The heat is almost unbearable. The blinding white of the Salt Flats reflects the mid-day sun swelling the temperatures on an already scorching day. The normally desolate terrain is teeming with activity. It’s “Speed Week” on the Bonneville Salt Flats and hundreds of people from around the world bring vehicles of all shapes and sizes annually to this unique spot. They come to test their mechanical ingenuity, their driving skills, their courage and most important, to track their top speed.
A line of cars, motorcycles and trucks wait patiently to approach the starting line. As each team approaches, they begin preparing to race. Moving vehicles off trailers, putting on safety gear and getting a lay of the land, drivers and their teams eagerly wait to start. Everyone is in deep discussion while race officials listen carefully to radios and flag the next contestant in line to ready for racing.
On this day, a handsome, rugged Italian gentleman walks confidently to the line. His suntanned face carefully eyes the course as his team prepares his ride. Like most vehicles at Bonneville, it’s numbered, decorated with sponsor stickers, and specially prepared to race. However, it’s not a super car, rocket or Hayabusa racing bike. The small, purple and silver scooter with a specially constructed side car is a Vespa.
Dressed immaculately in a racing suit, long laced leather boots and a white “melon” helmet, this man is prepared for serious business. He has built three bikes to compete. Customized 1951, 1952 and 1953 Vespas with 100 to 125 cc engines have been configured to operate specifically on this course. Bonneville officials required he put on a side car for safety reasons but suggested he could use that space for more engine power. However, these vintage bikes have been rebuilt to original factory specifications.
He approaches the line, gives his bike a few kicks, and it fires up. The familiar pop and rumble of a two-stroke engine softly whines as he revs. He twists and twists getting the engine nice and warm. He knows that in a moment, he’s going to push this engine as hard as he can in hopes to get it to its maximum speed and possibly set a world record. The racing official signals him to prepare. He closes the visor of his helmet and assumes a racing position.
Siting far forward on his bike, he pushes his left knee outward in an aggressive stance. Giving the bike another rev, the official raises his flag. Just as the flag drops, he pops the clutch and the Vespa lurches forward speeding ahead into the distance. Spectators stand and watch as he disappears into the landscape.
Some might see a Vespa at Speed Week as a trivial entry. Where vehicles regularly top 300 miles per hour, the “Dafne” racing team is hoping to break a world record of 37 mph for a vehicle in the same age and class of bike. Marco Fumagalli has traveled over 5000 miles to race these customized Vespas at Speed Week. He and his two friends Mauro Pascoli and the “other” Marco Quaretta are not joking. For them, this is serious business.
If you download the 40 pages of speed records achieved at Bonneville, you will note a big absence. Not a single Vespa exists. Where others might see an obstacle, Marco Fumagalli sees opportunity. He wants to create a scooter category for Bonneville. He believes that while he might be the first to trial on a Vespa on the speedway, he is certain the 70-year history of Vespa will inspire others to come out and attempt to set records.
It takes a serious Vespa enthusiast to make such an incredibly expensive, ambitious and long journey. But calling Marco an enthusiast would be an immense understatement. In fact, Marco is THE Vespa enthusiast. His passion for the small Italian bike has no equal. He’s made Vespa his life. Collecting, racing and riding Vespa scooters like no one else.
Marco wasn’t always a scooter enthusiast. Until he was 19, he thought a scooter was “shit.” He was into traditional motorcycles like Moto Guzzi or Ducatti. However, a special edition Vespa was launched and he thought he’d give it a try. This bike was the beginning of his passion for Vespa. Since that first scooter, Marco has collected almost every model of Vespa created over the last 70 years.
His collection has accelerated from a single bike to over 120 different Vespa scooters. The collection includes many rare versions as well as modern bikes. He owns at least two Bajaj, an Allstate and even acquired the 946. He also collects memorabilia, advertisements and anything else that adorns the Vespa name. He houses this massive collection at his home in Milan, Italy.
Marco’s collection isn’t simply a random assortment of bikes scattered around a garage. He has built a legitimate “museum” complete with visual displays, movie posters, works of art and of course, a large collection of mint condition, fully restored Vespas. His museum isn’t open to the public but he does welcome Vespa enthusiasts to his home if they are in Milan for a visit.
Two years ago, Marco and his friends decided to embark on the challenge of racing at Bonneville. They selected three vintage bikes from his collection and began work. Each was completely modified and built specifically to race the course at Bonneville. The team finished restoration on each of the scooters to meet Bonneville’s very specific racing requirements and rigid safety standards.
Rather than up the specifications to make these Vespas faster, they opted to use the original engine factory specifications and race the bikes in a vintage class. The addition of the weight and keeping these 60-year-old bikes to their original form doesn’t deliver the most stunning speeds. However, keeping true to the heritage of Vespa is very important to Marco. His focus was on racing an “authentic” Vespa.
Once the rebuilds were finished, the “Dafne” racing team was formed! Named for the daughter of Marco Quaretta, the team chose the purple and silver scheme because those are her favorite colors. Mauro, also a big Vespa enthusiast, has his own museum and is a purveyor of Vespa parts and accessories.
(Editors Note: Team Dafne has two owners : Marco Fumagalli , ideator and logistic manager, and Marco Quaretta)
Everything was loaded into a custom container, shipped to Los Angeles, and then hauled to the Salt Flats. However, after such a long journey, wet conditions on the course forced everyone to cancel their plans. Undefeated, Marco returned this year to make the record attempt. Gathering his friends together, they made the trek again and fortunately, this year’s conditions were suitable for racing.
Setting up camp on the Salt Flats, Team Dafne arrived in Utah in the mid-August heat ready to race. They transported not only three fully prepped scooters but also had a rented pickup truck to take them to the course. They also setup a full tent, mechanical workshop and a place to pass the time while they waited their turn to run the time trials.
Marco and team ran the course six times at Bonneville over three days. Sadly, this year’s trip didn’t break any records. Marco’s top speed was only 34.8 mph, just shy of the 37-mph record. Speaking with experts, many commented the course was “slower” this year because the normally smooth surface was sticky and inhibited a lot of people maximizing their performance.