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"To me, it was a big deal, and it made me feel great to see it was special to other people also," Bill later wrote on his website, wildbros.com. "As I shook the other 200mph members' hands and listened to their speeds, I felt close to each and every one of them (even though they all were faster than me :-)."
But Warner wasn't going to let others go faster than him for long. In fall 2007, he upgraded to a 700-horsepower, first-generation Hayabusa. The 'Busa's turbo fuel injection system delivered the mechanical equivalent of a hit off a crack pipe. The bike's advanced onboard computer also recorded more than 60 performance readings during a run, leaving bread crumbs of data on everything from intake and exhaust temperatures to throttle and suspension positions.
It meant Warner could have a millisecond-by-millisecond diagnostic on his bike. And although racers before him had access to the same minutiae, Warner was the first to really soak in the stats. Hitting top speed was a matter of expertly harnessing physics, adding the right amount of turbo boost at exactly the right time — but not too much at once. "It was about the rpm's when you're shifting gears," says Trillium Muir, the fastest female land speed racer. "We probably had lower ramp-up rates than most but higher boost rates." Warner's secret method of exploiting the data and knowing exactly when to shift and punch the turbo left other riders in the dust.
Back in Wimauma, Warner set up a dyno — or stationary harness — inside a cargo shipping container where he kept his bikes. With engine heat and exhaust fumes cooking the metal room like a microwave, Bill would run the 'Busa for hours, then carefully analyze the bike's behavior. The extra intel made all the difference.
"The old days of grip-it-and-rip-it — my hand is my computer? That doesn't fly anymore," says Walter Kudron, a New Jersey-based racer who became Bill's close friend and sponsorship coordinator. "In our sport, a tenth of a mile an hour could be the difference of setting a record or not."
In 2009, Warner beat every competitor at four of the five matches he attended. The next year, at the Maxton season opener in April, the rider arrived hoping to beat the track's record, 260.28 mph, which had stood for five years. When a bike sponsored by Scott Guthrie broke the record at 264 mph on an early run, Bill went back to his data. Thirty minutes later, he blew past the new mark at 272 mph.
That July, Bill was clocked at 273 mph in Loring — eight miles faster than anyone had ever gone on that track. That October, in Goliad, Texas, Bill demolished the strip's standing record of 261.5 mph with a 270.7. Afterward, Bill went back to the trailer to scan the numbers. The next day, he clocked 278.6.
On race days, when riders and crew members were juiced up with missile-launch anticipation, Bill always seemed to live inside his own calm ozone. After setting a record, he celebrated, but in his own idiosyncratic, low-key way: with French fries.
The still surface was deceiving, friends say. Inside, Warner housed a relentless, no-brakes compulsion to win. If someone said he couldn't hit a record, he figured out a way to do it. If another racer was chasing a big number, that became his next goal.
"I think it was probably bottled up inside of him and when he found racing, it just exploded," says Larry Forstall. "I think there also was a certain fear of failure. He worked extra hard to make sure when he got there, it worked right and he didn't look stupid."
Warner stowed away his ambition by snipping it completely free from ego. He didn't gloat, never boasted. Despite growing records, Bill remained a Florida Everydude, a friendly guy who wore only shorts, white New Balance sneakers, and T-shirts and was so frugal that he'd eat at any discount buffet he came across, even if it meant he'd likely lose the next day locked in a bathroom.
That striving flashed in only one area: Warner wanted to be on a magazine cover. Such big-time attention would prove to his family that his accomplishments in riding meant something. "They really didn't understand the desire to keep going faster and faster," says Muir. His favorite song was Dr. Hook's '70s anthem "Cover of the Rolling Stone."
When most diehards in the land speed racing world agreed that going 300 mph was out of reach, Bill had his new goal.
During the winter bridging 2010 and 2011, Bill Warner was on lockdown at the Wimauma farm. The ponds were empty, the fish business at a standstill. Bill always lived simply on this one-acre plot with a pair of Dobermans, but that winter, he'd whittled his life down like a monk.
Egg-salad sandwiches and Campbell's soup were all he ate. The weight drained from his frame, his once-rounded face now sunken like a deflated basketball. He spent days inside a barn, endlessly reviewing online tutorials and tinkering with new parts. He was piecing together a monster: a new Suzuki Hayabusa he'd later dub his "race bike."