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A mind for design

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Nestled among the tall evergreens just east of Sequim Bay, George McMurray's workshop is a monkeywrench's dream. Tools of every shape, size and description line the walls and floors of the cavernous garage.

But McMurray's shop isn't where dreams are born. They're bent and shaped, cut to fit, sanded and polished, then molded into reality.

A craftsman who specializes in custom car and hot rod parts, repairing panels and a potpourri of other mechanical enterprises for his own business called Select Solutions, McMurray makes a living tweaking other people's projects into reality.

But this August, the Sequim man fulfilled a dream project of his own.

McMurray designed a motorcycle that set a new speed record during Speed Week festivities at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

"We did OK," McMurray says, stifling a grin. "We left some miles per hour on the salt - but we're going back next year to get them back."


Getting 'the bug'


McMurray was an aerospace engineer for years until he and family moved from the Mojave Desert area in California to Sequim around 2000.

He'd attended school in the Seattle area from 1976-1981 and knew of Sequim, then settled his family because of Sequim's good schools.

McMurray has built a strong clientele from those looking to finish mechanical projects, everything from massive upgrades to vintage vehicles to "prototypes:" a special seeding device, CD disc polisher and underwater camera robot, among others.

It was in 2008 that McMurray found inspiration for his newest project - one just for him.

Racing is in the family blood, McMurray reveals. His brother Joe, now deceased, helped spur the family into racing. George, Joe and other brother Jim formed the Tri Mac Speedsters, a name George still uses.

On a visit to Bonneville in 2008, George McMurray looked out across the vast, (54 square miles) of salt flats reserved for the top speed racers in the world, and something clicked.

"I thought, 'I want to do something,'" McMurray recalls. "They talk about the 'Bonneville Bug.' I got bit."


Working overtime


With plenty to work on with his regular business, McMurray began building his record-setting motorcycle after workdays and on weekends.

His bike is a Yamaha 1983 Rx50 he transformed to set the top speed in the 100-cc supercharged class.

Rules allowed McMurray to make certain modifications. He could lower the bike slightly and lengthen it by about 10 percent. Class specifications allowed no aerodynamic additions except adding a fender.

The bike became uniquely McMurray's as he added an air pump from a 1970s-era Porsche 914 as the bike's main engine, then added a special cooling component that uses a "slushy ice cocktail" of chipped ice and water keeping the engine cool.

"Guys (at Bonneville) had never seen it," McMurray says.

He worked about six months specifically on the tail pipe.

"It was sometimes three steps forward, two steps back," McMurray says, "(but) I never got discouraged."

He even gained a new friend after connecting with a fellow record-setting hopeful from Copenhagen, Denmark, who was prepping to run in the vintage class at Bonneville. The pair shared data on problems they were both were going through.

In all, it took about 18 months to finish the bike.

Since the bike isn't street-legal, McMurray tested it on runways at the Port Angeles airport.

By August 2010, McMurray and the bike, known as the Silver Billet, were ready to race.


Hitting the salt

The new record almost didn't happen. McMurray was on his way to Bonneville when the transmission on the rig he was driving went out. The fix took three days and meant he couldn't do any pre-runs with the Silver Billet.

McMurray took on a rider named Jen Boller, an experienced professional motorcycle driver from Bakersfield, Calif.

Murray, Boller and crew were just one of about 500 pre-entries with another 300 late-registrants at Bonneville Speed Week, held Aug. 14-20. Located about 90 miles west of the Great Salt Lake, Bonneville's salt flats are home to the nation's - and perhaps the world's - top land-speed records.

Despite the vast crowd of racers and pit crews intent on topping competitors for best times, McMurray said crews were more than willing to help each other, whether it be a wrench or saw or bolts.

One thing McMurray noticed about the salt flats is the presence of heavier density altitude than areas like

Sequim and Port Angeles, making the bike lose a significant amount of power. Still, Boller and the Silver Billet cruised to a mark of 75.174 mph, tops in its class.


Gearing up for next year

In late August, McMurray is back in his shop, and though the salt flats are more than 900 miles away, they don't seem far from his mind. He's already planning a return trip to Bonneville to push that record further.

He'll have to wait another 11-plus months.

McMurray will have plenty to keep himself busy. He's adding power steering and power brakes to a 1937 Buick and rebuilding the back end of a 1929 Franklin, where a mice nest corroded through the aluminum panels.

McMurray often makes his own tools to finish projects. A tinkerer for decades, he looks around his workshop and muses, "If I had to start from scratch, I could never afford it."

The mind and hands behind the record-setting cycle says his joy comes from not just working with mechanical things, but the thought process behind it.

Says McMurray, "I like to solve problems."

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.

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