Living legend Steve “Brewdude” Garn revived on the salt…
In late August, we drove cross country to attend the AMA Motorcycle Speed Trials at Bonneville Speedway outside Wendover, Utah — our first trip to the famed Bonneville Salt Flats. On our first afternoon, walking through the pits, we spent a good while jawing with our friend Steve “Brewdude” Garn, whose 1974 Kawasaki H1 Mach III 500cc triple two-stroke land speed racer, “The Purple People Eater,” we’d previously featured on BikeBound.
To those in the know, Steve needs no introduction. He is nothing short of a living legend in the world of two wheels, both bicycles and motos. He began building engines at the age of 12, ranked 3rd in the 125cc motocross class at the national level, and opened his own workshop in 1983, BREW (Blue Ridge Electric & Welding). By the 1990s, BREW bicycle frames had become a fixture at the most elite levels of bicycle racing, chosen by riders racing and winning championships at the national, world, and Olympic levels. At one time, more than half of the national triathlon team rode BREW frames.
But Brewdude was busy with motorcycles as well. Steve has served as a tech writer for some of the most well-known motorcycle magazines (more than 200 published articles), placed 2nd at the AMD World Championships, and been inducted into the International Master Bike Builders Association (IMBBA). He’s also a 5-time #1 AMA National Land Speed record holder and holds two FIM World records in land speed racing. Like we said, a legend.
We had just left Bonneville when we heard the news that Steve had gone into cardiac arrest while getting ready to make a run on “The Purple People Eater.” Steve estimates he was on the salt for 3-4 minutes, sans heartbeat, before being revived by CPR. He very literally died on the salt and came back. We don’t want to spoil the story, which Steve tells us below, but suffice to say a serious of small miracles helped bring him back to life on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
We and the rest of the two-wheel world are just damn happy to have Brewdude back with us — and returning to Bonneville this year! Without further ado, he gives us the full story of this miracle on the salt.
“The Miracles at the Bonneville Salt Flats”
By Steve “Brewdude” Garn
1. The two years to get here.
My first race number on a bike in a sanctioned event in 1973 was 198. The Purple People Eater sanctioned race number? 198! The Purple People EATER is a laydown custom frame I built and features a Kawasaki 2 stroke triple engine which is commonly nicknamed, THE WIDOWMAKER!
2. The premonition.
Started in April 2021, I will die at Bonneville. Yes, I have only had a few premonitions in my 64 years, but truthfully this was the strongest. In April, while racing in Arkansas, I nearly decided it was time to quit racing; I am so glad I didn’t! As time got closer to leaving for Bonneville, the MORE I felt I would die at Bonneville. I have had a bunch of near death accidents, when I could have died, but I never felt I would die at any time, except for Bonneville!
3. Things are not working well.
When I add up the problems = DON’T GO. So many problems kept coming and coming. I felt that God was telling me not to go. So I prayed, God, if I should NOT go, please give me a stumbling block I CAN’T get over. First, the new ignition failed. This ignition was made in Denmark and the factory was closed for the whole month of August! Then, a bung for the fuel petcock had a tiny pinhole. As you can see the fuel tank is part of the motorcycle frame! I needed jets for the powerjets and they were also back ordered. I am now thinking these are the stumbling blocks and shouldn’t go.
4. THEN, last minute parts come in.
A company in England said they could build a new ignition and express ship it. They did, but DHL lost the package and had no idea which container it was in. I was thinking, yep, don’t go. Two days later a PT Cruiser pulled up to the shop and it was a man that said, “Here, I found your lost package!” The fuel bung was actually an easy fix.
5. But, no test ride or dyno of the engine.
Because of these delays, there was no time to get the bike on a dyno to tune this monster. The place where I wanted to do a couple of rides on this bike said I couldn’t use their facility. Boy, was I nervous about the premonition and NO TESTING!
6. Prayer, if not meant to go, please let something happen.
The trip went flawless. It was a 2180-mile trip and it was actually an easy one.
7. Tech day and pit setup.
Tech went smoothly with no changes needed. Saw many friends and the pit was set up in a jiffy. But, I still had the STRONG feeling I would die!
8. The first run on the bike.
I was nervous not knowing how the bike would handle. Would it shift smoothly? Would the brakes work? It actually rides great, brakes worked perfectly, but the engine was way too rich after half throttle. This meant the bike had no speed, but I felt relieved because of how well it handled.
9. A 30-minute jet change.
It only takes 30 minutes to change the jets for the powerjets. But then, I felt like not going out for another run for another two hours. I just sat there not knowing why, but felt, just wait??? Then I get this feeling, what are you doing, get out back in line for another run. I then told Terry and Butch, let’s go!
10. My turn to get on course.
As I am getting ready to make a run, I couldn’t get the zipper that attaches the jacket to the leather pants. I tried and tried and couldn’t get it to work. I then asked Butch to help, but there was still no zipping them together. This had never happened before, but why am I mentioning this?
The first run, the bike started the 2nd kick. In the pits, the bike started a few times with 2-3 kicks. It was hot in the shade, 94 degrees, but for Bonneville that is actually cool that time of year. I made sure I was hydrated and tried to stay near some shade in my black leathers. I see the line starter in staging pointing that I will be up soon for a start.
I pushed the bike up to the start line, then checking fuel petcock on, ignition switch on, and choke levers pulled up. I started kicking and kicking so many times, I can’t guess the number. It putted like it would start, but it did not.
I started to feel very faint, I yelled, “I AM GOING TO PASS OUT”! Then I faded away!
According to the EMT, I had no pulse, not breathing, and eyes rolled up. With NO zipper holding the jacket down, it was easier to open to start CPR. Another miracle that Troy (whom I didn’t know) and Butch were there. Troy was on the bike behind me and was in the past a Chief in the E.M.T and Butch was a medic also. Troy did CPR with 30 compressions and…nothing. He did CPR three more times and they felt a weak pulse. Time I was not having a heartbeat? Guessing 3-4 minutes.
Now an ambulance pulled up and started working on me; I am still unconscious. First thing I do remember is another medic coming into the ambulance, two IV’s going, and other things. I knew where I was, but the pain and confusion was unbearable and I remember yelling, “THIS IS A DREAM.” The medic was looking over the EKG, BP, and other stats at this time and then said, “He isn’t going to make it, call for an airlift.”
The Miracles at the Bonneville Salt Flats
I sort of remember the helicopter and all they were doing to me, but it still seemed I was in a dream. They flew me to University Of Utah Hospital and I was rushed into so many tests, I still don’t remember it all. I remember being taken back for a heart catherization and while I was still groggy the cardiologist said to me, “You’re hanging on by a thread — your widowmaker (same as bike engine) artery is 99.9% blocked and two others 70%. He said there is a 0% chance of CPR working and this was truly a miracle to be alive.”
They determined I needed open heart surgery, a double bypass. By this time, my wife, Kim, flew out along with son Chad and daughter Caitlin. My son Cody stayed at our house and took care of the animals and farm. Kim asked me was I nervous, anxiety or other feelings I had. Truly, I can say on a scale of 1-100 I had a level of 1. I knew this is where I needed to be!
I had four cardiologists on the surgical team and surgery went well. ALL four of them told me while checking on me while still in ICU that it truly was a miracle that I was revived.
- What if I didn’t lollygag in the pits and went out earlier? Would an EMT like Troy be right there? I think a miracle in timing happened.
- The zipper not working made my body more accessible and saved valuable time, another miracle.
- My family doctor two weeks later took out the stitches. His comment? “After reading what happened, I would give you a 0% chance of survival.”
- If this would’ve happened at home or in the shop, I would have had no one there to revive me. Another miracle of timing.
THANK YOU, GOD FOR SAVING ME!
THANK YOU, FRIENDS FOR ALL THE SUPPORT!
THANK YOU, KIM, CHAD, CODY and CAITLIN and their spouses FOR ALL YOU HAVE DONE!
THANK YOU, Terry Hopkins, for getting everything together and packed in the van and trailer, and then, driving it back safely to the Brew shop!