation, working as a fish farmer around the state. In 1995, he was part of a six-person team tasked with creating the wetlands exhibit at the soon-to-open Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Warner was on the freshwater fish and alligator detail. He eventually left to open his own operation.
At his farms — over the course of the late '90s and 2000s, he bounced his Warner Aquatic Resources around three different locations — Bill raised cichlids, tropical freshwater aquarium fish indigenous to Africa. Typical for his personality, he picked a challenge: Cichlids were mouth-breeders, meaning he had to manually wrench open their jaws to pour out the eggs.
Business hiccuped along, and at some point in the early 2000s, Warner began buying old motorcycles to sell off the parts for extra cash. He eventually turned up at his Wimauma farm with his own Yamaha V-Max. Online, he met a group of Florida riders; together, they buzzed around the state to races at Daytona and Bradenton.
The weekend warrior's first small step to high-speed glory came in 2004. As Warner later explained to dirtbike.com, he saw a news story out of Minnesota about a radar gun glitch resulting in a 200 mph speeding citation. The number snagged in his head.
"I want to make a V-Max go 200," he announced to his buddies, adding he'd do it "naked," or without a turbo system. Only three bikes had ever been clocked at that speed without modification, none a V-Max. It was like saying he wanted to take a Cessna for a spin in Earth's orbit.
"I said, 'I'll try to help you do it,'" recalls Jerry Gainey, a motorcycle tech from Orlando who rode with Warner. "'I don't think we'll be able to do it, but we'll try.'"
When Bill started shooting down the track at Maxton on his V-Max in 2007, he quickly earned his stripes as a fearless competitor with mechanical smarts. He wasn't the first rider with the combo, but he did bring something unique to the track: the marine biologist's soft spot for scientific data. It helped that Gainey was ex-military and could appreciate detail. Together they began logging the minute aspects of the bike's performance using computer tracking.
"We wrote everything down, and we'd only make minor adjustments to the bike at one time," says Gainey. "There's so many things you can do to a bike that will help or hurt you to go fast."
The team noted the effects of each run like lab techs eying bubbling test tubes. They'd add a drop of extra fuel to the injector, then note the difference. By comparing the front and back tire speeds, they could see where the bike was losing traction and adjust the clutch accordingly. Bill also cut weight on the bike whenever possible, swapping the bike's battery for a moped model or steel parts with aluminum.
In spring 2007, Warner and Gainey trucked the nine hours from Florida to Maxton. Day three of racing, he was clocked at 200.06, still a snail to the Hayabusas' blitzkrieg but incredible nonetheless — no one had ever ridden a V-Max that fast. It was the first significant mark on his scorecard. At a ceremony that night, Warner was inaugurated into the East Coast Timing Association's 200 club. He got a certificate, a ball cap, and golden bragging rights.